Friday, March 08, 2019

Counting waders

1,2,3,4,5. 6,7,8,9,10. 11,12,13,14,15. 16,17,18,19,20. 21,22,23,24,25. 26,27,28,29,30.35,40,45,50.55,60,65,70,80,90,100.110,120,130,150. 160,170,..200. 250,300,350,400,450,500.600,700,800,900,1000. 1100,1200,1300,1400,1500.1600,1700,1800,2000. 2500, 3000,3500,4000,4500.

and 200 on the spit, and 13 next door to them. So that's 4713 in total.

Thursday, March 07, 2019

Farewell to the Impenetrable Forest

I wrote about the Impenetrable Forest here in 2016. It was a small field left to go wild. Over the years a few hawthorn bushes sprang up, then shot up, until it became a dense copse of ten-foot high trees and bushes. A brook runs along the lower northern edge with reeds, so there is some variation. It is good primarily for Warblers, with currently the patch stronghold of Garden Warbler and Willow Warbler, but also Whitethroat, Lesser Whitethroat, Blackcap, and Chiffchaff seen regularly. In previous years Sedge Warbler and even Grasshopper Warbler have sang from here. In winter it is good for tits, Bullfinch, Greenfinch, Song Thrush, Redwing, as well as other more regular birds. It is good too for bees and butterflies, with a couple off years ago large numbers of Vestal Cuckoo Bee. Quite an amazing gathering of wildlife, with high density and in spring quite a racket.

But no more. Today I passed the field and saw bushes stacked up, heavy tracks of trucks, and a digger. I went on and chatted to the farmer. He used to grow wheat and barley on it but couldn't get the harvester up the road anymore, so had neglected it. He is putting it back to grass to grow for hay, which he can easily harvest.

It was always an anachronism. Quite odd. It is unreasonable in the south east of England to expect land to be just left, and we should be grateful it is still being used for agriculture. At least now I may be able to see the birds I can hear.

Time to bid a fond farewell to the old birds, and extend a welcome to the new ones.

Monday, February 18, 2019

Missing the Glaucous at Rainham.

Glaucous Gull is one of my favourite birds. Such a powerful, menacing bird. Unfortunately I haven't seen one for years, so when two turned up at Rainham, it was a no brainer. I set off on Friday morning straight down to Coldharbour Point.

Long story short - I didn't see them. Lots of large gulls, even more small gulls, and a few downcast birders. It was my first time doing a circuit of the tip, and I did eventually get views of loads of gulls on the top of the tip from just east of Coldharbour Point at a considerable distance, but nothing doing. somehow, a fly-though Peregrine, Marsh Harrier, Avocet, Black-tailed Godwit, Pintail, Wigeon, and even 8 Snipe on the foreshore were scant consolation.

So Sunday morning, and why not try again? Well, because the tip is shut on Sundays so its the gulls' day off and they leave the area generally is why not. I turned up to find a second winter had been seen flying NE about thirty minutes earlier, which is funny because as I was driving down the M25 NE of Rainham about twenty minutes earlier a large pale gull had flown high across the motorway, and as I glanced up and saw sunlight through translucent primaries I thought to myself Bollocks Bollocks Bollocks I bet that's it.

Peregrine again, Marsh Harrier, c40 Golden Plover, c200 Dunlin, Avocets, plus the usual stuff all viewable from the mound. There was a time when such a list would have been an epic day out. No more. I guess you know when you've arrived as a birder when you get a list like that and leave disappointed.

Thursday, February 07, 2019

A Day in The Brecks

On my tod today as my usual partners in crime are otherwise engaged or ill. I often find the Brecks difficult and I underperform expectations, so a chance to put in some time researching the favoured places, specifically Santon Downham. There has been a regular Great Grey Shrike, but other Brecks specialities such as Crossbill, Firecrest, and Woodlark I often find hard or impossible so maybe a chance to get some of these on the list here or elsewhere. Goshawks would have to wait for another day with less wind and more sun.

