Monday, 24 February 2014

Garden Observations-No Sparrows any more.

Came home at lunch time today-power cut all morning at work and not due to come on back on til mid afternoon so it was a bit pointless sitting in the dark doing nothing.
Spent a bit of time pruning some of the larger shrubs until I badly cut my finger so I had time to look a bit closer at the plants and animals.
The very mild winter means that a lot of last years plants are still flowering-one of the fuchsias is doing well and one of the sweet peas is still producing the odd flower. Having carefully overwintered some  Pelargonium cuttings it is annoying to see the parent doing so well outside, and a lot of other tender plants have survived incredibly well. Even the ginger stems remain since we have not had any heavy frosts this winter.
Snowdrops are starting to go over, and the early crocuses are at their peak. Many of the other spring bulbs are shooting up, and some of my species tulips will soon flower. One of the pulmonarias has been flowering for several weeks now, as has a sweet rocket, and the first cowslips have just started (many have a touch of Polyanthus in them) and sweet violets will soon start.
Lots of 7 Spot Ladybirds in the garden, certainly more abundant than they have been in the last two winter/springs, and one or two bees are flying. I have yet to see any butterflies though.
I usually expect to see frog spawn in the pond any time from mid February. Despite being very mild, we have only seen two frogs and while they have been a bit frisky in recent days there is nothing to show for their efforts yet. 

Would like to know where my House Sparrows have gone. Ever since a neighbour took out some big shrubs ( a safe roost) , numbers have been low, but they were regular visitors until mid November. None have been seen since then, though I do know a few birds are still present in the area. Last summer family parties were seen daily in pretty high numbers, so breeding was very successful locally, though it has been a long time since they nested in our roof space. Quite why the remaining birds are not visiting is a bit of a puzzle. Cats are a problem here, but this has not stopped Goldfinches (now my most abundant visitor) Wood Pigeons, Collared Doves and ground species like Blackbirds and Robins. Hopefully if the Sparrows have a good breeding season they will start to visit again.

Sunday, 23 February 2014

Rough Legged Buzzard

The weather on Saturday was pretty good, dry though with a bit of a breeze, so Colin and I decided to go to the Norfolk coast.We have not been there for many months and since then of course the storm surge late last year caused extensive damage, so we did not know what impact it would have on our trip.
We did the usual thing and detoured off the A10 to drive round the Ouse Washes at Pyemore and Welney. Several large herds of swans were encountered, predominantly Whooper with a smaller number of Mutes. We never found any Bewicks, and there were no raptors or owls either. As on our last visit, the washes were largely empty with relatively few numbers of wildfowl-mainly Tufted Duck, Pochard and Wigeon. Apart from the swans, the fields were pretty empty too, with one or two small flocks of Lapwing and some Fieldfares seen.
Our only real target for the day was west of Kings Lynn at Ongar Hill. I had forgotten that we had been here before to see a wintering Richards Pipit, but today it was a Rough Legged Buzzard. As it had been seen here and from Lynn Point I expected it to be rather distant and wide ranging so I was surprised when walking north from the car park to the sea wall to see it pass low down in front of us not more than 200 yards away. It carried on east and spent a good hour hovering over the bank, occasionally drifting back over the field behind us. Out in the wash, Brent Geese were abundant, along with Shelduck and a few Oystercatcher and Redshank. Unfortunately most of the birds were too far distant to be seen clearly. One or two Egrets were around-only Little, and we did not see the Great White that was reported later at Admiralty Point.

Heading towards Titchwell we took the usual road through Ringstead and stopped at Chosely for a while. The spilt seed by the barns attracted a big flock of Yellowhammers, and around 20 Brambling were seen in the hedge along the green lane.

