Tuesday, 24 February 2015

Nice Lunch Break Sighting Today

Sat in the car as usual, having my lunch and I noticed an interesting bird drift over from the leisure park. Usually it's just corvids and pigeons here, but it turned out to be a superb Red Kite, coming quite close over the car, heading towards Norton Green.
Over the last few weeks I have been taking the occasional diversion into work, as the Peregrine(s) are still being seen on Southgate House. Most of the sightings seem to be early mornings, or late evenings, presumably when they come in to roost, but occasionally there are reports during the day. Despite being around for a long time now, no-one seems to see them anywhere else in the Stevenage area, though I did have a possible albeit very brief view during a lunch break about a month ago.

Sunday, 15 February 2015

Dungeness and Sheppy

Nice to get out on a proper trip after so many weeks of limited activity. Colin suggested last week that we visit Kent, and as there was not a great deal elsewhere to tempt us, that is what we ended up doing yesterday.
We aimed to visit Dungeness (it's been quite a while since we were last there) but drove through Walland Marsh on the way. Swans and Geese were the targets, as a variety of species have been seen in this vast area. We were successful in finding the herd of Bewick's Swans, with it's neck collared individual and the lone Whooper in the usual field near Horse Bones Farm, but otherwise the area was rather quiet. I thought that there would be a few bunting/finch flocks but small birds seemed hard to find apart from Skylarks and Meadow Pipits.
We eventually got to Dungeness, starting off with the two Cattle Egrets at the end of Denge Marsh Road-they were too far away from the road to photograph behind the poultry sheds, and as there were lots of signs with biohazard and disinfecting in big letters we decided not to get out and approach closer.
We spent about half an hour in the hide at the ARC pit, where the main attraction was the Great White Egret (the only one of the twelve we saw today) feeding alongside two Littles. With plenty of Grey Herons here, and a flyby Bittern we essentially cleaned up on winter herons within the space of twenty minutes. One red head Smew was pretty close to the hide, but there was not much else here.

By the time we got to the reserve it was drizzling and not very nice. Three female Goosander on the edge of Burrows pit was nice, and I found some interesting gulls a long way off in poor light. When we got to a better location, one of the gulls proved to be an adult Yellow Legged. We were told that there were Black Necked Grebes on the New Diggings but failed to find any, but a nice close red head Smew was photogenic.

Initially I had planned on a bit of a sea watch, but the wind direction was not ideal and I had put my back out and the thought of walking on shingle was a bit off putting so we left Dunge and headed up to Sheppy.
We got to Harty Marsh just after noon and joined a group watching the wildfowl. Small flocks of White Fronted Geese were nice to see, and there were huge numbers of duck on the water including a few dodgy domestic types. Chatting to the group before they left we decided to go to Shelness (they had not had much from the viewing mound down the road) and the Richard's Pipit. Found out on arrival that we had missed a male Hen Harrier and a Short Eared Owl. A big flock of Golden Plover went up several times but I could not see any raptors. Brent Geese were flying over all the time and we could see and hear various waders.
I watched a distant raptor drop down on a bank and feed. Although several Kestrels were present this looked a bit small and I suspected a Merlin, but it was a bit too far away. While scanning, and with most of the crowd gone I heard what seemed to be a Richard's Pipit flight call a couple of times. No bird was seen, and a scan of the area failed to pick anything up on the deck, but when I got home I found several recordings on Xeno-Canto that were identical so I'm confident we heard it.
We finished off at Elmley. The drive up to the farm was very productive. We found a Little Egret close to the road feeding, and this was followed up by a nice female Merlin on a gate post.

The temperature had dropped quite a bit by the time we got to the farm, and the wind had picked up as well. We walked out to the nearest bit of sea wall scanning the Swale for waders-mainly Knot, Dunlin and Curlew. The marsh itself had a lot wildfowl, as expected, some Curlew, plovers, and two Marsh Harriers, but no Hen, and unfortunately no owls of any kind.
The drive back from Colin's as the sun was setting failed to produce his regular Barn Owl, and as with the entire day there was a distinct lack of buntings finches and so on.

