Thursday, 29 December 2016

Blue Rock Thrush

Something like 20 years ago Colin and I were up in Norfolk when news broke of a Blue Rock Thrush in the less than likely surroundings of the BP building in Hemel Hempstead. Unfortunately the bird was less than inspiring with a deformed bill and foot and only one eye. Needless to say it was never accepted as a wild bird.
There have only been a few accepted records, with several escaped records of the far eastern subspecies, and it has never been an easy bird to get so when news broke a couple of days ago of one in Stow on the Wold it was met with some scepticism. Funny time of year, some plumage details seemed to be questionable, and it didn't seem quite right for the usual expected sub species. But with the many extraordinary records of asian birds this autumn it is assumed to have arrived with them and    is likely to be one of the asian forms.
Colin and I went there today and it was a pleasant day out. There were a few problems on the road-one car embedded in a lamp post in Milton Keynes, another upside down in a tree on a very icy stretch near the Rollright Stones, and a bit of fog, though nothing like as bad as yesterday.
When we arrived at Stow on the Wold mid morning it was nice and sunny, and not too cold, though with a bit of frost in the shade. It was only a few minutes stroll from the car park to the assembled crowd, but no sign of the bird. One calling Nuthatch, a few tinkling Goldfinches, plenty of Jackdaws and a few Starlings trying hard to deceive us.
Eventually after about half an hour it was found on a roof not too far off, but rather hard to see. It then flew off and I joined a small group behind the house in a garage complex where it posed quite nicely for a bit a lot closer this time. The local Blackbird wasn't too keen on it and flushed it a couple of times and over the next half hour we got some lovely views of the bird perched on roofs, chimneys and window sills-not quite the usual mountainous habitat but it seemed perfectly happy with the houses as a substitute.
I eventually found myself back on the main green where we were treated to very close views and I managed to get a few great images-only need to post this one as I cannot better it.

Before we left Jay Ward turned up so I had a quick chat and we also bumped into the Cheshire guys from way back in the 90's again.
Several interesting Stonechats look like being an attraction for New Year-will make a change from the usual Norfolk run.

Monday, 5 December 2016

Sea Ducks and Shorties

Colin and I had a rare day out birding on Saturday. While the Masked Wagtail in Wales was tempting, the thought of ten hours on the road was not, so we did the usual thing and headed off to Norfolk.
 Over the last few weeks, the sea between Holme and Brancaster has been very good for wildfowl, with (for the southern North Sea) very large numbers of Long Tailed Ducks, among a number of species, and with divers and grebes on offer Titchwell was the destination.
 The car park was pretty quiet for a change, with only the inevitable Robin turning up hoping for a bit of a sandwich, and a few tits Chaffinches and pigeons. W e missed a Merlin on the grazing meadows by a few minutes which was rather annoying. It was seen flying into the nearby bushes but never reappeared. We stopped off briefly to see the Water Pipit on the drain Thornham pool and then went straight to the sea. joining a rather large crowd of locals and visitors.
 Something like 40 Long Tailed Ducks were feeding close in, often just off the breakers, the Common Scoter flocks were also very close with a good 15 Velvets (also a higher than usual number). The small number of Eiders were remarkably the first we had seen here for over a year, and the four Scaup were a nice bonus as well.
 Divers were tending to keep a long way off with maybe a dozen seen over the course of 90 minutes. Red Throated were frequently seen, one Black Throated flew through fairly closely and at least two probable Great Northerns were also seen. An unusual bird was the Shag that flew west-not a regular off this part of the coast.
 Apparently there was a Red Necked Grebe sitting on the sea, though few saw it, and unfortunately the Slavonian Grebe seen yesterday had gone. There were a few Gannets of course, and one or two Kittiwakes were following the two trawlers among the more regular gull species.
 We eventually made our way back to the car picking up a variety of waders and wildfowl, had another look at the Water Pipit and spent a bit of time in the woods trying to find and failing, Siskin and Redpolls. One Brambling was on the feeders though.

 After lunch we went to Burwell Fen, having got directions to a small car park south of Reach Lode. This enabled us to cross over onto the fen using the footbridge and we could walk north to where most of the other birders were congregating. One Short Eared Owl was hunting over the field to our east, often perched up in a Hawthorn, and over the course of an hour or so we saw maybe four more birds. Some were hunting a way off up towards Burwell Lode but two approached quite closely at times and proved to be very entertaining.

 The above sequence is the best of the bunch when one of them suddenly popped up from a drain and unexpectedly flew past at pretty close range.
Unfortunately apart from a pair of Kestrels there were no other raptors or owls showing, and rather unusually we never saw any deer either.

