Monday, June 22, 2015

Brandon Summer Away-Day

Another full mini-bus and a summer away-day with the Brandon Marsh team, this time with visits to a couple of RSPB reserves: Blacktoft Sands in Yorkshire's East Riding and Frampton Marsh, Lincolnshire.

Record shot of ♀Montague's Harrier at Blacktoft Sands - Thanks to John Osbourne for his image!
A pretty painless drive to Blacktoft, arriving shortly after 9am and after checking in at the reserve centre to gather some information, off to the hides. One of the star attractions here are a pair of Montague's Harriers and during our stay the female showed well on occasions, unfortunately mostly at distance, but what a stunning bird to behold. The icing on the cake would have been the male of the pair, but it turned out to be one of those days we're he remained elusive!

Tree Sparrows nesting in the Blacktoft Car park
Other highlights of the visit included Common Tern, Curlew, Little Egret, some cracking Marsh Harrier food passes, nesting Tree sparrows in the car park and three summer plumage Spotted Redshank. We departed after lunch around 1pm, dipping on the recent Ring-necked Duck and weren't surprised to see the bird reported later in day, along with a visiting Red-necked Phalarope!!

Painted Lady - Stunning example just outside the centre at Frampton
After lunch a drive over to Frampton Marsh for the remainder of the afternoon seemed to coincide with some hefty downpours. Before the rain one of only three butterflies seen today, with the above very pristine looking Painted Lady.

Distant record of Mediterranean Gull taken with phone to scope!
The birding, considering the time of year was very good and included some superb summer plumage species such as Spotted Redshank, Ruff and Mediterranean Gull. Other waders on the day included Ringed Plover, Little-ringed Plover, Redshank, Oystercatcher and Black-tailed Godwit. Also of note Common Tern, Little Egret and Pink-footed Goose, the latter possibly an injured bird from the winter.

Finally, as tradition has it a stop on route home for a fish & chip supper at Grantham was a great end to another brilliant day.

Tuesday, June 16, 2015

Summer Routine

It's been a while since I updated so I thought for continuity purposes I'd do more of a pictorial to keep the posts live. To be honest after the mayhem of the recent Grey Phalarope at Brandon Marsh things have settled into a normal summer schedule for me. Boat chores, butterflies, dragonfly's etc. That said most of the action has in fact taken place north of the county, where a Melodious Warbler is singing and showing well. Some excellent photos to be found on social media.

Turtle Dove - Wonderful to catch up with a couple of these gorgeous birds on my travels!
Four-spotted Chaser on one of the dipping ponds at Brandon!
I've stayed local, along with visits to Brandon Marsh and across county into Oxfordshire. The dragonfly list is ever growing, now that we're getting some decent sunny periods and includes: Four-spotted Chaser, Black-tailed Skimmer, Broad-bodied Chaser, Brown Hawker and a stunning Emperor at Brandon Marsh today!

Painted Lady at Brandon Marsh - Turning out to be a decent year for these migrants.
Scorpion Fly - Another easily found photographic opportunity at Brandon
A busy Reed Bunting on the marina top field.
The marina is also a great place to be in the summer with nesting birds such as Reed Buntings, Reed Warbler, Sedge Warbler, Common Whitethroat, Robin and for the third year in a row Lesser Whitethroat. Other regulars here include Mute Swans, which have produced five cygnets this time around and other species like Coot and Moorhen have both fledged young.

A juvenile Robin - Another successful breeder at the marina.
Lots of Bee-Orchids and Common Spotted Orchids currently around Brandon.

Friday, June 05, 2015

Fermyn Woods

A break from Brandon Marsh today as Alan Lunn, one of the Brandon volunteers invited Alan Boddington and myself to join him for a day out on a butterfly quest. Destination, Fermyn Woods Country Park, Northamptonshire.

Green Hairstreak - One of only 9 species seen today!
Situated in the heart of the Rockingham Forest 4 miles to the Southeast of Corby in East Northamptonshire, the park offers 15 hectares of meadows, thickets, marshes and ponds. Although the day started off overcast it brightened around midday to produce a glorious afternoon and although butterfly numbers seemed quite low, a very enjoyable day out.

Common Blue - By far the most abundant during today's visit.
Red Kites were a constant companion throughout our stay and a total of nine butterfly species were seen: Dingy Skipper, Grizzled Skipper, Common Blue, Holly Blue, Orange Tip, Green Hairstreak, Brimstone, Large White and Speckled Wood.

Large White
Several day flying moths were also on the wing and included: Common Heath, Burnet Companion and Cinnabar.

Tuesday, June 02, 2015

A Real Twitch!

With the strong westerlies currently hammering the UK you always get the feeling from a birding perspective that something unusual might just drop in. When I arrived at Brandon Marsh this morning to take a guided walk of the reserve along with Keith Foster, who knew that our guests were in for such a treat.

