Sunday, September 16, 2007

Bizarre Birding in Sawbridgeworth

The strangeness started as soon as I got out of the car. I thought someone had their radio on – unsociable at 8:30 on a Sunday morning – but as I entered the fields south of Sawbridgeworth it became obvious the noise was on a different scale – possibly Harlow town Park about 5 miles away across the Stort Valley, or possibly here.

So as Marvin Gaye “What’s Going on?” echoed round the fields I picked up a small flock of Long-Tailed Tits. I searched for Sylvia warblers but apart from one in the bottom of a bush drew a blank. A couple of Bullfinches skulked in a bush and a Kestrel flew through as Dusty Springfield sang “Son of a Preacher Man”, and then I struggled for birds and songs – possibly a Kingfisher calling, and was that Sly and the Family Stone?

Stevie Wonder was singing Superstition as I crossed the river, and then the mood changed to Jazz as I went up the hill to view SLRS. I bumped into Kevin on his bike, and as Miles Davis’ trumpet rang out round the fields a Meadow Pipit flew south, and we saw family parties of Yellowhammers, more Bullfinches, Greenfinch, Chaffinch, brownish Willow-Chiff and a GS and Green Woodpecker. SLRS had 4 Snipe, 2 Lapwing, and a couple of Teal, and Dave Brubeck’s “Take Five”.

Another mood change. The small birds were kicking up a commotion, and as the ground shook to Motorhead’s “Ace of Spades” a dark shape slipped out of the hedgerow with a bird in its claws – my instinct was Hobby.

As I headed for home someone turned the sound off at this time, and a total of four Chiffs were in the willows by the river. One singing, one skulking, and two “hoeet”ing.

I thought the bizarreness would stop there, but mid afternoon Mrs Dipper called for an emergency chocolate run to Waitrose in Bishop’s Stortford. On the way back I stopped at the large recently ploughed field at Trimm/s Green/Allen’s Green, a local highpoint with views over Stansted Airport . Mike had been earlier and seen good numbers of Lapwing, Carrion Crows, and various other birds. I saw most of that through the heat haze, and then a wader flying around; notions of Golden Plover were dispelled by the enormous white wing bars. It didn’t settle, was chased by Lapwings, and eventually flew up towards me to confirm as a Black-Tailed Godwit, then flew off north. Bizarre.

** evening update ** Kevin informs me that the music was from an all-nighter takin place in an overgrown bomb-hole slightly south of the birding site. Kevin's source, an unwashed crusty emerging from under a bush, says this happens every September.

Sunday, September 09, 2007


To no-one’s surprise, yesterday’s Little Stint had gone. On the migration highway our tiny puddle is a service station, not a hotel.

So Steve, Mike and myself stood in the middle of a set-aside type field chewing the fat and watching the surrounding hedges and skyline. We had plenty to watch too. Very similar to the last trip but Grey Wagtail, a family party of 4 Bullfinches, and lots of Robins were notable.

Took the camera this time, and got lucky with a Lesser Whitethroat preening itself. All pics the original size today.

Saturday, September 08, 2007

Glorious Day

It was one of those days when everything went right. A day that was so much fun you just want to wind back to the start and do it all over again.

First up was Rainham RSPB. This is the first Autumn for the new reserve, and already it’s delivering the goods. Leaving my camera at home paid off immediately with a Sparrowhawk right over my head. At the Aveley lagoons there was a Spotted Crake giving infrequent but reasonably close views – a long time since I saw one of these. Around were small numbers of Green Sandpiper and Ruff, with a Wood Sandpiper, a couple of Greenshank, a couple of Dunlin, and a juvenile Curlew Sandpiper which showed well close up, then flew around and sat preening a distance away. There were a few Wigeon amongst the Shoveller and Teal, and plenty of Little Egrets and Herons, and a few Hobbies giving a hunting exhibition in the background.

Then attention shifted to the gulls. Amongst the BH, LBB, and GBB gulls there was a number of Herring Gulls. I found one gull that was a definitive juv Yellow-Legged Gull; tertials had pale cream tips only forming a chocolate band, and the rest of the plumage at rest and in flight was a text book YL Gull. I think there were others, but it was nice to nail one of them.

I wandered round the rest of the reserve in the company of another Herts birder. The sun shone, we exchanged gossip, birding stories and jokes, and saw Wheatear, close-up Heron, and a Hobby posed on the fence for extended viewing.

Just when I thought birding doesn’t get much better than that, it did. On the way home I called in at our local puddle SLRS. Its small, its miles from the sea, but its ours (there's a picture from last week at the bottom to illustrate). There were 3 Lapwing, 5 Snipe, and oh-my-god-knock-me-down-with-a-feather a juvenile Little Stint. I shot home, made a few calls, and was shortly set up on the bank of the Stort with local birder Steve admiring the Stint out in the open. Perfect light, perfect vision, and a good distance, we spent an hour or so just admiring a text-book Stint and Snipe.

The strange thing is that the bird that really left an impression was the Snipe. A bird hidden in reedy corners on dull November days, today they were feeding out in the open with sun on their backs. The fine barring, rich buff and brown markings and unique shape were perfect today.

Sunday, September 02, 2007

South of Sawbo

South of Sawbridgeworth again today. The recently discovered flash just south of the town provides some habitat variety and a focus of the birding circuit, and everything I see goes on my “Birds I’ve seen whilst walking from the house” list too.

Still a healthy number of warblers through the bulging hedgerows; 5 Whitethroat, 3 Blackcap, 2 Lesser Whitethroat, plus a few Willow Warblers and a calling Chiffchaff. Also around were plenty of Goldfinches and Greenfinches, with a few Chaffinches and Bullfinches scattered around. Also Green WoodPecker, Jay, and Song Thrush. The flash had 3 Snipe, 12 Teal, 1 Common Sandpiper, a few Pied Wagtails, Moorhen, Mallard, BH Gull, Wood Pigeon, and a Stock Dove.

Finally a Common Buzzard drifted over. Given the direction from where it came this was possibly one with its own letter in the Times.

All pics Canon 30D + 100-400mm zoom + 1.4x converter manual focus.

Hello Old Friend

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