Tuesday, 27 December 2011


Well I spent Christmas and Boxing Day slumped in front of the telly enjoying a few wines and so on so thought I'd better go out today and get some air.
Went to Deadman's hill first and met a couple of guys hoping for one of the Merlins. Although it was fairly warm and the sun was trying to break through, birds were pretty scarce, and largely distant. One or two Kites and Buzzards were on the ground and at least three Kestrel were hoevring. A large flock of Fieldfare were on the eastern ridge and we had fly by Skylark and Linnet on a regular basis.
The Icknield Way at Therfield was much better. Walked down from the village encountering thrushes and larks on a regular basis. A nice female kestrel posed on a bush.

Further down I encountered a birder looking at a grey blob in the hedge-it looked like the Great Grey Shrike and we were joined by a couple of others and watched it for a bit. A distant blob on a hedge was believed to be a Short Eared Owl, so we thought but my photo being only a few pixels in size looked more like a Buzzard which would be more likely perched up like this. 
We moved down the track closer to  the Shrike which was buried deep in the bushes and one of the guys with a scope said it looked more like a ball, so I went down and retrieved the remains of a tennis ball exactly the same shade of grey as a Great Grey Shrike!. Luckily to save further embarrassment all three of the wintering Hen Harriers put on a good show for us, though none really came close enough to my camera.

On the way back to the village we encountered Grey and Red Legged Partridge, Golden Plover and Lapwing, as well as several red Kites, so despite one or two dodgy observations it was not a bad morning.

Saturday, 24 December 2011

Great Northern Diver

Went down to Nazeing Meads this morning to search for the 1st winter Great Northern Diver. Followed the instructions, walked down to the bridge scanning the two lakes without success. Five goosander (three drakes)were very nice to see especially so close, and there were hoards of winter thrushes in the area. Near the bridge, a Chiffchaff was calling. After about 40 minutes it was clear that the diver was not present.
Just about to drive off when i saw Alan Reynolds and Graham White further down the track so drove down to them, to be told the diver was north of the marina. Went over with Alan and got pretty good though distant views.
After this I called in at Amwell. The usual crowd present, and the birdlife pretty much as usual. No sign of Smew-it's been a long time since one has failed to appear before Christmas.

Friday, 23 December 2011

Tring Ticks

Finished for Christmas yesterday, and decided on trying to get a few more birds on my county list.
Despite my 25 years of birding in Hertfordshire, my list is pretty pathetic, and this is largely due to location. Living in Stevenage, in the north east of the county, I have the Lea Valley within fairly easy reach and this has always been a favorite. However a lot of the really good birds appear in the far west at the Tring reservoirs, which for me has always been a bit of a pain to get too, as it involves going through Luton and Dunstable, or through Hemel, or around the M25-it takes about an hour when there is no traffic. As a result I have missed many good county birds, but I have decided to concentrate a bit more and try and get there more frequently.
Over the last month or so, a juvenile Drake Bellied Brent Goose has been present, and more recently a family of Bewicks Swans has arrived, but due to other commitments I never made the trip (anyway there is a very slim chance that both species might be available for me at Amwell-wishful thinking perhaps). However  much more important has been the appearance of Hertfordshire's first Snow Bunting for 30 years, so i had to go.
The journey was pretty good and I arrived just before 1000 at Startops, parking in the lay by. Climbed the bank and had a scan, picking up the usual wild fowl and some fly over Fieldfares. Noticed a couple of birders looking down and went over to join them, and eventually I spotted the very well camouflaged Snow Bunting feeding among the stones and weed along the shore. It was incredibly tame and carried on feeding while we stood a few feet above it chatting. Hopefully it will stay into the New Year.
Drove over to Wilstone and walked round to the jetty. A large flock of Canada and Greylags feeding in the field nearby held the Brent Goose. While I was there I tried to scan the shore, searching among Pied Wagtails and Meadow Pipits for the regular Water Pipit. It eventually flew past me and I was able to watch it feeding under the concrete lip of the reservoir.
A walk round the old canal and farmland was not very productive  apart from a few Redwing and a Goldfinch flock. I eventually made my way to the hide and almost immediately saw the Bewicks in front of me-a pair with two young. The large Lapwing and Golden Plover flock did not contain anything of note, nor did the gulls-there has been a Med roosting recently. Someone mentioned that a few Pintail had been present recently, but the only duck of note was the female Red Crested Pochard.

