Monday, February 29, 2016

Patch summary Jan-Feb 2016

The patch is a selection of rough fields either side of the River Stort just south of Sawbridgeworth with some wooded regions and a public park adjacent. With two months of 2016 over, how is the patch list standing?

The winter has been poor overall due largely to El Nino producing a warm winter, so many birds have not had to make the trip to the UK. Cold weather movements have been minimal, and the lists of many birding spots have noticeably had no new birds this year, just slowly reducing numbers of the ones there at year start.

Against that backdrop, the patch has done well with 59 different species being seen so far. "Highlights" are Barn Owl, Little Egret, Lesser Redpoll, Shoveler, Kingfisher, Grey Wagtail, and Little Grebe. Of local note was 1 Herring Gull low over the park on 6th Feb - surprisingly tricky to get on the patch, and the flock of House Sparrows in the SW corner of Pishiobury Park which was noticeably absent in the first few visits was back on 29th Jan.

Full list in sequence of observation: Teal, Mallard, Pheasant, Cormorant, Little Egret, Grey Heron, Buzzard, Moorhen, Black-headed Gull, Common Gull, Lesser Black-backed Gull, Woodpigeon, Green Woodpecker, Great Spotted Woodpecker, Magpie, Jay, Jackdaw, Rook, Carrion Crow, Blue Tit, Long-tailed Tit, Nuthatch, Wren, Blackbird, Redwing, Dunnock, Chaffinch, Goldfinch, Linnet, Bullfinch, Yellowhammer, Robin, Kestrel, Goldcrest, Great Tit, Starling, Mistle Thrush, Greenfinch, Gadwall, Coot, Stock Dove, Fieldfare, Sparrowhawk, Song Thrush, Grey Wagtail, Canada Goose, Pied Wagtail, Lesser Redpoll, Reed Bunting, Skylark, Siskin, Kingfisher, Coal Tit, House Sparrow, Herring Gull, Shoveler, Little Grebe, Barn Owl, Meadow Pipit.

I added Hawfinch at Bramfield and Chiffchaff at Rye Meads this morning to the year list which now stands at 128

Friday, February 26, 2016

Norfolk coast in Feb

A beautiful crisp sunny day on the Norfolk coast. First up Blakeney Freshmarsh; my first visit, and I had concerns about finding it, but the invariable Norfolk rule of following the pack worked well. I joined the crowd by the NW corner. A male Hen Harrier flew high over the marsh, a stunning sight against the clear blue sky. The Lapland Buntings were on show by the pools. Taking a slow wander round some churned up mud, or sitting on the wires of the fence. They are just coming into summer plumage, and I got a cracking view of a female in full summer plumage. A couple of males were developing the full black band across the chest. The bunts were joined by seven Twite briefly - on a wire, then hidden in the undergrowth.

On to Burnham Overy Staithes, but a quick stop for an intriguing buzzard. A pale bird came over the road on flat wings. It looked long-winged, and seemed to have a longer head than usual. Just the plumage details to check and I was in with Rough-Legged Buzzard,  and that's when it all went wrong. No clear black belly patch, no clear black terminal band, and the upper side was all brown - no white on the tail. A salutary lesson in buzzard variability.

A walk down to the western edge of Holkham Marsh, then on to the beach and round Gun Hill. Male Bullfinch in the hedge, Egyptian Geese and a few Pink-Footed Geese on the marsh, a Red Kite over the marsh itself, then some common waders on the beach and that was it. The searched-for Shore Larks had flown off after being chased by a dog and were nowhere to be seen. The most interesting sight was a Typhoon looping the loop overhead. Oh well ... 

Finally Titchwell. There were Siskins close enough to touch in the Alders, a few Water Pipits on a cleared area of the marsh, some Frisky Marsh Harriers, Avocets in number, then from the beach a Shoveler on the sea, some Wigeon, RB Merganser, Goldeneye, and a large raft of Common Scoter. Walking back a Water Rail was out in the open by the path, and 4 Bearded Reedlings showed well but distantly. I had joined up with a birder on a daylist quest, and as we approached the exit he expressed surprise we had not seen a Cetti's warbler; two chased each other through the reeds. He wondered where he could get Barn Owl; one flew across the adjacent field. We called out various other birds but to no avail. Not bad for a reserve with "nothing special".

Finally, I note that in a previous post I said I hadn't been to Titchwell since the mid 1980's. Flipping through my notes I see I went in Jan 1991 and saw Bewick's Swans and Long-Tailed Duck. I have no recollection of this visit and absolutely none of seeing those birds. Memory is an incomplete and selective thing!

Thursday, February 18, 2016

Two days in Dorset

Day 1 (16th) . A bright, cool day with some SW breeze. Portland Harbour held a Great Northern Diver, a Slavonian Grebe, and 5 Black-Necked Grebes. There were fewer Red-Breasted Mergansers than in previous winters, and a Shag was new for the year.  At Ferrybridge there was 12 Dark Bellied Brent Geese, a few Mediterranean Gulls, and a Sandwich Tern. And absolutely no waders. Then Lodmoor which was fairly quiet although there were 4 Wigeon which I don't often see here, a Marsh Harrier, and offshore a male Common Scoter

Shoveler at Lodmoor.

Portland Bill - Gannet, Fulmar, Guillemot and a single Kittiwake were all year ticks, onshore a flock of 10 Rock Pipits, the Obs quarry Little Owl, and up on the top fields a single Short-Eared Owl hunted the fields as the sun began to dip in the west.