We arrived at Titchwell around high tide, despite that, Thornham Marsh was dry-apparenty being drained for some work. The Fresh Marsh was full of water of course, with large numbers of gulls and duck such as Pintail. Avocets were the most obvious wader, with some Godwits, Ruff, Redshanks and Golden Plover. The breezy walk to the sea did not produce much, and it was a bit of a surprise to see the sea so early. Most of the dunes east of the boardwalk had gone, as had the boardwalk, and the beach was much higher than usual. Beyond the pill box remains there seemed to be a fairly deep channel where the fossil forest bed should have been. As this was covered with water it was not clear how badly damaged this area was, the fact that some of the wooden posts were still present suggested it may not be too bad.
The big attraction was the large Scoter flocks-far higher numbers than in recent winters so it seemed. Among the thousands of Common were a small number of Velvets, we saw maybe six, though there was a report of 39 that morning which is an incredible number for this area. Apart from a couple of Mergansers, a flyby Red Throated Diver and a few Goldeneye there was nothing else visible so we made our way back.
A nice bonus was a flyover Water Pipit and we spent a few minutes watching a Long Tailed Tit nest building right by the path. Part of the Fen Trail was closed but we could get to Patty's pool where after a bit of a search the female Scaup was located.
We ended up parked by the road at Burnham Overy scanning the west end of Holkham Pines and Gun Hill. Lots of Pink Feet and Brent Geese as expected and the usual assortment of distant waders and duck. Several Buzzards were found, along with five or six Marsh Harriers, Kestrels and a Red Kite. Two boxing Hares were nice to see as was a very distant Short Eared Owl, but we could not locate the Rough Legged Buzzard and we had hoped to see Hen Harrier too. Still it was a nice end to a good day.

Monday, 17 February 2014

Myrtle Warbler Durham

Like many birders, the big surprise of the year for me was a report and photo from the RSPB Big Garden Birdwatch of a Myrtle Warbler 'somewhere' in county Durham but not seen since. As usual reaction and speculation on Bird Forum ranged from hoax to suppression and few if any were aware of the behind the scenes work that local birders were undertaking to secure access. As it turned out, the site location was finally released late last weekend, enabling locals to get there and see the bird. Initially it was being seen in private gardens, appearing occasionally but once feeders were put out in a roadside hedge, the bird showed quite well, and being the 30th UK record and only the 4th on the mainland it attracted a lot of attention.
I knew some who went early in the week, but I had to wait until this weekend. The assumption was that we would travel up on Saturday, but the high winds all through Friday and into Saturday were rather off putting so we took the risk to delay until yesterday when the conditions would be much more settled. As it turned out it was a lovely sunny, and reasonably mild day. The journey up was rather fraught though, Colin overslept, there was  a bit of trouble finding fuel with an almost empty tank, and we were pulled over by plod near Scotch Corner doing 70 and received a mild lecture.
By the time we arrived, nearly an hour later than expected, one or two parking spots were still available and we made our way to the hedge, passing the occasional happy birder. The Myrtle Warbler showed briefly as I reached the small crowd and then vanished for a bit. it then popped up into a nearby tree where I got some decent images before dropping down into the thicket. From time to time it would feed on the partly hidden coconuts and fat balls-good job I took the scope as the bird filled the eyepiece at 60x, my best ever views of an American passerine.
A lot of the time it was very active, flycatching from a small tree behind the hedge, and it often called at this time, sometimes getting up into the bigger trees and then  dropping out of view for long periods. Getting images was rather frustrating as it was often obscured by small branches, it's inability to stay still and the difficulty in picking it up in the camera. Despite this I was happy with the results with the 300mm and 1.7x converter.

Ron Cousins was there, and he was planning on going for the Two Barred Crossbills in Derbyshire. The Black Grouse at Langdon Beck were not all that far away (I had completely forgotten about this and only realised after reading some blogs today) and we made the decision to return home via Middlesborough. A quick visit to North Gare was fruitless so we went to RSPB Saltholme for an hour or so. Not a bad place, though previous visits were before it actually opened so it was interesting to see how it was developing. Unfortunately there were few birds to see, with a distinct lack of waders and gulls. The Green Winged Teal was not seen (it was outside the reserve as we found out later) though two Red Breasted Mergansers on the fresh pools was novel. The feeders and hawthorns were full of small birds, and the best by far were the Tree Sparrows-something I missed last year.

The return home was thankfully uneventful.
There has been no sign of the Myrtle Warbler today.

