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.

Thursday, 6 April 2017

Long Tailed Tit

Couple of images taken on Sunday at Tyttenhanger of a Long Tailed Tit collecting nesting material.



Monday, 3 April 2017

Early Migrants

I spent a fair bit of time working in the garden this weekend, but Sunday morning, just for a change I went to Tyttenhanger as it seems to be good at the moment for waders and migrants in general. As I have recently signed up to the Friends of Tyttenhanger Gravel Pits http://friendsofthgp.wixsite.com/ornithology I thought I might as well try and participate.
Parked as I usually do by the water works in Colney Heath and was immediately struck by the number of Blackcaps around the Model Railway club and the track down to the pits. With several singing Chiffchaffs as well it really felt like spring was getting going.
Reaching the corner of the main pit, I picked up the two Oystercatchers, lots of big gulls and some ducks and herons, but not a lot else, so I walked along the river to the woods. Here I found and heard many more Blackcaps, Chiffchaff, a couple of woodpeckers and a Nuthatch.
I forgot, as usual that the viewing screen over the main pit is a long way from the exposed mud and really needs a scope, but being able to see most of the waters edge it wasn't long before three Little Ringed Plovers were found, and a Green Sandpiper was plain hide and seek along one of the well vegetated margins. Carrying on to the causeway a small flock of Sand Martins went over, and about the same time I heard and then found my first Willow Warbler of the year.
Wandering around the farm I bumped into some of the regulars before trying my luck at the feeders but failed to see any of the Tree Sparrows-apparently they had been down a little while earlier but only a couple of people had seen them. The high point gave me a chance to look more closely at the mud, but only one of the Little Rings was still present, and seemed to be very active with display flights over the water. Later when I got back to the corner gate, joining a couple of others, a second bird had joined it and we suspect that they were paired up, and hopefully would stick around to breed. Ax Amwell seems to be in a very poor state for waders at the moment, with little hope of any staying and breeding, it looks like Tyttenhanger is going to be the place in my part of Hertfordshire.
Getting ready to leave, I had a quick look at Twitter to discover that twenty minutes earlier a Short Eared Owl had been found at Norton Green, so headed there straight away. Unfortunately just as I had walked under the motorway I learnt that it had flown off high, being mobbed by Buzzards. Bit disappointed as my only Short Eared in the Stevenage area was a distant owl flying away from me in Aston End some 30 years ago which was never identified with certainty-in those days Long Eared were still wintering in the area.

Tuesday, 28 March 2017

Insects with the PL 100-400

Sunday was very much like Saturday, sunny, warm in sheltered areas but with a nasty cold breeze. I took the new 100-400 lens out for a stroll around Aston End and up the river Beane.
Birdwise it was a bit disappointing. There were seven singing Chiffchaffs in total, the only 'spring' visitor I picked up. Three singing Greenfinches were about par for the course, and there were around a dozen Skylarks and five Yellowhammers. The winter thrushes seem too have departed now, and Meadow Pipits and Linnets seem to have gone as well. Still n Bullfinch, Little Owl etc.
One interesting bird was up near the Chells Manor radio mast-an alba Wagtail flying  north. Seemed to be rather too pale on the mantle to be Pied and I strongly suspect it was a White Wagtail.
Had more success with butterflies. A total of two Commas and five Small Tortoiseshells, most being around a small willow bush near what little is left of the river Beane (now thanks to the dry winter just a series of elongated puddles).




Saturday, 25 March 2017

Amwell

Spent a couple of hours at Amwell this morning with Bill and William. Although a very sunny day, the raw north easterly was a bit unpleasant.
There has been a lot of work done around the reserve recently, a lot of trees have been removed-not sure why and a wedge has been 'layed' though trashed might be more appropriate. The water levels are still rather high though I was told that Barry did adjust the sluice before heading off to southern Argentina and a south atlantic cruise.
Most of the wintering duck have departed, with one drake Wigeon remaining. One Egyptian Goose is around, but I missed a very quick visit by a pair of Shelduck. Waders almost non existent of course as there is hardly any habitat for them, though a pair of Redshank have returned.
Several singing Chiffchaffs and a rather quiet Blackcap were the only hint of spring until late in the morning when a Comma and a few Brimstones appeared.

