Sunday, 30 March 2014

Tyttenhanger Avocet

Good news this morning-had a pair of House Sparrows on the feeders.
Not exactly with it when I got up-the clocks went forward and it takes a bit of time to acclimatise, but following a tweet I decided to go to Tyttenhanger this morning.
It was rather warm and humid but with hazy cloud. Parked in Colney Heath and walked through with a few Blackbirds, Song Thrushes and Chiffchaffs on the way. Saw someone I recognised in the distance-Tony I think and met up with him. He had seen Pintail and Mandarin earlier, but the good news was that the Avocet remained. We walked around to the hide and managed to get rather distant views of it i=on the far shore sleeping. While scanning I picked up a single Sand Martin but it did not linger.
Over at the farm I found the Tree Sparrows among other birds at the feeders. Round the corner I found Ricky, and shortly after Dave Beer arrived. We had good views of the Avocet, as well as Redshank. Ricky thought he had a Plover, but could not locate it, though moments after I left them he called me back as he had a Ringed Plover in the scope.

Saturday, 29 March 2014

Baikal Teal

There was not much on Rare Bird Alert last night so we decided not to go out.
I was a bit unsure of what to do in the morning, but a report of an Iceland Gull first thing at Amwell decided it for me. Did not expect to see it, as any interesting gulls present overnight usually depart very early, but as it turned out it wasn't there anyway. There has been a dodgy pale Herring Gull with white wings for some time and someone put it out as an Iceland. Shame really as it was just about the only interesting bird there all morning.
The usual pair of Redshank were flying around, there are still some winter ducks and the Cormorant/Heron/Egret colony is very busy as usual. The number of Black Headed Gulls is building up as well, they will no doubt take over the Tern rafts again.
I walked around to Hollycross with Mick Cotton and Tony, picking up several Blackcaps and Chiffchaffs. A pair of Bullfinch were seen near the Ash bridge, and there was a nice Rainbow Trout under the bridge (we also saw Pike and a nice Long Tail Tit nest from the main bridge over the Lea Navigation). Butterflies were also out-mainly Peacock and Comma with one or two Brimstones.

Not long after I got home Colin phoned which is when I found out about a Baikal Teal at Fen Drayton. Having missed the accepted bird at Minsmere and not been able to get to the recent Lancashire bird we had to go even if the escape spectre is so high, so after something to eat, Colin came and we headed up the A10 arriving around 1500.
There did not seem to be many birds on the walk to the hide, in fact most of the pits seemed rather empty not that you could see much from the path. Bumped into Royston Dave and his mate trying to locate a Blackcap in a dense bush and had a brief chat before heading down to the hide. William, Ron Cousins and Ray Hooper were already there, and it turned out that Derek Ling had been visiting the reserve when the bird was announced.
The Baikal Teal turned out to be asleep on a small island a long way off. A couple of times it moved it's head, and once it stood up treating us to a full profile-fully winged and no rings so it's got a chance. Too distant for the camera, and the RX100 battery was dead so I tried the iphone through the scope with poor results. Some Wigeon, Teal Snipe and diving ducks in the area. Two Avocets, one Oystercatcher and my first Little Ring Plover of the year were on a different island. 
No sign of the drake Scaup and Garganey present on a different lake.

Monday, 24 March 2014

Weekend Update

Had a long weekend again, starting Thursday. Turned out to be a quiet one, without any major trip.

Did a bit of work in the garden Thursday and Friday. The only interesting item is that we seem to have a Greenfinch singing outside. Apart from a juvenile visiting a couple of summers back, it has been a long time since Greenfinch was a regular in the garden (it used to be a common bird until the big Ash trees died and were cut down). Heard it a few mornings in a row so hopefully it will stick around. House Sparrows are also vocal at the moment. Certainly present in the old holly hedge outside, and another colony in the next street they have yet to come into the feeders. Guess they will do what they du=id last year and come in with the young later in summer.

Saturday morning was spent at Amwell. Small numbers of Sand Martins had been coming in locally, with a few other early migrants so I  hoped to connect with some. Unfortunately the weather was not co-operative, being cool with a strong westerly wind. I spent the morning chatting to Simon, and later on Barry and Mike. Apart from the pair of Redshank, the lone male Wigeon and decent numbers of (presumed) nesting Herons and Egrets there was not much happening. A walk around Hollycross and the wood produced a couple of singing Chiffchaffs.

