Wednesday, 12 July 2017

Spotted Flycatcher

Had to go and see the doctor last week, the health problems throughout June were not going away, and I ended up being signed off for rest and recuperation. Unfortunately, its back to work tomorrow, and having spent the last week doing basically nothing I thought I'd better go out for an hour or so this morning.
At some point I would like to get up to Therfield as the Chalkhill Blues are out and there are also a lot of Dark Green Fritillaries around. It was still dull, cool and a bit drizzly when I left, and so I headed off to Sandon.
I spent around forty minutes in the churchyard surrounded by low flying House Martins, Swallows and Swifts. Not something that happens in Stevenage anymore. Nether was the family of Spotted Flycatchers. Once upon a time, I could go out anywhere in the Stevenage area, and expect to find them in any reasonably sized wooded area, and occasionally gardens, but like so many insectivores the population has plummeted and I am lucky to see more than a handful in England every year. They are hanging on in the more rural parts of north east Herts, and villages like Sandon and Wallington still hold breeding birds.
I only saw two flycatchers as they were rather elusive, sticking to the big Sycamores and Horse Chestnuts, only making the occasional foray out of the canopy.
Sandon also has a Laughing Dove-got to be an escape but a few have been to see it 'just in case', largely because it was found at the same time as the Cornwall Amur Falcon, and could conceivably have arrived on the same weather system. Its been rather hard to find and I never managed to locate it.


I then drove up the road to Deadmans Hill and stopped for a while. Several Corn Buntings and Yellowhammers were in the hedge by the gate, and eventually one distant Quail was heard calling from one of the wheat fields.
Since it was still cool and breezy I decided to forgo Therfield and returned home via a drive around Wymondly. The local Raven wasn't around and I couldn't figure out a good place to park and check out the Peregrines.

Edit. The Dove was seen about 30 minutes after I left the Church.


Monday, 26 June 2017

Even More Butterflies

Colin and I had a short day out yesterday, visiting a couple of sites new to us in Northamptonshire. It was supposed to be ok weather-wise, with warm sunny spells, but it started off dull and cool so we weren't expecting to see much.
We started off at Glapthorn Cow Pasture, not knowing that we were 20 minutes early for a guided walk of the reserve. This is a key Black Hairstreak site, which had actually peaked a few weeks earlier than usual but we were told that there were still a few tatty individuals around.
We went in on our own and I found a hairstreak almost immediately. I didn't get good views but obtained a distant photo and assumed from zooming in that it was a White Letter, but it turned out to be a Black with rather worn forewings missing the orange edging. We had lots of Silver Washed Fritillaries, Meadow Browns, Ringlets, Commas, Tortoiseshells  and Skippers, plus several Brown Hawkers.
In the next ride we were joined by some of the walk leaders and soon after one of them picked up a Black Hairstreak that posed quite nicely.


Eventually we carried on picking up a few Purple Hairstreaks, a female Common Darter and a Southern Hawker. For some reason I had a lot of trouble getting the camera on this Purple Hairstreak and Colin managed to capture the purple in the wing really well.




We spent the next couple of hours in Fermyn Wood which has over the last week or so been very popular for very good reasons. I saw more Purple Emperors in two hours than I had done in the last ten years, and we never got to to bit where they are most abundant.
Our first two were seen outside the gate by the road which were in constant danger of being run over by cars being parked. A chat with a regular sent us a short distance down the ride where there was a birch which was the location of White Letter Hairstreaks, but by now the cloud had built up and we never managed to locate any here or anywhere else (and everyone else seemed to be unsuccessful as well). Joining a guy from Norfolk we followed him westward to a large open ride with lots of brambles roses and honeysuckle in flower. Several more Purple Emperors here and a number of White Admirals provided a good size and shape comparison. Silver Washed Fritillaries of course, plus all the usual butterflies enlarge numbers.
Colin and I eventually returned to the ride and headed south to an elm and bramble patch where the White Letters are usually seen, and we then carried on to the outskirts of Lady Wood with a couple of others, which is supposed to be a good spot, but of course failed. Did get to see even more Emperors, White Admirals and Fritillaries though. Returning to the birch, a Hairstreak finally appeared, but it settled high up and largely hidden and only two of us managed to get on it-unfortunately the other guy realised it was a Purple which my two poor images confirmed.
I reckon we saw  at least 15 Emperors, a similar number of White Admirals, and perhaps 30 Silver Washed over the course of the day. Not a bad haul considering the rather poor weather conditions.















