Tuesday, October 27, 2015

Hatfield Forest photos

I like to think that if there is one that that makes this a unique birding blog it is the truly awful photography. Despite my best efforts all my photos look like I have taken them through the bathroom window on a foggy day. I have decided it is time to hone my skills and perhaps eventually to become merely adequate. So on a sunny afternoon off I went to Hatfield forest, which despite the photos below looked spectacular.

I arrived to a swarm of ladybirds. They were everywhere and on everything. I think they may be harlequin ladybirds looking for places to hibernate?  

I got lost, and ended up walking a considerable distance. Goldcrests were the commonest birds today by far, other birds were Marsh Tit, Nuthatch, TreeCreeper, Jay, and the usual small stuff.


The Ladybirds had invaded all four doors and grouped together in the seals. Here's the picture from the next morning.

Monday, October 19, 2015

Holkham Wildlife Park - 19th Oct

With a fantastic set of birds in North Norfolk and a change of weather looming it was a no-brainer to have a second visit to Holkham Wildlife Park aka Holkham Pines.

I paid my entrance fee at the Queen Anne Drive car park and headed off to the first exhibit - Isabelline Shrike. I spent a half hour watching the bird work the hedgerow, dropping down frequently and once impaling a worm on a thorn. There was one other birder there; as I fiddled with my adapter and camera finally ending up with the horror below as my best effort he calmly clamped his iPhone to his scope eyepiece, stood back and calmly took a video. I think I'm wasting my time with this adapter lark.

That's the Isabelline Shrike. You can clearly see the distinctive reddish tail and dark eye patch. Honest.

He introduced himself as G and we paired up for the day, luckily for me G turned out to be a former twitcher, full of skills and knowledge but relaxed enough to approach this as a fun day out. G was less lucky as he got me. My only material contribution came next as I took us to the bush that had previously held the Red Flanked Bluetail. Last week I had stood in a crowd and had 5 seconds of view; today the pair of us had the bird to ourselves, quietly working its way through the undergrowth, even flitting through the branches above our heads at one point. Blue tail, red flanks, white chin, the lot. fantastic.

We worked the area a bit and G had a Pallas's Warbler stick its head out at one point, but we couldn't refind it, only masses of Goldcrests. On the way back to the car park we found our only group of birders of the morning at our next exhibit, a Firecrest. It gave typical Firecrest views, i.e. a fleeting glimpse of the head and shoulders but nothing else before it dived deep into the middle of a Holly Tree. One of these days I will see an entire Firecrest in full view.

Next we headed toward Wells Wood. Again the groups of birders were our guide; a large group stood under a group of spindly oaks watching a Hume's Leaf Warbler. It was earning its keep today, consistently calling and at intervals perching in the open to allow the crowd to admire its slightly faded look.

Next the Blyths Reed Warbler exhibit. the bird had not been seen for two hours and with only a few people looking for it out prospects were dim. G brought his experience to bear, and also his iPhone. A few "chuck-chuck"s from the bird call app were soon met with a response in kind from deep in the brambles. We then followed the line of gently moving flower heads until we began to see the bird working its way though the undergrowth. Larger than I had expected, it was washed out grey. It gave the characteristic "inverted banana" posture a few times, and was constantly flicking its tail. How to definitively tell it from Reed? No idea, but the affirmation of the crowd is good enough for my list! A smart little bird and thanks to G for finding this lifer.

Ideal Blythe's habitat. Less than ideal birding habitat.

It was mid afternoon and my permit to birdwatch was due to expire so I left G searching for more birds, in particular a skulking bird with a soft "tack" we had seen flit across our path earlier. The final exhibit was a crowd by the Car Park looking into a holly tree - Pallas's Warbler! Like the Hume's it flicked its way round suitably exposed twigs giving the admiring crowd full value - another outstanding bird. The only thing it could have done to please the crowd more was to sit in the open and sing, which I mention as the last time I saw this species 30 years ago that is what it was doing.

Supporting birds included an obliging and colourful Brambling under some pines, a couple of Chiffchaffs, a pair of Stonechat, a few Common Buzzards and Marsh Harriers, Redwings and Skylarks overhead.

