Saturday, 28 January 2012

Rye Meads

Have had a bit of a headachy cold thing going over the last few days, and decided to go out for a while to get a bit of air.
Went down to Amwell, wondered why there were no cars and remembered that the access track was shut as they were working on the railway. Went round to the old access at hollycross but there was no room for the car so ended up going down to Rye Meads.
Had to wait for them to open the gate and was first in. Spent a while chatting to the staff before heading off with Julie who had also intended to go to Amwell. We headed up to the old lagoons as the water elsewhere was very high based on her visit recently.
Did not take long to find a couple of Green Sandpipers, and a Grey wagtail flew in. Apart from a couple of Shelduck, not much else was around.  Sat in the Kingfisher hide for a while where we had a large flock of primarily Fieldfare with a few Redwings. Thought I heard a Chiffchaff calling and then two small birds flew threw the trees. Could not be absolutely certain though they did look pretty good.
With time getting on I left Julie and slowly made my way back, where I heard a cetti's warbler and a Water Rail.
Two Buzzards and a Red Kite at Watton on the way back.

For the second weekend running, had a few Redpolls fly over the garden. Would be nice if they dropped in as I only ever had one once and I am sure they would like the Silver Birch I planted some years back

Saturday, 21 January 2012

Hampshire Delivers

Having missed out last week, we pretty much had to do Hampshire today, with two major rarities and a nice supporting cast. Unfortunately the weather was not as good, with some wind and a lot od dull cloudy light. Despite this we had a great day.
 We arrived at Calshott around 0830 to find a smallish crowd staring at the hedge and a Spanish Sparrow hidden deep in the hawthorn. Views were not good. I was told that there were a couple of Peregrines around the power station behind us but I never got to see them.
 Got a tap on the shoulder, turned round and was surprised to see Phil Ball on a rare twitch-apparently Ian Kendall was coming down and he cadged a lift. Gesturing at a passing container ship he remarked that the Sparrow had made a very long and strenuous journey.
 Eventually the Sparrow moved out of the hedge and we got very good views, much better than the ones we had way back in Cumbria in 1996 (and they were pretty good too).

 Our next stop on the tour that every one seemed to be doing was hawkhill Enclosure in the New Forest. Light was very poor and the Junco had not shown all morning-Phil mentioned that he had seen singing Woodlarks as well as many Crossbills. The Crossbills showed but I never saw or heard (except possibly a distant song fragment lost in the wind) one. Eventually someone found the Junco in one of the fallen pines some way off-it showed well but distantly before flying to the usual Chestnuts. Here it fed on the ground extensively but occasionally got up into the fallen pines and Chestnut where I got some decent images with the 500mm and both 1.4 and 2x converters. Rather nice to use this lens as it was after some very disappointing photography at the Chester Junco many years ago that I got the lens-I ordered it after seeing a magazine advert while stopping off at an M6 service station on the way back.

 Phil mentioned that two weeks back William had encountered many Dartford Warblers in the heath over the road, but despite a search we were not successful, as the wind was rather strong.

 The Gosport Ring Bill Gull was next on the list. We arrived just after noon to be told it had been seen shortly before but was no longer on the lake. Encountering Phil and Ian again we were directed to the muddy harbour where they had seen it badly backlit by the Sun. We saw the bird in question but it was distant. A few Brents, Curlews and redshank were around.  Returning to the car via the lake I was surprised to see the Ring Bill sitting on the water. Working our way round we were confused to find only a well marked Common, but soon located the Ring Bill again. Luckily someone arrived with a bag of bread and it flew by before sitting on the path in front of us.

 The Iceland Gull in Portsmouth was reported at the base of the Spinnaker Tower. We decided to drive over there but finding the place proved to be an exercise in frustration with misleading and disappearing road signs and we eventually gave up and finished the day at Warblington where the Cattle Egret was showing well in the cattle field, being joined by a Little egret.

