Monday, 27 January 2014

Bank Vole

One day last week I was taking a break at work and decided to go out of the back of our building where there is a large line of Poplars and a steep bramble bank along the fence lines. I was joined by a colleague, Steve Myleham who proceeded to drop bits of apple over the fence. He explained that there were up to four 'mice'  that he was feeding. Got some images of one with the iPhone and the long tail and short ears suggested that they were Bank Voles.
I joined him today with the RX100 and though the light was poor managed to get a few images as one dashed out to grab the apple.

Saturday, 25 January 2014

Siskins Robins and Earth Stars

No plans to go out this weekend, and horrible weather forecast for Sunday.
Had a day off yesterday and went down to Hatfield to do some shopping. On the way down I drove through Bramfield and Tewin, returning via Knebworth and Datchworth. Hoped to locate a flock of Golden Plover, or maybe a finch/bunting flock but apart from one field of corvids, the journey was largely bird free.
Today I paid the usual visit to Amwell. Rather misty and cool for some time, but it did improve a bit as the morning progressed. Lots of singing crests and tits as I walked up the lane, and there was a big flock of loud Siskins along the railway line, and some Long Tailed Tits feeding in the bushes.

Bill Barry and Tony were at the watchpoint. Simon arrived soon after and we talked about the Whitethroat he had found near the Meads yesterday-one of three winter records apparently. One Grey Wagtail flew over, followed by a Pied. Duck seem to be showing signs of Spring-the Goldeneye and Gadwall were displaying as were some of the Great Crested  Grebes.
Phil arrived and mentioned his discovery of Earth Stars in the woods. Everyone went off to see them and Phil and I went down to the new scrape to try and locate a Chiffchaff we had both heard, without success. I then carried on down to the James Hide, hoping again that the Bearded Tit might appear. Lots of Long Tail, Blue and Great Tits on the feeders, along with Reed Buntings, and two Cetti's warblers but no sign of the Bearded (Ron reported it from the watch point in the afternoon).
Carried on down to Hollycross meeting up with Barry and Bill again. One of three Redpoll was seen on the feeders along  with the regular Marsh Tit. When the sun came out it highlighted the catkins by the bridge.

I made my way back via the woods, encountering the large Siskin flock again. One of the males posed for me.

Also the very vocal Robins were posing all day-one in the woods and the other the watch point bird.

Bumped into Mick Cotton with his camera and mentioned that the Siskin flock was worth going for. As he left, I located the Earth Stars and got a few low angle close ups.

Thursday, 23 January 2014

Parrot Crossbill Clip

Last weekends visit to Budby Forest was good as far as seeing and photographing the Parrot Crossbills went but the strong backlighting made my video attempts a disaster. One came out well, but the upload to Blogger ended up in a very poor, compressed state so I put it up here instead.

Monday, 20 January 2014

Parrot Crossbills Budby Forest

Ever since the Parrot Crossbill influx last autumn, I have been hoping to see some. The only ones I have seen have been in Scotland about ten years ago, when we came across a small flock in Abernethy. The light was poor, but everyone present seemed happy that the huge bills and large heads were good enough to id them as Parrots. No chance of photographs though. The next day Colin and I came across birds in Forest Lodge which seemed more like Common Crossbills but with large strong bills so called them Scottish. Of course trying to identify Crossbills in Scotland is a nightmare even if they are calling (seems like the 'original' Sottish may have changed their vocalisations) and many of the birds I have seen and heard there have best been left as Crossbill sp, so seeing these new birds would be worthwhile. Not having an opportunity in autumn and last weeks failed attempt at Spinks Lodge meant I was more enthusiastic to see some.
The best bet seemed to be Budby Forest, adjoining Sherwood Forest where 14 birds were being seen frequently coming down to a small pool to drink.  The drive up in light rain and poor light was a bit uninspiring but had brightened by the time we arrived. The car park held a calling Nuthatch, one of many, as well as numerous tits and crests.
I had got directions and had a mental map of where to go but we were joined by another birder who had some more information plus printed maps so we were pretty confident of our destination. The walk through Sherwood Forest was pretty good with a large number of very ancient trees including the Major Oak, but many were in a poor state. Would be nice to see how they looked in summer, but it is clearly a very busy place with hoards of walkers and dogs even now.
Despite the directions which we followed to the letter and the maps, we managed to get lost, turning onto a westward path far too early. Asking a local dog walker who knew about the interest in Crossbills suggested we were still too far south so turned right and onto a drivable track which looked more promising. Thinking it was still a long trek to the described cattle grids we heard a flock of about 14 Crossbills flying towards us. Sounding rather different to the calls I was used to, having less of a ringing quality they dropped down into a tree not far away. Our colleague got his scope on them and instantly noted the huge bills. Colin and I tried to get closer with our cameras but eventually I returned to the path and alternated between viewing and digiscoping with the RX100.
Structurally the birds were very distinctive, the very large rectangular heads, huge deep square bills with pale cutting edges and chunky front heavy bodies clearly indicated that we were lucky to have the Parrot Crossbills all to ourselves.
The birds performed extremely well and the only problem really was the poor light.

