Monday, 27 February 2017

Great Barford Little Bunting

Little Bunting - look closely
Little Bunting
 Twitch hot spot

 Great Barford
Brave swimmers on the Ouse
  Red-crested Pochard
  Red-crested Pochard
 Red-crested Pochard
Summer Leys NR

With very little movement of birds I opted to headed south east on Sunday to the village of Great Barford to try and add to my life list with a Little Bunting. Reports from Saturday on social media looked encouraging so I set out early and was pleased to find there was very little traffic on the roads. A road diversion cost me ten minutes at the end of the journey but I was quickly parked up by the church. Fully prepared with a flask & sandwiches expecting a steak-out I headed along the picturesque river patch to a patch of crop where seed was being put down for winter birds. Four birders on the scene reported early good views so I rubbed my hands in anticipations. There were up to around 50 birds containing Chaffinches, Goldfinches, Reed Buntings, Robins, two Red-legged Partridges and a single Brambling all feeding well and on occasions all diving for cover when any possible predator was picked up.

I was a little surprised when a fellow birder picked up the smart Little Bunting sat up fairly high allowing great views. As I worked through my own ID checklist the bird took off and didn’t return for about twenty minutes when this time it was feeding among the flock. Getting any sort of record shot was difficult and the scope views were very good indeed. The bird is a Iong way from it’s breeding grounds in the coniferous forests of the Taiga headed back down the river very pleased only to pass some brave individuals swimming in the river……brrrrrr.

Having time on my side I headed a different way home stopping at Summer Leys Nature Reserve where two drake Red-Crested Pochards were the local attraction. They are not a species I see very often so I spent some time watching them closely feeding on the weed below the water. The local Mute Swans occasionally pushed them further away from the bank when they manoeuvred themselves back to the area they were feeding after a short period. Other species recorded were a Great White Egret, 3 Little Egret, Wigeon, Cetis Warbler (my first of year) and two Red Kites which were hunting over the meadows.

A good morning jolly out and back early afternoon ready for the League Cup Final in which the Saints sadly got beat 3-2 despite being the better team over ninety minutes.

Back to real world birding

 The Oycs return
 Nuthatch on feeders but still no Marsh Tit in 2017
 Great Crested Grebe - Hewell Grange
 Shoveler - Hewell Grange
 Shovelers everywhere - Hewell Grange
Canada Geese on far fields

Saturday saw a return to patch birding with a double session at Salford Priors in the morning and Hewell Grange in the afternoon.

Mark Clarke pulled up at the same time as me at the pits so we had a quick catch up as we walked to the main pit. The weather was very grim & gloomy with nothing initially catching the eye. On a positive note both of our resident Oystercatchers have now returned prospecting for a nest site for spring. It’s a tough site for breeding waders & we can only hope they have more luck than they did in the last two years when nests have either suffered with rising water levels or been predated. Only other birds different to the normal were a pair of Bullfinches that were on the edge of the plantation. Other sightings included 62 Tufted Duck, 9 Lapwing (Pophills), 75 Coot, 60 Teal, 2 Skylark, Lesser Black-backed Gull & just two Gadwall.

In the afternoon I visited Hewell Grange. For those who don’t know Hewell Grange is a Jacobethan country mansion on the edge of Redditch that was sold to the state which was then turned into a prison. The grounds contain a superb lake and woodland that has attracted species such as Osprey, Bittern, Black Tern & Lesser Spotted Woodpecker in previous years. My own visits have been few and far between as I always opt for Salford Priors but I have retained my access permit with the long tern future of the pits being uncertain. Sighting highlights included 6 Redpoll, 3 Great Crested Grebe, 23 Tufted Ducks,  9 Cormorant, 2 Goosander, Grey Heron, Nuthatch, 155 Canada Geese and a brilliant count of 127 Shoveler. Its probably one of the biggest counts I’ve done of this species and was quite a sight.  

Friday, 24 February 2017

Homeward bound & a Pacific Diver - Scotland trip (Day 5)

My second Pacific Diver of the year
Closer views approaching the reeds
Superb habitat

Ringed Plover, Sanderling & Turnstone
Route planner

It was breakfast on the move at the start of day five with the sun shining as we left Scotland for East Chevington. Quickly parking up at Druridge Country Park we marched south to the hide where we got our first glimpse of the Pacific Diver which was a great confirmation the bird was still present. We spend the next thirty minutes rotating our position around the lake as the Diver stayed close to the reeds making viewing difficult. Whilst the Captain was delighted to record another lifer the tiredness of five non stop birding was sinking in.

Finally the Diver moved to a central position where we were able to get some outstanding scope views and a few record shots. The bird was identified on the 20th January making it the 3rd record for Britain & Ireland this winter & since this time a juvenile was discovered in Broadsands, Devon.

