Tuesday, 29 December 2015

Christmas Birding

I haven't got round to posting anything recently largely because it has been pretty quiet. The really warm winter while good for my health has not exactly done much for the birding with very little in the way of movement and numbers. Found that out on the 19th when I went down to Amwell for a few hours.
It was very warm-something like 15C and when the sun came out it felt more like a summer evening. Water levels were very high, but it did not seem attractive to ducks, there were not all that many at all. Presumably most were residents with the winter visitors remaining on the continent. The Smew is still around though, and there were small numbers of Teal and Shoveller. Gulls were coming and going all the time, mainly Black Headed and Lesser Black Backs, with a few Herring and Greater Black Backs. According to Barry Caspian Gull numbers have dropped from a high of six in the evening roost to maybe one or two now and again, though Yellow Legs are still coming in on a regular basis.
I went for a walk down to Hollycross with William, finding the odd unseasonal flower (and a 7 spot ladybird). The feeders were busy with two Great Spotted Woodpeckers, lots of Pheasants, Chaffinch and a few Greenfinch. One or two Redwing in the area but we failed to get the Marsh Tit. Something like 15 Siskins in the alders by the railway but little else of note.

The Christmas period has been spent indoors with only the garden birds to monitor, and it is pretty poor. Apart from the Wood Pigeons, two regular Collared Doves, two Dunnocks and one or two Robins and Blue Tits there has not been much. Even the regular male Blackbird counts as a highlight these days. The Goldfinches have gone, there have not been any House Sparrows for some time now (I suspect the recent council house refurbishing, including new roofs and exterior insulation during the nesting season has hit them very hard), and while Chaffinch and Great Tit are singing outside, they have not been down to the feeders.

Today was my first day out, and it was mainly to get some air and stretch my legs. For a change I went to Rye Meads as its been some time since my last visit. till rather mild for the time of year, and rather nice when the sun came out.
Not much of interest at the Draper Hide, but the gate just past it was quite good. Three Bullfinch flew off, and a lone male Brambling was feeding with the large Chaffinch flock. Throw in a few Fieldfare and Redwing as well and it almost felt like winter.
Two Green Sandpipers were on the north lagoon, which is always the most productive bit. There was a Water Pipit around a few weeks ago, and I had hoped it might still be around, if it is, it wasn't on the lagoon. The best spot for them used to be the Meads, but unless they are flooded it is pretty well impossible to see anything-even ducks and geese are hard to locate.
Best bird was the Cetti's Warbler on the way back that deafened me. I was frantically looking down in the reeds by the water's edge and failed to see it anywhere. Did not occur until too late to look in the Hawthorn in front of me and there it was a few feet away at eye level. Of course as soon as the camera swung it was off. Best views in a long time.
Here are a few recent images.

Monday, 14 December 2015

A Day Out in Norfolk

Having not had a chance to do much birding for a while for various reasons it was good to get out yesterday, though at one point I thought it wasn't going to happen.
Things started off on a bad foot when Colin's clock failed him, and he turned up nearly an hour later than planned. We then set off in very poor light, drizzle and rain, and finally as we reached  the Norfolk county border mist came down. This was not looking good for what we had planned.
Luckily things improved somewhat as we drove through Kings Lynn to the port where the long staying Iceland Gull had been in residence. We were last here about 15 years ago for a juvenile Glaucous Gull, and it had changed a bit in the meantime. Luckily it was not hard to get to the right spot, drive along the road and stop by the birders.
The bird was sat out on the mud opposite the road and did not exactly do much while we were there, though it did wander down and sit in the water for a few minutes. Mainly, it and the Herring Gulls were just loafing around and were only slightly disturbed when an adult Greater Black Backed dropped in for a bit before deciding that one of the boats was a better spot. The Iceland was digiscoped, and I also produced a clip (I used the iPhone more than the Nikon today).


We had basically planned to spend most of the morning at Snettisham and hope to see the Pallid Harrier at the south end of the reserve, but having lost a lot of time and assuming the mist would be a problem (as I found out later it was ok and the Harrier showed quite well, along with Hen Harrier, Spoonbill, Great White Egret and a couple of Waxwings!) we chose to go to Holme instead and try and find the Shore Larks, which in recent years have been a rather scarce winter visitor with only a few birds turning up. The three here seemed pretty reliable.
The walk up from the car park along the beach was interrupted as I was frequently scanning the calm sea, and the shoreline. Lots of waders of course. Bar Tailed Godwits, Curlew, Sanderlings, and a few Oystercatcher, Redshank and Dunlin. The sea was rather quiet, many distant Common Scoters out by the wind farm, a few Great Crested Grebes  and a single flyby Fulmar being the sum. On the way east to Thornham, we encountered two Snow Buntings, which were a bit flighty.

Having spotted the birders in the distance I was a bit concerned when they turned round and started looking north and then moving. A quick scan produced three small birds flying away from them and apparently dropping down on the shoreline. Assuming they were the larks, I scanned the area without success, but as the birders arrived one of them picked the Shore Larks on the tideline to our east. Unfortunately they were soon put up by a dog walker, but we were able to keep track of them over the next half hour or so. Always distant, I actually got my best views while watching the phone screen as I filmed them through the scope.


