Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Goodbye to the Wharf

Somethings work, and somethings don't. The lack of posting over the last six months was not unrelated to business activity in which I was engaged. But then the recession got worse ... and a key player went into administration ... and now an extended birding opportunity approaches!

I sneaked a few photos of Canary Wharf in the dark. Can't do this in the light as security officials prevent it.

Saturday, November 12, 2011

Med Gulls: three points in time.

1975. In my early teens, living in West Yorkshire, and just learning about birds that weren’t in the Observer’s Book of Birds. Mediterranean Gulls were a bird I’d never heard of, and that few birders had seen. An “unprecedented” number had occurred on the coast round Scarborough during the year, at least eleven. Most birders were not familiar with the plumages, and a report several pages long appears in that year’s report. The occasional one is seen inland, Needless to say, I hadn’t seen one. One pair had bred in the UK in 1968 but none since.

12 November 1989
. Radipole. From my notes, a bright day with not much there. The visit saved from total disaster by a Black-Tailed Godwit and a single Mediterranean Gull, which flew off when the Remembrance Day canon went off. I’d seen a few by this time, here and there, but I don’t think I’d seen more than one at a time. The 1987 Dorset report has a maximum of 25 birds during the year in the Weymouth area, so double figures are regular in the area.

23 October 2011. Radipole. A late afternoon walk around the reserve. A count of 28 birds by the reserve centre, then more flying through as I walked to the bandstand, more on the lake by the bandstand, and still more flying through as darkness fell.

The following evening I gained a vantage point overlooking the boating lake and north towards the white horse at Preston. The weather was windy and dull. The gulls wash themselves in the fresh water of the reserve, and then fly in a continuous stream over the Boating Lake or Grand Hotel, and into the bay. Odd single Med Gulls come through, then small flocks in with the other gulls. Adults with their bright white primaries, like ghostly spirits. First winters, all contrasty black and off-white. Finally I get my eye in on the second winters, generic gulls with pale grey backs and an extensive black primary wedge, and of course the eye smudge. It takes a while to gain the confidence to call the second winters as they hurtle over the distant rooftops. As darkness falls, my list has got to 109 birds during the evening, but I’m sure this was less than the previous day.

I talk to Luke at the reserve the next day, and comment how the Med Gulls like to sit on the fence posts, dominating the adjacent Black-Headed Gulls. Luke states that in the Dorset breeding colonies the Med Gulls dominate the neighbouring Black-Headed Gulls, and may end up driving them out.

Who knows where this will stop?. Birds are being seen all over now, breeding is taking place just about all over the south coast and East Anglian coast. How far will they spread? Will they completely take over wherever they breed. It’s an awesome sight to see flocks of these birds, particularly adults, but will we get bored with them? will there be a cost to the Black-Headed Gull population?

Sunday, October 16, 2011

More on the "Walking From House" List

A Tawny Owl woke me and the dogs up early on Monday morning. #84. Then Saturday I went searching for Barn Owls. I drew a blank, but on the way back by the scrape a Little Owl called. Well I think it was a Little Owl. A few intermittent high-pitched short screeches. I check the calls on the web and according to these recordings the birds never shut up. I'm surprised I haven't been falling over them. Anyway I can't think of anything else it could be. So #85 it is.

Monday, October 03, 2011

Rugby World Cup

Only a fool would try and predict the outcome of the RWC. So here goes.

- New Zealand to beat Ireland in the final
- South Africa to beat England in the third place match

Sunday, September 18, 2011

"Walking From House" List additions

A few additions to the "Walking from the house list" to report ...

1. Mediterranean Gull and Herring Gull 80 & 81. I was out on 27 August with just my bins, and noticed lots of gulls on a field being ploughed just east of Lower-Sheering Road. A quick scan revealed a smaller gull which was pale white/brown without any of the distinctive head markings of a BH Gull. It flew, showing heavily black forewing and secondary panel, and a black terminal tail band. I ummed and ahhed about this for a couple of days afterwards, I think because when I saw 15 of these at Lodmoor a couple of weeks previous I'd had my scope and could check the bill, and eye-lids to confirm and couldn't do that on this occasion. But after I'd seen some of the photos of juveniles going into first winter on Birdguides it was stupid not to tick it as they were the spitting image. And belated Herring Gull too.

2. Hobby 82. 17 Sep. An overdue event this. Out with the dogs, and one shot over my head. Nice. That makes for 4 raptors on the list. Could I get another one? Well obviously yes. Red Kite is present in this area, and eventually one will be flying around when I'm out, but after that it's looking fairly impossible.