On the same lake there was a great selection of birds including a Slavonian Grebe, 4 Whooper Swans & 5 Scaup. Satisfied with our views we took a short walk along the beach where 7 Shorelarks were showing before being flushed by a dog walker. The Shorelarks flew into the sand dunes however there were still a large flock of Twite & Sanderlings that showed well before we headed back to north Wales & then finally home. 

Many thanks to the Captain for five brilliant days, I don't think there was any subject we didn't discuss over the trip. I'm sure the trip will take a few days to get over but the scope & binos will be ready by the weekend.

Eagles & Harriers North Uist & journey through Isle of Skye - Scotland trip (Day 4)

Much improved conditions on day four
Corn Buntings
Stunning Starling
The Captain on Coot patrol
Looking over the lochs
Piles of kelp washed up
Common Gull
Hen Harrier
White-tailed Eagle
Black Grouse honest…...
Close up…..
Waterfalls were abundant
Eilean Donan Castle
Five Sisters - Isle of Skye

With the forecast looking poor for the following day we decided to change our plan and leave the island that afternoon for Skye but maximise the morning window of opportunity for good birding. Balranald was first stop again where we didn't have any luck with the Coot's but there was a drake Pintail & four Whoopers on the loch. 

The Corn Buntings were very visible all morning so I managed to get a nice shot of those but the Twite were on the move too much for my photography skills. We had another session watching the waders on the shoreline before heading for a slow lap of the island hoping to find something different despite there still being strong winds.

The next beach we passed was occupied by a small group of Bar-tailed Godwits whilst our first star bird find was a male Hen Harrier that I picked up to the left of a difficult coastal road. Once the Captain found a safe place to park we both got some fantastic views of the Harrier.

A few miles further down the road the Captain took a diversion hoping we might just find another raptor given we had now seen a Kestrel & a Hen Harrier. His intuition proved spot on as we found two White-tailed Eagles. They were sitting on top of the sand dunes clearly not enjoying being mobbed by the local Hooded Crows. Both took off showing us their amazing wingspan. We were both delighted and it got even better when a Golden Eagle came into view circling high as we left the island.

The ferry over to Skye was much calmer then expected but to be honest I might not have noticed with the travel sickness tablets I'd taken - no wonder I felt tired. Birds recorded during the journey included 20+ Gannets, 5 Black Guillemot, 12 Kittiwake, 3 Fulmar, Common Guillemot, Razorbill, 5 Shags and four Eider.

Once off the boat we had a seriously long drive ahead to the east coast through some amazing landscapes including the famous Five Sisters. Alongside the A87 I picked up a strange site sitting high in a birch tree, as we past the bird I identified it as a Black Grouse ! We turned the car around instantly and upon closer inspection we actually found three different Black Grouse perched looking out over the valley below them.

With time & light against us we stopped at a bizarre truck stop which was like a scene out of Roadhouse. Let's say we didn't hang around long but the food recharged us to get across Scotland to our hotel in Mussleburgh. 

Thursday, 23 February 2017

American Coot & around North Uist - Scotland trip (Day 3)

American Coot (File photo)
Whooper Swans
Untouched beach
Barnacle Geese
Rock Doves
Rock Doves
Purple Sandpiper
Purple Sandpipers with Turnstone
Looking out across Balranald
Luxury visitor centre
Black Guillemot
Black Guillemot
Everyone loves an Oystercatcher

A hearty breakfast started the day off well before we set out the short distance to RSPB Balranald. We were both unsure if Balranald is deemed a reserve when in fact it,s just a working farm with some super habitat. Viewing of the lochs is very difficult so advice pre-visit took us to the best available location. In our first ninety minutes we were scratching our heads as there were no coots at all so we had a quick coffee in the car before returning. Thankfully I picked up the part of the loch where the coots were hiding, it was then just a waiting game until we finally saw the first winter American Coot. Whilst pleased we had found the bird it was never one of those always to be remembered moments. 

With the Coot safely in the bag we then investigated the rest of the reserve. We were hindered as sea fog came in making afternoon viewing unpleasant. Balranald is one of the best places to see Rock Doves and these were visible at times. Two flocks of Twite were very busy going about their business whilst other farm sightings included Corn Buntings, a Peregrine, large numbers of Common Gulls, Lapwing, Greenland Barnacle & Greylag geese whilst our best finds were a Glaucous & Iceland juvenile gulls. 

On the shoreline Purple Sandpipers fed along side the Turnstones whilst close to the water there were Sanderlings, Oystercatchers & Ringed Plovers.

At 4pm we called the day to an end as the fog was not lifting so we headed back to our bed & breakfast before having an enjoyable meal out in the the evening.