Wednesday, 31 December 2014

Comet Lovejoy

Well its the last day of 2014, and I have done absolutely nothing in the way of birding since I went down to Cheshunt the weekend before last. I have had to go out a couple of times to do some shopping-kept my eye open for the Town centre Peregrine, not sure if it's still around and all I saw were feral pigeons and a Pied Wagtail. The garden is busy as usual, with a few House Sparrows coming in, two Robins, one or two Dunnocks, Blackbirds, Blue and Great Tits and Wood Pigeons. Have not seen a Collared Dove anywhere for a good four weeks now. Bit of a mystery as they have been ever present locally since the 80's.
The last couple of frosty nights has been useful, despite the bright Moon. Low down in the south, Comet Lovejoy C/2014 Q2 is slowly moving north, and on Monday night was some twelve degrees above my light polluted horizon. Managed a couple of poor images with the 300mm F4 lens, with ten second exposures at iso 2000. Currently naked eye from a dark location, it is difficult for me in my 7x42 binoculars, but is likely to be quite nice later on in January.

Sunday, 21 December 2014

Astronomical Imaging

I have been dabbling in astro-photography again. Last year I picked up a small tracking platform, and the early tests out in the countryside were pretty successful. The only real problem, apart from the hassle of packing everything up in the car and driving to a dark site was finding a suitable surface to put the tripod-soft ground is not good for accurate polar alignment.
For some time I have been discussing light pollution filters with some of the LDAS members and I finally purchased a 77mm diameter one made by Hutech. The idea was to enable me do do some sort of imaging from my badly light polluted Stevenage garden. Back in the 80's I used to do quite a bit with lenses ranging from 35mm to 135mm, generally using Fujichrome slide film. Even from the garden I could run to several minutes exposures, but as Stevenage expanded to the north and east it became more and more difficult. My last images on slide were of comet Hale-Bopp in 1997. When I went digital in 2003 I did a few trials with the D1x and later D2x but rapidly came to the conclusion that anything more than a few seconds would produce bright orange-brown backgrounds, limiting the amount of information recorded.
The filter arrived last week and I have had two brief sessions in the garden. With the first, the tracker was not polar aligned as I was on the patio and Polaris is hidden. I just set it up so the axis was pointing in more or less the right direction. The camera was set between iso 4000 and 10000 and using the Zeiss 100mm at f2 I was able to get decent images using exposures of up to 8 seconds. I also tried my Sigma 100-3000mm F4 lens. This like many Sigma lenses was a bit fragile and after a lens motor repair, followed a few years later by the focussing lens assembly falling to bits no longer autofocuses, but being an ED lens is pretty good optically. The image of M42 the Orion Nebula is a stack of two ten second images at iso 4000 and 8000 with the lens at 300mm f4. Some Photoshop work brought out a lot of the fainter nebulosity.
The second session used the 300mm again. This time I was properly polar aligned, the iso was reduced to 2000 and exposures ran up to 30 seconds. The iOptron tracker has come in for some criticism regarding tracking accuracy and load carrying. Supposedly anything more than a 200mm lens is asking for trouble, and the pro body D3s and 100-300f4 is very heavy. Seems to work for me though as the images of M31 the Andromeda Galaxy and the Pleiades M45 show.

Saturday, 20 December 2014

Fishers Green

For a change today, I spent the morning  further down the Lea Valley and the Cheshunt complex. I went specifically for the wintering Goosander which were on Ashley Pit-not one I have ever visited before. Although the best access was from Turnford, I decided to park at Fishers Green and walk through.
Popped into the empty Bittern Hide on 70 Acres and had a quick scan before continuing north. A few Redwing were in the riverside trees, along with several tit flocks, but otherwise this stretch was a bit quiet. I had intended to cross the navigation using the northern footbridge, but the approach was flooded so made my way back to Cheshunt Lock and crossed there. I heard a few Redpoll in the trees alongside North Met Pit plus at least one Chiffchaff. The path alongside Turnford Pit was a bit tricky so I went back to the towpath and got to Ashley from the north. Immediately picked up a flock of Goosander-I think there were nine in total but they proved very flighty and soon went. I walked south a bit and found some of them and managed to get some distant images, though far from satisfactory.
The way back was pretty quiet again, and I got to 70 Acres fairly quickly. First wildfowl in the northern corner were a pair of Goosander! Much closer this time thought the low winter sunshine was a bit harsh.

I called into the hide again, now rather busy having missed one of the Bitterns by an hour. While chatting, someone picked up the red head Smew-a very long way off and only visible in scopes. Nice way to finish the morning.

Monday, 15 December 2014

Some Photos!

