Saturday, November 30, 2013

Away days!

Birding is often about being in the right place at the right time as so it appeared to be last weekend while visiting my dear old mum in Liverpool. On the Saturday morning a bird-guides update appeared "2nd winter Ring-billed Gull - Asda supermarket - Walton", a cracking piece of luck, only five minutes away from mums house, job done! A picture of said bird can be found HERE on Austin's Birding Blog.

Moving on to last week and with my back problems returning to haunt me I decided to give Brandon Marsh works party a miss on Thursday, opting instead for joining the team a little late in the day, when all the hard work had been done!! As a sub-note I'm happy to report that the work on Carlton Pool is complete for now and the new path through to the screen area (soon to be hide) is also open to the public.

Carlton Pool - Sluices open and water slowly returning!
However, my plans changed when a phone call from Richard Mays had me travelling over to Kings Newnham, a locally well know spot for wintering Swans and only a few miles from Brandon. A number of Whooper Swans and White-fronted Geese had been reported by Colin Potter and Richard had been good enough to pass the information on. On arrival along Kings Newnham road at least a hundred or so Mute Swans were present, plus a large number of Wigeon and Canada Geese. Unfortunately, after an hour or so trawling the surrounding fields I never managed to locate any of the reported birds!!

Friday was a different story all together, as once again I had the use of the Wildlife Trusts minibus and so with fourteen of the Brandon team, we headed off for the Ouse Washes. Excellent views of Red Kite on route along the A605 with four in total. A stop at a lay-by in search of Common Cranes around the Guyhirn area produced a very light phase Common Buzzard and an array of Mute Swans, along with both Bewick Swans and Whooper Swans in the same field. We finally connected with an amazing thirteen Common Cranes in a second lay-by near the 'Chill Out Cafe', an area I'd seen them a few weeks prior.

Whooper Swans - Personal library image
The late morning, lunch and early afternoon was spent in the heart of the fens at RSPB Ouse Washes, enjoying the many hides which overlook the flooded pasture. As you would imagine at this time of the year the place was awash with wildfowl. During an enjoyable few hours the team managed the usual wintering ducks, which included of note: Goldeneye, Pintail, Shoveler, Pochard, Teal, Tufted, Gadwall and stunning numbers of Wigeon. Waders were represented by Redshank, Ruff, Dunlin, Snipe and large flocks of Lapwing and Golden Plover were constantly on the wing. More Whooper Swans and Bewick Swans were also noted and other additions included a couple of ♀Marsh Harrier, Kestrel and Sparrowhawk, plus Meadow Pipit, Little Grebe and Water Rail, the later heard but not seen.

With the day closing in our final stop was Wicken Fen, National Trust Reserve, the very first nature reserve to be owned by the National Trust and has been in their care since 1899. It remains one of the most important wetlands in Europe and a great place to watch harriers coming in to roost. I have to say, we were not disappointed!! A fly-by Kingfisher along one of the ditches before we eventually arrived at the tower hide for our vigil.

Wicken Fen - Library Image 
As dusk approached at least a half dozen ♀Marsh Harrier came in over the reedbed and a huge flock of Jackdaw were seen and heard clucking away in the distance, a lone Cetti's Warbler briefly called within the reeds. At least two dozen Cormorant had claimed a high lookout point, plus a trio of Fieldfare perched close to our vantage point, a solitary Mistle Thrush over. It seemed to me that we'd all gathered to witness the highlight of the day, which were undoubtedly the trio of Hen Harriers, a female and two stunning males, which entertained us until the light had almost gone. A stunning end to another excellent away-day and a very bright Venus off to the west in the now cloudless skies, Wow!!

Wednesday, November 20, 2013

Norfolk Tuesday!

Temp - 2/5C - Sunny start then Hail showers late afternoon - Wind ➝ NW @ 18 mph

Another chance for a Norfolk away-day yesterday with Pete Worthy and Ken Sherlock from the Brandon team. A Red Kite over the A14 on route and our first stop was the 'Chill Out' Cafe at Guyhirn (A47), where (7) Common Cranes were showing nicely but at distance in the fields opposite the pull-in.

Highly cropped record shot of ♂Parrot Crossbill at Holt
A great start to the day and so from Guyhirn it was a direct route to Holt Country Park for the recently reported Parrot Crossbills, a bird which occasionally irrupts into Britain from Europe after the cone crop has failed. There is also a small stronghold for these birds in Abernethy Forest, Scotland. Unfortunately, our arrival at the country park was not quite what we expected! As we drove into the parking area a car reversed out from one of the parking bays straight into the side of Pete's car, putting a couple of nice creases into the driver and rear doors. Without going into too much detail I thought Pete dealt with the whole episode with great restraint and didn't let it spoil the rest of his day.

