Monday, 27 April 2015

Terns at Amwell

Following Saturday's successful and satisfying Hudwit twitch I was not intending to do anything on Sunday. However the forecast rain had pretty well finished by the time I to up so I went to Amwell. Phil had reported a Mediterranean Gull first thing which did not linger, but several Arctic terns were present.
It was still drizzly when I arrived, and rather cool. Found Phil on the approach track listening to the now regular Nuthatch singing and carried on to the view point where the usual crowd had assembled. The Arctic Terns were difficult to count, as they were keeping to the area around the main island, and only one or two had long tail streamers but the consensus seems to be that seven were present. They proved to be difficult to photograph as they stayed well away from the path, and what was not helping were the Common Terns appearing rather dark bellied in the poor light.

At least two Little Ringed Plovers were present, one was briefly in a display flight. The pair of Oystercatchers are nesting again, and there were several Redshanks around. Common Sandpipers were elusive at times but we counted at least four birds. Large numbers of hirundines were feeding over the water, predominantly Sand Martins and Swallows.
Heard my first Cuckoo, up near the Hollycross path, and both Sedge and Reed Warblers seemed to be plentiful. Also one Willow warbler, a couple of singing Chiffchaff and Blackcaps, and the usual Cetti's warblers were singing.
Had a chat with Mike Illet as we were leaving, and it turns out I may have seen the Deadman's Hill Ring Ouzel last weekend -it was poorly marked bird and was present in the same spot as the two 'Blackbirds' I saw on the north side of the hedge. I photographed both birds as they were too far to be identifiable in binoculars but the images lacked detail

Sunday, 26 April 2015

Hudsonian Godwit

It was going to be a nice day out. The plan was simple, visit Paxton for the Nightingales, with a detour to Broom so Colin can see the Tern, then spend the rest of the day around the Ouse Washes and Brecks. Colin picked me up at 0730 and we headed up the A1 in light rain. Got as far as Biggleswade when we heard that the White Winged Black Tern had gone, drove another mile then heard the devastating news of a Hudsonian Godwit in Somerset. With only four records of previous birds, a brief one in Aberdeenshire in 1988 and what was presumed the same bird at Blacktoft and Exeter in 1981 and 1983 it is not one thats exactly on the radar, and as it was 32 years since the twitchable Blacktoft bird an awful lot of people needed it. We turned round and headed off to the west country.
The roads were pretty good and we got to the rather busy Ham wall (new) car park around 1130. Good job the starling roost has been so popular because the Shapwick Heath car park opposite would certainly not have coped. Walked straight past the locally rare Wood Warbler, took in the Garden Warblers and Reed Warblers and joined the crowd. The Godwit was sleeping with around 100 Icelandic Black Tailed Godwits, with the occasional movement. On a couple of occasions it woke up to preen, and raised its wings showing the jet black underwing that is so distinctive. We spent an hour or so taking lots of duff images, and I only managed one barely decent one through the scope with it actually awake and showing it's long up curved bill.

While there we also saw a Greenshank, two distant Cranes and I got brief views of one of the many Bitterns. Missed things like Swift, Hobby and Wood Sandpiper, but there were several Orange Tips and Large Whites flying.
Eventually the Amwell contingent arrived so had a chat with William about his day trip to Bryher for the Great Blue Heron and enjoyed the sights and sounds of the reserve. Managed to see the Wood Warbler on the way back.
With not much else on the pager we decided to head home via Portland-not all that far away really. Unfortunately the morning Sun had turned to sea mist, and it gradually rolled in as we crossed the Fleet. A quick stroll around the Bill produced Rock Pipits and Wheatear but with visibility of perhaps 200 yards at best sea watching was pointless. By the time we turned round, visibility on the Fleet had deteriorated so there was no chance of checking the terns and gulls, so we returned home.