Saturday, 8 February 2014

More Peregrine Images

Kingfisher and Peregrine

Another wet and windy weekend. A lot of the local roads around the Beane at Walkern are under water, and some of the low lying Stevenage roads were closed yesterday. Took a gamble and went down to Amwell the usual way along the A602. A lot of surface water and debris at Hooks Cross as expected, and many of the roadside fields are very wet, but otherwise a pretty good journey.
Arrived the same time as Bill and we were joined by Phil as we approached the watch point. The water levels on the lake are higher than I have ever seen them, and the highest point of the island in front of White Hide is almost covered. Apparently it was far worse yesterday. With little to see here I went with Bill and sat in the James Hide for a while. Despite a couple of intense hail storms, the Kingfisher put in an appearance and showed quite well. One or two singing Cetti's Warblers did not show, but we did have a brief Water Rail cross h
the big cut in the reeds.
Bill left, and I eventually made my way down to Hollycross. The rivers have topped their banks and spread quite widely, and the dragonfly boardwalk is under water. The feeders were not all that exciting this time, and none of the more interesting birds showed, so with high winds and showers approaching I made my way back to the watchpoint where I met Barry.
We had a chat and noted that the Lapwings had been very jumpy all morning. Two other birders picked up a distant raptor which appeared to have a long tail, clean under parts, brown upper parts and an un barred tail so I assumed it was a Kestrel. A little while later what they suggested may have been the same bird appeared, put up the Lapwings and was quickly identified as a Peregrine which came close at one point. I got a few images, much better than my last attempt.
I decide not to stay any longer as the wind was getting very bad, but it was great to see two Red Kites fly over the main lake.

Saturday, 1 February 2014

Bearded Tit Amwell

Another very wet week-the A602 Hertford road was closed this morning at Hooks Cross so I had to get to Amwell via the A1.
I arrived a bit later than usual and as i crossed the bridge, Bill called me over-the Bearded Tit which had eluded me all year was showing in front of the watch point. Unfortunately as soon as I got the camera up it was off. I saw it again shortly after and it popped up onto a reed head again and showed quite well, but the wind was causing camera focussing issues. Phil and Simon appeared and about half an hour after our sighting it was picked up distantly in the middle of the reed bed, luckily Simon had his scope so everyone present got to see it.
The water levels are incredibly high, the navigation only has to rise another foot and the towpath will flood, and apparently it already has at Stanstead St Margerets. The old river is very high and is at least four times wider than usual. This may have affected the birds present, with few ducks and gulls. In fact the only large gull was a single Lesser Black Back, there were no Wigeon and very few Goldeneye. Six Snipe was a reasonable number in view of the lack of mud. Up to eight Common Buzzards were seen, along with a single Sparrowhawk and Red Kite.
i went down to Hollycross bumping into Barry on the way-nothing much on his circuit of the area. The feeders were as active as ever, with lots of Chaffinch, Goldfinch, and single Great Spotted Woodpecker Marsh Tit and Coal Tit. A bright pink male Lesser Redpoll looked superb in the sun but was too far away for the camera, unlike one of the buzzards.

On the way back over the river, a large Long Tail Tit flock proved diverting. I mentioned to another birder that a Treecreeper was often with them, looked down and found it almost immediately. It never really showed well enough to get a good image.
The Siskin flock in the wood was worth  visiting as they were feeding at eye level and looked really nice with the sun on them.

I got back to the watchpoint to find all the familiar faces had departed and had a chat with a local about the flooding. During the conversation I heard some pings but could not locate the bearded Tit, but shortly after being joined by another photographer we located it at the base of the reeds in front of us. It was hard to see at times and after losing it for a bit I scanned the woods opposite picking up a distant raptor. Preoccupied by the Bearded Tit I failed to stay with it and only after it had gone realised it was a Peregrine.

I stuck around for a bit, being joined by Ron Cousins (who got the Tit a bit later) and left at 1230. I had intended to go back via the A1 again but met a couple of Stevenage guys who had come down via Aston and Watton so went home the usual way. As it turned out the A602 was open despite the information on the RAC app I had earlier checked.