Finally Raven. A bird of the wilderness, of the highest, remotest mountain tops, of sheer crags, and of tables at cafes.  I was quite taken aback to see a pair going through the detritus outside the cafe. If I had been sitting on a chair, I would have fallen off it. Close up, in the presence of Jackdaws, they were huge, great glossy black beasts. One flew off in that languid, relaxed way they have, as if they are making a point of it, but the other remained for some poor snaps.

Day 2. Dull, wet. I was going for the GGS at Wareham Forest, but gave that up as a bad job due to the rain. On to RSPB Arne for my first visit, but not, I hope, my last. A smashing reserve with a mixture of scarce habitats. The weather was awful; every time I looked at a bird it was a black blob against a white background through misted-up optics. Nevertheless I got what is a first for me, a Spoonbill that wasn't asleep. It flew in, did that swish-swish feeding thing, throwing up a few morsels in its spatula beak, and then flew off over a party of 20 Avocets. Otherwise it was some woodland birds including a  pair of Treecreepers chasing each other through the trees. One stopped and I guess saw me, because it froze at an awkward angle against a branch, seemingly waiting for me to move on, which I duly did.

Lots added to the YL which now stands at 114. The crawl round the M25 was made more passable by some appropriate music, and what could be more appropriate in they year of rain than When The Levee Breaks?

Thursday, February 11, 2016

A Tale of Two Reserves

Whoopers at RSPB Ouse washes
Blue Sky! Not Freezing! No Wind !!! A trip to the Ouse Washes to see some different birds.

First up, RSPB Ouse Washes. I was quite surprised at the low-key nature of the place. A wooden shed for a reception centre with the warden out, a book with sightings, and then the hides. It was just me and a few (other) old blokes having a leisurely look around the reserve. There were Whoopers Swans in abundance. Its amazing to be driving through flat countryside and see fields full of hundreds of wild swans, but here they are, and at this reserve they were quite close. There was a Short-Eared Owl hunting the bund from the road on the way in, 2 Stonechat along the path, 3 distant Buzzards, and round the centre a few Tree Sparrows - quite a tick for those of us from Essex/Herts. A male Sparrowhawk slipped low past the hide, a Fox patrolled the edge of an adjacent field and a Muntjac stood and watched from the edge of the reed bed. There were lots of wild fowl on the washes, thousands of Wigeon, good numbers of Pochard and Pintail, and if you ever want to see lots of Coot in one place then this is the reserve for you.

Whoopers in a field

Then on to Welney WWT. I hadn't seen the new centre and very impressive it was - lots of staff, lots of cake, pictures on the wall for sale, and a stonking £8.20 entrance fee for non-members such as I. The reserve itself was full of non-birders on a day out; mainly old folk but families here too.

The water level was lower than at the RSPB centre and the birds better for it. On Lady Fen - bought by the WWT and being developed - there was Short-Eared Owl and Barn Owl, Dunlin, a Curlew, Shelduck, a few Little Egrets, and a herd of Whooper Swans in the distance. A family party of four Roe Deer crossed the back.

On the reserve there was a Peregrine and 2 Marsh Harriers at the north end, about 4000 Black-Tailed Godwit at the southern end, and all the ducks you would expect in front of the hides. And as I walked back to the reserve in the late afternoon several thousand Golden Plover flew this way and that in the sky. with a low sun on their white bellies and golden wings it was if a massive cloud of golden glitter had been sprinkled across the sky.

So Welney won hands down for birds, entrance fee excepted. Welney is getting bigger and better, whilst the RSPB reserve looks for all the world like they wish they didn't have it. Its not hard to see why - the RSPB reserve is on the wrong side both for access from the nearest birding population, and for observing as the natural view is SE into the sun. The reserve is massive and at a time like this is an expanse of water with distant birds on the far side. In addition one of the main reasons for the reserve - breeding Black-Tailed Godwit - no longer applies as they have moved on.

All the things that work against the RSPB reserve work for the WWT reserve. Easier access from the south-east; a narrower drier reserve with the sunlight behind you when viewing birds; and now better birds. The WWT are spending heavily on the reserve including developing Lady Fen which can be watched from the elevated watching platform by the cafe, so this reserve is only likely to get better.

Some birders will like the quieter relaxed feel of the RSPB reserve, but I think it will be Welney I return to in the future.

Ely Cathedral from the RSPB reserve

Wednesday, February 03, 2016

Double Dipping

Count the Bramblings!
Deepest midwinter and a spare morning. Which bird to miss? Top of the list is the Pallid Harrier in Norfolk. Better birders than I have been several times for this and missed it. Then out on the Norfolk coast there are Shore Larks and Snow Buntings. Much opportunity here to walk miles and not see them. Or the Brecks with "distant" Great-Grey Shrike, single Hawfinch at Lynford. hmmm.

In the end I decide to miss the Hawfinches at Bramfield again. Something I achieve with ease, as a twenty minute patrol produces nothing. Standing waiting is not my kind of birding.

On to Rye Meads RSPB, a reserve that gets better year-by-year. No sign of the Bittern or Water Pipit, but the obligatory Green Sandpiper and a few Shelduck made the list. And for the first time this year Brambling. Three of us set up with scopes and camera a reasonable distance from what is a quite skittish flock and eventually found three males and a female, the males now looking quite spectacular. The grain put out by the staff had attracted 13 Magpies too. The photo above of a bush by the path has a Brambling clearly out in the open about a third from the top, a second one near the RHS two thirds of the way down, and a third bird hiding in the bushes in the lower left.

The second dip was a very predictable one on Monday night. The regulars at Amwell had seen a Franklin's Gull in the roost on Sunday so about forty birders dutifully turned up on Monday. To no-one's surprise the star bird didn't turn up, but a Caspian Gull and a Peregrine dashing through made up for the no-show.

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...