Monday, 27 January 2014

Parrot Crossbill & Titchwell Lightning Strike

Here is a my attempt to digiscope a Parrot Crossbill on Saturday and also the lightning strike at Titchwell.

Sunday, 26 January 2014

Sunday afternoon Twitch

 Hams Hall
Afternoon twitchers wait for another view

Heavy rain greeted me as I got up after yesterday's mammoth Norfolk session so restricted me to the hour long RSPB Garden Watch. The hour produced a just a single Wood Pigeon. A Dunnock teased me with a late arrival but sadly it was outside the allotted time.

I then needed to take my youngest to Kings School, Worcester for his cricket training. Whilst he trained hard I took a walk along the river and it was good to see the levels starting to lower. With the weather getting increasingly better I decided to try my luck after his training and head up the M42 to junction 9 to the strange location of Hams Hall to see the reported Hume's Yellow-Browed Warbler. This industrial estate had produced Firecrests in recent winters. The local sewage flow and river must produce a good range of food source. 

The reports were of the bird showing on and off so it was great that as soon as I set my scope up the little beauty popped up on a Hawthorn bush straight in front of the audience. It worked its way up the branches before flying to a near by tree where the photographers tried hard to get a clear image. Despite a further look I was unable to relocate much to annoyance of the late arriving twitchers who tried in vein for a sighting. A Green Woodpecker flew across the brambles as I turned and headed back to the car. 

Winter Norfolk raiding mission

 Dark-Belled Brent Geese at Hunstanton
 Dark-Belled Brent Geese
 Hunstantion touchdown
 Sea watching at Titchwell
 An arty image from inside the hide
 Sun setting at Titchwell
Path back to the car

A 3am wake up was in order to meet fellow midland birders Gert Coldfield, Craig Reed and Mike Wakeman as we headed for a day on the North Norfolk coast.

Wolferton was our first destination and seemed like a good option given the fog that needed an hour or so to lift. We were hoping to grasp a look at the elusive Golden Pheasant however many others seemed to have the same idea and we left unsuccessful.

Hunstanton was like a ghost town as we drove towards the promenade. A flock of Common Gull were feeding on a school playing field with a couple of Oystercatcher. A sharp breeze made us all wrap up as we took in good views of a large flock of Dark-Belled Brent Geese. The flock seemed to get bigger throughout our stop and it was great to see them on the sea and beach. A small numbers of Fulmars could be seen on the cliff tops and gliding with their stiff wings over the sea. Good numbers of Turnstones and Oystercatchers were observed on the beach whilst a group of 14 Red-Brested Merganser dived off shore.

Holme was next on our tour and we opted to head right down towards the Observatory rather than the Golf Course side. We were hoping for a couple of Owls but the fog had really put pay to this. After a short walk we picked up a number of Marsh Harriers, Pick-Footed Geese, Redshank, Wigeon, Greylag, Buzzard, Lapwing and a Peregrine whilst a Greenshank and two Little Egret were on the marsh.

We then pulled up at Burham Ovary in the hope of seeing a Rough Legged Buzzard that had been seen recently. There were Buzzards present but sadly not the one we wanted. Egyptian Geese were in the fields looking towards Holkham but as we were preparing to leave Gert picked up a pair of Red Kites, most definitely a Norfolk first for us all.

The journey to Edgefield Woods near Holt produced Red-Legged Partridge and a Kestrel that we also saw on the return journey. Some smart navigating took us straight to the lay-by and a five minute stroll down through the clearing to where 3/4 birders were looking upwards. We picked up the call of the Parrot-Crossbills as we approached. Whilst you see movement at the top of the trees it was hard to get a great view of the birds. However once in the scope you could clearly see these powerful little bruits feeding then tossing the cones downwards towards the watching audience. Whilst I perhaps wouldn't travel any distance to just see these birds it was great to see them on a day like this. 

Titchwell is the equivalent of Wembley as it always delivers a brilliant visiting experience. Good signage, parking, shop and cafe. Both Gert and I took advantage of the cafe by grabbing a hot pastie which we scoffed on the walk to the beach. The dunes that once protected the reserve had disappeared along with the wooden walk way and viewing platform. Many Goldeneye were visible along with a number of Scoter flocks. 