The omens weren't great as a gusty wind was blowing low cloud and intermittent rain across the sky as I pulled up at St Helens, but straight out of the car up by the railway line a large flock of Great tits with a few Chaffinches and Coal tits and a couple of Bramblings. I bumped into a couple of others looking for the Great Grey Shrike, and we looked round the eastern edge of the car park drawing a blank on GGS but did get a couple of Crossbills that turned into a male, an imm male, and two females. We spent a time watching these superb birds in a birch tree, although obviously I was not too excited as for me these are a common garden bird.

After that I headed west along the river. My first time along the river, and what a great piece of habitat. Several sightings of Kingfisher and permanent accompaniment of Siskins. Great views of quite a few including a pale one, which if such a bird existed would surely be an Arctic Siskin. Nuthatch showed well, and then across the bridge at Santon Downham and more Bramblings on the opposite bank. By this point there were many other birders looking for the Great Grey Shrike, but we drew a blank as after a brief sighting in the morning it had not been seen since. There was little else to be seen here as the drizzle had set in, just another couple of Crossbills as I walked back to the car.

Then off to the old reliable of Lynford Arboretum for Hawfinch. Immediately on arrival there were a couple of Bramblings, then a few more down by the bridge, and then at the Paddocks a Hawfinch at the top of a tree. A half hour watch finally delivered five birds with splendid scope views in a tree and a few flight views, as well as a couple of Redwings and a Marsh Tit. It seems hard to believe that just a year ago I was watching sixty Hawfinches in the local wood.

Chat with a couple about Firecrest, and yes they are seen but rarely. Then back to the car, but coming back by the puddle (you know, the small puddle by the feeders about 100 yards down the path) a flock of Bramblings. About 40 birds in a range of plumages with some getting blackish heads. Very skittish flying up and then drifting down. What a sight! Surely there's nothing better in birding then a flock of these fantastic finches.

Just as I was leaving these birds and heading back to the car there was a shout and a wave from the couple I had been chatting to earlier. They were looking intently into the foliage by the entrance. I knew instantly what they were looking at and dashed up there to see a male Firecrest picking its way through the ivy. Ten minutes just a few yards away from this terrific little sprite picking its way through foliage with a few spells of total visibility out in the open was a great way to end the day, and a big thank you to the couple who found this gem and put me and several other birders onto it.

Tuesday, January 29, 2019

Ticks galore on the patch.

The patch is pretty much done. Habitat overgrown, a nothing kind of winter, not much chance of seeing anything of note. I only go there now to see common birds in a relaxed way, often much closer than you see elsewhere.

But not so fast! Doing some pruning in the garden (which is in the patch, fortunately), and "chip chip chip!" Here? A quick scan and two green finches have just flown out of the pine tree next-door but one. That's finches that are green, not Greenfinch. 2 Crossbill!! a wholly unexpected addition to the patch and garden list!

I grabbed my binoculars, went and scanned the tree to see if there were any more Crossbills, and whist not seeing any of those a male Blackcap did pop into view! My first ever winter bird on the patch and my first winter bird for at least three years (although I did get them regularly at my old house in the middle of the village).

Suitably inspired I went to Pishiobury Park to look in tall pine trees. I didn't see any more Crossbills but did find a Nuthatch (new for year) and a small flock of Siskins. Odd numbers have been seen in the first winter period but this was the first time this winter I've seen them well. About 10 max I would say.

The finches weren't finished, with a glorious male Bullfinch, a small flock of Chaffinches and about 20 Goldfinches. A Great Spotted Woodpecker, a couple of Jays, and then, to finish, a Snipe flying over the boggy area. Snipe are probably permanent in the northern part of the scrape field but not often seen on the rest of the patch.

5 patch year ticks. 1 patch life list. 2019 patch list is 51 versus 54 for this point last year, but lack of water means well down on ducks.

Monday, January 07, 2019

On being a stupid birdwatcher.

My name is Dorset Dipper and I'm a stupid birdwatcher.