I was left with some intriguing questions. Birders have a choice of visiting the exhibits or finding their own; how long does it take to find your own? Our experience from the Blyths was you could spend all day and not find one. How many other skulkers are there out there? A late Olive-Backed Pipit was reported after I left, and a second Bluetail was found over the weekend, so I suspect there may be quite a few other undiscovered skulkers in the 3-mile stretch of thick woodland. By contrast, I suspect most Shrikes have been found as they sit on the top of bushes out in the open.

Thanks to G for excellent company and expertise. Another smashing day in Norfolk

Thursday, October 15, 2015

Local walk

I had some free time this afternoon, so put on walking boots and waterproof jacket and went out the front door ...

First north along the river from Sawbridgeworth to Thorley Wash. More Blue tits than I can recall along here in several flocks, accompanying birds included a Chiffchaff at Keksey's farm, a Coal tit and a Goldcrest at Wallbury, and a couple of Treecreepers. - always nice A flock of about 25 Siskins at Tednambury gave good views in riverside alders. 5 Redwings over were my first local birds, 5 Little Grebes on the river and plenty of Jays , also the usual list-padders such as Grey Wagtail, Great Spotted and Green Woodpeckers.

One of the many locks on the Stort, this one at the north end of Sawbridgeworth.

Then west up the hill to Thorley Church, and the start of the walk up to the high ground. Lots of open fields now, and footpaths leading me across recently sown winter wheat.There was a Common Buzzard sat in a field, and a flock of c15 skylarks. Up across another field to Trims Green, another small Skylark flock, and a tweeting Chiff in the bushes round the fishing pond.

Now a small wander round the high ground of Shingle Hall Farm down to Tharbies. The Peregrine was sat on its usual clod, ignoring both the flock of Wood Pigeons at the north end of the field, and two Sparrowhawks cruising the eastern perimeter. Down near Tharbies 2  Golden Plovers flew over calling whilst I was inspecting a flock of 50 Starlings. A couple of Yellowhammers called from unseen bushes and 5 Swallows went west in advance of a dark cloud. Finally 7 Red Legged Partridges scurried round the corner of a copse near West road, and that was the end of the walk.

All in about 4 hours hard walking. It's nice to get some of these birds on my walking from the house list, but there was a lot of time with no birds and not much chance of seeing any. Perhaps next time I need to park near the high ground for a proper walk round there, and walk all the way to Stortford and get the train back.

Another massive and barren field ...

Wednesday, October 14, 2015

Norfolk coast - Tuesday 13th

Its been a while. Sometime last century if memory serves. With some free time, some easterly winds and good birds on the coast it was time for a return visit.

First up was Holkham Pines, arriving just after 8am. A superb list yesterday, and again today. A veritable mini Siberia. However, anyone familiar with the scale of the place will know that getting to grips with the birds is not straightforward. Goldcrests were absolutely everywhere, but try as I might I could find nothing amongst them. There were Redwings overhead, some calling Brambling and one perched conveniently at the top of a tree, some calling chiffs plus one Chiffchaff seen, and some Coal tits.

I joined the ranks of birders in the middle of a bush waiting for the Red Flanked Bluetail, and after a quarter hour it duly performed. Red flanks, overall brown, eye ring, and very Robin/chat like in behaviour, it did the bare minimum and cleared off.

Fifty yards further on at the end of the pines was a small gathering. "Hear that? that's the Dusky Warbler". Well I did hear that, but simply cannot comment on what it was due to lack of experience, but this sounds quite like what I heard. Apparently it showed on and off, but not being the most patient person I pressed on to miss more birds elsewhere. Supporting birds of Marsh Harrier and Pink Footed Goose were not even commented on as people were busy looking for Ring Ouzels and Richards Pipits that had been reported.

Onwards in the afternoon to Titchwell. Again, decades since I last came here, for a summer plumage Ross's Gull. It was seen briefly at the back of a flock, candyfloss pink, before dropping over a bund. "We'll get better views over the other side " but it kept on going and was never seen again.

Today was not quite so exciting. I spent some time on the beach hoping for passing seabirds and failing dismally. There were Brent Geese, Grey Plovers, Curlews, Oyks, and a Black Headed Gull that would not go away. The photo below is taken without any magnification at all from a distance of three feet. I understand the bird follows individuals for food. I'm at a loss to understand why one gull has persisted doing this for years and no others have copied it. Perhaps next time I go I will turn round and find a small flock standing behind me.