Wanting to watch the raptors coming into roost we headed to the Parrinder Hide. The water level was as high as I'd ever seen there and the flocks of waders were not abundant as in previous visits. Ruff,Golden Plover, Knot, Snipe and Scaup were day additions before Mike located a Mediterranean Gull at the rear of the island in front of us.

Marsh Harriers moved across the reserve into roost. A saw at least nine birds all in the air at the same time but it would be difficult to count the total number as the light faded. Suddenly the dark skies turned stormed and rain hammered down. Thunder and lightning again struck making the birds and ourselves all jump. It looked like every bird on the reserve took to the air. As the wind and rain got stronger a flock of Golden Plover battled together in flight against the wind right in front of us.

Once the storm passed we moved around to the main path on the side of the reed bed. After stopping Gert located a Ring-tail Harrier. As I was trying to locate it I found a Barn Owl in flight. For a few seconds I had both birds within my scopes vision. A stunning way to end the day. The Barn Owl sat up on a viewing screen for a good ten minutes before starting to hunt again.

With boots changed we headed to the local boozer for pint of local cider and ale to count up the days species. 97 in the day. A great return after a slowish start.

10 new birds for Year List - Sanderling, Fulmar, Red-Legged Partridge, Egyptian Geese, Parrot-Crossbills, Marsh Harrier, Ruff, Knot, Mediterranean Gull, Barn Owl.

1 Lifer :- Parrot-Crossbill

Monday, 20 January 2014

Pink Foot at Throckmorton

Pink Foot in front of Greylag
 Throckmorton Lagoons
Barnacle Geese

I needed to leave Otmoor on time to enable me to get back to the Outlaws in Pershore to watch my beloved Southampton FC on the TV. They started well taking a 2-0 lead but had to settle for a 2-2 draw. After a nice lunch I checked Worcester Birding news only to see a Pink Footed Goose had been reported at Throckmorton Lagoons. Given it was only a mile from the normal journey home I paid this site a quick visit. Roadside parking and no signage wasn't the best but as I walked towards the lake I could see another birder Worcestershire Gavin Armitt. Gavin kindly put me in direction of the bird straight away. The bird was preening on the distant island. I took a shot for the record but distance and light was poor. 

A Peragrine flew across us and a Kestrel hunted on the opposite side on the lake. The lake also contained some local Barnacle Geese, Greylag, Tufted Duck, Pochard, Little Grebe and Canadian Geese. 

The Pink Foot was a Worcestershire first for me and certainly ended a very busy day on a great note. On the way home I took the Buzzard photo with my phone from my car seat. 

The weekend finished by sitting in the fading light at Upton Warren hoping to see the Bittern resulting in another failure.

Beardies, Kites, Hares and Egret

Cattle Egret (Digiscoped)
Fieldfare (Digiscoped)
Bearded Tit (Thanks to Pete Walkden)
Taking to the air
Hare (to left of path)
Red Kite (Digiscoped)
Cattle Egret Video (Digiscoped)

In need of fresh air and a day birding (having endured cocktails and "Strictly Come Dancing" the night before for the wife's birthday) I got up early and headed south east hoping to avoid the very poor weather forecast. Travelling just over an hour down the M40 I headed to east of Steeple Claydon to try and see the long staying Cattle Egret. The bird was showing well on the front right side of the farm. The rain at this time was pouring down so I watched the bird as well as I could from a distance and tried to get a record shot and mini video through my scope.

I then headed to RSPB Otmoor, thankfully I'd read up on directions as signage was non existent. The reserve was superb and their were volunteers who were very kind in offering advice of where to walk. Despite the forecast the rain stopped. From the car park I headed towards the reserve passing scrub land which had good numbers of Fieldfare, Greenfinch, Reed Bunting, Tits, Bullfinches and Chaffinches. The feeders at the top were especially busy with birds awaiting their turn. 