The early afternoon was spent at Titchwell until rain stopped play and it turned rather miserable. Outside the visitors centre we stopped to look at the feeders, while the reserve guru Ray filled us in on the highlights-the Bramblings on the feeders being one of them. A Barn Owl at the far end of Thornham grazing Marsh was the second. We spent a few minutes looking at the still drained pool, left and returned quickly as it became apparent that a couple of guys had something good. They were watching a rather smart Water Pipit, though someone was rather dismissive and considered it to be a plain Meadow Pipit. However it ticked all the boxes as I discussed the salient features  with a county recorder.
The walk up to the beach did not produce a great deal, the water levels on the fresh marsh have been raised but wildfowl numbers were not all that high-just the usual suspects, and a few Lapwings and Gulls. There were a few waders on the brackish marsh, mainly Bar Tailed Godwits, Grey Plover and Redshank, and the tidal lagoon held more, plus a few Avocets and a Spotted Redshank.
Sea watching was a bit dire again, with as usual hoards of very distant Common Scoter. Some were a bit closer and a group of six contained one Velvet-not the best marked bird so I'm guessing it was a young drake. A few Mergansers were in Brancaster Bay, and I also picked up a very distant Red Throated Diver.
The highlight if it could be called that was the Ocean Sunfish that was presumably a victim of the recent storms. Although they featured on every one of the Scillonian pelagics that we took part in, we never did manage to see any from the ship. This one was a bit less than  3' long so a rather small individual.

With drizzle arriving around 2pm we headed back to the car park bumping into Alan Reynolds on the way. Having briefed him on our sea watching he decided in view of the weather not to bother continuing and came back with us, and had a long chat, interrupted briefly when he picked up a stunning male Hen Harrier being mobbed by a pullover the Titchwell reedbed. Sadly it was not on view for more than a few seconds and it was far too far away for the cameras.

Saturday, 28 November 2015


I have not done much this month, apart from the Crag Martin twitch. Various things like the weather have stopped me getting out, so weekends have been a bit quiet, with birding largely confined to the garden.
Not a brilliant forecast this weekend, with rain and strong winds, but I was able to get down to Amwell for a couple of hours this morning. Initially it was lovely, a bit cold, but the sun was shining so it felt pleasant, but gradually the cloud built up and it went downhill, and by the time I got home it was a bit dull and chilly.
As its been over a month since my last visit, there have been a few changes. A lot of the reed and scrub in front of the viewpoint has been cleared, allowing views of the water's edge at last, and of course the water level has been raised quite a bit. Recent birds have included a few Caspian Gulls, a Yellow Legged Gull and a Bearded Tit-none of which were seen this morning. The Redpolls and Siskins are still around, usually heard flying over, and at least two Goldeneye are in for the winter, but with the mild weather wildfowl numbers are a bit low.
Phil was at the viewpoint when I got there and Bill arrived not long after. With the Sun shining, raptors were in the air, one or two Sparrowhawks driving over and flushing everything, four or more red Kites and lots of Buzzards. Having discussed the lack of winter wildfowl in the country in general,due to the warm autumn, it was a bit of a surprise when Phil picked up a red head Smew flying over the pit, and possibly dropping down at the southern end, and he followed this with four distant Parakeets over the woods.
Eventually I wandered down to Hollycross where the feeders are again up. On the way, a nice flock of Long Tailed Tits posed for the camera, as did a Goldcrest. A Marsh Tit was less obliging-stuck in a dense Hawthorn the twigs got in the way. Lots of Great and Blue Tits as well, plus a small flock of Redwing.
The walk back along the walkway behind the picnic area produced about a dozen Siskin, but little else.
The drive home was quite good, Buzzards and Kites over the Ware landfill site, and a few Kestrels staked out on the roadside.

Saturday, 14 November 2015

Crag Martin

Last Sunday, a Crag Martin (about the 10th for the UK) was seen in Chesterfield around the famous crooked spire church. It was reported late in the day and only a few locals managed to get to it before it disappeared. It was seen again on Monday and Tuesday, but then presumably departed as there was no sign at all on Wednesday. This was something of a relief to those like me stuck at work with no chance to get up there. A sighting on Thursday was dismissed as a rumour (reputedly an airliner according to Twitter) but amazingly it was confirmed and showed well for much of Friday until it cooled down and the wind picked up.
Bit of a dilemma for Colin and Me. We had failed to see one at Swithland reservoir on April 18th 1999 along with many hundreds of others (it had been present the previous day) and it was only when we were almost home that news broke that it had been re-found in Yorkshire and we couldn't get to the only other twitchable bird at Flamborough a couple of years ago. The weather for the weekend looked really bad, lots of rain and lots of wind and realistically this Saturday morning offered the only chance of decent conditions.
We departed reasonably early, it was dull and overcast and few birds were seen en route, though the Peregrine that few past my window as we approached Chesterfield was nice. We got to the station car park at 0900-with a couple of spaces still available, and only a few yards from the church. Several hundred birders were already present looking a bit glum, and standing around chatting. Although cloudy, it was dry, but rather cold and the expectation was that unless it warmed up to bring insects out, there was no chance of the Martin appearing. Met up with some of the Tyttenhanger guys, and Ian Bennell was there with some of his mates and later I ran into a couple I knew from Amwell so there was plenty of opportunities to pass the time.
Some time around 1050 there I heard someone call out, looked up and saw the Crag Martin flying towards me above the road. I lost it behind a building and then saw it again fling low around the church spire-it was incredibly fast and agile, trying to keep up with it in bins was difficult, and almost impossible in the camera viewfinder. For a few minutes it was pandemonium, as a lot of guys had left to get sustenance but luckily the bird remained on view until 1130, only going missing once for a few minutes.
Most of the time it was flying around the church spire, occasionally coming down a bit lower above our heads and the only decent images I got were when I left the car park and walked up the road joining a few photographers I knew.