Saturday, 17 December 2011

Dartford warbler Surprise

Have not done any birding for a few weeks-recent weekends have been taken up with the usual pre Christmas things, and today was no exception.
Had to go down to see my sister Jane in Bournemouth today, and took Mum and my other sister Sarah. Very little to see on the way down, it was rather cold and icy to start, with some rain by the time we hit the M3 but it cleared near Basinstoke and the rest of the day was lovely and sunny. Sarah saw a few Buzzards and Lapwing flocks, but I missed them, though I did notice a few thrushes and Kestrels.
Janes garden seemed to be very attractive to birds with several feeders and berried shrubs. Blackbirds and Coal Tits seemed to be the commonest visitors though there were plenty of Great and Blue Tits coming and going.
The post lunch along Southbourne promenade did not promise much, though on past visits I had seen Stonechats. We saw several Meadow pipits and Pied wagtails feeding on the cliff edge but by far the most unexpected bird and a complete surprise was the Dartford warbler feeding in the gorse adjacent to the very busy path. Sarah and I watched it for several minutes as it worked it's way up the low cliff
and posed very nicely on a small branch. Naturally I did not have my camera gear with me.

Saturday, 3 December 2011

Another Peep?

Just found out that the 'Stint' seen in flight several times with the Dunlin and Sharp Tailed Sandpiper at Chew has been identified as a Semi Palmated Sandpiper.
One of my really crap out of focus images of the feeding waders obscured by willow trees reveals one that appears to be  quite a bit smaller than the nearby Dunlin.

More Duff Wader Pics

Well I had more time off yesterday, and we were going to make another attempt at the Northumberland Yellowlegs. However, I had been feeling pretty rough all week and could not face another ten hours in a car. Add the fact that no-one could find it after first light on Thursday at any of its regular locations and I was very reluctant to dip again. Luckily, the Semi Palmated Sandpiper at had been at Cley for a few days now had been looked at closely, and there were a number of people suggesting it could be a Western Sandpiper.
Looking at the published photos, I was undecided, though there were a number of pro Western features, but the big problem was the apparent delayed moult. Still it was only a couple of hours away so worth going for whatever it would be.
Arrived at 0900, and being NWT members went straight in to Daukes Hide. The Dunlin flock was a long way off, but the peep was easy to pick out (though we had to be aware of a second small stint/runt Dunlin also present). Initially very active, getting any sort of plumage details was impossible, but it did get closer at times. I noticed an obvious gingery tone to the cap, cheek and shoulder when the light was right. At times the bill looked to be pretty long with a decent curve to it, as well as being a bit more lanky than the few Semi Palmated that I have seen. However, the scapular patterns proved to be very hard to see with certainty. The photo below does seem to show the requisite anchor mark on the retained juvenile feather, so I am pretty sure it is a Western.

 We moved hides to scan Pat's pool, at about the same time the waders decided to move, but luckily they did not stay long. A few Avocets remained and there were good numbers of other waders and wildfowl. The light was pretty dire but with patience the Green Winged Teal could be picked up.
Moving to the brightly lit and calm sea, it seemed to be pretty quiet. A small Common Scoter flock and the occasional Guillemot and Gannet was about all that we saw for some time. One or two Red Throated Divers were present and someone noticed that one hard to see individual looked better for Black Throated, and so it proved when it drifted past. A few Little Auks had been reported, and eventually I managed to see two-one distant and one close in. At about the same time a small flock of Little Gulls fed off shore.
 Both of us were feeling pretty tired achy so we decided to return home, but called in at Salthouse briefly. The usual Turnstone flock was present in the car park along with a few Teal and Redshank. Climbing the big hill, I saw a flock of Snow Bunting approach from the west, but they dropped down and when I got closer i could not find them.