Saturday, 26 April 2014

One out of two ain't bad

Late last night a flash went out on birdguides about a whiskered tern at Otmoor. Initially a possible it was later confirmed and reported as still present at dusk. Although the weather wasn't great i decided to go for it and not quite silly o'clock to let the rain clear. I stopped off at ML and had a quick look round but it was all pretty quiet so i headed off.
The car park at Otmoor was pretty full and the rain front had cleared over just about. It is a reasonable walk but after only a few hundred yards i met the first of a stream of people coming in the other direction. No sign. One bloke had even been down there since 4am!!!! I hung about for 30 minutes or so but it was pretty clear it had cleared off. The reserve was looking good though - reed and sedge warbler, common and lesser whitethroat, chiffchaff, willow warbler, blackcap, garden warbler all in full song. One or possible two cuckoos around as well.
My back-up plan was for another lifer - dotterel. These were about an hour away in Cambridgeshire at Black Bush. Despite being a bit tricky to find, i finally spotted about 10 cars down the end of a farmers lane. The birds were showing well in a ploughed field just down the track. It was one male and two females (or one female and a 1st cy male coming into plumage). They were always pretty distant and neither my lens nor digiscoping got good photos but hopefully these give a flavour.

The route home took me down the A1 so i detoured to Paxton Pits after nightingale. This is a very reliable spot for them and they have already been reported. When i got there the car park was heaving. Its a very popular reserve with RSPB-type groups and there were two coaches. Three birders were leaving and said nightingales were singing. It only took me about 300 yards to get the first one, and then another couple of hundred yards down one was performing well and showing in a bush by the path. I even took a recording of it on my iphone, which you can listen to here.

In a very un-nightingale way it showed half-well in the bush, helped by the leaves not being fully out so i could grab a few photos.
Last stop on the way home was at Tyttenhanger to bag the little ringed plover on the spit.
So, one lifer, two other year-ticks and 200 up even by BOU rules before May.

Thursday, 24 April 2014

A not often spotted bird

For the last few weeks a male lesser spotted woodpecker has been reported in Bishop's Stortford, but no more details than that. Not particularly wanting to drive around a medium sized Hertfordshire town vaguely hoping to see the right tree I had left it alone. Then last night someone put up precise directions (Pig Lane!) on HBC. As a real bonus, or really on a par, was 3 grasshopper warblers, known as groppers, reeling a short walk away.
In what is becoming a bit of a pattern I set the alarm for 5.30 and was on the road by 5.45. Just after 7 I got to what I thought was the right place, a car park near a canal outside Thorley, which is next to Bishop's Stortford.
Immediately I could see it was the right place for the lesser spot, as the dead tree matched the one in LGRE's photos. As a real bonus within a minute the bird flew in to the tree although it then immediately flew back out again. As the light was too poor and it was still a bit misty for photos I headed off down the canal bank looking for  a white bridge which was where the groppers were seen. About 5 minutes into the walk I got a "cuckoo-cuckoo-cuckoo" call and a male cuckoo flew pretty much right over my head. Another few hundred yards and the fields to the side of the canal opened up into perfect gropper territory - low lying grass and reeds with occasional bushes. Despite the almost constant stream of Ryanair planes coming out of Stansted the calls of 2 or 3 birds could clearly be heard. The call is distinctive and variously described as being like an insect or a fishing line paying out. Try it and listen for yourself gropper call.
They can also be quite difficult to see, but these ones were showing reasonably well, if at a distance. The photo below is a typical pose for a gropper - belting out song and being hellishly cryptically camouflaged.
 I stayed with them for about 10 or 15 minutes before going back to get better views of the lesser spot. I think i'll try to go back though as there should be some good photo opportunities in better light if they keep singing.
Anyway, back at the dead tree I kept hearing drumming and occasional calls and a nuthatch moving around made me start to think had I mistaken that for the lesser earlier. After 45 minutes though I finally nailed it at the top of the tree opposite.

It only came close once when it was chased away by he nuthatch!! I watched it for I guess 5 minutes before it flew off to another group of trees, meaning it was time for me to get back in the car to fight through rush-hour traffic. Three good birds to add to the list.
After lunch we (me, Judith and her mum) went for a short walk round Stockers. We only did the main sailing lake but there was lots of activity. As well as loads of blackcaps we got a garden warbler and a reed warbler on the causeway, a few common terns over the lake and a very confiding red crested pochard and heron.

 We also saw a gc grebe with an enormous (for it) fish in its beak, which Judith managed to capture on camera allowing us to identify it as a perch (the pochard and heron are her photos as well).

To round the day off nicely I nipped over to Woodoaks farm for the whinchat which Geoff had got earlier and which obliged for 10 minutes feeding off the fence line.
Finished the day on 197 BOU and 201 400club for the year and 15th position in the chart!!!