When it finally departed I hung around for a bit comparing back of camera shots, and we eventually left a little before midday, hitting rain soon after. The Martin put in another appearance soon after and was then relocated at the football ground (maybe its unknown roost?)
We had planned on stopping off at a couple of spots on the way home but increasing rain and wind meant that we did not bother, so I got home nice and early.

Saturday, 31 October 2015

Ring Necked Duck and Owls

Now that autumn is more or less over, things are starting to go a bit quiet, so it looked like we would not be going out this weekend. However after a discussion with Colin we decided to do something today rather than wait for Sunday, which according to Fridays forecast was going to be foggy for much of the day.
The morning started out very foggy, damp and cold. I thought it might be worth going up to Kelshall in the hope that the Black Redstart might still be around at the village hall. In view of the weather (including a nasty breeze) it is not surprising that it was not seen. Under the circumstances there seemed to be no point trying to search for the Hen Harrier that is in the area.
Our main destination was the reservoirs at Tring, which entailed a lovely drive through Luton and Dunstable, and we arrived at Startops End around 0930. It was still cold and with some mist but this gradually cleared over the next couple of hours. We were searching for the drake Ring Necked Duck that had been present for a few weeks. A long search over an hour produced a lot of Coot, Tufted Duck, Pochard, Gadwall and Mallard, along with five Red Crested Pochards. Several Little Egrets, Cormorants and Grey Herons were scattered around. From the hide we had a good view of the whole reservoir and the roosting gulls on the mud. My attention was caught by a Pied Wagtail chasing a Rock Pipit, which unfortunately did not linger, unlike the many Meadow Pipits.I was getting a bit frustrated in not being able to find the Ring Necked-I had seen a females it would be nice to see an adult drake. in Herts in the Lea Valley many years ago.
We carried on past Marsworth-not a lot apart from a few Shoveller and a Grey Wagtail, arriving at the road. This enabled us to have a scan of Tringford reservoir as I thought that maybe the duck might be here, but there was little to see as it is an active fishery, so we headed back to the west side of Startops. More scanning of the wildfowl in much better light seemed to be getting nowhere until I found a sleeping 'Tufty" with a long tail and dusky flanks which looked promising. I kept returning to the bird and eventually it woke up to reveal the  distinctive head and bill of a Ring Necked Duck.

A youtube clip as well https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4-IGG25NZyc

Following this we spent an hour or so at Wilstone. It's recently had a few good birds-Pintail, Ruff and Black Tailed Godwit, but not today. The water levels are very low with a lot of mud exposed, and the causeway across the middle was well above the water level. As a result there were a huge number of roosting gulls and wildfowl. A flock of Lapwing was joined from time to time by about 100 Golden Plover-numbers seemed to vary with birds coming and going on a regular basis. I also spent a bit of time checking the birds in the wood, but nothing unusual was seen, though a Red Admiral flew by taking advantage of the unseasonal warmth.

Our final destination was Heartwood Forest near Sandridge. This is a fairly new place being developed by the Woodland Trust to the south of Nomansland Common and the attraction was Short Eared Owls. A Great Grey Shrike had been seen recently as well.
We wandered around for a while, since we thought that 1430 might be a bit early for the owls, gradually making our way to the high point south of the farm. It was not long before we came across a Red Kite being mobbed by two Short Eared Owls! They gradually drifted higher and higher moving west until I lost them in the bright sun. Shortly after we came across a birder who had been photographing the owls all afternoon, but it was clear that they had gone from the area he had been watching.
After a while we were staked out along a fence south of the farm and it was not long before we were seeing owls again though generally they were keeping low. It was clear that there were a minimum of three Short Eared Owls though there were never more than two on view at any one time. Unfortunately since it was a very busy weekend with a lot of people around they never really came as close as we would have liked, but I will be returning at some point as we missed the Stonechats, Redpolls and so on that had been seen by others today.

Sunday, 25 October 2015

A Late Ring Ouzel

The clocks went back today, so I effectively got up an hour earlier while still having my holiday lie in. Realised while filling the bird feeders that we may have had a slight frost last night-luckily not enough to cause any problems with the garden.
I went for a walk round Aston End this morning, and it was rather chilly for a long time, only starting to warm up after a couple of hours. Probably a mistake, but I wanted to travel lightly and left the Nikon and Zeiss lenses behind, and only had the RX100 and the phone. Even in the dull light, the autumn colours were really wonderful, and I pretty much spent all the time concentrating on the landscape.
From a wildlife point of view it was very quiet. Very few birds were heard in the plantation, and along the lane to Aston End, with only a couple of crests, blackbirds, a jay, and the House Sparrows heard. Things picked up a bit once I got into the countryside with Skylarks calling constantly (and one singing) plus a few flyover Meadow Pipits. A scan along the river valley produced a couple of Mistle Thrush in a tree but little else.
As I was coming down from the Walkern road to the wooden bridge, I started to hear Fieldfares and Yellowhammers, and a Red Kite flew over. Trying to count the Fieldfare was a bit tricky as it appeared that the Kite had flushed some, and there were at least two different groups, but conservatively there were 30 birds. One Bullfinch was also calling while I was doing this. One or two Blackbirds were around as well, and while scanning the area a thrush flew over me. Initially I assumed Mistle-it looked 'scaley' but far too small and dark. The underwings were a plain grey, and the body blackish starting the alarm bells ringing. It flew away, dropped into a bush for a moment at some distance and it was then that I saw a pale  patch on the breast. Initially I assumed it was a first winter Ring Ouzel, but with the views I had, I cannot eliminate a female.
The rest of the walk was a bit of an anticlimax, the sun had come out, the lighting was less interesting and there were hardly any other birds seen.
These images taken with the iPhone and include one of several panorama attempts.

