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!!!