Sunday would have been a trip, but though there were a few birds around, it was much the same as previous weeks and  neither Colin or I could summon up the enthusiasm for a long expensive journey. So I decided to have a morning walk around Aston End and the Beane. No sign of any Bullfinch or Little Owl-have yet to find the resident birds this year, though Yellowhammers are more noticeable now with several territories located.
At least seven Buzzards were seen over High Wood, one Meadow Pipit flew over and 21 Redwings were seen heading north along the river (still flowing with a decent amount of water). One Blackcap was heard near the paddocks and there were three or maybe four Chiffchaffs singing. Rather cold and windy for the Skylarks though a few were singing.
Simon mentioned yesterday that the Blackthorn was flowering rather earlier than usual. Had not noticed at the time-I assumed that the white blossom had been early flowering cherries, but a lot of the bushes along the Beane were in full flower. However many others were still in tight bud, and sun/shade seemed to have little to do with it. The same seemed to be the case with some of the willows.

Today I had an extended lunch break and spent half an hour at Norton trying and failing to find the two Wheatear reported earlier. It was a nice sunny day, but rather cold and windy. I met a guy who had seen them much earlier, and they had either moved off or were seeking shelter. I did notice that the grass/sedge clumps were much larger than usual, presumably due to the milder winter by so there was a lot of places for birds to hide. Two Grey Partridge were the only birds of note.

Monday, 17 March 2014

More Kumliens Images

Kumliens Gull Littlehampton

The past winter has been very good for arctic gulls, with larger than usual numbers of white winged Glaucous and Iceland's all over the country. We have tried one or two regular sites on our trips and checked out the occasional gull flock that we have encountered without any success. Mid March is getting a bit late for winter gulls, particularly as it's been so mild but some are still around so we thought worth trying for a few.
Among the Iceland's have been a lot of grey winged Kumlien's from Canada and the Littlehampton bird has been on my mind for some time as it is a form I have not knowingly seen before, particularly as a Glaucous has been around in the area. We decided not to try for the Glaucous, as it had apparently moved to Worthing and it was not exactly clear where it was being seen, so decided to start at Littlehampton.
We arrived shortly after 0800, after a pleasant drive in the spring sunshine and parked by the Lifeboat station. While Colin was sorting out the car I walked the few yards to the river Arun and checked the loafing gulls on the bank. A quick scan located a pale elongated upright bird that ticked the Iceland box, so returned to get the rest of the gear and get Colin on it. Standing on the mud with the 1w Herrings it really stood out and in the scope the pale greyish primaries were very different to the white of a normal Iceland. Someone decide to throw bread on the slip way for the Swans and this put all the gulls up and we lost it for a bit, but it proved easy to pick up in flight as the gulls wheeled around overhead and I got a nice backlit shot which shows black tips to the outer primaries. It eventually settled on the jetty in front of us where we attracted some attention from locals, so we tried with some success to explain the significance of the bird.

We left after about an hour and travelled the short distance to Pagham Lagoon-not a site we have visited before, as in the past we have always been to the western side of the harbour. A 1w Iceland Gull has been here for a while and made a nice contrast to the Kumlien's. It did not show quite as well but the digiscoped image came out well. Had hoped perhaps for a summer migrant here, maybe Wheatear, Sand Martin or maybe a Black Redstart but apart from a few other gulls, grebes and ducks there wasnt much happening.

The drive west to Gosport took some time as traffic was a bit heavy. The Ring Billed Gull that we have seen in recent years is still around and it was not hard to locate when we got to the car park-it was the only gull apart from Black Headed.

One Brent on the pool was a bit different-apparently a small flock had been present for a while.
Two Barred Crossbills are another species that has caused us some frustration this winter, having failed to locate any. The Forest of Dean birds are still being reported, up to 14 still and odd birds elsewhere. One at RSPB Farnham Heath seemed worth trying for as it was on our way back from the south coast. It has caused some discussion, as the wing bars are not as prominent as expected, and it lacks white tertial tips-the assumption being that it is a juvenile male bird.
Its a reserve that is new to us, part of the Surrey Heath restoration project and finding it was a bit of a challenge. It was rather nice in the very warm sunshine, and the walk from the car to the pond where it had been seen shortly before we arrived did not take long. However after an hour, with not much to see apart from Goldfinches, Linnets and a couple of Siskin most wandered of. Singing Woodlarks were nice as were a pair of Stonecaht. Three Crossbills eventually dropped in-two males and a female but soon left.
Colin and I were the last left at the pond and we decided on a change of scenery and joined a group on a track at the base of the hillside. They had not had anything and were starting to make a move when I noticed a couple getting rather agitated under a pine. Running over to them I saw a female Crossbilll and rather obscured a raspberry red bird with prominent wing bars. Everyone rushed over and most, but not all got onto the birds before they flew south. Expecting them to be by the pond we all made our way down, and the male bird was located feeding in a birch. Distant, I got a few poor digiscoped images before it flew over our heads. The flight call sounded very good and similar to Scandinavian recordings that I listened to when I got home.