Rather than take the usual camera gear I too the GX8 with me, as a Panasonic Leica 100-400 lens arrived yesterday. The combo hardly weighs anything compared to my usual gear and made for a more comfortable walk. The lens focuses reasonably close should be good for insects and things. Didn't get to shoot any of those so once I got home I tried it on a few garden plants.





Sunday, 19 March 2017

A Few Good Birds Today

 Rather windy day today, but went out for a short trip with Colin and picked up some good birds.
First port of call was the Little Bunting at Great Barford. Since we were last there, the field has been ploughed up, but the local birders have been seeding the spot and the bunting has stuck around.
 Two birders were there when we arrived-got closer and recognised the two usual suspects on a day out from Tyttenhanger. They had been there for a bit without luck, but shortly after we arrived the Little Bunting appeared and spent most of the time feeding, flitting up into a bush now and again when disturbed by Great Tits and Robins. Just for a change, I decided to stick with the 500mm lens and the GX8, usually with the 2x converter but occasionally also with the 1.4x. Took a video sequence, which will be on Youtube later, but heres a pretty good image (effectively 2800mm on a full frame 35mm camera).


The wind was a bit of a problem and I had to up the iso quite a bit to get an adequate shutter speed.

 Next stop wasn't too far away at Colmworth/Little Staughton where a Great Grey Shrike had been around the church for a few days. Unfortunately there was no sign in the appropriate fields but eventually a guy turned up and told us it was on some wires a few fields to the north. Just a speck in the scopes, so some of us moved a bit closer, and found it hunting a field using the wires as a perch. Managed to get pretty close at times but as before, the wind played havoc with my camera.




Looked really nice in the occasional sunshine, but just wish it wasn't so shaky. We attracted interest from one or two passers by on the rather busy road, so had to explain what it was, where it was from and so on.
 We then called in at Diddington Pits north of Paxton. We had wanted to go there last time we were in the area but the mist and fog meant it was pointless. Talking to some who had been here recently, I had expected to have a lot of difficulty picking up the female Ring Necked Duck, but it proved easy at first-I saw a small group of Tufties, scanned through and it was the third bird I looked at. Unfortunately they all spent most of the time asleep and it was then very tricky to locate, not helped by having to look into the sun so they were backlit in the glare. It woke up for a bit but I never managed to get any worthwhile images. Three Red Crested Pochards were a bit of a bonus.
 Rather than call it a day we headed home via the Lodge, Sandy. A Twite has been wintering nearby but hasn't been seen recently but it was worth trying.
Bumped into Richard Pople who gave us directions, and we walked down through the reserve to Biggleswade Common, picking up Nuthatch, Coal Tits and Great and Green Woodpeckers. The damp patch of wood was just outside the reserve boundary, and while the Twite wasn't seen, we had several Lesser Redpolls-rather scarce this winter and a somewhat larger paler Mealy Redpoll. They seemed to spend most of the time down in a ditch, and seemed to be feeding predominantly close to the water, rather than up in the trees where I usually expect to see them.
On the way back through the heath which being on the east side was sheltered from the fierce wind, I picked up my first Peacock and Comma butterflies. We had a brief stop at one of the ponds but there were no visible amphibians and then spent a while hoping that a Brambling would come down to one of the feeding stations but it never appeared.









