Friday, 20 October 2017


Having had a bit of a rest on Thursday, I went down to Amwell for a couple of hours this morning. Work on the gas pipes has yet to start, so the entire reserve was still accessible. Pity about all the 'improvements' on the A602 as it was a bit of a slow drive in both directions.
Weather was very autumnal, fairly mild, rather overcast and with a bit of a south westerly breeze. Nice to see that a lot of the area in front of the view point has been cleared, and some of the channels and pools down there have been re-done. Water levels are still on the low side, with lots of exposed mud, but it does look a lot better now.
Missed a couple of good birds. The recent Rock Pipit appears to have gone, and an adult Mediterranean Gull had departed by the time I arrived.  There were a few Common and Lesser Black Backed Gulls, the usual collection of wildfowl and reasonable numbers of Lapwings. Small  birds were moving around all the time, with regular flyover Skylarks, Meadow Pipits, Goldfinches and a few Siskin. Redpolls are around-Barry had 25 and while I did see some distant flocks of finches, they were unidentifiable. Two Swallows flew down river-potentially my last of the year.
I went for a walk over to Hollycross which is now apparently open all year round and met up with Barry on the bridge. We had a big tit flock here with at least one Marsh Tit calling and several Goldcrests with them. I managed to get a few Goldcrest shots but the light was rather poor so they are not all that great.
I didn't see a great deal on Hollycross so returned via the woods and picnic area  finding a few Siskin here and then back to the view point. Two Red Kites, two Sparrowhawks a Buzzard and  Kestrel were in the air. I spent some time checking distant corvids hoping that one of the Ravens might come up and join them, and then decided to go round the woods again just in case the Redpolls were present, but didn't find anything new.

Wednesday, 18 October 2017

Two Barred Greenish Warbler

Back in 1996, Colin and I had an amazing mid October, with many very rare birds seen over a week and one day stands out for various reasons. We watched the sun rise over the chemical works on Teeside before picking out a Great Knot in the half light. There was then a long drive down to Holme in  Norfolk for Colin's first Isabelline Shrike (and my second in three days), and I seem to remember Wryneck and Red Breasted Flycatcher there as well. Then we went to Wells Wood for a Two Barred Greenish Warbler which gave everyone the run around. We heard it call, but few actually got to see it-Colin sat down for a bit, saw it but I didn't. I remember getting back to the car park completely shattered, had a coffee  before Steve Gantlett appeared to say it showed well after we left. I couldn't face going back and staring at the pines again, so left for home via a Blythes Pipit at Weybourne. We don't seem to have autumn days like that anymore.
Yesterday I got a call from Colin asking that since he had caught me up with the Rock Thrush wether I would like to get one back on him. Turned out that a possible Arctic Warbler in Dorset on Sunday had been re-identifuied as a Two Barred Greenish Warbler. I said yes.
We decided to leave at six, hoping that we would miss the A1M, M25 rush hour traffic. We didn't, and it was a very slow run down to the M3, but surprisingly the Winchester-Southampton stretch was trouble free. Had the expected delays on the A31 though and we arrived at St Adhelms head around 0930.
The bird has been frequenting the small wood and  bushes on the quarry edge, but with limited viewing space it was rather difficult. Added to the problem is that we could only see the tops of the trees and one or two elders and field maples-much of the wooded area was completely out of view.
After about 40 minutes we became aware that some of the birders to our right and higher up had seen it, and I noticed a warbler drop down low in one of the maples, got a superb view of the Two Barred as it popped out, perched on a branch briefly , though only a few near me could actually see, it before it flitted up and over the Sycamores.
The next 40 minutes were very frustrating as it was glimpsed occasionally. A few managed to see it from the quarry gate, though the viewing angle was very restricted. Some of us tried to view up the slope and into the back of the trees but there were only sporadic views. I eventually made my way back to the top and was just getting the camera set up again when there was a big rush to the southern end which was more open, and we discovered that it had been showing very well in the big Sycamores there. I had some lovely views of it actively feeding, it then dropped down into an Ash, in front of Colin before we lost it again.
So it was back to the main viewing area again for another wait. Colin left, so I had a quick chat with William before he departed. The next half hour or so was very frustrating. I had staked out a good spot with a clear view, but the Two Barred never obliged, with only the occasional glimpse from time to time. Several Firecrests were more visible, but even so, I was never able to get the camera onto any birds, so with conditions deteriorating (drizzle and fog all day getting worse) I eventually left without any photos. Then again, neither did most of the other photographers.
Initially I had thought about spending the afternoon elsewhere-maybe Portland or Poole harbour but with visibility down to 200 yards in places we decided it wouldn't be worth it, and the run back was rather slow anyway as the M3 was shut, which wouldn't have been much fun had we been coming back in the rush hour.

