Sunday, 28 April 2013

Best Day at Amwell in Years

Well I went down to Amwell this morning, not expecting to see a great deal. I was puzzled by the large number of cars parked along the lane, as there was nothing on the pager, but when I got up to the watchpoint Phil told me the Wood Warbler was showing down by the James Hide. I noticed that there were two Little Ring Plovers flying around the island as I departed, nice as they had been pretty well absent all year.
I joined the big crowd where the Warbler was singing continuously in the birches and sycamores, but was very flighty even though it was pretty close at times. i managed to get some decent images over the course of the morning. One or two Cuckoos were calling as well, and there were large numbers of House Martins and a few Swifts flying overhead.

Bill and Barry were there and they mentioned that Barry had seen the Pied Flycatcher earlier, but it had not been seen since. A number of us decided to watch the alders across the river and eventually it was spotted. Rather elusive but for a brief moment it showed well on a clear branch. I went up to the walkway, being joined by Tony and the sunday crew where another birder had been watching it above his head. It had however vanished, but reappeared briefly before flying across the river. Expecting it to return we did not realise it had ended up outside the James Hide alongside the Wood Warbler.
Eventually I got down there and managed to get a few record shots. We were then distracted by a superbly performing Treecreeper only a few feet away.

I made my way back up to the watchpoint, where there were now three Little Ring Plovers, one Oystercatcher one Common Tern and a Shelduck. I could  not hear any Grasshopper Warblers so went back down the path and soon heard a very loud individual in the brambles by the reed bed. Needless to say Sedge and Reed warblers were also singing, plus many Blackcaps and a few Garden Warblers.

 Before leaving I had a last look at the Wood Warbler and Pied Fly, getting decent views of the latter at last.

Saturday, 27 April 2013

Paxton, Weeting and Therfield

I was expecting to have to go to Spurn today for the Rock Thrush as Colin needs it. However, being a scaly brown female rather than a nice red and blue male he decided it was not worth it-getting very picky on lifers these days. We decided therefor to do the usual April circuit starting at Little Paxton and visit other sites depending on the weather and what gets reported. Good job too as the Rock Thrush had gone overnight.
We arrived at Little Paxton just after nine and found it to be rather chilly, and with intermittent light rain-still it was better than last year.
The first Nightingale was heard in the area adjacent to the car park, but proved to be invisible, as was the next couple of birds. However we managed to see number four in a small hawthorn but it never showed well for the camera. What was odd was it suddenly flew out and parachuted to the ground where it started to sing again. Never seen one do that, but Colin saw bird number seven do it too.  Presumably they were finding food on or near the ground.
We heard a lot of Willow Warblers, two or three Lesser Whitethroats and a fair number of Chiffchaff and Whitethroats. Common Terns were in, but we arrived too late for three Arctics. Additionally at least two Reed Warblers were singing along the river adjacent to the pits at Diddington.

Our next stop was in Norfolk at Barton Bendish for the Woodchat Shrike. It was very elusive and difficult to locate as it spent most of the time deep in a hedge but on a couple of occasions came out and perched but a long way off. Colin managed to get down to the other end of the hedge and got reasonably close but it eventually flew off onto wires where although very distant at least gave good views in the scope.
We then went on to Weeting Heath where we encountered more rain and it got very chilly. We went to the west hide and soon picked up the Stone Curlew on the nest. It seemed to be a problem for the others in the hide but eventually they all got on it. Somehow despite being there for some time none of them spotted the bird walking around to the right until I saw it. Incredibly it made its way closer and gave stunning views before heading back to the nest where the birds changed over. What was even more amazing was the second bird (male) did exactly the same. In 25 years i have never seen the birds here this close.

With it being so cold we decided to head home, but on reaching Royston I thought it might be worth calling in at Foxcote Wood just in case the Pasque Flowers would still be in flower on the hillside. Turned out they were almost at their peak, in fact according to a regular it was the best show in 40 years.