Sunday, 27 November 2016

Cold and Sunny

 I haven't done any birding or photography in the last few weeks. Its the typical end of the year slow down, the clocks have changed, the weather has gone downhill, enthusiasm has run out  and the usual assortment of illnesses have been circulating around work and inevitably Ive had the one off cold cough and sore throat best described as Man Flu.
 However, talking to Colin, I fully expected to have a trip out this weekend. Not a great deal happening so it would have been the default visit to Titchwell and or nearby sites where we would at least have a decent day out. Unfortunately it never happened, but I did get out on Saturday.
 As I didn't need to get Mum out shopping yesterday, I planned to get out in the morning. There were a couple of possibilities. Rye Meads has a wintering Water Pipit plus a few other interesting birds, but   I got the impression that there was an event on. Tyttenhanger has two rather mobile Great White Egrets but as their would be a reasonable chance of seeing one in Norfolk, and as its not a place I enjoy visiting I ended up inevitably at Amwell.
 It was actually touch and go really. Freezing fog in Stevenage did not bode well, but by the time I reached Ware, the Sun was out and there were clear blue skies. It was rather cold though and never really improved over the course of the morning.
 I was a bit surprised that no-one else was present, though eventually Alan Meadows and Ade appeared. Since my last visit the trust has done a bit of work around the main lake. The gravel island has been cleared of vegetation, and apparently a pit has been enlarged, the spoil creating a smaller island near the heronry. There was also supposed to have been a lot of work clearing the saplings from the reed beds but there seemed to be little evidence of that.
 Birds were pretty much standard for the time of year-decent numbers of Pochard, Tufties and Gadwall, around 20 Wigeon and at least one pair of Goldeneye. Gull numbers were fluctuating all morning, with most being Black Headed and Common. A few larger gulls-Herring and Lesser Black Backs came and went. An attempt to turn one into Yellow Legged nearly succeeded but the light was poor and it flew off into the sun as we watched it. Inevitably the late evening gull roost reported Caspian, Yellow Legged and Med.
 We walked down to Hollycross to see if the Red Crested Pochard was still around-it wasn't and as Phil had not put the feeders up we didn't bother with the meadow. On the way back a stop off at the Water Vole pool produced a very brief view of the Bittern as it crossed on of the bays cut in the reeds. A tit flock flew through but didn't have anything unusual in it, but earlier I had heard two calling Chiffchaffs along the tow path.
 With the exception of two Sparrowhawks (the female bird again successful in it's Snipe hunt) there were no birds of prey taking advantage of the sunshine. I did see two Red Kites on my way back, one going over the house as I put the car away.

Saturday, 5 November 2016

Cliff Swallow at Minsemere

Off to Minsmere this morning. News broke late yesterday afternoon about at Cliff Swallow over the old car park and it was going to be a very popular bird despite a couple of records earlier in the year. News of an Eyebrowed up in Northumberland came on a bit later and it was hoped that this would help to keep numbers down. Unfortunately those that chose to go for the Thrush made the wrong choice.
I got over to Colin's around 7am and we arrived at Minsemere around 90 minutes later, and probably timed it just right as a lot of cars were leaving so there were a few spaces in the car park. Unfortunately the bird had gone as well.
We were heading to the North Bank when Lee Evans said that the Swallows were over the Island Mere so we followed him, along with Dave Holman  up the road to the high spot by the Springwatch building but unfortunately we were too late as the birds were last seen heading to either the Sluice or Sizewell, so we returned to the North Bank. Visibility had been rather poor with some drizzle and it was a bit cold but things did improve during the morning.
After about 15 minutes hanging around the Bank I and several others picked up some hirundines heading our way and the first one I got the bins onto was the Cliff Swallow, looking rather like a greyish House Martin with a red brown rump. It then spent a fair amount of time with the Swallows feeding at some distance over the field north of the old car park Sand Martin cliff and over the Dulwich Coast Guards building but was lost to view.
Colin and I decided to have a wander around the reserve for a while. The scrape was a bit dull-lots of Teal Gadwall Mallard and Shoveller, with a few Godwits and Dunlin. Five Bewicks Swans flew off as we got to the East Hide but were later seen on the levels and appeared to fly back. One or two Little Egrets were noted-someone had reported a Great White earlier I don't think it was seen by anyone else. Up to five Marsh Harriers were around as well-the only raptor seen on the reserve.
Sea watching was a bit pointless with the unfavourable winds with a few distant Gannets, one Common Scoter and a few loafing gulls around some fishing boats. A very nice bonus was the Purple Sandpiper on the Sluice groin.

Returning through the woods a small flock of tits included a calling but never seen Marsh Tit and a couple of Treecreepers added interest. By this time we had heard that the Swallows were back over the filed so we joined the now very large crowd, and since it was now a bit brighter, settled down to enjoy some superb views of the Cliff Swallow feeding, often at close range.
At one point I had it in the scope perched in one of the small Hawthorns, and it could sometimes be followed in the scope while it was in the air. Getting it in the camera was a bit more of a challenge and my best images were obtained when it was more or less overhead, so lots of underside shots. When it was flying low, it seemed to keep it's distance and the few side/upper-side shots I got were rather poor. Still, it was nice to get such good views of a bird I never really expected to be able to see (rather like last years Crag Martin) in the UK.

Sunday, 30 October 2016

Autumn Colour

I didn't go birding this weekend. Usual reaction to last weekends flu jab and feeling tired, achy and bunged up at times. Started the day I went back to work after 11 days off so I blame work as well.
However I planned on going out locally today to capture the autumn colours. I was hoping the early morning fog would lift and that I would get glorious sunlit trees and hedges overlooking a mist filled Beane valley. Unfortunately it stayed murky all day with very limited visibility at times so it was a case of looking a bit closer at the leaves and berries.
Bird wise it was very quiet, hardly a sound at times, with two exceptions. Around the ford, I found a large flock of birds feeding in the newly sown field. Amazed to count 23 Pied Wagtails, along with 6 Meadow Pipits, around 30 Starlings, and maybe ten each of Chaffinch and Yellowhammer.
Further up the river, around the model flying club and paddocks, the usual winter thrush flock had arrived. Perhaps 30 Fieldfare and maybe 50 Redwings, but hard to count as they were very mobile. Several Blackbirds and Song Thrushes as well as a couple of Mistle Thrush. Also more Meadow Pipits, Skylarks and 150 Starling in the fields.