Its the fag end of the year and enthusiasm is flagging as usual. Not much point rushing out to see something which is still going to be around in February. Yes it's winter birding, nothing much is going to change for months unless something really ludicrous turns up, like last winters Brunnich's Guillemot.
Anyway the weather has been a bit up and down so in need of something to do I did the usual thing when things are quiet and went down to Amwell yesterday where it is really quiet. Took my camera-only just realised that I have not taken any photos for nearly a month now.
Bit surprised at the amount of ice on the lane when I got there. Had a bit of a frost at home but guess it was much colder in the valley. Some ice on the edges of Hardmead Lake as well. Maybe as a result, it was rather empty as wildfowl numbers were really down on my last few visits. The freeze has made Snipe more visible, with the odd one flying around every now and again-to the satisfaction of the female Sparrowhawk that seems to enjoy hunting them. Gull numbers low as well, with only a few Lesser and Greater Black Backs loafing. Bill was feeding the view point Robin with cheese as usual.

Went for a bit of a walk round the woods which seemed rather quiet and headed down to Hollycross. Picked up the Treecreeper near the river.

The Marsh Tit was seen near the feeders which were attracting Pheasants and tits but not much else. There are a few Redwing and Song Thrushes in the Hawthorns but the berries are running out.
Got back to the view point and had nice views of the Red Kites which seemed to be displaying and a few Buzzards. Picked up the Goldeneye which had been elusive earlier, and the Sparrowhawk came back, flushed a Snipe and we were treated to a great chase-the Snipe got away. Had a bit of a chat and
got some info on Goosander and Smew from Barnet Dave in the valley-something for a later day perhaps over Christmas.

Sunday, 30 November 2014

Saturday Morning at Amwell

Time for another visit. Last weekend was a bit of a non event, due to the weather and I did not feel the motivation to go out, so I thought I'd better do something.
On my last visit there were a few gulls that needed checking, and at the moment there are several Yellow legged and Caspians turning up in the roost so I decided to forgo the camera and take the scope with me. The light was a bit grotty for photography anyway.
Walking up the lane there were a few Mistle Thrushes in the bushes and small parties of Redwing, Blackbird and Song Thrush moving around. A few tits, Robins and Dunnocks were encountered as usual, and there is supposed to be at least one Blackcap and some Chiffs still in the ivy.
The water on Hardmead Lake is very high now, and there is not much in the way of islands or muddy edges now, and over the last week bays have been cut in the reeds for the Bitterns, though it has been a while since one was reported. Wildfowl  numbers vary through the day as birds come and go, with many geese and Wigeon using it as a roost but Goldeneye numbers have increased 100% to 4. Two Egyptian Geese dropped in briefly when Phil arrived, and he said he had a Goosander earlier in the week-getting hard to find in the valley these days and of course there is no sign of Smew appearing any time soon.
Phil went down to Hollycross to top up the feeders and I eventually joined him having had a walk in the woods. The big flock of Goldfinch in the alders had three or four Siskins, but no Redpolls yet. Lots of Chaffinch and thrushes around as well. While the usual big flock of Long Tail Tits was encountered, Goldcrests seemed to be in short supply compared to recent visits and there was no sign of the Marsh or Coal Tits. About the only thing around the feeders were the sheep and Pheasants.
We went went back to the viewpoint and down to Gladwin Hide to check the gulls out, being joined by Tony Hukin. Although numbers were building up, there was nothing unusual. One Lesser Black Backed was ringed, but it was standing in an awkward position and we never got the number before everything was flushed. Some of the smaller gulls gradually returned but the bigger ones took their time so we gave up and went back to the viewpoint where we found Ade, Ron and Dave. I hung around for a bit but feeling a bit chilly decided to leave for an early lunch.

Sunday, 16 November 2014

Sunday Morning at Amwell

Having been out of action for a while, I was able to get down to Amwell for a few hours, my first visit for about three weeks. I was a bit undecided at first, as it was quite misty when I got up-pretty much the same as yesterday and it was little indication from the forecast about when or if it would lift.
Driving down to Watton at Stone, the Sun started to break through- a good sign which was unfortunately dashed when I crossed the Lea on the A10 and visibility dropped considerably. Amazed at the number of dick heads who think that silver cars in fog don't need any lights on but there you go, maybe they will learn the hard way.
John Bartlett arrived at the same time so we wandered up to the view point, happily visibility was good enough to see the entire lake. Water levels have crept up a bit since I was last here though it appeared that everything else was pretty much the same. It would have been nice if the Great White Egret seen yesterday heading to the Netherhall roost and flying north over Rye Meads at 7 am this morning had actually made it to Amwell but all the egrets were Little.
There were a decent number of large gulls at the southern end so I headed off down there joining John and Trevor in the hide. I reasonable Caspian candidate-2W was picked up but too far for my bins, unfortunately it failed all the tests in Trevor's scope, and a later attempt at a maybe Yellow Legged failed as well-it was white headed and the mantle colour was identical to a nearby Common Gull so it was worth a punt.
Eventually I made my way down to Hollycross, picking up a small flock of Redwings, one or more calling Bullfinch and a Marsh Tit by the bridges. There seemed to be a huge number of Long Tailed Tits and Goldcrests along this stretch. The feeders were as popular as last year, producing good numbers of Chaffinch and Goldfinch, several Pheasants at least one marsh Tit and one or two Coal Tits.
I made my way back to the view point through the woods picking up even more crests, but a search of the alders failed to pick up any Siskin in the Goldfinch flocks.  A Treecreeper would have been nice too.
Autumn colour is still pretty good but there seems dot be a distinct lack of fungi on my circuit.

