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.