Monday, April 28, 2008

Weymouth Weekend

I went with Steve, D#2, and Steve's son to Weymouth for the weekend, arriving at 10am and heading straight to Lodmoor. I’d told Steve that Lodmoor never failed to produce some good sightings, but as we headed round it began to look like today might be the day to draw a blank. We had the first of many Cettis out in the open, a couple of Oystercatchers, some nice Sedge Warblers, but it was desperate stuff until Steve picked up a Whimbrel on the flashes at the sea-ward end of the central path. And then a Wheatear, then about ten more wheatears. They looked fantastic in the sunlight - any day with Wheatears on the list is a good day,.

An agitated Greenshank called loudly over the reserve, dropped in, and then continued on its way. A Whitethroat sang, and just as I was telling Steve it still a bit early for Common Terns here a couple of Common Terns dropped in. Then from the viewpoint a couple of egrets - with orange bills! We had fortuitously connected with a couple of the Cattle Egrets which have been round this area for most of the winter.

Well satisfied we headed to the exit, only to be met by an approaching birder who dispensed with the formalities and simply shouted “hoopoe” at us several times, and then finally “have you got the Hoopoe?” As if I might have one secreted somewhere on my person. By now birders were appearing like Starlings round a fat ball, and it became clear that a Hoopoe was showing round the other side of the reserve. We contemplated going, but we’re both still Hoopoe’d out after last year’s local bird, and decided that the Sum of Human Happiness would not be increased by us charging round the reserve, and the boys deserved a bit of fun time on the beach.

The rightness of the decision became apparent as we were soon sat atop the shingle of Chesil beach at Ferrybridge marvelling at the fantastic panorama before us in the baking sun. The boys were charging up and down the shingle bank, and bit by bit a few birds drifted by. Another couple of Whimbrel, c20 Common Scoter, a lone Brent Goose, and on the Fleet side, some Little Terns, Sandwich Terns, Ringed Plovers, and Dunlin.

Finally we headed down to Portland. It was quiet by local standards, but for us visitors from landlocked counties, Portland Bill is always a treat. Apart from yet more Wheatears and a couple of spanking Stonechats, we had local specialities such as Kittiwake, Gannet, Shag, Fulmar, and offshore a couple of Manx Shearwaters were cruising the waves. A flock of c40 Whimbrel went east followed shortly by a couple of Sandwich Terns, and that as it for the day. We took the boys off for a well-earner curry at the excellent Weymouth Tandoori.

Sunday was a different matter altogether. The bright sunshine of Saturday had gone, and by the time we got to Portland there was dark cloud around and a spectacular display of lightening and thunder off shore. There were Gannets close in, brilliant white against the heavy green sea - a fantastic sight! The locals were much less impressed as there was a dearth of seabirds moving, and D#2 was convinced we were all about to die from a direct lightening strike, so we were soon heading off to an open space between the beach huts by the obs where we joined a line of birders getting some crippling views of a male Serin, a first for me in the UK, and a first for Steve and the boys anywhere, feeding on the floor with some Linnets. Looking like a pale Twite that had mistakenly had its top half sprayed luminous lime green, it picked and fussed for a few minutes and then flew off. Serin, along with Ortolan Bunting and Melodious Warbler is a bird I'd always assumed I'd miss at Portland; the ringers and locals snatching occasional glimpses and occasional visitors like myself always too late to the party. To get stunning views like this, was a delightful surprise.

We took in some first rate views of the obs quarry Little Owl, and headed for Radipole to finish the weekend's birding. We got a fantastic display of commoner summer birds. C40 Swifts, good numbers of hirundines including Swallows and Sand Martins sitting on reeds opposite the Buddleia Loop viewpoint, and Cetti's and Reed warblers sat out in the open singing away (I assume that the Reed Warblers were so brazen as they have just arrived and are claiming territories; soon they will settle down to the serious business of raising young and go largely unseen through the reed beds).

