Sunday, 28 February 2016

Hooded Merganser and Penduline Tit

Got over the nasty respiratory infection a few weeks ago but was left with a lingering cough, and strained abdominal muscles, so it was very painful at times. I felt pretty good by last Wednesday, so was hopeful that I could get out and about this weekend.
Had a chat with Colin Friday night and we decided to head west. Some years ago now, a male Hooded Merganser turned up at Weymouth, and was deemed to have good credentials and found it's way onto many lists. Unfortunately it found the ducks at RSPB Radipole Lake which get a regular feed of bread and decided to stick around-it's still there. Only one or two of the many seen in the Uk have been deemed wild, and we couldn't get to the last in 2012 in Kent and Sussex, so a female at Horsham near Swindon was tempting.
Initial reports were that it was unringed, fully winged and behaved like a wild bird. Rumours that it came to bread seem unsubstantiated-it was only ever seen eating small fish (and anyway, back when I fished a bit, bread was a good bait for small fish, so there is every reason to suppose it was feeding on fish attracted to bread).
We got to Horsham Park just after 0900 to be told it had disappeared. There was a decent flock of Goosander on the lake, and a flyby Kingfisher was nice. Tits were singing, and a Great Spotted Woodpecker was drumming. The Merganser was eventually picked up on the far side feeding at the edge of the reeds and difficult to see at times. Got a few distant shots and assumed that would be it and eventually we lost it. It seemed to spend a lot of time underwater, and moved some distance while doing so and we eventually realised it had come a lot closer judging by the photographic activity.
When I got to the small crowd I had a big problem. I had brought the manual focus 500mm lens and had the 2x converter on-this had to come off immediately because the bird was so close. In fact frame filling, and near the close focus limit of the lens at times. It was very mobile feeding all the time on Sticklebacks and we had a hard time keeping up with it through the camera viewfinders.
I think the results are ok.

The next destination was Bockworth on the outskirts of Gloucester where two Penduline Tits have been wintering in a flood relief area. The sun was out, but with a north easterly it was rather cold. Had to return to the car to put the waterproof jacket on. Apparently the Pendulines had flown south just before we got there so we had to wait and hope. Found a male Stonechat some way off, there were two Buzzards overhead, and plenty of Reed Buntings were shredding the Reedmace just like a Penduline would. To add to the problems, Long Tail Tits were also feeding down in the reeds. After about 30 minutes we noticed one or two birders on the south side gathering and a quick scan revealed a male Penduline Tit. I tried to get a couple I know from Tring onto it but could not refund it so we headed round to the south side.
The single male bird was feeding actively on the Reedmace and showed quite well for us at times and I got good images, but after dropping down into the reeds it became hard to pick up as it moved down a channel at the back.

The Forest of Dean was only 20 miles away so we headed there and got to the New Fancy View watchpoint at 1300. Still sunny at times, but still cold and windy. A couple of Buzzards were on view most of the time, but otherwise it seemed very quiet. One distant male Goshawk was seen while we were there but I missed a somewhat closer female as I got my scope onto a Buzzard instead. Normally Raven are easy here and we were not seeing any-no corvids of any kinds. I made a comment about the lack of Ravens, turned round and two flew over. One of the local birders did a very good cranking imitation, and got a reply from one of the birds. Tough to photograph with the manual 500mm and 2x handheld.

Not long after we left a female Goshawk flew over as did eight Crossbills.
We called in at Parkgate Church-Hawfinch and Crossbills are regular here but the couple we met had been there for a while without seeing anything.
The local gave us directions for Ashleworth Ham nature reserve north go Gloucester where a Green Winged Teal has been wintering. Took a while but we managed to find the place, a nice area of flood meadows full of wildfowl. Lots of Teal, Wigeon and more Pintail than I have seen in a long time, plus plenty of other ducks, a couple of Snipe, Shelduck but no Green Winged. Lots of places for small duck to hide, and a very big area to search.
The drive back along the A40 was pretty good as usual, particularly for the number of Red Kites, with two flocks of 20+ birds and many smaller parties.

Sunday, 14 February 2016

Three Weekends In

Its been a while since I have been able to get out and about. At the end of January, a flu type bug swept through work, and inevitably I got it. Spent the Saturday and Sunday in bed, with a hacking cough, fever and no sleep. Also since I have an endocrine problem, it put a lot of stress on my adrenal system, and it took a long time to get over it. When I phoned in sick on the Monday, something like 15% of the workforce were also off.
Had a few minor birding highlights the week I had off. One (!) House Sparrow put in an appearance, Long Tailed Tits are now coming into the garden on a daily basis, and three Goldfinches are turning up. I have a suspicion that a Wren may be nesting soon, as it frequently sings from the Trachycarpus palm. On the Wednesday had to visit the doctors in the Old Town, and on the drive back along Fairlands Way, a Red Kite seemed to be displaying over the woods at the north end, and there was also a Buzzard with it.
Spring is certainly on the way. Hearing regular Song Thushes, Blue and Great Tits are singing, and there are signs that the Blackbirds, Robins and Dunnocks are looking for nest sites. The one thing that has not happened yet is any indication of Frog activity in the pond. Its been a bit cold the last week though.
Had a weird reaction to the antibiotics, with skin irritation. The special instructions were to keep out of the Sun, even bright cloudy days. Seems to make the skin sensitive to UV. Also ended up falling asleep all the time. That kept me in last weekend.
Still get coughing fits now and again, which has strained an abdominal muscle so it gets painful  at times, so decided not to go out this weekend. Don't want to risk anything happening while driving anywhere.

I have spent a bit of time pottering in the garden, though it has mainly been looking around to see what is happening. Most of the bulbs are emerging. Snowdrops are looking superb, as are crocuses, Iris reticulata and a pale seed raised Muscari. My collection of Fritillaries are starting to come up in their pots and it won't be long before the first of them will flower.
The red Oriental Hellebores and blue Pulmonarias were replanted last spring and are already flowering. Give them another year and they will be looking superb.
Sowed a few seeds today in the propagator, including some more chillis (chocolate habaneros will be fun) as it looks like some of the overwintering plants have had it. Also trying a dwarf aubergine, but I won't bother with tomatoes this year as the last two years have been pretty poor. There are also a few tropicals as well, several Cannas, and a banana Musa rubinia. Tried the latter last year andt got zero germination but have got plenty of seed left so maybe I might get lucky this time.