Thursday, 17 April 2014

That's all white pt 2

After not getting common whitethroat yesterday i got up early adn got to Croxley about 6.45. The moor was alive with song. Chiffchaff, willow warbler and blackcap were all present and very vocal and it only took me about 5 minutes to find 2 or possibly 3 whitethroats in full song.
Walking along the river i got a sudden burst of song from the reeds as well. A reed warbler was giving full voice and even showing itself occasionally. I also got a nice family group of bullfinches in the woods. No sign of the cuckoo Geoff had got the day before though. Even got to work by 8.30!!!

Wednesday, 16 April 2014

That's all white then....

Spring is well and truly underway with the migrants flooding in now. A lot are pretty transient, especially in Spring when they're are hurrying up to breed. Others hang around or even settle on territories. This seems to be the case for a lesser whitethroat that has been singing at Woodoaks Farm for a few days now. With the longer nights it also meant i could drop in on the way back home after work.
When i got there, about 6, there were skylarks singing over the fields. I didn't know exactly where the bird normally was, but i headed down the path to the wood-edge which looked suitable territory for it. Almost straight away a greyish bird with a white belly popped up onto a branch above my head and started singing. For the next 5 minutes or so it showed reasonably well and was singing away happily. Lets hope it can find a mate and settle down!!!
As it was still light i headed off to Croxley Common to see if i could do the double and get common whitethroat as well but by the time i got there it was quietening down so i decided to call it a day and get up early tomorrow.

Friday, 11 April 2014

Pied piper of Empingham

After the second of my meetings in Manchester i had a drive back to London. Shame not to break the journey somewhere and the previous day a pied-billed grebe had cropped up at Rutland Water. This meant crossing the Pennines on the way back, which in itself was beautiful drive albeit a slow one with lots of lorries.
I got to the designated part of the lake, near the sailing club, at about 2pm. the lane was already full with cars and i just had to follow a short track to a bay where about 10 blokes were studying a small area of water. Just as i arrived LGRE was leaving, so i knew it must be the right place.
The pied-billed grebe is a bird I've seen before, at Ham Wall, and also frequently whilst in the USA. It's still a cracking bird though. I only had to wait about 5 minutes before it popped up from behind some willows and was vigorously fishing about 50 yards out. Unfortunately my camera then threw a fault and refused to talk to me so no photos!! I stayed for about 30 minutes with what was a great bunch. Three NGB's (next generation birders) had been there for a few hours and it was nice to see them so involved. Also had a good chat with another bloke who was in a manual wheelchair. He lives in Boston which is dead flat so he was pointing out how slopes really kill you when you have to push yourself, your wheelchair, scope etc and all across rough ground.... Keeps you fit!!
as an addendum to that, i noted that today (11th) its not been seen so this could be a well-timed twitch.
After that i nipped down the lake to Manton Bridge. A pair of ospreys nest on the lake and the female had been sitting for about 4 days. You can see the nest, which is on an artificial pole in the lake, either from a hide, which is a long walk and costs money, or for free from the bridge on the main road. I chose the bridge. The female was on the nest and looking well settled. Twice the male flew in, never settling and not with fish but showing her a bit of attention. Once he had to see off a red kite that got a bit close. There were good numbers of hirundines over the lake, including both house and sand martins which were my first for the year.
I was chatting with another birder who made a good point. At the same point time we were (in Rutland) looking at an osprey seeing off a red kite whilst a little egret was stalking the far bank. 20 years ago and one of those would have had a proper twitch going, now only one of them is even worth a trip!!! Strange how things change.
Up to 180 species against strict BOU rules, or 184 against the slightly more relaxed 400 club rules.

Wednesday, 9 April 2014

On top of the world

Had a two day trip to Wales to visit the Co-op and tell them how good their advertising was. Interesting timing as it coincided with them losing another member of the board but that's another story.
Anyway, had half an afternoon free so i decided to go into Wales to an area i'd not been before, gloriously called "World's End". It is actually and upland area of typical heather and moor that has both species of grouse and, if you get there at dawn, organised lek-watching. I wasn't there at dawn but it was a beautiful afternoon. After a drive out and back i located what was the "best" place to get out for a walk.
First thing was the sheer number of meadow pipits around. Virtually every small bush had one singing away or fighting with rival birds. With meadow pipits came my first good bird - a merlin hunting them. This tiny bird of prey is a classic upland species, dashing across the moors after their prey, which was just what this bird was doing.
Much tramping around finally got me one grouse species - the red one. Black grouse are also present but i want exactly at the right time of day. The one red grouse i did get was pretty wary and i never got close. Whilst stalking it though i did get my 3rd year-tick of the day, a willow warbler, or possibly two, singing from a small grove or trees.
Finally as i was heading back i got my 4th classic moorland bird, a smart ring-tailed hen harrier quartering a ridge line. again, not a close view but a great bird to see.
So, overall a good afternoon. A new area and one a bit closer than Scotland to get upland birds. Worth a visit another time but at dawn to get the black grouse lekking.