Saturday, 24 June 2017

Some Butterflies

Today has been rather cloudy and breezy. We were supposed to get a few showers, but they seem to have missed this area. It was still rather warm though, but at least the excessive heat of the last few days has gone, so I thought I'd try for a few local butterflies.
I wasn't expecting to see or hear many birds at this time of year-adults moulting  and juveniles in hiding of course, and I only managed 26 species. A few Blackcaps, Chiffchaffs and Whitethroats are still singing, but otherwise it was anonymous cheeps and chirps from deep in the undergrowth. A few Swallows were feeding around the fields near the water tower in Aston End, and there was one or two House Martins with them (my first locally this year). Never saw any Swifts, but one over the garden this afternoon (now a garden rarity) was a surprise.
I had a couple of Speckled Woods around the plantation, and a few browns in the lanes, but nothing else until I reached a few patches of sheltered thistles along the river. They were teeming with Meadow Browns and Ringlets, a few Tortoiseshells and a Marbled White. Lots of hoverflies, bugs and ladybirds here as well.
Further on I found many more Marbled Whites, a few Small Skippers and a single Essex Skipper, plus one or two Small Heaths.No brassicas in the fields around here this year, so the one Small White seemed a bit lonely.





Sunday, 18 June 2017

Norfolk Hawkers at Amwell

This weekend has been a real scorcher, and its been a real effort to get out and about, even in the mornings, so I haven't achieved a great deal.
I did get down to Amwell yesterday for a while but a couple of hours in the blazing sun was enough for me. I was hoping to get down last weekend as the rarer Dragonflies had been showing really well, but the Elegant Tern was a bit more important, but they were still being reported during the week.
I got there reasonably early and for a while at least the heat was tolerable. Barry and Phil were the only ones present so naturally we talked about the tern.
There wasn't much of note on the bird front. One Little Ringed Plover is still around, there is a family of Egyptian Geese again, and Swallows were collecting mud so presumably nest building is still taking place. One Ring Necked Parakeet flew over, but raptors were in short supply-I saw a couple of Buzzards and one Sparrowhawk.
I called in at Tumbling Bay for a while. The Norfolk Hawkers proved surprisingly easy with two or three patrolling the narrow section leading to the southern arm. The big problem was the dominant Emperors that kept driving them off, but i got a few decent images of one perched.



The usual Red Eyed, Azure and Common Blue damsels were around.
I spent a good 90 minutes on Hollycoss trying to find the Scarce Chasers. Like the Norfolks, they were initially seen two years ago and both were expected to emerge this year, which we presume they did-the first successful breeding in Hertfordshire.
Plenty of Four Spotted Chasers and the belligerent Emperors, more damsels including Large Red, Blue Tail and Banded Demoiselles. I found at least one Black Tailed Skimmer and a rather early Brown Hawker, and out on the water a few Broad Bodied Chasers were seen. I was joined briefly by Barry and Phil, and when they had departed, Tony Hukin turned up.
We tried hard but apart from a very brief flyby of a large male blue Skimmer (seemingly too 'clean' for Black Tailed Skimmer and too big for a Broad Bodied) we never conclusively found a Scarce Chaser. We had a few Butterflies though, Meadow Browns, Ringlets and a Red Admiral, but best of all a fly through Silver Washed Fritillary. By about 1130 the heat was getting intolerable so I left Tony to it and headed home. I later learned that a male Scarce Chaser was seen in the afternoon.


Tuesday, 13 June 2017

Elegant Tern Video

As usual, Blogger has screwed things up and the video doesn't appear in some browsers. Don't know why it does this so