Monday, 16 January 2012

Local Great Grey Shrike at Last

Did not do anything over the weekend. I had hoped to visit the new Forest for the Junco, plus a nice supporting  cast, and the discovery of a Spanish Sparrow during the week made it a dead cert, but unfortunately I finished work last week with a bad throat and did not feel up to the journey.
 Was rather annoyed to hear late yesterday of a Brent Goose in Fairlands valley-would have made a nice local tick. It was too dark to call in on the way to work but I thought it worth trying on the way home.
 However, before that I drove round to Norton Green where I got superb views of the Great Grey Shrike illuminated by the setting Sun. After the disturbance of the shooting and the travellers the other weekend I had assumed it had gone, but it was reported again today. Seemed to be settled in it's favoured bushes so I assume it is likely to stay for a while.
 Called in at the lakes, but I could only see the  Canada Geese and the usual assortment of feral wildfowl. Most of the smaller lakes were iced up but the larger lake was clear.

Monday, 9 January 2012

Arctic Roll

Had a full days birding yesterday, with a Norfolk trip. Colin still not 100% but was up for it. Decided to concentrate on Titchwell and it's Redpolls.
Left pretty early and most of the trip was in the dark. Picked up a couple of Barn Owls on the way up beyond Ely. The regular detour through Ringstead did not produce much apart from a small flock of Corn Buntings, four Roe Deer  and the usual partridges.

  Chosely did not have much at all, though we did see a few Pink Feet on the way down to the coast.
 Titchwell was fairly quiet when we arrived, so no problem parking. A scan of the car park and picnic areas did not produce any Redpolls, and we went on to the feeders and waited. Many others arrived all hoping for redpolls but all we had was the usual Water Rail under the feeders. Eventually we all moved on and found a small crowd on the path looking at the bank-side Alders.
 There was a small flock of Goldfinches and Redpolls feeding, but despite directions I had a very hard time picking up the Coue's Arctic Redpoll supposedly in the trees. I did see a typical Mealy as well as a colder greyer presumed Mealy, before some of the birds flew off. Got a bit frustrated at this point, as did many others as it seemed that half those present could not see any Arctic. The rest of the birds eventually flew back towards the visitors centre.
 A few of us went back to try and get better views. Most of the Redpolls were feeding on the ground, mainly Lesser but the large cold bird was with them. Initial views through the scope seemed to suggest to all of us that we were looking at a Mealy but a closer study revealed baggy trousers a very short bill with a straight culmen and it gradually dawned on us that this was the Coue's Arctic Redpoll and this seemed confirmed when Colin's image of the rump was studied.
 Satisfied we continued on to the beach. A small crowd were found to be watching a distant Spoonbill out on Thornham Marsh. This concerned Colin as he had not seen Little Egret and he had visions of doing all the rare herons first. Luckily I soon picked up an Egret in flight. I was worried that it looked rather big and lumbering, but did not pick up on the yellow bill........
 Further up near the beach a large crowd was staring intently towards Thornham and someone mentioned that some had just seen  Great White Egret fly in.
Still there were a few Little Egrets for Colin on view.  
 The sea was pretty dead apart from a few Mergansers, Kittiwakes and unusually two Goosander. Four Snow Buntings were nice to see.
 On the way back we were directed to two Chinese Water Deer in the Marsh.

 The path near the centre was crowded with photographers-the birds were still feeding. They were a lot closer than earlier and we got very good views of both Lesser and the Coue's at almost point blank range.

 After several hundred images and very satisfying views we eventually left Titchwell and headed inland.
 A drive around Welney and Pymore was rather disappointing, though we did see some swans and plenty of wildfowl. A Barn Owl on a fence post was flushed by passing cars before we got to it. At the viaduct a scan of the washes was rather shocking as they were virtually dry-there did not seem to be any more water than when we were here in the summer.
 A final stop off late in the afternoon at Burwell Lode produced another Barn Owl, two Short Eared Owls and several Chinese Water Deer and a small herd of Fallow Deer.