3. Marsh Harrier 83. 18 Sep. Well, so much for how hard the next raptor was going to be. Out with the dogs in the park again, with a patchy blue and white sky and a dark grey cloud getting closer and closer ... I noticed a few hirundines high up, and after scanning noticed that wherever I looked were swallows and martins. I guessed about a hundred moving in advance of the rain. And then a larger bird. Just as soon as I thought another gull it was obvious that it wasn't. It was flying hard SE, but then turned E and it was clearly a Marsh Harrier. All dark, longish tail, bulky but long wings, and if I looked really hard possibly a cream crown? Then, incredibly, it joined a second bird and they soared round for a while, taking their time, before they slowly drifted East and out of sight into Essex. Well, knock me down with a feather. I remember seeing three of the five UK birds at Minsmere in 1975, and now they are so common that pairs of them are flying over my house. The rain duly came down, but I couldn't have cared less.

So in just over 10 months of moving into the house I'm on 83. The scrape hasn't been playing ball having been dry through the autumn, so if that gets muddy at the right time there's another few species to pick up, and with no chats, starts, or owls on the list then 100 is possible. I'm slightly stunned, to be honest, at what I've seen over the year. I can't wait to see what turns up next.

Monday, September 12, 2011

Choices choices ...

A rare window of opportunity for some birding opened up on Sunday afternoon. Where to go? A guaranteed Sabine’s Gull on KG VI? Or take my luck on an unpromising westerly wind at Canvey Island Point and some waders that have taken up temporary residence at West Canvey RSPB?

I decided to take a third option: to spend an hour swearing, shouting and hammering the steering wheel in frustration whilst being held captive on he A130. Bastards! Whoever they are! I thought the Human Rights Act had abolished this sort of thing. Anyway, eventually Canvey Island Point, conveniently round the corner out of the wind, just me, one other, and a sun-light Thames Estuary.

The other birder found an all-brown dot on the horizon. Over the next fifteen minute it moved painstakingly slowly in our direction until a pair of white wing flashes were visible and with the short-tailed silhouette it was fairly straightforward to diagnose a Great Skua. An embarrassing number of months … err years since I last saw one. Easier and faster was a Manx Shearwater that eased upstream. Otherwise a flock of c100 Black-Tailed Godwits wheeled in unison, a few summer-plumage Grey Plovers were on the mud, and a few Sandwich Terns flew west.

Finally West Canvey RSPB. New to me. Juv Little Stint tick! Spotted Redshank tick! And three Green Sandpipers and a Ruff. Bonus tick!

Birdguides reported a long-tailed skua the same morning, Other local web sites reported Gannets, and Arctic Skua too. But no-one had our Great Skua and Manxie. Which just makes you wonder how many other birds go through un-recorded by these web sites.

Monday, June 27, 2011

I returned home to be find a grinning Mrs D holding out a full poop-scoop bag for me. I took it with some suspicion, but it was lightness itself, seemingly a bag of air, and on inspection contained the corpse of a bat. Not just any bat, but a Brown Long-Eared Bat.

Its ears are indeed very long. I got wondering why it has big ears, because if its just for sonar, then why doesn't every bat have huge ears?

Well I read here that its because this species specialising in mugging passing moths, so it has to be very quiet, and hence needs large ears to capture its very weak signal. So there you have it!

Saturday, June 04, 2011

And Did Those Feet?

And did those feet in ancient time
Walk upon England's mountains green?
And was the holy Lamb of God
On England's pleasant pastures seen?

Of all the ancient myths and legends that surround these islands, none is more mysterious and compelling than the notion that Jesus came to England, and founded a church in Glastonbury. William Blake believed it, and wrote Jerusalem on the basis of that myth. The modern version has Joseph of Arimathea as the visitor, founding a church in Glastonbury.

These stories are just unsubstantiated myths, but there us one intriguing relic in Glastonbury; the Glastonbury Thorn. This thorn is reputed to have grown from staff planted in the ground. Cutting of the thorn have been taken by many people and flourish in odd places round the tow. It flowers twice a year, and is allegedly a middle-eastern variety of thorn!

We went to Glastonbury to celebrate D#1's 16th birthday. We climbed the Tor, which has fantastic views, and lit a birthday cake with 16 candles. Or tried to light a candle, but the howling gale defeated us. We then spent the afternoon lazing in the grounds of the Abbey.

Not very good for birds

When in Weymouth, my regular morning chore is to walk the dogs. I normally go up the west side of the Wey, and then cross into the Reserve and up the buddleia loop to the bandstand that the RSPB has kindly provided so the local youth have somewhere to gather, light fires, and drink cheap cider.

