Monday, 31 December 2012

A summary of 2012

January. Lifers - 0, year list - 95.Slow start to the year. no lifers at all but ended with a respectable 95. Staines managed a GN Diver, Smew and Scaup as well as Ruddy Duck (shhhh, don't tell anyone!). Only other bird worth special mention probably the firecrest at Hogback Wood. Nice bird but pretty elusive in the ivy. Tawny owl calling well in the wood at the back of my house but as ever no sightings! Otherwise a couple of trips to Norfolk, Rainham and Dorset got some of the commoner year ticks sorted.
February. Lifers - 6, year ticks – 143 400 club, 142 BOU.WOW. Really made up for a slow January! 6 new life ticks in one month can’t be bad. Started off on 1st of the month with Spanish Sparrow at Calshot – frosty morning start, me and one other bloke freezing our nadgers off for 30 minutes before it popped up on top of the hedge. Then off for the dark-eyed junco at Hawkhill. Bizarre- as i turned off the road a copper on traffic duty stopped me and asked me where i was going. I ended up showing him pictures of the bird and i thought for a few minutes he was going to come with me. Stopped me on the way out as well to see how i got on. Must have been a repressed twitcher!!! Finished off the day with Cattle Egret, so not a bad start to the month.
Next was the Common Yellowthroat on the 24th followed by the Lesser Scaup as Cosmeston on the same day. Long drive to Wales with a crowd of about 50 i suppose spread out across the field for an hour or so before the bird was located. Then pretty food views of it feeding. Really glowed yellow against the grass. Then off for the Scaup, with a crowd of others. Goodish if not very exciting views.
Then finally on the 29th another 2-lifer day. Paddyfield Warbler at Pagham was another long wait for a brief glimpse of a brown-job in the reeds followed by a tarts tick – Hawfinch at Eastleigh. I suppose i must have seen one years ago but as i can’t definitely remember it i’m having this as a confirmed life-tick.
Other highlights were Slav Grebe, Bittern, Ross’s Goose (Norfolk), Long-tailed duck, velvet scoter, r.l.buzzard, jack snipe, spotted sandpiper (Stanpit), ring-billed gull, shore lark & arctic redpoll (titchwell),
March. Lifers - 1, year ticks – 154 400 club, 153 BOU. Back to more lie normal after the excitement of Feb. Only one lifer, and that  bit of a tarts’ tick – Rose-coloured starling in a housing estate at Hordle on the 9th. Nice bird but had to be very careful about peering into people’s bedroom windows!!! Only two other birds remotely worth mentioning – a lesser spot woodpecker at the Withey beds was heard only, and a Black Restart at Durlston.
April Lifers - 4, year ticks – 170 400 club, 169 BOU. Better. Early part of the month a bit slow, with only notable tick being ring ouzel at Step’s Hill but picked up no end when we went on holiday to Scotland. This month is only reached as far as Speyside but even this got me 4 good lifers – capercaillie early in the morning at Loch Garten, ptarmigan coming down the railway on Cairngorm and a lovely goshawk drifting over at Balmoral. Being in speyside also meant i added more of the cracking birds from there – osprey, red and black grouse (lekking and pretty much all over the place), all 3 common hirundines and willow warbler also nice to get this early.
May Lifers - 3, year ticks – 200 400 club, 199 BOU. Carrying on in Scotland – Shetland and Orkney – saw a good raft of both year ticks and 3 lifers. Started on 6th with a long-eared owl at Quendale Mill. A great bird, sitting in a bush, right outside the visitor centre, which was also there the following day. Also a white-billed diver mooching around at Herston on Orkney on the 14th, and finally a blue-winged teal on the 18th just outside Edinburgh. Other notable birds were hen harrier, arctic and great skua, whimbrel, Iceland and glaucous gull, black guillemot, s.e.owl and twite all on the islands. As well as the birds we had really good sightings on otters, including from the hotel room window at Sumburgh. This was also where we caught up with the puffin colony, authentic rock doves and flocks of twite. Generally a pretty good month all round.
June Lifers - 3, year ticks – 217 400 club, 214 BOU. A slightly strange month with some good and some strange birds!. The undoubted high was the Rickmansworth little bittern on the 13th. First seen on the day before but not released until later, it flashed up on Bird Guides mid-morning. After a worried meeting at work, i made my excuses and hurriedly left. Big crowd on the Colne (LGRE, Geoff, Joan) but no bird. Suddenly, a sighting, a mad run along the bank and there it was – a mega rare within half a mile of my house! Later in the month on the 26th a trip to Cley got me Pacific golden plover.  The bird was from the Zeiss hide and although flighty showed well in very smart plumage. Same day a slightly more bizarre one. In the hide a local commented on the Sacred ibis showing on Pope’s marsh. I assumed it was plastic as i didn’t realise about the colony on the near continent. Anyway, on his advice i got it. Lovely bird, unringed but highly debatable. I’ll leave it on the expanded 400-club list! Other main highlight was finally getting to see 9as opposed to hear) the golden oriole at Lakenheath. Nice midweek trip with Judith saw us on site early morning and the bird/ birds(?) were calling in both woods. After chasing them around we finally got to see a female sitting high up in the trees. Although not as spectacular as the male it’s probably nicer to see as it suggests higher likelihood of breeding. Same trip bagged garganey and hobby, as well as stone curlew and tree pipit at Weeting and corn bunting and grey partridge at Therfield.
July Lifers - 0, year ticks – 222 400 club, 219 BOU. As expected with Summer kicking in, the number of new birds slowed to a trickle. No new lifers this month (first month since January) but did add 5 to the year. Best were two quite local birds. Sabine’s gull on the 3rd was a beautiful summer plumage bird showing down to a few feet at Startops. Again required a dash out of work to get the bird early evening which was a good call as it didn’t hang around too much afterwards. Also a “leave early work-trip” was the red-backed shrike at Lake Farm in Hayes on the 17th. Quire urban setting, surrounded by houses but the largish area of scrub suited it. Sometimes hard to get onto it showed really well for up to an hour and is a good case for me having camera in car at all times! Turtle dove on the 24th at Bygrave is a worryingly nice tick to get and yellow-legged gull at Little Marlow presented me with the usual id problems that a friendly local helped out on!
