Saturday, 25 February 2012

Dead Mans Hill

With the milder weather, and the promise of breezy sunshine I decided to head up to the Chiltern ridge between Baldock and Royston. The Merlin has been seen from time to time, and I had expected to see some raptors displaying.
 I drove through Wallington, stopping off at one of the gates. Lots of Skylarks singing, as well as a few Corn Bunting. One or two Pheasant and Grey Partridge noted too.

 I spent around 45 minutes at Dead Mans Hill. Conditions were a bit cloudy and cool, and I did not see the expected displaying raptors. Lots of Buzzards in the distance and a pair of Kestrel were seen. The fields were full of hares, attracting a local photographer, but they were too distant for my 300+1.7 converter. Two large flocks of Common Gulls, 23 Fieldfare and big Linnet and Skylark flocks still.
 Most interest for me came from the herd of Fallow Deer to the east, including a couple of bucks mock fighting and a white hart (looking not unlike the sign on one of my old pub haunts).

 A drive over to Kelshall did not produce anything due to a large organised Pheasant shoot so I went over to Preston and Kimpton. The sun was coming out now and I managed to see several Kites and Buzzards, but with no chance to stop for photography. A quick glance at the 'secret' tree got me the local Ravens and so I headed off home.
 Colin's car was parked outside when I arrived-he had been shopping picking up several new lenses for his Pentax. He went out into the garden to try the new 15mm, so I dug out my old Sigma 20mm and we pent time with the spring flowers doing very close wide angle shots.

Friday, 24 February 2012

Spring is Almost Here

What a difference two weeks make. Temperatures are in the mid teens during the day at the moment, and not much less at night- a massive difference to the recent freeze when it barely got above zero on the best days.
 Did some work in the garden today, clearing some of the dead stems, pruning and a bit of weeding. Came across Ladybirds sunning themselves-they have been about most sunny days over the last week. Also had a few queen Bumblebees flying around. Biggest sign of spring is the frog frenzy in the pond. I'm expecting to see frogspawn any day now.

Tuesday, 21 February 2012

Common Yellowthroat

 Colin phoned last Thursday asking if I would be in Wales on Friday, which was when I first found out about the Common Yellowthroat near Newport.
 Now American warblers have been rather hard for me having only seen two and a half. We went for the wintering Blackpoll in Kent in 1994 and two years later a frustrating trip with a blocked M25 and the detour involving hedge cutting tractors, dying milk floats and a long funeral cortege got us the Northern Waterthrush at Portland.
 Later in 1996 I went for the Black and White outside Norwich, and with no news early on I went for the Desert Wheatear at Salthouse and the Pallas's Warblers at Waxham before getting to Trowse earl afternoon. Met up with the photographer dave Nye who I used to see a lot and had a chat while we scanned the roadside trees. I walked down a lane and noticed a bird climbing one of the big trees. Against the low sun it seemed to be very streaky, and I assumed it to be a Treecreeper. As it made its way up the trunk something did not seem right so I tried to get my scope on it, and it then flew off high to the south. Dismissing it as a Treecreeper and with the light fading I headed home, but there were nagging doubts. Usually Treecreepers seem to be white and brown birds-the streaking along the back and wings is only really obvious in good light, and this was not a two tone bird, it was very stripy. The other problem is it's movements were more tit like, or perhaps Nuthatch, and its flight action did not seem to be like a Treecreeper. Viewing video clips in recent years I am pretty sure now that I did see the Black and White warbler, but the views were not sufficient to be absolutely certain and I have never put it on my lists.
 Anyway the chance of another American Warbler was too good to miss. However Sunday was the only option (and a good job too as it hardly showed in the Saturday rain and the car park field ended up churned up bog). New parking arrangements were made so off we headed.
 We arrived just before 0800, paid our entrance fee and made our way into the field. Within minutes we were getting stunning views of the Yellowthroat feeding on the ground below the road side hedge. It flitted in and out of view for about twenty minutes before flying off. It was soon re located at the base of another hedge and in the frosty sunlight it really glowed. With the very dense tussocks of grass it was a bit more elusive but remained on view until we left at 0900.

 We next went to Penarth where the Lesser Scaup was present in the country park . The first bird we saw though was a BTO ringed Whooper standing on the path beside the car park. We assume it was wild but it seemed unconcerned about people.
 The Scaup was seen distantly with Tufties along the wooded eastern section of the lake. There were a few clear spots enabling us to get pretty close to it. 

 With no news on the Cardiff Bonapartes Gull we made our way to New Fancy View in the Forest of Dean.
Moments after getting to the view point I was watching two displaying Goshawks and later I found a couple more. Colin managed to locate a female bird sitting in one of the distant pines. We also had many Buzzards, flyby Brambling and Siskin and several Ravens. The conditions for displaying birds of prey could not have been better, but because I was starting to feel very sick we called it a day and headed off home.
 I saw more Brambling somewhere in Oxfordshire, many Buzzards and huge numbers of Red Kites along the M40.