The only disappointing bit of the day was getting home to find that Alan Reynolds had sent me stunning images of the Pied Flycatcher and Wood Warbler at Amwell.

Sunday, 21 April 2013


Made it down there today. A nice sunny still day, but not much happening. Lots of Blackcaps and Chiffchaffs singing as expected. A Garden Warbler was seen but I could not find it and I was not able to locate any of the Willow Warblers (not singing when I was there).
A few Sedge Warblers singing in front of the watch point and one or two elsewhere. One Wigeon remains (injured) as well as a couple of pairs of Teal, and there seem to be two pairs of Redshank and the usual Oystercatcher couple. I missed a Common Tern which was seen while I was in the woods looking for the Garden Warbler, but I did get to see Brimstone, Small Tortoiseshells and a Comma.

Saturday, 20 April 2013

Black Redstart again

I was planning to visit Amwell this morning but decided to call in at Norton Green first. A Winchat had been seen again last night and I thought there might be a chance it would stay despite the clear night.
I got there shortly after nine and bumped into a couple of birders. They said they might have seen it in the northern section.
I pressed on and about half way along the bank the Black Redstart appeared, perched on teasels and flew off. I followed it and relocated it about the time Richard Pople arrived. We got reasonable views of it perched in the bushes. We carried on, but despite a long search involving Alan Ford who had also appeared we never located the Winchat. The Black Redstart showed several times and I managed to get one or two poor record shots.
Had my first local Swallows over the site, and a Lesser Whitethtroat.

Drove out west of Stevenage, encountering a Buzzard and a Raven having an arguement. Very distant but the Raven was very loud-which was how I picked it up.
Never did make it to Amwell.

Did a spot of gardening when I got back-first Comma of the year flying around.

Friday, 19 April 2013

Singing Blackcap

Working in the garden this afternoon. The Greenfinch that has been kicking around since last autumn is singing in the big oak out the front, along with the local Goldfinches. For about half an hour, a male Blackcap was singing in the holly hedge under the oak.
At least one pair of Blackbirds is building a nest, and I suspect hat the Robins are as well. Bit of a problem as they seem to prefer foraging in the big pots I am gradually planting up. Left a lot of turned over soil as I planted out some of the herbaceous perennials which may have distracted them for a bit. Wish they would tuck into the slugs and other pests, but at least the many frogs sitting in the pond and various water filled containers will take care of many of those. Don't think I mentioned it, but the frogs spawned in late March, six weeks later than usual.

Thursday, 18 April 2013

Norton Green Again

This morning Darrel found several good birds-a male Winchat, the Black Redstart and best of all a Grasshopper Warbler-have not seen any of the latter locally since the mid 80's when they were just about hanging on as a breeding bird.
Took a long lunch again and arrived at 1220. It was extremely windy again and birds were hard to locate apart from the Skylarks. Picked up a few Wheatear as I made my way to the north west corner where the Warbler had been seen. Ran into Tony Hukin again who had been up earlier and seen the birds, and we searched the area but as expected there was no sign. The only bird of note was a Whitethroat, but we found the usual Yellowhammers, Linnets and Reed Buntings.
Scoured the middle bit, picking up at least five Wheatear-the Winchat had been with them earlier but appeared to have gone. The only other bird seen was a lone Red Legged Partridge. Tried to locate the Black Redstart again but it is still playing hard to get.

Monday, 15 April 2013

Black Redstart Norton Green.