https://youtu.be/kGEOrdwzixw

Elegant Tern at Pagham

Way back in 2002, Colin and I made several trips down to Dawlish Warren where a large orange billed tern had been seen on and off. We went on the off days. It was presumed to be an Elegant Tern, and was later seen in Wales, but there seemed at the time to be a lot of confusion, since the photos of the Welsh bird looked rather different to some of those taken at Dawlish.
Adding to the problems were that Lesser Crested Tern can look very similar, both species have been known to hybridise, so identification of large orange/yellow billed terns has for a long time been a bit of a minefield. I believe that one or two Irish records have been accepted, but all of the British records are still work in progress.
On 7th June, a ringed bird was seen fishing off Hayling Island, and photos allowed the bird to be identified as one of three (bird C) ringed in a Sandwich Tern colony on the Banc d'Arguin in France in 2003, where it has been seen on a regular basis since then. It has also been seen in wintering in South Africa on one occasion. DNA samples were taken at the time, and proved conclusively that all three birds were pure Elegant Terns so this bird was the first British and Irish record which cannot be doubted.
Problem was it wasn't seen again over subsequent days , and checks of the accessible Sandwich Tern colonies came up negative as well, but luckily on the 10th it was pinned down to Pagham Harbour where it was seen to be paired with a Sandwich tern, and showed fairly well for those who could get there in the afternoon.
Despite having had a couple of bad days and nights I was up for the trip and Colin and I went down on Sunday morning, getting there around 10am. Didn't expect to park at Church Norton, and the RSPB car park was full too, but luckily the lay by down to road had been overlooked, so we pulled in and set off on the 1.5 mile walk along the sea wall, and reached the massive crowd in a reasonable time. I scanned the masses and found Phil Ball, having come down with Ian Kendall his usual chauffeur. Tony Hukin was with him, as was Darryl and I soon realised that most of Amwell was here too. They had missed the early sighting when the bird flew out to sea around 7.30am and was presumably out fishing somewhere.
Lots of gulls on the island, Black Heads of course also but around 100 Mediterranean Gulls-never seen so many in breeding plumage in one place before. Terns coming and going all the time, sometimes dropping down onto the closer mud for a rest. Red billed (Common), black billed (Sandwich) and yellow billed (Little) standing side by side was lovely to see, but nothing with an orange bill. Every now and again the birds would go up thanks to the Peregrines flying over but we had to wait over an hour in the building heat before rumours started to filter through the crowd that it was on the island somewhere.
Directions eventually arrived in our group but as usual with Chinese whispers there was a lot of confusion and contradiction but it eventually transpired that it was with a couple of Sandwich Terns at the back end of the island and obscured by vegetation. A couple of times I glimpsed a bird preening,flapping its wings and saw a yellowish bill so was reasonably sure I was on the bird. Luckily it flew on two occasions, if only for a few seconds each time, and most of us got very good scope views despite the range (300+ yards).
I noticed Barry and Bill move off with a few others and assumed that they were leaving but they stopped near the hide and set up their scopes. Some of us realised that views of the terns were likely to be better there and soon joined them. It only took a few moments of scanning with the scope to pick up the Elegant Tern, on the deck and despite the heat haze the views weer pretty good. My scope was commandeered for a while as the building crowd needed directions and it was simpler for them to have a quick peek than try to describe the location. I eventually got it back, and then decided to get some photos. I had the GX8 with me along with the 100-400 lens (for hoped for fly bys) but expecting distant views  also had the 500mm F4 Nikkor, and stacked 1.4 and 2x converters so thats what I used. The results were awful thanks to the heat. Heres the best still.



Video was slightly more successful.

video

It was recorded in 4k but this had to be cropped severely to 520P. At least for a brief moment you get a clear view of the bill.
Unfortunately by midday I was starting to feel a bit rough again, and we decided to quit and headed back to the car. We did consider going for the Red Footed Falcon at Frensham, but thanks to the M3 junction closure traffic was a problem on all the main roads around the M25, so we took a slow but steady scenic route home instead.











Tuesday, 6 June 2017

New Forest and Martin Down

Colin and I went out on Saturday, hoping to catch up on some of the butterflies and dragonflies. The weather was supposed to be pretty good, but it turned out to be a bit windy, a bit cooler than hoped and occasionally rather cloudy. Not good, but we managed to see a fair bit, with one or two unexpected bonuses.
We started off at Reaulieu Road station, parking at Shatterford and walking down to Denny Enclosure. Siskins and Goldcrests in the car park conifers, Mistle Thrushes by the railway, and House Martins collecting mud from a track puddle started the walk off nicely.




There were several family parties of Stonechat as usual, and we picked up a couple of Tree Pipits as well as one or two Meadows. I found some Heath Spotted Orchids off the main path, but dragonflies were hard to find-all we managed in the breeze were a few Large Red and Azure Damsels. On reaching Denny, it didn't take long to find the Redstarts (in the same trees as our last visit a couple of years back) feeding young. Never really got a good camera angle but Ive never photographed a juvenile before.




