Thursday, 28 July 2016

Close but not close enough

I only need 5 more lifers to get to 350 in the UK, so chances when they crop up need to be taken. As we head into late July and early August there are normally opportunities to be had on the wader front. Over the last few days there have been some nice birds around, but that pesky work has got in the way. Today though I had the chance to take a day off. The only potential target left was a broad-billed sandpiper at Frampton Marsh, near Boston in the Fens. The plan was laid, the sandwiches and coffee made, the alarm clocks set for an early night. Then birdguides came up with "flew off at 3.40, no further sign by 19.30". Damn!!! Well, it might come back so worth a try.
I got to Frampton about 8, later than I wanted but the A1 was closed with an accident so I had to divert. Still, it was a nice not too hot day and only a short walk to the hide. This is a new RSPB reserve on the north edge of the Wash, mainly scrapes and reeds. Apparently only 6 or 7 years ago it was beet fields so it is still maturing and it looked quite nice. There were lots of birds around.

In the 360 hide (named for its all round view) were 4 other birders. No sign of the BBS! As I got there though someones phone went and their friend in another hide called in a white-rumped sandpiper. These are reasonably rare - I've had 4 before in the UK - and a good back up. We did a quick relocation to the other side of the reserve and the people in the hide had the bird on view. It was a long way off though. 

It is in this photo, just to the right and this side of the little ringed plover. Basically, they are small waders, between a dunlin and stint in size, with a bright white underside in flight. When they open their wings, they have a white rump!! You can hopefully in these photos see it's slim profile. It never came close and over the next 3 hours the heat haze started to build on the marsh and it became almost impossible to pick out, much to the chagrin of the birders arriving with the usual cry of "is it showing?"!!!!

As a supporting cast, there were lots of waders. Curlew sandpipers were another year tick for me. Dunlin made of most of the small waders.

The most numerous of the larger birds were the black-tailed godwits. I should think there were a few hundred of them in all, mostly loafing around but a few came close enough to see them mainly in their smart breeding plumage.

Once the flock lifted off and whirled over the marsh before settling back down again.

Other waders included ruff

common sandpipers, redshank, little ringed plover, greenshank and lapwings as well as some non wading birds such as this smart yellow wagtail and it's plainer pied cousin.

So, not a  bad day in all, and I topped it off with a cheeky little wood sandpiper at Gypsy Road on the way back, but a shame the BBS was a no show!! Still want to get to 350 through the Autumn though.

Up close and personal

Just a very quick post. We went to Art in Action and I spent a bit of time mooching around with my macro lens taking some close up photos. It's something I need to get better at, and is quite tricky especially flowers when the wind is blowing, but I quite like some of these. The top one is actually water coming out of a fountain. 

I love the compound eyes on this fly!

Friday, 15 July 2016

Hamming it up

About 4 years ago I found myself having (yes, having) to run out of work at lunchtime as a little bittern had cropped up about a mile from where I live, on the River Colne in Rickmansworth aquadrome. These are tiny cousins of our eurasian bittern, barely bigger than a coot. They used to be very rare, but over the last few years have started to become more common in Summer and have even started to breed, or at least try to breed. Most of these attempts occur on the West Country.
This year up to 3 males have been present at Ham Wall in Somerset, near Glastonbury. Like all their family though, being present and being on view are not the same thing. These were showing their presence mainly through sound, with the males giving a barking call from the reeds thus allowing people to work our firstly that there were 3 of them but also that there were probably no females, hence them still calling.
Still, I decided it was worth a trip so I did my usual early start and got to Ham Wall about 7.30. The site is a giant reed bed with an easy walk along a proper path with a number of hides to stop at. The bitterns were at the end of the walk, about 20 minutes I suppose.