Fulvous Whistling Duck (E) - Taken the previous week!
Having stopped off at the Teal Hide for views of the escaped Fulvous Whistling Duck we amazingly (I blame the other Keith) bypassed the East Marsh Hide and headed straight for the Ted Jury Hide!

Grey Phalarope - A real stunner to behold!!
Thankfully Adrian, Derek and Alan Boddington from the Brandon Team were close behind and did thankfully drop in, and in fact dropped onto a stunning summer plumage Grey Phalarope! Needless to say it wasn't long before I abandoned, sorry I accompanied the guests back to the East Marsh Hide, thanks to Adrian's phone call. Thanks must also go to Alan, who I'm sure Adrian and Derek will agree 'saw it first', well done those boys. From here on Alan and I set the social media world in motion and by the time I left the hide at 3:45 there was standing room only, Lee Evans and all!

Grey Phalarope - Another record shot and I'm certain better photo's will soon be available!
The rest as they say is history but you know the strangest thing is that our non birding guests spoke more about the duck and couldn't understand what all the fuss was about! Oh yes and Keith #2 is forgiven!!

Saturday, May 30, 2015

Wandering Norfolk

After dropping Dee off at Luton airport early Saturday I headed over to Norfolk for the day to meet up with another Brandon volunteer and RSPB leader Pete Worthy. Firstly to check out his new place in Hunstanton and then to drive the back lanes of the Norfolk countryside.

Red-legged Partridge - Despite several encounters, we managed not to run any over!
Eh! The back lanes of the Norfolk Countryside? Yes, a magical mystery tour in which strangely enough you meet very little traffic. It was also a good opportunity to see some of Pete's new patch. Despite not connecting with some of the target birds for the day: Turtle Dove, Montague's Harrier and Grey Partridge, we had a very enjoyable afternoon with Cuckoo, Corn Bunting, many Yellowhammer and equally good numbers of Common Whitethroat throughout the hedgerows.

Plenty of Brown Hare's on the open fields
Plenty of Brown Hare's to be found in the open fields and at one stage Pete led me to a family of Adders, sadly something we're not blessed with in Warwickshire. Also of note a very ragged looking Painted Lady, plus Wall, Common Blue and many Small Heath butterflies.

Yellowhammer - Seen throughout the day!
We ended up at RSPB Titchwell and after tea and cake took a walk of the reserve to find the usual selection of species. Highlights were a day hunting Barn Owl, double figure Little Gull and a family of five baby Pochard, can't remember ever seeing these before! Being abroad for most of May I could also do with a few more year firsts and this was helped by Little Tern and Sandwich Tern, of which there were plenty moving through offshore, along with 300/400 Common Scoter, too distant to ID any Velvet's among them. A brief stop at Holme heading back to Hunstanton produced Grey Plover, Lesser Whitethroat and yet another Barn Owl.

A very forlorn and scraggy looking Chinese Water Deer at RSPB Titchwell
Finally, after an enjoyable day and dinner back at Pete's pad, a stop off and walk at Eldernell around dusk on route home. Here a couple of booming Bitterns, two more Barn Owls, ♂Marsh Harrier, Cuckoo, Fox and a brace of Common Cranes, unfortunately no sight nor sound of any Crakes!

Wednesday, May 20, 2015

Oregon 2015 In Focus!

Its amazing how time flies when your having fun and before you know it we're back in the UK and our Oregon Tour becomes just another memory.
But what a memory!

Astoria–Megler Bridge
We began in Seattle, Washington State and drove south along the US101 entering Oregon across the Columbia River and the amazing Astoria–Megler Bridge. From here on we completed the Oregon Coast region, which runs south along the Pacific Ocean. The Oregon Coast stretches approximately 363 miles (584 km) from the Columbia River in the north to the California state border in the south and our two main stopovers for this period where the city of Tillamook, the county seat of Tillamook and Bandon, a city in Coos Bay.

Popping over to California for the day!
Heading back north we first moved east inland to Klamath Falls for a few days stay. In fact during our time here we did actually travel the 20 or so miles cross the state-line and into California, this to visit the amazing Tule Lake National Wildlife Refuge and this is reflected in my North American birding list.

Continuing north through the mountain ranges and National Forests along US95, further stops for varying days at Bend in Deschutes County and Hood River, which is actually a port on the Columbia River! For our final few days before heading back to Seattle we moved back west to the coast and the lovely town of Cannon Beach, before continuing north once more along the outstandingly beautiful US101 and completing a round trip of 2,100 miles!

As for the weather, well we can definitely tell you that along the coast at this time of year the wind can make birding a challenge. It starts off off calm enough but by lunchtime it's blowing a hoolie! Further inland, especially through the mountains it can be quite changeable as you would expect, when we arrived in Klamath for example 26C, when we left two days later 6C.