August Lifers - 0, year ticks – 229 400 club, 226 BOU. More so, more so after July. No lifers again, predictably, and only a little bit of Summer ware action to comment on. A “i’ll be wfh” tick on the 3rd got wood sandpiper at Port Meadow. Surprisingly i was the only birder on site for such a nice bird. Midweek I suppose but you don’t get that many of tme around. A trip to Titchwell with Judith on the 17th landed a pair of little stints and a curlew sandpiper on the marsh. A lunchtime trip to the scrubs for whinchat not only got me a year-tick but a broken car-bumper after some idiot in a van tail-ended me at the lights. Finally, a lesser whitethroat at Maple Lodge  completed the list.
September Lifers - 3, year ticks – 235 400 club, 232 BOU. Whoopee – back to normal with the Autumn migration starting. The 20th was a trip to Lodmoor for the short-billed dowitcher. Initially a long-billed, it was then reassessed as short. Was 5 days before i could fit in a trip off to get down to Dorset. The bird was showing on the west scrape and it took 20 or 30 minutes before it peped its beak out from behind the rushes and then showed really well. So, Lodmoor is a bit of a dowitcher hotsopot. Same trip got Balearic shearwater off the bill. A proper day-off on the 26th to Norfolk was very productive. Tow good birds, both within a few yards. Booted warbler and barred warbler had been showing at Burnham so a dawn hike along the river bank was in order. Barred showed first, quite mobile but in a relatively well-defined area. The booted was much harder. Initially about 20 of us chased, photographed and misidentified a chiffchaff. Amazing how many people would have gone home with a tick! Then further down the sea-wall someone called out and the bird showed pretty well, at one point sitting nicely on a reed in open-view for about 3-4 minutes. Two local ticks completed the month. The pectoral sandpiper at Eton Wick was again a bird in a strange situation. Flooded field behind a housing estate but it seemed happy and was pretty long-staying. Lastly, a great-white egret was present at Wilstone for many days, enabling me to get it twice – once after work and once on Saturday with Derek.
October Lifers - 1, year ticks – 243 400 club, 239 BOU. For October, a relatively quiet month. Not much chance to get out and when i did it was more a year-tick day than lifer. One lifer though was nice, the subalpine warbler at Portland. Initially on the pager on Saturday, a brief trip with Judith and her parents in the car failed to yield the bird in the afternoon. So, a worried night and a “getting up before it was light enough” on Sunday morning got me on site really early. Probably an hour waiting around and with 3 other birders before one of them got onto the bird low down in scrub about 30 yards off. Gradually came closer and although mobile was visible enough for positive id. Elsewhere year ticks came in groups. On the 2nd a proper day-off to Norfolk was productive. Yellow-browed warbler at Wells was harder than it should have been. One bird calling well failed to show, two tit flocks yielded nothing definite till a walk round the dell finally proved lucky with one bird showing well in the tit flock.
November Lifers - 2, year ticks – 250 400 club, 246 BOU. Pretty wet and windy but winds in not a great direction slowed things down a bit. Finally got one of by personal bogey birds, penduline tit at Grove Ferry on the 11th. After dipping at Rainham at least 3 times the interweb was giving multiple birds at Grove Ferry. Saturday threw a spanner in the works though with two showing in Bedfordshire, much closer. No news on the afternoon so a very early pre-dawn start to Kent on Sunday. Even at dawn it was clearly a popular twitch. Got virtually the last seat in the hide and settled down for a long wait. A few supporting characters turned up – bittern, snipe, water rail – but no sign of the star. Then two hours in, a definite call no more than 20 yards out, but no bird!!! Then, a bloke with a ‘scope got it. Way back but fortunately showing in a tree set on its own (not “see that reed, come 20 yards left”). Got onto it with bins and ‘scope. Massive relief in the whole hide!! Same trip got great-grey shrike at Thursley on the way back. Earlier in the month, on the 4th, another trip to Kent, this time for Hume’s leaf warbler at Belle Tout Wood. Weather was dreadful on the way down, rain almost horizontal, but it sort-of cleared by the time i got to Beachy Head (9.15). Fortunately a local arrived at exactly the same time as i did who put me into the right bit of wood. Another birder had been on site for 30 minutes or so without getting it and the signs weren’t great. 30 minutes of circling the wood though and the sprite showed itself very well, flicking around the leaves feeding vigorously. As i got it so early, the next stop was Farlington for red-breasted goose which was, and indeed is at the time of writing, showing well. Again i lucked out with a local birder getting me onto the bird (and the right car-park) almost straight away. Nice bird, but amazing how well it can blend into the flock of brents. One other trip was a day-off to Norfolk with Judith. Half birding, half nice day out, but still managed to get white-rumped sandpiper at Cley as well as red-necked grebe offshore at Titchwell. Later in the month i caught up with a nice group of waxwings  at Aylesbury on the 23rd.
December Lifers - 1, year ticks – 254 400 club, 250 BOU. December was mainly marked by awful weather and a lack of too many opportunities to get out. My only lifer was a surprising local bird - buff-bellied pipit  at QM reservoir on the 13th. Great bird, which i got on the first twitchable day on an afternoon from work. Typically horrid weather but the bird was showing down to about 10 feet at times. Good chance to study it closely and for long periods. My only other two trips were at the beginning and end of the month. A work trip to Lands End clothing was combined with a Leicestershire/ Rutland visit on the 7th. Two year ticks. Firstly, ring-necked duck at Foxcote, which took a bit of finding in the wind and rain amongst the large groups of tufties. There was also a nice group of smew on the lake After the meeting i nipped across to Barndale wood. Not been there in ages but supposedly it's still good for both marsh and willow tits. There were good numbers of the former but the latter i only got by call! There were also large numbers of bullfinches feeding. Finally i finished the year with a flying visit to Norfolk on the 31st to bag Bewicks swan and round off the year on 250.  

