Monday, February 12, 2018

📖 #12 ~ Diver Twitch!

❄️ 🌤 6C Monday 12th February 2018 ~ A mid-morning walk at Draycote Water for another look at the long-staying Hawfinch but mainly for a year-tick Tree Sparrow at the feeders. Only three Tree Sparrows, mainly hidden to start, a few Yellowhammers and Reed Buntings ground feeding in the biting wind but patience paid off after a good twenty minutes.

Tree Sparrow Year-Tick!
I did intend to complete a full circuit but around 12:30pm the phone lit up with a birdguides sighting. Black-throated Diver at Albert Village again. I'd been hoping for this as I've only ever seen UK ones along the coast and so only an hours drive across to Leicestershire I couldn't really ignore it!

Juvenile Black-throated Diver
I arrived around an hour later, parking up just offroad at Reservoir Hill and made my way down the track towards the water's edge. In fact, before I reached the viewing screen I could make out the bird roughly towards the middle near the large island. Job done really but I decided to take a walk around the perimeter, in the hope of being able to study the bird a little more and obtain some closer views.

Juvenile Black-throated Diver
Although the bird never came too close during my stay, lots of dog walkers around and I think it might be half-term in the area I still managed a few acceptable record shots with the Canon SX50!

BUBO Listing
My BUBO year-list does not currently include American Horned Lark

Wednesday, February 07, 2018

📖 #11 ~ Norfolk Epic!

❄️ 🌤 1C Wednesday 7th February 2018 ~ ** WARNING ~ Like the day itself this post is long and epic 💤  ~ Arrived home at around 8:30pm tonight completely exhausted after a 350-mile roundtrip winter birding on the north Norfolk coast, in the company of Alan Boddington and Geoff Hood from the Brandon Marsh team. The weather, although bitterly cold with a brisk northerly breeze was beautiful today with almost wall to wall winter sunshine throughout!

Fulmar ~ This image from previous visits to Hunstanton!
Having arrived on the coast at Hunstanton we decided that it was worth stopping briefly along the roadside above the cliffs for Fulmar. The cliffs here are a regular summer breeding site and it wasn't long before two or three birds rose above on the wind, the stiff wings and shallow wing beat unmistakable. In fact, we observed from the comfort of the car before moving on.

One of the Twite at Thornham Harbour today
Our next stop was Thornham Harbour for the small flock of Twite that is regularly seen in the area. No sign initially from the car park so we took a walk over the small footbridge to check out the saltmarsh and channels. A couple of Rock Pipits were flitting around the mud and along one of the aforementioned channels a pair of Red-breasted Merganser, the male looking resplenadant in the low sunlight. In the distance a huge and noisy flock of Pink-footed Geese on the wing. Out towards the sea, a Peregrine flew low along the sandbank before landing, scattering a flock of Brent Geese. Just below us two Bar-tailed Godwit, Redshank, Curlew and then a small flock appeared, Twite! We followed them back to the car park, where they settled briefly to drink from the puddles, lovely sight.

Lone Knot on the Brackish Marsh at RSPB Titchwell
RSPB Titchwell next for the 11:00am high tide and a leisurely walk along the west bank path towards the beach. A look west across the wet marsh and the partially dry pool failed to yield Water Pipit, two Meadow Pipit and Rock Pipit only and a couple of distant Marsh Harrier. The freshwater marsh is completely submerged, save for a couple of small islands which provided a resting place for three pairs of Red-crested Pochard, a dozen Avocet and a lone Brent Goose. The usual selection of wildfowl also scattered throughout with Pintail, Wigeon, Gadwall, Teal, Shoveler, Tufted Duck and decent numbers of Pochard. The brackish marsh provided better opportunities for waders and not far out a single Knot. This along with various counts of Grey Plover, Oystercatcher, Ringed Plover, Black-tailed Godwit, Dunlin, Curlew and Redshank.

At the beach, the wind, as you would expect was biting and the sea pretty rough, this would be challenging to say the least but we settled down and made the best of the dunes for shelter. I'm always amazed to see Great Crested Grebes at sea, particularly in this weather, but there were at least a dozen or so offshore, bouncing around in the swell. In the foreground along the tideline a couple of hardy Sanderling, and literally at our toes the ever scavenging Turnstone. Back offshore and a small black duck with white wing bars low over the water, a Velvet Scoter, which Geoff and I followed until it dipped down behind the waves. Further scans produced Common Scoters, Guillemots, Goldeneye, single Goosander and a possible Razorbill but as I said earlier it was challenging so we moved on back to the centre.

