Saturday, August 30, 2008

Scores on the doors

Well the weather unfolded as the Met office predicted, and as expected a flurry of seasonal migrants appeared; within a 50 mile radius of East Herts there were Stone Curlew, White-Winged Black Tern, Ortolan, plus various other seasonal migrants. Not to be outdone seabirds turned up too; Sabine's Gull, Pomarine Skua, and Sooty Shearwater all turned up in the Thames estaury.

But what about a 1-mile radius? I popped out this evening to SLRS to give it one last chase. And ... nothing. Just 25 Moorhens, 10 Magpies, and a Lapwing. I gave the surrounding hedgerows a going over, and finally connected with a Spotted Flycatcher, and a pair of Blackcaps were in the same bush. The male had his crest erected like a Goldcrest - I hadn't realised they did that.

So a bit of a wash-out in. I think the water level is now just too low to attract waders. I guess we need to wait for winter to fill the pond again.

Perhaps the most interesting part is yet to come. The easterly winds persist into tomorrow when they are met by colder weather form the west. The ensuing storms may force down some interesting birds.

Wednesday, August 27, 2008

Weekend Forecast

You don't need me to tell you its been a disappointing autumn so far, and as usual it’s all down to the weather. But is this about to change? I’ve applied my amateur ornitho-meteorology and have my finger crossed for the weekend.

I’ve been studying weather maps courtesy of the Met Office website. Today’s surface pressure chart is typical of our recent weather; lows across the north of the country produce a stream of moist westerlies; migrating birds stay well to the east of the UK.

But fast forward to Friday, and for the first time in weeks things have changed. A high has become established over North Germany. This pushes the lows to the north of the UK, and the air circulating round the high drift over from the continent to the UK. This produces a SE wind over the south-east of England.

So migrants arrive in numbers! Or do they? My limited knowledge is that ideally the high is more northerly so the winds are more directly easterly, and a low to the south would produce a blocking band of rain. The winds on offer this Friday are weak, and possibly not strong enough to divert birds from their southerly route.

Fingers crossed.

Monday, August 25, 2008

finding the right field

Another pointless evening trip round the high ground to the north-west. Its a frustrating place; several square miles, several very large fields, very few obvious places to stop and survey the area.

Half the problem seems to be finding the right field; here's a picture taken tonight of an empty field.

A couple of weeks ago this held over a hundred BHG's, and then 50 LBBG and some Common Gulls and c300 Corvids, and the following night 24 Lapwings, but since then; nothing.

This is the big field, looking from Blount's Farm toward Morris's Farm.

The concrete road in the middle of the field is the border of the old airfield, used mainly in WWII to do SOE activity and photo-recognisance. This can be an excellent field, holding regular Golden Plover in autumn and winter. I've had Marsh Harrier and Black-tailed Godwit in this field, but it must surely get more passerines amongst the finch flocks that appear in autumn. Tonight it held a pair of Kestrels

Clearly the state of the field has much to do with the birds; between harvesting and the next crop appearing the field is in a state of flux, and birds come and go. But understanding the timing both within the day and with farming activity is currently beyond me.

I managed to find a hot spot twenty years ago. I grew up just north of Leeds, but it was only as I was leaving for the second time that I discovered a few fields a couple of miles away from my family home; Whinchats, Wheatears, Tree Pipits (well, Pipit), Redstarts, Yellow wagtails. Several years later I found myself working in Leeds again, went up there in September, and had similar results. I've mentioned it a couple of times on the appropriate Birdforum thread without response; I began to feel like the mad bloke ranting in the corner, so I let it go, but I bet its still producing migrants.

Friday, August 22, 2008

busy seeing nothing

Despite the constant westerlies some birds have been turning up in similar-ish places to East Herts. Wood Sandpipers and Little Stints, Pied Flycatchers and Redstarts.

But locally - nothing. I've been trying, honestly, but zip. SLRS has been looking good but has had nothing apart from Moorhens and Lapwings. I went round Trimm's Green and Allens Green and stared at empty fields. Just nothing.

Something must turn up soon.

Mweanwhile, I took D#2 to the British car show the other week, gave him the camera and aked him to come up with a shortlist for our next family car. Here it is ...

Dream on D#2

Saturday, August 16, 2008

Trimm's Green 16 August

Stephen had reported some excellent birds from his watchpoint this morning (its some way north of here at the point where the A11 leaves the M11 and heads off towards Thetford). He had seen a few Marsh Harriers, a bird I've always wanted to see on passage here, so this evening I thought I'd sneak out and see if anything was passing through our own local high spot at Trimm's Green.

I stopped off at one of the local recently ploughted fields. There were a flock of gulls slowly departing - exactly 50 LBB Gulls, mainly adults but a few juveniles, a couple of hundred corvids in a mixed flock, and a few House Sparrows which is a bit odd out here I think.