Monday, 10 November 2014

Some More of the Hay Street Rough Legged Buzzard

Rough Legged Buzzard at Hay Street

Well I finally managed to get over to Hay Street. I was a little uncertain on where exactly the Rough Legged was, but it was clear from the parked cars where to go.
Initially went down the footpath into the middle of the set aside area, joining one of the regular Amwell guys. Lots of Skylark in the area plus a few Meadow Pipits but not much else.
The Rough legged was on show pretty much all the time, hunting a nice hedgerow with a wide set aside/game cover strip, occasionally hovering and on several occasions dropping down to catch voles (presumably). Largely distant, it did occasionally drift over the road to the north and once came fairly close. Eventually it drifted over the road and was lost to view so we went back up to the road and stuck around for a bit. Up to six Common Buzzards, two Kestrels, one Sparrowhawk and one or two red Kites  were in the area. Over the course of the morning we were joined by many others-Ken and Linda Smith, Mick Cotton and Derek and Sue.

Monday, 3 November 2014

Nothing Much Happening

Due to enforced time of work courtesy of an arm injury, I have not been able to get out this weekend, and there is still a lot of work to do in the garden. Able to do a little bit of pottering but any heavy work is impossible at the moment.
Luckily the third Eastern Crowned Warbler in Cleveland was not needed, having seen the first, and we did not need the {very brief} Blackpoll Warbler up at Spurn either. The Rough Legged Buzzard influx has led to one bird in Hertfordshire at Braughing  being discovered by Mike Illett. Appears to be showing well at times-though it can be very elusive. Hope it sticks around for a bit though I may not be able to get there for another week at least.
Shutting up at night over the weekend, I have been hearing Redwings going over, and a very nice sight on the feeders today were two Coal Tits-always scarce visitors and I have never had two before. Other than that, its the usual suspects-House Sparrows, Dunnocks, Wood  Pigeons, Blue and Great Tits and a Robin.

Monday, 27 October 2014

Autumn at Amwell

Went down to Amwell on Saturday-at least one of the Yellow Brows was still being reported on Friday. There was a small rather disappointed crowd around the picnic area as I arrived at the same time as William. There had been no sight nor sound. William explained that the bird seemed to have a large feeding circuit when he last saw it on Monday, so we decided to wander through the woods just in case.
Apart from a large flock of Goldfinch, containing one Siskin, and lots of Chaffinch there was not much to see. Lots of fungi all over, including a nice spread of Inkcaps. The autumn colour over Hollycross was starting to look very nice.
Back at the viewpoint,  Phil and Simon  arrived, the latter bringing a 24 Spot Ladybird with him.
A small group of us headed over to the White hide as a Jack Snipe had been reported-it wasn't one unfortunately, though our departure was delayed when Phil picked up a distant Peregrine.

Sunday, 19 October 2014

Yellow Browed Warbler at Amwell

Last day of the holiday. Since Wednesday I have been working in the garden, so more back elbow and knee problems, had a flu jab with the usual reaction and Sunday would have been the only day for a trip out. As there was not a great deal happening, we decided not to bother and I needed the rest anyway. So I decided on a nice gentle unwinding at Amwell in the lovely warm autumn sunshine.
I got there fairly early for me, and met Barry, Trevor, Tony and the rest basically taking it easy. There had not been a great deal from the view point, but Barry and I noticed a gull fly off which looked a bit different to me. Barry had it in the scope and called it a 2w Caspian Gull-getting more frequent here now. Strangely I have not managed to pick up Yellow Legged Gull this year.
There were the usual passage of larks, pipits and distant thrushes but not long after Bill, Paul, Phil and John Bartlett arrived Barry decided to head off on his usual circuit and Phill went down to the Gladwyn hide. After a long moth convention Bill  suddenly perked up and was off-Barry had found a Yellow Browed Warbler at the south end. As we all made our way down to the bottom we could see Phil and the dogs running. Luckily Bill and Trevor knew the way and we eventually arrived to find Barry by some sallows.
The bird initially was very elusive, staying quite low and towards the back of the bushes, and views were very frustrating. After about ten minutes it started to show a bit better and I managed to get a few decent images, though often obscured by the foliage. It largely remained in the sallow so we all got very good views but it decided to fly out. I saw it briefly land in a bare hawthorn-would have been fantastic views had I been closer and then it flew into a very leafy alder, calling several times.
Rather happy but tired I made my way back with most of the others, "admiring" the new dragonfly pools and scrape-bomb crater and cock up is a better description.  Encountered Jay, Graham White Mike Illet and a few others rushing down.
Back at the viewpoint it was still a bit quiet, though the Stonechats put in an appearance.