In front on me was pasture land that was flooded (having not visited this reserve before there may always be some small lakes and scrapes in this area). Starlings flew in their hundreds looking for feeding opportunities. The hedgerows were simply full of birds all the way up the patch. The paths were in remarkable good condition given all the rain which was really pleasing. The top field was full of Lapwing, Teal, Wigeon and Canadian Geese. Ruff had been reported but I was unable to locate any. After a session there I headed to the first screen area where a viewing area was being built. I was told by a local that the summer Hobbies in this area are awesome to watch.  The lake ahead of me contained Gadwell, Pochard, Tufted Ducks and good number of Shoveller. A flock of around 400 Golden Plover took flight on regular occasion giving great views.

With time getting on I thought I'd have one more look through the scope and as I turned to check the area on my right a bird flew quickly and then perched towards the top of a reed. As a focused the scope I could see it was a Bearded Tit. The bird then took an undulating flight to the next reed bed but it was easy to note the distinctive long tail. Happy days ! Just needed a Bittern fly pass for a perfect visit but couldn't manage that however I watched two separate Red Kites hunt on the edge of the reserve. As I headed back to the car park a Hare appeared in from of me clearly trying to find some dry land. 

I can say for certain Otmoor is most definitely worth a visit at any time of year !

Saturday, 18 January 2014

Four year additions at Lake

A Friday off work enabled me to get an extra session in this week so I opted for a long walk around the patch of the Arrow Valley Lake and Park. Parking at Ipsley Church I headed down the lane and into the Rookery. 

It was a case of business as usual with a Greater Spotted Woodpecker, various Tits all on display and it was nice to find a Goldcrest in a different spot. I never get tired of these beauties. Sadly no Goosander on main Lake and the abundant Redwing from previous weeks were down to just two. They must have been looking for a new local food source. 

On the outer east patch I found three Bullfinches down by the stream and I wondered if there was any Snipe so I took an alternative route but no success. When reaching the west patch I found my first Siskin (7) for the year at the Lake behind the sailing club and there were also a flock of Goldfinch in good voice. The Great Crested Grebe were back to normal winter levels and one pair clearly think spring had arrived. 22 Cormorants were on the main island and fishing whilst a single Herring Gull was sat on the Sailing Club grass bank with the Black Headed Gulls.

Herring Gull, Bullfinch, Siskin and Goldfinch will go onto the patch list for this year, a very pleasurable  2 1/2 hour walk.

Tuesday, 14 January 2014

Biggest Twitch day out in North Wales

 Sunrise at RSPB Conwy
Conwy Valley
 Wader Fest
Tre Felin
 Glaucous Gull
 Alan and Ruth scanning on Beddmanarch Bay
 Gulls on Beddmanarch Bay

RSPB Conwy was the meeting place with Alan and Ruth Miller from famous Biggest Twitch. A big day was certainly on the agenda with these world birding record breakers. We were also joined by a lovely local birder called Jane. As we packed up the cars a Buzzard flew low over the car park hounded by a Herring Gull.

The beautiful Conwy Valley was our first destination where 5 Hawfinches greeted our arrival. The site was very picturesque and looked over a river and water meadows. A Red Kite and a Peregrine gave us a fly pass whilst Canadian Geese moved through the valley.

It was back to Conwy for an aerial view of the RSPB reserve from a sneaky car parking. This cheeky spot enabled us to see Scaup, Goldeneye, Pochard and Tufted Duck. 

Sea watching at Llanfairfechan was next on the agenda. Alan quickly put us on a Red-throated Diver and then a close Great Northern Diver. It was a real treat to see Divers on the sea rather than the lakes that I'm used to. In addition a Kittiwake flew across the sea and there were a number of Great Crested Grebes.

Next habitat was another coastal gem of a place named Aber Gowen. There were birds every where. A Greenshank was ridiculously close in front of our parking pitch whilst waders fed along the shore line. These included Redshank, Oystercatcher, Dunlin, Ringed Plover and Bar-Tailed Godwits the variation was stunning. Off shore I saw my first Slavorian Grebe which I was delighted with. Alan then pulled out another gem by finding a Spotted Redshank, never an easy bird to see in and around my Midlands base. Ruth kindly made us all a welcome hot drink and we treated ourselves to some fantastic cake made by Jane. If Jane were to start a bakery mail order business I will be ordering in bulk ! 

