Tuesday, 29 April 2014

Nightingales and Dotterels

Colin Came over on Sunday morning and we made a day of it in East Anglia. Not much happening on the coast, but we felt that we would be reasonably placed if anything turned up by starting off at Little Paxton and seeing how the day progressed.
Unlike the last couple of years Paxton was dry and fairly mild. We heard a Lesser Whitethroat near the car park and not long after reaching the east side of heron Lake our first Nightingale. There were a lot of terns on the lake, and initially I thought that they were all Common, but careful scrutiny suggested that at least two were Arctic, which was later confirmed when we got closer views from the Kingfisher Hide. We also heard a Turtle Dove, which seemed to be somewhere near the Cormorant colony.
Two Nightingales showed very well both singing high up in the trees, and one was only a few feet from a Garden Warbler making an interesting contrast.

We did not do a complete circuit of the lake as it was unlikely that we would add anything to the day.
The next stop was at Blackbush not far from Flag Fen. Three Dotterel had been in the ploughed fields on Saturday and showed well. Tony Hukin was just leaving and filled us in-the Dotterel were still there but rather distant, along with some Golden Plovers. He was right, even digiscoping at maximum magnification produced poor images.

One Greenland Wheatear was in the field, and the surrounding farm tracks had some Yellow Wagtails.
A Ring Necked Duck had been present on the Nene Washes east of Eldernell so we decided to have a look. Unfortunately it had not been seen all day. However there were still a number of Wigeon Pintail and Teal present, plus a small flock of Black Tailed Godwits. One Whimbrel was feeding along the counter drain. I was rather gutted to hear that two Cranes had flown over Amwell and landed briefly at Rye Meads-finding the pair on the far bank of the washes shortly after was scant consolation.
With nothing still happening on the coast we headed into the brecks calling in at Weeting for half an hour. Two Stone Curlews showed very well, being very easy to locate.

Our last destination was Lyndford Arboretum. We arrived around ten minutes late as the Two Barred Crossbill had been drinking in the walled garden. It never showed while we were there, but  on two occasions single Crossbills were seen on top of the trees, and later a flock of ten flew over-the Two Barred was probably with them but they were too quick for me.
I did search for Firecrests but failed to locate any but the Bluebells were enjoyable.

Called in at Wallington on the way home. A male Hen Harrier had been seen in the morning-on Saturday it had been reported as a Montagues. No sign from the viewpoint I had chosen, and seeing other regular birders in the area and no reports all afternoon it had clearly left the area,.

Saturday, 26 April 2014

White Wagtail

I thought that with the overnight rain, southerly winds etc that today would be a good day in the Lea Valley. Several Whimbrel, Barwits and so on have been seen, plus a long staying Ruff at Amwell. Always the chance of Arctic Terns as well.
It was still drizzling when i got to Amwell, and was rather cold to boot. Large numbers of hirundines over the pit-many more Swallow and House Martins now, plus a few Sand Martins as well. Common Tern numbers building, now 11 birds, but the rafts are occupied by Black headed Gulls. The two Little Ring Plovers are still around, along with a pair of Redshank and the Oystercatchers are still coming and going.
Had two yellowish wagtails flying away at a great distance-I presume they were Greys, and much later two short tailed wagtails went south, but no-one could get anything on them. We wanted Yellow but suspect they were Pied.
Jay did pick up a White Wagtail on the mud, but it only stayed a short while and it was too far away for a decent image.

Jay and Bill eventually left so I went over to the White Hide with Phil being joined by Dave from Barnet. Hoped to locate the elusive Ruff which was still present first thing but despite long searches and the regular flushing by raptors it seems to have departed.
Spent a bit of time photographing the terns, and the 'photogenic' Egyptian Geese.

