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.