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.