Tuesday, 30 April 2013

Ring-necked Duck, Chigborough Lakes

Arriving home from work today around 4pm and noting that the Ring-necked Duck at Chigborough Lakes was still being reported, Dad and myself decided to make the forty mile trip.
Taking the M25 and then onto the A12 it was a straight forward and hassle free trip.
Turning off Chigborough Road into the empty car park, Leaving the car we walked West past Gadwall lake and round to Pochard lake.
Initially finding it difficult to scan the lake through the trees, we continued round the lake until coming to a clearing with felled logs stacked up.
The lake held very few birds, single pairs of Mute Swan, Coot, Great Crested Grebe and Greylag Geese along with less than double figures of Tufted Ducks.
The male Tufted Ducks were all quite happily going about their daily routines, the female Tufted Ducks were all asleep with their heads well tucked in.
But one showed a much paler looking face with a darker looking cap, with a noticeable pale line running from the back of the eye.

Sure enough as I looked at it through the scope it awoke and the bill came into view. Unmistakable Pale band around the bill with a black tip.

Too far away to get even a record shot, we decided to continue round the lake and look for any openings in the trees.
Finding an area with slightly less denser tree coverage, I managed a few distant record shots.

The walk back round to the car park produced a second year tick when the familiar song of  a Lesser Whitethroat sounded from deep within the pathway scrub.
A few minutes wait and the bird is located within a hawthorn bush bordering the pathway and the next field.

A relatively short trip, but one well worth it.

Saturday, 27 April 2013

Turtle Doves at Grove Ferry

Parking in the pay and display car park off Grove Ferry Road, we cross the road and head along the footpath towards the viewing platform.
Before reaching the platform, we pick up the "purring" of a Turtle Dove. It sounds close but no amount of scanning can locate the bird. 
At the viewing platform there's no sign of the Cattle Egret that has been present for a few days, Good views of a couple of male Marsh harrier's were seen from here. The reeds are alive with the sounds of Reed and Sedge Warblers.
Walking the paths and checking each viewable area for the Cattle Egret still draws a blank. The Konik Ponies are seen but minus the Cattle Egret.
While scanning the flooded fields area just beyond Harrison's Drove Hide a Wood Sandpiper drops in. It quickly disappears back in among the reeds.
Shortly afterwards everything present on the water is put up. A scan of the area reveals the reason why, a male Sparrowhawk is perched on a small tree stump right at the water's edge.
Heading back towards the car, local birder Dave calls to us and points out a Turtle Dove perched atop of a tree. It's too far away for any chance of a photo but it's great to get good scope views of this much declining species.

Meadow Pipit 
 We hit the road and head for Stodmarsh, checking the fields along the road for any sign of the Cattle Egret. Stodmarsh is very quiet, apart from plenty of Swallows flying low over the lake there's only a few Sand & House Martins present.
Cetti's Warblers are seemingly in every bush as we walk along the path and Whitethroats are very vocal.

A brief stop off at Blean Woods in search of any Lesser Spotted Woodpeckers fails to produce any sightings.


So its back in the car and next stop Oare Marshes. A scan of the first pool produces good sightings of Yellow Wagtails. There's also another year tick in the form of three Wimbrels as they fly across in front of us. Birdwise it's again quiet, but the ditches are alive with the sound of Marsh Frogs. 

Before heading for home, there's time for a drive along the entrance track at Elmley Marshes.
Yellow Wagtails are seen in good numbers, as are Lapwings, Redshanks, Skylarks and Meadow Pipits. At the car park there's no sign of any Little Owls. Nearly into May and still no Little Owl tick!
Normally Little Owl is on the year list in the first week of January, but not this year.   

Little Egret

With rain and hail stones hitting the car on the way down towards Kent from Essex today, we did well to avoid most the the remaining showers. 
Adding another three year ticks along the way. 

Sunday, 21 April 2013

Mixed Fortunes with Owls at Lee Valley

Staying local this morning I hit the patch at 6.30. Starting at Cornmill Meadows Sedge Warblers were very vocal along the Old River Lea.
Reaching Wake Hide the mist started to roll in across the water. The muddy island was still visible and a quick scan located two Little Ringed Plovers. With one bird (presumably the female) tucked down in the mud, while the other nervously flew around the island. Frequently landing only to take to the air again soon after.
A Barn Owl slowly working it's way along the fence caught my eye. It flew into the mist and vanished briefly, before reappearing on the far side along Cornmill Stream. Always a fantastic sight. 

