Monday, 27 January 2014

Rain didn't stop play

thought i might be able carry on the good work with a weekend in Weymouth for the mother-in-laws birthday. Weather and small nephews conspired to limit my usual trips out but i still managed to get in a few hours.
On Saturday, I had my nephews Max and Jack in the car, both desperate to get back to the hotel to go swimming. I persuaded them though that it would be much nicer to go to Cogden beach. I talked about the lovely sea and the bracing sea-air. Oh, and a near-adult glaucous gull by the car-park. When we got there the wind was blowing a hoolie and i could barely open the car door. Jack stayed put but Max, who could end up being a next-generation birder, did at least get out. There were probably 25 or 30 large gulls nor so much flying as being blown up and down the beach. Even without bins though the glaucous stood out. a couple in a car nearby had already remarked on it without knowing what it was. Even got Max onto it, whivh gripped off his dad who i am trying to convert into a birder much to the annoyance of his wife and sister (hi Martin!!!!).
Sunday was meant to be an early trip to Lodmoor and Radipole but one glass of red too many and rain lashing down put paid to that. For lunch we did go to the Lobster Pot at the Bill though. Weather was bad on the way, so didn't stop at Ferrybridge although there was about 100 brent geese pottering about, with 3 light-bellied amongst them. Rain and wind made viewing at the Bill difficult but we did get about an hour or clearer skies. Gannets and auks (90% razorbills) passed by in good numbers and shags were diving in the really rough seas. Kittiwakes also passed by albeit at speed together with other large gulls featuring a lot of gbb's. The only new bird i got was fulmar passing by in the middle distance. On the land rock and meadow pipits were getting blown around and i got linnet to add to the year-list. No sign of purple sandpipers but to be fair the waves were battering the coast. Ended the weekend at 138.

Friday, 24 January 2014

A plan well executed..