Thursday, 24 April 2014

Whinchat and Black Redstart

Up to Norton again after work. Tony Hukin and a couple of others already there, searching for the Black Redstart.
No-one had it when i arrived, though I picked up a few Wheatears on the way. Told that there was also a Whinchat so I went looking for that with one of the other birders.
Not far from  the Ring Ouzel's favoured spot, I found the Black Redstart perched on a small stick. Tried to get the other guy on it in his scope, but he found the Whinchat instead!  Both birds stuck around in the area for some time and at one point I had the Whinchat, Black red and a couple of Wheatear in the same binocular view. Managed to get Tony and the others over and we all got pretty good views.
No sign of the Ring Ouzel while I was there, and there did not seem to be any Yellow Wagtails {reported over last couple of days}. Couple of Red Legged Partridge were seen though-Greys seem to be more frequent here at the moment. Reckon that there were at least seven Wheatears, a pretty high number for the site.

Tuesday, 22 April 2014

Norton Green Ring Ouzel

With the recent passage of Ring Ouzels through the country it was pretty much inevitable that one would turn up at Norton Green at some point since they are more or less annual.
A female was found this morning and an hour or two later I was able to get up there for a quick visit. Very elusive bird though and I only got a couple of brief views in the time available. Four Wheatears were also present.

Monday, 21 April 2014

Rye Meads Whimbrel

Not much happening nationally today, so we decided not to bother travelling. I decided to head down to Amwell just in case anything turned up.
I arrived at 0930 about the same time as Bill to find Jay, Ron and William at the view point with very little to report. In fact it was pretty much the same as it has been all week. The fine warm sunshine and clear skies did not help, though it did bring out the butterflies-mainly Orange Tip with a few Tortoiseshell and Green Veined Whites.
Ron decided to head off with his son and Jay to see the Ring Ousel at Cottered, which was a bit of a dilemma for me as I have not seen one yet. As they left, they saw a Hobby fly low over the track-Bill got the message but we never saw it. Jay decided to return, and as it turned out, the Ousel flew off before Ron got there.
Julie turned up, and decided to head up to Tumbling Bay with William, while the rest of us stuck it out expecting a very quiet day. Jay got a text from Sarah Harris at Rye telling him of a Whimbrel on the Draper Scrape so we went for it taking a newly arrived Simon with us.
Big problem today is that Rye Meads was having an Easter Fun Day and it was packed with stalls volunteers and visitors so we dumped the cars on the verge and rushed straight through. Derek and Sue were manning the Draper hide and Sue had the Whimbrel in her scope so we got pretty good views of it at the back of the scrape. It flew a couple of times, landing about as close as a wader can get so we managed to get good views and images before it flew off. Thought it might have gone for good but it later returned so hopefully most got to see it.
Sue was saying that in Derek's 38 years on the reserve that this was his first ever Whimbrel. Not easy to connect with in the Lea Valley even though they are regular in other parts of the county.

Saturday, 19 April 2014

Lesser Spotted Woodpecker

The initial plan for today was to go out with Colin, and Kent was suggested earlier in the week, but with the winds being from the wrong direction it had gone a bit quiet. However I had another idea and arranged to meet him in Bishops Stortford near Twyford Mill where a pair of Lesser Spotted Woodpeckers had been showing quite well. Once upon a time they were pretty common, and I often saw them more frequently than the other woodpeckers in the Stevenage area but over the last 15 years they have declined dramatically over much of southern England and there are few reliable locations these days.
I got there just before 0930 and we walked the short distance to the river where we saw a couple of birders by the dead tree. Unfortunately we had just missed the male bird so had to wait a while. Several calling Nuthatches were a bit of a distraction and also confusion, but eventually the male reappeared briefly before heading down to it's favourite drumming post high in an oak. We were treated to some nice views for some time before it flew into it's partly constructed nest hole and proceeded to excavate, interspersed with the occasional call. It then flew out and started feeding on the tree for some time and eventually flew off to the drum post. Its been a long time since I have had good views of  Lesser Spotted, and they have rarely been this good.