Saturday, 24 October 2015

Holiday Ending Tomorrow

After last Friday's bumper haul of good birds in Norfolk it was back to reality for the next week. I ended up working on the garden most days, and although ivy is a fantastic wild life plant, particularly with it's autumn flowers (not forgetting the Holly Blue) I am pretty well fed up with the stuff. Virtually every day has been spent cutting the stuff back, shredding it (still got masses left that is just too wet and sappy to deal with) and sweeping bits up. All day Tuesday I was on the garage roof getting the stuff off. I now have a completely clean garage and fence but until I can clear the remaining piles, the last fence panel and new gate remain stored in the garage.
Most mornings, Skylarks have been heard going over on a regular basis, and Monday and Tuesday I was also hearing my first Fieldfares of the autumn. Very early one morning, I also heard a few Redwings.
On Friday I spent the day with Sarah and Ed helping them out in their garden. Shredding ivy. They have several resident Robins, Dunnocks, Blackbirds, and the visiting tit flocks contain the occasional Coal Tit-Long Tails are abundant. Would have been nice to get a crest among them, and the huge numbers of Yellow Browed Warblers we get now have to be somewhere. 

This morning was rather dull and drizzly and the birds on the pager are starting to have a distinctly winter feel now, with Great Grey Shrikes, Rough Legged Buzzards and so on. Autumn migrants are starting to get a bit thin now.
I spent a couple of hours at Amwell, with Bill Last. Ware landfill must have been shut as there were a large number of gulls, with more arriving all the time. Barry has had two Caspians recently, and Yellow Legged have also been turning up. None of either today, though one bird had a mantle colour between Herring and Lesser Black Backed. Unfortunately it also had a very streaky head. The wildfowl were a bit skittish at times, for no obvious reason, I can only assume there was a fox in the reeds somewhere.

Here are a few Amwell views.


Saturday, 17 October 2015

Isabelline Shrike Clip

Youtube clip now uploaded https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Zw5sSLiQb_M

Norfolk Delivers

Went to Norfolk with Colin yesterday. He had a bit of work to do beforehand so we did not get to the coast until mid morning, but we did not miss much. It was a bit like the old days with good birds everywhere and we managed to get most of them one way or another.
First stop was Beeston Common where the Isabelline Shrike had been present since monday. Last time we were here was for a Hoopoe in I think 1992, and it seems to have changed a bit. The Shrike was pretty easy to find, being only a few yards from the lay bye, using the hawthorns as perches to hunt from. Tried a few phone images, and got a nice video sequence which I tried to upload to Youtube last night but it has not appeared for some reason. Will try again later and post a link.

Next stop was Muckleburgh Hill where an Olive Backed Pipit was showing very well. Turned out to be very busy and parking was a bit difficult, not helped by it appearing to be bin day. Only had a short walk around to the north side and then up to the open heath area. Struggled to find the Pipit even though cameras were firing and people had it in their scopes but eventually I worked out where it was-a lot closer than expected. It performed very well but it often disappeared in little hollows and the dead bracken patches.

We stopped off at Salthouse for a quick scan from the duck ponds, but apart from a few gulls, Wigeon, Teal, Mallard and Godwits there was not a lot to see so we carried on to Stiffkey.
A Great Grey Shrike had been seen earlier but had moved west. We headed off with a few others, until we met a returning group who had failed to see it after an hour's search. Brent Geese, Curlews, Redshanks and Little Egrets were on the salt marsh, but I was hoping to see a Hen Harrier.
After lunch, the afternoon was spent in Wells Wood, and several hundred birders had the same idea.
Just beyond the boating lake, a Blythe's Reed Warbler  had been present for a few days. The Dell is not an easy place to work and although we heard it from the path (well a bird went tack a few times and everyone else was calling it Blythe's rather than Blackcap so I went along with it). While waiting, a distant Short Eared Owl was seen heading south over the marsh.
We carried on west accompanied by the constant calls of Redwings and Goldcrests. A small group had staked out a Firecrest, which proved  hard to pin down in the sallows and sycamores, not surprising considering the vast numbers of Golcrests. A bit further on a Hume's Yellow Browed Warbler was heard calling several times but I did not see it.
We carried on and met a large group watching a Pallas's Warbler in a group of oaks. This showed really well at times and then crossed the path and into a smaller tree where it was seen frequently flitting around. Again the Goldcrests were a problem, and Colin and I got a bit confused when a Yellow Browed Warbler flew out when we locked onto the wrong bird. The Pallas's eventually settled down and I got a few good images catching flies.