Thursday, 16 October 2014

Steppe Grey Shrike

Weather conditions for the East Coast were perfect early in the week, and we really should have gone up on Tuesday-multiple Shrikes, Raddes Warblers everywhere a Bluetail or two and large numbers of Yellow Browed Warblers. Plus  a few decent seabirds and waders.
Anyway we went up yesterday hoping that some of the birds were still around. Of course being a weekday, the traffic was horrendous particularly as we had to get past Cambridge and we did not get to the coast until 1000. We had driven up in grey murk, but at Kings Lynn the sun broke through and it turned out to be a rather nice day.
We started at Burnham Norton where the long staying Steppe Grey Shrike remained-there were also Great Grey and Red Back Shrikes reported yesterday.
As usual the Shrike was very confiding, coming very close to the path at times and posed extremely well. I seem to have got the digiscoping right this time for the head close up.

Lots of geese in the area-Brents and Pink Feet, plus a few egrets and a Marsh Harrier. The area can be good for Lapland Buntings but none were seen until after we left. I never saw the Great Grey Shrike here-I was chatting to some guys I knew from Tring while Colin was watching it, not to worry as another showed quite well later on on Thornham Marsh.
Titchwell had a Yellow Browed Warbler and hoards of Goldcrests. Despite a search we did not see the warbler. The tide was high, but a low one and so the fresh marsh was full of Golden Plovers, Godwits wildfowl and Gulls. I went through them hoping to find something unusual with no success. There seemed to be very little on the sea, one Red Throated Diver, a few Eider and Scoters and one Gannet. Just before I returned, I heard the distinctive call of  a Lapland Bunting heading west, and moments later a small flock of Twite flew east. Had I waited a bit longer I might have seen the two Shorelarks  found a few hundred yards to the west.
We finished the rather short day at Holme. A Pallas's Warbler had been reported by by the toilet block, an another had been ringed at the observatory and was apparently showing well. The crowd in the NWT car park suggested that there was a good bird here. I walked over and was treated to a wonderful view of a Pallas's Warbler low down in the Sycamore. Plenty of crests here too and it was not long before a Yellow Browed Warbler showed as well.
I had a wander round the NOA reserve hoping that no-one wanted my membership card which I had mislaid, but despite only a couple of visits in the last few years Sophie recognised me. They had been ringing Goldcrests pretty much all day, though the Pallas's was the highlight, and I don't know if it was meant to be tongue in cheek but the Chaffinch being processed was a 'rare' bird for the site.
Looks like the weather is settling down so there may not be much for the weekend.

Monday, 13 October 2014

Back on the road

Had a chat with Colin on Friday night and he was up for a trip. It would have been a gentle ramble round the Norfolk coast, though there would have to be one or two rest stops. However, the long staying Hoopoe just up the road at Willington was tempting, and when it was discovered that the Grey Shrike at Biggleswade on Friday evening was Lesser and not Greater well that sealed it.
In view of the need to take it easy we did not get to Willington until 0900-there had been no news from Biggleswade. it was a bit damp and drizzly but fairly mild. Unfortunately people on site since first light gave us the bad news that the Hoopoe had gone-the farm residents had been round a few times and could not locate it. We stayed for a bit. Colin picked up a large Golden Plover over the Cardington Airship Sheds which circled a few times. Apparently there is a large flock in the fields, but we also noted several flights going west in the hour we were there.
With no news from Biggleswade we headed up to  Graffham Water where a Black Necked Grebe was showing well from Mander car park.