After about an hour we walked down river to Thorley Wash. Grasshopper Warbler and Cuckoo have been reported here but we were unable to locate either. It was a nice walk though with a brief flyby Kingfisher and the whole area looked good from a botanical view.
I left Colin and had a 'delightful' drive through Harlow and arrived at Rye Meads at noon. After a brief coffee and bite to eat, listening to Whitethroat and what sounded very much like a Garden Warbler I headed straight for the Tern hide where the Garganey were showing from the access ramp. Both birds were rather obscured and although fairly easy to pick up there was not much to see.
Several Cetti's were rather vocal, and I also heard my first Lesser Whitethroat. One Shelduck and a couple of Lesser Black Backs were on the northern lagoon while the tern rafts on the southern were occupied by Black Headed Gulls.
Walked up to the Warbler Hide as Grasshopper Warblers had been heard earlier but they had shut up and there was little to see.
The Garganey were still showing poorly from the ramp as I returned, but I discovered that better views could be had from
the gate on the south side of the pool. The drake had a habit of staying partly hidden but the female flew out and on her return showed well for a brief period.
The Draper Hide was rather quiet. Work is still continuing on the Kingfisher bank and new hide so there is presumably still some disruption. Supposed to be a pair of Little Ring Plovers here.
Had a nice surprise when Royston Dave appeared. Had a quick chat about the Baikal Teal {still on the Ouse Washes unfortunately} and he gave me directions to the Ring Ousel at Therfield-as it is very long walk from any suitable pariking I wont be going for it.

Good Friday

Easter holidays started yesterday, and I spent the morning at Amwell. Although sunny, the cold northerly wind was rather unpleasant while standing on the exposed view point. Should have worn an extra layer.
I arrived at 0900 and found I that none of the regulars were around. My first Common Tern was sitting on one of the posts and there were an almost constant succession of hirundines over the main pit. Most were Sand Martins, but there were also small numbers of House Martin and Swallow. The Wigeon remains, as does a few Shoveller and Teal, also the white Herring Gull.
A tweet from Jay Ward sent me up to Tumbling Bay where I got my first Whitethroats of the year. A Garden Warbler has been heard here but it eluded my ears. One of the Grey Wagtails was feeding under the lock bridge with it or another seen flying over. Plenty of Willow Warblers singing now, and Blackcaps are numerous. Heard one Reed Warbler, and there were also a few Sedge singing too.
Bumped into Jay on the Hollycross track and we had a chat. Got distracted by the local Stoat running up and down the path.

Not much happening at Hollycross so Jay left and I returned, meeting Tony on the bridge. We spent a bit of time watching the fish before walking back through the woods and we located another Whitethroat in the ditch by the main bridge. He then left and I spent a bit more time at the view point, being joined by William and Phil. Apart from one of the Little Rings appearing nothing else appeared so I left around 1220 before I completely froze.

Sunday, 13 April 2014


The Crag Martin came on again early this morning. Called Colin but neither of us felt up to the journey-good job as it was last seen not long after our conversation.
Went over to Aston End and up the river for a bit of a stroll. A nice sunny spring morning but with a bit of a chill courtesy of the northerly breeze.
Blackcaps seem to be everywhere this year with birds in almost every decent sized clump of bushes. Chiffchaffs by comparison seem to be scarce. Apart from a few Goldcrests in the plantation, the only other warbler was a rather subdued Willow song at the ford.
While watching a Red Kite, a Martin flew past-my first House Martin of the year. Two Swallows were also seen.
Butterflies are starting to me more noticable. Tortoiseshells are outnumbering Peacocks, Speckled Woods are out in force and I had my first Green Veined White and Holly Blue today.

Bluebells are looking nice in the woods-there is only a small patch on the walk but they looked pretty good and contrasted nicely with the Celandines and Wood Anemones. Most of the Blackthorn is going over, but some is looking superb, as are the Cherries.

Saturday, 12 April 2014

First Cuckoo and a Little Ringed Plover

Yesterdays Crag Martin at Flamborough did not linger-famous last words as it came on again this afternoon, so our weekend trip was put off until tomorrow. As a result of a general increase in summer migrants I went to Amwell-it was either that or the Garganey at Rye Meads.
Phil was the only one present, and it looked to be another quiet day with not much happening. However, a burst of Cuckoo song over towards Hollycross was good, and we picked it up in flight. I got a record shot but it was only about 20 pixels wide-barely enough to show it was a cuckoo species!
Bill and Simon put in an appearance for a while but apart from the LIttle Ring Plover pair, the Redshanks and brief OYstercatcher visits it did seem that I should have gone to Rye. The occasional Sand Martin was seen, and several Swallows-my first, went through. Not sure how many raptors were seen-Buzzards were in view all around, there were at least three Sparrowhawks, a Kestrel and at least two Kites.
Duck numbers are low, most of the winter visitors have departed, leaving a few Teal and Shoveller. The drake Wigeon remains as expected, as well as the white Herring Gull which appears to be ill. Two Egyptian Geese appeared then flew off, and everyone then decided to call it a day so I went for a walk.
Called in at James Hide for a while where Brian the photographer had hidden himself, and it was nice to see old Ron there as well as he has not been down for a good six months. Apart from the very vocal Cetti's Warbler, I heard and saw my first Sedge Warblers, and a Grey Heron posed on one of the old stumps.

