Monday, 18 February 2013

Amwell and Portland

Saturday morning was spent as usual at Amwell. It was a nice, fairly mild but cloudy day. Initially only Bill and Tony were present, though many others eventually appeared. We watched a Water Rail in the reeds just in front of the watch point, and a large number of Snipe were present on the island-I think 14 were counted which was the largest count this year.
Eventually I went for a slow walk up to Tumbling Bay, locating a pair of Bullfinches in the usual spot opposite the footbridge and some very confiding Siskins. There were four Smew, including a drake present, but it seems the Scaup has departed as there have been no sightings for about a week. I had hoped the warmer weather would bring out a Treecreeper or Chiffchaff in the woods or along Hollycross but there  was little to see apart from more Siskin.  Around 1145 a Bittern flew in to the reeds just to the left of the hide and showed intermittently for s while.

Colin and I used to visit Portland either on New Years Day or soon after, but it has been a while since we had done that. Recent plans to go down have been put off several times but we decided to go down on Sunday.
The drive down was interesting-thick fog or heavy frost seemed to alternate every five to ten miles but we eventually arrived to discover a lovely late winter/early spring morning with lots of sunshine. it was however to put it mildly bracing with a fairly strong south easterly wind.
We started by scanning the northern part of Portland Harbour from the slip way near Sandisfoot Castle. The highlight was the large number of Slavonian and Black Necked Grebes present with small groups all over the place. Maybe 15 Slavs and perhaps 8-10 Black Necks. A few scoter flew through and there were as usual many Mergansers. The north east corner was not observable and moving up to the Castle was not on because a Sealed Knot type meeting was taking place. we did locate a birder along the road and joined him. The two female Velvet Scoters were found, as was the red Necked Grebe.
Moving to Portland Harbour to scan the southern harbour was fruitless, with a lot of disturbance so we headed off to the Bill.
The wind was rather strong, making observing difficult. Guillemots and Razorbills were coming and going, evidently the recent oil type spill has not had as severe impact as first feared. Small parties of Gannets were moving east. There were as usual many Rock Pipits around.
A search of the eastern rocks failed to locate any Purple Sandpipers, though the scenery was photogenic. The wind was rather troublesome and I was reluctant to get too close to the edge to check the rock shelves below the cliff edge.

 Colin went over the west side to get out of the wind and I eventually made my way over, but noticed three Purple Sands just below the Bill monument so decided to clamber down and get a bit closer. I 
eventually got down to the shelf that they were feeding on and so managed to get a few good images although as often happens here I was almost facing the Sun.

We eventually left, calling in at the Fleet visitors centre briefly (rebuilt since our last visit) where there were a number of med Gulls around, but there was no information on where the elusive Snow Bunting could be found.
On the way home we detoured into the New Forest ending up at Hawkhill enclosure (the Junco site from last year). It was getting a bit late in the day and still rather breezy, and much of the area was under water. Apart from some Linnets Chaffinches and Reed Buntings there was not much in the woods, and the heath did not have anything apart from a brief but close glimpse of a Woodlark.

Tuesday, 12 February 2013

Recent Bits and Pieces

Have not written for a while so here is a summary of the last few days.
On Friday, I went into London for the annual European Astrofest, meeting up with some of the members of LADAS. Had a pretty good time, and as usual a lot of very expensive optical products to lust over, including a very nice APM 10" refractor ( a few pence short of £50k!). A bit impractical, but tempting with a suitable lottery win.
Its been some time, but I actually spent some money there and came home having bought a nice little tracking mount for my camera.  Will take smallish telephotos, and with a couple of bright comets coming up I hope to get out to a dark sky and get some images. Since my last comet photography had Hale Bopp as a subject, and was taken with a film camera I may need a bit of practice. I did a few tests with my 35mm and 100mm Zeiss lenses from the garden a while back, mainly to check the image quality as it is so light polluted that exposures have to be kept very short.

  This is a crop of the Pleiades in Taurus. Something like four seconds at f2 and iso 400 on a static tripod.