Relatives stopped play!

Well, Xmas has been a bit if slow one as far as birds are concerned. A combination of dreadful weather (it started raining mid December and hasn't stopped since) and a houseful of relations has meant little or no birding since the buff-bellied pipit. I got out once to go to Tyttenhanger with my brother-in-law and his two sons, aged 4 and 7. Never seen it so wet, the sheep field was almost under water.A couple of yellowhammers in the hedge and the usual red-legged partridges were all that was available.
So, i came to the 31st of December with 249 birds on my BOU list. My target at the start of the year was 250 so only one to go. Spurred on by having watched "the big year" over Xmas, i studies bird guides and realised there was nothing around locally. I had two choices - a long staying glossy ibis at Ringwood or, my banker, Bewicks swan in Norfolk. After deciding the swans were the better bet, it was how to get them. Welney was cut-off and mostly closed because of flooding so took a chance on Ouse Washes RSPB. I had been there over the Summer so knew the general layout and that the swans should be feeding in the fields.
Early alarm at 6am and out of the door at 6.15 (well, actually 6.18 as i forgot my coffee flask and had to turn back!). Weather forecast was bad turning to awful!! By first light i was neat to Ouse washes. The fields looked very grey and muddy. Just as i was contemplating hacking up to the hides in the rain i spotted about 20 white shapes in a field. The 20 turned to about 500 when i stopped. Although a quarter to half a mile away and in poor light you could see they were mixed whooper and Bewicks. I only lasted about 2 minutes out of the care before rain and wind drove me back in and it was birding from the relative comfort of the car with a warming coffee in hand.
The birds eventually moved to be even more distant so i drove on, picking up another 2 flocks of decent size in the surrounding fields. The Welney road was still closed so i called it a day at about 9.30 and left for home.