Friday, 14 March 2014

Deadman's Hill Area

I have a couple of days holiday to use up, so took today off. Had intended to work in the garden (well I eventually did a bit) by getting in a load of sand/gravel to try and improve the heavy clay, but the local DIY store  only had a couple of bags and its far cheaper to get 10 so I decided to go for a drive instead.
Called in at Norton Green but the overhead wires are being worked on, plus there was so much fly tipping in the pull ins I decided not to bother and put plan B into operation and up to Deadman's Hill.
It was a lovely sunny morning, a bit cool and some mist remained from the night. Lots of Skylarks singing and a few Lapwings were displaying over the ridge near the shooting range and three Grey Partridge were about half way up. Hares were everywhere which is always nice to see here. I heard a very brief Corn Bunting as well, so they are still hanging on here.
Later drove over the the Coombe Road layby. A few Yellowhammers were in the roadside bushes, and a few thrushes were seen at the bottom of the field along the 'shrike' fence. Scanning the slope it gradually became apparent that there were an awful lot of Fieldfares here. Being mobile and with much of the slope being hidden it was hard to get an accurate count but a best guesstimate suggested a minimum of 400.
Did not see any Fallow Deer this time and apart from a Red Leg Partridge down the road it was an uneventful drive home.  

Monday, 10 March 2014

Red Flanked BlueTail, Adder and Goshawks

Sunday turned out to be a wonderful spring day. We had thought about going down to the south coast, but guessing that it would be popular, decide to go and see the wintering Bluetail not far from Bristol. Most of the birders that I know have already seen it, often in rather poor weather, and it has proved to be very popular.
We got down to the site fairly quickly, and parked in the designated lane. Blue skies, warm sunshine, singing Skylarks and Yellowhammers were a great boost as I had not had a very good night.
The river valley was not as muddy as expected, though I guess it must have been far worse earlier in the year, and we soon joined the small crowd on the footpath by the river. Told that it had been seen in one of the small Hawthorns but lost to view it took a few minutes before I picked it up and most got onto it before it flew out and fed on the ground for a minute or so. Clearly the behaviour and lighting suggested we would be better off on the slope and look down on the bushes. Over the next hour the bird performed extremely well, sitting in the bushes and coming out and feeding from time to time. My 5th Bluetail, the first in spring, and the only thing that would have made it better would be if it was a male bird. Still its a Bluetail and you cannot complain.

One of the reasons for heading west on a fine spring day is to go to the Forest of Dean and displaying  Goshawks. The New fancy View watchpoint is a popular destination at this time of year.
On the way up from the car park everyone stopped off to see the sun bathing Adder, and there was plenty of evidence of Wild Boar activity as well.

One Goshawk had been pinned down in a tree-it was very distant and a barely discernible blob. I picked up a bird flying far to the right-in the scope it looked brown and heavily barred so presumably juvenile, and soon after I got another two birds displaying over the wooded ridge to the right. Later in the same area two birds were seen soaring with two Buzzards, and much later another two birds were located in front of us. Two Ravens flew over, and one or two other Buzzards were seen.
We stopped off at the Adder on the way back, and while talking to a newcomer in the car park Colin and others got very excited as a Goshawk flew over the watchpoint-turned out that most up there missed it. Not a very good image, but the best I've managed  of this usually elusive bird.

We finished the day in the northern end of the Forest on Serridge Ridge. The flock of Two Barred Crossbills were still being reported in this area. Hard to know where the best spot would be, we drove up unto the ridge, and seeing Larches to our east slowly made our way along the ride. Bumped into a couple of groups, the first had had no luck, the second had seen one male bird. We got directions and spent a bit of time in the area. Crossbills were heard occasionally but proved very hard to pin down, and no-one was successful in locating any birds.
Butterflies were out in force, with several Brimstones, Peacocks and a couple of Tortiseshells.