Monday, 17 October 2016

Siberian Accentor

 Siberian Accentor, along with the rather similar Black Throated Accentor is one of those birds that have always been a bit of a long shot once in a lifetime bird. There have been a few records from eastern and north eastern Europe over the years and it was always expected to appear one day.
 Since the end of September an easterly airflow extending an incredibly long way into the far north east has brought a large number of Sibes' into western Europe, and among them several records of Siberian Accentor. It was only a matter of time before the first UK record, which duly arrived on the 9th in the expected location of Shetland. A few lucky individuals managed to get plane charters organised at great expense (900 pounds has been quoted) and got to see the bird, along with the very fortunate ones already there having one of the best autumns in many years.
 Numbers continued to be reported across Europe and on Thursday evening the second UK bird was found at Easington in Yorkshire. A bit closer to home for most of us and quite a bit cheaper, so Friday morning saw large numbers queuing to see the bird. Although on holiday, I could not get there until Sunday and was hoping it would stick. Luckily a third was found in Saltburn so there was a back up.
 So Sunday morning Colin and I were on the road heading to Yorkshire. No news from Saltburn, but good news from Easington-it was still there! And by the time we arrived, yet another had been found in Sunderland. We parked in the muddy field, just as the rain started and headed up Vicarage Lane to the gas terminal fence and joined what appeared to be a rather small crowd.
 A late and rather damp Spotted Flycatcher entertained us flying from the fence, and feeding on the ground, as were a lot of Chiffchaffs Willow Warblers and Goldcrests.

 From time to time there were small Thrush movements-mainly Redwing with a few Mistle and Song Thrushes (substantially reduced from the numbers that were being reported on Friday), and every now and again a Robin or Dunnock would pop out and cause a bit of a scare. After about and hour we were getting very wet, and one poor guy had brought his young son with him who was not exactly enjoying things. Luckily just before he was getting ready to leave, raised voices to my left hinted that the Accentor was being observed. Took a while to get directions-it was keeping very low behind a raised kerb and in a gulley but it popped up some way off and I got my first view.

 It disappeared quite quickly and there was some confusion as to where it had gone, and as not everyone had seen it tensions were increasing rapidly. Soon after it was rebound, feeding in the ditch behind the fence and although obscured we were all able to get good views.

  A lot of very wet and very happy birders returned to their cars and contemplated the next move.
Over the weekend, an awful lot off birds had been seen in the Spurn area-maybe seven Dusky Warblers, at least one Raddes, several Pallas's and Yellow Browed Warblers. Olive Backed Pipits. Not to mention Woodcock, Owls, Geese and Quail.
 Heading down to Kilnsea and following directions we stopped briefly to have a quick look at the Tundra Bean Geese in one of the fields, along with many Mallard, Lapwing and Fieldfares.
 We parked outside the Crown and Anchor and joined a few birders in the car park. Unfortunately there weren't any birds, but the hedge across the road was alive with Goldcrests and one stunning Firecrest. We then walked down the path along the canal in the hope that the Raddes Warbler was still around, but the wind and rain was not ideal conditions to find this very skulking bird. Just about all we found were a few Rock Pipits on the boulders and a rather bedraggled Black Redstart.


 We returned to the car park and there were more birders now. It took a bit of time but eventually i found one of the Pallas's on the far side of the boundary hedge but it was very elusive, as was the Yellow Browed that also put in a brief appearance.
 Just as the rain was starting to ease off, we parked at the Bluebell and walked all of fifty yards to the large puddle that held the Shorelark that was putting on a very good show. A bit of a change from the long trudges to try and find the usually very flighty birds on the Norfolk coast.

  Having got completely soaked after several hours in the rain, and since it was now early afternoon, we decided to call it a day rather than hang around hoping to find something else.

 Writing on the 17th, I think the running total of Siberian Accentors in Europe has now exceeded 60, with many countries reporting multiple arrivals on a daily basis. No more for the UK as of yet, its incredible to think that in the space of a week its gone from a mega rare first to an almost expected rarity and rumour has it at least one keen birder has seen all four. Will it do a Bluetail and become a regular autumn visitor or will this be a one off.....

Monday, 10 October 2016

Another Titchwell Visit

 With the east coast heaving with scarce and rare birds all week, thanks to an easterly airflow from the furthest reaches of Siberia it was inevitable that Colin and I would head there on Saturday. Most of the really good stuff was of course up in Shetland, but  there had been loads of goodies at places like Spurn as well and  there was also a lot of really interesting birds in Scandinavia and the Low countries. Conditions haven't been this good for many years so the big decision was where and when.
 It looked like a really safe bet would be north Norfolk, around the Wash .  It would pretty much guarantee something and we would be fairly well placed for Lincolnshire through to the Suffolk coast. So Titchwell it was.
 We drove straight there with no detours and arrived around 9am, finding an already pretty full car park. The northeaster-lies were good, there had been overnight showers and it was overcast. Classic conditions.
Robins were ticking in the car park, Goldcrests were all over the place so things were looking good. We were told that there were at least four Yellow Browed Warblers around and a few minutes later on the path beyond the centre produced a calling bird, but deep in the woodland. We quickly carried on to the fresh marsh in order to see the Pectoral Sandpiper-having missed it last week we were lucky it was still around, but unfortunately was some way out on the big island. One or two Little Stints were still present as well, including a slightly odd plumaged individual which aroused some interest later when the images were posted on social media.
 A bit further on the brackish marsh around half a dozen Curlew Sandpipers were feeding. Everywhere we looked we could see Meadow Pipits and many were also passing over. A slightly different call alerted me to a Tree Pipit, and shortly after someone called out a Rock Pipit going over.
The sea was comparatively quiet this time (famous last words) with a few Gannets and Bonxies generally far out, plus a few small flocks of Brent geese moving through.
 We didn't stay long as the yesterday's Red Breasted Flycatcher had been reported again on the approach road so headed back, bumping into Ron Cousins at the start of the Fen Trail.  There was a female Pied Flycatcher here which took a while to find but posed quite well. Ron was heading for the Pec Sand but decided to try for the Red Breasted Flycatcher with us. Unfortunately it had not been seen for some time though another Pied Fly was present and the rather large crowd was causing a few problems on the road, as the approaching coach driver found out. We stayed a while but eventually returned to the car for a coffee-the car park being just as good a place to locate the Flycatcher.