We added Common Sandpiper and Long-tailed Tit to the list and I got a brief but sadly unrepeated view of a male Bearded Tit. We didn't connect with the pair of Garganey, but seeing as back home that's a common bird we weren't too disappointed. We stopped off for a couple of hours at the World's Biggest Tank Collection, then headed back finishing on a trip total of 81 (including some seen only from the car on the journey).

Saturday, April 19, 2008

SLRS in the gloom

Departed the house in gloom, returned in drizzle. Saw nothing of note in between. the SLRS duck-fest is over.

Did manage a snap down the scope of a Cormorant in the Cormorant tree.

Otherwise, Willow Warbler, Chiffchaff, 6 Swallows, and the usual suspects round the scrape and fields.

Wednesday, April 16, 2008

Who turned the lights on?

The strap on my old telescope case has broken, so obviously I needed a new scope. On the advice of Johnny Mac at In-Focus in Denby Dale, I got a Kowa 883, with case and tripod in an excellent deal.

It arrived today, so I thought it prudent to check immediately that it worked. Whilst Roy Cropper was fretting about his bats I was peering through the gloom at the ducks on the scrape. Except when I looked through the scope the sun was shining brightly and the ducks were visible in pin-point detail. Eyelids, feathering, the lot. A super scope, even with a strong image at 60x in the gloom.

The list was the standard one: Male Garganey asleep at the N end, a pair of Wigeon grazing on the far side, Gadwall, Mallard, Moorhen, Coot, a Lapwing, and by way of variation a male Shoveler - the first for me since January - and a pair of Muntjac on the far side. Some Swallows over the scrape too.

Sunday, April 13, 2008

At last

Popped into SLRS on Saturday, and drew a blank. A nice couple of Blackcaps, and a Sparrowhawk, but nothing to get excited today.

Then a call this morning from Mike, and after sending D#2 to his first cricket practice of the year I dashed off to SLRS and finally got the Garganey. It was difficult to see for a while, then it emerged from behind a clump and waddled round in the open. A beautiful sight, and quite exotic for our little puddle. Like seeing Angelina Jolie in your local.

A male Garganey has been seen at Amwell, and also has been seen at Hollingson Mead (a private gravel pit near Harlow that also holds Wigeon and Gadwall in winter). I assume this is the same bird as ours, and if so then it is following a familiar path. Both last year's Blackwit and this year's Little Gull were also seen at Amwell, so there is some evidence of birds using the Stort/Lea Valley as a single extended wetland, and commuting between sites over an extended period.

When I started this blog I had a small pocket digital camera that took crap pictures down my scope. Now I've got an expensive DSLR and zoom lens, but find it too big to lug around with the scope, and yet not big enough to take decent pictures of birds at SLRS. So I reverted to the small camera down the eye-piece, and here's a pair of Gadwall on the far shore of SLRS.

Tuesday, April 08, 2008

Mixed Feelings

Well there I was, tap-tapping away in the office, just about to get ready to go, when the phone rang. Mike had thoughtfully dashed back to phone with the news that male Garganey and a pair of Wigeon were at SLRS!

I was out the door and on the train in no time. As we went at a snail’s pace up the Lee Valley I received a volley of texts and calls from Steve. As we waited outside Waltham Cross the bird was showing really well - no really really well. As we steamed through Roydon, it was out in the open with fantastic light, close in, just about the best views you could ever get, and as we crawled achingly past Beckingham Palace Kevin was taking pictures with his camera.

And then as we rounded the bend and SLRS hove into view, it was gone. The train slowly trundled passed an empty scrape and, on the far shore, 6 happy birders (well 5, as Mark had turned up in time to see the others peering into the distance).

I popped down briefly before going to an appointment. The male Wigeon was terrific - a cracking male. There were Gadwall, Teal, Mallards, and baby Mallards and Cootlings, and a GSW drummed behind me. In the evening sun the scrape was a beautiful sight. But not quite as beautiful as it might have been.

