Sunday, 30 December 2012

Amwell Saturday

Had to pop in and see Sarah and Ed, so naturally I then went to Amwell.
Arrived around 1000, ie a lot later than normal. Ran into Jay Ward chatting to Ron Cousins. Ron had spent a couple of hours searching for the Tumbling Bay Lesser Spot with no success-not surprising considering the strength of the wind. I went up to the watchpoint with Jay to join Phil. Barry's in Brazil again with Jan, and Bill was twitching an imported moth in Dorset.
Not a great deal happening, with most birds keeping their heads down. Usual assortment of gulls and wildfowl but nothing out of the ordinary.
Joined by a Stevenage birder, I headed up to Tumbling Bay with Jay more for a bit of exercise than anything else. Encountered a few Siskin and five or six Redpoll on the way up. A couple of others were already near the lock, scanning the trees but with nothing to show apart from a few tits and corvids. Headed up a bit further for the Scaup fix, and then walked down to the trees where we saw the Smew pair quite close in. No camera of course.
Back at the watchpoint it was more of the same so I left, bumping into Ron again at the level crossing where we saw at least 70 Siskin in the alders-by far the biggest flock I have seen in the valley for many years.

Friday, 28 December 2012

Half an Owl

Typical Christmas-had the usual health issues in the weeks leading up, so been a bit run down and the most energetic thing I've done in the last week has been putting the bins out. Decided to try and get a bit of exercise this afternoon since the rain had stopped.
There are potentially five owl species to be found in north east Herts at the moment, though Long Eared is a bit of a long shot. I know where birds have occasionally been seen flying , but there is no real chance of seeing them-I've never encountered one.
I decided to head up to Therfield in order to see the Shrike, some raptors and hopefully, being late afternoon an owl or two. Parked in Briar Lane and walked up the track, locating the pair of Kestrels and flushing a small covey of Red Legged Partridge. From the view point where this track meets Ickneild Way I saw a couple of Buzzards to the east and the occasional flock of Linnets, Yellowhammers and Skylarks flew over.
No sign of anything to the west so I went down the track to the conifers and scanned the lower fields for a while before returning. Not long after I reached the track junction I noticed a bird slowly flying behind trees near the farm. All I saw was a sandy wing with a dark carpal patch flick up and then down. Presuming Short Eared Owl I moved to try to get a better view but all that eventually emerged from the trees was a larger dark phase Buzzard. I assume the owl was hunting here as it was pretty sheltered-the wind was strong enough for the many Buzzards to hover.
Stuck it out until 1600 when the light was starting to get very bad and the wind was picking up even more but I did not see the owl again, so I left and drove home via Sandon where there was a chance of a Barn Owl in the headlights. All I encountered were three Muntjac in various spots.

Sunday, 16 December 2012

Amwell's Scaup

Usual Sunday morning at Amwell and the main topic of discussion was of course the Buff Bellied Pipit.
As it was probably the first readily accessible (and easy to locate) long staying mainland record it has proved to be extremely popular. Turns out most of the regulars had been down to see it.
Despite it being a nice sunny day, there was not much to see on the main pit. The water is still at or above sluice level-and it looks like the canal is in the same position with a lot of work taking place on some of the lock gates.
Managed to see a few Snipe despite the lack of mud and the usual assortment of gulls and ducks were present, so I headed up to Tumbling Bay. The red head Smew showed briefly but we had a lot of trouble locating the Scaup largely because it was a lot closer than usual. Managed to get down to the waters edge and get some decent images.

 The walk back was uneventful and apart from a few Siskin in the woods there was not much to see. Went back to the watchpoint for a brief period where we got to see two Red Kites.

Saturday, 15 December 2012

Buff Bellied Pipit

An American Buff Bellied Pipit was identified a couple of days ago on the Queen Mother Reservoir next door to Windsor. Access is restricted, but luckily the local society has been able to arrange day permits so Colin and i went down for the 1000 opening. We arrived ten minutes early to find that 150 had already been admitted.
The small crowd on the southern bank indicated the bird's location, but it was very mobile, feeding all along the southern shoreline, and it was simply a case of staking a spot and waiting for the bird to walk past in front of you. Rather like the Abberton desert Wheatear, photographers with long lenses were at a severe disadvantage as the Pipit approached to within a few feet.

 I managed to take well over 300 images within a very small space of time, and have only selected a few to work on so far.
Few other birds present-a Red Necked Grebe among numerous Great Cresteds was seen over on the far shore, but I could not locate the Long Tailed Duck. A Peregrine perched on one of the pump towers was nice as I have managed to avoid getting good views of any so far this year.
Bumped into non twitcher Phil Ball (on his second twitch of the year) and Barry Reed, along with many other familiar faces.

Called in at Bramfield on the way back. Met a couple of Cambridge guys who had seen a Hawfinch just before we arrived. After some twenty minutes one flew out of the Rectory garden, circled and was lost to view. We walked around and down a lane and found it or another high in a tree some distance away. Got decent scope views but in the camera it was barely recognisable.
Nearby, a field held a small number of Lapwing and around 200 Golden Plover.

Friday, 14 December 2012

Christmas Shopping

Another Friday off, and I went to a local Wine Merchant to pick up something good for Christmas.
Before that, I spent around 40 minutes in Bramfield Churchyard in the hope that the Hawfinches would put in an appearance. The weather was not good-dull gloomy and by 1030 rain and wind had arrived.
A few thrushes in the area-Mistle and Blackbirds, lots of corvids and a few tits. The only finches that stopped off on the tall churchyard trees were a couple of Greenfinches.
No sign of any Golden Plovers, and the only raptor seen was a Red Kite.

Sunday, 2 December 2012


I got down to Amwell a bit later than normal. Very cold all morning, with thick ice on the puddles and frost remaining in the shade.
Moments after leaving the car, a small flock of Crossbills flew over, a pretty good start. Got to the watchpoint and joined the regulars. Due to the recent wet spell the water level is now very high  and there is very little exposed mud now. There has been more work with more channels and bays cut in the reeds so Water Rails are becoming more visible. As yet there has only been a single Bittern sighting this winter, and there was no sign while the reed cutting was taking place, so I don't actually know if one is wintering or not.
Walked up to Tumbling Bay and found the drake Scaup which is now starting to develop the pale grey back. There were also a few Redwing in the area. Walking back a few finches were found feeding on the weeds so I headed into the picnic area woods where I was joined by Tony. Watched a Chiffchaff for a while before a volatile Siskin, Goldfinch  and Redpoll flock appeared. Hard to judge numbers but there were at least five redpolls including a nice pink male, and maybe twenty Siskin. A female Bullfinch also appeared briefly.
Walked back to the watchpoint but did not stay long as there had been another Stevenage report of a Waxwing in York Road. I got there just after mid day but there was as usual no sign-yesterday two had been seen in the High Street so they are very mobile.

Saturday, 1 December 2012

More Waxwings

Went with Colin to Watford to buy some camera bits and look at something suitable as a pocket camera. On the way back we had to call into Bengeo again.
The Waxwings are still around, currently numbering 20, however further up the road is another flock and they seem to meet up from time to time and then split up again. Being cloudy the light is flat, imparting a different look to todays images.
Afterwards we went up to Therfield Heath. A big flock of Fieldfares with some Blackbirds and Redwings was notable. A couple of Buzzards, Kestrels and single Red Kite and Sparrowhawk were also seen. No sign today of the Shrike, Owls or Harriers.
A few flyby Yellowhammers and a couple of Corn Buntings were the only other birds of note.