Tuesday, 14 March 2017

Staying Local

I have not been on any birding trips for a few weeks now, for various reasons, and most of the time I have stayed close to home.
The weekend before last, I popped down to Amwell for a couple of hours with the expectation of picking up a few year ticks. It was one of those nice late winter days with a hint of spring in the air, bright and mild. A few of the plums were in flower, catkins were out on the hazels and leaves were starting to emerge. Bird wise it was a bit of a nothing day really. The usual pair of Oystercatchers were back on the island, and there were still plenty of Wigeon Gadwall etc as the water levels were still pretty high. The wintering red head Smews had decided to hide for the day and no-one could find them, pity really as I was banking on getting them before they departed. Of course they were back again the next day. I couldn't find Marsh Tit, Nuthatch, Treecreeper or Bullfinch either. With a few hirundines in the country there was a chance of one appearing, but I was about a week early.
I have been around Aston End and along the nearby stretch of the Beane a couple of times, the most recent being on Sunday. In between my two visits, some of the roadside hedges have been cut but in a somewhat more sympathetic way than the usual hack and slash destruction. Unfortunately, with the rather dry winter, the river level is quite low. It is still flowing but I can see it drying up completely over the summer unless we have a lot of rain over the next few months. The recent storm Doris doesn't seem to have caused much in the way of damage, with only a couple of leaning trees in the conifer plantation.
Skylarks are singing in small numbers, and the fields have a few Meadow Pipits-but I haven't seen more than five yellowhammers and a single Linnet. Greenfinches seem to be increasing in recent years and five were singing around the village on Sunday (and I heard one while in the garden yesterday which is a bit of a bonus), but there has been no sign yet of Bullfinches-there should be at least three occupied territories.
Thrush numbers are declining as spring approaches. A couple of weeks back I had around 35 Fieldfare, 25 Redwing with several Song Thrushes in a flock by the river, but on Sunday there were around 30 rather distant birds-mainly Fieldfare flying around Lords Farm. Twenty Mallard were sitting in an adjacent field, no idea where they came from as its rare to see more than the odd bird around this stretch as there only a very small pond here and the river is not suitable for ducks these days.
I heard a Tawny Owl in the regular spot, but as usual Little Owls were absent. With only a couple of encounters over the last three years its pretty conclusive that the nest hole that has been so reliable over the last 30 years has been abandoned. There is a lot more disturbance in the area these days and I am hoping that they have found a quieter spot further up river, though I have yet to find it.
The only hint of spring on Sunday was a single singing Chiffchaff some Celandines in flower, and a few Blackthorn blossoms  just starting to open.

Saturday, 11 March 2017

Couple from the Garden Today

Busy in the garden when the weather permits. Some of the bulbs purchased last year are in flower at the moment.



Thursday, 23 February 2017

Waxwings Again

One of my friends arrived at work, having walked up from the bus station, showed me a picture on her phone and said "are these the birds everyone is interested in?" Four Waxings, including one drinking in a puddle on the cycle path. Needless to say I sent her down to see Sam, who rushed out and returned a little while later having failed to see them.

They have not been seen at all over the last few days, despite many searching on Monday,  and we presumed they had moved on.

Lunchtime, and I was sitting in the car when 8 birds flew into the other big tree in the car park. I knew what to expect when I got the bins out and onto them. Rushed back in and dragged Sam out and we had superb views of the birds for several minutes clinging onto the tree for dear life in the gale force winds. Unfortunately they flew off shortly afterwards, and despite keeping an eye out we never saw them again.

Only other notable event was that one of the big Poplars between us and the leisure park came down in the high winds in the afternoon.