This was taken through the scope with the RX100 at close to maximum zoom. The home-made adapter is working reasonably well but images are not as sharp and as clear as I would like.
We carried n north up to Thrapston and Titchmarsh reserve where a Great White Egret has been for a while.  Did not know exactly where it would be as I was working from memory but after finding a derelict hide on the north west side we made our way to the north east corner and a raised hide. Unfortunately the sign on the door said hornets nesting inside! I had a lokk and yes there was a small nest above the door but decided to take a risk and sat down. Scanned both islands picking up the usual assortment of wildfowl, gulls herons and Cormorants but no Egret. One or two Cetti's Warblers and a Water Rail called from the reeds. The Egret appeared on the small muddy island in the north west corner in the early evening.
With nothing much else we headed south and called in at the Lodge for an hour or so. There was still a faint hope that the Shrike would be relocated. Birds were fairly elusive, one Nuthatch was heard, plus a few tits. Several Goldcrests were heard and one seemed a bit different, more Firecrest like but I could not locate the bird. Although it had been a dry September one or two fungi were out, and the gardens were looking quite nice as well.

Friday, 10 October 2014

Ruff at Rye Meads

I am in the middle of my usual two week autumn holiday, but apart from the usual weekend visit to Amwell I have not done much. A lot of work has been planned for the garden, though the weather has not been ideal and have only done a few bits and pieces. Tuesday was a nice day so I decided to spend an hour or so cutting wood, but this ended up taking four strenuous hours. leaving me with severe pains in the knees and elbows, and two days of rest.
Today I felt like getting out even though I was still a bit stiff. Despite reports of Ruff and Greenshank at Amwell yesterday I decided on Rye Meads, as there would be plenty of opportunities to sit down.
I spent the first fifteen minutes in Lapwing hide overlooking the Meads. The recent juvenile Cuckoo seems to have departed but a nice Water Rail {the first of several today} showed well.

The Draper Hide scrape was reasonably full of wildfowl, but there were no waders-I would normally expect one or two Green Sandpipers here, apart from a couple of showy Snipe. One adult Dabchick was feeding a very mature juvenile in front of the hide.
Still a lot of Migrant Hawkers and Common Darters enjoying the sunshine, and there were also two red Admirals on the Ivy blossoms.

The north lagoon Gadwall Hide had a wide variety of wildfowl, and with the water level so low there were plenty of other things to see. Several Pied Wagtails and one or two Grey Wagtails were flying around, and two Snipe were feeding right in front of the hide. Further out, three Common Gulls, my first of the autumn were roosting with the hoards of Black Heads.
More Snipe were found on some of the islands and my attention was drawn to a lanky buff wader running into the water before vanishing behind the reeds. Realising that it was a juvenile Ruff I tried to get the other birder in the hide onto it and after a few minutes it reappeared.
I tweeted Vicky in the visitors centre and she arrived, as did Sue. it took a bit of time to relocate as it was very mobile and flighty, and it blended in rather well with the stony islands. Hopefully it stuck around long enough for others to see it.

Sunday, 5 October 2014

Amwell Raptorfest

Bit of an exaggeration as it wasn't quite like Falsterbo or the Bosphorus, but this morning was pretty good.
Following yesterdays heavy rain and cold front, today was very much the first autumnal day. There was an overnight frost in the countryside, and as I drove down through Hooks Cross and on towards Wadesmill in the bright sunshine, the low lying mist over the fields was stunning, just a shame that there was nowhere to stop for good photos. Temperature at 0830 on the road was a chilly 4C, a good 10 below what it has been recently.
Heavy dew on the cobweb strewn Hemlock stems along the Amwell track was very photogenic.

Very few people at the viewpoint when I arrived. Tony Hukin and Trevor were watching a Kingfisher fishing in front of the White Hide, and a latecomer found a Green Sandpiper. A few Swallows, Larks and Pipits were passing through from time to time. The Stonechats appear to have gone-Phil has had three or four up 'til yesterday but could not locate any today. The Parakeets seem to be well established in the woods opposite and were very vocal but hard to see.
A few Migrant Hawkers and Common Darters and singles of Red Admiral and Peacock were still flying.
Eventually quite a crowd built up but little was happening so most went for a stroll leaving me with Bill. Things remained quiet for some time-we had had a Kite being mobbed by four crows, and a pair of Kestrels were hunting up towards Tumbling Bay. Bill had gone down to the observing platform and as a few others turned up I heard him shout Marsh Harrier. He rushed back up saying a male had crossed the west end, circling. I went over to the bridge and picked it up as it slowly drifted over the railway-luckily many of those had returned from their walkabout and managed to see it. Unfortunately it was much too far away for the 300mm lens.

Colin and his mate arrived moments too late unfortunately.
As it was now fairly warm, Buzzard numbers were increasing with birds everywhere we looked, and later three Red Kites were seen over the fields to the north, and one or two Sparrowhawks were over the woods. Phil decided to leave, and had only got over the bridge when he rushed back as he had pretty convincing views of a female Marsh Harrier! Unfortunately no-one else saw it. The Hobby then put in a brief  appearance over the wood being chased off by a corvid which was a nice end to the day.
So in total, 3+ Kites, 1+ Marsh Harrier, 2 each of Kestrel and Sparrowhawk, 1 Hobby and at a rough guess 10+ Buzzards. And more Kites and Buzzards on the drive home.