We had hopes for Dartford Warbler and Woodlark, having seen them here in the past but we weren't successful.
Our next stop was at Crockford Bridge, which has seen a lot of maintenance since our last visit with a lot of scrub clearance. Don't know if that was the reason, but Southern Damsleflies were everywhere. We also had Large and Small Reds, a Four Spotted Chaser, a Broad Bodied Chaser, possibly Keeled Skimmer and Beautiful Demoiselles. No butterflies and no Golden Rings.




We have been meaning to visit Acres Down since the Black Eared Wheatear twitch two years ago, and conditions looked good for raptors, but we only saw multiple Common Buzzards. pity as a coach party had been watching several Hobbies and judging by a back of camera slide show, a male Honey Buzzard had been displaying at extremely close range mid morning. I did hear Tree Pipits, at least one Woodlark, but Dartford Warbler couldn't be found. We also Missed  Spotted Flycatcher and Hawfinch. The pond to the north gave us a Pair of Broad Bodied Chasers, several Emperors and Azure Damsleflies, as well as some of the ponies.
The decision to forgo a search for Scarce Blue Tailed damsels due to the increasing cloud and went to Martin Down instead. Due to traffic problems on the A31 and several road closures and diversions it seemed as if we wouldn't get there and with increasing wind and cloud it like we had wasted our time. However the sun finally broke through and it warmed up a bit.
Walking up the track from silent Lane, we kicked up a few day flying moths and one or two Small Heaths, and eventually a few Small Blues were found. The muddy puddles which had been so good in past visits had gone and we never saw anything else until we reached the Dyke. The Burnt Tip Orchids were looking good, and had been for a week or two. One clump had gone over but the other three were fine. Common Spotted, a lone Pyramidal and lots of Chalk Fragrant were also seen. More Small Heaths and Small Blues, one Painted Lady and three Adonis Blues were flying in the more sheltered environment. No Green Hairstreaks though, and apparently its been a poor year for Marsh Fritillaries-one guy I spoke to had only seen a couple in four visits.













Monday, 29 May 2017

Another Bank Holiday

Havent written anything here since the beginning of the month, largely because I haven't done much with a wildlife focus.
A couple of weekends ago, Colin and I decided to have a butterfly day out, heading down to Hampshire (Noar Hill, Bentley Wood etc) to try and catch up with a few early flying species. The weather forecast was a bit uncertain, but we expected to have reasonable conditions. Got down to Noar Hill around 9.30 to find it cool and rather windy. The Early Purple orchids looked ok, though some were past it, and a few Twayblades were emerging, the Common Spotted buds weer still to emerge. Thinking that the very dry winter may have had some impact. We didn't see any other species, but didn't go to the White Helleborine spot. Butterflies consisted of one species-a single Dingy Skipper roosting on a post, nothing else in nearly an hour, and the guy I met who had been here even longer hadn't seen anything else.
We gave up and I used my RHS membership to get into the Wisley Gardens where we spent the rest of the day photographing the plants.
Some time after this I had started to get vision affecting migraine spells which aggravated my endocrine problems so I didn't get round to doing much at all. Getting through a day at work was hard enough, and the best I could manage was twenty minutes or so pottering in the garden. Missed some good birds at Amwell and Rye Meads during this period.

This brings me up to this Bank Holiday weekend, which started as usual for me on the Thursday and a visit to the Chelsea Flower Show. I managed to get the earlier train and arrived ten minutes before the gates opened. The queue starched back onto the road, and thanks to the atrocity at Manchester earlier in the week, the security had been really stepped up.
Had a great time as usual despite the somewhat lower number of big show gardens, but the heat was really sapping. Even at 830, having looked at the artisan gardens in the shaded side I was cooking and it remained that way all day. Just imagine the humidity in the huge marquee...
I took over 360 photos over the course of the day, eventually a selection will appear on Flickr.
For now, the highlight for me and many others.


I spent Friday recuperating and working in the garden. Noticed a couple of Damselflies in and around the pond-at least one Large Red and a female Azure. The reworking of the pond last autumn is starting to pay dividends.
Saturday I took Mum over to Sarah and Ed's. Unfortunately I didn't check my emails before I left so the first thing they mentioned when we arrived was the Turtle Dove in the garden. This was at 6.30, and flew off never to be seen again, though naturally I spent a great deal of time staked out by the window in hope. They have a pair of visiting Bullfinches too. Also two Painted Ladies put in an appearance while I was in the garden, along with Brimstone, Holly Blue, Small and Green Veined White and a Red Admiral. Puts my singles of Holly Blue and Red Admiral over the previous week in the shade.

