Sunday, September 10, 2017

Fingrinhoe and Abberton - 5th Sept

I pick up David at the uncharacteristically early time of 8:15 and we head off to Fingringhoe Wick. Our aim is to be in place for the incoming tide, hopefully not too far to the back of what is sure to be a packed hide. On the way down to the "intertidal zone" we can see from the mud that we are not too late. Nor are we too late for the Osprey that is flying slowly over the river, then casually drifting down over the reserve woodland. A pair of partridges fly up and whirr over the hedge, and a certain amount of bickering as to which variety they are ensues.

We settle in the hide where there is only one other person, but surely it will pick up later. Redshanks, Ringed Plover and Dunlin are scattered around on the exposed mud, and there is a smattering of Greenshanks amongst them. Slowly the large lagoon begins to fill, and more and more waders appear and begin to settle on the nearby purpose built piles of mud. There are some sparkling summer plumage Grey Plovers, a party of about 20 Golden Plovers again a few with large amounts of black, and some Black Tailed Godwits come closer. Then Knot appear too, with some still in red, and Bar-tailed Godwits. soon it is a mass of just about every common wader in just about every plumage. Avocets are slightly more distant, Curlews are on the river's edge, and a Whimbrel flies past. A kingfisher whistles and zips round the hide into a bush. The tide builds and more waders come in and two juvenile Curlew Sandpipers appear with that distinctive long-legged appearance and a gorgeous peachy wash on the breast.

Periodically the waders all fly up as raptors appear. The first time it is the Osprey back for more fish, the second a Merlin zooms through quickly followed by a Peregrine that zips back and lands briefly in a tree before continuing on, then two Hobbies, all wings and tail, zip down river.

It is high tide so we head off.  Still buzzing from the spectacle of so many waders in fantastic plumage at very watchable distances, and from the show put on by as good a selection of raptors as one could wish to see. And all watched by just three people.

We head off to Abberton and call in to see the two juvenile Red-Necked Phalaropes from the church. Still distant, still hard to see, but this time we get some decent views of a couple of very neat birds. Down to the centre to establish that there is not much here. David insists we stop at the Layer De La Haye Causeway which I know will be a waste of time but surprisingly we find a Black-Necked Grebe in winter plumage working its way up the right hand bank, mainly under water. We go down to Billet's Farm and then round to the screen overlooking Wigboro Bay. There is a juvenile Whinchat on the fence, 3 Spotted Redshanks and 20 Ruff in the bay with various more common waders, and a further 4 Black-necked Grebes in the bay. We meet a couple of birders who tells us what they have seen at Hide Bay so we go back to the centre and head off. I ignore David's directions and set off to the hide by what ultimately turns out to be a circuitous route ending up exactly where David suggested we go in the first place. From the hide is a Great White Egret patrolling the bank. We get excellent views of the yellow beak and pale yellow green loral patch, and the legs starting pale but becoming blackish round the knee. I haven't seen these details before. Slightly further away is the rare and unusual sight of 2 Spoonbills actively feeding and a couple of Pintails in the small lagoon.

What a list. And not just ticks on the page but a real birding spectacle. The intertidal zone at Fingringhoe Wick is, at the right time for these few weeks, surely one of the best places to see birds in the East of England. It is almost criminal that so few people were there to witness it.

Here's an excellent shot from David of a mixed wader flock getting squeezed whilst the tide rises. See if you can spot the Curlew Sandpipers!



Monday, September 04, 2017

Birders and Steely Dan

So. Recently I've started going birding with a local birder on a regular basis. The trips involve quite a lot of sitting in a car where I talk rubbish and my birding mate politely listens. But in the course of talking rubbish, it transpires that despite being different in age, background, interests (other than birding), we have the same all time favourite album; Aja, by Steely Dan.

