Monday, 18 March 2013

Back in harness

Well, after taking pretty much the whole of February off in Antarctica (more to follow on that) it was good to get back to doing to some serious UK-based birding. After consulting the weather forecast and trying to avoid the worst of the snow still plaguing these isles, I took a day off to hit the road.
First stop was Ham Wall for the long-staying pied-billed grebe. Fortunately Judith was up early anyway to go off to Prague, so I was on the road by about 6, and got to Somerset by 8ish. Nice views of Stonehenge on the way past, but otherwise I was surprised by how cold, frosty and snowy it was. So it was a pleasant surprise in the car park to find it almost feeling spring-like in the sun (helped by wearing my Antarctic warm-clothing though!!).
Never having been here before I struck out in what I hoped was the right direction, and after about 5 minutes came across a local photographer looking out over a misty pool. One of the great white egrets (part of a group of up to 9) was mooching around in the sun - nice start. I found out the grebe was normally on the next lake down, so off I trudged, now to the sound of bitterns booming and water-rails screaming in the reeds around me. 
The lake was pretty large, with numerous ducks, including pintail, and quite a few dabchicks on it. After 20 minutes or so of trying desperately to make dabchicks into pied-billed's a strange but handsome bird drifted out of a patch reeds and trundled across into another patch 30 yards away. No wonder it can disappear for some time, but, a lifer nonetheless. Took a couple of long-distance record shots.
There had been reports of a ring-necked and ferruginous duck lurking around as well, but despite hooking up with a couple of locals and locating the area they're normally seen, 30 minutes got me no sniff so I called it a day there as I had more stops to make.
Back in the car, it was supposedly only 30 minutes to Steart where a Temmincks stint was lurking (same plaice I dipped on a white-rumped sandpiper last year). Took me more like an hour-  do not believe you can get through Bridgwater one-way system in under 20 minutes!!Once I got there it didn’t look good - there is A LOT of restoration work going on in the fields, bulldozers and diggers were zipping around and the noise wasn't good. However, on getting to the top of the river-bank I met a birder coming in the other direction who got me onto the bird pretty much under my nose in what was really a muddy puddle!!!! Scoped it for about 5 minutes before it moved off so back to the car and onwards with my journey.
Nothing else local so I decided to go for a couple of reliable year-ticks and one nicer bird on the south coast by Portsmouth. Didn’t look too far on the map, but cross-country it took best part of 2 hours. First stop was Warblington Church (cattle egret in 2012) for a glossy ibis. I knew exactly where it was, but it was still a surprise 9to both of us) when I came round a bend in the track and it was about 10 feet away. Really should have the camera ready at all times! It moved off up the field giving pretty good views, and got my first chiffchaff of the year as well in the hedge. 

Back in the car, I decided to grab to ring-billed gull at Walpole Park in Gosport. Pretty straight-forward as ever, there is was on the boating lake with all the black-headed's. Really shouldn't have wasted a £1 on the car-park as I was only stopped for 5 minutes and it was raining.
Finally, I went to Farlingham marshes for amongst others, red-breasted goose, which I got in 2012. Bird guides were also showing slav grebe, water pipit, whimbrel and spoonbill!! Marched across the marsh first of all. Three flocks of brents needed working through before I picked up the red-breasted goose, pretty distant but good looking bird. Loads of curlew but couldn't turn any of them into a whimbrel. There were no other birders on site, so I had no idea of where to find any of the birds, so I took a walk along the sea-wall. Only bird of note was a water-pipit in the strand-line, but no sign of grebes or spoonbill.
Good day all round though. One lifer, and quite few year ticks, including 3 good birds. So, we're off on the trail of a better list again.