Saturday, 23 January 2016

Amwell Today

After a bit of a break-I wasn't able to get out last weekend I was itching to get out today. The cold weather of the last few days has gone, and although it has warmed up a bit it is still a bit chilly out, though in the sunshine (when we get some) its not bad.
We had a decent sunrise, but during breakfast mist started to form and I wondered if it was worth going down to Amwell. I left anyway and by the time I got to Tonwell it was starting to clear and the sun was shining.
Parking up as usual, I was disappointed in not hearing the Nuthatch. Singing Song and Mistle Thrushes were heard along the lane, along with Robins, Tits and Blackbirds. No-one was at the viewpoint when I arrived, though Bill turned up a few minutes later. For some time the lighting was rather poor, overcast and mist over the water, but this gradually improved.
My first Snipe of the year flew down to the waters edge, and moments later the resident female Sparrowhawk flew down and took it. Luckily the next year tick lasted a bit longer. Bill picked up the pings of the female Bearded Tit that has been present for several months now (though hard to see) and we found it in one of the smaller patches of reed, and after a few minutes it flew out and into one of the bigger patches. Bill left to find Barry and I stuck it out at the viewpoint for a bit longer. The red-head Smew was a long way off at the bottom of the pit by the big island. I considered going down to the hide but the views wouldn't have been all that great.
I went over to the walkway hoping to pick up some of the woodland species. The big Chaffinch flock didn't have anything else, and there were only a couple of Golcrests around. The Siskin flock is still present, and I also found the first of several Treecreepers.

I found Phil at Hollycross filling up the feeders. We spent some time there, with Long Tail Tits, Goldfinches, Blue Tits  Chaffinches and Pheasants being the only numerous birds. Single Great Spotted Woodpeckers and Greenfinch came down but we failed with Marsh Tit, Coal Tit and Redpolls. A couple of weeks ago Trevor and the rest of the Sunday regulars picked up a Lesser Spotted Woodpecker here, the first site record for a couple of years.
Back at the view point it was getting rather busy but nothing much had changed. With the Sun shining, it would have been nice if the Bittern (seen last night for only the second time this winter) might put in an appearance but it did bring out a few raptors including an overhead Buzzard.

Monday, 11 January 2016

Pallid Harrier

Since the year started off on a slow note, it was good to get out yesterday, and Colin and I had a pretty good time in North Norfolk. The only downside was the rather cold wind which was really unpleasant at times.
We made our first stop at Flitcham where the juvenile Pallid Harrier has been present since it moved from Snettisham late last year. Its been fairly predictable in that it appears circa 8am but then gets a bit erratic, usually being seen every couple of hours but sometimes vanishing all day. We were still travelling when it was reported, and did not actually get there until some time after 0900, joining the small crowd in the field north east of Abbey Farm. Apart from Wood Pigeons and Goldfinches it was pretty quiet. There were supposed to be Brambling around, I guess around the farm itself which is a pretty good small reserve with lots of good birds.
After about twenty minutes, one of the guys picked up a Harrier along the ridge, keeping very low behind the hedge, which he suspected to be a ring tail Hen. A little while later someone from Warrington pulled up, having paid several unsuccessful visits, said he was on his way home but thought he would make one last try. Having been told it had not been seen for 90 minutes, he decided not to stay. Guess what turned up not long after. The Pallid came down from the hill to the east flying very rapidly over the stubble and on to the farm barn where it must have put on a fantastic show for the small group of birders there. It then appeared to fly along the hedge towards us but then doubled back over the barn and then flew back east high over the field, more distantly this time  and was eventually lost to view. I managed to get a few poor shots on it's return, having been too excited with the scope views to consider getting the camera on it.

Our next stop was Brancaster Staithe and the rather obliging wintering Red Necked Grebe. Rob Wilson had staked it out and we were advised to use his car as a shelter as the grebe would otherwise tend to keep it's distance. With the tide well out it spent most of it's time feeding in the tidal channel among Wigeon and Teal. I tried to get some video but every time  I hit the record button it dived, so ended up with a few phone scoped stills spoilt by the very strong wind. A reasonable selection of duck and waders also helped to boost the year list a bit.

Titchwell ended up as our final site of the day, and it was almost a rerun of our previous visit in December. We spent some time looking at the drained pool on Thornham Marsh where there were a number of pipits present. Most were Meadow, but I could see at least two Water Pipits, but none of us were sure if (presumed Scandinavian) Rock Pipits were present as reported in the visitor centre logbook. The scan of the fresh marsh was cut short (larger than usual numbers of Avocet being the most notable) as reserve guru Ray told us of a Merlin showing towards the beach. Unfortunately it flew shortly before we got there, and to make matters worse was seen soon after hunting along the tidal lagoon bank-and I was on the wrong side searching for Spotted Redshanks.
I stayed a while, as did others hoping it would reappear but I guess it had hunkered down somewhere sheltering from the wind, so we went on to the sea. This was a bit of a let down as the few birds were distant due to the low tide and wind. Several flocks of very distant Common Scoter, none showing any trace of white wings, a couple of distant Great Crested Grebe and Red Throated Divers, and a few Mergansers in Brancaster Bay. The very tame Black Headed Gull was entertaining but wouldn't quite take crisps from my hand, and I got a bit worried when it almost seemed to follow me back when we decided to return.
A stop of at the pool again did not produce any pipits this time, but the Barn Owl put in an appearance. It was distant, but gradually got closer and put on a good show for us.

