Wednesday, 31 August 2011

Serenaded by Ravens

I was working just out of county at Wootton in Beds today, when I suddenly became aware of a noise.
It was a while before I twigged that it was a Raven, but I soon spotted it calling from a Pine Tree in the nearby churchyard. The noise became more constant and I realised there were actually two birds.
 I carried on working and could hear the local Crows, Rooks and Jackdaws going beserk. Looking up I saw that there were now 4 birds flying around - amazing to think these birds were pretty rare around here a few years ago, in fact they're still quite scarce now.
 They once again landed in the Churchyard Pines where they remained all morning, occaisionally having a soar around and at one time joined a passing Buzzard.

Monday, 29 August 2011

Bank Holiday Ducks

Seems I got the thumbs up for my 2 Scaup at Gayhurst yesterday. Great ! my 126th species for the site since I adopted it as 'My Patch' in 2004 ish.

Today was spent in Nottinghamshire, where my usual walk around Attenborough Nature Reserve didn't produce too much, although both the Egyptian Goose with the pale head and the leucistic Red-crested Pochard have turned up with young - one of the RCPs the image of it's paler mother.

juvenile Red-crested Pochards

Sunday, 28 August 2011

Knowing the Scau(p)

Well I thought I did, but two new arrivals at Gayhurst Quarry this morning had me a bit puzzled today.
Two ducks on Spinney Pit on first look were showing a very large white blaize around their beaks and my initial thought was 'they could be Scaup, But it's still August so it's a bit early.',
 A bit more scrutiny. Largish Heads, Black on Bill restricted to the Nail area and no obvious Tuft on the back of the Head - all good for Scaup. Unfortunately another good feature the pale crescent behind the ear was not really present, so I'm still not 100% sure. I've asked a few people for their opinion, but as yet I've not heard back, so watch this space. I think at the very least they will turn out to be Scaup/Tufted Duck Hybrids.

Elsewhere around the pits, Ducks were not plentiful, if you ignore the annual released juvenile Mallards (probably about 500 of these), with half a dozen Tufted Ducks, 4 Teal and a single drake Gadwall.
Waders consisted of 3 Common Sandpipers, a Green Sandpiper, 50 or so Lapwings and the family party of 4 Oystercatchers which were foraging in amongst the Cattle.
 A Little Grebe was new in and several Great-crested remain including a couple of juveniles, while one pair continue to incubate on Fishing Pit - everytime I visit this nest seems to have drifted further around the Pit.
 There seemed to be a few migrant smaller birds around today, with lots of Warblers, mainly Willow Warblers and Chiffchaffs, but also a Lesser Whitethroat and a single Spotted Flycatcher in amongst them.

Monday, 22 August 2011

Buff-breasted Near Miss and White-winger.

Fed up with not seeing very much locally, I took a trip to Norfolk today. Titchwell to be precise just to see what was around.
 It was a gloriously sunny day and a pleasure to walk around with not too many people around.
Just up from the Visitor Centre I could hear some Bearded Tits, but they would just not show themselves, however some movement in the reeds and bushes behind turned out to be a family of Cettis Warblers, so almost as good.
 Looking out from the Island Hide a good selection of waders were seen, including many Lapwing, probably 30 or so Ruff, including the one below, with as much bling as Mr T ! (click on the photo to see what I mean), lots of Dunlin and Ringed Plover and a couple of Spotted Redshank

 From the impressive new Parrinder Hide everything was a bit distant as water levels were low and workmen were still creating the new banking so keeping everything away, but a couple of Marsh Harriers could be seen over the Reedbeds, a few Avocets paddled around and 7  Egyptian Geese sat amongst the Canadas, Greylags and Shelduck.
 The Brackish Marsh was full of Redshank, with also a Greenshank and beautiful summer plumaged Grey Plover, while several Curlew and a lone Whimbrel flew over.

 Down on the beach, birdwise it was fairly quiet, save for a few Sanderling, Ringed Plover and Bar-tailed Godwits. Other than a single juvenile Gannet that flew through the sea was birdless.
Walking back down I stopped for a while at Island Hide, where in addition to the previously mentioned birds, a Snipe and a reasonable sized flock of Golden Plover had come in. I thought I ought to loook through these , just in case of a stray Dotterel, American Golden Plover or such was lurking within when they took off. As it happened there was a smaller wader in the flock, but I couldn't figure out what it was.
 Imagine my frustration on getting home on finding out that it had been a Buff-breasted Sandpiper !!!

