Monday, 29 December 2014

Post pending

On what is probably the last post for this year, I took a day off to grab a couple of new year ticks. I had planned to go to Yorkshire for the Blyth's pipit but 3 hours on an ice-bound M1 wasn't that attractive.
So, on a very cold and frosty morning I headed for Priory CP outside Bedford. A penduline tit was reported yesterday as showing well. I've only seen one once before and it is a bit of bogey bird for me. I reckon I must have dipped half a dozen times on other birds.
I got to the site about 8 just as a beautiful frosty dawn was coming up. The park is on the outskirts of a housing estate and looks not very attractive. A smallish lake was surrounded by grassland with a river on one side. There were two things that looked good though - a lot of bullrushes, the favoured food of penduline's and 4 other birders already on lookout.
On chatting to them we worked out where it was last seen and staked out a small areas of reeds. No sign for about 20 minutes. A clear night is often a sign for birds to move on and pendulines are notorious for being one day wonders. Then there was a sharp call and a small bird flitted out the reeds and settled on the far bank. We all got onto it just before it dived into cover again. After another stressful 5 minutes it then popped up onto a reed and settled down happily to feed away.

For the next ten or fifteen minutes it moved around normally showing well as it shredded the reedmace tops.

Then as suddenly as it arrived it flew away over a hedge and out if sight. That was my cue to leave and head off for other birds. It did return later on in the day for the eager hordes which were gathering though.
My second stop was 40 minutes drive away at Billing in Northamptonshire. A ring-necked duck had been present for a couple of days apparently behind a car showroom. When I got there there was a garden centre complex with a car sales place backing onto a medium sized lake. There were about 20 ducks on the lake but they were right into the sun so you couldn't make out any detail. By walking onto the main road and 'scoping through a hedge I could make out a female ring-necked duck. They are quite similar to tufted ducks and are badly named. They do not have a ring on their necks but do have a band on their bills and a peculiar almost domed shape to their head. No photos though..
Finally I headed to Aylesbury to another housing estate. This one had been home to a pair of black redstarts since Xmas day but despite 90 minutes of searching by a number of us we couldn't find anything.
Still, a good end, if that is what it is, to the year, with 253 on BOU and 258 on 400 club rules. Only two more days and it all start again!!

Sunday, 21 December 2014

You're barred

I had a very brief window of opportunity to do some birding this morning. We were down in Weymouth to pick up Judith's mum for Xmas and I just had enough timer to nip over to Portland. The target was the barred warbler which has been in residence for over 3 weeks. What should be a rare Autumn visitor to the east coast is now coming regularly to apples put out in the observatory garden. It's so late in leaving you have to wonder if it will over winter? Would be very popular in the 1st week of Jan for year listers!!
Anyway, with time at a premium I was pleased to see Martin Cade had tweeted that it was there just before I pulled up. There were about 6 people in the obs watching the garden. The barred warbler was there already, pecking away at the apples. It is a large warbler, almost reminiscent of a chaffinch. The colouration is overall quite grey, but on it's chest it has the eponymous barring.
The photos below hopefully give an impression of the bird. Apologies for the quality but they are on very high ISO and even then it was hard to get the speed up.
You can make out the scalloping on it's flank which in breeding adults turn into full bars. It certainly loves the apples!!!

Friday, 19 December 2014

Goose for Xmas

It seems ages since I've had a day out birding. Work gives me a day off for my birthday so as I was unable to take it on the day itself itself I rewarded myself with a trip out to the Norfolk coast.
To be honest, there's not much around at the moment but the weather looked good and I had a couple of targets to add to my year list.
The first one was taiga bean goose at Cantley marshes. Bean geese are a problem. They are part of a complex with pink-footed geese and as well as being closely related are very similar in structure. Bean geese are currently two sub-species, taiga and tundra, although they may well be formally split into full species eventually. The easiest way to tell them apart is that in Norfolk if it's at Cantley it's a taiga, elsewhere it's a tundra. They are very loyal to areas!!! I got to Cantley about 8.30 and the geese were easily found by the railway track, but were miles away!! So, without any photographs I wont go into the fine details of telling them apart and move on to the coast. Oh, but with a slight gloat that this took me to 250 for the year again.
Winter on the north Norfolk coast means geese. You get massive flocks of brent and pink-footed geese. Anywhere you can finds them in the fields or the sky, often numbering thousands. These are pink-footed geese which form the largest flocks. The lower one was probably over 2,000 but they get up to 8,000 or more!

  One of the rarer geese it the black brant. This is still a sub-species of the brent goose but again will probably be upgraded to full species eventually. The flock below is all common brent geese - dark neck, paler flanks and a white collar.

Black brants are very similar but you have to look for two characteristics. The first is a very sharp demarcation between the white-flanks and the dark back. Compare it to the bird behind and in the photo above.

The second thing to look for is the white collar. In "normal" brent it in only partial. In black brants it is much wider and prominent and forms a complete circle on the front of the neck.

Add them all together and you get this handsome bird present on the eye field at Cley.

 To be honest there wasn't a lot else around. The wind was blowing very strongly over the marshes so a hoped for short-eared owl didn't appear. With decent light ~I did take a few photos of waders at Burnham. In order you have turnstone, redshank, grey plover and curlew.

So only another week or so to go of this year. Been a pretty good one so far but would be nice to finish with a lifer before starting all over again next year!!