Finally the birding:
Total Species Count 174 - With 25 New North American species including: Lewis Woodpecker, White-headed Woodpecker, Tufted Puffin, White-tailed Kite, Snowy Plover, Snowy Egret & Red- shouldered Hawk.

Only a single new mammal to add, when Dee discovered a Porcupine and sadly very few Butterflies or Odanata, due to the weather, so no additions there.

This has been our first North American birding trip outside of Canada and I can honestly say it certainly won't be our last!

OREGON 2015 PHOTO ALBUM

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Sunday, May 17, 2015

Staying Local

Sadly, today was our final full days birding in the Oregon before we head back across the state line and into Washington for some sightseeing in Seattle.

View from the South Jetty Observation Platform
Currently located at 'Seaside' we decided to stay local today visiting both the nearby Fort Stevens State Park and Columbia Estuary. At the south Jetty of the Columbia River an observation platform gives excellent panoramic views. The jetty stretches across Jetty Lagoon, also called Trestle Bay, from Point Adams out towards the Columbia Bar, and for part of the way is accompanied by the ruins of a wooden trestle, which carried the trains used in the jetty’s construction. 

Raccoons obviously use the shelter of the rocks to forage!
It was certainly a little choppy today but it didn't seem to bother the many Caspian Terns, Brown Pelicans and shore bird flocks that flew by. In fact it produced a special moment for Dee and I when three Grey Whales passed through, unfortunately at distance but blow holes, tail fins and all! 

Black Turnstone's at rest - Completely asleep unfortunately! - Photo: By Dee
After the jetty we took a walk along the rock breakers and managed a quick record shot of two Black Turnstone's at rest, before the above Raccoon spooked them. A number of Bald Eagles, another icon of our travels here came by during our walk and many of the species already noted in previous posts were seen so I won't bore my reader with a list on this occasion.

Black-throated Gray Warbler - Another welcome addition to our birding list. - Photo: By Dee
We also took in one or two trails in the hope of adding a few more passerines, sadly lacking in numbers during our tour and almost drew a blank, until a Black-throated Gray Warbler suddenly appeared at tree top level, record shot above. A 180 mile drive to Seattle awaits and at this stage our bird species total currently stands at 173, with many special memories! I'll post a final summary of what has been an incredible journey upon my return to the UK in a few days time, so for now its AU REVOIR!

Saturday, May 16, 2015

Coastal Return

Dee and I arrived back on the Pacific coast mid afternoon for our final few days birding before heading off sightseeing and then back to good old blighty!

#1 Wood Duck - Several of these colourful birds on the perimeter of the ponds. - Photo: By Dee
The drive took us across country, passing through the Cascade Mountain Range and Portland but unfortunately the weather on route was mostly low cloud and rain. We did manage a couple of stops, picking up a few more species and these included Common Yellowthroat and Bewick Wren.

#2 Red-necked Phalarope - These birds can be quite inquisitive and come pretty close to investigate! 
Before booking into our hotel for the next few days we decided to check out Cannon Beach Settling Ponds. As most birders know sewage treatment plants can be quite productive, but here in the U.S. a real effort is made to encourage birding at these establishments and this particular site had an observation deck and trail , along with interpretive boards.

#3 Surf Scoter - This single bird was taking advantage of the ponds! - Photo: By Dee
Apart from the White-throated Swifts at Smiths Rock we've seen very few Swifts on our travels but on arrival here at the ponds a half dozen small, short-tailed birds were in flight. Judging by size I'd say these were most likely Vaux's Swift. Also on the wing a group of Violet-green Swallow and Barn Swallow. As we took the trail an Anna's Hummingbird entertained us, first hummer we've had in a while and the ever present Red-winged Blackbirds and Song Sparrows provided the background noise.

Shore birds were only represented by (2) Spotted Sandpiper and on the perimeter of the ponds at rest were (4) Common Merganser, Great Blue Heron and Wood Duck (photo#1). On the open water (11) Red-necked Phalarope (photo#2), a single Surf Scoter (photo#3), along with (4) Lesser Scaup. Passing by during our stay, Bald Eagle, Western Gull and Raven.

Friday, May 15, 2015

Hood River Treat!

With twelve consecutive days of birding and travelling Dee and I treated ourselves to a two day stay in a suite at Vagabond Lodge, Hood River.

Splayed between the twin peaks of Mt. Hood in Oregon and Mt. Adams in Washington and with panoramic views of the Columbia River Gorge and Cascade Mountain Range, what a great place to chill out and spend our anniversary.

