Monday, November 26, 2018

Home and Away

A couple of recent trips

Abberton. Quite a list! Black-Necked Grebe , Long Tailed Duck, Common Scoter, Bewick's Swan, distant Little Gull, Greenshank, Green Sandpiper, Ruff, Black Tailed Godwit, Marsh Harrier, and I've stopped looking at Great White Egrets there are so many of them.

Canvey Point - a bit gloomy, but a diver flying around was probably a Black-Throated, then off to Rainham. Howard on the desk. Anything around? Howard rattled off an okayish list, and then said that a gloomy day with an easterly breeze something like White Fronted Goose was a possibility. Just before the Ken Barrett hide 5 geese over - one of them has massive black barring on the belly - thank you Howard! Then Water Pipit, Pintail, Ruff, and a couple of Marsh Harriers. So some decent stuff.

This all contrasts with the patch, which has been  ... okay. A Chiffchaff calling incessantly in river-side willows eventually gave pleasant sepia views; my first winter chief on the patch. A Little Owl prowling at dusk. Then in the park, 5 Lesser Redpoll were the first of the winter, and a few Siskin were flying around.

Today I managed an hour or so. Three Green Woodpeckers in the field, a few Bullfinches, then some bird action visible over the railway line. A flock of a few hundred Woodpigeon with some Stock Doves, about the same number of corvids, and about 50 Chaffinches and 20 Yellowhammer, with good numbers for the patch. Now many areas have seen Bramblings passing through recently, and as its one of my favourite birds I had as good a look as I could through the finches. I'm sure you can imagine my joy at finding I had possibly the biggest flock of Chaffinches in the south of England that does not have even a single sodding Brambling in it.

But anyway ... onwards, and quite a few Fieldfare including ones feeding in bushes not too far off, and a distant Red Kite.

The thing is, I think I enjoyed my common birds about as much as I enjoyed all those rarities at Abberton. I guess we all started birding because we love birds. And not just rare birds, but any bird. I'm increasingly conscious that the best moments of bird trips aren't necessarily the target birds, but are the ones that give confiding views, or that you stumble upon and didn't expect. Take that Chiffchaff - is there a duller bird than a winter Chiffchaff? But I really enjoyed its smooth sleek plumage and warm tones.

Thursday, November 08, 2018

Wallasea Island

For a while now, Wallasea Island has been the next big thing. Powered by the diggings of Crossrail, the RSPB were going to make this the next Minsmere, a place where expanding populations of Mediterranean and continental birds would make their homes.

It has all gone quiet for a while, with very few records coming from the reserve, until recently when winter raptors and owls have been recorded and most recently a Rough-Legged Buzzard. Time for David and myself to make our Wallasea Island debuts.

We got their early afternoon, satnav having thankfully guided us there in the absence of any signs. We parked in the 'car park' and headed up to the sea wall for a scan over the reserve in the slowly waning light. Lots of rough fields, some spaced out groups of cattle, some distant lagoons. On the estuary side, mud. In the distance a female Hen Harrier, and then flocks of Golden Plover and more common estuary waders, and a distant group of ten Black-tailed Godwits.

We had learned that the best place for the roost was by a gate just before the entrance, so we returned to the car park. On arriving there was a strange unfamiliar wader-like call. I looked up and a female Merlin was belting over which then proceeded to put up flocks of Lapwings and Plovers as it dashed low across the reserve. I guess that strange call was waderese for 'Merlin!'

We made our way to the gate where a couple of people were already present and started scanning, Apart from a couple of Kestrels hovering there wasn't much. Just a female Sparrowhawk through Then I got the scope on to one of the kestrels, and as it sank to the ground realised it was considerably bigger! Dam and Blast! Yet another in this blog's roll call of missed opportunities. Surely, at half a mile, there would be no second chance on this probable Rough-Legged.

