Saturday, 26 October 2013

Two-barred and Parrot Crossbills at Hemsted Forest, Kent

With Brian working this morning, Dad and myself decide to try our luck with Crossbills at Hemsted Forest in Kent.
Leaving home at 6.30am it's a straight forward drive through the Blackwall Tunnel along the A2, M25 and then onto the A21. Turning onto Cranbrook Road, Biddenden shortly before 8am.
Plenty of cars were already parked up in the small area in front of the Forestry Commission sign post and along the road either side of the barrier.
Leaving the car and heading up the dirt track to find plenty of birders already scanning the surrounding areas East and West of the clearing.

Birders scanning the surrounding trees from the clearing.

Shortly after arriving the first flock of Crossbills fly across and land in trees to the right of the track. But there's only Commons in this flock.
A similar pattern follows as small flocks of Crossbills fly in and land in trees. The flocks are scanned and all appear to be Commons.

Then shortly before 9am another flock fly in and land in trees to the right of the track. After getting the scope onto them and scanning through the birds a stunning male Two-barred Crossbill is found.
The flock stay in the tree feeding for around 10 minutes giving great views. The Two-barred can be easily picked out on colour alone. Being much more pinkish red than the Common Crossbills feeding around it. 
An interesting bird is found among the flock feeding and looks a good candidate for parrot Crossbill. 
The flock fly off, only to circle round and land in an Oak tree much closer to the track where we are scanning from. I counted fifteen birds in the Oak tree, one of which is the Two-barred.

A mixed flock of Redpoll and Siskin fly across and disappear behind the trees to the left of the track. Shortly afterwards another flock of birds fly overhead and head for the trees near the start of the entrance track. After scanning them with the scope, they are found to be Redwings.

We decide to follow a group of Kent birders down the track and scan the trees which reports suggest are the favoured feeding areas for Parrot Crossbills.
Another flock fly over and while scanning through them, one of the guys calls a single bird perched up near the top of a tree close to us.
As soon as the scope is on it, it looks very good for Parrot Crossbill. It shows all the features you would hope for when checking.
A flat crown that almost merges into the top of the bill, a huge bill with parallel looking ivory cutting edges, thick necked.
Another single bird flies across calling, the call sounds much deeper than a Common and is agreed to be another likely Parrot Crossbill.

A very rewarding morning with three types of Crossbills, two of which are lifers!

Monday, 21 October 2013

Semipalmated Plover and a Tornado on Hayling Island

An early morning text from Brian on Sunday, sees us meeting up at six and heading for Hampshire.
Target bird was the Semipalmated Plover on Hayling Island, High tide was forecast for around midday, so we made our first stop Keyhaven Marsh.
Early morning news of the presence of the Long-billed Dowitcher on Fishtail Lagoon started what turned out to be a very frustrating few hours.
After lengthy scans of Keyhaven lagoon, Fishtail Lagoon and Butts Lagoon there was no sign of the Dowitcher.
It wasn't through lack of effort, we walked each lagoon four times, Spending far more time here than we wanted, hoping the high tide would push the bird back onto one of the lagoons. Birds seen here were Golden and Grey Plovers in good numbers along with Greenshank, Redshank, Knot, Black and Bar-tailed Godwits and a single Ringed plover. But eventually we had to leave for Hayling Island if we were to stand any chance of bagging the Plover.
There was just time to drive round to Milford on Sea to catch up with the Red-breasted Goose at "Cut off Bridge" aptly named as the barrier was across the road and the other side of the road was now part of the marshes.

Red Breasted Goose

After watching the kite surfers performing on the water, it was time to turn the car round and head off to Hayling Island.

Having found a spot to park the car at Eastoke Corner, we walked East along the beach in what was becoming worsening conditions.
We joined a group of birders on the shingle and after a few directions managed to pinpoint the target bird.
Pleased that the bird was still present, we walked back down the footpath and made our way around to where another group of birders were scanning from.