View from our balcony at Vagabond Lodge
Of course birding had to play it's part at some stage and so today we took a drive out to a few nearby sites along the Columbia River, first stop was Government Cove. This is an historic area along the Columbia River with sheltered coves, old rock quarry and slough and surrounded by hardwood trees.

I can't recall any time I've seen so many Ospreys in the air at once!
Within minutes of arriving it was obvious that a family or two of Ospreys were in residence with at least six birds constantly calling and fishing. One nest as we discovered was located on a secluded island section, inaccessible and just across the cove. With overcast skies and a brisk wind the birding was quite a challenge and the only other birds of note included: Brown-headed Cowbird, Tree Swallow, Red-breasted Merganser, Great Blue Heron, Turkey Vulture and Bald Eagle. If there were passerines to be found here they were well hidden.

Black-headed Grosbeak - At least a half dozen singing along the trail today!
With the weather much improved later in the day we completed one of the trails at Twin Tunnels, part of Oregon State Parks. This is a paved trail between Hood River and nearby Mosier along part of the old restored Columbia Highway. The habitat consists of mixed conifer and hardwood forest, along with ferns, big leaf maple, Douglas fir and standing dead trees. Californian Quail could be heard from the car park and soon after heading off a number of Black-headed Grosbeak were heard singing. Around halfway down the trail we finally managed to get a record of one on camera.

Dark-eyed Junco - A very secretive ground feeding species!
Yet again we came across Western Tanager and a few warblers which included Orange-crowed Warbler and Wilson's Warbler. At one stage a small raptor shot across the path in front of us in chase of what looked to be a Robin, too quick for ID but may well have been a Sharp-shined Hawk. One or two Dark-eyed Junco's were noted feeding in leaf fall and a Spotted Towhee showed himself briefly.

Red-tailed Hawk - Showing nicely in the clear blue sky.
A Downy Woodpecker also made a brief appearance and some noisy American Crows and Raven up above alerted us to a Red-tailed Hawk, showing it's red tail very nicely in the clear blue sky. To finish off a trio of Jays that have entertained us from the balcony during our stay in Hood River are posted below. Now off across country once again back to the Pacific coast for our final few days birding.

Western Scrub-Jay - Blue Jay in the east!
Stellers Jay - The more secretive of the three
Gray Jay - The Yogi Bear of Jays, these birds will steel your picnic sandwich!

Wednesday, May 13, 2015

Discovering Bend

Many Oregon birders apparently consider Bend to be primarily a place to stop off for food and fuel on their way to points further east. But this large sprawling city on the western edge of the high desert has several parks and lakes to explore.

Ash-throated Flycatcher - Not quite used to seeing flycatchers of this size but what a stunner!
Dee and I began at Hatfield Lakes, which is in fact a water reclamation site and offers both wetland and juniper/sage habitats. It's also a little disconcerting as right next door is a state police firing range, in the UK you probably couldn't get within miles of an establishment like this, but here we are!! Just as we found a position to scope the lake a bird took the eye in the Sage Brush below, not having seen one before a quick look at the 'Sibley's' yielded our first Ash-throated Flycatcher.

Western Kingbird - three of these beauties on the perimeter trail.
A first look at the lake produced a large flock of circa 100 Long-billed Dowicher, these along with Dunlin, Western SandpiperSemipalmated Plover, Wilson's Phalarope and three Least Sandpiper. On the open water Eared Grebe, Bufflehead and American Coot. A trail leads around the perimeter of the top lake and as we commenced our walk a wonderful Western Kingbird flew up into a nearby tree.

Western Tanager - Proud looking bird!
There seemed to be large number of Western Tanager around today and despite trying our best to get a photo of the stunning male the best we could manage was a female, but whose complaining!

Flycatcher Sp. Best guess Hammond's ?
There are at least fifteen flycatcher species to be found in Oregon and unless they call identification is sometimes impossible, with that in mind another two flycatchers seen today will have to be noted as Flycatcher SP. Other species of note included: Killdeer, Lincoln's Sparrow, Savannah Sparrow, Spotted Sandpiper, Bald Eagle and House Wren.

House Wren - The song has a familiar ending likened to our own Lesser Whitethroat.
After lunch we made it across to Smith Rock State Park which has a nesting colony of White-throated Swifts. In fact if your just after the species, park up in the first day use area and scan the mountains, we had 20/30. Notwithstanding, Dee and I headed down below to walk the river and came across a family of Common Merganser, seven young in total. Western Tanagers were here to, along with Violet-green SwallowsHouse Wren, Orange-crowned Warbler and Yellow-rumped Warbler.


Yellow-bellied Marmot - Another of Dee's favourites!
Golden Eagles also nest here and among the score of Turkey Vultures enjoying the thermals, Golden Eagles and the odd Peregrine could easily be seen. Dee had her usual moments too and a sighting of one of her favourites, Yellow-bellied Marmot made the day even more special.

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