Sunday, 26 January 2014

Waxwings and the search for Snow Buntings

The weather forecast for Sunday was looking pretty grim, so Saturday night with not a great deal on offer locally we had decided to give it a miss.
That was until a text this morning from Brian at 5am saying he was going to try for Waxwings, and that he was leaving at 6.
With Waxwings being much scarcer this winter it would be good to catch up with them before they depart.
So at 6 we head off on the 80 mile drive towards Martlesham Heath in Suffolk. 
The previous days reports had been of seven birds feeding close to the Douglas Bader pub. Shortly after leaving the A12 the pub is found.
In front of the pub is a small square with shops all around the outside and in the middle is a paved area with berry filled trees.
It's freezing cold, but thankfully dry and in the semi-darkness a Redwing is seen feeding in one of the trees. Shortly afterwards a small group of Fieldfares fly in, but there's no sign of any Waxwings.


As we are joined by another couple of birders, a group of five likely looking candidates fly over with two more trailing them a short distance behind. After circling round they settle in a tree behind the pub and are our target birds.
They leave the tree and approach the trees in the square near us. The light is very poor but I took a record shot anyway.


From here we head for Landguard in search of Snow Buntings. 
We spread out in search but after three unsuccessful circuits and with the predicted rain now very much in the air, we head for the cafe and a much needed coffee. Before reaching the cafe we scan the gulls that have been attracted in by some people throwing bread down.
The reward is a couple of smart looking Med Gulls and another year tick.
Refreshed and now warmed up, we head back out and start to make another sweep of the area. Walking the shingle I come across a Guillemot that had perished, and as I head off again dad spots a group of Snow Bunting close by.
These birds can be unbelievably difficult to spot if they are not moving among the shingle. Even when close to them if you take your eyes of them for a second they disappear from view. Once they settle down and start to feed, there's a group of ten birds found.
By now the rain is quite heavy, but it doesn't stop Brian from lying on the shingle to try to grab a photo. 

Snow Bunting

On the walk back to the car dad takes a tumble, after picking him up and checking he's alright. We accuse him of diving.  

Sunday, 19 January 2014

Glossy Ibis, Oare Marshes. Kent

Starting the day with an early morning visit to Elmley Marshes where the drive along the entrance track today was unusually quiet.
The grasslands either side of the track were flooded in many places, as would be expected with all the recent rainfall. But most of these pools were completely devoid of birds.
Nearing the car park a Barn Owl is spotted on the grass, it soon takes flight and lands on a fence post nearby. The light is very poor but the camera comes out for a record shot anyway.

After parking the car, we took a walk along a nearby track looking to add Little Owl. But there's no sign of any this morning.
A scan from the toilet block viewing area does produce Buzzard and Marsh harrier and a possible Merlin. On the drive back down the track a Marsh harrier is seen hunting across the surrounding fields and over 200 Curlews have flown in to feed. 

Capel Fleet is the next destination, and the drive along Harty Ferry Road produces plenty of Red-legged Partridges perched on the earth mounds of the dug out ditches.
At the view point the first birds seen are Common Buzzards, and plenty of them. They seem to be perched up in every direction scanned.
Three Marsh Harriers are seen together close by and Brian picks out a Ringtail flying along a  distant tree line.
Another scan of the fence posts bags a female Merlin along with several more Buzzards. A Sparrowhawk is watched in flight and then perched on the ground.

Having heard that two Glossy Ibis were still at Oare Marshes, we decide to head in that direction. Only to hear from another birder that the two birds had flown to Shellness some 40 minutes ago!
We decide to head back up the road and scan the West and East Floods. Good numbers of Dunlin and Lapwing are present along with single figures of Ruff, Golden Plovers and Knot.
I add another year tick when a Stonechat perches up on a nearby bush. A smart male Pintail is found asleep on a small strip of mud, it wakes briefly for a record shot.


Then as luck would have it, Brian picks up the two Glossy Ibis approaching overhead. They fly directly over us before heading away towards the Swale.
A little later they reappear overhead and head in the direction of Faversham.

Glossy Ibis

Sunday, 12 January 2014

Raptor Delights at Wallasea Island

Deciding to stay relatively local today, we headed for Wallasea Island.