Tuesday, 17 October 2017

Rock Thrush Video

Uploaded to Youtube

Autumn Colours

I went for a walk around Aston End on Sunday. I woke up to find it very misty, but gradually the Sun started to break through and the garden was illuminated by a lovely golden light.
I set off through the plantation with sun beams shining through the pines and I was looking forward to getting out into the countryside. At which point the light went out. The wind picked up and as the mist lifted, it was replaced by a thick cloud layer, and it became rather chilly. Very disappointing.
Birds were in rather short supply as well and it was hard finding anything. What wasn't helping were the farming activities, most of the fields have just been ploughed and tractors were out and about in force-some seemed to be sowing seed, others spraying something which didn't smell all that nice.
May explain why I haven't been feeling great the last couple of days.
Anyway, once I got onto the Walkern road, and then down to the paddocks, things did pick up a bit. There were several Skylarks, including one or two singing. some Meadow Pipits, and a few Linnets and Yellowhammers flying over. I got my first Redwings of the autumn too, with initially four birds seen, then another flock of 15, all heading down the Beane Valley.
I eventually managed to find some autumn colours.

Yesterday I received a package from Germany-a Leica digiscope adaptor for the spotting scope. On the GX8 it gives effective focal lengths of 1710mm at 25x and 3420mm at 50x. The focal ratios are very slow and it needs good light and high iso's to get sharp images. A test soon after it arrived wasn't successful. The light was very poor thanks to ex Hurricane Ophelia with a really weird sepia tint to everything and a dark red Sun (on the rare occasions it could be seen) thanks to Portuguese wildfires and Sahara dust. This is an iPhone snap of the garden mid afternoon.

I tried this morning in good light. I discovered I really needed the phone app to control the camera thanks to the very high magnifications. This is a Leonotis half way down the garden from the patio, so around 25-30 feet away. The flower is maybe 2" across.

Sunday, 15 October 2017

Rock Thrush

Way back in May 1995 I had a memorable day in Norfolk twitching a superb male Rock Thrush at Holme. I spent a couple of hours with it from about five in the morning, before spending the rest of the day elsewhere, but it was so good that I went back that evening for seconds.
There haven't been many since, and of the 28 records, only two since have really been available-one for five days on Scilly in 1996 and a two day female at Spurn in 2013. As Colin wasn't available for the Holme bird, I was surprised at his lack of enthusiasm about my suggestion of going for the Spurn bird, but I think he had decided he would only go for something  more colourful.
He was rather keen when I phoned on Friday to tell him that there was a nice male bird at that well known Mediterranean bird attractor of the hills north of Blaenavon in south Wales (many hundreds went to see the Marmora's Warbler there in 2010).
We arrived around 1030, and managed to find a parking spot on the narrow lane at Pwll Du right by the start of the footpath to the quarries, and we quickly unpacked and joined the constant stream of birders. The forecast had been for a warm sunny day, and I was rather unhappy to find that it was rather cold, very windy and drizzly at times-I only had my fleece on. I had also brought my Nikon slr, Zeiss lenses and filters expecting to get some nice landscapes but decided to leave them in the car due to the poor light. I took the 500mm, converters and the GX8, and Colin took my scope.
When I got to the bird, it was showing on scree beyond the quarry but quickly flew off before popping up briefly again and then dropped out of view. After about twenty minutes most of us headed off in the direction it had flown, where we found a small group watching it at fairly close range. It put on a good show for us actively feeding on beetles, and seemed to be very curious about the assembled crowd, peering down at us intently.

Apart from the Rock Thrush, there were a couple of Wheaters, lots of Rock Pipits, a couple of Red Kites, some Nuthatches  and Jackdaws. We spent some time around the quarry as there were three Ring Ouzels present, but they proved to be very elusive though I and one or two others had distant 'Blackbirds' flying over the hill top which we presumed to be Ouzels.

Unfortunately we weren't all that familiar with the birding sites of South Wales apart from the Forest of Dean, so we thought about scenery as I had brought all the gear with me. Colin found Tintern Abbey after a quick search, but when we got there, the light was awful as were the crowds so we thought we'd come home via Westonbirt Arboretum. This was a bit of a mistake as the car park was virtually overflowing by early afternoon-it really needs to be avoided at weekends, so we decided not to go in.