Yesterday Walter Becker, one half of said duo, died. Another birder who I follow on the side bar to this blog, paid a couple of paragraphs of tribute. I'm pretty sure this is the first time said birding blogger has commented in this way on anything other than birds. I got wondering if there is something about birders and Steely Dan.

Much of Rock Music is a fairly straightforward display of maleness, like a colossal lek. Rock bands compete to be the ultimate male, singing songs of prowess, strength, and masculine vigour, advertising their heroic status like a male bird advertising for mates. In this world, Steely Dan stood out. They were the nerds on the edge of the playground pointing out the ridiculousness of it all.

If you haven't seen the Classic Albums episode on Aja, it is well worth digging out. Steely Dan come across as a couple of misfits who found each other and started wrote songs together. They eventually formed a band and started singing because no-one else would sing their songs. They formed a rock band because that was the popular medium, but their heart was in fifties jazz and r&b. Aja was the album they made for themselves, to put down somewhere the things that mattered to them, not the things they thought would sell. Famously, they didn't just rotate session musicians, they rotated entire bands until they got the precise sound they were looking for. They succeeded magnificently.

So what does this have to do with birders? Well, as a general rule, we are the boys who stood on the edge of the playground whilst the more popular lads played football or bragged about their latest achievements. Whilst everyone else was clamouring for attention, fighting for their place in the testosterone hierarchy, we were looking in the other direction at a bird and asking the four basic questions all birders ask: What is it? What is it doing here? Why is it doing that? Can I tick it?

So I think birders have a natural affinity with Steely Dan. An instinctive empathy with sarcastic observations, an indifference to things other people think matter a lot, and obsessions about perfection in areas that other people think don't matter.

I could post a Steely Dan song here, but there are lots on YouTube and you can find them if you want. Part of the fun of browsing youtube is ending up in areas you didn't know existed. Through Aja I came across the drummer Bernard Purdie. I could listen all day to Bernard Purdie playing the drums. I could listen all day to him just talking. Here he does both.




Saturday, September 02, 2017

The Perennial Patch Optimist.

Today, surely, is the day when it all happens. The day I'm watching a Shrike, just above the Redstart, when a Wryneck pops out and I'm distracted by a passing Monties.

I've been out almost daily recently, and I'm getting into a decent rhythm. Taking more time, just standing watching the bushes. I've had a couple of Spotted Flycatchers, regular Lesser Whitethroat, and the Little Owl and Kingfisher have been refreshingly active. Willow Chiffs have been again in decent numbers with some Chiff-chaff singing, and Blackcaps are still active. Green Woodpeckers number about 5 round the patch including young ones, there's Nuthatch and Great Spotted Woodpecker in the woods and Buzzard overhead, Bullfinches and Greenfinches in the hedgerows, but these are all the standard sightings.

More irregular birds have been a Peregrine through from the south on 22nd, a patch first for me, a Ring-Necked Parakeet in a tree, a Hobby scything through and a leisurely Red Kite over the park on 29th, a Swift on 31st may have been the last of the year, and a smashing Whinchat in the overgrown Little Owl field 1st September, so there is migration action.

Then last night we had a sudden thunderstorm. It was light up like bonfire night with rain bouncing off the roads and thunder rumbling all around. Surely no self-respecting migrant would fly through that? Despite the lack of appropriate winds I set of with my scope confident of bushes heaving with Shrikes, Starts, Wrynecks etc.

There was a Spotted Flycatcher on the edge of the park, being given grief by a Chiffchaff that tried to spoil every sally from the wires. The Kingfisher was calling loudly and I got to see its rear end a couple of times as it motored away. The Little Owl, often just a fluffy child's toy discarded on a low branch, was this time busy flying around from perch to perch, and although I was at a distance it always seemed to be looking directly at me. Yellowhammer and Reed Bunting were on the patch, and a Cetti's Warbler song was the first for a few months. A first for the year was Jay with an acorn in its beak.

So a decent walk. Lots to admire, but not the big one. That'll be along soon for sure. And when it comes, you can read about it here.