Monday, 20 February 2017

Norfolk and a Bluethroat

On Saturday Colin and I went out with a view to catching up on the large number of seabirds off the North Norfolk coast and picking off one or two things on the way back.
The drive up was rather uneventful and a stop off at Choseley was rather brief due to work around the barns. We had a flock of Corn Buntings on the lane north of the houses, and there seemed to be an awful lot of partridges around. The hedges appeared to be very quiet as well, and about the only other birds of note were a distant flock of Golden Plover.
Titchwell was rather busy when we arrived. There has been a bit of work and some of the more mature trees have been removed producing a few more open areas between the centre and the car park. There wasn't much on any of the feeders-there are supposed to be a few Mealy Redpolls and Bramblings around so we headed up to the sea.
One of the Water Pipits was rather elusive on the Thornham pool. It was pretty close but tended to hide in the sedge and reed clumps. Another at the back of the pool was very flighty and never settled down to give good views. The fresh marsh held large flocks of Avocets and Golden Plovers with a few Black Tailed Godwits and Knot. Lapwing, Curlew Redshank and Grey Plover were present in small numbers in various spots and I picked up a couple of Spotted Redshanks on the tidal lagoon.
As expected most of the birders were on the beach sea watching. There were two big flocks of Common Scoter with maybe a dozen Velvets among them. Only a few Eider this time-numbers seem to have been low to non-existent for several years now, but I don't know why. After some time four Scaup dropped in-a nice bonus, and a single drake Long Tailed Duck flew in briefly saving us a trip to Holme where most of the birds are currently. There were a lot of divers and grebes, though most were very distant, and tough to identify. One or two Red Throated Divers were a bit closer in one of the scoter flocks, and some saw a Great Northern there as well. We saw four Slavonian Grebes fairly easily, but the Red Necked Grebes weren't reported, though I did see a slightly smaller grebe a long way out with a couple of Great Crested Grebes.
No Bearded Tits, Cetti's Warblers, and more surprisingly no herons, egrets, Dunlin Ruff or Snipe either. The only raptors were a pair of Marsh Harriers, so a bit of an odd morning with a lot of missed year ticks.

We left after an early lunch and headed off to Willow Tree Fen near Spalding and its over wintering Bluethroat that had been found the previous week. We arrived just as many were leaving and the news that we would have to wait 40 minutes for its next appearance. While waiting, the occasional scan of the pools and reeds produced a few duck species, one Marsh Harrier and a pair of Kestrels. Skylarks were singing over the sheep grazed fields.
Sure enough, after about 40 minutes the Bluethroat popped out and put on a good show.









  Our final stop was Deeping Lakes. There had apparently been a Cattle Egret somewhere on the reserve though information was vague, but more importantly there is a Long Eared Owl roost viewable from the main hide. We picked up a few Goosander and met a couple outside the hide with an owl sort of showing. It raised its ear tufted and opened its eyes occasionally but remained rather obscured. My first proper digiscoped attempt with the GX8 was not a great success though using the phone app as a remote control did help.



Its is a Long Eared Owl. Honest.
I think I will need to put in a bit more work-the Zeiss 35mm is big and heavy and only covers about 60% of the sensor. Might actually get better results with the 500mm lens and stacked converters, but I might even try the Questar as well.

We stopped off in the industrial area in Stevenage but there were no sign of the Waxwings. They were reported again on Sunday in several locations but no-one appears to have seen them today although there seemed to be a few birders searching.
I did however see the Peregrine briefly at lunchtime low over the Leisure Park. We assumed that the refurbishment of Southgate House most of last year had driven the bird off, but it has been seen a few times over the last few weeks.

Thursday, 16 February 2017

Waxwings at Work

Sometime after lunch I received a tweet about 15 Waxwings round the corner in Argyle Way near the railway line, between 1230 and 1330. Since I wasn't feeling all that great, I thought I'd leave work early and have a stroll round-its only a couple of minutes and I could do with some air. Unfortunately a brief message some time later said they'd flown off, but I decided to go anyway and finished at 3.
I was walking up to the car to dump my bag and pick up the bins and noticed some interesting birds fly into the big oak by the car park exit. Got the bins up and was looking at a flock of very vocal Waxwings!
I popped back into work and called one of my mates out-unfortunately the one who is really interested had left ten minutes earlier.....

Sunday, 12 February 2017

Panasonic Lumix GX8-initial thoughts.

Looks like its a stay in weekend-the weather isn't very nice, sleet and a little bit of snow, very cold and the wind is increasing. I had hoped to get up to the Norfolk coast but there isn't much news at the moment, I guess a lot of others are staying in as well.

I thought I would write a bit about the new camera, which I've had for a month now. I haven't really used it a great deal, so its very much a first impression.