Monday, 9 February 2015

First Butterfly of the Year

Sitting in the car at lunch time, enjoying the almost spring sunshine, when i noticed a butterfly fluttering around the front of the building. When it sat on a window sill, I got the bins on it-a Peacock. Can't remember many earlier butterflies apart from a distant White/Brimstone one January in the 90's and a more recent January Red Admiral.

Sunday, 8 February 2015


Well, after another not very nice week-the chest and throat problems remained, I managed to get out for a bit today. The weather has improved slightly, with a fair amount of warm Sunshine, which did help, but there is still a slight chilly northerly in the more exposed areas.
I got down to Amwell (only my third visit this year) at 0900 and stayed for just over three hours. There was not much to see from the viewpoint for a while. The Cormorants and Herons were gathering nest materials so Spring is not far off now. Few gulls-some Black Heads, three Common, and single loafing Lesser and Greater Black Backs. with occasional birds flying over. Duck numbers low still with Shoveller and Teal in the majority, a few Gadwall, and some Goldeneye. No sign of any Smew so I headed off to Tumbling Bay, picking up the usual Siskin flock and a singe female Bullfinch in the usual area around James Hide. I was about to carry on up when Phil and Bill called me back-apparently a Firecrest had been seen near the level crossing. When we got there, the usual Sunday crew were watching one of the ivy covered trees. Apparently someone had photographed a bird with a red stripe on its head-those who had seen the photo were not exactly convinced, but we hung around for while. Several Goldcrests were eventually located, and Bill played  a Firecrest record ing but got no response.
I eventually made my way up through the woods picking up the Siskin again, along with a lot of Redwing and got to Tumbling Bay to rejoin the Sunday crew only to be told that they could not locate any Smew. I tried the wooded area to no avail, so we all decided to head down to Hollycross now that Phil has started the feeders going again. This did not achieve a great deal as there were very few birds in the area apart from a pair of displaying Buzzards. On the way back we stopped off at the Water Vole pit as a Bittern had apparently been seen a while earlier, but the guys there had spent half an hour with no sign.
I spent the last half hour at the viewpoint with Colin Wills, John Tony Hukin and Barnet Dave. More raptors in the air now that it had warmed up with eight or more Buzzard, Kestrel and Red Kites. A lot of the geese and ducks had departed, so we were spending most of the time talking. I was getting ready to leave when Dave picked up a drake Smew tucked in under one of the fallen trees on the far bank near the sluice. It was very hard to see, but I noticed a Red Head out in the open and eventually the Drake came out to join her.
Must admit I was hoping for more today, and it seemed to be a case of missing virtually everything but it was nice to be out and about again.

Sunday, 1 February 2015

A Weekend at Home

Courtesy of a sore throat, cough, headache and various other nice things the furthest I have gone this weekend is into the garden to top up the feeders. With snow yesterday, and icy winds for a while I was hoping for a few good birds to show but so far its been pretty much the usual suspects.
Wood Pigeons are around all the time and tend to put the smaller birds off. despite this, several Blue and Great Tits are coming in regularly, and there is a pair (presumed as they are not fighting) of Robins. The Dunnocks and Wrens don't often show, but are pretty vocal so I know they are around. Had nine Goldfinches feeding in the Birch Tree yesterday, and this morning a Green Woodpecker appeared to fly out of it. Did not actually see it in the tree unfortunately but it was quite low and climbing to clear the house, so did not look like a typical flyover.
Always have gulls in the air-mostly Black Headed, but in recent years Lesser Black Backs have substantially increased in numbers. For some reason, Common Gull numbers have crashed and i no longer see them on a daily basis. Although gulls roost on the lakes in the valley, it doesn't seem to attract anything out of the ordinary, even Herring Gulls are scarce visitors to the Stevenage area.
No raptors so far this weekend- having just written that a male Sparrowhawk has gone over. Lets see if it works again...No Waxwings, Blackcaps or Firecrests. Nope.