On route back, we stopped occasionally to scan and while checking the brackish marsh once again managed to find two Greenshank and a single Spotted Redshank! On the opposite side, across the saltmarsh, a small eruption threw up several Snipe, Little Egret and Teal, the culprit, a ringtail Hen Harrier, fantastic views as the bird flew low before dipping down, pretty close in by viewing standards. Water Rail and Cetti's Warbler just before arriving back at the centre, where a female Brambling was noted on the feeders.

Some of the confiding Shore Larks at Holkham Gap
A stop at Cholsey Drying Barns to have our packed lunch before our final two destinations of the day at Holkham and Salthouse. Cholsey was interesting, with Lapwing and Golden Plover across the fields, but unfortunately didn't yield Corn Bunting during our short stay. However, good views of many Brown Hares, three Grey Partridge, several Red-legged Partridge and a large flock of Yellowhammers along the hedgerow near the winter crop feed! One species in mind at our next stop Holkham Gap! It was a decent slog along the beach to find the small flock of Shore Larks but entirely worth it, in fact, it was feeling pretty springlike by now or was that just the ten layers of clothing kicking in?

A few of the 100+ Snow Buntings at Salthouse!
By the time we reached Salthouse the day was quickly ebbing away so after a cuppa at the car we made our way up to Gramborough Hill. Primarily for the large flock of Snow Buntings, which we were told were happily sunning themselves on the shingle. As we arrived it was obvious that the birds had had enough leisure time and were making ready for roost, a large flock in flight above.

Snow Buntings over Gramborough Hill
In fact, despite not seeing them close to the ground it was pretty impressive stuff, the birds circling overhead and being joined by more small groups, Starling-esk! We thought this a fitting end to a great days birding, which in fact hadn't ended, with a Barn Owl hunting directly over the car on our return. It didn't even end there when on route home in the twilight the unmistakable silhouette of a Woodcock flew directly over the car at Heacham and another Barn Owl along Brandon Lane. For me, it didn't end there either, with two further Barn Owls on route back to the marina after dropping the guys off at Brandon!!

BUBO Listing
BUBO does not currently include American Horned Lark

Monday, February 05, 2018

📖 #11 ~ Cattle Egret

🌤 5C Monday 5th February 2018 ~ The morning was spent chasing a Cattle Egret at Thornton, Leicestershire! When I arrived on site, which is basically at the bottom of a culdesac overlooking a field, I was informed that the bird had gone AWOl, two fields over.

Cattle Egret ~ Thornton Leicestershire
The intrepid explorer that I am I wasted no time in pursuit. Frankly, I needn't have bothered! Trekking along two footpaths, down a muddy horse paddock to a small brook and lake there was no sign. However, by the time I arrived back at the gate, mud up to my knees and anticipating my first failure of the week the bird flew straight back into the field! I wonder if Egrets can smile 😂

Cattle Egret ~ Arrives back

Cattle Egret ~ Can Egrets smile?

Sunday, February 04, 2018

📖 2018/Update #10 ~ Gloucestershire

🌤 5C Sunday 4th February 2018 ~ A much better day weather wise, although a biting northerly airflow making it feel bitterly cold!

Record shot of Penduline Tit at Plock court
With the long-staying Plock Court Penduline Tit literally just across the road from our hotel, we decided to start our day here, forgoing a report of yesterdays Glossy Ibis showing on the south lake back at Slimbridge. Despite visiting myself last month, Dee was keen to go have a look at this rare UK visitor. On arrival the bird was showing, although distant in the usual spot feeding on the reedmace to the rear of the small reedbed, a half dozen photographers lined up and waiting!

Stonechat at Plock Court
We spent a short while here, the bird not coming too close, also noting a smart pair of Stonechat before we moved off. Where next? Glossy Ibis or a short drive to look for the Richard's Pipit at Arlington! With a likely chance of seeing Glossy Ibis somewhere else later in the year we decided on the latter.

Dee's record shot of the not to ellusive Richard's Pipit!
Arriving a short time later and parking opposite Slowe House we set off along a right of way through a muddy farm yard then onward to the flood defence embankment which overlooks the Severn Estuary. Finding this bird was likely to be a challenge, with at this point, few birders on site. After a good while back and forth along the embankment we met a welsh birder who told us he'd just sighted the bird much further down, apparently feeding alongside a Skylark not far rom the waters edge. Off we went to the designated area, and after a half hour the only birds sighted (4) Skylark and a Meadow Pipit!! To be honest Dee was beginning to freeze up, me too for that matter and so we decided to have one last look in the birds favoured field and depart. Talk about can't see the wood for the trees, not sure if it was there all along but it was no more that 150 yards away when we arrived back, apparently in its favoured spot!!