Friday, 24 April 2015

Wheatears and White Wings

Had the day off as Mum had a very early appointment this morning. Had intended to work on the garden, but a message from Tom Speller changed that as he had found a Wheatear at Norton-only the second this year.
Dropped Mum off and got there just after nine. A nice sunny morning, with several singing Whitethroats greeting me-plus two Grey Partridge that I accidentally flushed as I mounted the bank. Took a while until I picked up a Wheatear in the middle, with another shortly after but they were very flighty.  The flock of Linnets feeding on the bank was nice to see, with around ten birds present, along with a couple of Yellowhammers. I slowly made my way back, picking the Wheatears up again, so I tried to get some photos and then met up with one of the regular birders. Doing another circuit, I eventually picked up four Wheatears, one of which was a very bright Greenland type.

Since one of the regulars Darrel Bryant was at Broom Pits with a White Winged Black Tern, I decided to pop up there. Quite a few cars parked in Gypsy Lane told me where the bird was so I joined the small crowd. Initially sitting on one of the islands, along with a couple of Common Terns and a Common Sandpiper, it took flight for a few minutes but was always very distant and the light was not exactly ideal. Had a chat with Darrel who later went to Norton, found five Wheatears and a Lesser Whitethroat.

Sunday, 19 April 2015

A Wheatear at Last

This morning I decided to head up to the far norther parts of Hertfordshire, in the hope of picking up a few year ticks.
The Ashwell area has a reputation for birds that are now hard to find in the county. The manure heap near Newnham is one of the hot spots so I headed there. Compared to yesterday is was rather dull and cool-maximum temperature was a rather low 8 degrees. First bird I heard was a Corn Bunting, one of four singing in the hedges, followed by numerous Skylarks. Scanning the bare field opposite, I found several Skylarks running around and then a Wheatear-finally. There has still only been one this year at Norton, and last year wasn't great there either. A sharp call alerted me to a Yellow Wagtail closely followed by another in a tree.

I then headed off to Coombe Road, stopping at the top of the road. Plenty of sheep in the fields to the east, but no thrushes, and a slow drive down past the farm did not produce any either. Guess the Fieldfare and Ring Ouzels had departed. Few raptors here-one Buzzard and a Kestrel.
Deadmans Hill was my final destination. Heard at least two Corn Buntings here, saw a pair of Grey Partridge and a couple of Blackbirds in the hedge. A female Kestrel perched in a small tree was a bit far away. The cold breeze seems to have kept things a bit quiet, and I wasn't enjoying it either so after 20 minutes I came home.

Saturday, 18 April 2015

Wood Warbler

Paid a quick before work visit to Norton Green yesterday. Despite the bright sunshine is was rather cool with a north easterly breeze. Did a quick 30 minute circuit with nothing much apart from the usual pair of Red Legged Partridge and a couple of Whitethroats.
Today I intended to go up to the Therfield area to search for Ring Ouzels, but confirmation that yesterday's Wood Warbler at Nomansland Common was still present caused me to change plans. I got there at 100 and spent an hour in the wood north of the road. Lots of Blackcap, Chiffchaff, tits and (hooray!) Treecreepers singing. Found a nice clump of Bluebells and shortly after heard a distant trill of a Wood Warbler. Spent the next half hour failing to locate the bird, being joined eventually by another birder. We stuck it out for a while and I heard it again along the north edge but it was frustratingly elusive and we never got any satisfactory views. Later heard that Ian Bennell had seen a ring on it when he was there-singing more frequently as well.
I then decided to go up to Coombe Road as five Ouzels had been seen in the paddocks by the farm. Well all I saw when I arrived were two Mistle Thrush and a few Blackbirds and Swallows. I did drive up and down the road stopping off to check various spots but clearly the birds if they were still there were out of view from the road. Did get to see a Small White butterfly.

Monday, 13 April 2015

Theres a Bluethroat at Amwell!

