Tuesday, November 29, 2016

Rye Meads

A freezing cold day but a clear blue sky, so off to Rye Meads to give the camera a go.

Quiet, initially, with no sign of the water Pipit. Off to the Gadwall hide where there is a Shelduck amongst a mass of Shoveler and Gadwall. Then back to the Draper hide and a fly over Green Sandpiper, a Grey Wagtail, and a Snipe in the corner. The light is good and as always the birds are not too distant, so I fill up on Wigeon and Shoveler.

The chap next to me starts clicking away with his camera and I realise he's found the Water Pipit. Its right in front of us on a spit. We get a half hour of fantastic views, seeing every feature. Which would be great if it were any other bird, but this is, at least in winter plumage, possibly the dullest bird known to man.

Two days round Poole Harbour

Chauffeur for D#2 who was spending a day in Hampshire, so some free time round Poole Harbour. First stop Lytchett Bay (20 Oct). I've screwed up the tides (again!) and the water is lapping at the bay edge as I join two regulars. "Are you here for the Whooper?" Well no but I'll take it. "Its only the second record  of Whooper Swan for the harbour". I tactlessly mention that round where I live there are fields full of them in winter. But look at this deer! There are a group of Sika Deer including a male with a fine set of antlers. The locals' response indicates this is equivalent to seeing a squirrel for them, and fewer deer would be a good thing.

On to Durlston. Lots of Chiffchaffs, Stonechats, Meadow Pipits, Swallows, nothing else. Then on to Arne, rapidly becoming a favourite reserve. There's movement going on, and a brief Lesser Redpoll amongst some Chiffchaffs and Goldcrests. Three Fieldfares in a tree, and back in the car park a Firecrest doing its thing in a holly bush. A really nice way to end the day.

A couple of weeks later (Sunday 13th Nov) and I'm back again. I go to Arne but it is packed with groups of folks to see where Autumnwatch was filmed. Nothing wrong with lots of people out enjoying the countryside, but Mr Grumpy decided this was an opportune moment to head for Hartland Moor and the Avocet hide at Middlebere Farm.

Wow, what a place Hartland Moor is, particularly on a crisp autumn afternoon. A vision of purple and orange, and quite wild. I got to the Avocet hide, and there is just one other person. I was there from 2pm to 4pm during which time a few couples and individuals came by, but there was always seating space.

The hide looks over the Wareham channel to Arne reserve, and with the sun behind its a fantastic view. for a while there isn't much to see, so I admire the view. At 3pm a ringtail Hen Harrier appeared over the far bank, it quartered a marsh, then headed over the channel towards us, and kept coming until it flew across the front of the hide at a distance of about 10 yards. Then a flurry of birds from behind us, Lapwings, Brents, a few Black Tailed Godwits, and a female Merlin gliding over and heading off towards Wareham. Just as we were basking in the glow of these raptors a Swan flew in and sat on the mud. A Whooper. The other occupants were very excited. Only the third record for the harbour. I tactlessly mention that round where I live there are fields full of them in winter. An Avocet comes out of a gully to admire the new arrival.

at 4pm its a bit quiet, the sun is setting, just a few Starlings flying into the reeds to roost so I think its time to go. But a quick scan shows 3 female Goosander flying over, and the log book says male Merlin has been seen in the adjacent hedge so I give it a scan and there it is. A great view, in fact, precisely this view.

I head off back down the path to the car. Another Ringtail slips by, then a Barn Owl appears briefly, and finally three doe Sika Deer stop just forty yards away and look me up and down for a while before casually wandering off.

What a place. Possibly one of the best sites in England for wildlife. If you look through this blog from Aidan Brown you will see many fantastic examples of photos and wildlife wisdom that showcase the wildlife of this corner of England much better than my account here.

Tuesday, November 22, 2016

More Norfolk early November.

Note - login problems mean this is somewhat overdue, but here it is anyway.

A couple more visits to Norfolk, this time in the excellent company of local birder and outstanding photographer David.

