Sunday, 23 March 2014

Shut Heath, Lesser-Spotted Woodpeckers fail to show

I spent the morning at Shut Heath Wood at Great Totham in Essex, searching for Lesser-Spotted Woodpeckers.
The forecast was for a dry bright start with rain showers arriving around midday, and it turn out to be spot on.
Arriving at the car park around eight, it was a short walk around the edge of a field to reach the entrance to the wood.
On entering the wood there was the sound of a distant woodpecker drumming, unfortunately not the target bird but a Great-Spotted. Walking along the obvious paths with regular stops to scan any bird movement, It seemed every bird scanned was either a Blue or Great Tit. But there were other birds present with plenty of Treecreepers found and one pair was watched nest building.
Nuthatches were very vocal in the wood, but proved somewhat more difficult to pin down for any prolonged views.
As the tree canopy opened up three Buzzards were seen circling overhead, they were then joined by a Sparrowhawk.
The below shot was the best I could manage, before they drifted away and out of view.

Common Buzzard

Green Woodpeckers were heard at regular intervals and more persistent drumming from a Great-Spotted Woodpecker allowed us to pin point it's location.
After 2-3 circuits of the wood there was no sight nor sound of any Lesser-Spots.
Another week or two and the wood floor will be covered with carpets of Bluebells.
Late morning saw the weather begin to close in and the rain started to fall. So I took this as a sign to head back to the shelter of the car.

Monday, 17 March 2014

Minsmere birding and Snake searching

Given the choice of a life tick or a relaxing day in Suffolk, we took the second option.
It turned out to be a really relaxing day, just strolling around Dunwich Heath and then Minsmere. By taking the Suffolk option it also meant meeting up at 6am instead of the suggested 2-3am if we had chosen Pembroke.
Arriving at the heath around 7.45 the first Dartford Warbler was spotted before leaving the car.
Perched up on top of a gorse bush singing it's heart out.
I spent the next 2 hours either wandering around the heath or sitting among it, sometimes to my cost when sitting on the gorse rather than the heather! Not to be recommended.
The warblers seemed to prefer the area around the Heath Field Barn Study Centre, and the further we got away from that area the fewer warblers were seen and heard.
I never managed to be in the right place at the right time, but grabbed a couple of record shots anyway.

Dartford Warbler

Minsmere was calling, so after a quick drive we were parked up and heading off down the path towards North Hide.
A quick scan and a Spotted Redshank is found feeding in the shallow pools. Another scan and a pair of newly arrived Garganey are located at the back of a small island. 
At the Bittern Hide a Cetti's Warbler lands in a tree in front of the hide, and a Water Rail flies across the channel in front of us.
Two Marsh harriers are watched and a Bittern takes a brief flight before dropping back down among the reeds.
Time for some snake searching, conditions seemed good for finding the odd Adder today, although heading into the wind it felt much colder.
It didn't take too long before the first one was found. As was expected it had tucked itself in amongst the leaf litter on the sheltered side of the brambles.



In the hour of searching we managed to find eight individuals in total.

The rest of the time was spent walking along the paths heading towards the beach, with occasional stops at the hides to scan the scrapes.
Barnacle Goose was added to the year list and several Pintail were seen.
As we reached the beach large numbers of gulls were seen leaving the nearby fields and heading towards the scrapes on the reserve.
A target bird today was Caspian Gull and after reaching East Hide out luck was in, when three individuals were found among the Herring and Lesser Black-backed's.

A brief stop at Walberswick in search of Yellow-legged Gull was unsuccessful, but it might well be worth another visit when the place is a little less busy with dog walkers, crab fishermen and kite flyer's.

Monday, 10 March 2014

Cranes, Whoopers and Bearded Tits at Lakenheath

With the weather forecast looking perfect for some Goshawk action, we headed off in the direction of a couple of regular sites.
Arriving in the area around 7am, we made our way towards Lakenheath. The front gate having recently been locked in the evenings and not opened until 8.30am had now been left open allowing early morning access again.
Reaching the entrance gate we were greeted with the sight of two Cranes flying directly overhead following the path of the River Little Ouse which provides a border between Suffolk and Norfolk.
We decided to take the river path and on the walk out towards Joist Fen were rewarded with sightings of Kingfisher, Cetti's Warber, and Marsh Harrier. Cetti's Warblers seemed to be calling from every corner of the reserve.
A brief stop at Joist Fen produced sightings of several Marsh Harriers along with Common Buzzard and Sparrowhawk, Bearded Tits were heard "pinging" but were proving more difficult to see.
A walk along the river path and a scan across the adjacent farmland proved a good move, with two Cranes found feeding in one of the fields (probably the two birds seen at the entrance earlier) and close by double figures of Whooper Swans were found for another year tick.
The footpath leading back towards the reserve centre takes you passed the new hide (Mere Hide) Two Bearded Tits drop in as I take a seat.
At the entrance path to the hide four Bearded Tits are seen feeding relatively close by. The camera comes out for a few shots.