I have explained to Mrs D that this walk isn't very good for birds, I wouldn't do it if it was just for the birds, and so this doesn't use any of my few birding credits.

Mrs D decided to accompany Elvis, Priscilla and me today, I took just the binoculars, and promised I'd mention any decent birds. I managed not to draw here attention to the Red Kite that flopped across the reserve (an unmarked one, so not the wing-tagged bird that was seen earlier in the year), and the Sparrowhawk going over was easy to ignore, but I couldn't avoid the Cuckoo that sat 10 yards away in the low branches of a tree and cu-coo'ing. Quite the best views of this species I've ever had, and given the way the population is declining probably the best I'll ever have.

"So it is quite good for birds then!" said Mrs D. "Well I think we've just been lucky today" I replied, whilst the resident pair of Marsh Harriers executed a perfect food pass just behind her.

Saturday, May 28, 2011

Dog days

Birding is dog-walking at the moment. The usual circuit of fields, river, and park. And the usual birds; regular Grasshopper Warbler, Cetti's Warbler, and Lesser Whitethroat, and then the usual peckers, finches, and other common birds.

Hang on! Cetti's Warbler? Didn't this used to be a rare bird? And now its an unremarkable sighting, almost expected from wherever there is a scrubby wet spot. Its not inconceivable that there are three breeding pairs in a three-mile stretch along the river, and there could be more.

How is this going to end? They appear to have survived a very cold winter without any problems. Do they just keep on expanding throughout the UK until they are as common as Collared Dove?

Here's a blur that is just recognisable as a House Martin.

Job Done

D#4 finally threw away his stabilisers, got on his bike and rode away.

They can all ride bikes

They can all swim

job done.

Thursday, May 19, 2011

This year's crop

Took the zoom lens on the daily dog walk, and by a careful process of stalking (ie being deafened by the loud persistant calling) came across some young long-tailed tits. Elsewhere it was just the usual, the usual being a Cetti's Warbler singing from the overgrown field - warbler number 9 on the list for the field this year, and Lesser Whitethroat singing in Pishiobury Park.

No sign today of yesterday's calling Cuckoo.

Saturday, May 07, 2011

About time too

There are many mysteries in life. Top of the list recently has been why has a boggy field with a proven ability to attract migrant waders had no waders to speak of throughout April and May. Well that got answered today by virtue of having a Green Sandpiper - probably the commonest wader here historically - and a Redshank, which I believe is a first for the site (Lower Sheering Scrape).

I wasn't the only one pondering big questions. Here's two local inhabitants presumably pondering the big question of what on earth are they doing in Sawbridgeworth.

a few other local residents posed for the camera.

I went back an hour or so later with the scope. The Redshank had pushed off, but two Yellow Wagtails made a spectacular but brief appearance.

PS - have updated the list of birds seen walking from the house. Currently on 78 with most Summer visitors now in. Hobby and Spot Fly should take it to 80 fairly easily, then its hard work

Thursday, May 05, 2011

King's Meads' waders

King's Meads is a small reserve between Ware and Hertford. Recently its enjoyed a happy coincidence of a gorgeous stretch of mud and wader passage. A quick visit today had 2 Wood Sandpipers, 2 Greenshank, 2 Ringed Plover, 2 Little Ringed Plover, 2 Snipe, 1 Redshank and a few Lapwings.

The reserve is small, so views were excellent. As is often the case, its the supporting cast that outshine the star attractions. The Redshank looked terrific in its pristine spring plumage, and the Ringed Plover were displaying and distracting. The Wood Sandpipers were looking fairly dumpy and well fed. Here's another Dipper special.

Also present were c20 Swifts, and a selection of warblers, ducks, and hirundines.

Monday, May 02, 2011

Local Rarity

The local grapevine worked exceptionally well today when a pair of Ring Ouzels were located at Stansted Airport Lagoons by Mike this morning. I popped in early pm and was put onto the pair by Graeme - thanks to both.

The pair were grubbing round at the base of some willows on the bans of one of the lagoons. It was impossible to see them from the same bank without taking a risk of spooking them, so I connected with them from the other bank. The photo is poor even by my standards, but it was taken at around 100 metres.

Also present a Greenshank, 2 Common Sandpipers, 2 Little Ringed Plovers, and a Swift.

Sunday, May 01, 2011

BarWit Spectacular!

A weekend hit-and-run to Weymouth with D#1. Via the New Forest, which would not bother this blog if not for the fact that I nearly trod on an Adder. Small, just a foot long, but brilliantly black-and white, and quite nippy motoring across the grass. Thanks D#1 for aleerting me to that one ...

