Thursday, 27 April 2017

Having a nice trip

We are right in the middle of the Spring migration now, so anything and everything can turn up. This can be from really rare birds - not too many so far this year - to the usual suspects moving up the country to their nesting grounds. Two typical birds of the latter category were on my target list for a quick trip out this morning.
The first was a bird we might have met up on Cairngorm in May, the dotterel. These are waders which unusually don't really wade but hang around in fields. They nest in the high arctic or in the UK on higher plateaus in places like the Cairngorms. As with many birds now, you used to get reasonable numbers moving through the UK in Spring, stopping off in farmers fields, often for some reason, pea crops. Each year though they get harder to see so when a group of 4 stopped off down the road from me at Therfield it seemed rude not to go for them.
A flock of dotterel is called a trip for some reason, so, apologies for the pun, my trip started mid morning after a couple of work calls. A dash up the A1 got me outside the pub in Therfield just as two other birders were unpacking their gear. We agreed on which path to take - there was really only one - which took us out onto a flat series of fields with growing crops in them. A birder returning to his car confirmed they were still showing but were mobile due to people disturbing them!

This is the field they were in. About 5 or 6 people already 'scopes on them and they were showing to about 50 yards or so.

There were two true pairs. Unusually in this case the female is the more brightly marked bird. As you can see they are very well camouflaged as well on the bare earth. A few people were probably getting a bit too close to them, so the never really got enough for a good photo but otherwise seemed quite happy feeding away. I left them after about 20 minutes or so, having had the pleasant company of two other birders from Rickmansworth, one of whom I may have signed up for the work party. Both parties then left for the second target of the day, a wood warbler about 15 minutes away and sort of on the way home at the RSPB headquarters of the Lodge.
I've not been here for a few years, but the satnav got me to the car park and a very friendly person in the entrance hut told me where the bird last was, but that it hadn't been seen, or heard, for over two hours. This was confirmed by a disconsolate birder returning down the path.
Still, I got to the designated patch of trees and with 4 others including my 2 new friends when they arrived we waited.
Wood warblers are related to willow warblers and chiffchaffs but are more clearly marked, with a lovely yellow throat, a very white belly and a more green-hued back. They also have lovely tinkling song. It was this we were listening for and we were in luck. Despite the "no show" predictions, we only had to wait about 10 minutes before a trilling call came from a nearby tree. We relocated the short distance and quickly got onto a small bird in the top of a silver birch.

Not the best shots, but seeing as it was against the light, moving fast and in a tree canopy you should be able to make out the main features. There is the almost lemon yellow throat and side of the face, the lovely clean white belly (better in real life than under the green light of this canopy) and the green back. It did sing occasionally, but only every 5 minutes or so and then very briefly. I gave it about 10 minutes until my neck started to hurt with staring up into the trees. It flew off into an adjacent set of oaks and I took this as a sign to go back home.

Two more good birds to add to the year list, which is now up to 212 and May is still to come. Need to start getting some rarer birds onto the list soon before I start stalling. Biggest year by far though up to now!