 At the reserve centre the feeders were attracting Chaffinch, Greenfinch, Reed Bunting, Goldfinch and Blue and Great Tits.
While watching these a Water Rail emerged from the edge of the reeds and continued to appear and disappear at regular intervals.

Water Rail

Arriving back at the car the first Brimstones of the year were seen floating around the car park.

We arrived at the Goshawk site later than planned, the first bird heard was a Woodlark. But it took a little longer to actually get a sighting of one. Then a single bird was picked out in a nearby field.
Despite the weather conditions looking and feeling spot on for Goshawks our search proved in vain today, with only Common Buzzard and Sparrowhawks seen in the air.
A stop at a water hole produced another year tick when three Common Crossbills flew overhead, while watching Redpoll, Siskin, Goldfinch and Coal Tits coming down to drink.



Although the target bird was not seen today, it was just nice to actually be out birding in sunshine!
Lets hope that continues.

Sunday, 2 March 2014

Chinese Pond Heron & a Black Redstart at Reculver

The weather forecast today was looking best around the Kent area.
So at 6am we headed towards Kent, but instead of heading for the regular site of Dungeness we made for Hythe in search of the "Probable" Chinese Pond Heron. With the bird having been present now for around a month and with the very unlikely chance of the bird ever being accepted as anything other than an escape, we still thought it was time to see it.
Having made good time we pulled into Turnpike Hill and joined the birders already parked up waiting and hoping for the Heron to make an appearance.
After two hours we were still waiting, after a drive around all the surrounding roads there was still no sightings. 
The next 30 minutes were spent with the local gulls just down the road while we decided what to do next.
Before leaving Saltwood we decided to make one last circuit of the area, shortly after parking up in Turnpike Hill again the Heron appears from behind us, it flies directly overhead and heads for the trees we had been watching for over two hours.
Unfortunately it doesn't drop into the trees but heads over the trees and appears to drop down somewhere behind them.
A drive round the surrounding roads looking for likely roosting sites produces plenty of sightings of birders but none of the Heron, and with some rather questionable searching going on we decided to move on.

Early morning news had come through that the two Shorelarks had been found again on the beach at Sandwich Bay. On route we made a quick stop off at Dover and added Shag to the year list with several birds found around the harbour.
At Sandwich Bay we found the road to the reported area for the Shorelarks was a toll road with a cost of £7! Luckily the guy on the toll gate waived the fee and warned us about the road being flooded in parts and some deep pot holes along the way.
Reaching the beach we found a handful of birders already present but none had seen the Shorelarks. A subsequent search of the area failed to produce any sightings and we left disappointed.

On route home there was time to drop in at Reculver. Checking out the likely looking areas for a reported Black Redstart, the bird was quickly located among the rocks, after watching it for several minutes it started to feed closer to us allowing the chance of a photo.

Black Redstart

Reculver Towers

Saturday, 1 March 2014

Rock Pipits at Rainham

An early morning visit to Rainham, started with a stop off at the Concrete Barges.
As soon as I had stepped out of the car I could hear several Linnets calling among the rough grass behind the car park bushes. These were joined by a couple of Skylarks overhead.
A scan of the barges and the surrounding area didn't produce any Water Pipits. Large numbers of Black-headed Gulls roosting along the tide line were joined by fewer numbers of Great and Lesser-Black Backed Gulls as well as Herring and Common Gulls. 
Several scans couldn't produce any Yellow-legged or Caspian Gulls or any signs of the recent Iceland Gull.
The roosting gulls suddenly take to the air, and a Kestrel drops down and lands on the end of one of the barges.

A walk along the foreshore adds a single roosting Black-tailed Godwit, along with several Redshanks and small flocks of Teal and Wigeon on the water.
Standing among the debris washed up off the Thames, several Rock Pipits fly up and head for the rocks along the foreshore. 

Rock Pipit

The Rock Pipits are joined by 4-5 Meadow Pipits and several Reed Buntings.

Meadow Pipit

More Skylarks are seen and heard overhead, but no amount of scanning through the Rock Pipits could produce any Water Pipit sightings.
A walk along the path from the serin mound gave good views of a female Marsh Harrier hunting across the flooded pools.