Today (Monday) I spent a few hours at Amwell. after some heavy rain overnight it was rather muggy, but we hardly saw the sun which was rather disappointing as I and one or two others had gone down specifically for the dragonflies. Blue Damsels were well represented, with large numbers of Blue Tails, Red Eyed, and some Azure and Common Blues. Had a couple of Banded Demoiselles, but the only larger species were three Hairy Dragonflies.
Only three butterflies in total-singles of Speckled Wood Red Admiral and Common Blue. Very little to say about the birds, its that time of year with breeding in full swing and everything is starting to get a bit quiet.
The orchids looked nice.





Tuesday, 9 May 2017

Bluebells

Not a lot happened over the weekend. As Colin was unavailable, I had considered visiting a garden, rather than do any birding, but it was dull, overcast, cool with an unpleasant northerly breeze so I didn't bother.
On Sunday I did my usual circuit around Aston End, but there was little to show for the effort. Blackcaps were singing everywhere, but apart from that warblers were a bit thin on the ground. Still a few Chiffchaffs and Whitethroats singing, but no Lesser Whitethroat, Garden or Willow Warblers. No Yellowhammers either, but I did locate a few Linnets and Chaffinches.
Although I took a few lenses out, I spent the entire walk on plants. The Cow Parsley is looking rather nice along the lanes.

Here is some more along the dried up bed of the Beane. The lack of rain over the winter has had a really serious effect on the water table and the boreholes along the valley are not helping matters. Supposedly they are at a very low level and I suspect it will take several years to recover, always assuming we get decent amounts of rain. Plans to expand Stevenage and surrounding towns still further will ensure that this is unlikely to happen. Sustainable resources don't seem to be part of the planning process.



One of the north facing wooded slopes still has a lot of bluebells though they are starting to go over.



Had my one good bird here-a flyover Yellow Wagtail.

Tuesday, 2 May 2017

Bank Holiday Weekend

Following the successful quick dash to see the Dotterels I had a day off on Saturday, and planned a trip with Colin on Sunday. We decided to keep it fairly low key and not travel too far by staying fairly local, starting at Part and seeing and taking it from there.
Unfortunately the weather wasn't all that great, being rather cool and breezy early on with the easterly wind increasing through the day.
Paxton didn't deliver a great deal. Plenty of warblers singing though we couldn't find any Lesser Whitethroats in the usual spots, and one of the Chiffchaff songs was a bit odd, with a Willow like finish. Reading up on this it seems like most of these mixed singers are actually Willows-I didn't see the bird well enough to confirm this.
Nightingales were a bit of a struggle, and we only managed to hear three birds on our circuit, and all of them remained hidden deep in the vegetation. No Turtle Doves, no Cuckoos and very few hirundines. checked the terns, but there was nothing unusual, so overall a bit disappointing.
We stopped off for a bit at Graffham where we finally got a Lesser Whitethroat in the Plummer car park. Three Black Terns were off the dam, but tended to stay well out, never coming close. Scanned through the Common Terns and eventually found three Arctics, but they were feeding well out near the opposite shore.
Our main target was to have been the three Black ringed Stilts which had been seen at Eldernell on Saturday. By the time we got there, the wind was getting really strong as we trudged east for about a mile to scan the few remaining pools over on the far side (a consequence of the very dry winter). Didn't see any Stilts, and hopes for a Garganey or two in the ditches or a passage wader on the grazed areas never materialised. Had a pair of Marsh Harriers which was nice, but that really was it. Back in the car, had a sandwich and luckily was looking out when seven Cranes flew in, dropped down about 800 yards away before flying off low east.
Our last destination was Fowlmere, which we reached early afternoon. The main target, Turtle Doves kept their heads down due to the weather, and we didn't really see much at all. In a sheltered spot, a pair of Orange Tips were mating and nearby I saw my first Azure Damselfly of the year. Over the main lake, low flying hirundines included my first House Martins of the year.