First was Titchwell on 3rd. We got out the car and immediately had a flock of Starlings going through the car park with a high pitched trilling - Waxwings! We had a look around but could not relocate them. Next stop was the feeders and my first Brambling for the winter, a sombre female. then out on the freshmarsh and plenty of Ruff, a few Avocets, and assorted waders and ducks. David picked out a Merlin flying over the marsh and disappearing westwards - first for this year (and a few more) for me. The beach had been productive for some but we saw only standard stuff - Common Scoter, Goldeneye, Merganser, Red-Throated Diver.

Back to the centre and we were tipped off that the Waxwings had gathered round the entrance, so we joined a small crowd and had a fantastic half an hour surrounded by birds voraciously feeding. They ignored us to settle just a few feet away in bushes picking off berries and trilling to each other. Fantastic!

Then Monday 7th and the winds were strong from the North East. We pitched up at Cley beach car park later than ideal due to my family commitments but still in time to see some movement. It was high tide and the waves were pounding the beach. Ducks were moving steadily westwards. Several flocks of Eiders moved west confusing me initially with the contrasting white and black of the drakes. A few hundred must have moved through during the day. We quickly had success with a Little Auk belting west close to the shoreline. I had seen Little Auk briefly once many years before, although in all honestly it might have been a Starling, so it was nice to get a proper view of this enigmatic northern bird whizzing along. There were a few more at different distances during the watch, and we soon had 3 distant Little Gulls and then 2 even more distant Pomarine Skuas going west. One of the watchers was pointing out the pale rump indicated Pom, although to be honest I thought I was doing well just to see them at all.

More ducks went west - Common Scoter, Wigeon, Brent Geese, a male Pintail and a Red-Breasted Merganser. For a moment I thought a horse was swimming through the surf, but it was an enormous bull Grey Seal.

A quick stop at the reserve centre for coffee and lone Waxwing, then Holkham Gap for a flock of Shore Larks. They were flighty but often ended up nearer us than when they took up, and on one occasion flew round our heads calling away. Fantastic views of about 80 birds against a dramatic but darkening autumn sky.

At this point I normally post some distant grainy shots, but no need today. I can just send you to David's blog for some excellent photos of the Waxwing and Shore Larks. A couple of days seeing some fantastic birds with good company - who could want for more.

Tuesday, October 18, 2016

Back to the Dell of Broken Dreams

The period of easterlies appears to be drawing to a close, so I headed off to Norfolk once more to try and get a rare siberian vagrant. A quick check of birdguides, and I found myself back at the Dell of Broken Dreams.

About thirty of us scoured the area, peering under every hollybush in the vicinity of the beach huts for the Olive-Backed Pipit that had been seen earlier that morning, but only one person saw it, the extremely capable Howard who did his level best to get everyone onto it but the bird just wouldn't co-operate.

I gave up after two hours with nothing to show for it but some Goldcrests and Robins and went to Burnham Overy Staithe intending to walk out to Gun Hill and search for migrants. I met a birder coming back who'd had just four Redwings. At this point, dear reader, I had something of an epiphany. I thought "sod it. I'm not going to spend five hours in the car and several hours bashing round dunes with nothing to show for it. I'm off to Titchwell." I think something in my birding psych died there and then. It was as though I'd decided to stop cooking my own food and simply order takeaways from now on.

So I joined the queue of fellow geriatrics at Titchwell and marvelled at the exhibits. Yellow-Browed Warbler by the feeders. And there it is! flitting around a nearby bush. Jack Snipes (plural!) in the marsh by your feet. And there they were, bobbing away. Little Stint on the scrape! Two sparkly birds whizzing around being chased by Golden Plover, their juvenile plumage interspersed with new grey feathers. the bonanza continued with a Curlew Sandpiper going into dark brown/white plumage but just a hint of buff on the breast. From the beach two female Velvet Scoter with their twin face spots just visible. And on the return trip two Spoonbill in the far corner, not asleep, although there may have been more. And lots of Ruff.

Perhaps its a question of balance. If you spend all your time hunting Siberian vagrants you won't see much. It you go to well-marked out reserves you will see more but they won't be your personal achievements. Its up to the individual to find the balance that suits them best. I think I just about managed that today.