After a break I dumped a lot of the gear as it was warming up and the scope was getting a bit heavy and we hit the Fen and East trail. Didn't take all that long to pick up and see a Yellow Browed Warbler feeding actively and fighting off some of the more aggressive Goldcrests. One or two Bramblings were also around in the low trees by the feeders.

Failed to locate the long staying Redstart on the tank road, but a spell by the gate looking into the nearby horse filed was very productive. More Bramblings were flying in and out of the hedge, along with Chaffinch, Goldfinch and Greenfinches. Lots of Blackbirds were also coming and going with at least one Ring Ousel, and Song Thrushes were flying over all the time.
Unfortunately the trail further on overlooking the Brancaster Marshes didn't seem to produce much apart from a few Bearded Tits and it was clear from the dropping winds and sunshine that things were starting to quieten down so after some thought we decided to call it a day having spent a good five hours here. There didn't seem to be a great deal happening elsewhere-Burnham Overy had a few things which seemed to be a lot of hard work, and the news from Holkham and Wells wasn't good either with the Raddes Warbler not being seen since early morning.
We were about an hour away from the coast when I got a garbled pager message of a Black Browed Albatross going north past Hunstanton. Colin thought about turning round but we had no idea where or when it would be picked up. Apparently it was seen an hour later off Scolt Head for ten minutes and then late afternoon it was back off Hunstanton having not been seen at Holme or Titchwell. Judging by later reports very few people-even those stationed on the Huntsaton cliffs saw it. Even more annoying, a Siberian Stonechat was found on Sunday at Thornham Point, and was there were suggestions that it might have been a Stejneger's (the first one on Portland a few years ago, the second  at Landguard on Friday).

Tuesday, 4 October 2016

Phil Goes Birding

A bit of a novelty this weekend, Colin and I went to Norfolk to do a spot of birding. Makes a change from working in the garden.
Its been a bit interesting the past week, with a lot of very good American birds turning up on the western side of the country, and Ireland, but at the same time eastern birds are arriving all along the east coast and the northern isles. We decided to go to Norfolk on Sunday, based on the weather forecast of a low in the north sea producing northerly winds and the possibility birds coming down from Scandinavia and further east. Titchwell had a Pec Sand, which seemed like a good place to start and there were two Richards Pipits at Holme for later on.
We called in as usual at Chosely Barns for a quick look, but unfortunately there weren't many birds at all, and the same seemed to be the case in the car park at Titchwell. It was a bit chilly and there was quite a strong northerly wind blowing. Getting onto the path a quick scan of the fields didn't produce anything at all, but panning round to Thornham Point I noticed Gannets flying over the point. Seemed like the best bet would be to hit the beach and sea watch.
Plenty of others had had the same idea, and a quick chat suggested there were some good birds out there. Unfortunately I was just in time to see a bonxie go overhead and away from the camera. I settled down and started to get my eye in. More Great Skuas were obvious, with birds pretty much present all the time, some were reasonably close in, and over the course of the next hour or so I must have seen a good 15-20 but with birds milling around it was hard to be certain. A few Kittiwakes were seen, as well as a couple of Sandwich and Arctic Terns, though most of the latter were distant. I had just missed some Shearwaters but luckily two Sootys were eventually seen and a rather nice Manx zipped past the wind farm some way out. A few other skuas were also seen, there were certainly a number of Arctics out there, but someone called out a distant adult Long Tailed which most of us managed to get onto-one of three seen that morning. Auks were rather hard to see, being a long way out and moving very rapidly in between the waves, but there were a lot of them. Razorbills were pretty obvious at times and there were certainly a few identifiable Guillemots. Elsewhere on the coast a few Puffins were seen, and it was shame we never saw any Sabines Gulls or Leaches Petrels either. A few divers and grebes were seen, but apart from a two of Red Throated Divers and a Great Crested Grebe most were unidentified.
While all this was happening, reasonable numbers of Sanderling, Turnstones, Oystercatchers and Godwits were flying around the surf and beach, Black Headed and Common Gulls were milling around and a few flocks of duck were coming in.
Eventually around 1030 the wind started to ease off and it was clear that activity was subsiding so we made our way back to Parrinder Hide, with a nice female Stonechat eluding my camera. The water levels had dropped since the tide had turned, with the usual selection of waders. Grey Plovers and Curlew were on the brackish marsh, and there were good numbers of Golden Plover, Dunlin, Ruff, Avocets and Godwits on the fresh marsh. At least one Little Stint was present, along with a couple of Ringed Plovers but we never found the Pec Sand though it was reported.
A stroll round the Fen Trail turned out to be rather productive as it was warm and sheltered. Migrant Hawkers and Common Darters were everywhere, and there were still a few Ruddy Darters flying. We met up with someone trying to find the recently reported Willow Emeralds, and after a few minutes studying the sallows I picked up a nice female which perched reasonably close and gave very good views in my scope.

News from elsewhere in Norfolk was rather limited (apart from the early morning sea watch reports) and there didn't seem to be anything at Holme so we went to Burnham Deepdale where a Yellow Browed Warbler had been seen in the church yard. Unfortunately the news was later updated to no sign but a Pied Flycatcher had dropped in. By the time we got there it seemed that both birds had gone, but with a lot of inaccessible woodland between the church and the marsh, and the nearby gardens it wouldn't surprise me that we were just unlucky with the timing.
After spending a bit of time searching we called it a day , but before we left we  popped into the One Stop Nature Shop that Richard Campey had set up and spent a bit of time playing with the bins and digital microscopes-more toys to buy as finances permit.

