Tuesday 29 January 2013

Ferruginous Duck, Priory CP

A Birthday and a half day off from work today and it's off to Priory CP in Bedfordshire hoping to get a sighting of the Ferruginous Duck.

The journey goes smoothly until we approach the site and encounter two roundabouts. The satnav loses the signal and we are left going round the roundabout three times before we find the right turn off.
Soon after turning on to Barker's Lane at 2.30pm we see the car park up on the right. Priory Lake is only a short walk from the car park and we are soon scoping the lake in search of the fudge duck.
At first there is no sign, but a local tells us it's been reported again at 1pm, so I stay positive and at the dipping platform another scope of the lake produces the first sighting of the target bird.

Ferruginous Duck

It's asleep in amongst a group of Pochards and on the far side of the lake in front of the hide.
On the walk round towards the hide the recently found Black-necked Grebe from yesterday is seen. It's a nice bonus and another year tick.

Otter Carving
After reaching the hide the Duck is no where to be seen. A scan of the birds to the left of the hide reveals only Pochard and Great Crested Grebes.
Another  scan of  the lake, and another group of Pochards are found, with a handful of Tufted's mixed in.Then the Black-necked Grebe swims in to view again. Then the Fudge Duck is re-found right in front of the dipping platform that we had left earlier.
A quick walk back round and luckily it's right in front of the platform still.
The guy who was in the hide with us hadn't seen it yet, so a quick wave towards him and he's hurrying along the pathway to join us.
I grabbed a couple of record shots in very poor light before heading for home.

Sunday 27 January 2013


News comes through of five Waxwings feeding in a Garden in Chingford again this morning. 
Being down in Kent all day yesterday I was hoping the birds would stick around until today. Being only ten minutes from home and still needing Waxwing for a year tick, it's soon after the report that I'm in the car and heading for Long Deacon Drive.
Turning into the road we soon find the birds in a roadside tree. They are flying from this tree into the nearby garden and feeding on the numerous berries.
With the amount of berries still available in this garden and only five birds present, they should stay around for a while yet.

I'm not back home very long when the phone goes and Brian says he's going to try for the Great Grey Shrike at Therfield Heath. Back in the car to meet him and we are on our way. 
We have trouble finding the actual area where the birds have been seen, and none of the locals seem to have any idea about the birds.
Finally we find someone who knows where the birds have been seen and points us in the right direction.
Turning into Mill Lane we park up and head down the track. As we head down another year tick is added when 50+ Yellowhammers are seen perched in nearby trees. 
Scanning each and every hedge line we have no joy locating the shrikes. With very strong winds the birds are  probably well tucked in to the hedges.
So the first dip of the year, but as we head for home I spot three Grey Partridge in a roadside field to lift the mood and add another year tick for the three of us.
A really good couple of days with nine year ticks added over the course of the weekend.

Hooded Crow and Snow Bunting, Kent

A day birding in Kent today starts with a visit to Dungeness. 
The rain at the start of the journey quickly passes before we have park the car. Heading for the beach for a spot of seawatching, it's dry but the chill factor from the winds makes it feel many degrees lower than the temperature suggests.
The hut is locked but we use it as a wind break and it provides some very welcome relief.
Out at sea there's some movement of divers and auks moving through. A flock of 300+ Red-throated Divers being the largest. Large numbers of Cormorants are seen throughout the 2-3 hours. The first year tick of the day comes in the form of a Razorbill seen sitting on the sea relatively close in.
There's a Great Skua seen following one of the larger ships for a second year tick and Kittiwakes are frequently seen. A Red-breasted Merganser appears on the water close in, giving good views before heading off to the West.
Heading towards the "patch" There's a sad sight when a Harbour Seal is seen dead on the beach below. A Little Gull is another year tick, Two picked out amongst the many Black-headed Gulls.
Time to head towards the fishing boats and try to find the Glaucous Gull that we missed on our first trip a couple of weeks earlier.
After scanning every group of gulls present, we finally located it among Herring Gulls. It spent most of the time asleep, briefly waking to take flight and land nearby only to promptly return to it's sleep.

Leaving Dungeness we hear of two Snow Buntings present at Littlestone-on-sea. We pull into the car park and walk towards the life boat station. 
There's Redshank, Knot, Sanderling, Turnstone and Ringed Plover all present along the shoreline, but no sign of the Snow Buntings.
Then they are found by a birder as he heads towards the car park. Tucked in below a tuft of grass they are well hidden.
Once found they allowed quite close approach, and happily started to feed among the shingle. 

I manage to add another year tick when a Merlin is seen flying across the sea, it flies very low across the water and then heads high and out over the adjoining fields.

Next is a very brief drop in at Oare Marshes. Although brief there's time to add a Redhead Smew, large numbers of Dunlin and Snipe along with Grey Plover to the day list and Avocet is another addition to the year list.

