Saturday, December 04, 2021

Surely Abberton with these Grebes you are really spoiling us.

A Saturday morning window of opportunity, so pop down to the local park to look at the ducks. I mean drive to Abberton to see what is around. 

Quick stop at Layer De La Haye Causeway. Three Scaup females asleep in  with the Tufties and Pochard, a couple of Goosander at the over flow, and on the other side a Red-Necked Grebe happily swimming around amongst the thousands of Tufted Ducks. Then round to Hide Bay to get 3 Bewick's Swans. Nice views too as they paddled away stirring up the base of the bay before sticking their heads in to feed. A couple of Slavonian Grebes distantly from Island Hide and that was my lot. The support cast of Pintail, Black Tailed Godwit was pretty decent, and a small flock of Fieldfare was just about my first of the winter. There was a Long-Tailed Duck out there somewhere, but I've seen it already this winter and time was pressing, and I drove past the Cattle Egrets and could not be bothered to stop. 

Way back in the last century it wasn't like this. Abberton was smaller, and full access was for the select few. But the the expansion happened, and the whole reservoir was opened up, and now there's all this stuff available pretty much all winter. 

So it's clearly a big improvement, but ... part of me says birding isn't meant to be like this. You should have to work for birds like Red-Necked and Slavonian Grebe. If you went to Minsmere and saw this you'd think it a red-letter day, but its just every day at Abberton. Hanningfield is quite a decent reservoir and a bit nearer, but what's the point? 

Perhaps I grumble too much. Enjoy them whilst they are there. 

Tuesday, November 23, 2021

To do list

I stopped working and started birding intensively in 2015. Since then I've seen quite a few new birds, and caught up with quite a few birds that were poorly seen or only seen once birds. 

But there's a few that I haven't seen or haven't seen well since 2015, and really could and should see again. Here's the list with annotations (note doesn't include my two glaring life misses Storm Petrel and Quail, or either of the Hippos warblers, or birds that are no longer breeders eg Montagu's Harrier, Golden Oriole, or birds such as Chough which are in a specific location).

Leach's Petrel. Seen a couple at Canvey. Would like to see some more.

Honey Buzzard. - Clumber Park and one off Bempton back in the 80's. Nothing since

White-Tailed Eagle - Kent 1990's

Grey Phalarope - once in Keyhaven, 90's

Black Grouse. Once in the late 80's, again last year, but I'd like a decent view of both sexes.

Glaucous Gull - used to be regular in Yorkshire in the 80's, a couple down south, but not for a while

Puffin - regular at Bempton, occasional at Portland

Wryneck - Spurn, Portland at various times

Richard's Pipit - Wraysbury, late 80's early 90's.

Mealy Redpoll - various times in the 90's. Saw an Arctic at Aldborough a few years ago but the flock cleared off before I could pick out the Mealy's.

The list isn't as long as I thought it might be. But enough to be worth chasing.

Monday, November 22, 2021

Bet on the Bittern

To the Lea Valley with David for some photography. Firstly the Wildlife Discovery Centre, to look for Bitterns. It has lots going for it; nice clear windows, helpful staff, and a reed bed with two cuts in it that allow you to see birds walking across or going down, and best of all it actually has a Bittern. There is just one problem, which is at this time of year you are looking straight at the sun.

We do quite well, Bittern, take some photos (see above) then Water Rail, then on advice we walk up to and beyond Holyfield Farm to a flock of passerines and get 5+ Brambling, and a Cattle Egret along the way, then back to see a Kingfisher. So an excellent morning.

It struck me as we were watching the Bittern and a conversation was struck up about whether it has a preferred circuit and how often it crosses the tracks that it would be an excellent way to raise money to have a session of Bet on The Bittern. One could divide the session into 20 minute intervals, and people could place bets on whether in that time slot the Bittern was going to exit left, exit right, or stay put. I think Sky could take this up. It's a guaranteed winner.

Finally the photo. Excellent isn't it. You're going Wow DD! We knew you were going to put more effort into photos but that's a really good one particularly for someone with your photographic skills, and I'm going yes yes thanks very much all compliments on my skills much appreciated. And then you're going hang on, that's not you is it? You've nicked one of David's and claimed it as your own haven't you? And yes that is exactly what I've done. It's one of David's. You can, as always, find more of David's excellent photos here.

Saturday, November 20, 2021

They're back

I know I promised an end to rubbish photos, but .... look closely and you can see two Hawfinches.

Hatfield Forest is a traditional Hawfinch site, particularly round the Hornbeams near Bush End car park. But the early years of this century had only a few records and it wasn't until the great eruption a couple of years ago we had decent numbers. Last year there were a few in mid winter, so with numbers having been seen flying over local areas this autumn, it was time to go looking.