Wednesday, 21 September 2016

A week Off.

I am currently on holiday, but not doing a great deal of birding.
On Saturday I took Sarah to the RHS Hyde Hall gardens in Essex for their autumn plant fair, which despite the torrential rain the previous day turned out to be pretty good, apart from the cold wind. Autumn seems to have arrived. Naturally I overspent on a variety of bulbs, and herbaceous perennials, but I also picked up a couple of shrubs. The most interesting from a wildlife point of view is the Clethra alnifolia "Hokie Pink'. It seems to be a very good bee plant-one was glued to it while I walked around the fair and had to be firmly dislodged before I got back to the car. Seems to be a very useful late flowering shrub that shouldn't get too big.

The rest of the week so far has been spent revamping the pond which had dried up completely. There was a bit of damage to the liner on one side but that couldn't explain the water loss and I assumed that  maybe the bay tree roots had done some damage much deeper. However that wasn't the case and it seems that the plants were the biggest problem. The iris had covered about half the pond, and several loosestrife plants that had seeded and both were basically sucking up vast amounts of water.
So I have completely cleared it out, removed the paving around it and a new liner is going down.

So far there have been a few good birds and insects. A Dunnock has arrived and seems to be settled (as per recent years they seem to disappear during the summer months). Two Chiffchaffs were present yesterday-the first time Ive had more than one warbler in the garden, and one was still around today. Also today, there has been some movements, with several Swallows going over and two Meadow Pipits went over at lunchtime.
While I was having a coffee break, I noticed a Humming Bird Hawkmoth on the salvias, but by the time I got the camera down it had gone. Sarah had one today as well. About the only butterflies at the moment are Red Admirals coming in daily and Small Whites, which aren't lingering.

Sunday, 11 September 2016

Walk around Aston End

Inspired by events over the previous week at Norton Green, I thought it might be worth a walk around Aston End and up the river Beane. There are a few spots that seem to attract migrants-Redstart being the most notable.
After yesterdays rain and drizzle, the bright sun and clear blue skies was nice. Not the best weather for birds though.
Started of in the conifer plantation where there were plenty of calling Goldcrests and Robins, but not much else. The first Chiffchaffs and Blackcaps were found in the hedge by Redwings Farm, and the first Swallow was over Aston End. Didn't see anything in the fields around Lords Farm, and it was much the same heading down to the ford. Most of the fields have been harvested and ploughed, so I would have expected a few larks, finches and buntings but they were empty apart from corvids and pigeons.
A few gulls were loafing in the field east of the Aston playing field, and as I made my way down to the ford I picked up a big flock of Linnets-around 40 in total. A juvenile Kestrel was hunting the area as well.
Up along the Walkern road, I had hoped to pick up some warblers in a small elder and blackthorn hedge but it was hard work. Several Robins seemed to be flitting in and out, flying over the road and returning, there were a couple of elusive Blackcaps doing the same, and eventually a Lesser Whitethroat put in a brief appearance. Scanning westwards over Aston End was interesting as it had heated up sufficiently to bring the raptors out. Two Red Kites were being mobbed by two Buzzards, and two other Kites were drifting around. Eventually the Buzzards gave up and joined up with several others-I had at least six over New Wood.
Crossing the river over the wooden bridge I heard two Bullfinches somewhere in the riverside trees. More Chiffchaffs and Blackcaps were in the horse paddocks, with several Willow Warblers but nothing else-no Redstarts but one Robin did try its best to impersonate one.
Since there was a lot of activity around the stables I wasn't expecting to find much here and a quick scan of the usual tree failed to find the Little Owl again. February 2013 was the last time I saw one here. Five Swallows flews out overhead, and two Grey Herons flew off as I went through the metal gate up to the willow copse. Thats where I heard the Little Owl alarm call. I think it was coming from one of the old pines and expecting it to be sunning itself checked them all out without success. This seems to be the spot for them now as Ive heard them several times over the last three years. Up by the radio mast I found another Bullfinch and two Meadow Pipits flew over as i reached the outskirts of Stevenage.
Butterflies were very scarce. Ok the weather yesterday wasn't the best for them, but the 4.5 mile walk only produced about a dozen Whites, one Red Admiral and four or five Speckled Woods. A probable Small Tortoiseshell was also seen but at long range and I couldn't get a positive id.

Thursday, 8 September 2016

Third Time Lucky-Norton Wryneck

I thought about popping into Norton this morning just in case. Messages from Mike Illet over breakfast suggested it might not be worth it, so I went straight to work. Not long after, inevitably, I got news from Mike and Tom Spellar that the Wryneck was showing, as was the Dartford Warbler.
So another lunchtime visit was required.
Ran into Dave from Barnet who had been there for some time and apparently nothing had been showing since the early morning sightings and the wind not helping matters. Met up with Lee Evans and pointed out the area the Wryneck had been frequenting yesterday morning, and went over to check the area around the abandoned cars. Hardly any birds were showing at all and it seemed as if everything had cleared out. Lee rejoined me and we were making our way back to the bank adjacent to the camp when we noticed someone staring intently into some rose bushes. Ran up, as did everyone else on site and after a few frantic scans picked up the Wryneck tucked well into one of the smaller roses before dropping down.
shortly after it was picked up again, showed really well for a few minutes and then flew off west to the ousel bushes. Lee went off to get some photos while the rest of us stayed put and waited.
It then flew again and we lost it for a bit, but as I was leaving it was re-found in the brambles and teasels east of the cars-looking very much like the spot in Tom's morning images.
Didn't lose too much time with the extended lunch break this time, and hopefully (in a way) it will be a while before I have to do it again.