It's nice when a plan all comes together, and rare as well. The plan was to take a day off and swing down to the south coast to keep the year-list going. The weather forecast according to both BBC and met office (why do i check both hoping one will say something better!!!!)  was heavy rain all day but i set off in the dry at 5.45am hoping to at least not get washed away.
The trip was planned with military precision, requiring 5 or perhaps 6 different stops along the way for a serious of variously nice birds.
Stop number one was Walpole Park in Gosport. For the last 4 years a ring-billed gull has been overwintering with the local black-headed gulls. This is a bird that really should be in the USA, where they are quite common. They look a bit like a small herring gull, being only a bit bigger than black-headed gulls but the bill has a nice black band just in from the end. It was only just light when i got there and the gulls were streaming in from off the nearby creek onto what is basically a boating lake in a park. It took about 10 minutes but eventually i tracked it down catching worms on the grass. First leg completed successfully and well on time.
Traffic out of Gosport was DREADFUL and i lost time getting to stop number 2. Lakeside Country Park in Eastleigh is right next door to Southampton Airport and houses a small-gauge railway to take tourists in a circular route round the park in the Summer. I was there for hawfinches. I got them 2 years ago here, and a small number over winter and had been reported as near the railway sheds. Hawfinches are now very rare and only occur in a small number of locations. They are the largest of our finches and are often described as being like a small parrot. One distinctive feature is their ENORMOUS heavy beak. Anyway, i got there about 9.20 with the weather holding up - cold and miserable but not really raining. There were a lot of birds moving around, including reed buntings which were a year tick. Redwings must have numbered about 50 in the whole park and there was a mixed flock of bullfinches, greenfinches and goldfinches but no sign of hawfinch. I walked round the whole park, which was very wet, without any sign. On my second circuit, focusing around the railway sheds, i picked up a largish finch overlflying my position, but not good enough to i.d it. It did lead me towards a stand of tall trees though and perched in the top were two, or possibly three, hawfinches. Both the noes i saw well were very smart males but they flew off quite quickly, followed by i think a female but couldn't be sure. Second leg completed, bit behind time but one bonus bird!!!
Next was another 40 minute drive to the coast, Lepe country park to b precise. I first went there in November when a lesser yellowlegs dropped in. It has now decided it very prefers Hampshire to New Hampshire and has taken up residence on some small pools. Another birder was already there and onto a b ird, although it was only a grey plover. There was also half a dozen redshank, a dunlin and a snipe around. Only ab out 3 minutes passed before the yellowlegs popped up albeit briefly before dropping back into some long-grass. The shore-line also got me another year-tick, ringer plover. There were also very large numbers of dunlin as well as turnstones, oystercatchers and a lone knot. Third leg done and back on time.
Longer trip to stop 4 - Blashford :Lakes. This was promising to be hard. A ferruginous duck had been present for a few days but was on one of the lakes with poor visibility. Basically you had to peer through a hedge with chain-link fencing onto a small area of lake. You thene moved down a few yards and repeated this for a slightly different area. At least there were 3 other birders on site and so we all grabbed a hole in the hedge and peered into the increasing gloom. Apparently the bird was there earlier but had been flushed by a bloke in a boat. I was about ready to give it up when one of the guys got onto a group of 4 ducks appearing from behind an island. Three were clearly pochards, diving frequently. The last was almost black in the poor light but showed a lovely white rear-end. This is diagnostic for fudge ducks, as they are known. As our eyes adapted you could just make out a more russet than black colouration and rounded head. Worst view ever but stop 4 completed.
Another 45 minute drive then too me to Sopley, getting there about 1pm. The stop was outside the cemetery on the main road through the village, but looking out onto a large (many acres) flooded area. Ducks must have numbered in the thousands and in the immediate vicinity were 500 black-tailed godwits. I was after one particular duck, a green-winged teal. These are almost identical to our "common" teal but have a vertical white stripe roughly where their shoulder is. The weather was getting worse, not raining that much but the light was rubbish. Just as i got there one of the blokes at the fudge duck with arrived and he got onto it almost immediately. Before i could though it disappeared. He saw it go behind a tussock chasing a female, the nothing. He was happy so left me to it. 20 minutes and still couldn't find it. Another bloke came and went and it had reached about 2.20. I was ready to leave but as ever gave it "one more go through the flock" this time focusing on the far-side of the flood which i hadn't grilled too much before as it wasn't near where the bird was seen before. There were about 20 or 30 teal pottering around but the poor light and the distance made it hard to make them out. Suddenly though, one of them turned side on to me and there was a bright white vertical line going down its flank. I stayed on it for a minute or so before it got lost in the flock. Success though and tine to go home.
So, the plan worked perfectly. Five stops, 7 year-ticks, 5 of them "good birds". Year total now up to 135 and i'm in 11th place on the BUBO site. No lifers yet this year, but really anything I've missed within 200  miles either so can't really complain.    

Monday, 20 January 2014

One more....

Saturday work-party down the reserve again. Generally it was pretty quiet, at least on the bird front. The wildfowlers were out in force on Lynsters, including one person with what sounded like a howitzer every time it went off. The canada geese were taking tremendous losses.
Everything was keeping its head down. no sign of the green sandpipers, ducks were in low numbers and only one burst of song from the Cetti's warbler. I did find a lone treecreeper by the sluice, which only stayed for 30 seconds or so. This did take me up to 128 for the year.
Later in the morning the siskins were back in the alders by the paddock, probably numbering 50 or so birds, perhaps a few more as they were both scattered and mobile. I didn't have time for a good look through but i couldn't see any obvious redpolls among them.

Friday, 17 January 2014

Lunchtime at Maple Lodge

After spending the morning working on a presentation at home and seeing England humiliated AGAIN by the Australians at cricket decided I needed cheering up. I still hadn't got redpoll this year and they had been reported with the growing siskin flock.
It was actually very busy down the reserve as there was a visiting flock of birders. I nipped past them whilst they were studying the area round Teal Hide. I did spot Geoff Lapworth though who put me onto the siskin flock in the paddock. When I got there the flock was in two or three groups feeding high up in the alders. They were reasonably mobile, not being helped by a kite flying over and moving them on. After about 20 minutes I guess, including playing redpoll calls over my portable speaker, I got nothing more than male and female siskins. I would guess the flock in total was well over a hundred.
Finally I picked out a different looking shape high up in the trees to the left. Light was against me so I couldn't definitely call it a redpoll but it looked right. Moving closer I could see another group of 5 or so birds lower down. Now, without the light burning out the colour I could make out the red forehead, lighter belly, streaked flanks and larger size. I took a few record shots, all at a reasonable distance so not great but clearly lesser redpolls.