Down the Hollycross track the most vocal birds were Blackcaps and Chiffchaffs. with a few tits adding a bit of variety. THree Jays at the Hollycross gate was unusual. First Speckled Wood here, as well as single Orange Tip and Small White.

I got back to the watchpoint at noon and was intending to depart when the Little Ring Plovers started to get very active and fly around overhead. Julie arrived at this point having seen the Rye Garganey so I stuck around and got some nice flight shots.

Wednesday, 9 April 2014

Norton Green Wheatears

THere were a few Wheatears at Norton Green early last week-I went over on the 31st at lunchtime but failed to locate any. It was very windy and there was a lot of vegetation for them to shelter in.
I thought that Sunday might be better as there had been some overnight rain. It was however very windy again, and there were a couple of characters with dogs running around so obviously not good, so I walked down to Watery Grove. There have been a pair of Mandarin in the area for a while, and it looked pretty good with plenty of ponds and standing water n the woods. The trouble is there was too much, and most of it is essentially hidden from the public rights of way. One or two Blackcaps and Chiffchaffs were encountered on the lovely Blackthorn lined track, as well as the expected Marsh Tits. A pair of Nuthatch was nice, and the Primroses looked loevly. Saw a couple of early Bluebell spikes as well.
A drive up to Ashwell and back through Therfiled and Kelshall did not produce anything of note.
I went back to Norton yesterday lunch time as more Wheatears had been reported. Guess what, it was still windy, but this time I was more successful and three birds at least were found in a very brief circuit. Linnets and Skylarks were encountered all over the site, along with one or two flyover Meadow Pipits. A Yellow Wagtail had been seen earlier but I did not have time for a more thorough search.

Saturday, 5 April 2014

Little Gull at Amwell

There was a Spotted Redshank at Amwell earlier this week which I was unable to get down and see, with a pair of Little Ring Plovers yesterday. Add Curlew,and Kittewake over Rye Meads and its been good in the valley.
The weather has changed a bit-we have lost the awful dust and smog that has lingered for several days and the sun was shining when I arrived just after 0900. MIke and Barry mentioned that the only good bird present was the 'Iceland Gull' which is still loitering on the island. Scanning I picked up an Egyptian Goose with a couple of Snipe right at the back. The Wigeon is still around, along with a pair of Goldeneye, some Teal and Shoveller.
Most people left leaving Tony Hukin and Simon. A Cetti's Warbler appears to have a territory around the main bridge and being rather loud attracted attention. It showed well occasionally though never for the cameras. Simon saw what he thought was a Little Ring Plover fly in and though I saw a small bird drop in we could not locate it. However, on moving over to the platform we could see an LRP in front of the reed bed which came a little bit closer.

Not long after a Shelduck dropped in but it did not stay for long. Simon then left so I went for a wander with Tony, both hoping for Willow Warbler or hirundines. Watched the fish in the river for a bit-several Rainbow Trout and a rather large Chub were seen and a Kingfisher flashed under the bridge.
Plenty of Chiffchaff and Blackcaps singing along the Hollycross walk and a nice Wren posed.

We picked up our first Orange Tip and Small White butterflies along with Peacock, Small Tortoiseshells and a Brimstone and returned to the watchpoint. We had been idly talking about Little Gulls, of which there has been a decent inland passage recently when I noticed one sitting in the water among the Black Heads. It remained rather distant and I put the message out. Moments after Barry arrived however, it flew off quite high and we assumed it had gone-not good news for Phil Ball who we met on the level crossing. However, it reappeared not long after I got home and it seems that most of the regulars managed to see it.