I planned my journey home to call in at Grafham Water to look in at the White-winged Black Tern that was frequenting the harbour around the Fishing Lodge.
 I didn't have a lot of time so it was lucky that the bird was sitting on the boom just off shore with 3 or 4 Black Terns and a dozen or so Common Terns. It posed very nicely until a moment of high drama when a moment of panic sent all the birds scattering as a Hobby dashed in and tried to take one of them. As far as I could see it was unsuccessful.

Sunday, 14 August 2011

Chipping Away

First Chipping Norton and now Chipping Sodbury !

I woke really early today, so decided not to waste the opportunity and set off on a twitch. Chipping Sodbury in South Gloucestershire was the destination, where a Woodchat Shrike had taken up residence for the last week or so. Now I have seen dozens of these on holidays in Mallorca and Portugal, but this would be a British first.
 Setting off at about 5.15, I arrived at the site around 7.30, highlights of the journey down being numerous Buzzards, Kestrels a couple of Sparrowhawks and a pair of Ravens that flew low over the road near Bibury.
 The only directions I had on arriving were park near the farm buildings and walk 800 yards West. No-one else was around, so this might have been hard work.
 As it happened it wasn't, having covered what I guessed was about the right distance, I stopped and scanned around. The first bird I locked onto was a female Redstart flycatching from a nearby hedge, then a slightly bigger bird on the side of a Rose bush a bit further on was surely the Shrike ! A look through the scope and yes it was. Wow birding at it's easiest !
 I stayed and watched this rather smart bird for some 20 minutes or so before a local dog walker suddenly appeared and flushed it off. A quick wander around the site produced dozens of Bullfinches, Goldfinches and Linnets, but little else.
 Great weather helped make this a perfect twitch and made up for some of the recent ordinary birding. 

Saturday, 13 August 2011

Wash Day

On Sunday I was lucky enough to be invited to accompany some of the Beds Birders on their now annual Boat trip in Lincolnshire.
 We met up in Boston where we boarded the 'Boston Belle' and were soon heading down 'The Haven' towards The Wash.
Passing by the 'Boston Stump' (the parish church) and the Boston Dump (the whole Town - a filthy place, rubbish everywhere, wrecks of boats  all over the place, East-European pissheads drinking their illegal vodka on the riverside) and the municipal tip, it was good to get beyond the town).
 We then started seeing a few wading birds along the sides of the waterway, - lots of Common Sandpipers, 5 and 6 at a time, Redshanks Oystercatchers, Curlews and quite a few Whimbrel
A hairy moment half way down river was seeing an enormous Freighter heading straight at us on it's way towards the Docks. Luckily we managed to get out of it's way as the Captain certainly wasn't keen to yield any water to us.
 Continuing on, with the enticing aroma of frying Bacon from the Galley we witnessed Shelducks, Little, Common and Sandwich  Terns, before entering The Wash, where a flock of Bar-tailed Godwits and a lone Brent Goose stood on the shore near to the RSPB Freiston Reserve.
 The sea was quite choppy so the decicion was made to turn around and head back inland up the River Welland. Here a group of Common Seals basked on the muddy banks, Marsh Harriers quartered the marshes and a Hobby did a pass of the front of the boat. Common Sandpipers were still everywhere, a flock of Knot whirled around, Whimbrels gave close but brief views before being spooked by the boat and a lone Roe Deer grazed on the meadows.
 Upon reaching Fosdyke Bridge, the boat was turned around and we headed back to the sea. At the rivermouth a very large wader flock included Dunlin, Knot, Turnstone, Grey and Ringed Plovers.
 A slow chug back up The Haven back to Boston was pretty uneventful, aside from having to wait for the Tide to go out enough for the boat to pass under the Town Bridge.
 An interesting way to watch birds, but only if you're quick enough to see them before they fly off.