Recharged and ready to go we spotted (on a local river) a Dipper in action. Brilliant views once again. Two Jays were also seen in the trees.

Beddmanarch Bay was just brilliant, quality birds all over the place. I'd never seen Pale Bellied Brent Geese before and there were around 100 showing very well. The light wasn't great around this time so photos were difficult to obtain. 2 Grey Plover, Bar Tailed Godwits, Curlew, Oystercatcher were all on display before we headed off to our next destination. As we were coming to the end of the Causeway a large white blob was clear to see on the shore line. Alan parked quickly sensing a mega gull. He was not disappointed it was in fact a large bulky Glaucous Gull. This chap was a beast and looked ready for a wrestling match he was that big.

It was then time for lunch at RSPB South Stack. As we filled our faces Chough, Raven and 5 Rock Pipets were visible. 5 Rock Pipets ! I'd only ever seen one before. 

Hollyhead Harbour held the next set of beauties for us. From a great viewing spot we observed Shags, Black Guillemots, 2 Great Northern Diver, Common Guillemot, Razorbill, Kittiwakes, Common Gull, Turnstone and Red-Breasted Mergansers. 

As we turned for home we watched a female Long Tailed Duck at RSPB Valley Lakes Nature Reserve accompanied with Goldeneye, Shoveller, Pochard as if we hadn't had enough treats. I do love Long Tailed Ducks. 

At Aberffraw, Sparrowhawk, Fieldfare, Redwing and Common Snipe were all added to an impressive day list  which was increased further at Malltraeth where Golden Plover were on the estuary. 30 Pintail gave us a final encore on the Cob Pool.

The 2 3/4 hour drive back in the dark and the rain wasn't the best however the day had been just fantastic. I'd urge anyone to look Ruth and Alan up if you are heading to that part of the world and I will be definitely seeing them again. A fantastic Christmas present from the wife.

91 Species on the day list and 22 for the Year list which has moved nicely to 132. (131 on Bird Track, need to find missing one)

Monday, 13 January 2014

Day on the Dee

  Burton Marsh
 American Buff-Bellied Pipet
Burton Marsh Wetland Centre
 Great White Egret
 Little Egret
 The Great Orme from Conwy
Sunset at RSPB Conwy

The wife kindly bought me a day with Alan Davies (The Biggest Twitch) for Christmas so with an early start on the Sunday in Wales I decided to travel up on the Saturday via the Dee Estuary an area I have not visited before.

The weather appeared to very gloomy on the way up however within 15 minutes of my first destination Burton Marsh the sky cleared as forecast. I pulled up along side a local birder who was set up watching the marsh closely. Recognising I was not local he kindly marked my card to the lay out of the surrounding area.  I’d clearly parked in right place as there directly in front of me were two Hen Harriers roosting at a distance. Both Harriers took to flight and gave some great views. I’d only seen one Hen Harrier before and that was in Norfolk.

Next to catch the eye were 2 Merlin chasing and then catching a Meadow Pipit, the Pipet had no chance against these rapid raptors. 

I didn’t realise we were standing where the American Buff-Bellied Pipit had been seen over Christmas and again the previous day. There were hundreds of Pipets flying all around and they were landing just to our left. Then suddenly a very distinctive coloured Pipet showed on top of the silage. I couldn’t believe my eyes, I managed to get a few poor images and a tiny bit of video of the bird. The Pipet is a rare vagrant in the UK. A very lucky find indeed.  The marsh was full of wildfowl whilst the trees were full of Linnets and huge numbers of Pied Wagtails. I would have loved to see a Short-Eared Owl but sadly no luck.

Next stop was the Burton Mere Wetland Centre and Inner Marsh. This new RSPB visitor centre is a great centre for local birders. The staff were very friendly and the hides offered great viewing. They are currently working on a path to link up the two marshes. In the distance there were Whooper and Mute Swans grazing whilst the lagoon hosted Shelduck, Wigeon, Teal, Greylag, Lapwing and a flock of 100 Redshank. There was also a very strange Ringed Teal !  Another Merlin was sat up on a fence post contemplating an early lunch.