Not much else around but i did find this rather nice wren down by Rotunda Hide.

Up to 127 for the year, and tomorrow with a work-party day i'm targeting grey wagtail and reed bunting...

Thursday, 16 January 2014

Well that was surprising

Being a work day i wasn't thinking that i would be doing much birding. I had a presentation to Mars in the morning though on Galaxy advertising, which went surprisingly well, in the middle of Slough industrial estate. This isn't an area you automatically assume will be full of birds!!
On getting back to my car though, a flock of about 20 pigeons flew up from one of the roofs as a scimitar-shaped bird flew through them. I'd heard that peregrines nested on the cooling towers but i'd not seen them before. this looked good though although it promptly disappeared towards the towers. I quickly drove out and round the estate to get to the bottom of them and there it was - a peregrine staring down quite crossly at me!!!
As it was then lunchtime and my drive back took me past Staines reservoir i thought it rude not to drop in. Black-necked grebes are almost resident and Slavonian was also there but i was after a male scaup which was still not on my year list. Tow other birders were on site but neither had seen it. As ever, it was cold and most of the birds on the south basin which was choppy with the wind and you had the (weak) sun in your eyes. We spotted a small grebe in with a group of about 20 tufted ducks. Whilst 'scoping that i spotted a strange tuftie - pale back not dark. We'd lucked out and got the male scaup. I left the others trying to make the little grebe into a slav and headed home. Tow year-ticks on a work day.
Then i really finished well. I was walking in through the door and i glanced through the lounge windows to the river at the bottom of the garden and there was a distinctive large creamy-coloured bird. Male (and female) goosanders frequent the river most years although this year they are very thin on the ground and i hadn't seen one. This one fished vigorously in the fast flowing stream for about 20 minutes.
3 year ticks in one day and all nice ones to boot. Takes my total to 126. Should i start talking about a big-year? Hard without Scotland scheduled though.

Sunday, 12 January 2014

Sunday morning stroll

As the weather was looking fair, myself and Judith decided on a short walk round the lakes. Generally it was pretty quiet. There were reasonable numbers of the commoner species including drake and female goldeneye but i couldn't find any goosanders or smew. I did pick up one year-tick though, the resident red-crested pochards including one particularly handsome male.

Saturday, 11 January 2014

Work-party Saturday

As usual, Saturday = Maple Lodge work party. With the day length still quite short i only have time for a quick walk round before getting going but it was noticeable how wet everywhere was. The stream was flowing like a torrent and areas normally dry or damp were under water.
I set out with a purpose though as there were still a few year ticks i needed which should be easy to get. First one popped up well enough by the sluice. A group of about 4 or 5 goldcrests flitting around in the bushes. Nearby in the alders i also got onto a feeding group of, perhaps, 20 siskins. I didn't have time to grill the flock for redpolls which is a task for next Saturday!!
Going round to Rotunda i got my third bird, the Cetti's warbler, or at least one of them, which have been present for some months now. Fingers crossed for breeding in the spring if a female pops in.
Rest of the morning was spent clearing up three large trees which had come down over the stream. As we finished about 20 minutes early we popped down to Shell hide. One or two green sandpipers had been frequenting a wet area in Lynster's field. It took about 5 minutes but we finally got on to one. Very distant but clearly it pottering around by the pool.
Nice morning, nice company, good work out on the tree-sawing and 4 year-ticks. What not to complain about....

Friday, 10 January 2014

Thanks Dave

In email chat with Dave (Simms) he mentioned a group of mandarin ducks in Ickenham by the park off Swakeleys drive. This is pretty much one of my routes home and we finish at 4 on a Friday. So, with the traffic on the A40 not too bad i got there with still a glimmer of light in the sky. Only a minute or so's walk and you could make out what i guess was 8 birds, males and females. Looked wild enough to me!!!