From this location we managed decent views, and watched it resting and then moving further up the beach among groups of Sanderling and Ringed Plovers as the tide encroached up the beach
While enjoying the bird we failed to notice the weather changing dramatically overhead, and before we knew it we were caught in the back end of an earlier Tornado.
The rain was incredible, it was so heavy I couldn't see either Brian a few yards ahead of me or dad a few yards behind me. It fell so fast and so heavy it took my breath away and completely drenched me in the process.
The torrential rain certainly gave the optics a through test. One which they seem to have passed without any problems.

Luckily Brian had a change of clothes to drive home in, I wasn't so lucky and when we stopped at a garage to refuel I had to wring my socks out and empty my boots of a surprising amount of water.

Another great days birding, which saw Brian pass last years total and dad bag his 300th bird, and all three of us add another lifer to our lists.

Sunday, 13 October 2013

Pallas's and Dusky Warblers in Norfolk

With strong North Easterlies and rain forecast for most of the morning in Norfolk, we set off at 5am heading for Sheringham. With road closures on the way it was a slower journey than the normal two hours.
Light rain in Essex turned into heavy rain as we approached Norfolk, but nearing Sheringham the rain died down and by the time we were parking the car at 7.15 the rain had almost stopped completely and the strong North Easterlies were now just a gentle breeze.
The hoped for Petrel or Shearwater movement didn't happen and the session only produced single figure Bonxies and Red-throated Divers, plus larger numbers of Gannets, Cormorants, Common Scoters, Brents, Wigeon and Teal.

As the shelter started to empty, the pager announced the presence of a Long-eared Owl at Cley. With the car parked up at Cley beach we headed off across the shingle towards Swarovski hide. The LEO had relocated to the sand ridges on the beach a short distance from the hide by the time we arrived.
After a quick scan of the ridges the LEO is located and showing well. 

Long-eared Owl

While watching the LEO the pager bleeps into action informing us of a Pallas's Warbler present at Barns Drift just off Old Woman's Lane. After arriving at the site there's no sign of the bird. An hour's searching still doesn't produce any sightings of the bird and with time short we decide to head off towards Titchwell.
On route to Titchwell we debate whether to make a stop at Garden Drove. A Rustic Bunting was found here the previous day but with no news of it's presence today we decide to drive on.
Approaching Titchwell news comes through of another Pallas's Warbler, this time at Warham Greens!
A U-turn and ten miles back along the road we park up at Stiffkey and walk the coastal path. Eventually finding the location the Pallas's is quickly found. A stunning little bird and a lifer for myself and dad and a year tick for Brian.

With time not on our side, news breaks of a Dusky Warbler found at West Runton.
This brought back memories of the failed attempt of the Dusky Warbler I had tried for at Walthamstow. Torrential rain and no sign of the bird it was not a good memory.
As we approached the site the rain started to fall, and news on site was not that encouraging. It was starting to feel all to familiar.
Standing alongside the small group of birders presence the bird begins to call, the "Chek Chek" call giving us an area to concentrate on. The bird calls regularly and eventually gives brief views as it heads along the line of bushes and drops into the largest bush closest to the cliff top.
Another lifer added to the trip and the memories of that failed attempt now not quite as painful.
Before leaving the site an added bonus comes when a Great Grey Shrike is spotted perched up in some Willows along the far side of the adjacent field.

With the closure of the A11 the journey home was eventful to say the least. The road diversions were of no help at all and only added to the frustration.
The no show of the predicted early morning North Easterlies and the road closures and delays still didn't take anything away from another cracking days birding in Norfolk.

Sunday, 6 October 2013

Lesser Grey Shrike, Capel Fleet. Kent

This morning I decided to wait and see if the Lesser Grey Shrike had stuck overnight before making the trip.

