Thursday, September 07, 2023

Minsmere - When Birding Dreams Come True.

To be a birder is to be a perpetual optimist. Today is going to be the day. The day when rarities just pop up on front of you, when bushes drip birds, when your wildlife dreams are realised.

Mike, Dave and I did our usual speculation of what we might see as we sped crawled towards Westleton Heath hoping a SE breeze would deposit rarities. Top of my list was Honey Buzzard; a bird blown over from the continent, or perhaps, if rumours and occasional sightings were true, a local bird. But maybe some passerine migrants, or some decent waders. Mike wanted some year ticks he'd missed out on so far - Dartford Warbler, Grayling Butterfly, Common Emerald. Dave, after extended health-related lay-offs, wanted to just get out with his camera and photograph some wildlife, preferably the massive green Bush Cricket he'd read about at Minsmere.

We started at Westleton Heath, retracing last year's steps to the Deer watchpoint. We got Grayling Butterfly almost immediately performing well on heather, then were immediately into a family party of Stonechats; a harsh churr churr and a Dartford Warbler shot past my head. A family party soon appeared and gave unusually confiding views on an old Gorse bush.

Walking past the quarry a lark dropped into the open area and as I approached to investigate further a small flock lifted with quiet whistles and settled a  few yards further. We spent a good half hour enjoying this feast of Woodlarks, counting at least eight and possibly a few more. Woodlark was a possible bird on the list but we never thought it would be this number and these views.

On to the deer watchpoint and in a repeat of last year we had six Stone Curlews including one out in the open. A splendid list and we could have gone home happy at that point.

Mike and I returned to the car and David hang back to take some photos. When he eventually appeared it was to ask us why we hadn't responded to his calls when what was clearly a juvenile Honey Buzzard had flown over his head. After congratulating David we said not to worry, it was probably still around and we would surely bump into it later. Said with my fingers crossed behind my back.

We pitched up at Minsmere car park and scanned the sky for large raptors duly found one circling; dark brown back, but a white forehead and white underneath - an Osprey, and from the neat solid back probably an adult. We watched this circle for a while, had a Hobby flying underneath it, and as it slid away a gaggle of RSPB staff appeared and got a glimpse of it.

On through the Dragonfly pond - Common Emerald ticked, then onto the shore and East Hide. We had 2 Curlew Sandpipers, and good numbers of other waders. A few duck flew in and we added Wigeon and three Pintail to the list; then on to South Scrape and a Sandwich Tern and a few more waders.

On having South scrape and heading further down the dunes Mike suddenly stopped and pointed to a creature in the grass - unmistakeably a Great Green Bush Cricket ponderously crawling around. A huge insect, just a few on a skewer would make a decent serving. Dave duly clicked away delighted to have got onto one.

Then as we scanned over the reserve a large raptor appeared slowly circling over the Island Mere Reedbed. As soon as we got on it we know what it was, and through the scope it was all there. Large floppy-ended wings held flat, narrow wing base, small greyish protruding head, tail spread again a slight greyish from above. For Dave it was a case of Hello Old Friend; the juvenile Honey Buzzard was back. It was harassed by a Marsh Harrier which was notably smaller, and then as it continued out a Sparrowhawk and Common Buzzard joined in. 

Books go on about telling Common and Honey apart but honestly on a good view its just not an issue. Its blindingly unmistakably obvious. The bird was seen by various groups, and all those ladies with their cameras who tag along with their husbands, the ones who can't tell a Whinchat from a Stonechat and aren't bothered about it, they were all pretty sure they'd seen a Honey Buzzard. 

On to the sluice bushes, and a small party of chats hoping around on the sward; two Whinchats, a Wheatear, and seven Stonechats. We didn't see the Wryneck reported from here, and neither did we meet anyone who'd seen it. 

And that was more or less it. A Kingfisher flew across the path. A Green Sandpiper appeared. But then as the afternoon heat reached a peak we called it a day and headed back.

wow what a list. Woodlark flock, Stone Curlew flock, Honey Buzzard, Osprey, Curlew Sandpiper plus various seasonal goodies. All the main birds self-found and unexpected. It's one thing to go on a twitch for a rare bird and to see it, but to go out with no particular expectations and fill your boots like we did today is the stuff of dreams. The best of birding with, as always, the best of company.

Thursday, August 31, 2023

Hatfield Forest 1st August

A trip, with camera, round our local forest. We came across a couple of Silver-Washed Fritillaries doing their bit to ensure there's some fritillaries around next year.

Here's the happy couple, with the female on the right indicating a certain willingness to proceed.