The light in the woods was very poor and I was shooting at iso 12800 in order to keep a decent shutter speed.
Having paid for four hours parking we slowly made our way back. Stopped off at the Hume's again for a while. Still calling from time to time and got a few glimpses low down in some of the birches but it was very mobile, always kept very low and people were as usual getting mixed up with the crests. We actually met someone who had seen the Blythe's Reed, and found out that there was another Pallas's there as well but decide not to linger.
We left around 4pm, but not until we stopped off south of the caravan park to join a search for two Great Grey Shrikes. Thought we had missed out as dog walkers had flushed the bird in the paddocks but at the last minute I found a very distant bird down near the golf course. Could not stay long as the estate manager was not happy with us parking on the road, so we departed.
The one bird we did not try for was the Red Flanked Bluetail which  was west of Lady Annes Drive, and a bit too far in the time we had. Rather surprised to hear a report as we left that it (or another?) was near the drinking pool and not far from the Hume's. Still it was pretty good day to put it mildly very reminiscent of the great days we had in the mid 90's.

Thursday, 15 October 2015

Holiday Time Again

Start of another week and a half off.
Did a bit more work in the garden this morning. Opened the back door to be greeted by a calling Chiffchaff in the Trachycarpus palm-it stuck around in nearby gardens all morning. Heard a few Redwings go over while I was trying to fix the old shredder, unfortunately, wire from the last lot of ivy and prunings had completely jammed the screw feed and I can't fix it. Had 15+ years use out of it but looks like I will have to get another particularly as I was hoping to get up to Sarah and Ed's and help with their hedge cutting.
Tackled a bit more of the remaining fence, the ivy is proving to be a bit harder to deal with than expected. Joined by a Blackbird in the Rowan, just above my head, a Robin was knocking around and  the two Dunnocks were coming and going. Still getting a maximum of 9 Goldfinches on the feeders, but occasionally they bring in a single Greenfinch and a House Sparrow.  Two Collared Doves are now regular, thought the Wood Pigeons tend to drive them off, and one or two Blue Tits visit from time to time.
With Norfolk now overloaded with birds I'm hoping to get out in the next day or so, at the last count there were something like 20 year ticks available so fingers crossed.

Sunday, 11 October 2015

The Big Twitch XH558

Back in the 70's I used to go to a lot of air shows-in fact that was the main reason I got a camera the moment I got a job. Have not been to one for a long time now, but on our travels round the country we do get to encounter interesting aircraft now and again. I remember twitching a Terek sandpiper at Stanpit once, when Concorde flew over at a very low altitude.
One of my favourites from the old days was seeing Vulcans take off-something that is impressive to say the least. Last week the last flying Vulcan attended the Shuttleworth display, which I thought was the last ever flight but it has been touring the country this weekend. The flight path looked good, as the track crossed the A505 near Coombe Road so I decided to pop up.
Knowing the area quite well, I had intended to park by a gate at the top of the hill near Horseshoe Wood Farm, but a lot of locals had the same idea, and I ended up in a pull in further south towards Kelshall, joining an aviation enthusiast. Good selection of birds while I waited, lots of corvids, Skylark, Meadow Pipit and pigeons. One Great Spotted Woodpecker, a few Goldcrests and tits in the hedgerows, and two Jays flew by. Distant views of Buzzard and Red Kite over towards DeadMans Hill, and Pheasants seemed to be allover the place, presumably recent releases.
Tracked the Vulcan flight on Twitter, and it passed us at around 1325, unfortunately a bit further west than planned. In fact I suspect I would have been better off at DeadMans Hill, and the lighting wasn't quite what I wanted but we can't have everything. Long time since I saw a V bomber in the air so it was nice to see one again.

Saturday, 10 October 2015

Redpolls on the Move

Flu jab this morning, so went down to Amwell. Took the scope today, as I have recently gone for the iPhone 6s plus and bought a Novagrade adaptor for it, so it seemed worth getting some practice in before a major twitch.
Bill ans William were there when I arrived at 0930, and later Phil, Simon and Ade turned up. There was a lot of talk about moths, insects and so on as Amwell seemed to be pretty quiet. The Wagtails (Grey and Pied) are flying around now and again, and the regular Kingfisher put in an appearance. Very few waders-for much of the morning there was a single Lapwing present until a couple more arrived. We assumed Snipe are present, but none showed. As last week, a Water Rail was seen in the reeds left of the hide, but a bit more interesting was the dog Fox dozing and causing a bit of a disturbance among the wildfowl.

Cropped phone image-its blown the Swan highlights but reasonable quality considering the distance. I have an app to set the camera up manually as it seems to default to very low iso and slow shutter speeds.
Mid morning small birds started to move as the wind picked up. Two Swallows appeared, heading south-so much for what I said last week. A lot of birds were too far away over the woods,  but Siskins, Chaffinches and Meadow Pipits were seen, and at 1120 two Redpolls flew east over our heads calling. Ten minutes later, another 19 appeared, flew around the reeds in front of us and dropped down onto the Loosestrife seed heads. I tried to get the phone onto the scope, having had superb views but something put them up and they continued off down the valley.
The wind seemed to encourage the raptors, with two Sparrowhawks, 4-6 Red Kites and several Buzzards seen in the last hour.
Shortly after I left, a Stonechat put in an appearance-Simon gets them on Kings Mead but they don't seem to be as regular at Amwell as they used to be.