Repeat scanning of the area produced a large raptor sat on the bank. Zooming in, it was buzzard-like with a whitish head. Then, it took off and miraculously flew towards us. It flew around at a range of about 200 yards, hovered, flew round some more, hovered some more, then sat on a bank. Whilst a couple of crows sat in attendance. Wow! Full white tail, white feather edges, whitish on the upper primary base, pale underneath with dark breast and dark tail band, the lot. We got ten minutes or so, possibly longer, until it flew down into the field out of site. Quite the best views either of us have ever had of Rough-Legged Buzzard.

And that was pretty much it. Just a flock of 35 Corn Buntings flying around, 6 Marsh Harriers, and a distant Barn Owl.

So on its own terms, Wallasea Island is doing okay. I guess over the years the RSPB will start to deliver infrastructure, and a bit more variety of birds. But for now, at just over an hour's distance, it is well worth adding to the list of local places worth visiting.



Wednesday, November 07, 2018

Dream list in Norfolk

What a list! E/NE wind on the Norfolk coast in Late October (29th). Start the Day at Cley with White-Billed Diver, a distant White-Tailed Eagle coming over Salthouse, and a handful of Little Auks; go to Salthouse for the Stejneger’s Stonechat, Then Titchwell just in time for the Red-flanked Bluetail, and finally Red-Necked Grebe and some passage on the sea. Truly a list of dreams.

And dreams is unfortunately what that list is, because someone, no prizes for guessing who, managed to convince his mates that the place to start was Titchwell, not Cley. The first unpleasant surprise was that in contrast to the empty roads through Swafham and Fakenham, Kings' Lynn on a Monday morning has turned into the M25 on a Friday afternoon. Whilst seabirds whizzed along the Norfolk coast, we sat stationary on the A149. Eventually, we pulled up at Titchwell to a car park busy with birds. 4 Chiffchaffs and a Brambling. We strolled down to the beach to hear that we had just missed a Little Auk. Not to worry, they were clearly passing and it was just a matter of time. We got the Red-Necked Grebe off the shore, and a few other birds in the swell including a mystery grebe which I kept getting confused with the Red-Necked Grebe. Others claimed it as a Slavonian, and I wouldn't argue, but the few occasions I saw it didn't give me a conclusive view. So we left not having seen any decent seabirds, no Little Auks, and with the news from Cley about the White Billed Diver and the Eagle in our ears.

We returned to the car park, having a minor drenching on the way back, then a good look round the centre again with more Thrushes and calling Redpoll sp. Then a leisurely lunch in the car park. I note these prosaic details because when we arrived at Cley, where we found out that there was nothing on the sea, we learned that there had been a Red-Flanked Bluetail seen on the path back at Titchwell. I suspect it was the rain that brought it down. Now, to give them the benefit of the doubt, it may not have been known by the reserve staff at the time we left, but I sincerely hope that whenever they were informed someone got right down to the car park to stop anyone leaving without having the option of going to see it. All I can say is that when it comes to communicating what is around to the punters, RSPB Minsmere sets the standard.

So to that Stonechat. The Stejnegerjgerjgers whatever. It was nice, performed well, had a bit of Whinchat about it, but lets face it, we are all waiting for that paternity test to come back so we can tick it. We did get to hear about the moment the White-Billed Diver had flown by, and how the watchers got really excited when they saw that banana bill gleaming in the sun. Fantastic. I'm really happy for them.

We heard that RFB had been seen back at Titchwell, so back we went, and spent the last half hour of useful daylight standing by a freezing clump of sueda bushes with a group of cold disgruntled watchers. And then tantalisingly, my luck changed. Just me and one other saw the bird fly between bushes. It was only a nano-second, no red, no blue, just a flash of pale grey, but absolutely, definitely it. Out of deference to my travelling companions who missed it, I have graciously decided not to tick it. And, to be honest, having had one in touching distance for about half an hour a few years ago, a fly-by doesn't really hit the spot.

Then back to the gridlock of metropolitan King's Lynn. Just as well I had my travelling companions to turn what could have been a seriously miserable trip back into something much more relaxed and enjoyable. And there we have it.