 It was still early enough for us to call in at RSPB Frampton Marsh on the way home.
Spotted Crake, Pectoral Sandpiper and Temmincks Stint had all been here the day before so surely we would strike lucky with one of these.
 Now Spotted Crake is an illusive bird at the best of times, so predictably despite a reasonable stake-out we, missed out on this one, surely one of the other two would be seen.
 An hour or so in the hides, with sixteen plus pairs of eyes looking out still drew a blank, although Ruff, Snipe, Greenshank, Black-tailed Godwits, Whimbrel, Common, Green and a couple of Wood Sandpipers did go part way to making it a successful visit.

Friday, 5 August 2011

The Killer with a Cute Face

Amazingly I had my camera with me when I stumbled across this little guy last week. This fantastic Stoat was hunting in the cracks in the ground where the earth had dried out.

 Although totally aware that I was watching, he was happy to carry on with what he was doing, just poking his head up every now and again to check where I was.

Thursday, 4 August 2011

A Slice of Fudge

Last week I nipped over to Paxton Pits in nearby Cambridgeshire. A drake Ferruginous (Fudge) Duck had been hanging around. I haven't sen too many of these before so I thought it was worth a look.
 From where you park the car to where the bird was being seen is quite a walk but it is through some bird rich countryside, with Yellowhammers, Reed Buntings, Blackcaps, Whitethroats, Sedge and Reed Warblers all seen.
 Arriving at Pumphouse Pit I had a good look around trying to decide where my target bird might be lurking.In the process notching up Little Grebe, Little Egret and a couple of Yellow-legged Gulls onto the day tally.
 I found a small flock of Tufted Ducks with a few Pochard amongst them and sort of guessed this might be the most likely area to find the Fudgie.
 After about an hour of 'Was that it that just dived ?', I finally managed a long enough look to identify the chestnut brown duck with the white eye as a drake Ferruginous Duck. Hard work but worth it in the end.
 A bonus while waiting was the constant 'purring' of 2 Turtle Doves on wires just a short distance away and a Hobby that flew by on the walk back.

 While in the area, I decided to take a look at nearby Grafham Water.
A walk along the dam produced a few birds. Lots of Wagtails, mainly Pied, but a reasonable number of Yellow, a few juvenile Gulls, Great Black-backed, Lesser Black-backed  and Black-headed, a lot of eclipse Mallard drakes and a family of Shelduck.

juvenile Lesser Black-backed Gull feeding on a dead Carp

juvenile Shelduck
 One bird on the dam was quite a surprise - a Juvenile Kittiwake - unfortunately deceased.

juvenile Kittiwake
 From here I took a walk around the Lagoons and was very pleased to see the pair of Avocet and their two youngsters that they had reared on site, also a Green Sandpiper and 3 Little Egrets prowled around on the mud.

Wednesday, 3 August 2011

Surrey Sunday

Our latest Bedford RSPB trip was to Thursley Common in Surrey.
Sadly this site is not quite what it used to be since the devastating fire that wiped out most of the Heathland in 2006.
 Dartford Warblers have yet to recolonise the site, so our best birds had to be 3 Woodlarks, one of which landed in a tree above our heads and gave us a version of its notable song, a Hobby, a family of Spotted Flycatchers and several  family parties of Stonechats.

                                                Juvenile Stonechat

 Thursley is noted for it's insect population, in particular Dragonflies, and I'm told we saw Emperor, Keeled and Black-tailed Skimmers, Brown Hawkers and several others.

                                                    Keeled Skimmer

An interested insect that is present at Thursley is the Beewolf. This is a large member of the wasp family that preys on Honey Bees. It paralyses them with it's sting before carrying them off to it's burrow where it's eggs are laid on it's helpless victim. The hatched larvae then feast on the still living Bee. I did see some  carrying Bees around, but this one is empty-handed. Click on the photo to see how ferocious it looks.


 Lizards are very common at this site  and many of the Common type were encountered , especially on the boardwalks over the marshland, including lots of young ones and several pregnant females.

pregnant Common Lizard

On our way home we decided to take a look at Staines Reservoirs.
A lot of waterfowl were seen but most were Mallards and Coots.Scanning through these we did find some Tufted Duck, a few Pochard, 3 Shoveler, a couple of juvenile Shelduck, a fly-through Common Sandpiper and the best bird of the day a smashing summer plumaged Black-necked Grebe.