The paradox with the site is that its too small to hold birds for any length of time, but if it was any bigger it would be a proper birding site, and not our own little puddle with amazing birds.

So roll on the next wave of migrants to push through here.

Kevin has kindly sent over a couple of photos - heavily cropped etc.

I feel sick.

Sunday, April 06, 2008

Weekend birding 5-6 April

Back to the usual routine. Saturday morning was at SLRS with Kevin. In the week away winter has turned to spring, and there were 8 Swallows and 7 Sand Martins going through the scrape area in total. Also round the scrape still a few Gadwall and Mallards. Elsewhere, suddenly birds like Wren and Robin seem really plentiful as they chase each other round their territories. There were more signs of summer with a total of 4 singing Chiffchaffs and a male Blackcap by the allotments. We were determined to find something else as the day seemed so promising, and by sheer force of will managed to conjure up a cracking male Wheatear in the southern-most ploughed field by Feakes Lock - a patch tick for me.

Then Sunday afternoon round Hatfield Forest Lake with D#1 and D#3. the snow of the morning had all melted, and there were just a few flurries.

As soon as I got out the car I noticed a large raptor high up going N. Dark, with longish narrow tail, big broad wings, I entertained thoughts of a Marsh Harrier. I looked away briefly, and when I looked back my Marsh Harrier had morphed into a circling Common Buzzard. Oh well.

Elsewhere, on the lake: 1 each of Swallow, Sand Martin, House Martin. 6 GCG, 1 Cormorant, 1 Grey Heron, a few Gadwall, Mallard, Tufted Duck but numbers low compared to mid-winter. Another Common Buzzard low over the lake area.

Finally on the way out 4 Jay, 1 GSW and c30 Chaffinch all viewable close up from the car, and just south of the Forest c50 Fieldfare.

finally some year-list totals:
total - 121
Sawbo area - 76
SLRS - 58

Saturday, April 05, 2008

My first binoculars

When I first went out bird watching in my pre and early teens, I went bird watching with this pair of field-glasses.

According to family legend, these were found by my Grandfather in WWI. He was short-sighted, so when he joined up in 1916 he was assigned to the Donkeys, and his job was to take water to the front. As soon as the shelling started he headed back to the rear - the Donkeys weren’t keen on the noise apparently. Anyway, in some point in the toing and froing that happened he was going over land that had previously been occupied by the Germans, and picked up these field glasses- manufacured by Carl Zeiss no less.

Compared to modern binoculars they are awful. Limited field of view, and separate focussing - it’s a miracle I saw anything at all.

Friday, April 04, 2008

York Interlude 29 Mar - 4 April

Just back from a week in York. The weather was a lot better than we expected, and we were busy all week going to the many excellent attractions in and around York. But christ was it expensive. The National Trust Family membership paid for itself several times over.

We stayed here at a farm near Easingwold, and I managed to spend some time in morning and evening looking round the hedgerows and arable fields.

Highlight was the Tree Sparrows round the farm. it’s a long time since I’ve seen any, as there are very few in Herts or Dorset, and I spent a while trying to consign that “chupp chupp” call to my sub-conscious memory. Otherwise a Lesser Redpoll (another one I wasn’t sure where it would come from this year), calling Tawny Owl and Little Owl in the evening, (and a Tawny Owl seen in silhouette), Red-Legged Partridges, Fieldfares over, and various other birds that you’d expect. Away from the farm we had Nuthatch and Grey Wagtail at Fountains Abbey, Curlews at Borobridge, Marsh Tit at Rievaulx, and a Red Kite at Golden Acre Park just north of Leeds on the way back from my Mum’s.

Commonly Spotted Orchids

We are fortunate in the UK in that the commonest orchids are also amongst the most beautiful. I spent a morning photographing some on the lo...