I did promise Dee a day in the Forest of Dean today but with the long search and the day ebbing away we decided to head back to WWT Slimbridge for a late lunch and a short search for the Glossy Ibis before heading home!

BUBO Listing

Saturday, February 03, 2018

📖 2018/Update #9 ~ WWT Slimbridge

🌧 6C Saturday 3rd February 2018 ~ A weekend in Gloucestershire with the good lady, staying at a local Premier Inn.

One of many Bewick Swans wintering at Slimbridge
Today was our annual February visit To WWT Slimbridge, not every birders favourite destination but for Dee and I a must, where else can you study the many species living here this close up that realistically you may never get the opportunity to see in the wild! Not just that, a good selection of hides to tour, offering a superb variety of wintering wildfowl, including the sadly declining Bewick Swan. In fact with the weather affecting the number of visitors today, we literally had one or two hides completely to ourselves!

A closer view of the large flock of White-fronted Geese
Another species visiting Slimbridge in reasonable numbers during the winter months are White-fronted Geese. One of my favourites, but again declining in numbers here, although not in any trouble, most preferring to winter in Holland, where the climate is a little warmer these days! We managed to get some reasonably close views of around 120 or so from the Kingfisher Hide. Barnacle Geese are here too in similar numbers, although I'm uncertain as to whether any of these birds originated from a wild population, today the flock was way off feeding out on the 'Dumbles'.

Smart looking drake Pintail
During this time of the year large parts of the reserve are deliberately flooded and from various hides there were excellent views of thousands of wildfowl, in particular Wigeon, Pintail and Pochard. So too waders with varying numbers of AvocetGolden Plover, Snipe, Ruff, Dunlin, Curlew, Lapwing and the odd Oystercatcher all noted, often put up by Marsh Harrier, two during our stay, along with a single Peregrine.

Crane at Slimbridge
Slimbridge is also most likely the easiest place in the UK to see wild Cranes. The birds that were released in the Somerset levels for the Great Crane Project frequently fly up the Severn Estuary and several have adopted Slimbridge as their permanent home, we managed five today.

The bitter sweet moment of the day occurred while visiting the In-Focus Optics shop, late in the afternoon! One of those occasions were you walk in, only to be told "You should have been here a few seconds earlier". This time a Glossy Ibis (reported Friday) had just flown over the reserve! However, we were duly rewarded by the sight of two Little Stint feeding with Dunlin out on the 'Rushy', right in front of the window, birds we'd been scanning for most of our stay! No further sign of the Glossy Ibis, despite a good search of the surrounding fields on the roads out of the reserve but despite dipping on this, another enjoyable visit.

Wednesday, January 31, 2018

📖 2018/Update #8 ~ Horned Lark!

🌧 👀 6C Wednesday 31st January 2018 ~ Dropping off a few crew members for the wife at Heathrow Airport early this morning offered the perfect opportunity to visit the nearby Staines Reservoir. Here a long-staying 'possible' American Horned Lark has been in residence along the causeway which separates both the north and south basins.

American Horned Lark ~ female alpestris, praticola or hoyti ~ Canon SX50
I parked on Town Lane adjacent to the eastern entrance to the reservoir and walked up the incline to the causeway, unfortunately just as the rain became a little heavier! On reaching the top it was obvious that I'd parked at the wrong end, I could just about make out a small group of birders at the very end, the other end!! After what seemed an age I finally arrived, now thoroughly soaked and face raw with the hail that was arriving almost horizontal in the brisk wind.

American Horned Lark ~ Thoroughly drenched like me! ~ Canon SX50
Fortunately, the bird was showing just through the railing about 25 meters or so away. To be honest, I didn't spend as much time with the bird as I'd wanted, due mainly to the weather and pissed wet through binoculars and camera. However, I was able to determine that there were certainly several characteristics of the Horned Larks I've seen in the US and Canada and it definitely didn't look like any Shore Larks I've seen in the UK. That said I'm no expert and we'll simply have to wait and see what those in the know decide but for me, a great little bird to see!

American Horned Lark

Friday, January 26, 2018

📖 2018/Update #7 ~ Eldernell & Beyond!

🌤 8C Friday 26th January 2018 ~ A day out with fellow Brandon Marsh volunteer Alan Boddington starting with a post-dawn visit to Eldernell in Cambridgeshire.

The bank at Eldernell allows extensive views over the Nene Washes where, in winter, thousands of wintering wildfowl (including wild swans) may be seen. Wintering Raptors and Owls can include Hen Harriers and Short-eared Owls, while Cranes may be seen at any time, particularly on the far banks.