With the gates at Fisher's still locked I headed for the farm car park and decided to head off towards the farm in search of Little Owl.
Scanning the usual spots didn't produce any sightings of owl, but it did add three year ticks for the patch. When firstly two Linnets flew noisily overhead and landed close by, and secondly the distinctive sound of a Yellowhammer calling. a quick scan of the nearby trees and bushes and four birds are found. Skylarks are also added to the patch count.
Back at the car park, I head towards Fishers Green. Stopping briefly to bag a Whitethroat in the scrub area.
A quick scan of Seventy Acres Lake fails to find any Common Terns, meeting one of the volunteers yesterday he said they were holding back on putting the rafts out this year to try to help the terns compete with the Black-headed Gulls. Unfortunately it seems they didn't leave it late enough as all the raft spaces have Black-headed Gulls occupying them.
There is no sign of any of yesterday's Hobby being present either, but high up above the pylons on the other side of the lake are two Swifts for another year tick.

Taking the footpath down towards the sub station, the bushes are alive with Chiffchaffs, Willow Warblers, Blackcaps and Nightingales.
Reaching the bridge just past the sub station, Another Nightingale bursts into song. Spotting movement within the tree, gets me straight onto the Nightingale. It's in full song mode and gives cracking views.

Nightingale (B Anderson)
The return walk takes in the Weir at Holyfield lake. Only a Terrapin bathing in the sun below the weir is of any note here.
Another Nightingale is heard from within the scrub area, and then I catch sight of a bird flying across the top of the tree line. Getting the bins onto it just as it turns away and heads in the direction of the sub station. Panic now sets in, Was it Short or Long-eared Owl? With the bird heading away from me I only get a view of the body.  It's about now that I regretted leaving the camera in the car and taking the scope instead.

I ran back down the track towards the nearest clearing, but it had disappeared from view. An all too brief view but a thrilling one none the less. 

Having returned home, I went through the features that I did note on the bird.
Dark carpal patches, pale looking belly, light coloured primaries. The overall impression was of a pale looking bird. Most features seem to point towards Short-eared Owl. So unless someone proves me wrong it's going down as a Short-eared Owl.

This morning my intention was to try to add Little Owl to my year and patch lists. As it turned out it was the one owl that got away.

Saturday, 20 April 2013

Where's my Ring Ouzel?

News of a Slav Grebe present on my local patch came through just too late for me to go for it last night. Having briefly entertained the idea of making the trip, this was ruled out when I realised the lake would be in total darkness on arrival. 
So first stop this morning was to the Lee Valley, hoping but not expecting the grebe to still be present. With clear skies last night it gave the grebe the opportunity to move on.
Heading up the Crooked Mile and turning down Fisher's Green Lane, We take the scenic route round towards  Friday Lake too find it covered in a carpet of mist.
On route my first Sedge Warblers of the year are heard and with a bit of Patience eventually seen. Visibility of the lake slowly becomes clearer and a Black Swan swims into view.  A surprising find as it's normally to be found on Bowyer's Water.

A scan of the lake only produces Great Crested Grebes, Tufted Ducks, Mute Swans and the Black Swan. I bumped into Mike Oakland who had found the grebe the previous night, but he also had no joy re-finding it.
A Slav Grebe would be reported later in the day at King George V Reservoir
Back at the bridge the first Cuckoo is seen as it flies across Seventy Acres Lake and heads away towards Fisher's Green Island.

Next stop is Startop's End Reservoir in search of Arctic Tern. On arrival two Cuckoo's are heard and with the aid of the scope one is found perched in an ivy covered tree at the back of Marsworth Reservoir.
Walking past the reed bed my first Reed Warbler of 2013 is heard and Plenty of Common Terns are present over both reservoirs and after several scans amongst them a single Arctic Tern is found. It lands briefly on one of the rafts, to give good scope views.
Seven Red-Crested Pochard including three drakes are found on Startop's, and they approach close enough to allow for some photo's.