Some years ago, I started to consider getting a small camera of some kind. I think it was driving into work one day that got me thinking. There had been a very heavy frost, the trees by the roadside looked absolutely fantastic and even though there was no-where to stop I regretted not having a camera to hand. A bit later, at the Chelsea Flower Show, I came to the conclusion that taking the D3s, and Zeiss 35 and 100mm lenses was a bit much. They fitted the rucksack style bag (barely) but weighed a ton, and after a day on my feet, and several bags of purchases I would get home completely exhausted. What I really needed was a high quality but much smaller and lighter camera that I could have with me at all times to complement rather than supplement my Nikon gear.
Initially I started to look at the compact point and shoots and there seemed to be two options. I could either go with one of the super zooms which at the time had just about reached 1000mm effective focal length, or one more limited but better overall performance that could also be used for digiscoping.
A trip to a camera store with Colin offered another alternative with a mirrorless compact system camera. I spent quite a bit of time in there playing with an Olympus E-PL5 and a couple of lenses and it seemed to offer a lot of benefits. Some of the pancake style lenses made it pretty much a pocket camera and I found out later, one of the kit lenses would fit an old digiscoping adaptor (which although bought for a Nikon scope luckily fitted the Leica that I currently use). I later had a look at a few others, including the Sony Nex-6 and various Fuji's but eventually decided on the tiny but superbly performing Sony RX100 with it's 28-100mm zoom. A favourite of many digiscopers, pro and semi pro photographers, it has served me well as a true pocket travel camera. The HD video results have been pretty good, though  more recently I have started to use the iPhone 6s instead as a 4K video camera.

After the Swamphen twitch and my less than perfect video I came across a superb clip by long time rare bird videographer Alan Shaw with a Panasonic camera coupled to his old Nikon lens rig, and about the same time became aware that quite a few others I knew were also using these cameras so I started to research mirrorless systems again. I wanted 4K video, which pretty much ruled out Olympus and really left me with two options, the Sony A6300 and the Panasonic Lumix models. The Sony was really tempting, and while the body is very compact, considering it has an APC sized sensor, many of the lenses are rather big and heavy and there isn't a great deal of options in the longer focal lengths.

There are a various Lumix models available , but I wanted a compact rangefinder body which meant the end of line GX7, the high end weatherproof GX8 or the recently introduced, cheaper GX85. The 20.3 Mpx sensor in the GX8 is supposed to be the best m4/3rds sensor, though the lack of filter on the 16 Mpx GX85 makes it a tough call in terms of image quality and resolution. Reviews suggested the newer improved stabilisation on the GX85 would be the deciding factor and this seems to have had had an impact on the sales of the GX8. However when I went to look at both side by side in a local shop in September, the key differences for me were with the handing and operation. I liked having dials rather than the extra menu button pushes of the GX85 and I really liked the superb performance of the tilting electronic viewfinder on the GX8. It fitted my hands better and felt really comfortable to use Unfortunately the shop couldn't offer the lens that they advertised and they wouldn't honour the price on their website, so I didn't buy one.
However after Christmas I learned of a cash back offer with the weatherproof 12-60mm lens. Basically compared to the September price in the shop, I would save well over £200 on the body and get a £300+ lens for free. No brainer really. I also bought a Metabones 4/3rds-Nikkor adaptor and a couple of batteries, and installed the Panasonic app on my phone allowing the phone to control the camera wirelessly.