At 7.54 this morning the news I wanted to hear came through. The shrike had stayed overnight and was showing well again at Capel Fleet.
With Brian having already seen the Leiston bird, it's just the two of us this morning who set off in pursuit of the bird.
After the 62 mile drive we are driving along Harty Ferry Road looking for the reported wooden bridge that needs crossing. As luck would have it a car pulls out just as we pull up and the spot is bagged in quick time.
The wooden bridge is in the field alongside the road, and access is via a metal gate that leads to a public footpath. What we didn't know at the time was that after crossing the wooden bridge and climbing the grass bank we would have to walk across a ploughed field. A quick look along the grass path on the other side pin-pointed where all the birders were gathered, and we quickly made our way towards them.
Stopping close to the first person along the line I'm pleased to see it's Howard from Rainham Marshes RSPB. It's always a pleasure to meet Howard and he soon had us on the shrike in no time.
A stunning looking bird, it's busy feeding and spends it's time either perched atop of one of the bushes or down on the ground in search of food items.
Saying goodbye to Howard who has to leave, we walk further along the grass path and join the group at the end of the line.
A very good move as the shrike flies straight to the top of the nearest bush to us and gives terrific views. The scope is filled with Lesser Grey Shrike and it gave stunning views.
While enjoying views of the shrike an added bonus arrives in the form of two Lapland Buntings that fly across the field calling overhead.
A life tick and two year ticks added today.

If only those Two-barred's would show themselves when I am down there at Lynford.
With news of them showing well again today, I'm going to have to have another go soon and hope for better luck when I do.

Red-Breasted Flycatcher, Norfolk

At last, the year list moves!

News of a Red-breasted Flycatcher at Warham Greens in Norfolk on Friday sees us heading towards the site early Saturday morning.
Yet another stop off at Lynford Arboretum in search of the elusive Two-barred's. After another two hour search still no sightings of any Two-Barreds.
Plenty of Common Crossbills were seen along with many annoying Chaffinch and Siskin and the odd sightings of Coal Tit and Goldcrest.

So it's another dip on the Two-barreds, I make that Four visits and four no-shows now. Here's hoping they will stick around now throughout the winter and give me yet another opportunity to try to see them. 

So off towards Warham Greens hoping for better luck with the target bird. Heading along Stiffkey Road, Brian quickly finds the track. (Garden Drove). The sign at the entrance to the track is not encouraging "Unsuitable for motors"  I would imagine in bad weather or winter this would be a sign to take notice off, but it's a fine October day and the track causes no problems other than avoiding a few potholes.
Parking up at the end of the track, it's a short walk down the narrower track to the left and within five minutes of arriving, I've had my first view of a Red-breasted Flycatcher. Granted it was brief and in flight but it was a view, I wouldn't have been pleased if that was the only view I was to get, but luckily it wasn't.
Within a few minutes, the bird flew back left and landed in full view allowing good views through the bins. I left the site much happier having had some good views of the bird. 
At last the year list can move again, and with it so can the life list!

From here it's off to Titchwell, where we spent a relaxing afternoon wandering around the reserve. At Pat's Pool, I managed to locate a Jack Snipe, which showed well for a short time along with good numbers of Common Snipe.
News came through of a Yellow-browed Warbler having been seen around Meadow Trail, but we failed to see or hear it during our searches.
The small pools within the Meadow Trail were alive with Dragonflies, and the camera came out to grab a couple of shots.

Scanning Freshwater Marsh from Island hide produced a single Little Stint and Curlew Sandpiper along with good numbers of Dunlin, Ruff and Golden Plovers. Another scan of the marsh from the pathway and a second Little Stint is found a short distance from the first.

Little Stint

Volunteer Marsh which has been very quiet on our last couple of visits, produces superb views of two Greenshank and three Spotted Redshanks plus both Black and Bar-tailed Godwits, Curlew and Grey Plover.


Back at Freshwater Marsh, and more views of the Little Stints and Curlew Sandpiper were had, that was until a Peregrine came visiting looking for an easy meal. But after several passes, it leaves the area without any reward.

On the drive, home news breaks of a Lesser Grey Shrike found at Capel Fleet. It's too late today to divert, but having missed the bird at Leiston in Suffolk early this year I'm keen to try for it tomorrow if it has stuck overnight.