I eventually got to the spot where the bitterns were most commonly seen. It was a cut between two areas of reeds and about 10 other birders were already staking it out. After I suppose 20 minutes or so you could hear the bittern calling from the reeds, a rasping, barking noise. I'm clearly not a female bittern so my not finding it attractive is not a problem. It was always calling though from deep in the reeds and not visible.
Over almost 3 hours we watched, waited, tried to work out locations and generally lost concentration. Suddenly a bird popped out of the bed on the left and for I think 3 or 4 seconds was visible as it relocated into the right! It then repeated the process of calling. After another 45 minutes it now flew for almost 7 or 8 seconds before disappearing. No chance for a photo but it was a really smart bird. Only the second one I've seen so nice but a shame it doesn't have a lady friend!
The back-up cast wasn't bad. They have 10 pairs of great white egrets breeding on site, another bird which is a recent colonist. They are clearly different to the little egrets, also new colonists, both in size and their yellow as opposed to black beaks.

Finally there was a distant glossy ibis. To complete the theme, these are becoming regular visitors to our shores and will probably become regular additions to the list of breeding birds soon.

There were of course all the usual warblers around to give a constant soundtrack to the day. A nice day all round, which 10 years ago would have been one packed with mama rare birds but now is becoming more and more common. Strange the way some birds like turtle doves are now harder to see than little bitterns or great white egrets!!!!

Saturday, 9 July 2016

Summer fishers

Saturday morning took me down to Maple Lodge for the work party. The reserve is looking very overgrown at the moment - it's hard to keep on top of everything growing so fast and some bits like the roadbeds we can't get onto properly because of the breeding birds. Still, it doesn't mean the wildlife has disappeared and one of the areas popular with both birds and people is the Long Hedge hide. This looks out on a large area of water, which always stays deep and has good number of fish in it. With fish, come those who want the fish, in our case herons, terns and cormorants. I too all of these over about 10 or 15 minutes as the birds worked their way around variously looking for a good fishing spot and trying to keep everyone else away!!!

Wednesday, 6 July 2016

Summer's still giving

Looking at birdguides now, there are fewer and fewer squares appearing on the map showing few birds to go out and see. Two days ago though a male common rosefinch popped up at Walthamstow apparently singing and showing well. These are rare but not mega visitors to these isles from the near continent. I was tempted to go yesterday but the thought of a drive through rush hour traffic from work wasn't that tempting. Today though it was still reported so at lunch I finished my emails and phone calls and leapt into the car. I had a three hour window as there was a call I needed to be on at 3pm. The sat nav said 18 miles and about 30 minutes, not too bad.
It took me almost an hour and a half! The traffic wasn't bad, just traffic light after traffic light, each one seemingly set to slow the flow as much as possible. Still, I got to the Lea Valley Ice Centre just after 1.30, which was the designated parking area. Instructions said walk NNW. I hate it when it says that. There were 3 paths, all of which either at the start or a bit further on were north-ish!! I took what seemed to be the most northerly, and was soon in an open area. Despite being in the edge of the city, with aeroplanes for Heathrow and City airport flying over and a busy railway line next door it was quite peaceful. The area is known as Walthamstow marsh and is a low lying, slightly wet, slightly meadow-like area. Quite a few birds were flying around, reed and sedge warblers as well as whitethroats scratching away.
Within a few hundred yards though I saw a railway viaduct, referred in the instructions, and more importantly a group of 20 or so birders. I met one coming back toward to me. "Not been seen for over 2 hours so no rush" wasn't good news. I then totally lucked out.

Everybody was looking at this bush, which apparently was the rosefinches favourite spot. Literally as I got there it burst into song and sat out on the top of the bush - totally jammed into that one. I did get good if brief views though of a bird, about halfway in sizer between a bullfinch and chaffinch, with a whitish belly and a lovely rosy red upper chest running into neck patch.One of the other birders commented on how lucky I was! It didn't stay for long though and was soon off again.
For the next 45 minutes or so we waited, it would call, sometimes nearby, sometimes over the river/ canal behind us near a pub.

I got 3 or 4 more views but nothing close to an opportunity for a photo. Still, I left to go to back to my car for my work phone call a happy bunny. This is only the second one I've seen and keeps the list going as we get deeper into the summer doldrums. Soon time to reverse migration start though and there's always a hope of a real rare or two popping up before holiday  time.