Wednesday, 7 September 2016

Here We Go Again-Local Mega no 2

Another longer than intended lunch break again. This time the guys found a Wryneck at Norton.
By the time I got there it had disappeared-met up with Dave Beer and got pointers on its last known location, but although we spent some time it was a bit futile, being on the steep well vegetated wooded bank on the east of the old landfill.
The Dartford is still around but a bit elusive so Dave and I went to the western side where one or two elder bushes seemed to be holding migrants. We found several Willow Warblers, one or two Chiffchaffs, a Blackcap, a juvenile Whitethroat and a Spotted Flycatcher. The two long staying Whinchats that I had failed to look for yesterday also put in an appearance so all in all not a bad local haul. The Wryneck would have been my third for Herts and the first for the Stevenage area.
Darrel is currently taking bets on the next Norton Mega. Barred Warbler has been suggested. Preferably not in my lunchtime.

Tuesday, 6 September 2016

Local Mega

I was sitting in the car, listening to the radio and had just started my lunch. As usual I was scrolling through the latest tweets and came across one from Darrel Bryant, posted ten minutes earlier from Norton. Apparently Tony Hukin had found a Dartford Warbler. I finished a sandwich considering options, and hoping they were still there went for it.
A brisk five minute walk and I caught Tony packing his car. Brief directions were not hopeful with the bird rather elusive in a very big area. It was hot humid and rather oppressive as I stated my lone search and after about twenty minutes I decided to go back to work, but bumped into William so decided to return with him, on the grounds that two pairs of eyes would be better. Got back to the general area and started again. Two other locals turned up, as did a lad from the camp. Luckily he had been with Tony and put us in the right spot but another twenty minutes of frustration ensued and I was on the verge of getting ready to leave when the bird flew up in from of us and dropped down into a small rose bush. It spent a minute or two skulking low down and then made it's way to the top giving pretty good views. Of course we didn't have cameras with us but luckily Simon West managed to get some good ones a bit later.
Left William and the others to it and returned to work with a lot of time to make up. Mind you William's having a fun couple of days-hoping to be on the Scillies tomorrow for the Cliff Swallow!

Its still an incredibly rare bird in Hertfordshire despite range expansions in recent decades (often hit hard in bad winters though). The latest Birds of Hertfordshire list seven records of eight birds between 1897 and 1947 (all but one record on Berkhamstead Common) and two more recent records of two at Essendon in  December 2005 and another at Tyttenhanger in February 2006 which may have been one of the Essendon birds.

Sunday, 4 September 2016

Swampy Returns

The Minsmere trip last month for the Purple Swamphen was a bit frustrating when it appeared to have done the traditional Friday night bunk. We all hoped that it would still be in the reed beds somewhere in the area but it was not to be. I was only talking to Bill about it last weekend at Amwell last week never expecting that it would be re-found a long way to the north in Lincolnshire.
News broke while I was at work that what was proved to be the same bird had been found on the south shores of the Humber at Alkborough in Lincolnshire, not all that far from Blacktoft Sands. It seemed to be elusive (surprise) and mobile but the big question was whether it would stick around for us that had to work.
Colin arrived yesterday at 6am and we hit the road, arriving a little under three hours later. Parked up on the verge by the car park and headed so we though for the hide north of the sewage works. Luckily we were told that it was visible from the livery stables only a few minutes away. Big problem was a distinct lack of viewing positions and it was along way away-some 850m as I found out later. Met up with a couple of guys we used to see regularly back in the 90's who had come down from Cheshire. Cant remember the last time we saw them so it was great to see them again.
I found a position up on the wooded bank outside the livery gate which gave me a very small viewing window through the hedge, but a clear view of the pool in question. While waiting picked up a Greenshank, loads of Redshanks, at leat eight Spoonbills and a couple of juvenile Bearded Tits. Hirundines were constantly passing through the scope view, Sand Martins and Swallows adults and juveniles, with a few House Martins as well. The Swamphen showed several times while we were there, usually coming out of the reeds feeding for a bit and vanishing back after a minute or so. Despite the distance the views were surprisingly good.
I took several video clips through the scope with the iPhone in 4k format, but had to crop severely to reduce the file size and because it was just a small speck in the original files.

Not sure how these will turn out, they were processed in iMovie and uploaded to Youtube. Last time I tried to do it the files were rather compressed. Might be best to view in Youtube.

In the afternoon we called in at RSPB Framton Marsh for an hour or so. Rain had arrived so we spent most of the time in the two nearest hides. Its turning out to be a very good spot for waders, and recently had over 200 Curlew Sandpipers pass through. We didn't see that many, it was in fact very quiet but there were at least a dozen present. There were also a few Little Stints as expected, plus a few Godwits, Ringed Plovers and a Sanderling. While scanning the docks from one of the hides, which were full of Linnets I was pleasantly surprised to see a Whinchat drop down for a few seconds.
Like Alkborough hirundines were feeding over the water and reeds in large numbers. This time it was mainly House and Sand Martins. One juvenile Sedge Warbler was seen briefly but perhaps because of the rain it was rather quiet as far as small birds went.

Saturday, 3 September 2016


Just uploaded a Youtube video
Colin and I managed to see the Purple Swamphen at Alkborough on the Humber today. Unfortunately rather distant in the heat haze. More to follow later.