I then headed to the famous Parkgate scene of many high tide watches. As I passed the shops a flash of white caught my eye on the Marsh. Stopping instantly I set up the scope and located the Great White Egret which had been wintering locally. I then drove down to the Old Swimming Bath’s to park up. I thought a big twitch was on as the car park was packed, sadly it was just a pensioner group watching the Pied Wagtails ! Oh well.  2 Peregrines were terrorising the local wildfowl whilst the local hedgerows were full of Chaffinches, Linnets and Goldfinch. I checked out the field behind the car park to find a Common Buzzard, 3 Mistle Thrushes, Blackbirds, Redwing and Fieldfare. Curlews flew on and off the Marsh for the duration of my visit.

I then decided to head to Conwy to walk along one of my favourite beaches. Oystercatchers were feeding all along the shore line with good numbers of Curlew and Redshank. Two Great Crested Grebe were swimming just off shore.

Final stop of the day was RSPB Conwy. The Centre was suffering a power cut so sadly no afternoon tea and cake.  3 Scaup (1 Drake) caught the eye easily as there were few birds on the lakes. 30 Snipe were roosting on one of the islands.

As I turned onto the Estuary there was instantly more to scope. Dunlin, Oystercatcher, Curlew, Shelduck were all on display. I stood to watch 3 Little Egrets have a squabble near the path (still recovering from the storm) whilst a very tame Dunnock pecked around my feet. The final find of the day was four Red-breasted Merganser swimming towards the main Conwy bridge.

1 Lifer and 8 for Year List – Awesome day !

Sunday, 12 January 2014

Shift change leads to 100 up

 Aqualate Mere
 Glossy Ibis (Bownhills)
Iceland Gull (Stubbers Green)
 Morton Bagot

With a new project launching at work I didn't need to consider the option to switch to late shifts for a week which would give me a few hours each morning to get out in to the fresh air. The plan was to try and visit a different place each day in the time constraints available.

On Monday I was restricted as it was training morning so had to make do with a lunch time visit to Sheepwash. 38 Goosander graced the main Balancing Lake with Little Grebes, Shoveller, Pochard whilst 4 Grey Heron were perched on the Sand Martin bank. As I left a Sparrowhawk gave chase to a flock of Redwing.

Tuesday I opted to try Morton Bagot in Warwickshire. The area only lies a couple of miles as the crow flies and I found a walk in Bird Watching Magazine that looked worth a try. There was large numbers of tree plantations on route and you can see why Great Grey Shrike had been reported here in the past. Parking by the church I did a lap of the church yard before heading over the field on the marked public right of way on a rain drenched field. The path just ended at the other end so not knowing where to head I viewed the Flashes from a distance. I only managed to pick up Mallard and a flock of 50 Lapwing. I did see 3 Pheasants which where my first of the year and a single Linnet showed as I headed back to the car. The area is very beautiful and the farming looks to be done so conversation can thrive at the same time. I don't think I perhaps saw the best of place but I would like to return for sure.

On Wednesday it had to be Upton Warren. On the way I did stop to survey a local area ahead of an evening walk looking for Owls. With time limited I opted for the Moors Pool. 30+ Redpoll showed well in the Alders by Lifestyles and also fed on the ground with a flock of Goldfinch.  From the hide the normal delights were on show including Curlew, Little Grebe, Snipe, Teal, Shoveller, Water Rail, Lapwing, Fieldfare and Pochard. As I headed back to car I could see a Mealy Redpoll feeding on the edge of the flock whilst a single Song Thursh was giving everyone a full rendition. As I stopped on the causeway to talk to Phil a Kingfisher whizzed over our heads giving stunning views. I'd never actually been stood under a Kingfisher fly pass before.