Sunday, 12 February 2012

Icy Amwell

The unusual winter visitors were finally seen in the garden today.
Making breakfast I noticed several Song Thrush and Redwings among the Blackbirds feeding outside the kitchen window before flying over to the holly bushes where the snow had cleared. 
Evidence that a Song Thrush had been in the garden came from a few empty snail shells on the path. A pair of Great Tits were visiting the feeders while I had my coffee. Later in the afternoon, a Song Thrush came down to the patio and fed on the crushed suet balls. A lone Long Tail Tit was seen in the Rowan as well.

 I decided that as it was warming slightly that a visit to Amwell might be productive. Unfortunately the crossing is still shut so I went down to the next one and walked up the towpath. Bumped into Phil and had a chat. Most of the waters are iced up (as was the Lea Navigation, trapping all the barges) but he reported that small areas of water were still open. He also mentioned that Barry had taken part in the epic twitch to Japan for the Siberian Crane and Baer's Pochard last weekend.
The walk to the watchpoint was a bit slow as the path was covered in icy snow, and there was a constant movement of gulls and small birds in the trees. Chatted to one of the barge residents-he had apparently watched a white Stoat hunt rabbits in recent weeks.
 No-one at the watchpoint for a while until Tony arrived and eventually Alan reynolds and Bill turned up. Light misty rain added to the bleak scene in front of us. A largish area of water was still open between the hide and the big island and it was full of ducks, gulls, a few swans and lots of coot. A distant open area near the sluice held a huge flock of Coot, and some duck. With perseverance, a minimum of three redhead Smew could be located. A bonus of two Woodcock flying over us was a nice surprise-I had been checking the roads on the way down just in case, but did not expect to see any today.
 Walked down to the river bridge with Alan as Bullfinch and Water Rails had been seen here but we did not see any. The feeders by the hide had a few tits and the surrounding trees held a large flock of Siskin.

Saturday, 11 February 2012

Deep Freeze

Still a bit nippy. Lots of snow on Thursday night again.
Went down to Kensington yesterday to the annual Astofest. Lots of very nice big and expensive telescopes and associated gear. Had a chat with a few dealers as I am looking for some special filters for my camera lenses, saw  lightweight camera platform and some solar equipment that would be really be of use.

Spoke to Sarah today-they had temperatures at 0500 this morning of -15C.
Took Mum shopping this morning, and even with the Sun blazing down, the temperature at 100 was still between -5 and -6C. The ice is melting so the paths are clearing but there is still a lot of snow lying.
Birds seem to be coping well. The usual stuff is visiting the garden but there is still nothing out of the ordinary appearing. Sarah's gripped me off-she has had a Blackcap in her garden and there is a male Bullfinch in the hedge that they can see from the living room.

Weird bird report this weekend is the White Tailed Eagle reported south of Luton at East Hyde yesterday apparently heading my way late afternoon. Kept my eyes open of course every time I went out. Today it was reported heading south east over Rye Meads at Noon and it or another over Sheppy three hours later.
Now the reasonable route from East Hyde to Rye Meads is to follow the river Lea, or maybe the Mimram which will eventually reach the Lea. In which case it would have flown over some heavily birded locations, but no-one seems to know who has been reporting the bird. Lots of puzzled and frustrated Herts birders at the moment.

Sunday, 5 February 2012


Well after a week of plummeting temperatures and overnight frosts apparently down to -8 we finally got some snow. It started yesterday evening and continued through the night and I woke to see the garden covered in about six inches of the stuff. Trivial compared to much of Europe, but we were still told to only make a journey if absolutely necessary due to the 'treacherous' conditions.
 The one good thing is that it had warmed up slightly and it was easy to clear the path and the dustbin lid which passes for a bird bath (most of last week it had frozen solid, requiring two kettles to melt).
 With no pans to go out birding this weekend on the grounds that I would rather stay cozy, I set myself up for two days of garden birding, though as it turned out not much actually happened.
 Heard a Dunnock singing while topping up the feeders-for some reason my 'resident' birds vanished in the summer and never came back, so it was nice to hear one in the area. A couple of Greenfinches flew over-another lost species for the garden. My pair of Robins were soon down, followed by a couple of Blackbirds, the Wood Pigeons and Collared Doves and eventually the large flock of House Sparrows finally paid a visit. Two Goldfinches in the birch were the first in the garden this year-they have been heard singing in the big trees outside.
 The one species I had hoped to visit were Redpolls, in recent weeks I have heard a few from time to time.
 Scanning the skies produced the usual assortment of Pigeons, Starlings, Crows and Gulls. There were no signs of any thrush or wader moments, in fact absolutely nothing out of the ordinary.