Sunday, September 30, 2018

Inland sea-watch and The Beast From The North

A flex day for Mike meant a chance to put the band back together again even if for just one day. I inspected the weather map and saw a repeat of the strong NE winds in the Thames Estuary which had recently brought seabirds galour to the Oare Marshes, and at just after 9 we were looking into a blank expanse of intertidal mud and low-tide estuary from the Sea Hide by the mouth of the Oare. "It doesn't seem an obvious place for a sea-watch" said David, helpfully, and as 60+ Avocets settled in front of us, I could see his point.

We walked round the reserve collecting c20 Ruff, c60 Golden Plover, and 1000+ Black-tailed Godwits but with none of the rarer waders for which the reserve is renown. It was turning into a bit of a disappointment when as we headed back to the car Mike spotted a Great Skua over the reserve - sea birds at last! A Peregrine appeared over the car, a massive female we would guess, and as we headed back to the sea watching hide now on a rising tide and buffeted by a howling NE wind we were treated by 7 Gannets high up drifting slowly inland.

An hour later we were heading back to the car with 4 Arctic Skuas, another 15-odd mainly juvenile Gannets, an adult Little Gull and a few Commic Terns to the good. The Swale channel in front of us and the winds had brought these birds in quite close too. Well, close for a sea-watch. Not bad for a marshland reserve!

And so, on the way back to Stortford we came to the Beluga. Riverside Saxon Way duly located, we were met by a birder heading back on his phone who kindly paused to indicate it was just off-shore, and there it was, a large disc of porcelain-coloured blubber rotating through the water and then gone. We watched it for an hour or so getting several decent views as it appeared to happily hunt along our stretch of river about 50-100 metres out; a surprisingly prominent spine, no dorsal fin, a marbled pale grey appearance, a blast from the air hole as it was about to surface and a nice length of body arcing through the water. I would guess 2m-3m long. A much better than expected series of views of this completely unexpected creature, and a collection of a spectators with many more women and young folk than attend the average twitch.

Saturday, September 22, 2018

Welney Wonderland

The moment when the magic of the place hit home was when we picked up a Merlin whizzing down the back of the washes, past the three Common Cranes, just behind the grazing family party of Whooper Swans, and down on to the deck. This could be some piece of bogy tundra well beyond the arctic circle. And all from a large lounge which is certainly the most luxurious place to see birds I've encountered in the UK.

I hadn't been to Welney WWT for a while. Probably because if you're going to go all the way to Welney, you may as well carry on to the Norfolk coast, and also, its quite expensive. But the chance of seeing my second Pallid Harrier in three days (lol!) as well as the possibility of seeing Common Crane, a bird whose expansion in the UK had managed to pass me by, saw David and me handing over our money and heading across the wooden walkway to view the washes.

That Merlin moment didn't happen until after we had gone the full length north from the main hide to find the Harrier, only to be told it had been seen early and scooted off north somewhere. We did catch up with a couple of Marsh Harriers, one of which came really quite close, and a few Ruff amongst the Teal. A couple of distant Hobbies patrolled the far side of the wash, and Kestrels and Snipe kept us busy in the search for the Harrier. And three enormous Cranes drifted close by back toward the main hide. Wow.

The path was out of the path of the howling wind so had a surprising number of insects. We got Wall Butterfly - new for the year for both of us, one in a prolonged spiralling fight with a Small Copper; plenty of Migrant Hawkers often resting up out of the wind, and even a Willow Emerald. This species is becoming the Little Egret of the Damsel fly world. Last year we were thrilled to find one. This year we are delighted to see so many. Next year we will be disappointed not to see one in the usual places. The year after that we will have stopped counting them.

Time for lunch in the clean and overpriced modern cafe, up on the second floor to give a good view of Lady Fen. And what a view, as 9 Common Cranes flew around the fields, bickering and arguing with each other. It seemed there were three parties of three, with each having two adults and a drab brownish bird of the year. We almost overlooked the Tree Sparrows on the feeders, a treat for us Southerners.

Then back to the main hide to find the three Cranes still there, so 12 in total. A scan along the waters edge had single Avocet, three Black-tailed Godwit, and a couple of Dunlin with many wigeon and Teal there too. Then four Cranes flew in and we had seven birds doing the full Crane thing at a distance of, I would guess, between 50 and 100 yards. Those birds filled the scope view without having to touch the zoom. Jumping, jostling, then head-down arse-up feeding, and a bit more of that slow, languid flight and bounding landing. And then the Merlin doing what Merlins do. We quite forgot we hadn't seen that Harrier.

Here's a couple of photos. If you are thinking those are quite good for me, that's because they were taken by David. For more, see his excellent blog

Cranes from the main hide. 

Migrant Hawker resting out of the wind.

Monday, September 10, 2018

Spurn Point on migration fest weekend

I stayed with my mother in Leeds on Saturday night, returning to Hertfordshire on Sunday. A quick look at the map will reveal that a straight line from Leeds to Herts practically goes past the front door of Spurn Point; just a small detour required, would be rude not to. And by coincidence, it is day two the Spurn Migration Festival, so I am curious. The only downer is the solid west wind that clears Spurn of interesting bird like a dose of salts.

I arrive and check #migfest and a Corncrake has just been seen! A lifer for me, I head down to the location and join a crowd of 40 looking at a field with grass much taller than any Corncrake. Surely a futile gesture but no! There it is! and soon I am looking at my first Corncrake through the scope. The head is peeking round above the grass, and I am somewhat surprised that a Corncrake should be that big, and so, well, there's no other way to put this, so like a Pheasant. Slowly the truth dawns on the crowd, but hang on there it is! next to the Pheasant is a much smaller bird. We all get onto that, and there are two small birds, and they are baby pheasants. Oh well.

I parked back at migration-festival central and walk up to Kilnsea wetlands. No repeat of last years experience, just a few Wigeon, three Black-Tailed Godwits, some Dunlin, a Common Sandpiper and a Ringed Plover. And lots of Greylag Geese.

On to Beacon Lane Ponds, and there are three cracking female Roe Deer in a field and beyond them I can just make out about a hundred Golden Plover. Sadly no repeat of last year's Merlin on the ponds, not much at all in fact, until I get back to the Discovery Centre and a crowd looking at a flock of Sparrows, and soon the reason becomes apparent when a Common Rosefinch pops up. So dull it makes the Sparrows look flamboyant, it is nevertheless a neat bird, and has a touch of pink on the bill which I believe makes it a first-year male. A Whinchat appears alongside it, and we soon forget about the Rosefinch and concentrate on this.

Flushed with unexpected success and informed by the walkie-talkies which seem to be present at every group, I go to the sea-watching hut and join a line looking out to sea. A Great Skua was reported, and it took a while to realise that the dot in the distance was what they were watching. Then an Arctic Skua, and much purring from the line about the splendid close views we were getting as the bird went north a mere half a mile out.

Then briefly back to Kilnsea Wetlands. No sign of the Curlew Sandpiper, but a Pintail and a first-winter Mediterranean Gull are nice additions to the list, then its time for home.

The main feature was the number of people there who had come for the festival, and in particular the number of young folk. It was great to be amongst so many birders. But call me an old moaner, I have noticed when ladies of a certain age get together in a hide they develop list fever and start seeing all sorts of things. I felt a bit of a killjoy telling some ladies that three Citrine Wagtails would be an exceptional sightings, and that most sightings at this time of year are juvenile birds and not bright yellow. Perhaps in future I should just shut up and let them enjoy their birds, real or imagined.

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...