The whole process was quite elaborate with lots of fluttering of wings. Good to have these butterflies in number in the forest.

Elsewhere there were more butterflies. There are three species in the photo below.

You can really only see two, but the Comma moved off allowing a decent view of the third.

Always amazed at the style and neatness of the Purple Hairstreak's face!

UPDATE: ** Thanks to Mike for pointing out that this is not a Purple Hairstreak but is a White-Letter Hairstreak. On checking the books it matches quite clearly. That's not just a first for me for Hatfield Forest but a Lifer - thanks Mike! **

It wasn't just butterflies. The Orchid bible Harrop states HF has Violet Helleborines. After asking some of the local Naturalists and doing a bit of hunting around I found some gone-over spikes last Autumn. This time they were in full bloom. We are indeed fortunate to have these so close to us.

Kent part 2

Bonsai Bank had a lot more than just masses of Lady Orchids and Fly orchids. We had single Greater Butterfly Orchid, several White Helleborines, and there were still some Early Purple Orchids.

The weather wasn't ideal for Butterflies, but we did get a few Duke of Burgundies.

We went on to Yocklett's Bank and then Parkgate Down. The issue at both was parking, but we managed to find places both times.

Yocklett's Bank had similar to Bonsai Bank but more. The Greater Butterfly Orchid was in flower. Also a Turtle Dove purring loudly. 

Greater Butterfly Orchid

Parkgate had magnificent Monkey Orchids in decent numbers. Just mad exploding golf-balls of vivid purple colour. Our appreciation was only slightly diminished by learning these had all been relocated from another site a while ago.

For an exploratory trip this was excellent and I think I will be back for more next year.

Monday, August 14, 2023

Going Nuclear.

I know, I know, its very bad form to observe a couple of months of silence and then return for a rant. But here we are.

I'm getting increasingly fed up with the 'green' lobby and their sheer logic-defying brainlessness. But lets not spend half a day going over that. Instead let's just consider the available options on 'green energy' and look for the best solution.

I worked on computer systems in banks for many years, and my experience is that lots of people are keen to sell you there latest wacky idea as though its the future, but if you want actual results on a realistic timescale, you go with something that is proven to work.

And what is proven to work, if you are shopping for an energy form that doesn't emit Carbon Dioxode, is available whenever you need it, doesn't need non-existent storage solutions, is Nuclear. It is proven in many places over many years. We start from a point of known technology, known results. 

If you want to invest in new 'green' energy generation methods that would be Nuclear Fusion. Lawrence Livermore Labs in the US have repeated the process of generating energy over a short period, which gives real hope that developments can extend the performance. It's in as good a position for an experimental technology as one can reasonably ask for. 

This is just obvious isn't it?

Thursday, June 01, 2023

In Kent with the Ladies (part 1)

To Kent to see orchids. If you have an interest in wildlife beyond just birds, then Orchids appear on your horizon, and then the reserves in Kent near Canterbury and their fantastic flora get mentioned, so it was very much an ambition to visit at the right time. 

We got excellent directions from Peter Alfrey's blog here and also consulted Orchid Hunter's video. These made all the difference and meant the day went smoothly. Thanks to both of those.

And what a day. First up Bonsai Bank in Denge Wood.

There were Lady Orchids well scattered in excellent condition throughout the bank. It is frankly weird and wonderfully bizarre to go into an English woodland and see flowers like this in this number. As if a stately home over the fence had accidentally seeded some exotic flowers. And in close-up the ladies in their bonnets are a real picture.

We had been hoping to see Fly Orchids and we were told of a couple of spikes just round to the left after entering. We saw those and more. Orchid Hunter (see above) says when you see a Fly Orchid get down and look carefully, and by following that advice we ended up with twenty spikes in clusters throughout the area. A cracking flower.

There was more to see, which I will reveal in a second post

Sunday, May 28, 2023

Year list. Bird 172. A lump of flint.

First trip this year to the Norfolk Coast, and with both Mike and David. Would we get a special bird for a special day?

First stop was North Point Pools to get our bearing and check Birdguides. Twenty Blackwits, Avocets, Redshank, Shelduck, a couple of Little Ringed Plovers and a Common Sandpiper. A wing-tagged Marsh Harrier and distantly a Cuckoo calling. A decent first stop. 

Titchwell seemed to be our best bet so we headed west. But first we stopped at Choseley Barns for the remaining Dotterel that had been reported that morning. We scanned with no luck but were saved when a birder found it sat down. We could just see a very peachy breast and a darker head but the heat haze made getting more detail difficult, but even in the heat haze I could see it turn its head.