Sunday, 4 October 2015

Another Morning at Amwell

I was expecting to go out today, but Colin injured his foot at one of yesterday's rugby matches and did not feel up to a journey. We were hoping to get to the east coast, maybe Suffolk/Essex and try to get some of the Yellow Browed Warblers, plus the long staying Wilson's Phalarope (not reported today) and maybe get lucky with something really good. Seems like it was a bit quiet out that way so maybe we saved a journey.
So with a morning free I ended up going down to Amwell as usual. It was a lovely morning, not exactly ideal birding weather, light mist being lit up by the golden sun, which was also illuminating the colourful dogwoods and maples on the drive down. Despite the sun, it remained a bit cooler than it has been, only hitting 12C by lunchtime.
When I got to the view point the regulars did not have a great deal to report-the usual assortment of ducks, geese, gulls and so on. One or two Kingfishers put on a show now and again-the Rye Meads pair have raised three or four broods and the population in the valley seems to be recovering from the last two really bad winters. A Water Rail show occasionally in the reeds but there has been no report of Bitterns following a brief sighting last month-the assumption was it was a bird stopping off before moving further down the valley where there are a couple wintering. Cetti's warblers were very vocal, with one bird singing near the view point and one or more being seen occasionally in the reeds. I also saw another Warbler but never really got on to it-I am assuming it could be a late Reed warbler.
Overhead movements were a bit on and off all morning-most birds were likely to be too high up in the clear blue sky. Siskins were seen frequently, the large flock is still around, Five Skylarks went north, and I heard a few more over the course of the morning. A couple of Meadow Pipits flew down the valley, Song Thrushes seemed to be on the move as well.
Raptors seemed to be keeping a low profile, with only a single Sparrowhawk in the first couple of hours. Eventually two Kites and maybe five Buzzards started to show over Easeneye Wood, and while watching them, 18 Swallows appeared, heading south and not stopping to feed over the water. Don't think I will see any more this year, so thats another Summer over.

Sunday, 27 September 2015

End of a week off

Well I had a week off to make a start on the bottom fence and gate. These days I can only manage to do a few hours heavy work a day so its taking time. Clearing and shredding the ivy, and other prunings that accumulated took a couple of days, interrupted by a wet spell. Had a few decent birds while I worked-a Chiffchaff was calling in a nearby garden, a Grey Wagtail flew east, and I have noticed that the Dunnocks have come back again. Also there are two regular Collared Doves, and Goldfinch numbers are building up-nine is the maximum so far. Despite there still being a decent flock in the area, House Sparrows are not visiting at the moment. The other odd thing is that the Rowan is still holding on to berries despite the attention of a pair of Blackbirds, usually the Starlings have stripped it by now.
Sarah and Ed came over on Friday to help and we managed to get half the fence sorted, with the usual  delays caused by trying to excavate the rotten posts embedded in concrete. The rest will have to wait until my next holiday in a few weeks. Still aching today.

Yesterday in an attempt to ease my aches and pains I went for a gentle walk around Aston End. Being a fine sunny day, cool and damp at first warming up rapidly it was not going to produce a great deal. Several Chiffchaffs are trying to sing, Jays are very noticeable, and I have found another Nuthatch location-they do seem to be increasing around here, once upon a time Box Wood was the only location in eastern Stevenage that I knew of.
Down by the ford, there was a flock of hirundines heading south. In the bright sun it was a bit difficult to be sure but most if not all were House Martins, around 25 in total. A Buzzard on the telephone pole south of the ford was preening, so I tried to get closer with the inevitable result.

Things remained quiet along the walker road, but as I headed down to the wooden bridge there was a small flock of Linnets and Yellowhammers on the weedy set aside area by the river. Several Meadow Pipits are present, and a couple of Skylarks have started singing again. Approaching the paddocks a squeaky call and a flash of blue alerted me to a Kingfisher-the first I'd seen here for many years. Local birder Tom Spellar encountered  two here while searching for the Redstart I found last month so the river seems to be healthy enough to support them. Obviously the Beane (one of the internationally rare chalk streams) restoration project is paying dividends. Still very low in summer, but it is flowing now rather than drying up with a few shallow pools which has been the case for the last 30 years or so.

Sunday, 20 September 2015


Another fine sunny day with little news being reported. I went down to Amwell as usual and met up with the regular Sunday mob.
The recent Whinchat seems to have gone, but there were plenty of Chiffchaffs everywhere, and a rather late Reed Warbler in the reeds in front of the view point. Two Kingfishers, two Snipe and a couple of Dabchicks were the highlights on or near the water. Some migration was happening, with the occasional Meadow Pipit, small Flocks of Siskins, and some Swallows, House and Sand Martins heading south. There seemed to be a lot of Little Egrets around again-I counted at least eight.
Raptors were enjoying the weather with around 10 Buzzards, a Red Kite, a Sparrowhawk and one or two Kestrels.
I went down to Hollycross for a spell. A few Red Admirals and lots of Migrant Hawkers in the clearings. About twenty minutes were spent by the board walk seat, checking the willows. A large dark damsel flew down from the bushes across the water, landed on some meadow sweet and then fluttered off into the big willow.  I never got a good close look at it but it was rather distinctive and was certainly a female Willow Emerald.
On the way back, having checked the copper beeches earlier, another photographer found one of the Spotted Flycatchers on the telephone wires.