At the Parinder hide there were a few Black-tailed Godwits, 6 Ruff, 3 Avocet, a Curlew Sandpiper going into winter plumage - a first for me in this plumage - about 100 Golden Plover and a smattering of Dunlin and Ringed Plover.

A final shot of the beach. That's a smudge on the lens, not a strange meteorological phenomenon.

Tuesday, September 29, 2015

Doing the Twitching Sums

The birds you seek are not in these bushes ...
My first visit to The Naze to see some Yellow Browed Warblers. It took me a while to get a feel for the place, and for some time I found myself looking at banks of empty bushes, or glimpsing goldcrests, chiffchaffs, long-tailed tits and blue tits. I thought I'd go away empty handed, but fortunately the locals were helpful, patient, and generous in their assistance. I finally got a brief glimpse of a YBW at the top of a sycamore, and a Firecrest peeped out of the middle of a bush.

I got to considering the time I'd spent doing the various things I'd come to do, and constructed a pie chart. Here it is.
Time allocation for today's twitch 
The YBW is there at 0% and the Firecrest doesn't even register. It would seem on the face of it that this is a poor return, but birding is nothing if not about travelling hopefully, and the search through flocks of flitting waifs in the hope for the eventual jewel was fun. I'd go again if the opportunity arose.

Saturday, September 26, 2015

Local Peregrines

I went back to the high ground to look for the Peregrine that had been three a couple of weeks ago. I had been back briefly mid-week and seen a Wheatear but not much else, but had a window of opportunity today to revisit. After a few blanks, a strange avian arguing revealed the presence of not one but two peregrines over the airfield memorial. The tussling continued for a while until the clearly larger one (presumably the female) drifted away over the Stort valley... the male cruised around victorious for a while before swooping down to its favourite clod in the centre of the field.

This time I was armed with my new camera adapter. It's nearly great, in that it nearly fits. With a bit of fiddling I can get a picture that fills the screen on the back of the camera, with the result below. It was a long way off blah blah and there was heat haze blah blah and the light meant I couldn't see the back of the camera properly but there it is, a Peregrine in a field.

Thursday, September 17, 2015


Some days stick in your mind. 23rd August 1986 was one such for me. I was wandering round my then home north of Leeds and took an unfamiliar route back to Bramhope via Lineham Farm. This is rough farmland right on the top of the escarpment that sits on the south-side of the Wharfe valley, and to the west becomes Otley Chevin and then Ilkley Moor. Long story short: 15 Whinchat, 6 Wheatear, 1 Redstart, 2 Tree Pipits. Birds I had never expected to see in those numbers so close to my home.

I went back on a couple of occasions that year and had more Whinchats and Wheatears. I moved out of the area but returned nearby in the early 90's and revisited a few times in early September and had regular Redstarts and Whinchats. My notes also show Yellow Wagtail, and resident Grey Partridge and Little Owl.

The decades have passed, life has moved on, but last week (9th) I found myself back in Bramhope with time to spare, so I headed out again down Breary Lane East and out to Lineham farm. How would it compare?

Firstly, its a shock to see the things you took for normal. The hawthorn hedges were windblown affairs; sparse, gnarled, twisted and stunted, not the lush and vibrant hedgerows down here in Hertfordshire. The fields were rammed with scores of sheep apparently being held for a few days prior to being taken to market. There had been crops grown in the area, but now it was just rough pasture and much of it looked as if it had been left to go wild and thistle-covered. And the views were fantastic, across Lower Wharfedale and up the Washburn Valley.

The first change in the birdlife was predictable: Red Kite. Not a single distant red kite, but four red kites in view at once, more behind me, one crouched in a field like a white-haired old lady with a grey shawl, and one just over my head. What an awesome change, and one worth jumping up and down about. The second change was Common Buzzard. 2 birds, sat in bushes so not just drifting over. this was a scarce bird back in the 80's in these parts, but like much of the rest of Eastern England they are now well established. Then c35 Lapwings in a field with 200 Starlings (not recorded in my old notes but were typically in the area), c150 Goldfinches and sat quietly amongst them 3 Siskin, also noted a Sparrowhawk, c20 Pied Wagtails, c20 Swallows, and a few Common Gulls - again a common bird in Yorkshire.

