Friday, 30 November 2012


Today was a day off. Heavy overnight frost, and a lovely winter morning in the sunshine. Waxwings have been appearing in various places, including a few local spots at Hertford and Bengeo.
The pager had four birds at Tanners Close Hertford so I went there first. There was a small flock here a year or so back feeding on the same Rowan. Unfortunately being a bit shady I never got good images even though the birds were very confiding at times so I headed off to 47 The avenue Bengeo. Met a few photographers that i knew and we spent a couple of hours getting some superb shots, chatting to the residents and passers by. Everyone seemed to enjoy the birds and some came out with their own cameras to get their own records.
Only slightly low point was when Lee Evans arrived and told me he had just come from the Stevenage birds!. left my pager in the car so I did not get the news in time. By the time I got up to York Road there was no sign. Hopefully they will stick around but there are a lot of birds moving around and flock numbers are fluctuating. i had 18 at Bengeo, there are now 30.

Sunday, 18 November 2012

Wet and frosty weekend

Saturday was supposed to be wet most of the day around here so I did not intend to go out. However the forecast in the morning looked a lot better, with most of the rain occurring overnight  so as the drizzle had eased off I went down to Amwell. As soon as I got the car out it chucked down and I thought I'd made a mistake, but heading south it stopped and it remained largely dry in the valley.
Met up with Bill and Tony and had a quick scan-got my first Goldeneyes of the winter, two lovely drakes. With cloud and then light rain arriving we headed off to a hide to wait it but it quickly passed. Not much on view in the hide so I headed off to Tumbling Bay. The Scaup is now starting to acquire grey feathers on it's back but proved hard to find from the viewpoint, but I found a suitable spot in the wood a few hundred yards up where it showed quite well. A few Redwings, six Redpoll (with more flying over) and around 30 Siskin were also in the area. Made my way back via the picnic area and met up again with Bill, Tony and Phil.
A few flocks of Redwing and Fieldfare were visible over the far woods, with some coming over us. The recent Bearded Tits did not put in an appearance and neither did Water Rail though one was calling. The only different bird was the drake Mandarin very close to the watch point and largely hidden by the reeds. Very difficult to see, but it was eventually disturbed and swam out.

Had intended to go out with Colin today, probably Pagham Harbour and it's slightly suspect Hooded Merganser. However I was not feeling great in the evening and decided not to go. Good job too as the Merganser had flown off and there was no sign this morning.
Apart from a headache and bad neck I felt reasonable so went up to the Ickneild Way at Therfield. Last winters Shrike is back and there are up to three Hen Harriers and various owls around.
Blue sky all day after an overnight frost and a lovely morning. Parked in Therfield and headed north. Around 50 Golden Plover flew over and there was a continual movement of Yellowhammer, Linnet, Gold and Greenfinch Corn Bunting and Skylarks. Several coveys of Grey Partridge as well. Most raptors distant with many Buzzards, two red Kites and several Kestrels. Also a lot of Fieldfare and redwing in the area.
Met up with some birders who had seen the Shrike earlier and not long after getting to the escarpment overlooking Royston I saw it in top of a tree. Unfortunately disturbed by walkers, being a very busy area it flew off but returned about 15 minutes later. Managed to get a few images before it flew off again. Failed to see any harriers or owls this time.