Cabin Fever

I have not been travelling with Colin for a few weeks, and he has been itching to go out and do something. Although it has been pretty quiet on the east coast recently, with high pressure over the Uk killing migration there were some birds around so we headed up to Titchwell.
Th promising low mist soon gave way to bright warm sunshine. Not a great deal in Titchwell car park so we walked out to the marshes. I had hoped that the Osprey would still be around on Thornham Marsh, but a shooter had set up in its preferred spot and was not seen all day. At first there seemed to be very few waders present, the water levels being a bit high, so favouring hoards of duck. Among the large flock of Black tailed Godwits we saw a few Redshank, Dunlin, Ringed Plover and a lot of Ruff. A few Grey Plovers were present, but no Golden. Three Spoonbills were loafing at the back of the fresh marsh as usual, but were actually awake and moving-something we don't often see. Every now and again Bearded Tits were pinging and erupting from the reeds, and there were still at least one Yellow Wagtail among the Pieds.
There were more waders using the area behind the dunes as a high tide roost-more Grey and Ringed Plover, Oystercatcher, Turnstone and a couple of Spotted Redshanks.
Despite the onshore breeze, sea watching was not all that I had hoped for. Apart from the constant movements of Gannets, with many juveniles heading west close inshore, and Sandwich terns it was hard going. We saw a few Red Throated Divers, all distant, three presumed Arctic Skuas on the horizon, and a few Common Scoter.
On our return we saw the two reported Little Stints, but failed to locate two Curlew Sandpipers. Leica and Zeiss had set up a tent by the visitors centre, so we stopped off to have some of our gear serviced. While there I got to play with the new Zeiss SF 10x40 bins which were very impressive-the field of view seems to be only a bit smaller than my old 7x42, much lighter and incredibly sharp. Unfortunately one of the guys had a problem with cards in his Nikon D3x camera-we swapped gear to prove his cards were not compatible with the camera. He then dug out some of the new Zeiss lenses for me to play with. Not happy as its going to be very expensive getting all this nice new stuff.

After lunch and with very little news coming in from anywhere we thought it might be worth going to Cley. Cant remember when we were last there, but the offshore wind farm was new to us. Like Titchwell the scrapes were full of ducks and Godwits and not much else. About the only notable sighting were a small group of Pintail. Bit disappointed really, but it just seemed to be one of those days, and it was nice to get out.

Sunday, 13 September 2015

Another Quiet Weekend with major Garden Changes

I was looking forward to this weekend-the weather seemed promising on the east coast, at least it was being talked up quite a lot on Bird Forum. While there was a decent smattering of the common stuff-Pied Flys, Redstarts, chats etc and the first Yellow Brows of the autumn, it did not seem to be enough to tempt us out. Inland it was pretty much the same, a few bits and pieces here and there.
I had Friday off to make a start on the garden. Had to have a tree surgeon out to remove a Birch tree-it was a self seeder and good for the finches, but had put on a big growth spurt recently, hitting 35 foot and  really lopsided, leaning at an angle and with some branches over 10 feet long. Since it was overhanging the parked cars and a neighbours shed it had to go. While waiting for him to arrive, I had a new garden tick in the form of a Whitethroat that stayed for a few minutes. Makes me wonder what actually passes through the garden when no-one is looking.
Next project for the garden is replacing the bottom fence and gate. This means taking off a huge amount of Ivy, so no more nesting Robins and Blackbirds for a while unfortunately, and no more late autumn bees either. In a way I'm glad to get rid of it as it got a bit rampant. Had a nice honeysuckle here once, and I am hoping to put another one in, perhaps a climbing rose as well, or maybe a more restrained climbing shrub, so there will be nesting and wildlife opportunities in the future.
Today I went round Aston End and along the river for a couple of hours. The weather was not exactly inspiring, dull, but reasonably warm and no wind. Still a lot of Chiffchaffs around, and the tits and finches are starting to become more vocal and noticeable. Found two pairs of Bullfinch-one near the ford, and another in the yet to be harvested beans near the radio mast. Yellowhammers were everywhere in small numbers-the last walk failed to find any, and there were a few Linnets flying around. Jays are now active, with birds seen regularly on the walk, and six were together near the ford. Heard a Nuthatch on the edge of High Wood while walking along the Walkern road -seems to be a regular occurrence here these days. Not much at all in the paddocks apart from Chiffchaffs and Yellowhammers, though the invisible Little Owl did call once. I still have not seen it this year, it is not in the usual trees and seems to favour areas which cannot be observed from the footpaths. No hirundines this weekend, I suppose most have gone now.
No butterflies either, not unexpected considering the weather. One Migrant Hawker was the only notable insect, though I noticed that Crane Flies seem to be appearing in quantity now.

Sunday, 6 September 2015

A White House Martin

Colin and I decided not to go on a trip this weekend. The weather didn't look too bad for the east coast, though as it turned out Saturday was a sea-watching day, with little in the way of land birds migration  and indications were that today would be a bit quieter.
Since the car has had a lot of work over the last month, and appears to be reliable I thought I'd better go to Amwell. Apart from the brief visit for the Stints in August, its been getting on for two months since I had a full morning there. Indications were good for dragonflies-I woke up to bright sunshine after a cold night, but unfortunately by the time I got out the cloud had come over and it remained cool for some time.
A few of the Sunday regulars were present as I arrived, and Tony Hukin and Bill Last appeared soon after. There did not seem to be a great deal happening at the view point and when Ron arrived from his walk reporting Spotted Flycatchers and warblers at Hollycross it seemed to be the place to be. However I was looking at the huge hirundine flock at the south end of Hardmead Lake and noticed what seemed to be a miniature tern among them. I went down to the bottom hide with Bill, Tony and Ron but we failed to pick it up again, but a walk further down was worthwhile and we found it on the wires among House Martins (and a Grey Wagtail!). It proved hard to pick up in flight, unless it was against a dark background and trying to get the camera on it was difficult to say the least. Structurally it was a House Martin, seemingly somewhat larger and normally appeared to be pure white. However, dusky markings appear on the under wing coverts so it couldn't be an albino. It remained on view until around 1000, along with some 250 House Martins (probably more seen today than the rest of the year), around 50 Sand Martins and maybe 25 Swallows. As we left, having been joined by Phil Ball five Parakeets flew over.