Wednesday, October 12, 2016

The Dell. Where birding dreams go to die.

Easterly wind, Norfolk rammed with rarities, Holkham pines, stretching about 4km from Burnham Overy dunes in the west to Wells in the east is probably the pre-eminent woodland in the UK for rare birds in Autumn. Lady Ann Drive is smack in the middle and its here I pitch up at around 10 am.

For the morning I head west to look for a Radde's Warbler. It appears to have gone, but never mind I see four Yellow Browed Warblers, a cracking Firecrest, and out on the dunes a distant but clearly visible Great Grey Shrike, a Redstart, a Great White Egret in an adjacent ditch, and oodles of Thrushes and Starlings including my first Fieldfare of the winter and sufficient Song Thrush and Blackbird to mean they are clearly migrants.

The Road to the Dell is paved with good intentions.
But rarity-central is The Dell, at the other end of the pines. Yesterday it held Arctic Warbler, Radde's Warbler, and Olive Backed Pipit. the OBP has been seen today so off I yomp, ignoring calling YBWs on the way. I arrive to find a lot of morose and downcast birders standing gloomily around, and a huddle of people staring forlornly at a small grassy thicket. The pipit was seen just here, briefly, hours ago. And so it continues, with masses of Robins and Goldcrests, some Blackcaps and Chiffchaffs and a constant stream of thrushes overhead, but compared to the morning there is nothing.

This is not the first time I've struggled in the Dell. I wonder seriously what the ratio of birds reported to birds seen is, i.e. of the fifty or so birders who pass through the Dell on a day in October, how many actually see whatever the star bird is? Its a Bermuda triangle for rarities. It was so much easier in my student days bashing the Yorkshire coast. Far fewer bushes to bash for about the same number of rarities.

The Olive-Backed Pipit was here. And may still be here. Who knows?
Perhaps I'll just do the reserves next time. Clearly signposted easy-to-see birds. Or stick to the dunes.

Tuesday, October 04, 2016

Canvey Point - be careful what you wish for.

An easterly wind following a northerly gale; a rising tide; surely Canvey has to deliver seabirds galore today.

I was the only one who thought so. I arrived at 10 am with the tide rapidly rising from the recent low to a blank set of benches and that's the way it was for the next two hours. What did I see? well ...

The definite. the usual waders, Curlew, Grey Plover, Turnstone, Oystercatcher, Redshank, lots of Little Egret, some Teal and Brent Goose, and about 7 Mediterranean Gulls over my head including a sparkling 1st winter. Out on the river a likely max of 6 Gannets, mainly juveniles going out of the estuary but a party of 3 upriver. a Great-Crested Grebe, and at least 1 Kittiwake, though probably more.

the probables. I saw a tern flying down river. Darkish, probably a Black Tern, but hang on! Something wasn't right, it was deeper winged, possibly by-coloured on the wing, in all likelihood a juvenile Sabine's Gull. I watched it for about 5 minutes, but couldn't get a decent zoom on it to see key features. It was easy to pick out amongst the other gulls as smaller, thinner-winged, more tern-like.  Who knows ...

the possibles. I would have liked a skua. All the gulls were doing their best to look like skuas, with looking into the sun not helping. I think a number of them were kittiwakes due to the grace of their flight. There was one small bird that was all brown; a juv long-tailed? and another high up circling round like an Arctic Skua, but no white wing flashes. Oh well.

I'm not sure what I like most, setting with experts putting names to everything or being left to my own devices. I would have preferred some company but the challenge of trying to identify seabirds in a gale half a mile out is quite exhilarating!

Thursday, September 29, 2016

Fingringhoe Wick - intertidal area.

The Colne estuary is well known for attracting large numbers of waders and other water birds. The problem is that its quite large, difficult to watch, and for a visitor with little knowledge of the habitats and tides, its a bit hit and miss.

