Sunday, 24 April 2016

Two Ospreys at Amwell (sort of)

I went down to Amwell this morning, but only lasted two hours. Even when the Sun shone it was freezing, with a nasty northerly wind and it never got above 5C. Still I got a few year ticks and a lifer out of it.
Three Arctic Terns were present yesterday, and luckily one of them was still around when I arrived. William and Murray were present and put me on it straight away resting on one of the exposed muddy islands. We later saw it flying around in the company of about half a dozen Common Terns. The Little Ringed Plover was a bit harder and it was only when Tony Hukin arrived to meet up with the Sunday regulars (more year ticks there as I had not seen any of them for ages) and got his scope on it that most of us got to see it. An invisible Reed warbler singing in front of the view point was another tick.
Some time after Tony Wileman arrived William picked up a strange UFO flying over Tumbling Bay to our north west. A big rectangle with a similar sized vertical line in front did not compute until it dawned on me it was a Boeing V22 tilt rotor plane (aka Osprey hence the post title). Never seen one before so an aviation lifer for me. Later on we saw two a long way of to the east apparently heading for Stanstead.
In order to get the circulation going and avoid hypothermia I went for a walk down to Hollycross. Heard a few Sedge and Cetti's Warblers, saw a single Great Spotted Woodpecker and a few Tits. Blackcaps were abundant as were Chiffs, but the calling Cuckoo was very elusive. As far as I know, no-one managed to locate it. I had left Tony making his way to Gladwyn Hide hoping to locate the Lesser Whitethroat that had been reported there recently but not since. Shame I heard one in the brambles near the metal gate at Hollycross. The only other thing seen here was a grazing female Muntjac, which made a change from the goats they used to keep there.
Nothing much different when I got back to the view point. The LRP flew in a bit closer, and a big flock of House Martins had appeared, joining the Swallows and Sand Martins. Had hoped for something like a Common Sandpiper, William wanted a Little Tern, and a few more waders would have been nice. So would a butterfly but I guess they had all froze solid.

May bank holiday next week and the weather looks just as bad.


Tuesday, 19 April 2016

Sunday on Portland

After a very unpleasant Saturday morning with rain and sleet, Sunday was rather good, with wall to wall sunshine and very warm. With a lot happening, Portland was a logical place to go, and many hundreds of birders thought the same.
We stopped off initially at Suckthumb Quarry for an hour where the long staying Hoopoe was still present. Never been there before so parking and access was a bit uncertain. As it turned out we ended up about as far away as was possible, but it got us a few good birds. It was evident that birds were coming in all the time, with a constant northward movement of hirundines and small jobs. Warblers were everywhere, mainly Chiffchaff Blackcap and Willow with a few Whitethroat around. A bonus was the reeling Grasshopper Warbler found shortly after a local birder pointed us in the direction of the Hoopoe. This proved to be easy to see, feeding on a short piece of turf on the quarry track, but stayed well away from the attendant photographers.

On the way back to the car we found a female Redstart in the horse paddocks but a passerby on the adjacent footpath flushed it so i never got any good images.
The bill was very busy, being full of day trippers. Being calm and sunny the sea was rather quiet with only the resident Razorbills, Guillemots and Shags on view. There were several singing Rock Pipits of course.

We made our way to the observatory, checking the Little Owl in the quarry. On the hill side we could see a big crowd waiting for the Bluethroat. We were told it was very elusive and only a few had seen it all morning so we headed down to the east cliff and the Western Subalpine Warbler.
This was a difficult bird, staying low in the alexanders and it was rare t see more than a fraction of the bird. Got a superb scope view of t's head from ten yards before I concentrated on the camera. The Chiffs and Willows feeding with it were a lot more confiding but over the course of half an hour we did get a few brief good views.

We called in to the Fleet for a few minutes but the tide was out, there were hardly any birds on view but I did get to see three rather distant Sandwich Terns far out by the fish farm pens.
I was hoping to see the wintering Pallas's Warbler at Portisham-it had been seen earlier in the day. We met several groups birders there but none had seen the bird and we didn't either. Chiffchaffs and Backcaps were singing, as were tits and Chaffinches, but there was neither sight nor sound of the Pallas's though we all covered a large section of the footpath. At this time of year i would have expected to hear it sing-I did surreptitiously play a recording a couple of times but got no response.
Despite the warm day, our one and only butterfly-a Tortoiseshell was seen here.