Portland on Mayday morning - just an hour's sea watching. I stuck myself on the end of a line and notched up a Pomarine Skua and 2 Arctic Skuas, with a cast of a few small flocks of Bar-Tailed Godwits, a couple of Whimbrel, some Commic Terns, and some close in Gannets plunging into the sea which I always find spectacular.

I find all my experience of sea-birds away from the sea is completely useless when faced with distant migrating birds going past a headland. The skuas leave me struggling, and whilst I can appreciate after the event that the Pom was steadier and more direct, and others did get the full cutlery on this one, I find the most reliable id feature is call. Specifically the excited call of "Pom!" that goes up when a Pom appears, and the slightly deflated "Arctic" that goes up when an Arctic appears.

On to Ferrybridge, where a roadside stop had about 100 Bar-Tailed godwits, many in deep russet finery, and a Whimbrel. Further out on the water line were 3 Little Terns.

Finally Lodmoor, and some spectacular close-ups of waders. The full list was:
Bar-Tailed Godwit - 27
Black-Tailed Godwit - 1
Whimbrel 2
Common Sandpiper 2
Dunlin 1
Grey Plover 2
Oystercatcher 2

and an adult male Whinchat - surely a candidate for the world's best bird - hopping around on a dry area.

The Barwit movement of the last two days is well documented elsewhere. deep rich russet birds are surely one of our most spectacular birds and it was great to get close views of some today.

I held my Powershot up to the scope and clicked away more in hope than in expectation. Here goes ...

Monday, April 25, 2011

Out with camera in search of crime.

What’s crime been like in your area recently? Round south Sawbridgeworth its been rife. Murder, theft, gangs mugging individuals. Twice I've heard general consternation and found a Sparrowhawk sat on a bird, and twice my appearance has caused the hawk to flee empty handed.

I went out this evening with a camera to try and catch some of the miscreants. Some proper action of proper birds, not just some lazy pathetic photo of a Wood Pigeon sat in a tree. Even I have to be better than that.

Two days ago at the flooded field I arrived in time to see the four Lapwings flying round in an agitated way, mobbing a Carrion Crow. The Crow flew off with an egg in its mouth. I assume it belonged to a Lapwing. Also flying round were a couple of these, who have been hanging around and who I believe were in some way involved in this crime.

The Lapwings have been wandering round the fringes of the pond, looking spectacular with their bright red legs and multi-chromatic wings, but at the same time somehow forlorn.

And if its good enough for Lapwing to graze round here, and also a Common Snipe recently, then why not something else like a Wood Sandpiper, or a Spotted Redshank? Its not asking much is it?

At least one bird has managed to get some young off.

I continued up toward the wood, hoping for one of the local warblers; a Lesser Whitethroat, one of the local Grasshopper Warblers, or even just a Sedge Warbler or Linnet from the overgrown field. Instead I get a pair of Bullfinch. I haven’t sent these for a while, and there perched in an adjacent bush is the pair. Possibly a unique chance to get the two of them together, and here they are!

Then the regular Grey Heron doing its daily flight over the Park. Surely I can’t screw up this one!

Finally, one photo opportunity I can’t miss!

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Field Experiment

The countryside of Britain is covered in fields. Pastures, grazed by cattle or sheep, with a low uniform sward of grass, or arable fields with dense monocultures of alien crops. As we all know, pasture doesn’t generally support much bird life. A few thrushes, some pigeons and crows, and if we are lucky an occasionally Lapwing, or wagtail.

Have you ever wondered what would happen if a field was just left to revert to some kind of original state? What birdlife or other wildlife it would support? Well courtesy of the field neighbouring the road at the bottom of the house, I can give an answer.

The meadow borders a stream on its north edge, and then rises towards a wood. There’s a small rough wood on the eastern edge, and another field on the southern edge. There are unkempt hedgerows all around. The ground is not particularly wet for the most part but there are rushes along the stream.

I have no idea when it stopped being farmed, but a couple of years ago it had some waist high thorn bushes and a pair of Linnets. This year the field is thick with brambles and thorn bushes, and a number of trees are dotted round the field. Many plants are now over head height, and the eastern half is just about impenetrable. The pictures show this clearly.

So far this spring the birdlife has been spectacular. There are numerous Linnets, Goldfinches, Greenfinches, and Chaffinches and a Reed Bunting has been seen and heard occasionally. There have been records of Chiffchaff, Willow Warbler, Blackcap, Garden Warbler, Whitethroat, Lesser Whitethroat, and recently even a reeling Grasshopper Warbler. With all this birdlife a Sparrowhawk is regular chasing birds along the edges. And I’m no expert on butterflies but currently there are numerous Orange Tip, Small Tortoiseshell, Peacock, and Speckled Wood butterflies.