With year tick 172 in the bag we went on to Titchwell. The three 1st year Little Gulls put on a decent display both on the ground and in flight. Our search for more birds was rudely interrupted by Mike who had found a Grey-Headed Wagtail on the bank. This bird had been seen yesterday but not so far today. We managed to get terrific views, even down to the gorget of dark feathers indicating its first year plumage. We managed to get a few others on to telescope views of this before it flew off over the reserve centre.

We got a few more birds - Mediterranean Gulls, Spoonbills, a couple of Little Terns on the tidal lagoon, Sanderlings on the beach, and then sat down on a bench by the reed bed; three old men on a day out, talking nonsense and pulling each others legs, and inbetween whiles we got first class views of Bearded Tit and Reed Warbler. So often birds ticked on sound not sight.

Just time to go back and check on the Dotterel. We decided that if it was still sat in the same place I would have to admit defeat. And there it was. Number 172. A lump of flint.

Phone scope pic of Grey Headed Wagtail

Thursday, May 04, 2023

Stellar Day at Frampton

We chose RSPB Frampton as our venue on the basis of a stellar list from the previous day. We arrived at a packed car park and saw the fantastic wader habitat that now stretches from the car park to the back of the reserve. We had two Wood Sandpipers on a small near-by pool before we'd even got out of the car, and went on to add a Spotted Redshank in dusky summer plumage, many Ruff, a pair of mating Little-Ringed Plovers (the first of five pairs on the reserve) and as we moved towards the centre added two Black-Winged Stilt in the corner. Frankly we could have gone home then more than happy. 

Down the path on the NW side we added Lesser Whitethroat singing, Cetti's and Sedge Warbler, then on the walk along the western edge we added Whimbrel, Common Sandpiper, a few Yellow Wagtails, many Whitethroats, along the sea-wall a few Mediterranean Gulls flying around, a line up of birders fruitlessly searching for the Blue-Winged Teal (see previous post), a few Pale-Bellied Brents amongst the thousand plus Dark-Bellied out on the marsh then along the road back to the centre we had about fifty Dunlin and a cracking Spoonbill feeding in a channel. 

Lunch then back for another go at the Teal which proved successful, and that was more or less our list for the day, but we had two further sightings of the kind that make birding a challenge not just wildlife tourism. The Temminck's Stint had been seen the previous day rom the road, and as we went through the Dunlin I picked up a likely candidate; nice pectoral band, spangly back, all white belly, and called a few people over as a likely. But on comparison with a Dunlin thats arrived it was the same size and had a longer curved bill than the Stint, so we had to write that one off as a Dunlin. 

Almost back at the centre and a large bumble bee appeared, a real whopper and all black. On checking this later it matches the black form of Bombus Ruderatus, the Large Garden or Ruderal Bee. I'm not going to claim it as I know from experience bees are tricky creatures and you have to get very good photos to be sure, but exciting to see this beast nevertheless. 

The lasting impression was not the list but the quantities. I haven't even mentioned the Shelduck, Shovelers, a few Wigeon, flocks of Black-Tailed Godwits, the many Avocets, the vast gull colony; the feeding Brents across the fields, and the 60+ Ruff, many males in splendid black and orange. One was so near even I could get some photos. Just imagine if these were taken by a decent photographer, or even someone with a basic knowledge of the settings

Wednesday, May 03, 2023

Birding Etiquette Fail at Frampton

RSPB Frampton Marsh. A stellar list of birds (more of that in the next post) was topped by Blue-Winged Teal. It had been seen early somewhere on the vast expanse of channels and ditches that is Marsh Farm Grassland but by early afternoon despite many people looking (including myself and Mike) there was no further sign. 

So it was with some excitement that, on encountering the chap who had re-found it, we walked to the knot of birders on the sea wall staring through scopes at the target bird. And it was with some horror that as we and others were making our way to this group we saw them pick up their tripods and head off. 

We managed to get the last one off to try and help us locate it, but on that plane where everything looks the same, and with our only references being cows which were all moving, we were left cluelessly back at square one scanning the ditches in the vain hope of somehow reconnecting with a bird that had evaded birders for the most part of the day.

I was furious, loudly quietly complaining to anyone unfortunate enough to be near me. To me, when a rare bird which is not co-operating is pinned down, you don't walk away until you pass the location on. Particularly when you yourself have been given the location by someone else.