Wallasea Island is currently being transformed from farmland into wetland, using earth excavated from the Crossrail project the land will be transformed into marshes, lagoons and mudflats. The project is due for completion by 2020 and is estimated to cost 50m.

Sunrise over Wallasea Island

Arriving just before sunrise, the marshes were still in semi darkness. Shortly after parking the car in the first lay-by Brian spots a Short-eared Owl flying low just above the ground. With some directions I'm on the bird, it flies a short distance across the marshes and drops down among the taller grass and out of sight.
As the sun rises a harrier is spotted drifting across in front of the far bank, as it circles round it's clearly a ringtail Hen Harrier.
Although the sun is bright and there is very little wind it's still bitterly cold. But the regular sightings of raptors warms us up. 
The Hen Harrier is briefly seen perched on a post and then in flight again being pursued by a Marsh Harrier that didn't look to thrilled to have it hunting in the same area.
Kestrels are a regular sight hunting across the marshes, but a male Merlin found perched on another post was a nice bonus. After watching it for several minutes it flew from the post low and fast.
Corn Buntings were frequently seen and heard overhead, and also perched in a tree close to the car park.

Corn Bunting

From here we headed for the Essex Wildlife Trust site at Abberton.
First stop is the Layer Breton causeway. Two male Smew are quickly located and as luck would have it they drift closer along the edge of the reeds and although still distant the camera comes out for a record shot. A scan of the islands picks out three Snipe, but no amount of scanning could turn any of them into Jack Snipe. 


Crossing the road two male Red-Crested Pochards are found among the numerous Commons, and as we are watching them one of the male Smew flies overhead.

It's my first visit to Abberton since the work here was completed. The second causeway has now been widened and several car parking spaces are now provided. As we leave the car we bump into Nick C, well away from his normal habitat at Wanstead.
Three Pintail, several  Goldeneye and two flyover Goosander were highlights from here. 

A brief stop at the visitor centre for a much needed coffee and it was back in the car and another drive round to Layer Breton Causeway.
The Greylags had by now started to feed on the short grass and Nick had already located the two White-Fronts among the flock. He also put us onto a pair of Scaup on the opposite side of the causeway before we left for home. 

Sunday, 5 January 2014

Hume's Leaf warbler, Dungeness Kent

It doesn't take much to get us to visit Dungeness, so when the Hume's Leaf Warbler is reported as present for it's third day  on Saturday, plans are made to make the trip early Sunday morning.
Shortly after 7.30am we are driving along Dungeness road, As we pass Arc Pit A Great White Egret is seen close in to the water's edge. Before parking the car a Kestrel sitting on telegraph wires is the second year tick of the day. Parking up we head towards the beach for a brief seawatch.
Good numbers of Common Scoter are seen moving through, with smaller numbers of Guillemots and two Razorbills. Several Kittiwakes are noted close in and also roosting on the beach.
The odd Red-throated Diver is also noted with larger numbers of Cormorants and Great Crested Grebes resting on the water.
While scanning through the gulls at the patch, news comes through that the Hume's Leaf Warbler is showing at the trapping area.
So it's back to the car, a quick drive round to the observatory and on with the wellies.
Reaching the trapping area we are pleased to have been warned beforehand that wellies were essential. The water levels varied from a few inches to nearly covering the top of the wellies in places.
As we approached the few assembled birders already present, I hear the bird call for the first time. It calls several times and then flits from tree to tree giving brief glimpses. Then it goes quiet for several minutes and then would call again in a completely different place.
Eventually we managed to get good views as it dropped to ground level in a channel giving me my first lifer of 2014.

Another brief session by the fishing boats fails to turn up any Yellow-Legged or caspian Gulls, so we return to Dungeness road for another scan of Arc Pit and New Diggings.
The Great White Egret is again showing well on Arc, and a scan of New Diggings produces a Black-throated Diver along the back edge. A second Black-throated Diver and Great White Egret are located at the reserve end of New Diggings as we approach the gate.
Stopping briefly at the reserve gates we watch several Tree Sparrows coming to the feeders.
At the reserve a scan from Dennis's Hide turns up a female Goosander, and on the return to the reserve centre a redhead Smew is found along the back edge of Burrowes Pit for another year tick.
Before heading for Scotney GP's, a short detour bags a good group of Bewick Swans feeding in a field as we drive along Caldecot Lane.
At the East Sussex end of Scotney a Great Northern Diver is found. We watch it as it feeds along the far edge and eventually approaches within camera range.