I woke up this morning with a bad throat and therefor had a miserable day at work. An early tweet from Tom Spellar at Norton Green had the usual mix of nothing much and I almost replied sarcastically asking where the Ring Ouzels were. Late morning one was found.
 I had an early lunch and got there at 1230, climbed the bank and saw  an unknown birder by the trees by the gully and Richard Pople not far away lowering his camera. The unknown guy walked past and said it was in the trees. Apparently it was feeding on the grass and Richard narrowly missed getting a shot when it flew off. We waited a bit until Tony Hukin arrived and spent some time searching the wooded gully by the lane and scanning the open areas. Unfortunately we couldn't locate it and I returned to work just after 1300, leaving the other two to search the rest of the site. Sure enough they located it in the NW corner about ten minutes after I left, so I made plans to go back after work.
 During the afternoon break I received a tweet from Darren Bast with the cryptic 'back of the camera Bluethroat' message. Not having a good signal it took a while to get the image and I assumed he had been to see the one reported in Kent. I reread it a couple of times and the @HMWTAmwell tag gradually sunk in..... Norton was cancelled.
 Rang home, made arrangements for a possible late dinner and got there at 1600, having run up the lane-not good with the sore throat. Needn't have bothered as Ron Cousins said it had only been seen once since the initial sighting flying into the right hand reed block ten minutes earlier. Of course jammy Barry had only just got back from a holiday and seen it, as had Jay, Mike Illet, Alan Reynolds, Mick Cotton among others. Alan was leaving the site to go to Norton when the Bluethroat was found.
Over the next hour quite a crowd assembled and around 1640 Jay, I think picked it up low down at the bottom of the reeds. I went down the fence to get a clearer view and managed to decipher the directions to get everyone looking at the right spot and shortly after we got a nice view of a stunning vision of blue as it hopped through the reeds and briefly across a small clearing before being lost to view.
A while later and with the crowd growing ever larger someone picked it up in the same spot just sitting there. He got his scope on it and some of us got a very nice view before it moved. This time it was visible much longer as it gradually moved through the edge of the reeds and posed extremely well in the little clear patch giving stunning views for a minute or so.
More an afterthought, the Black Necked Grebes are still there, and I got my first Common Sandpiper in Darry's scope. I also got back in time for dinner despite the idiot blocking Amwell Lane because he 'had right of way' and preventing several cars from leaving which would have then created a nice passing bay in the road.

Sunday, 12 April 2015

Black Necked Grebes at Amwell

Went down to Amwell as usual for the regular Sunday get-together. Heard a singing Nuthatch as I got out of the car, plus several Chiffchaff and Blackcaps along the track. Only four people there when I arrived-down along the hedge looking at the Sedge Warbler found yesterday. Despite a few of the regulars being away, eventually a large crowd of familiar faces gradually appeared as the morning progressed. I popped down to listen to the Sedge, my first of the year.

I picked up a Little Ringed Plover as well-two are present. Two Oystercatchers were also there but vanished quite quickly, plus maybe four Redshank.

Seem to be a few Teal still, but otherwise duck numbers are very low now, a few pairs of Shoveller, Pochard etc and normal summer quantities of Tufties and Gadwall. Every now and then a few Swallow, House and Sand Martins were seen, raptors were limited to very distant soaring Buzzards, one Kite and a pair of Kestrels.
Phil and William were scanning the big island and got a bit excited when they picked up two small grebes. Scope views confirmed we had a pair of Black Necks. Everyone made their way down the path to get better views, but the birds were always distant for the camera-more suited to digiscopers.
The pair gradually moved a bit closer as they drifted north before turning round. While we were there it was apparent that at least two Sedge Warblers were now present in the small sallows on the water's edge.

