Monday, April 11, 2022

Tales of The Unexpected

My last post was the surprising addition of three new species for the patch list. Each in their own way not unexpected, but nevertheless quite an amazing run.

Today was the next patch visit. I was hoping for some summer visitors, a Willow Warbler, a Swallow, perhaps a Yellow Wagtail, maybe even a Wheatear or Redstart. Well, we can all dream.

I'd wandered down the Stort, got decent Blackcap views, Cetti's Warbler singing, and pairs of Mandarin and Grey Wagtail, and had walked up to and along next to the railway line when I heard the cackle of a goose, turned round and there were three geese flying in my general direction. The lower two were Canada Geese, but the third was smaller, grey, with a large white blaze round a pink bill. On continued inspection it had a few black feathers in the belly, and the forewings whilst paler were a discreet light grey rather than full off-white. Yes, here flying over a field in rural Essex, was a White Fronted Goose. 

It separated, Gained height, flew around as if looking for somewhere to land and gave a couple of dog-like yaps. Unsatisfied it turned west and flew into Herts airspace and off, thereby getting on two county patch lists.

This wasn't the end of it. Half an hour later I had walked up the side of the valley to a vantage point overlooking the town, and from there saw a grey goose flying over the far side off towards the high ground. I'd alerted the local birders on WhatsApp, and Laurence saw a distant goose silhouette leaving the area as he drove up. Close.

As you can guess, the rest of the walk failed to reach these heights. Six Fieldfare flying over then settled in a field were excellent, as was a Green Woodpecker perched in a bush and a Red Kite in a field. But honestly, not just a completely unexpected tick, but as happens on local patches a pretty decent flight view to boot.

Saturday, April 09, 2022

Patch Work

I'm pretty sure I'm not the only birder who intends to spend less time on the patch this year. The previous two years of national house arrest saw me give the fields, hedgerows, damp corners and river that make up my favoured area a thorough going over. And to be realistic, after six years of thorough birding I'm not going to add new species to the patch list.

Or so I thought. I have so far this year added three species.

First was Brambling. An omission that stood out like a sore thumb has been corrected. There was an historic record of one before I started a regular walk, And Howard Vaughn of RSPB Rainham wandered onto my patch when his car was being fixed in nearby Harlow and scored a fly over. But for me, nothing. 

I knew just where one should appear. The farmer had put down some spare grain in an overgrown corner of a field and about 50 Yellowhammers and 30 Chaffinch were there, and as there seems to be an iron law that any gathering of over twenty Chaffinches must contain at least one Brambling I searched hard, but in vain. I was walking away frustrated and downcast when a flick in an elder bush and bingo, a bright female Brambling. Patch tick #1

I've seen loads of Brambling, but every time I see one its like I'm seeing them for the first time. Yes, still impossibly colourful. that bright white lower breast and orange breast band, and those jazzy upperparts. 

Subsequently I saw two there and another one at a larger finch flock elsewhere on the patch. And a couple of other birders got them too. I got the impression that whilst Chaffinches and Yellowhammers are continually flying down to feed and back, Brambling hang back in the bushes. 

Then a couple of weeks ago I was walking through a small wood when whirrrr and explosion of wings from under my feet. No sooner had the thought 'that's a strange place for a pheasant' formed in my mind than the deep russet plumage and location brought me to Woodcock. As it flew round I got a clear view of long bill and round wings. Patch tick #2.

How pleased was I?   It's a difficult one again because they do occur in all sorts of places, and its not a surprise, but when the farmer told me there was a patch that had held Woodcock on the other side of he railway line I incorporated that into my regular walk in the hope of finding one. And here it is, on the list.

As if that wasn't enough, I was taking the dogs out just now when I noticed way up in the clear blue a gull circling. I put the bins on for no other reason than I like looking at gulls in the sky, and hang on that's got some distinct non gull-like brown markings on the wing there, that's a bit too stocky for a gull, and so Osprey made it patch tick #3. I managed to get the word out and Mike saw it from his garden. Excellent. 

So that's a surprisingly good return from the patch and its only just into April. Who knows what else is going to appear?

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...