So Ive had it a month, used it a couple of times so how is it?
Well the first test involved the Metabones adaptor and putting the camera on the Questar scope that still gets used occasionally. Photographically its around 3200mm focal length with the 2x crop factor of the sensor and I got close ups of the gate hinges at the end of the garden. Not a great test, the light was poor, the scope was working at f18 but the 1/15th second exposures at iso 3200 were acceptable, suggesting it might be an option for long range video. Dust on the sensor might be an issue at f18 though.
Around the house, the results with the 12-60 lens were pretty good. The image stabilisation produces sharp images at ridiculously low shutter speeds. Basic handling is good, I like the mode selection dial, the two control wheels are just about right and most of the switches and buttons although a bit small are easy to use and straightforward.  The menu looks straightforward but there are a lot of options to consider once you start to look at the various focus metering and display functions so there is going to be a bit of a steep learning curve once I get out of the default settings.
I was hoping to try digiscoping last weekend. The 12-60 lens doesn't work, with severe vignetting but tests at home with the Zeiss 35mm f2 were a lot better. Its a bit long, it seems that the Panasonic 20mm f1.7 lens is the one most people use, although the focussing is a bit slow-and the manual focus Zeiss is likely to be a problem in the field. I was going to get the 20mm when I first looked at the camera, but later changed my mind and am more likely to go with the Panasonic Leica 25mm f1.4.
The first day out and about around Aston End on 22nd January was rather pleasant. The body and 12-60 lens was small enough o fit in my jacket pocket, and I also took my old Nikon 70-300 zoom which went in the other pocket, so basically I had everything from wide to telephoto in two pockets.
The camera was so light it was barely noticeable while walking around and the 12-60mm lens worked very well on landscapes as well as close ups. Its not regarded very highly in reviews, but I liked the results I got with it.  The Nikon zoom was a bit of a handful on birds, with its 600mm effective focal length and having to use it in manual focus, but once set up in the menu it is image stabilised so thats a big bonus.
At the Pacific Diver twitch, I used the camera with the manual focus 500mm f4 Nikkor, which as I noted proved to be a bit too long for the occasion. I obtained a number of 4K video sequences, one of which is posted here https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4i2W3tpPUPs
I think I am more than happy with the video results, its certainly a lot easier than my previous attempts. The flip-up viewfinder really makes a difference, and the tilt and rotate rear touch screen is great to use as well.

So early days and only a few opportunities to test the camera but I am very pleased with the results so far and expect to take it out and about all the time. More comments are likely to appear later as i get more use out of the camera.

Looking ahead, I expect to get a longer autofocus lens-there are a couple of possible options in the Olympus and Panasonic lines though ideally the 100-400 is the most desirable. It means I should be able to discretely take a camera over to Norton Green at lunchtimes. Will be interesting to see the results with the Zeiss 100mm macro on insects and plants-I expect it to be very good and would negate the need for a native macro lens. One or two wide-medium focal length primes are likely but there isn't an urgent need just yet, so I will see how I go with what I currently have and take it from there.

Monday, 6 February 2017

Rye Meads and a foggy Graffham

On Saturday I decided to go down to Rye Meads, It been quite some time since my last visit and I thought I would be able to pick up a few species to add to my year list.
The first addition was a Little Egret just a few minutes from home, sitting on the side of the stream just past the Sainburys at Poplars. Sarah and Ed saw one here a while back, but this is the first Ive seen in this area.
I got to Rye around 0930 and parked my car under the usual pylon which now houses a Kestrel box.


The centre has had a bit of a revamp since my last visit as well, and there has been quite a bit of work on the various scrapes.
Part of the reed bed on the Draper scrape has been cleared and this has been very attractive to the wintering Water Pipit which was feeding with a pair of Grey and a pair of Pied Wagtails. These were distant and also mobile-I also saw the Pipit and Wagtails later on the islands off the Gadwall hide.
One Cetti's Warbler was calling from time to time, and there was also a single Green Sandpiper here. The Barn Owl nest boxes were as usual occupied by Stock Doves.
I didn't see much else until I reached the Gadwall Hide overlooking the north lagoon. The water level is kept low to expose the islands which were attractive to Lapwing and Snipe. Three Shelduck and a variety of wildfowl were on the water but I never saw any Grebes and there weren't any gulls apart from Black Heads.
Walking up to the Meads produced a few tits and Song Thrushes plus a Grey Heron which I had been inadvertently flushing all morning as it tried to feed in the drains crossing the reserve.


No Siskin or Redpolls in the Alders. I stopped off at the Kingfisher hide briefly-no action here and decided to leave as I heard that Waxwings had been seen again down the road at Turnford, before flying off to a nearby estate.
Unfortunately by the time I got there I couldn't  find any birders, let alone Waxwings and after fifteen minutes of driving around the area I gave up and returned home.