Parrot Crossbill - demolishing another pine cone!
As you would expect a good turnout from the birding fraternity put us directly onto the birds, with 2♂ and 2♀ showing intermittently from high in the canopy. A pleasant forty minutes or so watching and photographing these amazing birds, which remained in the same tree during our whole stay, simply demolishing each pine cone with their powerful deep 'parrot-like' bills.

Turnstone at Salthouse
Cley Marshes next and a short stay at the beach car park in bitterly cold north-westerly winds, managing (3) Red-throated Diver, (3) Gannet, several Guillemot, and (2) Skua Sp. too distant for any positive ID. After lunch at Salthouse, watching the many Turnstone in the parking area, back along to Cley locating both Black Brant and Pale-bellied Brent Goose in among the many Brent Geese. While the two wusses Pete and Ken returned to the car during a hail shower my intrepid self took a walk along the East Bank past Arnold's Marsh. Here a good scan of the pools had of note: Grey Plover, Dunlin, Curlew, Little Egret, Shelduck, Redshank, Black-tailed Godwit and Bar-tailed Godwit. A pair of Marsh Harrier were constantly scouring the marsh during my stay. Unfortunately, no sign of Scaup, one having been noted on the marsh in the nature centre listings earlier in the day.

 ♂♀ Parrot Crossbill - Birds of the day!
With the remainder of the daylight fading, hate these short winter days, we made off for RSPB Titchwell for sunset. On route lots of Pink-footed Geese in the surrounding fields and with the rain now having moved through an excellent but brief view of Barn Owl, which hovered over a field as we drove slowly past. The sky had cleared to produce a stunning sunset over Titchwell, with the unmistakable Pink-footed Geese silhouetted against the red of the sky. Our hope of Barn Owl and Short-eared Owl never quite materialised but the harrier roost held over (14) birds, all marsh and a Peregrine made a brief appearance, having a tentative nudge at one or two harriers before heading off. Water Rail, Cetti's Warbler and the pinging of Bearded Tit all heard before finally heading home!

Sunday, November 17, 2013

Patch Review

Increase in Goldeneye
Highlights over the last several days have been a Peregrine Falcon at Brandon Marsh on Thursday morning, followed a little later in the day by my latest ever inland Swallow, seen while working with the team on Carlton Pool. To be honest though, by the time I got onto it (busy strimming), it was a dot in the distance, but thankfully most of the guys had good views as it flew through. On board yesterday evening around 10pm, the unmistakable honking of Whooper Swans overhead the marina. One of the bonus's of having the hatches open on such a mild night.

Fieldfare - Large increase this past week!
Back to Brandon and Woodcock finally appear to be arriving in small numbers, with several sightings around the reserve and both Siskin and Lesser Redpoll are now well established, making good use of the alder seeds. Equally, Fieldfare numbers have increased dramatically, this on the back of earlier arrivals of Redwing, Goldcrest and our overseas Robins. Bullfinch numbers have also increased with (4)♀ and (2)♂ feeding near sheep field on Thursday morning. There is still a small visible migration of Skylark over the reserve, with nine counted on Thursday. Golden Plover have also been a regular feature more recently, with around fifty or so birds maintaining a presence on East Marsh Pool, (5) Snipe were also recorded today. Wood Pigeon, a bird not normally associated with migration, have also been on the move in big numbers.

Wood Pigeon - On the move!
Winter wildfowl have increased over the week too, the best personal sighting I've managed was this morning with (3) ♀Goldeneye, (3) ♂Goldeneye, (1) ♂Pochard, (3) ♀Pochard and of course both Shoveler and Teal remain in good numbers and are now emerging into full plumage. Wigeon have declined from the unprecedented numbers of early November, but fifty or so are a regular feature, dropping in occasionally late afternoon. However, we still await the arrival of this winters first Bittern sighting, last years initial arrival being November 2nd. Finally, a couple of Willow Tit calling near the inlet while walking back from Carlton Hide this morning are worth a mention. A bird on the UK's red-list but thankfully still a regular to Brandon Marsh.