Sunday, 11 November 2012

Lovely Autumnal Day

Woke up to a frost and lots of sunshine. I had pretty much decided to go to Amwell, but with it being Remembrance Sunday had some doubts because we park very close to the memorial and I was expecting it to be busy. Drove down in glorious sunshine, light misty patches and fantastic autumnal colour even though many leaves have dropped. Amwell church was quite busy when I arrived but I was able to just about park in the usual spot.
Got to the watchpoint at 0930 and I was the only one there! Not long after, Tony Mike and John Bartlett arrived. Most of the Sunday crowd are in Ethiopia and it turned out that the regulars were up at tumbling Bay.
 Water levels are quite high now, probably the highest for a couple of years and apparently there are pans to raise it a bit more. As a result ducks like Wigeon and Teal are largely feeding elsewhere but diving ducks are increasing. Apparently there are a few Goldeneye in now, as well as the ever elusive Mandarin. Bit early still for any Smew of course. Don't know how many Snipe are present-one or two in the new cut in front of the watchpoint and some flying around and dropping into a reed-bed pool where one of the big willows were taken out.
We walked down to the Water Vole pool where Jay had seen a Bittern recently. Being a nice sunny day there was a chance it may have emerged but there was no sign. I did see a Kingfisher briefly though, there was a Cetti's Warbler calling and a female Bullfinch sat in one of the willows. The alders in the picnic area held a small flock of Siskin, Goldfinch and a single Redpoll.
Back at the watchpoint we met up with every one else. A couple of Red Kites were over the woods and there were the usual small flocks of distant thrushes moving. One bonus with the new cut was the superb views of a Water Rail which climbed up the reeds and started sunning itself. Being a bit of a sun trap a Migrant Hawker and a pair of Common Darters were also seen.
On the way home, the lack of leaves enabled me to see three Little Egrets  by the stream at Hooks Cross.

Sunday, 4 November 2012

Desert Wheatear

Went over to Abberton with Colin yesterday for the long staying Desert Wheatear. I have not visited since they started work on raising the water levels and the causeways so it would be interesting to see how the work was going. The old visitors centre was a nice one, surrounded by mature scrub and trees so was always worth a visit. The new one is a few hundred yards south on the high peninsula and seems rather barren at the moment.
The Desert Wheatear was not hard to locate as it seems to think the car park is it's feeding territory, and was using every bollard, sign and tree sapling to perch on while hunting for food. Like many vagrant chats that i have seen, it seemed to enjoy feeding under the cars and was very confiding. More than one photographer had to put their big lenses away and use a shorter close focusing one.

 The biggest problem with photography was getting a decent background-the above images include Golf and Astra headlights in the background. I also have lots of car wheels, bumpers and number plates.
 We eventually left and went to Cudmore Grove. I have not been here for many years-its one of the places that Alan Reynolds enjoys visiting and often recommends it. The previous day a Shore Lark had been seen, as well as some White Fronted Geese, but both had gone. However a long search of the flood meadows was successful for a Jack Snipe hidden among it's Common brethren. Huge  numbers of Redshank, Black tailed Godwits Teal and Wigeon were also present. Among the dark bellied Brents was an unusual one reported as a light bellied. However it looked a bid odd to me and I dont think it was one.
Walked out to the point and located the Snow Bunting. More waders including lots of Dunlin, Sanderling and Turnstone. There was nothing at all on the sea.

 Before heading home we decided to try and locate the elusive Great Grey Shrike in the Birch area, supposedly seen on wires. We drove around for a bit, not seeing it or any other birders and following a pager message headed back to Abberton. Parked outside the pump house and met another birder. Moments later the Black Redstart appeared on the roof, unfortunately a bit too far away to get a good image. The local Kestrel proved to be a bit of a problem too.
 The birder had  just come from the shrike and gave us directions to where he had seen it. Unfortunately we could not find it, and meeting up with others it was clear that no one else was having much luck. A pigeon shoot earlier, and the wind presumably meant it was staying in cover so we left-it was reported about ninety minutes later in the area we had searched.

Friday at Amwell

Had Friday off, and being a week day I hoped that it would be possible to get down to Amwell-all the level crossings are still closed, even the one at Stanstead St Margerets.
I was able to park at the old entrance to the works on Hollycross Road and walked through to the towpath and north to Tumbling Bay. It was a nice sunny day and there was a lot of activity in the woods. Several parties of tits, a few finches and thrushes, including a pair of Bullfinch. Have not seen any here for a couple of years (and my local ones seem to have vanished too).
Tumbling bay is not easy to watch without a scope-I had brought my camera and so the 1w drake Scaup proved tricky to locate as most of the diving ducks were distant. Found a couple of vantage points that gave reasonable binocular views.
Walked back down through the wood and up to the watchpoint. A few Siskins and Redpolls as usual. The water levels are slowly rising but this has not as yet led to any increase in duck numbers, and there are no reports of Goldeneye yet.
Several buzzards took advantage of the sunshine and a pair of Sparrowhawks were being mobbed over the woods.
No butterflies or dragonflies seen despite the conditions.