The last birds we saw, in the car park woods were a few Siskin. Redpolls were supposed to be around but we couldn't find any, and a quick search of the woodland floor failed to produce Woodcock.
The long tedious drive home was enlivened by a herd of Whooper Swans beside the A10 at Brandon Creek, though we couldn't see any Bewicks unfortunately.

Saturday, 9 January 2016

A Wet Walk

This year has not exactly got off to a flying start-looking at Bubo Listing this morning I was 231 out of 243 year lists with a grand total of 19. Not unexpected as I did not get out last weekend and there is not much to see while I am work.
News of an on-off Bonaparte's Gull at Wilstone, a Hertfordshire first should have seen me there this morning, but the clutch needs looking at and I would not want to risk the trip, so the only option for me to boost the list was to go over to Aston End.
Since my last visit on a lovely late autumn day in October, things were a bit different. No leaves, lots of mud and the river Beane flowing quite nicely after the very wet spell we have had. Before I got out into the countryside I found the local House Sparrow flock, which appears to be doing ok with around 15 birds, a few streets away. One of the gardens is full of feeders which presumably helps to explain why they don't bother coming over to my ones. The other flock around Lords Farm seems to be pretty healthy as well.
There was not a great deal else on the way to Aston End, a singing Song Thrush, a  Mistle Thrush, the usual tit flock in the plantation, and lots of Robins, Dunnocks and pigeons. A flyover Green Woodpecker was the first notable bird, but things only picked up when I was on my way down to the ford.
I picked up a couple of Jays and then a female Bullfinch-not in the usual spot and a few other finches. The hedges have been partly cut-only on one side of the lane, which hopefully means that there is a more considered approach to management now. A scan along the river valley produced a lot of distant small brown jobs flying around, a few Fieldfare as usual and a huge flock of Wood Pigeons-moost of the fields are planted with brassicas this winter.
Beyond the well flowing ford, the high ground along the Walkern road was reasonably dry but did not produce much. All of the sloes, dogwood, hawthorn, rose  and spindle berries have pretty well been eaten and it was not until I got to the bridge below the paddocks I found anything. More Fieldfare of course, this is the traditional spot for them, though with distant gunfire echoing round I had no idea of numbers. However there were at least 17 Yellowhammers here, by far the largest count for some time. Difficult to be sure since there were Linnets here as well and being some distance away I had trouble distinguishing the females.
There was at least one Kestrel here as well, plus two Buzzards, and as I made my way upriver I found a few Redwing as well. The major disappointment was the lack of Little Owls again. I did not see any here at all last year-only heard birds a couple of times early on so I am wondering if they are still around. As they have been here ever since I started birding in the mid 80's it would be a shame to have lost them.
Still I managed to double my year list-it is now a stunning 38!

Friday, 1 January 2016

Happy New Year

Usually New Years Day is spent with Colin, usually doing North Norfolk, though occasionally we have visited Portland, or kept things easy with a tour round the fens. With Red Rumped Swallow, Pallid Harrier available, and the Kings Lynn Iceland Hull and Holme Shorelarks remaining it seemed a safe bet that Norfolk would be the destination.
Sometime yesterday afternoon I realised that a cold was on the way, and having discussed it with Colin, cancelled today's trip. Broke out the 'medicine' (a rather nice soothing Tawny Port) and had an early night only disturbed by the inevitable fireworks.
So today the furthest I got was the bin and the bottom of the garden and a species total of 12, the best being the four Long Tailed Tits that flitted through mid-morning.
No reports today of the Harrier, the Gull  and the Swallow, so it looks like we might have made a good decision but knowing how popular a New Year Norfolk bash is I guess that there have been a lot of disappointed birders today, though with Rough Legs, Golden Pheasant and  a Lesser Yellowlegs, plus the usual stuff it probably wasn't too bad.

Did a quick survey of the garden this afternoon and recorded the following plants in flower-
Abutilon Kentish Belle
Fuchsia Fulgens
Cuphea Cyanea Hyssopifolia
Schizostylis hybrids
Veronica Peduncularis
Marconi Rose
Helleborus Foetidus
Ugni Moline
Osteospermum hybrids
and a south african Erica species whose name escapes me.

The following are in bud
Helleborus Orentalis hybrid
Salvia species
Polygala Myrtifolia
Geum Prinses Juliana

A lot of the tender/half hardy stuff is still going thanks to the mild winter, and because I have a south facing sheltered garden I can get away with growing things that probably shouldn't survive in North Herts.