Eventually the Crossbills flew away so we slowly made our way back to the car. Passing a clearing we could see groups of birders on the other side-presumably where we should have been, though I doubt if they had such good views. At one point the Crossbills flew over again, and on two occasions, single Commons were also heard.
Our next destination was a Great Grey Shrike fairly nearby at Culverthorpe. Not knowing the precise location, we ended up on the wrong road, but bumped into a local birder who put us right. Approaching the location we saw birders in the distance and suddenly I saw the Shrike perched on the hedge just in front of us. Unfortunately as we found out several times it did not like cars and flew off. It was eventually seen distantly for a while. Returning to the car we were surprised to see it perched in a nearby ash. Got a few quick images before it then flew to a more distant tree. It then decided to return to the hedge where we had first seen it. Colin got close, but I stayed back trying to digiscope it, but had problems with the harsh light and atmospheric conditions.

With not much else nearby we decide to return home via Landbeach in the hope of picking up some gulls. Though both Glaucous and Iceland have been seen, the best we could manage despite searching a large area including the tip was a 1w Caspian.

Saturday, 18 January 2014

Long Tailed Tit

I went to Amwell this morning. Up to three Caspian Gulls in the roost and Bearded Tit have been reported recently. It was not likely that any gulls would be present in the morning, but there was a chance the Beardy would show.
Only Tony Phil and Barry were present-not surprising as it seemed very quiet. Water levels very high as expected, but at least there were the usual assortment of ducks-considerably more than I saw on the Ouse Washes last week. The red head Smew was elusive, having gone missing recently, but Barry picked it up at the south end.
Herons and Cormorants were very active on the islands, with nest building taking place, and the Great Crested Grebes were getting frisky. One or two cetti's in the reeds calling.
Spent some time in the James Hide hoping the Bearded Tit would appear but all I managed to get was a flock of Long Tailed Tits coming down to the feeders.

Met up with Barry and Phil as I headed down to Hollycross. A male Bullfinch appeared briefly. The feeders at hollycross did not produce anything outstanding so I walked back to the watch point via the woods, picking up a flock of Siskins.

Monday, 13 January 2014

Merlin at Broom Pits-The Movie

Have been trying to get to grips with producing digiscoped movie clips from the RX100. Looks ok on the desktop, hope that it still does after Blogger/Youtube 'processing'.

Saturday, 11 January 2014

Merlin at Broom Pits

Today turned out to be a bit of a let down, even though it was a nice day and we saw a number of good birds.
We were a bit unsure of what to do, but decided that as a Glossy Ibis has been at Langford near Biggleswade i.e. just up the road for a week or so that we would start there and wing it.
We arrived around 0820, rather cold but sunny. Never been here before, but it looks like a nice place, one flooded pit, and a couple of damp meadows to the south alongside the river Ivel. A number of other birders were with us for the hour or so we were there, but despite intensive searching the ibis did not show. We did see Kingfisher, and rather unusually it was very adept at hovering, presumably due to the lack of perches in the area it was fishing. Two Green Sandpipers and a Grey Wagtail were also noteworthy.

Having obtained directions we moved a few miles north to Broom Pits. We have visited before, but being working pits had never really figured out where to go. Most are now disused and have been landscaped, and access is pretty straightforward. The reason to visit is the male Merlin  which has been wintering for a few years now. Rather distant, it was sitting on the ground and enjoying the sun.

Further up the A1 at Holme Fen there has been a pretty regular Great Grey Shrike. The best bet seemed to be to walk through the woods and observe from the hide overlooking a small mere, but we decided to try and scan from the road.
It never showed here nor at an alternative site near the village. However we did see a large number of Mistle Thrushes on the wires, plus Red Kite and a superb low flying Common Buzzard.

Driving through the fens proved to be very quiet, and a stop over at the RSPB Ouse Washes was a waste-the water levels are very high as expected, but there were hardly any wildfowl-just vast expanses of empty water. Guess it is too mild and few duck are wintering here. No swans either.
Our last visit late in the afternoon was to Spinks Lodge in Thetford Forest. The parrot Crossbills are still being reported, though as it turned out, no-one had seen any all afternoon. Heard a few Common Crossbills, plus Siskin and Redpolls. The odd thing was the number of Great Spotted Woodpeckers visiting the garden-at least six in one tree and several more nearby.