We made our way back to the view point-still not much. Best of the bunch were two Common Sandpipers, a Snipe, another Grey wagtail and some lingering Common Terns. I missed three Swifts unfortunately. Siskins seem to be present-14 flew over.
Eventually I made my way down to Hollycross. The two Spotted Flycatchers proved hard to locate,  staying on top of the red plane trees along the walk way and only really viewable from some distance from the field. There were a lot of warblers here as well, some Blackcaps, two Lesser Whitethroats, a couple of Willow Warblers and lots of Chiffchaffs.
The sun finally appeared some time after 1100, but dragonflies were scarce. Apart from Migrant hawkers I could only find a couple of Common Darters and a few Common Blues. A few butterflies also appeared-a few Whites, a couple of Red Admirals and Commas, Speckled Woods and a nice Holly Blue.

I missed a few birds I would normally expect to see, but the total of 60 species is pretty good for one of my visits.

Saturday, 29 August 2015

Aston End

I went for a walk this morning around Aston End and up the river Beane. The weather did not look all that great for insects, being cool and cloudy, but in view of my last visit I took a longer lens. Some parts of the country seem to be full of migrants-Winchats, Wheatear, Spot Flys, Tree Pipits and so on so I was hoping to find a decent bird or two.
The first stretch, from the conifer plantation to Aston End did not produce a great deal, a calling Coal Tit, a few Chiffs and crests and a calling Nuthatch. A flock of Swallows over the village seemed to be mainly juveniles, and a Sparrowhawk went over-not seen any here for a while.
The fields were largely empty as I crossed the ford and walked up to the Walkern road, no larks pipits or buntings, only a few distant corvids. Even though the sun was breaking through and warming up, there were no butterflies either. I came across another Nuthatch as I walked down to the river and by the time I got to the paddocks there were a few birds popping up. Most were Robins and Chiffchaffs, with one or two Willow Warblers, a Garden Warbler was trying to sing and a big female Sparrowhawk was flushed from a tree. No sign of any migrant chats, Whitethroats and I think I can safely say the Little Owls are no longer in the area, unfortunately. A high flock of large gulls was not the usual Lesser Black Backs but a party of nine Herring Gulls-not something I see all that often here.
On the way up to Chells Manor I picked up a few butterflies, mainly Large, Small and Green Veined Whites, a Holly Blue, a Peacock and a Speckled Wood.  A Bullfinch and a Blackcap helped boost the small bird list.

Saturday, 22 August 2015

A hot butterfly day

Temperatures climbing rapidly today, predicted to hit 28-30C this afternoon. Glad I am not going to the Bird Fair, the heat and humidity in the marquees must be unbearable.
Had a chat with Colin and we decided to stick to the Bucks/Oxon Chilterns as it would be a good butterfly day, and there have been many reports of Brown Hairstreaks over the last week or so.
We first went to Bernewood Meadows. We have not had much luck with Hairstreaks here though it is supposed to be a good site. Meadow Browns, Gatekeepers and large numbers of Common Blues were abundant and we had a Silver Washed Fritillary, a Brimstone, a Purple Hairstreak and a couple of Small Coppers. I have probably seen more Common Blues this morning than I have the rest of the year. Very few birds, it is rather quiet. Common Darters and Migrant Hawkers were also seen.

Our back-up plan was to go to Otmoor next as we knew it is reliable. On the way I heard that Mathew Oates had seen 76 Brown Hairstreaks at Shipton Bellinger on Salisbury Plain, rather too far away unfortunately and a bit of a big area to search considering I knew nothing about the place. Still we arrived at Otmoor, feeling inspired. Got out of the car and the heat and humidity really hit us.
Walking up the roman road, Colin walked straight past a female Hairstreak nectarine on an umbellifer. Luckily it remained on view for us and a couple of others  for a few minutes. We then carried on up to the ash trees and waited for a while. Probably three more Brown Hairstreaks were seen here though all were high up in the trees. A problem was the oak tree nearby which had several Purple Hairstreaks in it. More Migrant Hawkers and Common Darters, lots of Speckled Woods, browns and whites plus another Silver Washed Fritillary added to the mix as we made our way back to the car park. Another Brown Hairstreak at eye level kept us and others busy for a while.

Again few birds of note-Goldfinches and Linnets were very vocal, a family of Spotted Flycatchers remained largely hidden and a few warblers were heard, including a Willow practicing it's song.
As the heat was starting to be a bit of a problem we went to Aston Rowant for an hour then came home. Chalkhill Blues were present in large numbers, though most looked a bit past their best, there were a few Common Blues, and a Brown Argus or two, plus one or two very small (Small?) Blues which we never got close to. The Silver Spotted Skippers were pretty easy to photograph this year even though it was quite breezy on the top of the ridge, but the one Essex Skipper was too flighty.
We met someone who had seen Clouded Yellow just before we arrived but could not get to it before it flew off. A new photographic tick for me was the Stripe Winged Grasshopper.