So on this occasion no migrants (other than Willow Chiffs calling distantly), no Grey Partridge, no Little Owl. That doesn't mean they aren't here, but the area has changed and I would not be surprised if the Partridge at least had gone.

Saturday, September 05, 2015

Afternoon car trip

A gap in the afternoon. Wryneck at Stevenage? too far, particularly as I don't know the site and they tend to go missing for hours at a time. Osprey at Panshanger Park? Nearer, but Ospreys spend most of their time sat in trees, so unless you know the tree ...

So into the van with the optics, and drive slowly through the village and up onto the high ground at Trim's Green. Two miles in all as the Osprey flies. My first stop is a lay-by next to a large field, and it is empty until I find a Peregrine sat on a large clod of earth. Zoom up, and its a fine adult, barred chest, yellow claws and saddle on the beak, black hood, yellow eyering, deep blue back. I spend about half an hour watching it, and it just sits watching. Its head goes round the full 180 as it surveys the field, fully aware I'm sure of the woodies in the distant corners. It looks straight up, and keeps looking up. I follow its gaze and see a Red Kite drifting over. The kite drifts over the top field and is lost to view. The Peregrine keeps sitting on its clod of earth.

I move on to the entrance to the farm. From here there is a clear view over toward Stansted airport and Hatfield Forest. a few gulls moving, then some panicky wood pigeons and the peregrine is flying through them. It isn't really trying and at one stage a pigeon chases it. It twists and turns, tucks its wings in for a mini-stoop, and then cruises round for a while and drifts off.

On to stop three opposite Mathams Wood. Nothing but crows, jackdaws and pigeons, and about 20 or so Swallows and House Martins, which may be local, feeding over the recently cut fields. Just getting back in the van when some discordant crows alert me to a Common Buzzard drifting just over the car and then over the field. I know these are common birds now, but close up and low these are still mightily impressive birds, full of power. This one has pale feather edges on its upper wing, so probably this year's bird.

Last stop, a gate at the west edge of the big field, from where the concrete ribbon perimeter of the old airfield winds across the field. Again, it is empty until I find a Peregrine, presumably the same one, sat in the field. A passing pigeon draws it out and it menaces the pigeon on its way, not really engaging. Even so it covers the field in no time, and gives a few more glimpses of its speed and power as it flies up and round back toward the field where I first found it.

One last traverse with the scope of the hedge in the middle where the earth mounds are. A very blotchy common buzzard is sat there. Then that's it for the day and off for some last-minute shopping for D#3's birthday tomorrow.

Its only September, but if this peregrine hangs around we could have some fun this winter.

Thursday, August 27, 2015

More Local

A couple of walks out the door between deluges. Some sizeable mixed flocks of warblers, tits, and finches around at the moment. Highlights:

25th - 2 Bullfinch at least with one very chatty juv. Lesser Whitethroat, lots of Whitethroats and Blackcaps, Willow Warblers including 1 singing, Spotted Flycatcher, First Skylark of the autumn flushed from a field, Nuthatch heard from the park.

27th - A Hobby at last! Spectacular views of one with prey in its feet. As often with this species, the House Martins alerted me to its presence. Whinchat 1 in the same place as lat Octobers Stonechat (just up from Feakes Lock). A few Willow Warblers, c30 Linnet, 3 Common Buzzard.

A spectacular plant in the middle of a field. So Large it went off the top of the photo.
There were no birds in this field. Not one. Picture taken to show the fluffy clouds zipping across between downpours.

Monday, August 24, 2015

Disappearing Act

A trip to Hanningfield Res in the rain. I had a hunch the rain might deliver some black terns, but no. There were some decent waders (3 Green Sandpiper, 3 Greenshank, 8 Common Sandpiper, 2 Ruff, 2 Ringed Plover, 1 Knot, 1 Blackwit), and lots of hirundines (100+ Swallow, 30+ House Martin, 1 Sand Martin, + 4 Swift) low over the reservoir.

At one point I noticed a flock of swallows heading over a wood. When I checked back on the res there was not a single hirundine. Where there had been swallows and martins swarming over the surface there was now just open water. The reason became clear when a falcon appeared. Dark blue, with something in its claws. It disappeared behind some bushes and came out the other side going like a train low over the ground. A moment of falcon magic as it tore up the water's edge.