Great Northern Diver

At the Kent end of Scotney GP's another year tick is added in the form of a Long-tailed Duck, unfortunately it stayed well out of range of the camera.

On the drive home my first Common Buzzard of 2014 is seen.

Wednesday, 1 January 2014

New year's day birding off to a slow start

With the weather forecasts predicting rain, rain and more rain over most of the South East of England, we decided to head for Norfolk and take our chances.
The drive up the A10 was rain free, and as luck would have it the first bird seen for the third year running was the ghostly sight of a Barn Owl. Perched in a roadside tree no more than four feet from the ground.
We made a couple of circuits of Wolverton triangle on route to Titchwell, but had no luck or sightings of Golden Pheasants.
Arriving at Titchwell we stopped at the feeders but had no luck with any Brambling. Apparently they have been quite scarce at Titchwell so far this winter.
A Bullfinch was a nice find while heading along the boardwalk of Fen Trail. Dropping in at the Parrinder hides produced a few good species but nothing out of the ordinary.
A hunting Marsh harrier was good to see and good scope views were had when it landed on a dead tree stump. On the walk along the West bank path towards the beach the wind was already beginning to grow in strength.
There was no sign of the two Twite that had been reported from near the boardwalk by the beach earlier. 
This was our first visit to Titchwell since the storms had hit. I was shocked at the condition of the boardwalk in fact it wasn't a boardwalk  anymore, it had been completely wrecked and lifted from the footings.
It was a similar situation on the beach where the benches and viewing area were nowhere to be seen.
We took shelter from the winds behind a sand bank and a scope of the sea produced Red-throated Diver good sized groups of Common Scoter several Goldeneye and two Guillemots.

A quick stop at Brancaster added several Bar-tailed Godwits to the already seen Black-taileds, but by now the rain had started to fall and it only got heavier as the day progressed.

Stopping and scanning roadside fields in between Docking and Choseley we scanned the large flock of Pink-foots but failed to find the reported Bean or Barnacle geese amongst them. The pager said Bean Goose so probably only the one bird present among the huge Pink-footed flock. In the very strong winds and constant rain it was asking a lot to find a single Bean among them and we didn't. But it wasn't for lack of trying.

From here we headed for somewhere with a chance of some cover, and ended up at Sculthorpe Moor. Having only ever got as far as the reserve centre before, today would be my first experience of the reserve.
Greeted by friendly staff we paid the £3.50 and after some quick pointers headed out along the boardwalks. The rain was getting even heavier now which was a shame as this looks like a great reserve to visit in better weather conditions.
Stopping along the paths to check the feeders we found the much hoped for Bramblings in the trees and on the feeders. Before continuing along the paths an added bonus was the sight of a Marsh Tit coming in to feed at the same feeder.
The target bird at this site was Tawny Owl, but as we approached the viewing spot we were told the bird had just dropped down into the box and out of view.
As luck would have it, it re-appeared again shortly afterwards for another first day year tick. As we opened the viewing flaps at Whitley (fen) Hide we were greeted with the sight of Bramblings feeding on the bird table and among the surrounding trees.
Best count was 29 birds at any one time, added to this a Water rail was feeding right under the feeding area. Although we had already had Water rail in the Ditch at Titchwell earlier in the day it was still great to watch it at close quarters.
It was just  a shame we couldn't have enjoyed the reserve more, but the rain was constant and the wind getting stronger. A reserve to re-visit in more favourable conditions.

Before starting the drive for home, we scanned fields near Edgefield Tip trying to locate a juvenile Glaucous Gull that had been reported here earlier. But we had left it a little late and the bird had either gone to roost or re-located onto the tip.

A slow start to 2014 today but there's still nothing like the start of a new birding year.