Overnight and long overdue rain promised much for Sunday, so I thought I,d get down to Amwell a bit earlier than usual. I had expected, based on early messages to see William, Phil and Beachy, but they had left. I later discovered they had gone off to Pitstone quarry for a Kentish Plover, which occasionally strayed over into Hertfordshire-the first for something like 40 years. I did think of going myself, but I was suffering a bit with the cold wind and decided against the hour plus trip-good job as I would have got there after it had flown off.
Got a few good year ticks, with Tony, Colin Wills and a few others appearing, but the only bird ticks were a distant Cuckoo over in the Ash Valley and a couple of Common Sandpipers. Lots of hirundines low over the water, but I missed three Hobbys that appeared later in the day. Best bird was the lingering Black Tern which I attempted to photograph alongside Jay on a flying visit. It stayed well out and I never got any good images.  I was watching it with Ade when it dropped down onto the exposed mud joining the Common Terns, and we were astounded to see it fly off alongside another one. No idea when the second one arrived but both stuck around all day.













Friday, 28 April 2017

Dotterel at Therfield

Four Dotterel turned up east of Therfield village on Wednesday. I wasn't able get up that day, nor Thursday when most of the guys I know went. Bit of a dilemma as they were sticking around and the weather didn't look like they would move off Thursday night. Unfortunately although I had today off, I had booked the car in for work first thing in the morning, so it was a bit frustrating.
Luckily the birds were still present, and the work went a lot quicker than expected, so after picking the car up and having a quick lunch I was off and got there just before 1pm and spent about half an hour photographing the two pairs which were showing very well at times. I wasn't able to spend a lot of time searching for anything else, but the regular Grey Partridge were around, and there were four Corn Buntings singing along the hedgerows.



Sunday, 23 April 2017

Amwell

A rather cold morning at Amwell. Had a pretty full house today with the regular Sunday crew, Chris Beach, William, Ron, and Bill.
Unfortunately I missed the good stuff. Arrived to see most of them wit bins pointing north west up river-the concensus  was a Woodlark. Definitely a lark according to William and very short tailed, and with one reported north over Wanstead about n hour earlier seems a very safe bet. I also missed the Arctic and Black terns that went through earlier.
The first hour provided most of the action, with regular sightings of Swifts (my first of the year) Swallows. Sand Martins and Common Terns. One Little Ringed Plover was the only wader of note. Still a few Teal around, but otherwise only the usual summering ducks. Thanks to Graham White, the sluice has been cleared and there is now some mud/sand appearing though there isn't really enough to pull in waders (though the regulars have had a reasonable spring passage recently).
Lots of Sedge Warblers in now, and quite a few Blackcaps singing. Two Garden Warblers around-one by the railway line seat being the easiest, and nice to have a singing Treecreeper here too.
Only a few butterflies, one Tortoiseshell and a couple of Orange Tips.
Bill brought a few items from his moth trapping including this nice thing, shame I can't remember it and apparently its not tickle either.


Saturday, 22 April 2017

Caspian Gull

Didn't feel like going out this morning-it was dull and drizzly and I didn't feel all that great either so apart from a bit of shopping I stayed in, hoping to do a bit of gardening in the afternoon. 
I was just getting to the end of a bit of lunch, when I got a tweet from Tom Spellar about a Caspian Gull at Fairlands-a ringed bird that has been seen at Amwell and on the Thames earlier in the year. Five minutes later I was there and saw it distantly on a bouy, but it then dropped into the water so I got a few shots while Tom came over to me. We had a bit of a chat keeping an eye on it as it flew around with several Lesser Black Backs and it eventually came down near the cafe to the piles of bread.
We walked over but unfortunately it was flushed by a dog, and appeared to fly off to the west. Mike Illett then arrived so we gave him the bad news. However there was a bird on the boat jetty which looked promising so few went over to check-confirmed that it was the Caspian which immediately flew off and spent the next hour or so either on the water or flying around, taking bread from the ducks occasionally. Several lesser Black Backs and a 1w/1s Herring Gull made a nice contrast.
We think its probably the first for the Stevenage area.




Tuesday, 18 April 2017

Wheatears at Norton.