Red Crested Pochard (female)

Two Grey Wagtails drop in onto the reservoir banks and Great Crested Grebes are busy displaying, but too distant for photo's.

On the way home stop offs at Blows Down and Pegsdon Hills in Bedfordshire and Ivenhoe Beacon in Buckinghamshire in search of Ring Ouzels  all end in disappointment.

Looking across from Ivenhoe Beacon, the Lion figure on Bison Hill is clearly visible. Having been made for Whipsnade Zoo who own the land.

So still no Ring Ouzel, it's proving a difficult bird to catch up with.

Sunday, 14 April 2013

Firecrests at Dungeness

Another day and another trip to Dungeness.
With the weather forecast looking promising we headed down to Dungeness at 6 this morning. Pulling onto Dungeness road, we pass a car buried at the front end in the shingle.
A fisherman is alongside and about to attempt to pull the car out. With the thought in our minds that if it was us stuck there we would want someone to offer help, we turn round and head back.
With some pushing and shoving we manage to shift the car out of the shingle, My timing was slightly out and I let go too late and found myself face down in the shingle.
After picking the shingle out of my face it's time to return to some birding.

Heading towards the beach we bump into Tom, one of the local bird recorders. He tells us it's been very disappointing and nothing of any real note had gone through.
Having to be home today around 1pm we only put in a short sea-watch. The only birds of note being ten Whimbrel, that I somehow missed going through, seven Red-throated Divers a Great Skua, Sandwich and Common Terns and plenty of Common Scoters.
Heading towards the observatory we search the gorse bushes and find them alive with Firecrests. Cracking little birds and a year tick.

Reaching the trapping area, there's more Firecrests in the moat, and we get the chance to see one in the hand and ringed.
The reserve produces the years first Willow Warblers and Yellow Wagtails, with two and five respectively.  A very smart White Wagtail drops in while we are watching the Yellow Wags.

At the feeders in the reserve car park, we find a fox taking advantage of the free food source. Allowing a few shots.

Saturday, 13 April 2013

Green-winged Teal: Crossness

Yesterday's news of a Green-winged Teal sighted at Crossness, means this is where we head for first.
Setting off at 6.30 we make the 23 mile trip in good time and are pulling into the Thamesview Golf Centre car park shortly after 7.
Leaving the car park, we head East along the riverside footpath and head towards the sewage outfall. On the walk down we bump into Kev Jarvis who informs us that the Teal is still present and showing well.
With this news the pace quickens and we arrive at the sewage outfall and start scanning through the birds.There's good numbers of Gadwall close in, with smaller numbers of Shoveler and Teal. A scan of all the birds on the water in front of us doesn't turn up the target bird.
Scanning the edges plenty of Redshank are found and a single Bar-tailed Godwit is also seen. A further scan and the target is found on the foreshore in the company of a female Teal.

Green-winged Teal (B Anderson)
From here it's off to Blows Down in Bedfordshire, normally a good spot for Ring Ouzels, and with an early morning report of 3 birds present on Kingsbury slope we are hopeful of a sighting.
Parking at the end of Half Moon Lane, we scan the paddocks for any sign. The first bird seen is a cracking male Redstart perched in a small tree, in all three Redstarts are found. A couple of Wheatears are seen feeding on the short grass and a pair of Bullfinch are also found. No sign of any Ouzels though, and a walk down to the quarry area via Kingsbury slope doesn't produce any sightings either.
While trying to recover from the steep climb, a singing Yellowhammer is spotted perched at the top of a nearby tree along with Skylarks and Meadow Pipits.

Moving on to Startops End Reservoir proves a good move, with the first Swallows, House Martins and Common Terns of the year all found here.
There's also a pair of Red Crested Pochard seen not far from the viewing screen.

Red Crested Pochard
A visit to Bison Hill produces two Bison from the Whipsnade Collection but proves as fruitless as Blows Down for Ouzel sightings, and with the wind and rain blowing straight into the face we decide to head back to the comfort of the car.

A good mornings birding, with five new additions to the year list.