Alan's excellent Short-eared Owl photo on his Nikon P900
On arrival, just as the sun was breaking through some low cloud two Short-eared Owls were quartering just beyond the car park. From the bridge looking across the flood meadow large gatherings of Whooper Swans in the distance, quite vocal, the distinct calls reverberating in the still morning air. Lots of winter wildfowl too, constantly on the move, particularly when the odd Marsh Harrier passed by (3 during our stay, including one male). A Peregrine was also viewed moving low over the reedbeds, adding to the disruption and putting up large flocks of Golden Plover and Lapwing, which only added to the drama! Two Buzzard on the nearby fencing, single Sparrowhawk and at least three Kestrel on the hunt, plus Skylark and Meadow Pipit overhead.

One of at least seven Short-eared Owls today!
 A long chat with the local farmer who tends the meadows here before he drove down towards the Nene bank. As we expected he flushed one of the two Short-eared Owls we'd seen drop down earlier, which flew a short distance before settling back at ground level. However, to our amazement, a further five birds suddenly irrupted from the nearby ground, a stunning sight, particularly as the birds continued to hunt for the rest of our stay. Before heading off, we thankfully connected with four Cranes over towards the Nene bank, a great end to our stay.

Short-eared Owl
The only negative of the day occurred at Deeping Lakes, where unfortunately there was no sign of any Long-eared Owls, despite an extensive check of the island where these birds regularly roost!

Short-eared Owl 
With a few hours of daylight left a whistle-stop tour of Rutland Water, mainly for Alan to catch up on his year-list, having only recently returned from his travels in Australia. Black-necked Grebe, Great Northern Diver, Caspian Gull, Barnacle Goose and Egyptian Goose gratefully added to his increasing list!

Monday, January 22, 2018

📖 2018/Update #6 ~ Forest of Dean

🌤 10C Monday 22nd January 2018 ~ My timing was impeccable as I arrived at Plock Court Nature Reserve, Gloucestershire for a look at the long staying Penduline Tit. Immediately on arrival, the bird was paying its first visit of the morning to the small reedbed where it frequents, this according to the gentleman next to me, who couldn't believe my luck, having himself been waiting for over two hours!

Penduline Tit ~ Plock Court
Whenever I decide to go on, what for me is a rare 'twitch' I'm always keen to plan a whole days birding and thanks to my short wait for the Penduline I was able to head off pretty smartish to my next stop of the day, Cannop Ponds, in the Forest of Dean. These are a series of manmade ponds and a great place to see Mandarin Ducks, which are regular breeders here. With the reasonably fine weather, the area was busier than normal but despite the dog walkers, ramblers and cyclists I did manage to find twelve birds, mainly skulking in the flooded wood opposite the main pond! A cronking Raven overhead, Marsh Tit and several Coal Tit around the feeders were other day ticks!

Mandarin Pair ~ Always looking stunning, even in the gloom!
From here a quick stop at Parkend, which yielded eight Hawfinch opposite the cricket pitch high in the canopy, but with local patch birds being seen regularly I didn't linger here for too long!

Two of the four Wild Boar that took me by surprise!
My next stop was New Fancy viewpoint, which on arrival seemed devoid of any birds. Indeed a vigil on the lookout area, which I have to say is fast becoming obscured by trees, was a little disappointing, with only the echoing song of at least three Mistle Thrush reverberating, two Goldcrest and the odd passing Siskin. In fact, It was back at the car park where the action took place. Firstly, two Common Crossbill passing overhead, but no sooner had they grabbed my attention than I got the fright of my life. When no less than four Wild Boar appeared from out of nowhere, one intent on barging through! To end the visit in style, having thought I'd initially 'dipped', my one and only Goshawk of the day passed low over the treeline, before being obscured by the low sun, it was time for a well-earned cuppa!

Grey Grey Shrike, Crabtree Hill
I struggled at first to find the next species on my list, a Great Grey Shrike at Crabtree Hill, an area I'd not visited before. With all my information pinned and stored on Google Maps, it doesn't help when you have absolutely no phone signal for the majority of the day, EE take note! Notwithstanding I reverted to the good old Ordinance Survey Map, parking near Woorgreens Nature Reserve and after traipsing across the bogged ground for a good hour eventually found him! Well, actually he found me, they do like to be nosey! Worth mentioning too that the lake held (11) Goosander and the surrounding alder a huge flock of mixed Lesser Redpoll/Siskin, circa 200!

Dipper at Wenchford in the fading light!
My final stop of the day was Wenchford Picnic Site for Dipper. Although I've seen Dipper hear before I'd dipped (forgive the pun) during my last visit with the Brandon Marsh team. No such issues today, when I found one just off the bridge which leads down to the car park.