Spent an hour at lunchtime at Norton Green. Darrel had found a Black Redstart along with six Wheatear earlier. I got there around 1230, and saw a couple of birders at the north end. It was sunny, but a bit windy as I walked along the bank. A yellow bird flew up and over my head with a bounding flight and calling-a Yellow Wagtail. It landed on the telegraph wires bobbing it's tail and for a moment I had doubts as there were lots of Yellowhammers around which are more expected on wires. Luckily I met up with Tony Hukin who had seen three Yellow Wagtails not long before in the same area. At least three of the Wheatears were still present, though I suspect I saw four different birds but the Black Redstart-my bogey bird for the site had not been seen.
Tony's companion and the other birder left so we decided to do a complete circuit, picking up lots of Yellowhammers and Skylarks, a Linnet, some Blackbirds-unfortunately not Ring Ousels, a Pied Wagtail and not much else. We got to the southern end and I was ready to leave when a chat flew out of the brambles and into a small Elder. It was grey with some white and for a moment thought it might be  a Wheatear, until it landed in the bush . We approached the Elder but when we were still some way off it flew out and I saw the red tail and white in the wing of a male Black Redstart  . Tony saw it but did not get good views as it flew in front of us, landing on the bank. It then seemed to fly up and over the bank, but despite further searching we were not able to locate it again. I understand that it was searched for later in the afternoon but with no success.

First Butterflies!

Yesterday turned out to be the warmest day of the year, but was tempered by a strong south westerly wind. There were hints that a lot of the common summer migrants which had been held up by the recent bad weather would start to pour in. Reports of many Ring Ousels for example, along the Chilterns on Saturday suggested that it could be a good day, and for the first time in about two months Colin and i planned a trip out.
We decided to go down to Moor Green pits near Sandhurst where the overwintering Pallas's Warbler was still present and singing. I have only seen a handful of Pallas's over the years, and with only one or two spring birds, it was a very rare opportunity to hear a singing bird. We arrived around 0930 having seen several Brimstone butterflies on the way down. The pits did not seem to have many birds, apart from a pair of Egyptian Geese, an odd hybrid Goose and the usual selection of ducks that one would expect. Several Chiffchaffs were singing as we made our way down to the river meeting a local photographer waiting for the warbler. Not long after we heard the song-rather like a Willow Warbler but finishing a bit like a Wren. I managed to locate the bird flitting around in a Willow some 30 yards away the other side of the river. Got pretty good views, seeing the wing bars and the crown stripes despite the distance but it was out of camera range. It then disappeared but we manage to locate it about 30 yards to the west in conifers, before returning to the willow where it seemed to settle but as soon as i got the camera up it was off again. We left soon after as a big crowd had turned up and viewing space was a bit limited.
We then set off for Bison hill in the Chilterns, but as we were passing decided to call in at Wilstone reservoir as I thought that it might have some migrants, and the wintering Water Pipits were still around. As it turned out the wind had become very strong with waves breaking over the reservoir banks so there was no chance of seeing the pipits near the jetty. However there were small numbers of hirundines so we decided to do a circuit. Did not get much at all, more Chiffchaffs, some Blackcaps, but several Brimstones, and single Peacocks and Small Tortoiseshells were great to see.
 We eventually got to Bison Hill around 1330 and sent a good 90 minutes searching for migrants. The strong wind did not help and there did not seem to be many birds at all. However at the eastern end of the sheep field I heard two Ring Ousels and eventually saw them flying low above the trees on the northern side of the hill. Unfortunately despite searching we were not able to relocate them. We did find another Small Tortoiseshell though.

Saturday, 13 April 2013

Lots of Year Ticks

Well Spring has finally decided to arrive, with no frosts over the last few days and a reasonable amount of warm sunshine. Today promised temperatures in double figures and a southerly air flow, with rain in the afternoon, so I went down to Amwell as usual.
Jay had been present for a while and mentioned a Sedge Warbler and two Willow Warblers down near the marina, as well as a few hirundines, and the only other thing of note was the regular 1s Yellow Legged Gull. Graham White mentioned that another Sedge was present near the main hide but did not tell us about the Kittewake he had seen.

