Tuesday, November 19, 2019

A Day in Essex

Just Mike and myself as David continues to be unavailable (get well soon!).

Start at The Naze to see if any of last weekends star birds were still around. On the walk down to the end we heard some zizz-zizz-zizzing and eventually two Firecrests revealed themselves. Still an unusual bird for me - just the second of the year - a treat to see these avian jewels.

On to the beach and up towards Stone Point, and a Shore Lark flew ahead and landed. Possibly a bird of the year as not as vivid yellow and no horns as some, still a terrific sighting. Just after  a Short-Eared Owl flew towards us and gave excellent views as it was mobbed by Meadow Pipits. A Peregrine shot past in full hunting mode. There were no Snow Buntings at the end but we had several Marsh Harriers, and a typical selection of coastal waders - Grey Plover, Sanderling, Dunlin, Bar-tailed Godwit, Redshank, Curlew, Turnstone, a few Ringed Plover, and Oystercatcher, and the usual accompaniment of Dark-Bellied Brent Goose.

Sandwiches, then Abberton. From the Layer-De-La Hey causeway we had two distant Black-Necked Grebes, 3 Scaup, a female Smew, and over 30 Goosander. Someone kindly pointed out the Little Auk, swimmingly merrily around, diving, flapping, little more than a spec but very cute.  Then a short trip round to Wigborough  Bay, and a Bewicks Swan, a few Pintail, c10 Black-Tailed Godwit, 2 Ruff, Lapwing, Dunlin, and a couple of Stonechat. Back to the centre and the island hide and two close-in Long-Tailed Duck including a splendid female, and that was it apart from a drive by tick of 4 Cattle Egret just south of Billet's Farm.

A splendid day in Essex.

Saturday, November 16, 2019

Little Bittern at Amwell

Ping! A text from Mike telling me there was a Little Bittern at Amwell. Quick explanation to Mrs D and I was on my way. At the viewpoint some folks were looking round aimlessly but a fellow birder turned up and indicated where we needed to go. 

Five minutes later after a brisk walk that took us to the 'less explored' parts of the reserve we joined a small crowd queueing up to look through a scope at some brown streaks in some vegetation. It took me ages to find it as I hadn't realised it was so close, just about fifteen yards away. It wandered slowly through dense bushes and I resigned myself to ticking most but not all of a Little Bittern.

Then, miracle, it flew! The kinked neck, the long bill, the dark primaries and secondaries! And then, knock me down with a feather, it landed in a large bush in the open and proceeded to sit there for a good half hour preening itself, occasionally stretching, having a look around.

What a bird! The shape, the beady eye, the long solid bill, the long feathers of varied colour, the bristles forming a kind of beard. I drank in the views, unlikely as they are to be repeated.

Eventually it stretched and flopped down into the long grass invisible to us. So just a few chats with fellow local birders and on my way.

Twitching at its best. If I'd seen that abroad I'd have given it 5 minutes and then been on to the next tick, but here it is the standout star of the show.

That's Little Bitterns done for me. I'm not going for another one. What would be the point in hanging around for ages somewhere to get a view not nearly as good as the one I had today?*

No photos from me. Alan Reynolds was there, as always a pleasure to bump into, and has already posted some great photos.  

* If that sounds a little maudlin I'm reminded of something a birder said many years ago after a talk he had given on his 'once in a lifetime' visit to Siberia. He said, to paraphrase, that of course it's a 'once in a lifetime' trip. why would you repeat it when you can go somewhere else for a different 'once in a lifetime' trip? Similarly, why spend my petrol money and use my birding tokens up on another Little Bittern for worse views than I got today when I can use them on a new different bird and a new experience?

Monday, November 11, 2019

End of Autumn at Cley

I thought Autumn was done. I spent 31st October morning at Canvey Point in a SE wind with a number of local stalwarts in anticipation of a host of sea birds being blown into the Thames and ... nothing. I was resigned to a year without a skua, or any notable sea movement. But the forecast for Tuesday 5th November showed a strong onshore wind in north Norfolk for the afternoon, so perhaps the chance for some fireworks? (sorry).

Dave was unavailable so just myself and Mike pitched up at Cley around 10. There was already a big crowd at the coastguards. We took the opportunity of light winds in the morning to walk up to and beyond the East Bank with a view to concentrating on the sea alter when the wind was forecast to rise.

Mike saw a Woodcock flying strongly over Arthur's Marsh, and we watched it hurtle into the fence along the beach, Tumble over and land in the beach. It seemed to be stunned, possibly injured, so we went towards it taking some time to observe this gem of a bird, nestling into the pebbles and observing us with its large eye. Surely one of my favourite birds. As we got closer it took off and flew out to sea and along the beach, so presumably all well.

The Long-Tailed Duck was still on the pool near the shelter on the east bank, and also Pintail, Brent Goose, Wigeon, Shoveler, Teal, and a Marsh Harrier spooking them all. We carried on beyond the path at East Hide and had some tantalising small birds but they were Goldfinches and a Linnet. I spotted some Grey Plover, Dunlin, Redshank and Curlew out on the marsh and Mike pointed out a pristine winter Spotted Redshank much closer in - a splendid sight.

So, back to the coastguards and the sea. Our totals for occasional watches on our walk and then a concentrated with in the afternoon was as follows:

All 3 Divers in flight, 2 Black-throated and one Great Northern

Gannet over a hundred. A flock of 70 or so moved slowly west, repeatedly diving into the sea from height. surely one of the great sights of watching sea birds. All stages of plumage were seen well and close in as the wind developed.

3 Velvet Scoter, hundreds of Common Scoter, 1 Merganser, plus a few Goldeneye. All going west.

9 Pomarine Skua, 3 Arctic Skua, 3 Great Skua . All well out at sea apart form a Great Skua along the beach, and all going west.

Kittiwake in their hundreds heading east.

Little Auk 2 flying west.

Personally the highlight was the skua passage. Like most birders, I love Skuas and don't see enough of them. In particular, I don't see many Poms, so this was a chance to get to grips with them. If you haven't seen me at sea watches, I'm the guy at the end going 'what was that?' every time a skua flies past. But today my diagnosis of what I was watching chimed in with what others were saying. A heavy, consistent flight with big powerful wing beats and a substantial frame seem to fit the bill for Pom, whereas something dashing around looking for prey seems more likely to be Arctic. Crikey, next I'll be self-identifying Caspian Gulls!

And those ID books in my shelf. 'Skuas and Jaegers' by Klaus Malling Olsen and Hans Larsson. Quite the book in its time. Now rendered completely useless by the internet. So much better to go onto Youtube and see the birds flying rather than just reading up about it.