Sunday, 5 January 2014

A cold and brief Amwell

Woke up to sunshine and a frost. Expecting rain later I went down to Amwell but only lasted 2 hours, feeling a little bit poorly.
The water is even higher now after the recent rain. Phil reported two Smew and had found a dead Harvest Mouse, the first site record for a long time.
Feeling a bit cold at the watch point I made my way down to Hollycross. A scan of a big tit flock produced a glimpse of a Treecreeper. Ran into Ade and we went to the feeder picking up the Coal Tit. A big puzzle was a report of a Short Eared Owl early morning, but talking to Bill later we found out that it was genuine. Don't know who saw it though.
Saw a few Snipe, a couple of Grey Herons and Greylags for the year list. Nice to see Derek and Sue again, and had a longer chat this time since the appalling New Year rain.
Took my camera down, but there were no opportunities this time. 


Saturday there was a window of opportunity regarding the weather in the south west. After a very bad Friday, it looked like the rain and wind would hold off all day  so we decided to go to Brixham and the White Billed Diver.
The run down the A303 in heavy rain was not pleasant but by the time we reached Honiton it had cleared, leaving mist and thin cloud. Many of the fields and roads in the area were flooded and we hardly saw any birds until we reached Brixham shortly before 1000.
Parked by the breakwater and almost immediately I saw divers close in shore. The White Billed had been reported on the sea, and for a while I thought we had it-unfortunately it was just one of the many Great Northerns with a rather pale bill. Scanning the bay picked up more Great Northerns-they were everywhere with a few distant Red and Black Throated. Lots of Shags too.

We made our way along the breakwater where many birders had gathered, scattering Turnstones and Rock Pipits as we went. No on had seen the White Billed since early morning, though rumours suggested it was opposite the fish market. Picked up many more Great Northers, a couple of Black Throated and a very distant Red Necked Grebe. Further up the breakwater we found the Purple Sandpipers on the abandoned jetty.

We stuck it out scanning the harbour mouth for a while and then slowly made our way back. Met up with a crowd who thought they had the White Billed in the middle of the outer harbour. Eventually we managed to pick it up, and in the space of three dives made its way to the jetty where we managed to get very good views. Our first since the famous Tattershall Bridge bird, though we have attempted to find them in Scotland.

The only disappointing thing was that no-one had seen the Iceland Gull since early morning, and we left around 1230 having also picked up Long Tailed Duck, Eider and so on.
Early afternoon we moved a few miles to the car park at Broadsands and almost immediately picked up the Siberian Chiffchaff. A very pale bird (compared to a normal one also seen) and incredibly active, it proved hard to get decent images.

Luckily I heard it call-a thin peep, and it remained on view all afternoon.
The Cirl Bunting feeding station was the main attraction and several birds came down from time to time, two males and four or more females.

A very enjoyable day and the run home was pretty good as well, with no hold ups.

Wednesday, 1 January 2014

New Year

When we left Portland last Saturday, I suggested to Colin that maybe we would do the Brixham White Billed Diver and return to Portland to kick off the New Year in style. Having discussed the weather prospects yesterday we decided not to bother. As I write, neither the Diver or the Brunnichs have been seen today, so we  may have saved a wasted journey.
Woke up to the winter song of the local Robin, and no wind and rain-not quite what I expected. Goldfinches on the feeders as usual-up to 15 at the moment, plus the regular Blackbirds and pigeons. Decided to visit Amwell while the weather remained fair.
Surprised at the lack of people presentTony at the viewpoint, one or two I did not know, Phil and Jay on site and that was it. Water levels very high, and few duck and gulls, though all the regular species were located. Pleased to see Julie arrive and after a brief chat as the first rain spots fell we decided to go down to the feeders. Met Phil and Jay by the metal gates watching a Bittern-my only Heron of the day. Showed quite well in the poor conditions.

On the Hollycross feeders we had a couple of Greenfinches, Goldfinch and Chaffinch, plus the usual Great Spotted Woodpecker. A few tits visited including the Marsh Tit, and a small flock of Redwing went over.
Returned to the watchpoint with the rain increasing and the Smew was pointed out-near the sluice feeding under the trees and very difficult to see. I decided to quit, leaving Julie in the Gladwyn hide. Bumped into Derek and Sue again, and had a quick chat as the weather was getting really bad and got home around 1130.
Sorting myself out I looked out at one of the Holly bushes, attracted by odd calls and realised that 4 or 5 Redwings were feeding on the berries.