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.

Pacific Diver

Finally a full weekend birding and one and a half lifers to boot.
 For the last ten years I've had a bit of an embarrasing hole in my list (one of many) with Pacific Diver despite it being a regular winter visitor-well one returning bird anyway . The identification criteria and separation from the very similar Black Throated Diver took a while to establish and the UK's first (confirmed) bird was inland in Yorkshire ten years ago. Unfortunately that was half way through six months of on-off surgery and I wasn't able to get out and about. Another inland bird in west Wales was a dead cert, so it was frustrating that Colin and I got there a day late. The only other one has been the one in and around Penzance every winter, a long way to go and with no guarantees that the bird would be visible. It has been close to shore but many sightings have been distant and perhaps a bit suspect so we have never even attempted it.
 A Black Throated Diver on the lake at Druridge Bay Country Park was re-identified as a Pacific and many went up for it last weekend but I wasn't up for the journey but luckily it lingered through the working week. So it was off at 5am and a 270 mile journey north up the A1 and A19 through the scenic delights of Middlesborough and Newcastle, and misty murky drizzle, arriving at 10am and steady light rain.
 Expecting it to be some way out I had packed my 500mm lens and the converters, but it spent most of it's time fishing close in to the bridge on the eastern end. Could have got cracking images with the phone at times. I had also taken my new camera, a Lumix GX8 in order to get video footage and hit a big snag. Mounted on the Nikkor  and its effective 1000mm focal length I struggled to get the diver in the viewfinder as it was constantly diving. It was also far too close so I ended up with five second close ups of it's head. Would have been far better with the 300mm lens, and maybe the 135mm would have worked well.

There wasn't much else on the lake though I got a few ducks and gulls to add to my earliest, and a big flock of Siskins in the alders behind us. Bumped into@Beachy71 and had a quick chat-he had failed with the Penzance bird last weekend so was rather happy to see this one so close.
 We had a quick wander round the park and up to the sea, but being rather murky only a few Oystercatchers, Eiders and Kittiwakes could be seen.
 Beachy went off for the Black Scoter further north while Colin and I headed off south and some gulls on the quay at North Shields. Rather surprised to see so many Eiders on the Tyne so close to shore-certainly better than the normal views off Norfolk and there were plenty of gulls milling around over the fish market and the river. Colin went back to the car to get his camera and moments later a brute of a first winter Glaucous Gull flew past at close range and then spent the next twenty minutes playing cat and mouse behind the market popping up from time to time. The first winter Iceland Gull then appeared in the same area but was rather elusive. A second Glaucous Gull,  a slightly smaller individual was also showing from time to time, and occasionally two white wingers could be seen together in the air-not bad considering that some years we don't see any.
 Our final destination was the small coastal village of Skinnigrove where a male Eastern Black Redstart had been wintering since November. Most of the people I know went up soon after it arrived and had I been feeling better I would have tried for it as well. Its been faithful to a small section of rocks on the north side of the quay and since it was sort of on the way home we had to see it. Currently a race of Black Redstart the orange belly and lack of white wing panel make it a very distinctive bird and maybe be one day it will merit full species status.
 It proved to be rather easy to see, fairly approachable and singing from time to time. Also on the rocks were Rock Pipits-no surprise there and Fulmars were on the cliffs (interesting geology as well with some really contorted strata). The harbour was full of Black Headed Gulls and a scan failed to produce anything of note apart from a couple of Grey Seals.

Sunday, 22 January 2017

The Slow Start Continues

Fourth weekend of the 2017 and finally I've gone out birding albeit a local walk rather than a big trip.

Went back to work last week, still not over the nasty cold and spent much of the time with a hacking wheezy cough that just won't go away-thats why I didn't feel like doing anything much yesterday. The really severe frost and cold were a bit of a put off as well, but with the clear skies it isn't too bad locally once the Sun has come up, so I went round Aston End this morning.
I wasn't expecting to see much in the way of wildlife, with the recent cold nights so I took some new camera equipment out to get a feel for it and do some landscapes.

The walk through the plantation produced a few tits and magpies but not much else. Bit too cold for the Goldcrests. The lack of birds continued through Aston End, with some sections of Long Lane thick with ice courtesy of an overflowing lane, but two singing Greenfinches and some House Sparrows was good.
Turning off and heading down to the ford, I found a single Buzzard, a few crows and several Blackbirds foraging in the hedge bottoms. The fields were completely frozen, hence no larks, buntings pipits or finches. Also frozen was the river, though some water was still flowing at the ford, and a Robin was doing a very nice Dipper impersonation hopping around on the ice floes.
I followed the river upstream with very few birds still, and it wasn't until I reached the paddocks that I encountered a few Fieldfares, Blackbirds, Robins and Dunnocks. No sign of the Little Owls again but three Stock Doves in their old tree was a bit different as they aren't regular. Another oddity was a flyover Grey Wagtail.
I finally found the (rather small) thrush flock up near the radio mast, feeding under the trees in one of the fields. Seemed to consist primarily of Redwings-maybe 15,  five or six Blackbirds, a couple of Song Thrushes and a single Mistle Thrush. I guess most of the birds have dispersed due to the weather.
Not a massive bird list, though its bright the year up to 32 (!) but at least I got out for a bit.


Sunday, 8 January 2017

Bad Start to the New Year

I managed to get through Christmas without falling prey to an illness for the second year running, but unfortunately I have started the New Year with a heavy cold. I had a bit of a tickle cough and a sore throat New Years eve, so called Colin and let him know I didn't fancy going out for the traditional birding blitz. I had hoped that the Bank Holiday Monday would be a bit better but the weather put me off.
Things improved somewhat during the week, back at work but the cough persisted and then Friday morning the really virulent cold virus that has gone round half the family struck and I have spent the last couple of days in a really bad state. Things have improved a bit today, in that I briefly get a bit of energy in me enabling me to get up and move around, but I suspect based on what the others in the family have gone through that it will take at least a week to get over it and the hacking cough is likely to be with me for some time.

Had a potter round the garden this morning once the sun came out but there isn't much happening. A few marigolds and the Mexican fleabane have a few flowers that have survived the recent frosts and there are shoots of t Snowdrops Cyclamen Iris and early Narcissi emerging.

In the mini greenhouse, a few bulbs are doing well. Here is a pot of Narcissus Cantabricus that I purchased in the autumn. The first one was flowering ten days before Christmas and has only just started going over.