With a supposed improved weather forecast I headed through Black County picking Midland Birder up and then heading to Aqualate Mere in Staffordshire. On the way a Tawny Owl flew into a high conifer road side. There was a good car park which was nice and dry but that's where it ended. The path towards the reserve was very muddy however the boardwalk to hide was completely submerged. We had no other of choice than to wade half way up to our calves to reach the hide. Despite having water swilling around our boots we observed a pair of Willow Tits and a pair of Buzzards. Despite us scanning the Mere he could not find the Velvet Scoter or the Snew much to our annoyance. The water was full of bobbing birds highlights included a drake Pintail, Wigeon and Great Crested Grebe. The walk back was not pleasant.

The next stop was Gailey Reservoir where the weather had closed in to limit our viewing of a Great Northern Diver. There had been a Great White Egret reported but it had flown east earlier in the morning.

Due a change of luck it was sunny Brownhills next were a Glossy Ibis had been located in some horse paddocks. The Ibis offered some great views and seemed quite comfortable with its audience.

The final destination was Stubbers Green, Walsall for a gulling session. Despite larger gulls being limited on arrival there was a steady flow during our hour there. Among the  gulls were Greater Black-Backed, Herring, Black-Headed,Yellow Legged and a stonking Iceland. The Iceland Gull became my 100th species of the year. A local Sparrowhawk kept the gulls and Lapwing on their toes whilst the Mute swans continued to hold the traffic up on the causeway.

Sunday, 5 January 2014

Usual Suspects on patch

Thought it was only right I walked the home patch at Arrow Valley Lake and Park this morning. However the new year had brought many new joggers and dog walkers on site so I spent most of the time on the outer paths.

I passed Mark, another patch birder, who had seen the two Little Grebe on his walk and I duly found them when looking across the lake at the reed bed by the Visitor Centre. The local Redwings were busy again buzzy around the high hedgerows and trees.

Sailing on lake had seemed to move of wildfowl into hiding for a few hours so the lake was limited to 3 Cormorant (more reported earlier), 1 Grey Heron, 2 Tufted Ducks, 5 Shovellor, 2 Little Grebe, 7 Great Crested Grebe, 56 Canadian Geese and 120 Greylag were to the north corner avoiding the traffic on the lake. 

On the surrounding paths highlights included Goldcrest, a large flock of Long Tailed Tits, Nuthatch, Greater Spotted Woodpecker, Mistle Thursh, Jay and a Treecreeper found just as I was leaving. A total of 32 species, not bad considering how much the lake was. 

Three counties Saturday

 Flooded Dumbes at Slimbridge (Dunlin & Lapwing)
Birds in flight on the Tack Piece
 A few of the Golden Plover
 Tack Piece

After a very poor start to 2014 with the weather I decided I'd rearrange my Slimbridge visit for Saturday and try and take in a few different sites on the route. After picking up @Midlandbirder in Stourport we headed to Buttonoak in the Wyre Forest, Shropshire. As soon as we entered the forest we picked up a good range of woodland birds of which many were great for the year list. The Crossbills were very busy flying around and rarely settled. Craig found the Two-Barred Crossbills from calls. We spend the next hour trying to relocate them and also to try and find a Woodcock, neither were successful.

From there we stopped in a Lineholt, Ombersley to get Lesser Redpoll but no Meally's were about at this time so we carried on our journey to Slimbridge. Gloucestershire was s suffering from the severe flooding and many of the fields on the way were badly flooded.

As soon as we out of the car there were birds everywhere, whirls of waders turning and twisting no doubt being chased from the local raptors. We headed straight down to the Holden Tower where you could see the Dumbles and Tack Piece were simply full of wildlife. There were thousands of birds everywhere in front of us but a constant flow going up and down river at the same time. Highlights included 170 White Fronted Geese, 3000 Golden Plover, 100 Bewick Swans, the normal Brent Goose, 150 Barnacles, 5000 Lapwing, 3000 Dunlin, 3 Crane (GCP), 200 Black Tailed Godwit, 180 Curlew, 4500 Wigeon, 100 Pintail, 2 Peregrine, 4 Avocets.

We did stop in at Frampton on the hope of seeing a Little Egret before heading home but we had to settle for a swooping Sparrowhawk, Kingfisher, Green Woodpecker, 2 Great Spotted Woodpecker, Kestrel and a pair of Little Grebe.

The day finished with 74 species, 37 new for year list and 1 lifer.