I was thinking I ought to have taken the camera to work today, and I should have. The Ashwell dung heaps over the last few days had several Yellow Wagtails and Wheatears, and there have also been a few Ring Ousels at Therfield.
As expected, an early morning message from Tom Spellar reported three Wheatear and a singing Garden Warbler at Norton Green on the tip, so I popped over at lunch time.
Despite the bright sunshine there was a nasty north easterly wind and it was rather cold. I didn't hear the Garden Warbler, though I met a birder who though he might have-I did hear a warbler tacking deep in a bush but never saw it. We did mange to locate the three Wheatears-two nice males and a female though they were a long way off. A brief search of the northern area produced my first singing Whitethroat, a couple of Skylarks and Linnets and virtually nothing else apart from Blackbirds trying to give the impression of Ring Ousels.

At home, I have had what is a rare visitor these days-House Sparrows! A pair have been collecting nesting material though I don't know yet where they are going. A bit like the good old days, we also have a pair of Starlings nesting in the roof for the first time in at least ten years.

Portland and Poole

With family coming up for Easter, opportunities for getting out were rather limited over the holiday. Friday was shopping, Sunday and Monday were reserved for the visitors so that just left Saturday, and Colin wasn't impressed with the lack of targets when I spoke on Friday night. I did however have Portland in mind. Over the previous few days, one or more Vagrant Emperor dragonflies had been seen-rather elusive but there was a chance, and Saturday seemed best for the weather, so off we went.
William had reported seeing an Emperor on Friday in a car park below Southwell, so we made that our first port of call. First problem, no wildlife enthusiasts, second it was cold and windy and thirdly there didn't seem to be any suitable locations. I had a search anyway but came up with nothing. I eventually discovered it had been a brief flyby, and I also learnt it was location for Wall Lizards, which would have been worth seeing had it been a bit warmer and sunnier.
So we left and went to the Bill which was filling up with tourists. One or two Wheatears were flying around in the MOD compound, and there were lots of auks Shags and Gannets off the west cliffs, so we picked up a few year ticks. A search around the Bill failed to locate Purple Sandpipers mainly I suspect due to the large number of people clambering over the rocks taking selfies. There was a rather nice sailing ship offshore.



We then went over to the observatory, stopping off at the quarry where there was a rather vocal Grasshopper Warbler singing, but typically not showing (they had a rather impressive 12+ in the area over the next few days). The obligatory quarry Little Owl shot-


We called in at the bookshop but I didn't see anything to tempt me so I went to ask Martin Cade for advice about the Emperor. Turned out he had no details of the recent sightings and had spent many unsuccessful hours searching over the previous week. The observatory log was rather poor, with few birds other than Wheatears being reported (should have been there today, with loads of things coming in), but decided to walk up to the Top Fields anyway. It was cold, windy and rather birdless though Swallows were flying through on all the time .
Having heard that there were a few waders at Ferrybridge we called in briefly, but there was a distinct lack of Whimbrels and plovers, in fact there were only two Oystercatchers visible. I did see my first Common Terns of the year though, but apparently missed a couple of Sandwich Terns.
A stop off at Radipole was very brief. Very little there or at Lodmoor so we decided to call it a day, with a diversion to Lytchett Fields for the over wintering Lesser Yellowlegs.
This was a new site for us and a bit of a challenge as there were no real visitor facilities and directions assumed you knew the place. Had to park in a side street, walk down a long lane and through the gate where a marshy area could be seen. One Pied Wagtail, a few gulls and a Little Egret were the only birds from the viewpoint, but at least there was a display board telling us we were at the wrong viewpoint. So retraced our steps, down another lane and over a stile into the grazing marsh where we could see a couple of distant birders.
The pools held a lot of birds, mainly Black Headed Gulls, Shelduck Mallard and Teal, with a few waders. Mainly Black Tailed Godwits, there were also a couple of Ruff, and several parties of Redshank. The Lesser Yellowlegs was a bit elusive, tending to associate with the Redshanks but often disappearing behind large clumps of juncus. It was a long way off and too far for the camera, but it was nice to see one in breeding plumage again-I think my last one was in 1993, and this was also the first Lesser Yellowlegs since the 2002 Amwell bird, and the one in 2003 on the Hayle.
On the way back to the car two male Orange Tips on Periwinkle were worth stopping for but the wind was a problem, so most photos went straight into the bin.






















Monday, 10 April 2017

Amwell dead boring.