This state of Meldrewesque grumpiness continued unabated until, by sheer chance, the target duck appeared swimming in a channel, whereupon I was deeply grateful to the departing birders for giving me the opportunity to experience the excitement and joy of rediscovering the bird. Even at this considerable distance it was a cracker, all white blaze and white thigh spot. It gave distant but reasonable views as it swam around, flapped once, and waddled around on the bank. And the biggest pay-off for me, never having seen one outside of a collection before, is that given its behaviour and circumstances the bird is clearly unequivocally 100% wild. Fantastic.

Tuesday, April 25, 2023

Durlston Deja Vue

Durlston. I've been here before, and I managed to persuade D#2 that it would be a great idea to stop off here again. 

This time I managed to sprint round before the rain came down snapping the key species. First off the Early Spider Orchids. I had forgotten how small they are (we've done this detour to see those?) and also how like Spiders they are. The numbers had improved since last time. 

Early Purple Orchids were everywhere, but particularly on the lower slopes. they were approaching their peak but not quite there. 

But of the third target species Green-Winged Orchid there was no sign. I made up for this by photographing some of the dumpier more solid looking Early Purples. 

and as you will have noticed, this is in fact a Green-Winged Orchid. Those big wings, whilst not being at all green, are fairly diagnostic.

The strange thing is this mistake is exactly what happened last time I was here. Clearly a lesson not learned.

Monday, April 24, 2023

On Chesil Beach

Sat high on the shingle. The sweep of the Jurassic coast stretching out all the way to East Devon , bookended on my left by the majestic cliffs of the Isle of Portland. Is there a better place to be? Back to where this blog started. 

My relationship with Weymouth is based round this being Mrs D's ancestral home. We were regular here for a while, then we weren't, and now I'm back for just one weekend only. Hence Saturday evening and I'm parked at Ferrybridge.

Wheatears all over the vegetation, Sandwich Tern, Bar Tailed Godwit, then that walk up the Chesil beach shingle ridge. Two steps up two steps down. I'd forgotten how hard that was. There was a birder on a seat with a scope so I went and imposed myself on him. More Sandwich Terns, Gannets, Guillemot. Strangely after ten minutes of interrogation about local stuff the other birder left and me and my bins were left by ourselves ... some dark geese came in from the west which local social media later informed me were Brent Geese, but in front was a flock of six birds slowly making their way east. Could have been skuas ... I'll never know. A Whimbrel flew past and then that was it.

Sunday morning I managed to grab a couple of hours at Portland. It was pretty quiet by recent standards, but back on the top I found several years of patch watching had slowed down my approach to birding, taking time to watch fields for movement, and I was pretty pleased with my haul of several Wheatears, female Redstart, Sedge Warbler, Yellow Wagtail, and a handful of Whitethroats and Blackcaps as well as Willow Warblers in every bush. Little Owl in its usual place and a Peregrine over completed the set. 

Great to be back, and fingers crossed there might be more such trips. But over too soon and D#2 and I were heading back to Hertfordshire with just one more location on our itinerary.

My Little Patch of Joy

I've had my foot off the pedal this year, and that includes the local patch. Just a few visits with Barn Owl and Lesser Redpoll the highlights. But with spring migration in full flow I thought it time to get out and walk the well worn path once again.

The walk was predictably quiet and I got to the limit with not much to show. I looked up the rough track towards the local B road and had my usual 'Why isn't there a Wheatear on this track?' thought when I noticed up at the far end a promising blob on an old concrete slab, and a few moments later I was a watching a male Wheatear from a comfortable distance. It's a common enough bird elsewhere in spring (see next post) but is a jewel of a bird in my landlocked area and I spent a happy half hour watching it flick around the patch.

I enjoyed it so much I went back next evening. The Wheatear had moved on, but the field was being ploughed and a scan showed c20 Lesser Black-Backed Gulls, no less then 5 Buzzards sat in the field and plenty of corvids. Then on the scan back two gulls flew in with solid black heads and vivid red legs and beaks and whahay 2 Mediterranean Gulls were flying around the field! One a full adult and one a near-adult with a couple of spots on the wing tips. I've had them on the patch twice before but not prolonged views in sunshine like this! A fantastic half hour was spent on this unexpected delight until they drifted high and north. A Treecreeper, Water Vole and Raven completed a spectacular patch list.

The always enjoyable and wise Steve Gale blogged about his local patch with the title Comparison is the Thief of Joy and he is as so often absolutely correct. The ability to enjoy what is in front of you and not think about what its in front of some other birder somewhere else is an essential mental capability for any inland local patch watcher. These two visits delivered the best of local patch watching.

Minsmere - When Birding Dreams Come True.

To be a birder is to be a perpetual optimist. Today is going to be the day. The day when rarities just pop up on front of you, when bushes d...