Not bad, finished the year on my target of 250 and the relatives have now all gone home leaving me, Judith and Eddie to bring in the New Year in peace, which is when it all starts over again!!! 

Friday, 14 December 2012

Buff-bellied Xmas cracker

On the lines yesterday saw that a buff-bellied pipit had been found and i.d'ed at QMR. Now that created a problem. the weather for today was meant to be really foul, but better on Saturday. But the bird might fly overnight. but i was at work on Friday with meetings till at least 1!!! I covered the bases by leaving the house with my 'scope and bins, boots and foul-weather gear.

Mid-morning and the bird was showing well, permits were being offered at a very reasonable £2 and the rain was lashing down. First meeting out of the way, bird still showing. Even dropped an email to Dave and Derek saying how about first thing Saturday. Then i remembered the green heron (amongst others) when i waited too long to get to a place where a bird had been. ok - phone call at 12.30 and go. Dashed into the car and piled over to QMR, getting there about 1.45. LGRE was on duty at the gate taking money and pointing me in the right direction. About 8 birders on site and the main group all in one place. Quick walk along the bank and there is was - cracking bird, not caring less about us, the weather or the constant stream on jets flying over. It was feeding down to about 10 feet or less. At one time it was so close we had to lean over the parapet to see it by the wall. spend about 30 minutes watching it - got really good views of diagnostic features like eye-ring, belly-colour, white edges to tail. Only shame was i didn't have my camera with me (note to self- why not have the 40d body and a cheap lens always in the car?). finally left about 3 as the weather was clearing a bit, but a very happy bunny!!!

Friday, 7 December 2012

From Lands End to Rutland Water!!

Had to go and visit a client  -Lands End clothing - who are up near Oakham this morning. Meeting wasn't till 11 so left early with the intention of doing a bit of birding pre and possibly post. Left Ricky about 6.45 after an almost disaster with my meeting suit which got dropped in a puddle so had to return home and change that first! Weather on the way up the M1 was FOUL, rainy and at one time even a snow shower!!!
First stop was Eyebrook reservoir where a ring-necked duck and smew had been reported. AS i arrived about 8ish the weather was starting to clear. Bird was reported as "viewable from east bank" so that was where i started. Hadn't been there for years so didn't realise how big a reservoir it was. There were a few rafts of ducks with tufties mixed up in them. Easily got onto goldeneye, teal and commoner species. View across the lake though was quite distant so moved to west bank and ended up trespassing onto the private fishing area to get close with the light behind me. All the tufties were feeding so spending about 30 seconds up and 30 seconds under water  - really difficult to get good views. Eventually sorted through them and got one candidate which finally gave itself up with a nice band on the beak. A short hop down the bank also got 2 male and 1 female smew and a few bullfinches in the field hedge. Nice start to the day.
After my meeting i still had enough time to nip over to Barnsdale wood, where i wanted to get Willow tit. Haven't seen one for years but the interweb suggests they are still there. Not too bad weather by now, cold and clear but out of the wing in the wood quite pleasant. As ever on these occasions the  birds take some tracking down. First of all a nice flock of about 10 feeding bullfinches- seemed to be all females though. Then treecreeper, which were present in the wood in really good numbers, i guess i got upward of 10 individuals over the visit. Then a black-capped tit appeared, and promptly "pitchooed" at me before flying off - marsh tit!!!! Probably got onto 5 or 6 individuals, all of which i tried to make into willow tits but all of which called so stopping me getting excited. Finally, at the far end of the wood was another call, repeated and high - willow tit. Calling well but in a large group of dense conifers. spent about 10 minutes but never got to see it so half a tick at best!!!! Ah well, at least i know they're there and a trip early morning in spring may prove more productive

Monday, 3 December 2012

Frosty mornings

Two days worth of very frosty starts this weekend. Started off on Saturday with the usual early start at Maple Lodge. Hard frost and the lakes were frozen solid. Always seems slightly incongruous on such a lovely morning though that the wildfowlers wer out on Lynsters Lake blasting away at the poor old Canada Geese. Very little by way of wildlife around - few siskins pottering about in the trees, decent numbers of pochard on the clubhouse lake but ont a lot else. Nice to see the stream flowing though.
Sunday morning went out for a walk - again - round the aquadrome with Judith. If anything the ground as even harder and the areas of open water were smaller. Really good concentratrions of waterfowl. Very large numbers of pochard, quite a few goldeneye and even 4 red-crested pochards. All too distant for photos though. On the way bakc did get to see a nice mute swan sitting on a still bit of the lake which afforded a good photo op for Judith.
Hoping to get out to Rutland Water on Friday combining a client visit to Oakham with a chance for Willow tit - fingers crossed.