Saturday, February 24, 2018

πŸ“– #13 ~ Rutland Water

❄️🌀 2C Saturday 24th February 2018 ~ With such a glorious, if not bitterly cold day forecast Dee and I decided to head off to Rutland Water for a spot of winter birding. Double figure Red Kite along the A6003 all enjoying the weather and providing a stunning sight against the deep blue cloudless sky.

American Wigeon ~ Well cropped photo but unmistakable cream forehead and broad eyestripe!
We arrived around midday and after a brief look at the centre bird feeders, we headed straight down to the Redshank Hide on Lagoon 2. Not only due to the fact that the American Wigeon had been reported again, but a coach containing around 40 or so birders from RSPB Group Leeds had just arrived in the car park and were heading our way!

American Wigeon ~ cropped!
By coincidence, Dennis Woodward had kindly called and tipped me off that due to the strong sunlight the Redshank hide was the best place to view. He was correct, around 15 minutes later we were straight onto the bird, if not distant.

We managed further views while visiting Grebe hide along with good numbers of other wintering wildfowl including Eurasian Wigeon, Tufted Duck, Gadwall, Shelduck and Pintail, but could only manage two Pochard, so scarce this winter. At the Lapwing hide overlooking the South arm, the biting Easterly wind was head-on, in fact, it resembled more of the seaside, with small waves crashing over the foreshore. Lots of Goldeneye here, along with several Great Crested Grebe but no Divers to be found on this visit!

Redhead Smew ~ Three pairs on Lagoon 4
We spent a good while at Lagoon 4, mostly in the Plover and Sandpiper hides with a good selection of species. This included (6) Egyptian Goose, Goosander (pair), (8) Curlew, (2) Oystercatcher, Sparrowhawk flyby and at least three pairs of Smew! Also of note while enjoying a hot chocolate at the nature centre, Fox and Muntjac Deer. A bonus at Eyebrook reservoir on route home with Glaucous Gull. However, didn't manage an Iceland Gull, which I noticed reported on birdguides later!

A close encounter with drake Smew!

Monday, February 12, 2018

πŸ“– #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

πŸ“– #11 ~ Norfolk Epic!

❄️ 🌀 1C Wednesday 7th February 2018 ~ ** WARNING ~ Like the day itself this post is long and epic πŸ’€  ~ 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

πŸ“– #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 πŸ˜‚

Cattle Egret ~ Arrives back

Cattle Egret ~ Can Egrets smile?

Sunday, February 04, 2018

πŸ“– 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

πŸ“– 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.