Friday, 3 January 2014

Winter wanderings

My last day-off for the Xmas break and with Judith at work another opportunity for a bit of serious year-listing. After the south coast yesterday, and with the weather forecast set fair, I went east to Norfolk. Main targets were the winter waders and geese but my first stop was to try and get Richards Pipit. This is a bit of a bogey bird, as I have missed it on at least 4 occasions. It looks like a typical pipit - brown job - but is much larger than meadow pipits being almost thrush-sized. They are also very skulking.
One has been present at Kelling for some days so this was my first stop. I arrived as a storm blew over, so I got wet which was compounded by stepping onto what I thought was dry ground only to find myself knee-deep in swamp. To add insult to injury 90 minutes of searching in the company of three locals didn't turn up anything more than a few bullfinches in the hedge and a pair of stonechats.
So I now reverted to plan A, get some year-ticks. Quite quickly on the road towards to Titchwell,  I picked up pink-footed goose, white-fronted goose and Egyptian goose. The track towards Holme NOA gave up the usual tree sparrows in the hedge.
I was interested to see how badly Titchwell was harmed in the recent flood. Luckily it seems to have escaped relatively unscathed. The boardwalk to the beach is destroyed and the eastern dunes seem to be about 15 feet lower but otherwise the hides and marshes are all ok.
Bird-wise it produced all the usually expected birds. Waders included both godwits, sanderling, knot, lapwing, curlew, redshank, spotted redshank, ruff, grey and golden plover and dunlin. Ducks were pretty much all present, with the largest numbers of very smart pintails I think I've ever seen, probably around a hundred. On the sea common scoter numbered over a hundred, with flocks flying past frequently, and a small group of 3 velvet scoter showed well off-shore. Other highlights were a water pipit pottering about on the mud and a marsh-harrier cruising the marsh. Water rails were well represented and showing very well - I probably saw 4 or 5 individuals and one very well.
Together with a few common birds seen for the first time my year total stands at 107. Just shows what a bit of effort can do!!

Thursday, 2 January 2014

Off and running

Another year starts as does the tyranny of another year-list! 1st of Jan was a total dead loss, the weather being so horrible the closest I got to going out was taking out the rubbish! Still, nuthatch and coal-tit on the feeders were nice.
So, the 2nd promised decent weather which meant I could get some decent ticks. Choice was south coast, enabling me to combine a bit of birding with a trip to see Rita, my mother-in-law, and exchange a hat Judith bought which was too small at a shop on Dorchester!!!!
Clearly, the first stop was Portland to see if the Brunnich's guillemot was still there. It wasn't seen the day before and despite about 30 'scopes on site from 7.45 to 9.30 it didn't appear. By the time I've got home rumours are now flying that it has been found dead!!
The supporting cast was pretty good though. In no particular order it offered up the long-staying black guillemot, all 3 divers (black and red throated as well as great northern), all 5 grebes (great-crested, little, red-necked, black-necked and slavonian), red-breasted merganser, brent geese, gannet, kittiwake, dozens of med gulls and turnstone. Also got all the common gulls.
Close-by were one old favourite, the hooded merganser at Radipole Lake. This is a controversial bird, as it has been rejected as an escape, but LGRE and the 400 club still tick it, so I thought I might as well have it. Further down the road in a very wet park was a lone glossy ibis stalking around.
Things went a bit pear-shaped after that. Two common cranes were touring the fields west of Dorchester but I couldn't pin them down.
My last stop was Brands Bay near Studland Bay. I was there in November for the surf scoter which was still lurking around. Surprisingly here were no others borders around and it was a big bay. After 30 minutes searching I had come up with more grebes and divers, avocet, turnstone, shelduck and wigeon but no scoter. I was about ready to call it a day when I spotted a diving duck in the distance. It was the surf scoter but was horribly far-off. On the heath I picked up Dartford Warbler, which seem to be very numerous here, stonechat and mipit. Whilst waiting for the ferry a chiffchaff was in the bushes.
All this left me on a grand total of 76 species, so a good start to the year.