Sunday, 28 September 2014

No Masked Shrike for Me

News broke last Saturday of a Masked Shrike at Spurn-first I realised was when I got a tweet from Jay saying he was almost there. I was out with Sarah for the day at the RHS Hyde Hall gardens at the time. No chance for me to get up there, Colin is still pretty much out of action and its a bit much for me on my own. Not too sure about the car either, even though it's been repaired I still think there is something not quite right with it.
The Shrike is still there this weekend. I missed the Fife bird thanks to flu, but it stayed nearly three weeks so maybe we will get a chance next week.
Lots of migrants were strung along the east coast last weekend as well, but things have gradually quietened down and there is not much happening now. Decided to go down to Amwell yesterday which seemed like a mistake as there was no-one else there when I arrived, apart from Barry doing his regular circuit.
Did not see a great deal from the viewpoint and I went down to check the gulls at the south end, though the visibility through the hedge made it rather difficult. Heard a few Skylarks going through, and Meadow Pipits were frequently heading down the valley.
Back at the viewpoint Dave from Stevenage had arrived and Phil turned up soon after. He picked up a very late Sedge Warbler in the mint by the waters edge. A long way off and it stayed very low and hidden. The female type Stonechat that has been present a while now eventually appeared, posing distantly on the reeds and sallows, and a bit later a male also appeared. We have not had any wintering since 2011 so it would be nice if they stayed.

Still good numbers of Swallows moving south, with the occasional House Martin among them. Every now and then I was hearing Ring Necked Parakeets, and they were eventually seen on the far side, frequenting the Horse Chestnuts the other side of the road. Barry eventually arrived having counted about 15 and there is a good possibility that they have found a few holes there to nest.
Something like 8 Buzzards were in the air above the wood, along with 2-3 Red Kites. There were also a few Mistle Thrushes above the woods, and a big surprise was a lone Redwing that flew over us.
All in all a pretty good morning.

Sunday, 14 September 2014

Amwell Two Days in a Row

Colin is still out of action so I am still sticking to local birding.
Saturday morning's weather forecast suggested that the only sunny spells would be mid day Saturday so I thought I'd best try for the Willow Emeralds at Amwell again.
It was quite pleasant when i arrived, cloudy, warm with some brighter spells, but with a northerly breeze. This seemed to be rather productive and there was a constant movement of birds along the valley. Predominantly hirundines-Phil recorded two hundred plus Swallows and fifty House Martins through the morning. Meadow Pipits were frequent, and there were plenty of Goldfinches and Jays flying around as well.
One Common Sandpiper was the only wader of note. At least two Hobby were present, and a very nice bonus was the peregrine that swept through the Lapwing flock before flying over to the woods-which upset one of the Hobbies that was perched at the top of one of the trees.
Eventually I went over to Hollycross with Phil and Dave, and searched the ditch at the start of the boardwalk. Unfortunately it was rather dull cool and breezy and despite a thorough search we failed to find any Emeralds.
Rather annoyingly, in the afternoon  it brightened up and three were seen ovipositing in the willows at the end of the boardwalk.

Today was supposed to be cloudy but there was hardly a cloud in the sky when I got up. So I went to Amwell again. There was far less in the way of movement, with only a few hirundines and Meadow Pipits. There was little to see from the viewpoint so I got down to Hollycross just after ten. Along with a number of other hopefuls I spent an hour and a half staking out the willows where ovipositing was seen, but without success. The conditions were not too bad, a bit too much cloud but it was a lot warmer than yesterday. We also tried to locate one of the Common Emeralds seen yesterday-Mick Cotton has been seeing one frequently. At his spot we did see something being chased off by one of the many Migrant Hawkers but it was all too brief.
A few Common Darters and Common Blues are still around.

Friday, 12 September 2014

Norton Green

Decided to have a quick look round Norton Green before work today. Have not been down since late Spring, and though news has been quiet recently I thought that it would be worthwhile bearing in mind the number of common migrants passing through the region.
It was a bit dull and murky when I arrived and the bushes and hedges seemed rather quiet. In fact apart from a single Chiffchaff I failed to locate any warblers. Six Jays flying over was notable-they seem to be more noticeable and less shy these days. Scanning I picked up a Red Kite, and soon after a Raven-my first in the Stevenage area. Not exactly unexpected considering the resident birds are not all that far away, and perhaps the only surprise is that I had to wait so long for one to appear. Saw it again later, mobbing a female Kestrel.
Flushed a Red Legged Partridge and a young Green Woodpecker, three Meadow Pipits flew around for a bit and a large flock of maybe 30 Linnets toured the site. No sign of Skylark {!} Whinchat, Wheatear or other migrants, but plenty of Blackbirds, Dunnocks and Robins.