Monday, 9 October 2017

Wilson Phalarope

I started my usual two weeks off this weekend, and, as usual it looks to be pretty hopeless for the east coast if the long range forecast is to be believed. With a bit of luck, one or two things might appear.
I went down to Kent on Sunday with Colin, as there were a few long staying birds which would be worth seeing. The plan was to visit Oare Marshes and then see what happens.
Oare has had a couple of regular returning American birds-a Bonaparte's Gull seems to spend part of summer there, and a Long Billed Dowitcher winters. We have been for both in the past and failed to see either. The gull departed some time ago, but the Dowitcher has been joined by a Wilson's Phalarope. We haven't seen one in a long time, in fact twenty years ago when one was at Staines (unfortunately the day of Princess Diana's funeral so we had to get in and out of London before everything shut down. I was back home by 8am). 
Car parking at Oare was the usual mess so Colin dropped me off on the road side. The Phalarope was rather easy being the nearest bird and doing it's typical spinning madly feeding routine. The Dowitcher was a bit harder as it was some way off on one of the mud banks. Plenty of other waders present-Redshank, Ruff, Black Tailed Godwits, Dunlin, Golden Plover, Snipe, with Oystercatcher, Curlew and Bar Tailed Godwits on the Swale. Lots of Meadow Pipits and Skylarks were flying around and we found a nice Wheatear near the car park. 
Walking around the perimeter, Bearded Tits were pinging everywhere, and we heard lots of Cetti's Warblers, found a couple of Stonechats and bumped into Darryl and Tony Hukin coming round the other way. They put us onto our other target, the Black Necked Grebe which was very hard to see in the river channel-the tide was well out and the river was all but invisible. We had to go down to the sluice on a bend and look up the channel to see the grebe a long way off.
Back on the road, the Phalarope was still performing, and the Dowitcher had flown out and was now within camera range, but never really posed well for me.

 With nothing much on the pager, we decided to visit Dungeness. This seemed to be a mistake as the Ashford road was closed and the diversion down a very narrow lane was all but grid locked at times, but we eventually got there.
 A Temminck's Stint had been reported earlier so we made enquiries when we got to the visitors centre-the lady on duty had been volunteering here since 1955 (!) and told me a bit of what it was like in the early days. She pointed us in the direction of some of those looking at the Stint.
Worryingly one was on the phone saying the Stint had black legs and looked to be very grey on the back. Not what one expects with Temminck's and not really ideal for Little either. Some of them were thinking of Semi-Palmated Sandpiper.
Unfortunately the bird was a long way off and we were looking through glass windows, but it did look interesting. Colin and I headed off to the adjacent hide where we found it again, still a long way off, but it was very flighty and soon headed off west. We then walked over to the western end of the pit, joined a few others and carried on searching. A normal Little Stint was found, as were five Great White Egrets and a Marsh Harrier. We never found the suspect Semi-P and later the pager simply reported two Little Stints.

 We went down to the power station and had a quick look at the sea. Lots of Herring, Black Headed and Lesser Black Backed Gulls over the outfall with three Mediterranean Gulls and several Gannets. 
A Woodlark had been reported around the old Lighthouse in the morning, and it would have been nice to find a Black Redstart, or a few warblers but the area was pretty quiet so after a few landscape images we packed up and returned home.


Saturday, 30 September 2017

Autumn Colours

Flu jab today. Took Mum down to the surgery quite early, and then went on to Amwell arriving well before 9am. It was rather damp, particularly the grass, but improved once the Sun came out.
Initially Barry and Chris were birding, and Graham White was present, doing some survey work.

In the process, everything was flushed of course, but he did kick up a few Snipe for us. Otherwise it was a bit quiet. Some Wigeon are in, a few Swallows, Meadow Pipits and Skylarks were going over, and the female Stonechat that turned up recently put an appearance.
I eventually went down to Hollycross and spent some time there. A few migrant Hawkers and darters are still around, and as many have noted, there were plenty of Red Admirals on the wing. The sunny side of the walkway was very productive. The large tit flock included three Marsh Tits, two Blackcaps and several Chiffchaffs. A few Jays and Blackbirds were feeding here as well.
The trees are colouring up nicely.

Back home I had a quick look around the garden, finding a couple of nice subjects.

Friday, 22 September 2017


Since Sunday, I haven't been out birding, but have been busy pottering in the garden instead. Today was very clear, so I did what I have been meaning to do for some time and try the Panasonic GX8 on the Sun. Unfortunately there is only one spot on there at the moment, and the air wasn't particularly steady.