After the reasonably successful Saturday trip I went to Amwell on Sunday morning. It didn't start well. I knew that the A10 roadworks on the viaduct would be a problem, I didn't expect one 40mph lane all the way from Ware to the A 414 junction. When I got off there I hit a grid locked roundabout courtesy of the Amwell Car Boot. They had been threatened with closure in the past because of this but it seems like things are as bad as they ever were.
Most of the usual Sunday regulars were present at the watchpoint when I arrived though some were on holiday. Hadn't seen a few of them for some time so it was nice to catch up. No point birding as there was absolutely nothing happening. Water levels have dropped slightly since my last visit but there is still no exposed mud to bring in waders, there were no hirundines, terns, Sedge or Reed Warblers , Cuckoo etc. Three Parakeets flying over were the avian highlight and two male Orange Tips the only butterflies seen so I gave up (as did everyone else) and did a bit of work in the garden.

Got a message from Simon in the afternoon-as he had hoped he had his first Large Red Damselfly in his Bengeo garden. Not many reported this year, and its still on the early side.

The Brecks

A rather warm and sunny weekend, with temperatures way above normal. This had an effect on birding, with few migrants, and a strange lack of things that would normally be expected to be seen at this time of year.
On Saturday I went with Colin out to the brecks, hoping to pick up some of the species that are found there. On the way though, we stopped off at the dung heaps around Ashwell. A few Yellow Wagtails have been reported here as usual, but so far Wheatears have been non-existent, and things on the whole have been rather quiet. Being a rather misty start there was a chance one or two things may have dropped in over night and stuck around.
We checked out all the extant heaps, some of the older ones have been rather reduced in size, limiting their bird appeal but a couple of new ones have appeared. Unfortunately, all we saw were  three or four singing Corn Buntings, a pair of Linnets and a single Pied wagtail.
The drive up to Lakenheath Fen was a bit different to usual. The Barton Mills services on the A 11 were on fire, and cars were parked outside the Lakenheath airbase with hoards of aviation twitchers lined up waiting for a squadron of F15s to take off (presumably due to Mr Trumps recent adventures in the Middle East). Would have been nice to linger as its been a long long time since I saw any significant activity here. Used to be fun driving past with the car shaking (and warming up) as F111s fired up their engines.
By the time we reached RSPB Lakneheath, the F15s were taking off and for the rest of the morning we could hear aircraft in the distance but couldn't really see anything. It was getting rather warm with clear blue skies and insects were out in abundance. Saw my first Orange Tips, Green Veined Whites and Speckled Woods plus a lot of Peacocks Brimstones and Small Tortoiseshells. On the washes, the first noticeable bird was a Great White Egret dwarfing a nearby Little Egret. Rather harder to spot, being tucked away in a corner was the Glossy Ibis, so both target birds for the reserve were ticked off in a couple of minutes. A few Avocet and Redshank were the only waders, with lots of Teal Shoveller and Mallard still remaining.
A walk out to the western viewpoint failed to produce much. Garganey were supposed to be around, but no-one seemed to be able to locate any, there were a few Snipe on one of the scrapes, and several Marsh Harriers were in the air. A very early Grasshopper Warbler had been reported and I thought I heard it a couple of times but it was being drowned out by very vocal Wrens in the nearby wood. No sign of any Cranes but we did hear and eventually see a Bittern in flight.
After a bit of lunch we headed off to Lynford, stopping off at a couple of locations in Thetford Forest to scan some of the clearings. The first one, where we had been a couple of years ago produced one Buzzard and one female Goshawk, though both were a long way off. The second wasn't as good, with no Goshawk and no Woodlarks either.
We reached Lynford in the early afternoon, not really the best time but we were hopeful. More butterflies, including a rather nice Holly Blue.

  
By far the most noticeable birds were rather vocal Nuthatches which seemed to be every where.



The feeding station was quiet with birds coming down to the drinking pool. A couple of Dunnocks and Robins, two Grey Squirrels, a male Siskin, and later on a male Brambling.


No Hawfinches here, and none down at the paddocks, though I did find a Marsh Tit, and a Reed Bunting posed on the bridge.


As I said earlier, a rather odd kind of day. No hirundines anywhere, I would have expected some over the larger bodies of water. No Cuckoos heard either, and apart from Chiffchaffs and a couple of Blackcaps warblers were non existent. Also despite the warmth, apart from the Marsh Harriers, and single Goshawk and Buzzard, we only saw a couple of other raptors all day-two Kestrels and a Red Kite.