I don't mean the mis-ID's last week at Abberton. There was a Spoonbill somewhere around, and when I saw a large white bird flapping over a distant shore I called out "is that the Spoonbill?" and no it was just another GWE. Then a large raptor over the same shore - "Is that a Marsh Harrier" but before I could get on it someone else had confirmed it as a Buzzard. and then a flock of Dunlin and one with a massive curved bill. "Hang on everyone - is that a Curlew Sandpiper?" and after a while watching, on the ground and in the air, we decided it was probably an Alpini race. But what a bill! No. I'm not talking about those, all of which I think fall into the category of calling out first and then ID'ing later. Better to risk public mistake than announce after the fact you saw something noteworthy.

I mean the what-on-earth was I thinking? Why exactly did I fail to go back and have a proper look at that larger-than-a-stint-smaller-than-a-Dunlin wader, which may well have been the White-Rumped Sandpiper that appeared shortly afterwards? Why did I not listen to the inner voice saying "are you sure that's not just a juvenile ruff?" before announcing to the local RSPB warden I had rediscovered the Pectoral Sandpiper? I mean the ones where in retrospect all the evidence was available and I just ignored it.

Well now I have the answer as to why, on occasion I am a stupid Birdwatcher. It is here in the article suitably titled "How not to be stupid".

Stupidity is defined as "overlooking or dismissing conspicuously crucial information". The article lists seven reasons why one might do this, and quite a few are relevant to birding. Being in a rush would explain the WRS above, or that feeling that I had a lot of ground to cover and not much time to do it.

Others also pertain to birding. Being outside your normal environment. Information overload. Being in the presence of a group with an expert, or being an expert. Doing any task that requires intense focus. Being tired.

I'm not sure where List Fever occurs in that list, that feeling that you have made an emotional commitment, not to say financial and time commitment, and have already rehearsed the excitement of seeing a particular bird, so the emotional cost of admitting that it isn't the bird in you were hoping to see is considerable.

From work experience, the issues that trip you up are the ones that come from left field. The projects that come through the usual route and fall into the standard processes get done; the ones that come in by circuitous routes don't fall into the usual process and get screwed up. Well, birding is full of birds that don't come when, where, and how you were expecting them.

So this year, I'm going to try and exercise a bit more proper process, to relax and do the due diligence, to be, well, just less stupid.

Saturday, December 22, 2018

Another rubbish day on the patch

The patch has been, comparatively speaking, rubbish this year. The pond at the heart of the patch is overgrown and has no standing water despite recent rains, and location means that it doesn't get much in the way of vagrants, so I set off this morning with low expectations.

A flurry of tits and a couple of Goldcrests at the bottom of the drive, then round the corner and up to Nursery Wood at the NE corner of Pishiobury Park. A brief stop saw a Nuthatch and a family party of Bullfinches, and another Goldcrest.

Not much then until the three-bridges area. Capability Brown designed Pishiobury Park to have a serpentine lake below the park toward the river. This area is no longer a lake but is private farm-land. When there is heavy rain water flows over the west and fills the still-present depression. Viewing is hard in winter as it is through a hedge, and impossible in summer. Today I managed to see Teal, Gadwall, and male Wigeon. The Gadwall numbered about 5 and the Wigeon and Teal were recorded in single but may have been more.

Down to Feakes Lock - 2 Cormorant in the Cormorant Tree, 13 Redwing over, then round the Loop field - more Bullfinches, Yellowhammer over, 70 mixed Common Gull and Black-headed Gull in a field, Kestrel, more Goldcrest, then back to the three bridges for a second look at the wildfowl. A flurry of birds with 2 Ring-Necked Parakeets calling loudly and flying around, Stock Dove, and a look around revealed the cause of the excitement - a male Sparrowhawk slowly causing over the field. 2 Siskin over and 4 Jays , and it was off home, stopping by the willows by the navigation for a small flock of tits including a Treecreeper, back to Nursery Wood where there were now 2 Nuthatches, then Bullfinch again and excitingly 2 House Sparrow - always noteworthy on the patch as they are not an everyday occurrence.

So not Minsmere, but some nice stuff and a few local notables courtesy of the flooded field.