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

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

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.