Redwings - Stunning winter visitors!
I enjoyed a nice amble around Draycote Water on Friday, along with Keith Foster and Bob Hazell, on a beautifully crisp and flat calm morning. A couple of Shag were first seen atop the valve tower from distance and then by the time we arrived back at the sailing club, better views of the pair just offshore. Plenty of Meadow Pipit along Farborough Bank, a single ♀Goosander off Farborough spit and a very elusive Little Egret at the inlet were other highlights. Bob tells me that a Nuthatch we heard calling within the copse at the feeding station was quite a rarity for Draycote and of course watching the Tree Sparrows around the same area is always a treat, such smart looking birds! Other notables for the visit: Grey Wagtail, (4) Treecreeper, (8) Siskin, a half dozen Goldcrest and a single Yellow-legged Gull.

Tuesday, November 12, 2013

Hit and Miss!

It's been a strange few days with a few hits and plenty of misses. On Monday Jim Rushforth asked if I'd like to accompany him on a drive across into Nottinghamshire to take a look at a Pied Wheatear, which had been reported as showing well at Collingham Pits. As we were heading that way anyway, we were also going to seek out the long staying Glossy Ibis at Lowdham.

Unfortunately on arrival at Collingham mid morning, on a horrible, dank and rainy day, we were reliably informed that the bird had not been sighted. Despite the lack of Wheatear we still enjoyed an hour or two at the pits, constantly scanning for the bird and recording a decent variety of birds which included: Red-crested Pochard, Pintail, Pochard, Redshank, Green Sandpiper and Little Egret.

Glossy Ibis - Record shot in very poor conditions!
Our second target bird, Glossy Ibis, turned out to be an incredibly easy find. As we drove past the reported location, a field next to the Peugeot garage at Lowdham, the bird was happily feeding away and easily visible from the car as we drove past. Fascinating to find such an amazing bird feeding alongside a busy main road, right alongside a garage and small housing estate.

Today's usual visit to Brandon Marsh turned out to be a frustrating affair, with any birds of note staying one step ahead of me. Probably due to my late arrival (9am) but I managed to miss out on a Dunlin on East Marsh Pool, Stonechat on Newlands reedbed and not one but two Woodcock, inadvertently flushed by Martin Durkin, who was a half hour ahead of me and taking my normal route around the farm field area.

Song Thrush - Lots of Thrushes on the reserve!
Even with my disappointments it wasn't a bad morning all round, East Marsh Pool held of note: (2) ♀Goldeneye, (2) Pochard, (2) Little Grebe, (50+) Golden Plover and a single Yellow-legged Gull. The rest of my tour recorded various numbers of Redwing, Fieldfare, Lesser Redpoll and Siskin, plus (1) Green Sandpiper, (2) Snipe, (2) Song Thrush, (9) Skylark over, (2) Goldcrest, (2) Meadow Pipit, (2) Treecreeper, (2) Coal Tit, (3) Pied Wagtail, (3) Bullfinch, (3) Great-spotted Woodpecker, (2) Green Woodpecker (4) Buzzard, and single Sparrowhawk, Kestrel, Nuthatch and Kingfisher.

Surprise of the day was a single Butterfly, (possibly Small Tortoiseshell), which shot past the big hide while Jim, Derek and I were having lunch!

Friday, November 08, 2013

Sunshine and Gloom!

Today's star attraction - The infamous Draycote Albino Squirrel
As we're all aware this year has produced a bumper berry crop but I have to say that with several visits locally over the past week I can already see that our winter thrushes are making inroads! At Brandon Marsh on Tuesday good numbers of Redwing were making short work of the hawthorn berries near sheep field and at Carlton Hide a group of Fieldfares had similar ideas. At least a half dozen Bullfinch were also making good use of the excess. Skylarks are continuing to move south, although in fewer numbers than previous weeks and Golden Plover are also beginning to appear inland, with over a hundred or so at Brandon on Thursday, a good fifty of which hung around East Marsh Pool for most of the day. A single Ruff, which occasional goes AWOL was once again showing well and a Green Sandpiper was also heard but not seen.

Grey Wagtail  - Is that a fly he's eyeing up?
Today a morning visit to Draycote water in glorious sunshine, followed by an afternoon visit to Brandon Marsh, by which time the rain and gloom had completely set in. First Draycote, starting off with a couple of Treecreeper in the car park when I met up with Keith Foster. Along Farborough bank there still remains a good number of Meadow Pipit, along with the usual Pied Wagtail, and a couple of Grey Wagtail, which gave a few photographic opportunities. Out on the water distant views of a ♂Goosander over near the inlet, along with a couple of 'Redheads', closer in and a whole-lot more obliging, one posing nicely in the morning sunshine.

