Wednesday, 26 March 2014

Hip, Hip, hoopoe

One of the birds I've seen a lot of abroad but not in the UK is the hoopoe. I've been for one about 3 times but dipped. Not only is that annoying but it is also a cracking bird, so exotic looking compared to many of our British birds.
One has been cropping on bird guides in North Kent for a few weeks, and apparently has been there since November. Had to be done. Destination was a small town called Snodland and the bird was showing either on the golf course or in a field near a vets. I got on site about 7.45 and met two other birders. One was pleased as he had just seen it, although in doing so he flushed it away from the putting green near the car-park!!! Well, at least it's not left. The next hour was spent in the company of two or three other birders combing the area and its two or three favourite areas. One of these was a large area of lawn behind a very large house. A comprehensive scouring of this from the scrub nearby did result though in a very posh lady coming out and giving myself and another birder a good bollocking - i think she was getting a bit fed up of birders either going into her garden (which we weren't) or peering onto her property. We retreated.
Eventually after another 6 birders turned up and we all scoured the birds apparent favourite place behind the vets house it finally gave itself up. Only for about 5 minutes though, when it popped out from cover and behaved in a very hoopoe-like manner, probing the grass for worms. Then it retreated back from whence it came leaving more arriving birders to scour the countryside for it.

This still left me a good part of the day though, so next stop was about 45 minutes away in Ramsgate Cemetery! A Hume's leaf warbler has been resident there since Xmas or so, just inside the gate. He weather wasn't brilliant by the time i got there - cold, overcast, windy. No other birders around but only a few large trees for it to lurk in. After about 10 minutes it started calling, a very precise and clear two-note call. It took a bit longer for it to show itself though, and it was never great views but you could make out the eye-stripe.

Last stop was down to Sandwich Bay, only a short hop along the coast. There had been 2 shore larks reported as well as firecrests, neither of which i have seen yet this year. What i didn't realise though was that it is a private estate and it costs £7 to get in!!! Never mind eh...
With no clear maps it took a bit of finding to locate the pub by which time rain had set in. A 20 minute wait though and it cleared over so i walked across the gold course to the beach. A short search got me onto 2 quite flighty birds in the wind along with a pair of ringed plovers. As i was leaving i got a brucie bonus of a pair of grey partridge in the nearby fields. I spent 45 minutes or so in a wood where i was told the firecrests were but with no luck, so as another rain storm was approaching i called it a day.
All round, not bad.One lifer, the hoopoe and 3 year ticks. Life list now up to 330 and year-list up to 167 (or 170 if you count the cackling goose, ruddy shelduck and sibe cc).

Monday, 24 March 2014

Well worth the wait

Spring has sprung but I've not finished mopping up a last few of the remaining Winter migrants still around. One that took my fancy on Saturday was the long-staying two-barred crossbill at Farnham. This is a slightly controversial bird. Although showing clearly defined wings bars and having a structure more reminiscent of its smaller cousin rather than our normal crossbill it has also been consorting with a female common. Most consensus is that it is a 2-bar.
Anyway, the morning was clear and bright if slightly chilly and i got to the rural life centre about 7.45. The heath is directly behind the centre which was where the crossbill has been reported.
The bird song was stunning as i  arrived. At least 3 pairs of woodlarks were in full song, both from the wing and perched. Dartford Warblers were singing in the heather, although i only managed to get 2 or 3 brief views, as the wind got up through the morning keeping them below scrub height. Occasional small groups of common crossbills flittered around, including one very smart male bird.
After about 10.30 small groups of other birders started to appear on site and with a bit of local knowledge we tied the best area down to the line of trees directly behind the centre. With about 8-12 'scopes now trained on the trees, they quickly gave up a flock of siskins, a female brambling and a few lesser redpolls. We got good views of a lone female crossbill as well but no 2-bar.
Then someone got onto a male - "its only a common, wait no, is it, bloody hell its got wing bars" followed by some rapid but confusing "in the trees, that one in the middle, about half-way up, behind a branch". Then it flew, or at least a group of about 3 birds flew out before i got onto them. They appeared to settle in another group of pines about 200 yards away. Bad decision #1. I left the rest of the group to try and 'scope the other trees. I stood by a lone pine, next to a pond. After about 10 minutes of  nothing i turned round to join the rest of the group only to be met by one of them coming towards me. The bird had only been perched above my bloody head for a minute waiting to come into the pool to drink. Well, at least it was around.
So, back to the group and we spent the next hour grilling the trees where it appeared to have gone into. We kept hearing crossbills calling but none gave themselves up.
Bad decision #2. Our view was obscured and by going back to my lone tree i could see round a corner deeper into the wood. So, off i went again. Guess what. I'd gone about 40 yards when i saw everyone elses 'scopes swing round to a tree in the opposite direction. Did a Usain Bolt like run back to them just in time to see a bird fly off the top. Luckily, it only circled and came back to the next door tree. Got onto it straight away-  beautiful male bird, lovely wing-bars. took a few distant digiscope images (uploading later) of it before it flew off. Was that the bird - -yes. Is it a 2-bar, who knows. One clearly knowledgeable birder on site was totally convinced, talking about tertials and primaries. LGRE seeks to differ, but for the moment , i'm having it and it was a bloody good looking bird and well worth a 5 hour wait!!!!