I had thought Hobby but why would a hobby charge up the ground? Peregrine occur here so I guess this was it, and the reason why every hirundine scarpered.

Saturday, August 15, 2015

August in South Sawbo

The usual figure of 8 circuit round South Sawbo, in warm afternoon sunshine after the deluges of the last couple of days. The last weeks of summer are ebbing away. Head-high vegetation all over the uncultivated areas, fields all cut or ploughed. Birds were scarce, again preumably quietly stoking up carbs for winter or migration.

After spectacular beginnnings in 2007-8, SLRS has settled into a pattern as an overgrown shallow pond. There is generally too much vegetation for waders to be happy, and the main bird interest is winter wildfowl. Today, however, there was water over half the pond, and a Green Sandpiper was warily picking its way along the edge.The first for the year for what was a regular species at this spot.

I took a shortcut across the field and in so doing stumbled across a whole series of ants nests. I accidentally stumbled into one taking a side out, exposing a mass of grubs.I think these are black ants but honestly have no expertise in this area.

many apologies little ants ...

other noteable birds were c30 Linnet, 2 Yellowhammer, juvenile Green Woodpecker, and 2 Common Buzzards. As is usual a few frustrations - distant circling birds may have been hobbies but I made the cardinbal mistake of taking my eyes off them and then being unable to find them again not once but twice, and a sharp call from a bean field may have been a Yellow Wagtail which would have been a first for this area this year. Finally a shrill series of calls was, courtesy of Xeno-Canto, probably a juvenile Sparrowhawk.

Finally a couple of Commas confirmed that the butterfly I saw last week was not one of these.

A dash out in the rain yesterday to twitch Little Stint at Amwell. I took a photo. I'm working on getting the Panasonic P60 to take decent shots down a Kowa 883. Measurements have been taken, emails have been sent. Fingers crossed you will not have to suffer many more of these.

Sunday, August 09, 2015

Local early August

the extra time has paid dividends. Not just in more time in the field, but a more relaxed approach, more time to stop and observe, not just tick and move on.

In reverse order ... I returned to the house after a walk in Pishiobury Park to find this on the buddleia

Its a Jersey Tiger, which I believe is spreading out of its South London stronghold, and with a 2011 record for Herts being the first for a while this is still a good find, but should be less scarce in a few years.

I had just returned from a leisurely stroll round Pishiobury Park. It was hot, mid afternoon, and windy, so anything with wings was staying put. It was a day of missed opportunities; a large orange butterfly shot past, too big for a comma. Silver Washed Fritillary? I hung round to try for another glimpse, but it had gone. And then a falcon between the trees. Small, direct, surely a Hobby? But it moved on out of site without a clinching view.

The definate items were predictable. Butterflies - a large number (18) of large whites, a small number (1) of small coppers, 4 "blues", Ringlet, many Gatekeepers, some Speckled Woods and a Red Admiral. There were some bees, a surprising number of queens - what are they doing out now?

Magpie was the commonest bird, but there was a Willow Chiff, two Kestrels, and three Common Buzzards talon grappling.There was also these, doing what they do best.

Born to munch ...
Earlier in the morning I had popped into Pincey Brook on my way top Stortford. Back in the spring there was some decent mud, and I had birds such as Wood Sandpiper, 200 Golden Plover, Shelduck, and Little Egret, quite an impressive list for a flooded inland brook. My heart sank when I saw the field was heavily flooded and the mud gone, but I my worries disappeared when a Creamcrown (prob juv) Marsh Harrier rose from the flood and quartered the area, even diving toward the ground at one stage. A Red Kite appeared and the Harrier flew off toward a neighbouring field, but in its brief time airborne it had put up c50 Lapwing, 2 Teal, and caused some consternation amongst the c40 Greylag Geese.

Yesterday was Rye Meads, an RSPB that has benefited from some recent effort to atrract intersting birds. There were 2 Green Sandpipers at thge Draper Hide, and at the Gadwall Hide a local had identified a juvenile Meditrerranean Gull amongst the 50-100 Black Headed Gulls. He offered to direct me but I took the challenge and ended up finding 2. Here is a very poor shot of one of them. It's the one on the right. Clearly.