Goosander enjoying the morning sunshine!
I'm always surprised by the sheer amount of Great-crested Grebe that reside at Draycote and today was no exception, I didn't have the patience to count them all but they must have been well in excess of 200. Tufted Duck were also well represented, along with a single Little Grebe, several Gadwall and a couple of ♀Goldeneye. After Bob Hazell joined us we decided to walk as far as the hide (Sparrowhawk on route) in the hope of catching up with the infamous albino squirrel. Sure enough and right on cue I managed to finally get a couple of decent images for the scrap book. By now the sun had gone and with the sky looking laden we made our way around to the windsurfers car park, where a small number of Brambling had been showing. Thirty odd Golden Plover over the valley as we made our way, but sadly no sign of Brambling, having been forewarned by Richard Mays that a Sparrowhawk had crashed the party. We did manage a couple of Goldcrest, (six in total for the day), a lone Chiffchaff and a second Sparrowhawk before the rain came.

Another Albino shot to finish!
A short stay at Brandon Marsh in the rain and gloom after leaving Draycote, the highlights of which were: Yellow-legged Gull, Water Rail, Kingfisher, (3) Snipe and Goldeneye, which to me looked to be a different bird than the one seen of late! No sign of yesterdays Golden Plover and just prior to heading off a group of twenty or so Wigeon ended the day.

Monday, November 04, 2013

Stormy Cornwall

A long weekend in North Cornwall, predominantly to celebrate my wife Dazza's birthday, but also to enjoy the Cornish coastline and surrounding moorland. From a weather perspective we couldn't have picked a more diverse and turbulent period. Hurricane force winds Saturday, heavy rain Sunday and gorgeous sunshine today!

Stormy Cornwall
After waking on Saturday morning to a Tawny Owl calling right outside the bedroom window, we decided to start with a tour around the peripheral of Bodmin Moor after breakfast. A wild and windy start, at one stage braving the elements and battling our way down for a look around Crowdy reservoir. As you would imagine this produced very little in the gale force wind, save for a lone Buzzard and some hardy Pied Wagtails and Meadow Pipits. The water itself, which resembled something out of the well known TV series 'Trawlermen', was devoid of any wildfowl, likely sheltering somewhere more sensible.

Golden Plover on the moors.
However, some of the surrounding moorland held large flocks of StarlingLapwing and Golden Plover. At Padstow a small number of Shag had taken advantage of the relatively quieter waters of the bay and the local fishing boats played host to several small congregations of Turnstone feeding along the pontoons. Later in the afternoon, after a traditional Cornish pastie lunch, we moved on to Port Issac and spent a considerable time watching fascinated by the stormy seas. Lots of Gannet close in, skillfully braving the huge waves, while large numbers of Herring Gulls, not so bravely sheltering on the cliffs below. A few more interesting sights further out skimming the wave tops, but without the aid of my scope difficult to raise any positive IDs. A Peregrine also made a brief appearance along the cliff tops, scattering several Pipits, this while Dazza was taking her souvenir pictures of Doc Martins surgery!

Record shot of Dipper at Boscastle
Sunday, Dazza's birthday, a trip to Widemouth Bay for her favourite pass time 'rock pooling', which we thankfully managed to complete before the rain and high tide arrived. Personally I spent the time mostly sea watching and searching the rocks with Oystercatcher, Turnstone, Rock Pipit and Gannet to keep me amused. Mind you I'm always in awe of her patience and knowledge base and she tells me that Snakelocks Anemone, Red-sea Anenome and Tompot Blenny (a bloaty fish) were all logged. As the rain became heavier we moved on and enjoyed afternoon tea in Boscastle, after which a short walk along the river to Boscastle harbour produced Grey Wagtail, Shag and a surprise pair of Dipper. On route back to the cottage, we were entertained by several large murmurations of Starlings, which were seen at various points along the A39.

Another Dipper record shot!
Today, before heading home and with the sun shining at last, we decided to revisit Boscastle and Tintagel after yesterdays washout. At Boscastle we took a walk along the river once again, seen of 2004's disastrous floods and managed to relocate yesterdays Dippers. The walk takes you down to the harbour, where the outgoing river meets the incoming tide and here a Kingfisher was basking on a nearby rock. Several Grey Wagtail were also found along the harbour walls and waders included Oystercatcher and Turnstone. Remarkably, from a vantage point above the harbour, we also managed to pick out a small number of salmon, which were beginning to make their way upstream to spawn.

Gulls a plenty!
Our final stop was Tintagel and after walking down to the the castle, with various numbers of Meadow Pipit, Jackdaw and Herring Gull, we spent a half hour sea watching before heading off home. Still good numbers of Gannets and at least one Balearic Shearwater ID'd offshore,  a couple of Rock Pipit below our vantage point and on the surrounding cliffs a lone Kestrel and a couple of Shag.