Monday, 29 August 2016

Bank Holiday Monday at Amwell

I haven't written anything for a while, basically because I haven't had much to write about. There has been the usual mid summer quiet spell, with nothing much worth spending petrol money on (instead Ive been spending it on the garden) and Ive been busy doing other non birds/wildlife things most weekends.
I had hoped to meet up with Colin over the Bank Holiday and get out somewhere, always bearing in mind the problems of travelling at this time, but it never happened.
Friday was a day off, so I spent time sorting out the bottom of the garden-it was started last October with replacing the fence but was delayed because of the vast amount of ivy which took ages to clear away, and then took most of this year to die off completely. We put the remaining fence panel up a couple of weeks ago, having lived in the garage for the last ten months. Still got the new gate in there though.
Had to build a retaining wall by the steps as well to provide somewhere for the wheels bin to live. I was always a fan of Gardeners World's Geoff Hamilton and his work, and some years made a few artificial rocks out of sand cement and old compost which have weathered nicely and are now covered in moss and lichens so I thought it would be a good idea to render the wall with this mixture. Very messy as it was a case of slapping handfuls of the stuff and smearing it on and hoping it would stay on. Finished that on Saturday and luckily the rain held off.
Sunday was spent pottering in the garden for a bit but I had to call a halt when arthritis kicked in and my neck seized up. Had my first garden Red Admiral of the year briefly-recently its been mainly whites eating the nasturtiums, a few Gatekeepers and a flyby Speckled Wood. A Holly Blue has been appearing from time to time as well and there have been a few others that have not hung round long enough to identify.
Anyway on to today. Bright sunshine when I got up, I was feeling ok so why not go down to Amwell for the dragonflies? Glad I wore a fleece as it remained cloudy there most of the morning and wasn't as warm as expected. The bushes either side of the lane seemed to be full of warblers, Blackcap, Chiffchaff and Willow, and what sounded like a rather quiet Garden Warbler which I never saw.
Met up with Bill, and it was nice to see Tony arrive not long after-I haven't seem him since his health problems over a year ago as he doesn't do weekends now.
Rather disappointed with the state of the main lake. Virtually no mud present as its been completely overgrown and there doesn't seem to have been any attempt to manage the vegetation or clear the islands. Wont be long before its just a vast reed-bed interspersed with large willow bushes and trees.
The Egyptian Geese are still around, but no young ones. Apparently they had got quite big and presumably were taken by a Fox, which seems logical considering the state of the lake edges.
Still some lingering Common Terns, adults and juveniles (breeding in the Lea Valley is delayed these days due to the gulls taking over the tern rafts) but few gulls. Most of the ducks are still in eclipse, no surprises here.
Raptors were rather distant. I had a Sparrowhawk, one Red Kite, a few Buzzards, one Kestrel and two Hobbys. A few distant hirundines remained unidentified, and there was very little in the way of movement. Bill picked up a couple of Parakeets which are definitely nesting around here now.
We went to Hollycross but it was a bit quiet. Left Bill by the gate to search for warblers and Spotted Flycatchers while Tony and I concentrated on the dragonflies. By far the most abundant were Migrant Hawkers of course. Common Darters and Common Blues were present in low numbers but I only managed to see one Ruddy Darter. No sign of any Common or Willow Emeralds despite a long search.

The Mint Beetle was a nice diversion. Very few Butterflies all morning, a few Green Veined Whites, a couple of Large and Small Whites, two Speckled Woods and two red Admirals. Nothing at all on any of the buddlejas around Tumbling Bay. About the only thing here was a rather distant Small Red Eyed Damselfly.
We met up again with Bill at mid day but he had not had much success with the flycatchers, so I decided to call it a day and return home.

Friday, 19 August 2016

Oak Bush Cricket

Had a bit of fun and games last night when I was going to bed when this thing turned up. Took it into the bathroom with the intention of putting it on the tiled surface to photograph and it wouldn't say still long enough. Eventually settled on the window frame but I had lighting issues with the flash on the compact camera only an inch from the cricket causing severe over exposure.

Monday, 8 August 2016

Saturday at Minsmere

A Purple Swamphen (formerly Purple Gallinule) had been at Minsmere all week. Although there have been a few previous records, all seem to have been presumed escapes, being subspecies from outside Europe. This one was different, being the Western subspecies from SW Europe, and since there had been a few out of range records from France recently, presumably due to drought it seemed a reasonably safe bet to be a British first.
I got to Colin's just after 5am and we reached Minsmere at 7am. We were not the first, there were already plenty of cars in the car park, and by the time we got to the south hide stake out there were something like 150 birders lined up along the edge of the pool, some having come from Cornwall and a seven hour overnight drive. Unfortunately the news wasn't good, there had been no sign since first light, and it had always been seen in the early morning. While waiting, two Marsh Harriers put in a very brief appearance, three Green Sandpipers flew over, and I had a very brief flight view of what could have been a Bittern. The pool was full of Little Egrets with maybe a dozen birds present-hard to be sure as my view was rather restricted. Water rails were screaming in the reeds, and Bearded Tits were pinging all the time, so it was a rather pleasant wait.
After about three hours we decided to go back to the car for a coffee-I had  suggested to one of the reserve volunteers that sending down a tea trolley would be a good idea but it never turned up unfortunately. The Buddlejas around the car park were full of butterflies now it had warmed up. Large numbers of Red Admirals, Peacocks and Graylings with a few Commas and my first Painted Lady for a couple of years, and a few Southern and Brown Hawkers were buzzing around as well.

After the break we decided to do a circuit and await news. More Hawkers were seen around the old car park pool, plus a few Emerald and Common Blue damselflies. A Small Copper (my first this year) was seen outside the Northern Hide. Not much seen from the hide, though I saw a very distant Common Sandpiper, in the same area that a Wood Sand had been reported.
Never did see the Stone Curlews on the heath, but we spent a bit of time with the Bee Wolves and Pantaloon Bees.