Saturday, 16 April 2016

Ring Ousel Hunt

Just got back from a drive around the Therfield area. Deadmans Hill and Coombe Road have been good for passage Ring Ousels with several reported in recent days.
Mike Illet had reported at least two were still present in Coombe Road earlier this morning so it looked promising. Of course as soon as I left the house the rain started and it proved to be rather unpleasant out, maximum temperature was 3C and the rain was sleety at times. Lots of standing water and slippery mud added to the fun drive.
The first valley west of the farm seemed to have a few birds milling around, Song and Mistle Thrushes were singing and there were a lot of pigeons and corvids were perched up in the trees at the back. I noticed a 'Blackbird' fly into one of the hawthorns but never got a good view of it and not long after two flew out and towards the horse fields. The light was awful and I couldn't be sure what they were-very frustrating.
I then headed down the road to the more open valley, and about ten minutes later Simon Knott appeared, on his way to an organised walk on Therfield Heath. In view of the weather I don't think its going to be much fun. We didn't see any thrushes at all so he went of to the walk and I carried on.
Stopped off briefly at Deadmans Hill-one Red Legged Partridge is all I got, then driving up towards Sandon a male Ring Ousel flew across the road. Being a busy road there was no way I could stop and get photos, assuming it hadn't flown on.
On my way home I had a very weird experience. In one of the hamlets I could see ahead of me several tiny round blobs moving slowly around in the road. For a moment I assumed they were bumblebees grounded by the weather but they turned out to be Field Voles.

Monday, 11 April 2016


I went for a walk yesterday around Aston End, taking a few camera lenses including a new one-a Zeiss 135mm f2. Rather heavy camera bag with all the metal bodied manual focus lenses, even though I left a few things behind but I thought it would be worth it.
When I first left, there was still a bit of frost in the more shaded areas but it quickly burnt off and it ended up being a nice warm sunny spring day. Probably not ideal conditions for migrant birds.
Warblers were obvious, with 8 Chiffchaffs and 6 Blackcaps counted (singing birds) on my circuit, and I also picked up my first Whitethroat near the paddocks by the river. I also had two or three Green Woodpeckers, and four drumming Great Spotted Woodpeckers. A small flock of Linnets and later on nine Yellowhammers feeding in one of the recently sown fields was nice. Unfortunately as expected, there was no sign of any Wheatear, Redstart or Ring Ousel even though a few of the fields looked to be ideal for them. No hirundines either.
Despite the weather, I only saw a few raptors, mainly Buzzards, including three mobbing a Red Kite. Yet again there was no hint of any Little Owls in the regular area so I have to conclude that since it has been over a year since my last sighting that they have gone from the area.
Spent the entire walk trying out the new 135mm lens-Ive had it a few weeks now but not really had much of won opportunity to use it. Its very heavy, razor thin depth of field at f2 and ideally needs to be used with a tripod rather than hand held, but the results are promising. I concentrated on the Blackthorn, now flowering abundantly, one of the Willows near the river, and the small wood which is now looking absolutely superb with the bluebells. Unfortunately a large proportion appear to be hybrids with the Spanish species.

Saturday, 9 April 2016

Amwell Migrants

I spent this morning at Amwell. Woke up to rain, which eased off for a bit but it started up again as I left and took a while before its eased off, and for the rest of the morning we had warm sunny spells alternating with cool cloudy spells.
I arrived at nine, and found Tony Wileman and William at the viewpoint. Both had been there for some time and looked rather damp. A quick scan was not inspiring-the water levels are still far too high though now that Barry is back the sluice has been attended to and some muddy edges are  starting to appear. My first Swallow appeared soon after I arrived-small numbers were moving through all morning. Apparently I missed a large flock of Sand Martins and was told they would be at Tumbling Bay along with a Willow Warbler, so once they had left I headed that way.
Picked up a singing Sedge Warbler somewhere near the James hide, a couple of Cetti's and there were Chiffchaffs everywhere. The Willow Warbler was near the lock in birches which also contained Blue, Great and Long Tailed Tits, at least one pair of Blackcaps and some Dunnocks. The Willow was singing at the top of a birch and was a bit too high for a decent photo. Unfortunately there was not a great deal on Tumbling Bay itself so I returned and went to the Hollycross feeders.
Very little here as well, some tits and Greenfinches were on the feeders plus the usual Pheasants. Great and Green Woodpeckers were heard here. It would have been nice to get the Marsh Tit as well but it has been rather hard to locate this year. On the way back a rather tame Coot on the towpath posed for a few images.

