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


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 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.