Saturday, 8 March 2014

Blackcaps and Chiffs

Today was supposed to be warm and sunny, shame about the misty start and cold wind all day.
Went down to Amwell and was struck by the amount of bird song as I got out of the car-Song Thrush, Blackbird, Wren, Dunnock, Robin, Blue Tit, Great Tit and Chaffinch. I had only got a few yards up the track when I heard a Blackcap singing behind the horse paddock and moments later my first singing Chiffchaff above my head in the trees. A second Chiff and two more Blackcaps were heard before I got to the level crossing. Almost felt like spring had arrived and then I got to the cold and breezy watchpoint and it went downhill for a bit.
Tony pointed out the Redshank on the island-water levels slowly dropping so more is being exposed every visit and mud is starting to appear around the reeds now. Snipe are becoming more visible as a result, but the Oystercatchers seem to be spending most of the time further south now. Tony saw the Bearded Tit fly across from one patch of reeds to another on a couple of occasions but it kept very low and vanished into the reeds. Pity as several people had yet to see it, including Julie who arrived soon after.
Everyone wandered off and I stuck it out for a bit but the Bearded never showed so I went down into the woods where one or two more Chiffchaffs were singing. A couple of Siskin still present, and over the bridge, one Bullfinch was seen.
Joined up with Julie, and went down to the Hollycross feeders but things are getting a bit quiet there now, so we made our way back bumping into Mick Cotton. Julie had seen the Bittern at the Water Vole pit earlier , but it had not been seen since, so Mick and I went into the James Hide for a while. Two Cetti's were busy fighting, very vocally and we both tried to get images. At one point one was sitting on the fence but Mick just could not get a clear shot and while I had sustained views the birds were always obscured.

After a while we went back to the watchpoint where there was a bit of a crowd. Had a couple of Kites prospecting over the woods, which upset the Buzzard pair that wanted the same spot. Also one or two displaying Sparrowhawks and a Kestrel, plus many more Buzzards to the north.
Wildfowl numbers diminishing rapidly now, one pair of Teal and a couple of Goldeneyes being virtually all thats left of the winter visitors. Still reasonable numbers of Gadwall and Shoveller though.
Around 1145 I thought I heard a brief ping, and saw a movement in the reeds. Moving down I waited, keeping an eye on the right hand patch and about five minutes later the Bearded Tit flew out about a foot above the water and into the small reed clump in front of us where it promptly vanished again. Luckily a few present managed to see it this time.

Friday, 7 March 2014


Working in the garden at lunchtime today, and got my first spring butterflies-one Brimstone, one Peacock and two Commas.
The frogs have finally got going, spawning started yesterday, around three weeks later than usual.

Saturday, 1 March 2014

Cetti's Warbler

A lovely sunny start to March in Stevenage when I got up, but it soon clouded over and got very cold.
I got down to Amwell around 0900, with a temperature of 3C and poor light. Couple of Goldcrests getting out of the car and four Redwing over, plus the usual singing Song Thrushes. No-one at the watchpoint as I got there, and there did not seem to be much around. One drake Wigeon-maybe the injured bird from last year and a couple of Teal and Goldeneye still. Barry had put Pintail on the board so I went down to the Gladwyn Hide but there was no sign. Tony Hukin had arrived by the time I got back, trying to track down a Cetti's Warbler. It flies around in the reeds but is difficult to pin down, but we managed to locate it and obtained good views. A bit distant for the camera.

We went down to the James Hide for a bit. One or two cetti's singing here, along with a Water Rail calling. The Kingfisher appeared at the back of the pool for a while.
Leaving the hide we were told that the 2w drake Smew was at Tumbling Bay so we went up there and soon located it. Unfortunately it was very flighty any movement would spook it. Despite being a red head, there is a lot more white in the head since I last saw it and the body is getting  a lot paler.
On the way back we tried to track down another Cetti's in brambles by the river, found a Treecreeper and a male Bullfinch and found what I presume were the Redwings I had seen earlier.
There was not much happening on the feeders at Hollycross and after a short spell at the watchpoint I left at 1220. Bumped into Ron Cousins and had a bit of a long chat about the recent aurora. Despite a number of alerts set up on the phone, I did not see it. The numbers suggested it would only likely be seen from northern parts so I did not go out and I was surprised the following day to see images taken locally from Bayford and even as far south as Jersey.