Monday, 8 September 2014

More Amwell Images

A few images I never got round to posting-taken over the last few weeks.

Sunday, 7 September 2014

Quiet Weekend

Big news this week was the discovery of a Willow Emerald at Hollycross by Darren Bast, Hertfordshire's first record. Not exactly unexpected, and a species I and others have been looking for for a couple of years now. Darren's been down almost every evening, concentrating on the dragonflies this year, so a great reward for the time he's put in. Unfortunately subsequent searches failed to locate it.
With Colin currently out of action, it was natural that I would end up at Amwell on Saturday to try and fine one of my own. Weather was not exactly ideal-grey and murky all day but reasonably warm. Surprised ti see the huge amount of green algae on the main lake, but not surprised when Tony said there was not a great deal happening.
The Hobby is still around, often perching on a dead tree by the White hide, as it was when I arrived so I went round in ther hope of getting some images. Naturally it flew off before I got there. Sat in the hide for a while, but the only bird of note was a Water Rail in the far reed bed. Would have been better if it was a Crake.
I eventually got to Hollycross, joining Tony. As expected, we did not find a Willow Emerald, though there were plenty of Migrant Hawkers, Common Blues and a few darters flying in the dull conditions, along with a rather late Brown Hawker. I examined a number of trees in the hope of finding scarring from Willow Emerald eggs without success, suggesting it might have been a newly arrived migrant, though the habitat is ideal so they may have been in the area and gone un-noticed {rather unlikely given the amount of coverage}.
While searching, a Cetti's Warbler performed fairly well, as did a juvenile Reed Warbler.

The Migrant Hawkers proved too difficult sensing every camera movement, and nothing else was happening so I made my way back to the viewpoint, had another scan and left, bumping into Phil Ball by the Konik Pony field. He had just come back from two weeks in Mexico seeing some good birds and mammals. I told him that it was pretty quiet, discussed the Wryneck, the  Emerald and a few other things. Annoyed to see a tweet when i got home that he had found a Black Tail Godwit feeding in front of the viewpoint. No idea where that had been hiding, so I guess it had just dropped in.

Sunday started off rather dull and murky again, though by late morning the sun was out. With Whinchats, Wheatears and so on appearing all over the place I thought I'd go round Aston End and up the river. Not ideal for either species {i have only seen one Whinchat in the area, and Wheatear is more likely in spring} but Redstart does turn up now and again.
Distinctly autumnal in feel with Robins ticking in every bush, they turned out to be the only chats encountered. In fact early on it seemed as if there were no birds around at all, with very little seen. Things picked up just past the Aston End water tower when i heard a Little Owl calling. Not long after, a Hobby was seen flying around the tower-there were large  numbers of Swallows and House Martins here and over High Wood. Further down scanning the valley I picked up two Kestrels, two Sparrowhawks and several Buzzards.
Apart from a few Chiffchaffs the only other warbler was a nice juvenile Willow-unlike the last walk when sylvias seemed to be moving through. Another Little Owl was seen in the usual tree by the stable block and a very big noisy flock of Linnets was found in the large hedges near Gresley Way.
Few butterflies flying-just a few Small Whites and Speckled Woods.

Saturday, 30 August 2014

Deja Vu all over again

Yesterday Barry Reed located a Wryneck at the old landfill site at Stapleford-almost a year to the day since he found one there last year. Unfortunately with the car in for a service, I could not get down there, and apparently it was not seen after his initial sighting.
With the car back, and no news I decided to go down to Amwell, and just as I arrived, I got a tweet from William-he had seen the Wryneck but it was very elusive. When I got there, only 15 minutes later, there was no sign of William, or for that matter anyone else.
Thinking I was in for a long lonely wait, I settled down to scan the area. I saw another birder drive up the lane, and not long after, the Wryneck flew out from the bushes that William had seen it-the same bushes last year's one preferred and drop down in scrub to the east. With the other guy now on site, we scanned the area but could not locate the bird-a Yellow Wagtail flying over being the only bird of note. After about twenty minutes we decided to concentrate on the more favoured bushes, and with other birders arriving it was not long before it was relocated. Unfortunately it proved very elusive and over the course of an hour I only managed a glimpse and a second flight view.
Around 1100 the land manager arrived to advise those of us parked off road in the lane that large farm machinery was on its way, so I left. On the way back, a Swift was seen north of Stapleford-probably my latest ever Herts record.