Saturday I decided to go for a walk around Aston End and up the river Beane-now flowing but despite the heavy rainfall over the last year the water level is still pretty low. Debris suggest the occasional flash flood at times. Rather dull, cloudy and cold, there was not much to see until I got to the ford east of Aston when I accidentally put up a Buzzard lurking around the pumping station. A pair of Bullfinch at the usual spot near High Wood was nice as I had not seen them for a long time and assumed they may have gone. The usual Little Owl was in the tree in the paddocks. Unfortunately i looks like the stables had been targeted by arsonists and a lot of the hedges nearby are badly damaged.
A few Fieldfare and Redwings are in the area, and there seems to be a pair of Red Kites as well.

Today I took Mum shopping, and getting back home I heard at least two, maybe more Goldcrests in the Bay Tree and Pittosporum. Having had several visits in recent months, I am now wondering if they may be resident. Still getting lots of Goldfinch, at least three House Sparrows, and a pair of Blackbirds. The lone Greenfinch has also turned up again.

Sunday, 3 February 2013

Another Cold Day

Managed to get out with Colin today. We did not do a big trip, concentrating on a few close birds.
First stop was Priory Park in Bedford. Arrived just after 0800 to find it bitter with a nasty cold wind and very poor light. Did not take long to locate the Ferruginous Duck in with a flock of Pochard and Tufties.

The Black Necked Grebe was rather tougher as it was hiding behind the island on the western side, so we only had distant views. A few Redwing were the only other birds of note.
 Headed up in to the fens via St Neots-the Ouse is very high with a lot of flooded fields. Not far from Sutton Gault we located a flock of wild swans-both Bewicks and Whooper.

 We saw a few more distant birds as we headed over to Pymore. From the viaduct, a very strong wind was making the washes very rough. Unlike last year when it was incredibly dry, this year the water is very deep. There were small numbers of Wigeon and Teal all over, along with Pochard, Tufted and Mallard. Not much else and we never managed to see any raptors or owls in the area. There were large Wood Pigeon and Stock Dove flocks, and every now and then small parties of Fieldfare could be seen. A surprise while driving through Mildenhall was the small flock of Waxwings on the roadside wires.

 We got to Thetford at about 1130. Two Marsh tits were singing in riverside trees and a short walk across a very muddy field brought us to the Black bellied Dipper which was very confiding-some were able to get within 10-15 feet.

 With little else to go for in the area we headed home via Therfield Heath. The light was still very poor and the wind was still a problem, plus we had a brief shower. Took a long time to locate the Great Grey Shrike on the wires west of the path. Again there were no signs of any owls, the ring tail Harrier seen earlier did not show and neither did the Merlin. The usual pair of Kestrel and various Buzzards were the only raptors. The big flocks of Goldfinch and Linnets held a few Redpoll and Yellowhammer.

Saturday, 2 February 2013

Caspian Gull 2

The Caspian Gull disappeared from Amwell last weekend, but was replaced by a Glaucous Gull for a few days. Unfortunately I could not get down for the latter, but the Caspian returned and showed quite well yesterday on and off.
I decided to get down there a bit earlier than usual, just in case, and met Tony as he was getting out of the car. It was a nice sunny day, but with a bitter northerly wind. We got to the watchpoint to find it deserted, and with few gulls on view. One or two Egrets were feeding at the back, and there was the usual selection of wildfowl present. After a while we walked up to Tumbling Bay, mainly to get out of the wind, meeting Sid on the way. Unfortunately there was no sign of the Scaup or Smew, presumably tucked away under the trees, but we watched a large flock of Long Tail Tits in the woods, along with some Siskin.
Walking back to Hollycross Lane , bumped into Mike Cotten. More tits along the track, and around the cottage, plus various finches and a couple of Buzzards. No Bullfinch or Redpolls but we did see a Marsh Tit. Staked out the Bittern Pool for a bit but nothing showed.
Back at the watchpoint old Colin and his mate had appeared, plus Dave from Stevenage. They had come down for the Caspian, but had not seen it-so I pointed at the goal posts where a very long legged white headed gull was perching. I had seen it on the way up and Mike and I were suspicious, but needed clearer views. Luckily Colin had his scope and we were treated to superb views of the 1w Caspian. Over the next half hour it fed in the water, flew around at times and sat up on the various posts.

Rather better images than the last visit.