A few more images of the day....

Great Grey Shrike

Wild Boar

Mandarin Duck

Tuesday, January 16, 2018

📖 2018/Update #5 ~ Rutland & Eyebrook

🌤 💨🌬 3C Tuesday 16th January 2018 ~ A pretty challenging days birding in a stiff and bitterly cold north-westerly breeze, meeting up with Geoff Hood from the Brandon Marsh team for a planned visit to Eyebrook and Rutland Water. Our first stop Eyebrook and by the time we parked up for a look across the reservoir a count of twelve Red Kites had been recorded, with one group of six birds along the A6003 near Rockingham.

Record Image of two Drake Smew at Eyebrook.
In choppy conditions, it wasn't long before a couple of Drake Smew were located. These along with a selection of wildfowl which included a pair of Pintail and good numbers of Tufted Duck, Wigeon and Teal. Double figure Dunlin and circa100 Golden Plover were sent up by yet another passing Red Kite. Buzzard,Kestrel and a male Stonechat also noted from one of the viewing screens. In the fields opposite the reservoir three BrownHares enjoying the sunshine.

Well protected from the elements record shot of Little Owl 
Before heading on to Rutland Water a check of a well-known oak tree, which yielded one of the two Little Owls which reside here.

Our first stop at Rutland Water was the North-Arm and after finding a good spot to shield ourselves from the elements we spent a good 45-minutes scanning. No sign at this point of the hoped-for Black-necked Grebe but a single Scaup, drake Goosander, (2) Barnacle Geese, (2) Egyptian Geese and many Great Crested Grebes.

First of two Great Northern Divers ~ This one from the fisherman's car park
We did thankfully locate the Black-necked Grebe while stopping at the fisherman's car park a short while later out towards the far bank and while here the first of two Great Northern Divers for the day. Two more stops, firstly at the 'Old Hall', where we eventually picked out the Red-necked Grebe despite the increasing swell and then on to the far end of Hambleton peninsula for our second Great Northern Diver of the day!

Great Norther Diver ~ Far end of Hambleton peninsula 
Finally, another stop off back at Eyebrook on route home produced a single Ruff, (4) Redshank, (15) DunlinLittle Egret, (6) Red-legged Partridge and a Muntjac Deer!

Sunday, January 14, 2018

📖 2018/Update #4 ~ RSPB Burton Mere

🌤 5C Sunday 14th January 2018 ~ Stopping over in Liverpool last night gave Dee and I the perfect opportunity to visit a couple of birding sites on Sunday before making our way back to the Midlands!

Purple Sandpiper ~ Usually asleep, mingled in with Dunlin, Redshank & Turnstones!
After breakfast, we took the short journey across the River Mersey, via the Mersey Tunnel to visit New Brighton Marina. In March 2015 a rare vagrant Laughing Gull resided here for several weeks and when 'twitching' the bird back then I'd noticed a healthy population of Purple Sandpipers were also regularly roosting on the pontoons. Since then, when visiting Liverpool to see relatives I sometimes take the opportunity for a visit, particularly for my annual year-tick! Try to visit in the week though as today, particularly with the sun shining, there were many dog walkers, cyclists & joggers!

Oystercatcher ~ New Brighton 
Before moving on to RSPB Burton Mere a check of the sea and surrounding beach areas, recording many Oystercatcher, Redshank & Turnstones.

PDF of RSPB Burton Mere ~ Download HERE
The gateway to the Dee Estuary reserve, Burton Mere Wetlands straddles the border between England and Wales with a mosaic of freshwater wetland habitats, mixed farmland and woodland. My last visit here was also back in 2015, in fact on the same day as 'twitching' the Laughing Gull. I'd made my way over for a second 'twitch' of the day, this time a Long-eared Owl, but sadly none were on site today.

Black-tailed Godwits from the Marsh Covert Hide
There's plenty to explore while here, including a couple of screens and both the Marsh Covert Hide and Inner Marsh Farm Hide offer close views of Black-tailed Godwit, Curlew and the usual winter wildfowl. However, the most productive area during our visit was Burton Point headland with unrivalled views across the estuary. From here, although distant, a couple of Great Egrets, Whooper Swans and single Marsh Harrier. Some huge flocks of mixed Golden Plover/Lapwing and many geese also straddle the area but unfortunately, due to the distance, it was difficult to pick out any Pink-footed among them! Stonechat, Redwing, Fieldfare & Green Woodpecker brought up a respectable 50 species for the day, now 100 for the year thus far!