Saturday, 23 August 2014

River Beane

Probably going to be a quiet weekend-not much happening, the weather is rather cool for the time of year and the car is acting up, so I am reluctant to go anywhere until it gets seen to later next week.
Thought I'd take a walk around Aston End and along the river as it's been a while since i last did it.
Not a lot to see in the plantation, one or two parties of tits and a Jay-certainly a lot more visible now than they used to be. Another one is Nuthatch, one of which was heard as I approached Aston End. Always used to be a hard species locally, with only one or two woods where they were reliable, but they seem to be cropping up in all sorts of unexpected places now.
Most of the fields have been harvested, and though there were lots of corvids and pigeons feeding in the stubble there were no larks, and no sign of the Corn Buntings i found earlier in the year. Did see a few Linnets, Yellowhammers and Chaffinches though.
Not much over High Wood as I crossed the ford {still got a flowing river!} apart from one Buzzard and one Sparrowhawk. Expected a few more raptors considering the conditions.
All along the walk i had been hearing Willow Warblers, Chiffchaffs and Blackcaps calling from every large hedge and wooded area, and while I was hoping for a migrant Whinchat or Wheatear I got the feeling I would not find much. However, one small tatty bit of  hedge crossing one of the fields seemed to be full of sylvia warblers. I first heard the characteristic hard tak of Blackcap-and eventually a male and female appeared, along with a brief juvenile Whitethroat which then flew out. Several other birds were more difficult. I could hear a softer tak and suspected  Lesser Whitethroat but it took ten minutes of fleeting glimpses to confirm the identity. Eventually two were seen well, with a third suspected. Always enjoy seeing Lesser Whitethroat, not the easiest of warblers to see well and very smart looking birds.
Things then went a bit wrong. I had been walking the hedge along the Walkern to Watton road and was intending to cross the river as usual on the footbridge east of Lords Farm, only to discover it was severely damaged and closed for safety reasons. My dilemma was wether to return to the ford, retracing my steps or continue towards  Walkern where hopefully the bridge near The Croft was ok. Luckily it was and I was able to get back to the right side of the river and check the usual trees for the Little Owls-not today. I did get to see a few butterflies in this spot, a couple of Large and Small Whites. Speckled Woods were the only other species noted on the walk almost everywhere., being more suited to cool conditions and could be found almost everywhere.

Saturday, 16 August 2014

Brown Hairstreak

With birding still a bit quiet, and Sundays weather not looking all that good, we decided to try for Brown Hairstreaks which have been flying for a week or two.
The initial plan was to go to Bernwood Meadows, where we have had little success in recent years, followed by Whitecross Green. However Colin had done some research and found a number of reports from RSPB Otmoor, not far from the car park. Not having been there before it seemed worth a visit.
It was reasonably sunny and warm when we arrived, but gradually cloud built up over the course of the morning. One or two butterflies were seen on the Summer Trail-Common Blues in particular, and grasshoppers of various species seemed abundant, but without my guide book I was a bit lost. Red Kites are common in the area, but it was still nice to get an almost eye level flyby.

 We made our way up past the feeding station to the grazing meadows and pools. A Greenshank was a nice find, but we missed a Wheatear that others were trying to relocate. Heading east to the Roman road, a pair of Bullfinch were seen, and a chat-I assumed Robin, but a juvenile type Redstart was seen here by one of the reserve wardens.
Following his directions we found the Ash trees and a couple of guys, who had found a female Brown Hairstreak, high up. With the breeze picking up it proved difficult to photograph-I was attempting to digiscope with the RX100 and an adaptor that i had knocked up over the last week or so. ~I was also using a Lensmaster Gimbal for the first time and although the scope is a bit light for it, I was very pleased with the performance.

The Hairstreak briefly opened it's wings in sunny spells though my camera missed it-superb visually in the scope at 50x though, and eventually it flew to another part of the Ash. At least one, maybe two others, presumed males were also seen in flight at this time. We also picked up one Purple Hairstreak in a nearby Ash tree while trying to relocate the males.
With the wind seeming to pick up we returned to the car for a coffee and thought about where to go next. One possibility would have been Aston Rowant, but the weather did not look good for that so since it was on the way home and only a short distance away we went to Whitecross Green.
Not much sunshine, but it was warm and fairly sheltered so we made our way to the Ash trees near the pond. The most abundant species seen were Common Darters, which along with Migrant Hawkers were hunting up and down the rides. Common Blues, Speckled Woods, Meadow Browns and Small Coppers were the only butterflies noted. Silver Washed Fritillaries had been seen, and I did see a small Hairstreak sized butterfly briefly. We decided not to stay long, and on the way back found a Field Vole {only the second mammal species I've seen here, the other being a somewhat larger and more noticeable Red Deer}.  

Tuesday, 12 August 2014

Pine Ladybird

Had a late night when I found this in the kitchen. About 2mm long.