 I saw a House Martin distantly over the woods before making my way down to the marina, but the fine sunny weather we had been experiencing tuned to dull cloud and a cool wind started up, and I guess this shut the warblers up. Making my way back to the watchpoint I got my second year tick in the form of Simon-I have not seen him since well before Christmas.
Over the course of the next hour or so small flocks of Sand Martins went over, with a few more House Martins and at least three Swallows. Two Egrets seemed to be in the breeding mood, as were the Grey Herons. Also at least four Redshanks and the regular two Oystercatchers were present, plus a few Teal, Snipe  and Goldeneye still. A nice bonus was the re-appearnce of the Jack Snipe. Simon got a nice video clip, but it was a little too far away for my camera (but still much better than the Tewin bird).

 Luckily Julie had arrived as well as one or two others that I knew and we all had excellent views through the scopes. In fact it was one of the few Jacks that could be easily picked out without optical aid.
 Eventually Simon departed and Julie and I accompanied him up to Tumbling Bay. The local Grey Wagtail was feeding around the lock, and we heard several Blackcaps, a Treecreeper and a Redpoll, but failed to locate any Willow warblers.

We got back to the watchpoint around noon, but things seem to have quietened down, the Jack had gone and there were only a few hirundines left. I got home about the time the Marsh Harrier went over.

Saturday, 6 April 2013

Another Bittern Image run through the Nik Collection

Recently I took advantage of the price reduction in the niksoftware Nik Collection. Its one of those imaging suites that I've had my eye on based on numerous reviews and recommendations, but I thought that the investment was rather prohibitive considering the number of tools already available to me. However, over Easter I decided to give it a go and downloaded the full suite.
Its a bit of a learning curve, but the basics are easy to grasp. I ran two PanStarrs images through the HDR Effex pro and noise reduction routine and was impressed in the amount of detail i was able to get-though the uneven colour casts were undesirable as was the over enhanced dust on the sensor. Previously I have used the Photoshop HDR routines as well as the free luminance-hdr and like the way Nik renders landscapes.
The noise reduction routine Dfine works well, both automatic and manual, though generally I find that Lightroom works just as well. Maybe I have yet to find a suitable image to try.
The Bittern image was a trial run through  Viveza. The ability to add control points to selectively adjust various parts of the image without masks was useful-I wanted to tone down the water and bring up the reeds a bit (the image was taken during a cloudy spell but the water was still well lit). It was then run through Sharpener pro which did a very good job of bringing out the fine detail without producing artefacts. Different routines for printing too which is handy.
Basically it is early days (not tried Silver Effex, or Color Effex yet)but I am getting to like using the Collection.

Not Quite Spring

Lovely sunny day today. The weather forecasters said the bitter north/easterly wind of the last few weeks would be gone. They were lying. Nice and warm in the more sheltered locations, but up at the Amwell watchpoint this morning it was still horrible when the wind picked up.
Bill and Jay were present when I arrived, and later on Julie and Tony appeared. One of the wintering Bitterns showed on and off all morning in the bays left of the main hide. Two Oystercatchers were present for a while, and two Redshank, several Snipe and Lapwings remained all day. The recent Jack Snipe did not show-Bill says its an evening bird. A small flock of Wigeon dropped in and there are still some Goldeneyes around.
Lots of raptors enjoying the sunshine, and while tracking a flyover Grey wagtail Bill and Jay picked up a very distant Raven being mobbed by a Kestrel.
No summer migrants, and the only passage seemed to be several tens of Chaffinch going east.

Monday, 1 April 2013

Comet Pan-Starrs

Finally got a clear night. Went out at 830pm and drove out to the same spot I went to near Wood End. Encountered two Badgers and a Tawny Owl on the way.
The comet is very low in the north west, and has faded over the last few weeks. In binoculars it is not too different in brightness to the nearby Andromeda galaxy, and would be borderline naked eye visibility were it higher in the sky. It has a very nice broad fan shaped dust tail which shows very well on some of the high resolution deeper images that I have seen, and ideally I would have preferred to use something a bit longer than the 100mm lens Zeiss lens. Exposures were made at iso 800, 30 seconds at f4.