Saturday, 7 January 2012


Popped over to Norton Green yesterday after work at lunchtime to try and find the Great grey shrike that was found on Monday. Unfortunately with limited time it was not successful-in fact it had not been seen all day. It was re-found an hour after i got home.
So this morning I got there early and met someone leaving that I  knew-he had not seen it in a good hour. As we were chatting, a tractor pulled up towing a shed and out poured a load of gun dogs and shooters. Not a good start and they were surprised to find birders on site. I popped up onto the tip briefly and noticed a load of travellers and their dogs sweeping the site, so there was no hope of seeing the shrike today, gave up and headed for Amwell.
 Did not look promising-only Tony was present and he had had a fairly dull morning.  Went up to Tumbling Bay and soon found the female Red Crested Pochard, but the Smew had done a bunk again. Not a great deal at hollycross, but the Siskin flock in the picnic area still present. Also had a very close Treecreeper.
arrived back at the Watchpoint to find Simon, Colin, Phil and a couple of the Sunday crew. Had a long chat with a bit of birding until Phil thought he had a dark moving shape in the reeds-presumably a Bittern but it could not be found despite a long search. I was on the verge of getting ready to leave when two drakeGoosander flew north, and just as we were celebrating Phil's Bittern became a reality feeding on the waters edge. Watched it for several minutes before it slipped away, and this time a few of us made a definite move to leave. We got as far as the bridge when the others called us back for a fine Red Kite over the hide-a superb final twenty minutes to what started off as a really bad day.

Monday, 2 January 2012

Therfield Again

Nice sunny and cool day today. I had planned to go to Therfield this afternoon, but with the wind building up, decided to go earlier.
Parked in the village and walked down Icknield Way, encountering the usual partridges and thrushes before stopping at the open area. Scanned for some time without seeing a great deal. Chatted to one of the local birders for a bit and watched a couple of guys walk part way along the 'shrike' hedge, but nothing popped up. There were another couple of birders on the far northern hillside-turned out they were watching a Peregrine. The wind was getting stronger so I decided to walk down to the trees, and saw a Hen Harrier fly in low from the east.
More birders were in the trees-apparently the hen harrier had dropped into the field. However of more importance the Shrike was showing in the hedge out of the wind. Unfortunately it remained a long way off-it was busy hunting, dropping to the ground frequently but we never saw what it was feeding on.

 We also saw several Kites, Buzzards, Kestrels and a Sparrowhawk. A few flocks of Linnets were in the area, along with lots of Skylarks. Did not see any Golden Plover this time though.
 On the way back one of the many Hares put on a good show.

Sunday, 1 January 2012


New Years Day has arrived and it is very mild-noticed Grape Hyacinth in flower in the garden (along with several Cowslips that have been going since October) and there are plenty of other bulbs coming up.
Did not do a big trip today-Colin is out of action (makes a change as it's usually me), so went down to the Lea Valley for a few hours.
Started off at Nazeing. The diver had not been seen for a few days but I expected to see a few Goosander and so on. Unfortunately i was pretty quiet and there was nothing much of note, so I quickly left.
Amwell seemed quiet too, as only Phil was present but eventually most of the others were encountered. Not a great deal from the watchpoint, though given time a few Buzzards and Sparrowhawks put in an appearance. The usual assortment of wildfowl and gulls, a few Lapwing and Snipe were all I saw.
 Made my way up to Tumbling Bay where a drake Smew had been present for two days, but no-one could find it. I could not find the Red Crested Pochard either.
Over at hollycross, Tony and Julie were watching Goldcrests but the lake was empty, so I went with the Sunday mob to the picnic area where we watched a large flock of Siskin in the alders. A Marsh Tit was with them and showed well.
 back at the watchpoint, I met Alan Reynolds so i filled him in on Nazeing. The only new birds were two Little Egrets. Unfortunately Phil had seen the Smew fly north, presumably to Tumbling Bay but by then it was getting on and I had to leave.