Lady A

There has always been a bit of a gap in my list despite a small population of birds not more than 30 miles away yet I have not really been bothered filling it. Lady Amherst's Pheasant has been present in the Beds/Bucks region for over a hundred years in the woods along the Greensand ridge and were put on the British list as the population was supposed to be self sustaining following their introduction. Numbers have been declining ever since and are now down to a few birds. When Colin started birding back in the early 90's we made a couple of attempts to find them, but being a familiar cage bird-my school used to keep exotic pheasants, and there is quite a collection of them at Standalone Farm, it always seemed a bit pointless. Secrecy and disinformation from 'those in the know' have not helped matters in recent years, but the Beds Bird Club recently published a public site at Lidlington where views were pretty much guaranteed so we decided to go yesterday.
Arriving fairly late, judging by the crowd, we climbed the steep track in the drizzle and waited. Heard a Willow Warbler on the way up, but otherwise it was quiet. A pair of Pheasant appeared at the feeder for a while, Cola Tits and Blackbirds were singing and eventually the rain and drizzle eased off. We had been there an hour when I noticed movement on the left hand side of the ridge and I could see the head of the male Lady A. I quietly announced it and everyone got on it as it emerged and moved slowly along the top and was lost to view. Quite a spectacular bird even though the light was appalling and the views rather brief.
We then headed to Wilstone where it was nice and sunny but with a vicious wind. The drake Garganey was seen in the nw corner keeping to the trees but coming out occasionally. Out towards the jetty, a small flock of terns included 9 Arctics and a few Common. One or two flocks of hirundines were feeding over the water. We spent a while in the hide but apart from an Oystercatcher there was little to see.
On Friday there was a large fall of Ring Ousels along the Chilterns so we called in at Steps Hill. The wind was really bad and apart from a Chiffchaff and some Fallow Deer we did not see anything. There were a lo of walkers around which probably did not help much.
In view of the wind we called it a day but stopped off at Coopers Green Pit near Welwyn. Heard a Willow Warbler, and found a pair of Dabchick but the Mandarins were as on previous visits invisible.

Monday, 6 April 2015

Easter Break

Well easter weekend is nearly over and I did not exactly do a great deal. Winds have been northerly and cold, so little is coming into the country at the moment, and most of the wintering birds have gone so the pager RBA reports are rather dull.
Went over to see Sarah and Ed on Friday. Lot of rain early on and it was cold windy and sometimes drizzly. We went over to Saffron Walden to visit Beeches Nursery, picking up a few plants for her and me. Rather overwhelmed with the number of plants they have on sale, and a visit can prove rather expensive.
Spent a bit of time in her new garden, looking things over to assess some area. While out there we had regular visits by Dunnocks, Robins, Blackbirds, Song Thrush, Greenfinch, Chaffinch and tits. Their garden list is up to 28 already-not bad for four weeks.

Saturday I decided to go down to Amwell. Misjudged it as it was very cold and windy, and rather unpleasant. One Swallow and two Egyptian Geese seemed to be it so I went for a wander. Several singing Chiffchaffs, and two Blackcaps were the highlights, and there was little else in the woods or along the Hollycross track.
Eventually got back to the view point where there were a small flock of hirundines visible towards the south-seven Swallow, one House Martin and a few Sand Martins. Numbers of the varied over the next half hour, and at one point fifteen Swallows headed north.
Not much else, the Black Headed Gull colony is large, loud and noisy. One Redshank remained on view most of the morning, and two Oystercatchers called in briefly.

Sunday I stayed in and watched the Tour of Flanders cycle race, with a sore throat and a bit of a cold.

Easter Monday is nice warm and sunny, but there is still a cool northerly breeze.
Went for a walk around Aston End. Three singing Greenfinch, and four singing Linnets were nice to hear. Lots of Chiffchaff in as well, but no other migrants. Also encountered a few Yellowhammers (no Corn Bunting though, and no Bullfinch).

Despite the sunshine and the warmth, the only raptors were Buzzards. Eight or nine were seen at one point while scanning up and down the river, with at least one pair displaying.

Butterflies were also rather scarce, one Small Tortoiseshell and three Peacocks.
Working in the garden this afternoon, I had two Small Tortoiseshells and a Peacock, with two Swallows flying over.