At Blount's Farm there was a mobile flock of 25 Yellow Wagtails, and a few Linnets in the area. A flock of c20 Greylag Geese appeared and headed down towards the fishing pond; a strange site for here as I've only seen one Greylag in the area previously. In the distance a couple of Hobbies were hawking over a wood at Allen's Green.

As I left I noticed a raptor over the enormous corner field. Well knock me down with a feather if it wasn't a juvenile Marsh Harrier. I stopped and scoped it for about twenty minutes. The ginger feather edgings along the primary and secondaries were clear, and the bird was in spanking plumage. It spent a couple of periods sat on the ground, its head just visible above the grain. As I left it was still present. Overall, a splendid list for little over an hour in the middle of farmland.

Edit: it wasn't Blount's Farm where the Yellow Wagtails are - it was Morris Farm. I'll get my place names correct in future.

Return to Weymouth

We went back to Weymouth for a few days. Lodmoor had Ruff and Little Stint prior to our visit, so I dashed down on 10th and drew a blank. The water level was high, and there were a lot of birds, but they were nearly all BHG’s. There were about 5 Dunlin, 3 Common Sandpiper, a Greenshank, 2 Blackwits and a few Med Gulls. At Ferrybridge a Sanderling.

Otherwise we visited Tyneham. It was a bit showery as we set off, but as we hit the cliff top path it became clear a large grey cloud was heading in our direction. As we walked down the slope to Worbarrow Bay the wind picked up to gale force, and the rain lashed down, or rather lashed up into our faces. D#3 and #4 had not come across anything like this before, and were screaming hysterically. We dragged them down the slope and into the bay. A Peregrine hung in the wind off the cliffs, and folded its wings into a stoop. I pointed out to the family, but they were all huddling behind a large skip until the rain had passed and refused to look. There’s no pleasing some people! There were a few Gannets in the bay, which I think is unusual along the coast, and was no doubt due to the howling gale.

Oh, and the Hooded Merganser on the Boating Lake, diving away just like a Clearly Wild Bird would do.

Here’s a couple of photos of Weymouth with no birds in.

Sunday, August 03, 2008

Weymouth Late July

School holidays are here so it was off to Weymouth. I sneaked out before breakfast on 27th and headed for Lodmoor. Even at that time is was baking. It was quiet with just a Greenshank briefly, a couple of Dunlin, 3 blackwit, 2 Common Sandpiper, and the resident family of Oystercatchers with the full grown young chasing the parents round the marsh. There were a few warblers on display – Reed, Sedge, Willow Warbler, Whitethroat, and a new bird for me on Lodmoor, 2 Ravens, gasping for air in the middle.

Next available slot was morning of the 29th. The weather had turned cooler and cloudier. Morning was a quick visit to Ferrybridge. Just a Whimbrel, a Curlew, a sparkling Sanderling, and in the distance 3 Med Gulls – 2 2nd winters and an adult.

We went for a walk in Wareham Forest mid-morning; my first visit, and it looked impressive. The howling gale kept birds out of sight, and I couldn’t help wondering what sea birds were being blown into Chesil Cove, but we still managed a few Siskins, a couple of Crossbills, GSW and Green W, and a snake. I’m not sure what sort, as it was dangling from the claws of a passing Common Buzzard at the time.

Then an evening dash to Lodmoor. A sneaky Wood Sandpiper was giving close views in reeds near the old hide, but photography was tricky due to my inability to get high enough to get a shot without reed stems in the way. Otherwise there were a total of at least 9 Med Gulls, of which five were juveniles (one with a green ring on the left leg), so it seems to have been a successful breeding season for Med Gulls.

Saturday, August 02, 2008

Armchair Tick

This week I got an armchair tick. Not as a result of a species split, but because I sat in my armchair and saw a bird I haven’t seen in the wild before. There I was, sat in Weymouth, with the TV news droning on about how “what I want to see is British holidays for British workers ” blah blah blah, when in desperation I pick up the binoculars, turn 30 degrees to the left, and there out of the window on the Boating Lake was a Hooded Merganser.

It has been there for a while, and ordinarily would be considered an obvious escape. But No! It first turned up after some strong winds in a storm drain near Portland looking near death. It disappeared, the locals assuming it had departed to paddle in a celestial pond. A couple of days it reappeared fresh as a daisy a later on Weymouth Boating Lake, doing what wild ducks do, namely sleeping with occasional breaks to cadge bread from passing strangers.

Well, it’s not going to get any better than this is it. No doubt various committees, after consideration of the most serious kind, will conclude that we cannot be sure beyond doubt that it isn’t an escape, but we know the truth! Now is not the time to go looking gift horses in the mouth. So it’s ticked, and its staying ticked.

Just to prove that wild birds and urban environments do mix, I was in the centre of Weymouth the following day when a call of the wilderness rang out above my head. Two Ravens flew over, gronking away, closely followed by a couple of aggrieved Jackdaws. Case proven, I think.

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...