Saturday, 19 March 2016

Lapping it up

 I had a day off for birding. This time I managed to get some company in the shape of Dave Simms from Maple Lodge. We've been out quite a few times but not managed a trip recently.
There were no lifers on offer for me, but there was one for Dave. Lapland buntings are apparently his real bogey bird, having missed them multiple times over the years. In fact, he thinks they don't really exist. A party of up to 8 have overwintering at Blakeney so that was that, decision made.
Dave came round to me about 6 and by 8.40 we were parking up in a rather dank and dreary Blakeney car park. On the upside, as soon as I checked my phone RBA showed 6 were already showing by the seawall.
After a quick coffee and a pork pie (balanced breakfast!) we strode off into the misty drizzle. Quite quickly we met 6 birders coming in the opposite direction who confirmed the presence and location. We then had one of those awkward moments. Another birder stopped us and didn't just again confirm what we were after but seemed determined for a chat. I could feel Dave itching to get away but we were a bit too British and polite so we listened to his stories of barn owls and twite before bidding him a brusque farewell.
We could see one birder still there and a small group of birds feeding on seeds on the ground. Someone had nicely been baiting them in with a bit of grain! Immediately we made out a female lapland bunting in the group! Handshakes all round and the pressure was off.
We did manage to annoy the other birder there though, as our congratulations may have been a tad too loud and the whole party of birds flew off! He did turn round and pointedly went "shhhhh" to us.
Slightly guiltily we slunk up to the gate where the birds were feeding and settled down.
There was no need to worry though. There were at least 6 lapland buntings together with reed buntings and skylarks coming to the food put down.
Lap buntings are similar to our commoner reed bunting in size and shape and the females can be tricky to tell apart but the males here, in almost full breeding plumage were very smart.

These are of the male. You can see the gorgeous russet markings on his neck and back and the almost complete black collar. He was even bursting into song occasionally from this perch, although it would be a major shock if they stayed to breed!!

The females also have the russety colouration of the males, but it is much more subdued. They also have a very distinct facial pattern which helps tell them apart from female reed buntings.
We stayed for about 45 minutes as the crowds started to gather before moving on to see what else we could find.
As it is getting a bit late in the year, the winter geese were really thinned out. We saw no pink-feet at all and only a few brent geese. What was nice though was this flock of white-fronted geese near Holkham. With these geese you are looking for two characteristics - the black-barring on the side of their bellies and that white blaze on top of their bills. We estimated there were about 100 or more in this flock.
Eventually we ended up at Titchwell, which is pretty much compulsory for a birding trip. This is closer  to Hunstanton on the coast and is one of the RSPB's premier bird reserves. As such it is also very busy!
It too was pretty quiet on the bird front. Most of the usual suspects were there but not in great numbers.

This black-tailed godwit performed well right  by the path, drilling the mud for worms. There were also some of it's smaller cousins the bar-tailed godwits around, but there were not as obliging.

You can tell them apart in flight by their tail patterns (barred or solid black) or when on the ground by the bill shape. The black-tails have a larger, straighter bill whereas the bar-taileds have a smaller bill with a slight up curve at the end.
Other highlights were the tiny dunlin whisking around on the salt marsh

The avocets were starting to pair up though still spent a lot of time feeding in the shallows.
A little egret was stirring up the mud as well as it fed by the path.

Grey plovers were also present in quite large numbers.

and on the beach there was this confiding turnstone.

Finally we stopped by the visitor centre to have look at the bird feeders where 6 bramblings were coming in to feed. These are like chaffinches with brighter colours, especially this stunning male.

So slightly weary but very happy we finally wended our way back home just in time to see England stuff France in the rugby. Not a bad day all round and made very pleasant with the excellent company of Dave.

Sunday, 6 March 2016

A long weekend

Judith is away on a conference in Mexico so I had two days free to do a bit of birding. Shame it's not late October or late April with lots of rares appearing on transatlantic lows but hey, lets make the best of it!
Saturday I swung down to the west country. The journey was good with even some snowy scenes as I went over the (relatively) high ground heading to Somerset.
First stop was a new reserve for me, Ashleworth near Gloucester for a green-winged teal. I spent about 3 hours there scanning about 500 eurasian teal without finding my target. There was about 50 pintail though, probably the largest number I've seen in one place which was nice. I gave up just before lunch and headed off for target two, long staying penduline tits on a small pit called Horsebere pool on the edge of Gloucester itself. These use to be my bogey birds, it took me about 3 years of trying to find my first one, but now they seem to be if not exactly more common at least easier to find. This pit was a very small one, and I met up with three other birders who had been with me not seeing the green-winged teal!

It's not the best photo in the world, but you can see one of the two males present feeding on the red mace heads. I gave it about 30 minutes and they weren't playing ball by coming in close so I moved to my last target, a ring-necked duck at Ham Wall near Glastonbury, about an hours drive away. I'd been there last year for the Hudsonian Godwit so I was hoping to be as successful.
Talking to the man in the RSPB hut it was showing well, so a 10 minute walk and I was in the middle of the reed bed and there were lots of ducks.
The first hide I tried had the rnd showing week, albeit looking straight into the sun so photos proved a bit tricky!!
They are superficially like a tufted duck crossed with a scaup. At distance they are a black and white diving duck but with a characteristic light-grey not white side and markings on their bill. What they don't have is a ring on their neck - and no tuft!!

These two give you an idea of the differences compared to the tufties it was making friend with.
I watched it for about 30 minutes, it seemed quite happy pottering about in the reeds!!

The only other bird of note was a bittern booming away in the reeds which was nice - Ham Wall is very good for them.
Sunday I decided to go North, following the maxim of always go tho rarest bird, which in this case was a long-billed dowitcher at Rutland water north of Peterborough. It is one of those reserves where you have to pay entrance, but I suppose £5 is a reasonable price!!!
A 15 minute walk got me to "shoveler hide" where the bird had been seen most days. When I arrive it had been seen about 20 minutes before but now was hiding. The 6 of us in the hide waited about another 20 minutes before it pottered into view.

 As you can see, it was some way away!!

Gradually it showed itself a bit better. Dowitchers are medium sized waders, a bit larger than a redshank but smaller than a godwit. They are quite dull in plumage, basically grey, but lighter underneath with a long-bill (as opposed to the short-billed dowitcher!) and a nice eye-stripe.
Over the next half-hour it pouter about feeding quite happily but showing no sign of wanting to move closer.

It's still in that quite quiet time so there wasn't much else around, but the shelducks were looking quite smart and the black-headed gulls were getting territorial!

I managed to find a red-necked grebe to add to my year-list on the north arm of the reservoir as well before heading back home. A decent haul in quality of birds with Spring migration coming up!!!