Sunday, 27 February 2011

Ravens and Kites

Took advantage of the sunny morning to drive out to the villages west of Stevenage in search of raptors.
Only just got out of the north west part of town when I encountered the first Buzzards-three in thermals and two apparently displaying.
Small birds were relatively hard to find while driving, apart from the ubiquitous Chaffinch and Blackbird, plus a variety of duck and geese on the small ponds, though things like Skylark and Yellowhammer were also seen. Much more apparent were the larger birds-pigeons and corvids in particular.
Driving down the Lilley Bottom road, I encountered six Red Kites as well as several more Buzzards, with a few Rooks mobbing the birds. A bit further down, and up a very muddy lane, several more corvids flew over the car including two of the local Ravens, but I was not in a position to stop and get images.
I drove around Bendish and Whitwell for a bit-one Little Egret on the cress beds, before returning to the Kites which were near St Pauls Walden where I got a number of rather poor images-for some reason the auto focus seemed a bit sluggish despite the bright sunshine.
Also here is a few of the frogs doing their thing in the pond.

Saturday, 26 February 2011

Signs of Spring.

The frogs have been having a field day in my small pond-at least 25 are busy spawning at the moment.  Plenty more of all sizes seem to be wandering round the garden.
Had four Goldfinches down at lunchtime-the most for several months, as unlike the last few winters they have not been visiting in large numbers.
A female Blackcap spent a while in the larger shrubs and was joined briefly by a male. So far this year I have had seven sightings, five of which have been in the garden, which is by far my best ever winter total.

Friday, 18 February 2011

A Lifer At Last

Its been a bit frustrating this winter with several mega birds largely unavailable-Oriental Turtle Dove in Oxfordshire identified from photos, a stunning male Dusky Thrush in Manchester-none readily available for over fifty years, also identified from photos and the of course Slaty Backed Gull which has put in brief appearances in the Thames area largely out of public view.
This past week things have turned out a bit better-on last weekend the Turtle Dove appeared in a birders garden and he happily opened up on Monday and Tuesday for a suitable donation. Unfortunately, the press had a field day on the Tuesday when only the first fifteen got to see the bird. However, those that persevered got to see the bird from outside the houses over the subsequent days. To add to the excitement, the Slaty Backed reappeared at Rainham on Thursday.
So I took today off.
First bit of bad news was that a serious accident had effectively made Rainham inaccessible all day, which was to be our afternoon destination. Out of about 150 birders that got there apparently only one claimed to have seen the gull anyway.
We arrived at Chipping Norton just after 0800 and heard that the dove was showing well-apparently Steve had opened up the house again. I saw a bit of a queue outside his house, but was directed to a garden a few doors up which was being renovated. The high hedge made things very difficult, but shortly after finding a milk crate the Oriental Turtle Dove was located in an apple tree. Views were a bit tricky as we were looking through a closer tree, and although visible to the naked eye, getting the camera on it was not so easy but I managed a few shots in the dull gloomy light. In binoculars the bird was stunning, and I was able to see all the salient features indicative of the subspecies orientalis-the grey tail tips, the greyish vent and belly and the general violet rather than pinkish tones to the head and breast.
I left the garden to find Colin coming out of the house, and as I seemed to be one of only a few outside decided to pop in. Unfortunately the Dove was sitting well back in the tree and largely obscured, though parts could be seen occasionally. The garden feeders were amazing-in the fifteen minutes I was there we had a couple of Siskin, a Brambling, several Bullfinch and a Blackcap as well as the more expected tits and sparrows. Soon after 0900, a Wood pigeon came down, flushed the Dove and it flew off-something that it generally has done at about this time.
We stood around for a while chatting to friends and commiserating with late arrivals, though as the bird was seen later I guess most were eventually successful and eventually headed home.

Saturday, 12 February 2011

Hawfinch Again

Went back to Bramfield again this morning. Arrived around 0930, and found quite a lot of birders loitering around the church gate. William had seen three Hawfinch earlier in an oak at the back of the big garden opposite.
Seemed to be a lot of bird activity this time, with singing Goldcrests, Tits and my first Nuthatches of the year. Wandered down the road to look at the oak a bit more closely and noted more Nuthatch, a Great Spotted Woodpecker and a lot of corvids and Starlings. The main target here actually was one of the Firecrests and it did not take long before a very bright crest flew out of the evergreen shrubs in front of us before vanishing deep into the hedge.
I then went back to the church to search the yews and holly before ending up in the playing fields to join some of those I was with yesterday.  We chatted for a bit then unexpectedly a Hawfinch flew out over the church and low over our heads before heading off to the big woods west of us. No idea where it came from  as no-one by the gate saw it.

I then called in at Rye Meads for a couple of hours. The water levels on most of the reserve is very high, good for ducks, including my first Herts Shelduck of the year, but luckily the northern lagoon is being kept virtually empty. The many rocky islands and shallow pools are ideal for waders (and also more ducks) and  I found three Green Sandpipers. Not much else of note, the Kingfishers were not seen and I had hoped to locate a Chiffchaff. Many other birders were trying to find up to three Bittern, but the many reed beds are not all that easy to search, and the birds move around a lot.

Friday, 11 February 2011


There has been a small flock of Hawfinches at Bramfield over the last few days, in and around the churchyard. I finished work as usual this morning and popped down for an hour or so.
I arrived a few minutes late-just after 2pm as one had been perched high up in the limes but had just flown off. William was present so we had  a chat while waiting. Saw my first Red Kite of the year along with a couple of Buzzards, as well as three Bullfinch. A flock of Fieldfare were around, but apart from a few Greenfinches and tits there seemed to be little activity in the church.
After around 40 minutes, I noticed a large dumpy short tailed finch fly from behind the church and on to the south west. Seen enough over the years to know it was a Hawfinch, but despite waiting another forty minutes in deteriorating light, we never saw one return. The only bird of note was a calling Little Owl from across the playing field.
No sign of any Firecrest, and although a Chiffchaff was heard I  missed that too.

Saturday, 5 February 2011

Whoops I made a boo boo

A bit windy this weekend, and it seems that little is being reported.
Did a bit of shopping this morning and went for a drive around the villages west of Stevenage. Apart from a few corvids, a couple of pheasants and some very low flying Skylarks, hardly anything was showing in the wind.

Have been going through last weeks images and found a cock up.
The 'Ring Bill Gull' that Colin and I were photographing is a well marked Common Gull. The black bill band is a bit thin and weak, though the large chunky yellow bill and the rather pale grey mantle are superficially Ring bill like. Bit too much white in the wing tip flight shot too. Guess it never came back from when it flew off after all.