Perhaps the most impressive feature of the field is the birdsong. When the birds are all singing it’s a real racket. If this field is indicative of what ancient Britain was like then ancient Britain was a noisy place.

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Skua Hour

Portland Bill this morning. I was convinced it would be epic - southerly wind, rain on its way. And it was - epically barren. Skylark, Meadow Pipit, Pied Wagtail, Linnet on the land. Gannet, Kittiwake, Fulmar, Razorbill, Guillemot, and Shag on the water. I retreated to the obs, and commented on the lack of birds.

"It's not Skua hour." The theory, as relayed to me by one of the regulars, is that the Skuas spend the night in the western approaches, and leave at dawn. this brings them past the bill between 8:45 and 9:45 am. Needless to say, the theory was met with mirth and derision from other regulars, who no doubt had heard it all before.

We stood around and watched. And watched. And chatted some more.

"Skua!" And there it was. A dark phase Arctic Skua steaming through close in. "And what's the time?" 9:15. Smack in the middle of Skua hour. QED.

Monday, April 04, 2011

Pishiobury Park Monday morning

Took the dogs for their daily constitutional round Pishiobury Park. The park has had a lot of work on it recently - am I a cynic to suspect budgets being spent up just prior to the financial year end?

The Park is wide open green space dotted with mature trees. There is a hedgerow through the middle, and some overgrown wooded areas round the fringes. Birds are much as you'd expect - ie not very many. But there are open views so occasional birds do fly over, including a couple of Wigeon during the December freeze up and a Ring-Necked Parakeet earlier this year.

The Horse Chestnut trees are coming into leaf. These trees nationally seem to be under a rage attacks from a variety of sources, There are a number of excellent specimens, so fingers crossed they survive the current onslaught of "all Horse Chestnuts must die" disease.

Today there was a distant Common Buzzard, singing ChiffChaffs and Blackcaps, and the usual Great Tit and Blue Tit. Some day soon I'll do a proper survey and count to provide a baseline population.

Mrs D and I spent a few moments sat on another new installation - a seat specially designed for those members of the local population who are over seven foot tall. We clambered up and sat there swinging our legs. Money well spent.

Saturday, April 02, 2011

local round up

The pond at Lower Sheering is fuller than its ever been. Today it was host to a pair of Shoveler, a pair of Gadwall, and a few Teal. Recently its held a male Pintail, had a female Wigeon for a day, and a pair of Shelduck were reported from there too.

The Park held four Common Buzzards again, and plentiful singing Chiffchaffs and Blackcaps. There were several Brimstone butterflies on the wing ("Cabbage Yellows" according to Mrs D), and a Comma and a Peacock butterfly.

There are still small flocks of Yellowhammer, Chaffinch, and Fieldfare around, but the Siskins that were here in number early in the winter have all departed.

The High ground held 35 Golden Plover this evening, looking spectacular in summer plumage as they wheeled over the field. Previously this flock was up to 250 birds, and a male Wheatear was here last weekend too

Wednesday, March 30, 2011

... and I've moved.

not far. About half a mile to the southern edge of the village. Within 90 seconds (and yes I have measured it) I can be in an overgrown field watching Linnets and Reed Buntings, and listening to Goldfinches and Greenfinches. And the cars on the motorway. And the train. And the jet aircraft going into Stansted. But nowhere's perfect.

It means I have a new local patch- Pishiobury Park, and the flooded field at Lower Sheering is a short walk away. So its a chance for some new lists. There;s a few obvious ones:
- Birds seen in the garden.
- Birds seen from the garden.
- Birds seen walking from the house.
- Birds seen in Pishiobury Park.

I acquired another list I hadn't expected. Birds seen in my old garden which I never saw in the twelve years I lived there. Currently it has one species on it; Waxwing, preditably enough. 17 seen back in January.

Monday, March 28, 2011

You say goodbye, I say hello

Some free time! My contract with a Canadian Financial Institution has finished. A great group of people to work with, and some absorbing work. But not a lot of time left for birding, as you probably noticed.

But now I have a break, and it couldn't have happened at a more appropriate time. I finished last Friday, and immediately the clocks go forward, the sun shines, and the Chiff-Chaffs are everywhere singing-in the spring migration!

So for a few weeks at least, some postings of migration in East Herts, and occasionally Dorset ...

Rarity chasing in Cambridgeshire part 2.

Last post left you on the edge of your seats as your intrepid birders ticked off the first of three potential rarities and headed off in sea...