Sunday was intended to be a rather quiet short day out with Colin but it turned out to be rather more abbreviated than planned.
We drove up to Graffham Water, leaving a fairly bright Stevenage and headed up the A1 getting rather worried by the amount of mist and fog on the way. Visibility at Graffham was about 100 yards when we got there, it seemed to improve a bit and then gradually deteriorated.
Parking at the Plummer car park we soon reached the dam seeing little apart from a few Robins and Blackbirds. One Redshank, several Pied Wagtails and a Meadow Pipit were the only birds on the dam, with a small flock of Tufted Duck and three Goldeneyes on the water.
A long cold spell on the centre of the dam produced a few Great Crested Grebes. Staring out into the murk I eventually found a Great Northern Diver. The problem was how to get Colin on it. A nearby orange buoy was a good marker and slightly more visible than the diver but was also very hard to find in the fog but reasonably easy during the brief clear spells. I got the scope on it an it proved to be a rather well marked juvenile with a broad dark neck band. A second bird was later found-this one with a far less prominent neck band. At one point I suspected that the third Great Northern was also in the area as three large birds were seen together far out in the murk. Not surprisingly  failed completely to find the Red Necked Grebe.
The plan after leaving Graffham was to go to Paxton and Diddington pits for the Ring Necked Duck and then head off to Burwell for the Owls, but with no sign of the fog lifting it would have been pointless.
However the very elusive Little Bunting at Great Barford was on the way home and had been reported in the morning. Didn't know it had only been seen briefly by a single observer. Met a few familiar (and rather despondent) faces when we got to the footbridge where it had been seen. There were a lot of Reed Buntings flitting around as well as Linnets and Yellowhammers, but the viewing conditions were not good with the birds flying up from the ground into thick bushes and distant trees. I was later told that the game crops on the field edge ran for a considerable distance and birds were ranging a long way up and down. We stuck out for a bit and then decided to call it a day. On the way back I picked up a drumming Great Spotted Woodpecker and a calling Chiffchaff.

Monday, 30 January 2017

Bittern at Amwell

I woke on Sunday morning feeling rather better than expected after the Northumberland trip. It was rather dull, and a bit colder than expected but i decided to go down to Amwell sit has been over two months since my last visit.
The Stevenage murk was left behind as I drove south and as I reached Ware the Sun was starting to pop out from time to time. I was a bit worried as I pulled into Amwell lane and pulled over to park-the car started to slide. The lane was coated with ice and as I gingerly got out I saw Bill Last in the distance getting out of his car, and a passing cyclist hit the deck.
 Despite a couple of warmish days, the Navigation was pretty well sold and ice floes had trapped the boats. Hardmead lake was also largely frozen with only about 20% free, most of that being in front of the view point. Watching Pheasants wandering about on the ice 30 yards for land was a bit different.
Wildfowl numbers were a bit reduced as expected, with a few Goldeneye, normal numbers of Pochard and Tufties but few Mallard and Gadwall. No Teal at all, but big flocks of Wigeon were coming and going. A few Canada and Greylag Geese  were joined by two Egyptians. The Sunday regulars had seen a Water Rail, but none appeared while I was there but one nice did fly out of the reeds. There have been a few Golden Plovers dropping in (rather unusual an they tend to be distant flyovers) but none joined the small Lapwing flock on the ice.
John Bartlett appeared some time after Trevor and the gang had gone for a walk so we had the usual chat, showed him the images on the back of my camera and discussed the other rarities. Some time later Bill got a call from Trevor and we all headed down to the Bittern pool where they had found a Bittern perched up on the reeds. Not the typical views, it was often obscured but occasionally clambered up to the top, did a bit of preening, and sky pointing with the bill, and performed pretty well. Moments after another group arrived it  decided to fly off over to Hollycross.
 I decided to call it a day then, and had a quick still through the woods where the only birds were a fairly small flock of Siskins and a couple of Robins. Luckily the ice had cleared from the road and I had a pleasant drive home picking up a few roadside Buzzards on the way.