Tuesday, 19 September 2017


We haven't gone up to the Norfolk coast for quite a while, and as a few things had been seen, Colin and I decided to travel up on Sunday. There had been a lot of overnight rain, and it was quite misty and murky, but by the time we got near the coast it had cleared and we actually had a nice day weather-wise.
Titchwell was busy by the time we arrived with a lot of cars in the car parks. A stroll up to the fresh marsh produced a Robins and Chiffchaffs in the bushes but not much else apart from a family of Bearded Tits. We were told that the Red Necked Phalarope had apparently disappeared behind one of the islands-it later transpired that it had flown off. So one of our targets had gone. Lots of Ruff, some Godwits, Golden Plover, Avocets and Dunlin were on the marsh, and I picked out a couple of juvenile Mediterranean Gulls.
The sea was a bit quiet, despite the light north easterlies. Gannets and Common Scoter were flying around, and there were a couple of lingering Sandwich Terns. We missed some Skuas and divers which were seen much earlier.
A spell in Parrinder Hide failed to produce a lone Purple Sandpiper hiding in the vegetation on the salt marsh. We also missed Little Stints here. Several Pied Wagtails were checked in the vain hope that one would be a Citrine.
On the Fen Trail, I spent some time looking for Willow Emeralds, which were not showing but got a nice image of a Common Darter. No-one managed to locate the Yellow Browed Warbler that had been around for a day or two.

News of an Arctic Warbler at Wells Wood would have been tempting, were it not for the high cost of parking, added to which it can be hard work finding anything, so we went to Cley instead.
Here we were able to finally get a year tick with a Red Necked Phalarope, but unfortunately it remained on the far side of Simmond's Scrape and the distant photos weren't all that great. Had a couple of Curlew Sandpipers and Little Stints, a few Snipe and a Yellow Wagtail, but we didn't stay long.
We finished up at Cavenham Heath just in time for a brief thunderstorm.

Once the rain had cleared we scanned the field near the river, picking up 13 Stone Curlews, though numbers were far higher as 30+ had been seen earlier.

Returning to the car I got a nice surprise for the plane spotters, with an OV10 Bronco flying over.
I last saw one of these at Mildenhall some time around 1979.

Friday, 15 September 2017

White Winged Black Tern at Tyttenhanger

A White Winged Black Tern was found at Tyttenhanger on Tuesday. Its a rather rare bird for Herts, with only seven previous records, usually at Wilstone/Tring and two together at Hillfield. Usually they don't linger, so most birders went down that evening, or early the next morning as it roosted overnight.
I didn't. Stevenage to Tyttenhanger involves going up and down the two lane  section of the A1M which features on the traffic news most rush hours, and a short very busy stretch of the A414 at London Colney. Basically I was stuffed, I had a couple of appointments as well, immediately after work so there was no realistic chance of seeing it.
It lingered into Thursday, my last day at work for a week so there was hope. At breakfast on Friday, Tom Spellar put out a message that it was still there, and once the worst of the school run was over I departed (via Knebworth as the A1 was as usual very slow) and got to London Colney just after 9am.
It was a nice, cool sunny morning with a bit of a breeze, and Robins ticking in the hedges as I walked rapidly down to the main pit where I found Rupert Evershed scoping from the gate. He mentioned the two Ruff-a nice bonus Herts year list and pointed me towards Willow Farm lake where I soon joined a couple of guys up from London.
We walked along the Fishing Lake bank, without seeing a great deal apart from large numbers of House Martins, along with Sand Martins and Swallows. Seeing a couple of birders on the causeway I saw the familiar face of Lee Evans, and it was clear the Tern wasn't showing. Rather despondently we
arrived at the causeway, and at the same time the Tern appeared, flying around only a few feet away from us. Over the course of the next hour we were treated to stunning views as it did innumerable circuits of the small lake, dropping down to the water in front of us from time to time.
For the first time this year I regretted taking the GX8 and 100-400mm lens as the bird was too close, too fast and too agile. I had to back the zoom off to 200mm and even then I had problems. The 300mm Nikkor and the D3s would have been a better choice, but I managed to obtain a lot of excellent images.

Lee mentioned a male Redstart in the big field hedge and he also wanted to see the Ruff so we both went back to the main pit. No sign of the Ruff so walked up the hedge without seeing anything apart from a few Reed Buntings. One of the locals was at the top and pointed out where the Redstart had been, and Lee went off to the viewpoint as the Ruff were visible from there-as was the Tern, now roosting on the mud.
Eventually we got good views of the Redstart low down from a range of about 100yds, occasionally perched in the hedge, but sometimes dropping onto the ground to feed. I eventually managed to get a bit closer and got a few images, before being joined by Alan Meadows and a few other Tern twitchers.