Barry and Bill were at the viewpoint. More hirundines were going through, mainly Swallows but I eventually got some Sand and House Martins. On the island, the regular Oystercatcher pair had appeared, joining the four Redshanks. Two Snipe were also around (having managed to survive the Sparrowhawk) and of course Lapwing are always here. Pretty good wader selection for the day, and it got better when some guys called out the incoming Black Tailed Godwit. Unfortunately it did not linger, spending about ten minutes before flying south and dropping in at Rye Meads.

Once it warmed up a bit raptors started to appear-2-4 Kites, many Buzzards, at least 3 Sparrowhawks and two Kestrels. Warblers were more evident with another two Willow Warblers singing, and there were a lot of Blackcaps as well. Just to add to the fun three Egyptian geese dropped in before I left, giving me a day list of 58, and I missed quite a bit as well.
Shortly after I got home, I popped out into the garden briefly and heard a distant singing Willow Warbler. Couldn't figure out quite where it was and after a few minutes it stopped.

Monday, 4 April 2016

The Brecks

Having been rather busy the last couple of days I've only just got round to sorting out my photos from the weekend.
Since I had commitments on Sunday, I phoned Colin and arranged a trip for Saturday. The weather looked nice, and there was a reasonable assortment of things to go for, migrants were coming in, butterflies were out in number (not that I had seen any yet this year) so it was merely a case of choosing somewhere. As happens so often this time of year we went to Thetford Forest and the Brecks rather than travel a long way and hopefully avoid any Easter holiday traffic.
A quick call in at Foxhole Heath did not produce a great deal apart from a flock of Linnets and Yellowhammers, and singing Skylarks. The road was rather busy so it was not possible to linger long.
Our first real port of call was Grimes Graves, even though it wasn't open. Walking down the entrance track, being serenaded by Mistle Thrush, Siskin, Nuthatch, Goldcrests and Chiffchaffs was a good start, though it would have been nice to get some Crossbills. We met up with a couple of guys who had been there some time and soon the rather distant Great Grey Shrike appeared. Apparently it had been a lot closer earlier-typical. I managed to get some video footage on the phone, though with the distance and heat haze I don't think its all that great. I might post a clip on my Youtube channel later.
We then went to Lyndford arboretum. The south car park, by the paddocks appears to be shut so we had to go to the main one in the arboretum. My first Blackcap was singing as I got out of the car, and there were more Nuthatches and Siskins around. The feeding station only had a few Great and Blue Tits so we carried on to the paddocks stopping off for a nice male Siskin and a Treecreeper.

At the paddocks I got my first butterflies-Brimstone and Peacock. The Hawfinches had been down earlier and we had to wait a while before tow or three flew back in. Nice views of a male bird high in the tree in the scope but as soon as I hooked the phone up it dropped down into the back of the tree and was then lost to view. I had a hunch they were feeding on the ground and sure enough through the scope I could see at least one now and then though the vegetation made things very difficult.
The Muntjac proved a bit easier to see.

After an unsuccessful  drive round some of the roads in the area checking for Goshawk and Woodlarks we called in at Weeting Heath and spent a while in the west hide. Two Buzzards were on the deck on the ridge and their presence meant that birds were scarce apart from Lapwing. Eventually crows drove the Buzzards off and two Stone Curlews appeared and seemed to perform a rather subdued display, and with tails cocked we thought they might mate until they settled down.
For various reasons, we wanted to finish rather early in the day so made Lakenheath our last destination. As expected there was a large crowd waiting outside at the feeder hoping the Willow Tit would appear, though chatting to one of them some had been there a long time. Since it's just about the only available bird in East Anglia now that they are virtually extinct in southern England its not surprising it's a popular draw. The only birds we saw round the feeders were some rather smart Reed Buntings.

Colin and I decided to have a look at Hockwold Washes as three Garganey have been present for a couple of days. Lots of duck, with some lingering Teal and Wigeon, several pairs of Shelduck and one Kingfisher flying through. A Marsh Harrier put in a brief appearance. We started to head west along the public footpath when I heard a tit with a rather buzzing call. It took a few seconds before it dawned on me that the Willow Tit was nearby. A frantic scan of the sallows behind me resulted in a rather too brief view of the bird in the top of one of the bushes before it flew-apparently towards the visitors centre and the feeders. We rushed down to where I had seen it last letting a couple of others know, but despite waiting some time there was no further sign. The smart looking Redpolls were nice though.
Before getting home we stopped off on the Eyeworth-Aswell-Newnham roads and the manure heaps as Mike Illett had reported Wheaters earlier in the day. Unfortunately none were seen, though he found more on Sunday-along with White and Yellow Wagtails.