Sunday, 7 April 2013

Long-tailed Duck & Scaup at KGV Reservoir

A quick visit this morning to KGV Reservoir. 
Arriving at 7.30 I'm just in the middle of unlocking the gates when the phone goes. Brian has had the same thought as me and within ten minutes he's joined me at the car park. We are greeted with blue skies and after reaching the top of the grass bank an almost glass smooth water surface. 
Normally it's a case of bracing yourself against something and holding on to your scope here. With winds blowing a gale straight across the reservoir, straight into your face.
This morning it's as calm as I can ever remember it being on a visit here. Probably for the first time this year I didn't need the coat or the gloves. (but to my regret I still took them).
A quick scan of the southern half of the south basin produces at least double figures of Goldeneye, with at least four males among them. Then as I start to walk on a year tick appears in the form of a Sand Martin. Brian spots it and I'm on to it quickly. It flies around our heads for a short while and then moves away.
Back to the business of locating the female Scaup that I had made the trip for. Another scan of the water surface and it's found. It's all on it's own away from a small group of Tufted Duck.
This has been a frustrating species to add to my year list this year. Having missed birds at several locations around the country.
After getting good scope views I took a couple of very poor and very distant photo's of the bird.

Moving on towards the North basin, another scan found a couple of female Goosanders way over on the Western side of the Southern basin.
At the causeway a couple of smart looking Grey Wagtails were found along the Southern edge of North basin, and after a further walk the Long-tailed Duck is located among a group of Tufted's.

Just to illustrate how calm the conditions were this morning I took this shot below.

A ten minute trip bags two more year ticks and it's off home for breakfast.

Saturday, 6 April 2013

Hares at Elmley Marshes

Spent the morning down at Elmley Marshes today. With the drive along the entrance track the most rewarding.
Arriving around 7.30 and with no sign of any other cars, we were able to take our time on the drive down to the reserve car park.
No sign of any new arrivals having dropped in over night, so we make do with the numerous Lapwings and  Redshanks. Good numbers of Meadow Pipits and Skylarks and Snipe are also showing well.
Up ahead we catch sight of a group of Hares zipping around the track edges, shortly afterwards they appear on the track itself and a pair start to "box". Fantastic sight and the first time I have ever witnessed it.
I only managed the shot below, but it was fantastic to watch them.
The walk down to the Wellmarsh Hide was on the whole uneventful. Water levels in front of the hide were on the high side, but there's good numbers of Black-tailed Godwits and Dunlin present. Avocets, Wigeon, Shelduck and Teal are also on view. Three Marsh Harriers also put in an appearance.
On the return drive along the track a male Merlin is spotted perched on a fence post, it takes flight as we approach before any photo's can be taken.


A quick call in at Wanstead on the way home, and a search for the recently reported Little Ringed Plover. With no sign it's off to Lee Valley and a quick scan of the small islands on Hall Marsh Scrape produces the sought after LRP.

Another enjoyable morning again today, with the "boxing" Hares being the highlight.

Monday, 1 April 2013

White-spotted Bluethroat, Samphire Hoe

With a female White-spotted Bluethroat having been present in Kent since the 27th March we were all set to make the trip this morning. 
News of a Pallid harrier in Surrey yesterday clouds the issue a touch, but in the end we decide to make the 90 mile trip to Kent.
Leaving at 6am we turn into the car park at Samphire Hoe CP at 7.30am. Two locals are already present but had not seen the bird yet.
One of the birders decides to walk right to view the brambles from the other side of the car park, and spots the bird straight away.

White-spotted Bluethroat
Shortly afterwards the bird makes it's way along the fence line and drops into a drainage ditch. It's a brief view but a decent view. It then decides to fly behind the only car parked on that side of the car park and into thick cover.
It then flies across the car park and into even thicker vegetation, no doubt trying to keep out of the freezing cold winds.
After another 30-40 minutes we decide to do the same and head for the comfort of the car.

Twenty seven miles down the road is Dungeness, and this is where we head towards.
Parking up close to the bird observatory, we take a walk round the moat area. Hardly a bird is seen and any that are heard are deep down in the brambles.

A drive back down towards the lighthouse is much more productive when firstly a Stonechat appears on top of some gorse and then a male Wheatear drops down in front of us.

While watching the Wheatear, several Black Redstarts appear with males and females among them.

Before heading for home we make a quick stop at the reserve. Where Tree Sparrows, Great and Blue Tits, Reed Bunting and Chaffinch were all showing well at the feeders in the car park.

Tree Sparrow