Tuesday, 18 March 2014

Cirling gold

One of the birds still on my to-get list for lifers is the cirl bunting. A previously common(er) breeder in the UK they are now limited to a number of small populations, mainly in the south west. This means a long old trek though into darkest Devon. Still, had to be done and seeing as Judith was away for the whole weekend it meant i had the time.
Research on the interweb suggested Broadsands as the best area now. It used to be Prawle point, but a bloke has been feeding the birds in the car park there. Directions seemed a bit vague - park in the first car-park, walk through the second car-park and view by the beach huts. On site though it was dead easy. Parked up by a barrier into an overflow car park and whilst i was getting my gear out one flew over and sat in a tree nearby. In the corner were a loads of beach huts (albeit 200 yards from the beach and in a car park!) and a skip. That was where the birds were. There was already grain on the ground, but i added another pack of Waitrose finest seed and almost immediately 10-15 birds were on the floor tucking in. They are all really tame. Without trying to be too stealthy i got to within 20 or 30 feet quite easily. Not the most picturesque of locations but lovely birds nonetheless.

This was all done and dusted by about 9.15 (yes i left really early) so i had the rest of the day free as i had agreed to go and visits Judith's mum in Weymouth and stay overnight.
Next stop was about 30 minutes away - Dawlish Warren. My main target was a Siberian chiffchaff. This is a sub-species of our common chiffchaff but is tickable on some lists. The main difference is that they are much duller, almost grey, in plumage. This one was reported in the bushes by the entrance track and after about 5 minutes it tracked it down. It was in a territorial dispute with, i presume, a resident common chiffchaff and was showing well. As for most of its type it was pretty mobile but i did get a few decent views.

As well as this there were two long-tailed ducks offshore, at least two velvet scoters, a red-necked grebe and probably a Slavonian grebe, all on a flat clam sea.
My last visit was to Lyme Regis. This can be a reliable spot for dippers. Park in Anning road and there is a path alongside a small river/ stream flowing out into the bay. If you keep your eyes peeled there is a good chance of spotting one on the rocks in the stream. This time it was upstream of the bridge meaning views were not great but they are always a lovely bird to see.
Elsewhere over the weekend i also went to Lodmoor, portland Bill and Durlston but everywhere was pretty quiet. I did find a pair of ravens at Durlston but nothing much else of note. This yellowhammer was quite obliging on the road over the ranges.

Saturday, 1 March 2014

Spring has sprung

There is a real feel of spring in the air today. The birds, well the ones who are here, are getting into song, the trees and shrubs are showing a haze of green and the first butterflies and bees are on the wing.
Down at Maple Lodge the Cetti's warbler and wager rail were on good form from rotunda hide. There are two male Cetti's in song but so far no definite sightings of a female/ pair. Fingers crossed hoping they might breed.