The East Hide was rather busy but we found a spot on the lower floor, being joined by a couple of the Tyttenhanger guys. The most notable sight was the large flock of Little Gulls-over 30 were present, in various states of plumage including a couple of near adults. Two Mediterranean Gulls were also with them. Three Spotted Redshanks were near the far edge of the reeds, and a big flock of Black Tailed Godwits held a few Ruff, one Knot, some Dunlin and singles of Ringed and Little Ringed Plovers. A Curlew Sandpiper was supposed to be out there as well.
The walk south to the sluice produced more butterflies and dragonflies but few birds in the bushes. A very brief sea watch revealed a couple of Sandwich Terns, some distant gulls and a passing Gannet. A juvenile Stonechat was in the sluice bushes and a juvenile Wheatear was using the gatepost as a perch.

Still no sign of the Swamphen as we reached the south hide, and the crowd had thinned out noticeably. Its a huge reed bed so there was some hope that it was still around, but having favoured one small bit for five days it looked like it might have departed, so after five and a half hours we called it a day. Before we left we spent a few minutes with the Ant Lion colony by the visitors centre. No feeding while we were there though I could see moving jaws (not sure if thats the correct terminology) in two of the nearest pits.
We went up to Walberswick and spent about an hour raptor watching. Two birds on show when we got there turned out to be a Marsh harrier and a Common Buzzard-both birds popped up again a bit later. Heard a Bullfinch, saw a juvenile Whitethroat, a Stonechat and a couple of Mistle Thrushes, and a Swift flew over. A couple of very distant raptors proved hard to identify in the heat haze, not helped by some also very distant corvids and gulls. However it did get a bit steadier at times and one raptor looked to be very good structurally for Honey Buzzard. About ninety minutes after we left, both Honeys were seen together, presumably rather closer this time.

Tuesday, 2 August 2016

Thursley and Alice Holt Sunday

On Sunday Colin and I headed out to Thursley as it looked to be a good day for insects-and we had done the trip the same time last year with good results.
Although it was a bit cool when we arrived, the sun was shining and since it was a bit early we headed out into the middle of the reserve to look for birds rather than do the circular walk up to Shrike Hill. I cannot remember the last time we had visited this bit of the reserve-it was certainly well before the big fire ten years ago. Then we could expect to see Dartford Warblers, Woodlarks and Tree Pipits but I had no idea if their populations had recovered.
The first birds I found were a pair of Redstarts just east of the Moat, and then we started to pick up family parties of Stonechats. The first dragonflies were seen in the ditches by the main track-Keeled Skimmers in abundance, the first of many Emerald Damselflies and our only pair of Small Red Damselflies of the day. Swallows were feeding overhead, and a few Brimstones and Gatekeepers were seen, plus a few Skippers.
The large stands of Gorse (actually on Oakley Common) held a family of Dartford Warblers, and vast numbers of Black Darters and a few Silver Studded Blues were in the more open areas. We reached the woods at the south eastern end and after chatting to one of the locals we made our way back heading towards Shrike Hill and eventually onto the boardwalk. Here we found many Common Darters, a few Ruddys, more Emeralds and Skimmers, one Emperor and a couple of Common Hawkers. Rather strangely no Chasers were seen on the three hour circuit and hardly any blue damselflies either, though a few were of the latter on the Moat lilies.

As last year we spent the early afternoon in the Straits Inclosure of Alice Holt Forest. Birds were rather quiet but I found a couple of juvenile Spotted Flycatchers in exactly the same tree I saw some last year. Butterflies were largely restricted to Meadow Browns and Ringlets along the ride, with a few Silver Washed Fritillaries on the brambles, plus a few Peacocks and Commas. A few Purple Hairstreaks were seen up in the tops of the trees but unfortunately despite spending a while around the two Sallows no Purple Emperor appeared.

Saturday, 30 July 2016

Rye Meads and Danemead

The butterfly and dragonfly drought continues for me, but at least I managed to see a few today. I went to Rye Meads this morning in order to catch up with the Garganey that have been around for a while and hopefully a few other things as well.
I got there just after nine and headed for the Draper Hide. On the way I stopped at the start of the boardwalk and spent some time watching the young Chiffchaffs and Willow Warblers. I missed a great shot when one of the Chiffs came down onto a dead umbellifer and posed really well but picking the camera up was sufficient to flush it.
I spent over an hour in the Draper, chatting to an astronomer, Mark that I had bumped into at Tring some time back as we searched for the Garganey which I eventually picked up a long way off at the back of the scrape. The Dunlin and three Green Sands were a bit more obliging. Most of the ducks are still in moult of course but it was interesting to pick up a pair of Teal and several Shoveller among them. One Snipe showed briefly before flying off. At least one pair of Common Terns remained with two juveniles.
We walked up to the lagoons-unfortunately the water was rather high and not quite what I expected. We found a few butterflies-mainly whites and a few hoverflies, bees and beetles. I left Mark heading up to the Kingfisher hide and made my way back, taking a detour around the summer trail. This had a few Sedge and Reed warblers and a dragonfly flew past but I couldn't get on it.
Back outside the Draper Hide, the sun had come out and it was warming up. Several Gatekeepers, Meadow Browns and a Comma were nectarine on the ragwort, and I found a Brown Argus there as well. A few Common Blue damsels, a Southern Hawker and a Migrant Hawker were seen around the pools-these were the first odonate in over six weeks.

I had sufficient time to call in at Danemead in Broxbourne Woods for a quick circuit. The cattle that are being used to graze the meadow have taken off much of the flowering vegetation (and blocked the usual entrance gate) but there were still plenty of butterflies present. Mostly Meadow Browns and Gatekeepers but one rather tatty Silver Washed Fritillary was found. A walk around the wood and river failed to find any Broad Leaved Helleborines but I eventually found two rather nice specimens by the reserve sign-I had walked straight past them on my way in. Birds were rather quiet, but a large tit and crest flock entertained me for a while-not surprising when the first bird i got on to was a juvenile Firecrest!