What would be really useful is a specially excavated wetland that can take large numbers of birds as the tide rises and falls, ideally with a suitable hide with large windows and arm chairs where you can sit in comfort and calmly search through flocks of waders. And, as if by magic, here it is, the newly opened intertidal area at Fingringhoe Wick.

Taken from the EWT twitter feed
A visit on Wednesday on arising tide had spectacular numbers of waders. Rough numbers only but many hundreds of Black-Tailed Godwit, low hundreds of Avocet,  many tens of Dunlin, Ringed Plover, Grey Plover, Knot, Redshank, add in some Bar-Tailed Godwit, Curlew, Oystercatcher, Lapwing, then at least 10 Greenshank, a Common Sandpiper, and well picked out by another birder 2 Curlew Sandpiper, and that's quite a wader list. About 20 Wigeon, some Little Egret, and an obliging Kingfisher made for a cracking list.

The fields by the hide had Meadow Pipit and some common finches, and there were some willow Chiffs hoetting in the bushes. The reserve had lots of hornets around too, so a good visit.

An excellent addition to the list Essex birding sites. I think a return visit may happen in the near future.

Wednesday, September 14, 2016

Canvey and East Tilbury

So, a scorching September day with a SE wind. Migration mayhem or Summer birding doldrums? I headed to the Thames Estuary to find out, first stop Canvey Point.

A row of empty benches meant I had clearly got this wrong, as at even slightly productive times there are a few locals set up here. I sat and admired the expanse of calm estuary that high-tide had brought. Slowly some birds appeared - a small party of Teal upstream, a few Swallows from over my shoulder, some adult Mediterranean Gulls flying around easily picked out by their plump appearance and translucent primaries. Then a distant Black Tern, juvenile presumably from the darkness of the plumage, flying strongly out then back up the estuary. Most intriguing was a bird the size of a very small skua flying rapidly but gracefully low over the river. Uniform brown, I realised I had no idea what family it belonged to. Eventually it rose up and I could see an extended neck and head so I guess a wader of some description but honestly I have no idea. Moments like that make sea-watching fun.

There were 4 cetaceans mid stream, the curved backs and fins breaking the surface. Eventually one came far enough out to reveal a bullet head - Porpoise. Very nice too. Then a Clouded Yellow over the memorial lawn.

And so on to East Tilbury. It is over a decade since I last went so this was a trip of rediscovery. What a place! Titchwell on my doorstep! Masses of birds round Coalhouse Fort, mainly Starling and House Sparrow but a Blackcap and Willow Warbler, then Stonechat and Linnet on the way to across there grassy area along the sea wall to the estuary. The estuary is hard to watch as the grass hides the near mud, but the tide was falling so soon the mud became exposed a long way out. Some belting Grey Plover made the trip worthwhile just for their sparkling plumage alone. There were Bar-Tailed Godwit, some Knot, and Turnstone with them. A Hobby was hunting behind the sea wall then over the estuary, and a Marsh Harrier came over from Cliffe., and Kestrel and Sparrowhawk gave four raptors in as many minute. An adult Yellow-Legged Gull was feeding on the foreshore. A weasel ran out of the grass then back between my feet.

I walked back and round Coalhouse Fort to the structure due south of the fort. On the way there was juvenile Whinchat, and on the estuary upwards of 800 Avocet that all took off and flew further upstream. Just an awesome sight, the stuff of TV documentaries. A flock of 20 Commic Terns and 2 Sandwich Terns appeared and sat on the mud. Better birders than I would surely have picked up some Arctics but distance, heaths, blah blah. 3 Seals were hauled up on the mud - Common Seals? - Finally as I sat by the estuary I found 2 juvenile Curlew Sandpiper amongst the Dunlin and Ringed Plover and a late Common Swift barrelled over going E down the river.

The whole area was full of insect life too. There was what I am calling "Thames Bee" as I have seen this elsewhere in the estuary - blackish with a narrow white band top and bottom of thorax and a whitish tail. Possibly Shrill Carder but I need to see more of this one to have any idea. There were lots of Wall Butterflies, some Small Heath and a couple of Small Copper, and lots of odanata. I could spend all day here and still be seeing stuff. Expect more!