Monday, 11 September 2017

Amwell-its been a while

I paid a visit to Amwell yesterday-the first for some time. It hasn't been very exciting for the regulars over the last few months, compared to other sites in the county, and I've found that Rye Meads has been a better bet for a nice selection of birds recently.
There has been a lot of criticism this year, in particular, over the way the reserve has been managed, which eventually made its way onto social media, and it's impact on the birds and wildlife. On my last visit, very dense thickets of Purple Loosestrife had taken over the islands, and much of the waters edge, and the willows and alders in the reed-bed were getting rather large ( a great way of demonstrating how wetlands evolve into woodland, but not good when reeds are supposed to be one of the more important habitats). Hollycross has been quite poor as well, with many of the pools overgrown, and the meadow turning into rank grassland. I have been told that impacted the breeding of wildfowl and terns (no waders bred as far as I know) which has been poor this year. Judging by the changes since my last visit some of the concerns have been taken on board and steps are being taken to improve matters-the islands have been cleared, as has the area in front of the viewpoint, and some  of the larger shrubs have been removed on Hollycross, opening up some areas.
The usual Sunday regulars were present when I arrived, some of whom I haven't seen in months so it was nice to catch up and chat. They eventually went off to do their usual circuit so I spent the morning chatting with Bill. We didn't have many birds on the lake, duck numbers were very low, though there seemed to be a few Teal in. It was mainly Canada Geese, a few Greylags, Coot and Cormorants. A few Buzzards, Kites and Sparrowhawks were up in the air. Hirundines seemed to be coming through now and again with good numbers of House Martins, some Swallows and one or two Sand Martins. Judging by the fact that sometimes birds were heading up-river suggested that some of the flocks were doing circuits.
Bill and I eventually wandered down to Hollycross, stopping off at the Bittern pool for a quick scan (an injured Bittern has apparently over summered). Picked up a few butterflies-Speckled Wood, Red Admiral, Comma and Small White, on the way. More duck were on Hollycross-mainly Pochard with a few Grebes. Bill showed me the the work that has been carried out-we can now see the channel that runs under the small bridge which was completely over grown, and hopefully this will be expanded and some of the other areas will be cleared. Didn't see any dragonflies apart from a few Common Darters and a fast moving metallic green damsel of some kind-could have been a Willow Emerald.
By the time we got back to the view-point Mike Ilett had turned up(fresh back from a trip to Barra for the American Redstart) and soon after Phil arrived with the dogs. Lots more geese were flying in and we also had the regular Hobby hunting over the wood-a bird that has been rather hard to find locally this year. We also had a rather odd hybrid goose which looked a bit Emperor or Blue Snow Goose, but the consensus is that it is some sort of Barnacle cross, maybe with Ross's. Looked a lot better than most hybrids.

Sunday, 3 September 2017

Queen of Spain

I remember a Queen of Spain Fritillary at Minsmere in I think 1995, and was very jealous of the photos taken by the then rare bird photographers, as I never got to see it. I thought I might have a chance of seeing one a couple of years ago when they were reported over a couple of years near Chichester. The sightings were publicised late in the year, but unfortunately they were not seen the following year.
Four were seen at a farm near Peacehaven last weekend, and by the time Colin and I could get down yesterday, one male remained. We followed the instructions on the Sussex Butterfly Conservation page and parked at the farm, and only had to walk a few yards to where the small crowd was surrounding the butterfly.
It proved to be rather flighty, ranging over a fair bit of ground but given time we were all able to obtain very satisfactory views and images.

The meadow proved to be very good for butterflies with at least four Clouded Yellows (my first for a couple of years) large numbers of all three whites, Brown Argus and Adonis Blues were abundant, and there were a few Small Coppers,Common Blues and Chalkhill Blues. No vannesids though, which was rather unusual.
I met a guy there who gave us instructions on how to get to Castle Hill, and we met up with him when we got there. Classic steep chalk downland hills and valleys, and lots of Adonis Blues, Small Heaths and Chalkhill Blues. Thanks to his guidance, and another person we met when we got onto the right hillside, I managed to see three Wartbiters.

Interesting flowers included Round Headed Rampion, various Hawkweeds and Autumn Ladies Tresses. A few Autumn Gentians were still flowering, as were Common Milkwort, Centaury and Eyebright.