Tuesday, 29 December 2015

Christmas Birding

I haven't got round to posting anything recently largely because it has been pretty quiet. The really warm winter while good for my health has not exactly done much for the birding with very little in the way of movement and numbers. Found that out on the 19th when I went down to Amwell for a few hours.
It was very warm-something like 15C and when the sun came out it felt more like a summer evening. Water levels were very high, but it did not seem attractive to ducks, there were not all that many at all. Presumably most were residents with the winter visitors remaining on the continent. The Smew is still around though, and there were small numbers of Teal and Shoveller. Gulls were coming and going all the time, mainly Black Headed and Lesser Black Backs, with a few Herring and Greater Black Backs. According to Barry Caspian Gull numbers have dropped from a high of six in the evening roost to maybe one or two now and again, though Yellow Legs are still coming in on a regular basis.
I went for a walk down to Hollycross with William, finding the odd unseasonal flower (and a 7 spot ladybird). The feeders were busy with two Great Spotted Woodpeckers, lots of Pheasants, Chaffinch and a few Greenfinch. One or two Redwing in the area but we failed to get the Marsh Tit. Something like 15 Siskins in the alders by the railway but little else of note.

The Christmas period has been spent indoors with only the garden birds to monitor, and it is pretty poor. Apart from the Wood Pigeons, two regular Collared Doves, two Dunnocks and one or two Robins and Blue Tits there has not been much. Even the regular male Blackbird counts as a highlight these days. The Goldfinches have gone, there have not been any House Sparrows for some time now (I suspect the recent council house refurbishing, including new roofs and exterior insulation during the nesting season has hit them very hard), and while Chaffinch and Great Tit are singing outside, they have not been down to the feeders.

Today was my first day out, and it was mainly to get some air and stretch my legs. For a change I went to Rye Meads as its been some time since my last visit. till rather mild for the time of year, and rather nice when the sun came out.
Not much of interest at the Draper Hide, but the gate just past it was quite good. Three Bullfinch flew off, and a lone male Brambling was feeding with the large Chaffinch flock. Throw in a few Fieldfare and Redwing as well and it almost felt like winter.
Two Green Sandpipers were on the north lagoon, which is always the most productive bit. There was a Water Pipit around a few weeks ago, and I had hoped it might still be around, if it is, it wasn't on the lagoon. The best spot for them used to be the Meads, but unless they are flooded it is pretty well impossible to see anything-even ducks and geese are hard to locate.
Best bird was the Cetti's Warbler on the way back that deafened me. I was frantically looking down in the reeds by the water's edge and failed to see it anywhere. Did not occur until too late to look in the Hawthorn in front of me and there it was a few feet away at eye level. Of course as soon as the camera swung it was off. Best views in a long time.
Here are a few recent images.

Monday, 14 December 2015

A Day Out in Norfolk

Having not had a chance to do much birding for a while for various reasons it was good to get out yesterday, though at one point I thought it wasn't going to happen.
Things started off on a bad foot when Colin's clock failed him, and he turned up nearly an hour later than planned. We then set off in very poor light, drizzle and rain, and finally as we reached  the Norfolk county border mist came down. This was not looking good for what we had planned.
Luckily things improved somewhat as we drove through Kings Lynn to the port where the long staying Iceland Gull had been in residence. We were last here about 15 years ago for a juvenile Glaucous Gull, and it had changed a bit in the meantime. Luckily it was not hard to get to the right spot, drive along the road and stop by the birders.
The bird was sat out on the mud opposite the road and did not exactly do much while we were there, though it did wander down and sit in the water for a few minutes. Mainly, it and the Herring Gulls were just loafing around and were only slightly disturbed when an adult Greater Black Backed dropped in for a bit before deciding that one of the boats was a better spot. The Iceland was digiscoped, and I also produced a clip (I used the iPhone more than the Nikon today).


We had basically planned to spend most of the morning at Snettisham and hope to see the Pallid Harrier at the south end of the reserve, but having lost a lot of time and assuming the mist would be a problem (as I found out later it was ok and the Harrier showed quite well, along with Hen Harrier, Spoonbill, Great White Egret and a couple of Waxwings!) we chose to go to Holme instead and try and find the Shore Larks, which in recent years have been a rather scarce winter visitor with only a few birds turning up. The three here seemed pretty reliable.
The walk up from the car park along the beach was interrupted as I was frequently scanning the calm sea, and the shoreline. Lots of waders of course. Bar Tailed Godwits, Curlew, Sanderlings, and a few Oystercatcher, Redshank and Dunlin. The sea was rather quiet, many distant Common Scoters out by the wind farm, a few Great Crested Grebes  and a single flyby Fulmar being the sum. On the way east to Thornham, we encountered two Snow Buntings, which were a bit flighty.

Having spotted the birders in the distance I was a bit concerned when they turned round and started looking north and then moving. A quick scan produced three small birds flying away from them and apparently dropping down on the shoreline. Assuming they were the larks, I scanned the area without success, but as the birders arrived one of them picked the Shore Larks on the tideline to our east. Unfortunately they were soon put up by a dog walker, but we were able to keep track of them over the next half hour or so. Always distant, I actually got my best views while watching the phone screen as I filmed them through the scope.


The early afternoon was spent at Titchwell until rain stopped play and it turned rather miserable. Outside the visitors centre we stopped to look at the feeders, while the reserve guru Ray filled us in on the highlights-the Bramblings on the feeders being one of them. A Barn Owl at the far end of Thornham grazing Marsh was the second. We spent a few minutes looking at the still drained pool, left and returned quickly as it became apparent that a couple of guys had something good. They were watching a rather smart Water Pipit, though someone was rather dismissive and considered it to be a plain Meadow Pipit. However it ticked all the boxes as I discussed the salient features  with a county recorder.
The walk up to the beach did not produce a great deal, the water levels on the fresh marsh have been raised but wildfowl numbers were not all that high-just the usual suspects, and a few Lapwings and Gulls. There were a few waders on the brackish marsh, mainly Bar Tailed Godwits, Grey Plover and Redshank, and the tidal lagoon held more, plus a few Avocets and a Spotted Redshank.
Sea watching was a bit dire again, with as usual hoards of very distant Common Scoter. Some were a bit closer and a group of six contained one Velvet-not the best marked bird so I'm guessing it was a young drake. A few Mergansers were in Brancaster Bay, and I also picked up a very distant Red Throated Diver.
The highlight if it could be called that was the Ocean Sunfish that was presumably a victim of the recent storms. Although they featured on every one of the Scillonian pelagics that we took part in, we never did manage to see any from the ship. This one was a bit less than  3' long so a rather small individual.

With drizzle arriving around 2pm we headed back to the car park bumping into Alan Reynolds on the way. Having briefed him on our sea watching he decided in view of the weather not to bother continuing and came back with us, and had a long chat, interrupted briefly when he picked up a stunning male Hen Harrier being mobbed by a pullover the Titchwell reedbed. Sadly it was not on view for more than a few seconds and it was far too far away for the cameras.