I'd had very little apart from 40 Siskins by the lake and 60 Redwings flying round when I saw a larger passerine slipping away over trees, and just glimpsed a long white wing bar. Not enough to tick, damn! I gave it a bit longer, and picked up one, then three flying into the tops of trees.

We know how this goes, having seen enough a couple of winters ago. They go into the tree tops then drop down slowly to the floor below, as presumably these did. I didn't go in to avoid any disturbance, and had no further views.

I've no idea how many there are. I could have seen them all in this viewing, there could be lots more scattered round. No matter, its great to have them back.

Wednesday, November 10, 2021

Going Nutcrackers.

A Nutcracker has been seen in Scotland. Exciting for the finder, congratulations, and good luck to those who go for it.

I was fortunate enough to see the Westleton one in 1853 or whenever it was.

My preferred order of seeing Nutcracker (or pretty much any other bird, come to that) is:

1. Find one.

2. See a few in their natural habitat.

3. Travel to see one. If its not too far and there is other stuff there.

Saturday, October 23, 2021

The Patch in focus

I guess most patches get a bit samey. The first year is full of 'wow - Yellowhammers!', the next year is 'good to see the Yellowhammers still here', and short after that its 'rubbish - just Yellowhammers'. 

So as I'm on year seven, I feel in need of a bit of a change of angle. And I thought photography might be it. One reason is that I noticed on the small fields and copses of my patch I tend to get closer to birds, and will spend longer on, say, a Treecreeper than I would elsewhere.

My history of bird photography in the modern era goes something like this. Bought a Canon EOS30D and 100-400 ultrasonic zoom lens back in the early 0's. Was a bit rubbish, then was very rubbish. The autofocus packed up so I was reduced to focussing manually with predictable results.

Last year I got the camera checked out, and the auto-focus has gone, and the 30D isn't really supported anymore. So a week ago I bought a used 650D from Wex Photographic.

The patch visit was okay. Raven over, a couple of Siskins over at the same time, good numbers of Yellowhammers, Reed Buntings, Chaffinches, 4 Mistle Thrushes! And a Fallow Deer which turned out to be a young buck.

Here's the pick of the photos.

Thursday, October 21, 2021

More year listing

With the Worst Autumn Ever drawing to a close, time to tour round the local rarity spots and get that year list closer to 200. 

First a lay-bye SW of Earith on the A1123. A vista of flooded fields, we thought we had blown it when we scanned and saw only Wigeon, Teal, Gadwall, and Little Egrets, but six Glossy Ibis took off and flew around for a while, then settled back along the near edge of the fen, mainly just on the other side of the vegetation. But they were active, and soon started giving excellent scope views.

I even got some camera shots. The light blah blah so they are mainly silhouettes. I'm particularly proud of the pin-sharp focus on the railing as four blurry birds fly past. More of that in a future post. Just time to add Marsh Harrier to the day list, then onwards.

192 in the bag (for those keeping count, 191 was Brambling over my head a couple of days ago at the local vis mig watch point), onwards in search of 193. We went north to Pymoor/Welney, but had no luck, then headed to Eldernell to view the Nene Washes. I hadn't been before, and what a huge expense of prime habitat it is. The wind was however not helping. Mike found Raven and Sparrowhawk for the day list, and we had regular small flocks of Whooper Swans moving west at low level, but just as we were giving up hope on our target we picked up three very distant Common Cranes in flight. Not a classic view, but easily good enough to get the long neck with red adornment on the head through the scope. 193. Just 7 to go now.

The Home Strait

Two significant life events recently on successive days. The first was my 60th birthday. Really? you ask? Already? I know. Feels like just yesterday I was 16, then woosh the big six-zero. How did that happen? 

Then the very next day, we were dropping D#4 off at University. Mrs D and I have a notional cut-off. The moment we drive away and leave a child at University, that's it. They have crossed the Rubicon into adulthood. All decisions are theirs to make. They own them, and the consequences of their decisions.

The moment we got home it was just the two of us. A house that had been filled with the sound of moaning joyful children was now quiet. Mrs D said, well you're on the home strait now.

D#3 was somewhat put out by the notion of my being on the home strait, a bit morbid. But I said no not at all. If you view your life, as a man, to be about raising a family, about putting food on the table, clothes on their backs, a roof over their heads, then that was it. Job done. Time to relax and enjoy. Every day is a bonus, to be enjoyed for itself, not as a step toward some future moment.

But for how long will this Nirvana last? Well, as we all know particularly after the last 18 months, that is an open question. And if you want to make God laugh, tell him your plans. But it seems sensible to make some kind of assessment. And my assessment is that I've got maximum ten good years. My current plan for my 70th, should I be sufficiently blessed to reach that point, is to spend my remaining years with crates of cold beer and sports on TV. 

So if I want to buy anything, buy it now. Do anything, do it now. 

And the first up on that list is ... photography!