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.