Saturday, July 25, 2015

Local Red-Tailed Bees

A mid-day walk round the usual South Sawbo. It was quiet, possibly due to the prolonged deluge yesterday. Of bird note were c20 Stock Doves, 3 Linnet , 1 Yellowhammer, and a Common Tern amd a Kingfisher that were both seen over a field; the tern coming from distance and the kingfisher cutting a corner.

A number of butterflies and dragonflies were out as well as a variety of bees. I  saw the one below on the path by the park and took the usual out-of-focus close up, but I think it is Bombus Rupestris, common name either Hill Cuckoo Bee or Red-Tailed Cuckoo Bee. It was lounging around not doing much, which is apparently what Cuckoo bees do as they leave rearing the young to the host bee (hence the name). From an id point of view it has a shiny hairless back and dark wings that are apprently characteristic of cuckoo bees.

So what of the host? I reads that cuckoo bees lay their eggs in the nest of one species only, and for Rupestris this is Bombus Lapidarius the Red-Tailed Bumble Bee. This is a frequently seen bee, and we have a nest in the garden - its a hole in the ground under a bush. The bush itself has a number of bumblebees on it - mainly Tree Bumblebee and the other white and yellow banded ones, but not Red-Tailed. I had seen the workers coming and going for a few days, but on a visit last week found a queen staggering around the lawn near the nest not seeming to know where it was going. There were lots of white dots all over the back, and I thought this may be some kind of parasite. A quick look on the net and it would seem to be mites which I read may not be too harmful for the bee, so possibly not the reason fot the poor state of this creature.


Bees are a recent addition to my list of wildlife interests, and its been like my first year or so of birdwatching, in that the books don't seem to describe what I am looking at, and there is lots of scope for variation not covered by a few pictures in a guide. Its fun to be back at the start of the learning process, and I will no doubt be making lots of mistakes.

Finally a tune in honour of yesterday's deluge.

Tuesday, July 14, 2015

homeward bound

In a few weeks I will be taking a break and saying goodbye to the daily commute. As commutes go its quite a good one. Decent and reliable trains, good company to share the journey, and nearly always a seat.

The trainline runs through a damp valley so there's plenty of birdlife to see and hear. the approach to Sawbridgeworth station has Sedge Warbler and Reed Warbler often quite close. A recent addition is a strident Cetti's Warbler from the end of the platform, and there's usually something toi breighten the morning - woodpecker, bullfinch, or sparrowhawk.

Cetti's Warbler at the end of the platform ...
My normal walk home from the station takes me up into the village and down the main road to my house, but in summer the ground is sufficiently dry for me to be able to walk home along the river/canal without undue risk to my suit.

First up is Lawrence Moorings on the far Essex bank, home of the mosquito. Not the one that bites your ankles and exposed parts in mid summer, but the De Havilland sort that conducted lightning raids in WWII. The is the site of the former Lawrence Furnishings factory that made the fuselage and wings. Along hear there is regular Grey Wagtail, a colony of House Martins, Swifts, and occasional Common Tern flying along the river.
Home of the Mosquito
Across Sheering Mill Lane the river continues beneath overhanging willows. The path is lined with houseboats. There are fewer birds down here but regular warblers and finches. I turn off just before we get to SLRS and the occasional ducks and gulls.

so overall a decent walk home, and one I will do for leisure in the coming months no doubt.

Finally an appropriate tune from a few decades back.

Sunday, July 05, 2015


Yes folks, its time to dust off the binoculars, clean up the camera, fix the tripod, and boldly ride out once more.

I had a brief flirtation over here, but my circumstances didn't permit consistent postings or any depth to the posts. Now, however, circumstances are changing. The children are getting older, and some free time is looming as I take a break from the 9-5. Also my interests are changing, so expect some variety.

Somethings haven't changed, and the more dedicated readers will be delighted to hear that despite my best efforts the standard of photography is the same. Here's an example of what you can expect in the months to come.

Finally there may be some more than just lists of what's around. Some musings on life, some analysis, even some music. Here's an old favourites from my teens that seems appropriate. I saw them at Crystal Palace in 1980. There's points for anyone who knows who topped the bill. And we know what points mean. Happy viewing.

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...