On the way home we head for the raptor viewpoint on the Harty Ferry Road. 
There's been a Hooded Crow reported from the Swale NNR and we are hoping to bag a view before heading home. Heading along the road we stop to ask a birder if he knows the best area to try for it. Our luck is in when he says that he was the person that found it. With directions noted we continue past the watch point along Harty Ferry Road. Heading down the road we note a pale Common Buzzard hunched over a recently caught meal, with a Heron standing close by ready to move in given a chance.
Another very welcome sight is seven Cranes seen in a distant field. 50+ Corn Buntings are heard and then seen in a nearby bush for yet another year tick. 
We park outside the church and walk to the bottom of the track and start to scan the salt marsh. Carrion Crows are noted on the white marker posts and then Brian picks the Hooded up in the field with Brent Geese. It's a cracking spot from this distance and saves us a long walk. It's in a field behind the tree line so it's in view then out of view as it walks behind the trees. We have to wait until it reappears in one of the gaps among the trees before bagging another view. There's also a ringtail Hen Harrier hunting along the tree line and it soon puts all the local pigeons up.
Well pleased with adding the Hooded Crow to the year list we head back to the watch point for a bit more raptor watching.
Better views of the cranes are had when we reach the viewing watch point and get an elevated view of the surrounding fields.
There's a good group of birders already present and they soon get me on to another Merlin. This one is perched on a small bush in the middle of a field. A female to add to the male I had earlier at Littlestone 
In the same field there's four Bewick Swans present and also a couple of Marsh Harriers. Another ringtail Hen Harrier is seen before we call it a day and head for home.

Sunday 20 January 2013

Bittern at Lee Valley

Thinking the temperatures were going to drop last night and the thought of driving on roads early morning with the chance of black ice, I had planned on staying in this morning.

Muntjac Deer

But after waking and looking out of the window to find no frost and no further snowfall I quickly decided to head over to Lee Valley.
On arrival the roads leading to Hooks Marsh car park looked hazardous for the return trip uphill, so decided to park at Fisher's Green.
Arriving shortly after 8am, the entrance roads leading to the car park were covered with ice, as was the car park itself.
Making my way to the Bittern Hide the snow starts to fall. Entering the hide I'm informed by the only other birder present that there's been no sign of the Bittern so far.
Opening the hatch the first thing I see are two Muntjac Deers. Both are standing close to the feeders hoping to grab anything that drops to the floor.
A Great Spotted Woodpecker lands in the nearby tree and drops onto the feeder briefly before retreating back to the tree.

Poor photo, but it shows the size of it's catch

Dad arrives as the other birder leaves the hide, and within five minutes of him sitting down he's asking if I saw  a small bird drop into the reeds. As I'm trying to find the bird the Bittern appears at the bottom of the reeds and starts to hunt for it's breakfast.
It's beak dives into the water and comes up with a large looking fish, at first I thought it might be an eel  It heads back towards the reeds and walks back up along the channel and with hardly any struggle swallows it's catch. It then disappears into the reeds at the back of the reedbed.
The Two deer reappear around the feeders and give a chance for a couple of photos. Then a Water Rail is spotted by dad. It walks across the water in front of the reeds and then flies further across into the next channel.
A second Water Rail is seen shortly before we decide to make our way round towards Hooks Marsh and Friday Lake.
At Friday Lake there's no sign of any Smew present, but I add Wigeon to the patch year list. Onto Bowyers Water but still no Smew to be found. 

A Male Goldeneye is found while scoping the unfrozen parts of the water, and the Black Swan appears close by.

On the walk back towards the car a Mute Swan was seen with fishing line attached to it's bill, another swan  had fishing line and also a plastic bait feeder hanging from it's bill. I reported my sightings to the park authorities and was pleased to receive an e-mail reply stating that the birds were being looked for by park rangers and volunteers. Hopefully they can be caught and the line removed without any ill effects to the birds.

Just the drive back home left to do. The hardest part of which is getting up to the main road after leaving the car park. 
A short visit but well worth the effort.

Sunday 13 January 2013

A Brief visit to Lee Valley CP

Somehow today was my first visit to Lee Valley CP this year. A mixture of birding trips, weather, and other situations have prevented me from any visits.
So I took the chance to make a brief visit this morning, to get something on the board.
Started the morning at The Bittern Hide. Two Water Rails were heard as I entered the hide, and a Great Spotted Woodpecker was hanging from the peanut feeder. 
With the water low and clear in front of the hide it gave me a great view of a Great Crested Grebe as it dived and searched for food. It also showed just how fast they can move underwater.
The next thing to be seen was not so welcome, a Mink swimming across from the near bank and entering the reedbed. I did wonder if it might flush a Bittern or Water Rail out, but neither were heard or seen.
Just before leaving the hide a Munjac Deer wondered round in front of the hide and went straight across the water and up along the right hand channel. It stayed there for another ten minutes and was still there when I left the hide. Not much else on Seventy Acre's Lake though, bird numbers in general seem well down on previous years.
Moving on along the Old River Lee, a male Bullfinch is seen perched high at the top of a tree. Two Redwings are also spotted.
A female Goosander is seen from the Grebe Hide on Holyfield Lake, and I also add Goldcrest and Treecreeper shortly after leaving the hide. The walk back towards the weir produces a cracking male Goosander seen in flight.
A quick visit to the farm area only adds a few of the common species. Greylag Goose, House Sparrow, Pied Wagtail and Egyptian Goose.
A 2-3 hour visit gets the numbers rolling, albeit very slowly.
No time to make the stop at Bowyers, Friday Lake or Hooks Marsh so they will have to wait until the next visit.

Saturday 12 January 2013

Buff-Bellied Pipits. Queen Mother Reservoir

Got up this morning with the intention of a visit to the patch at Lee Valley.
But at 6.45 the phone bleeps into life, It's Brian and he's making the trip to The Queen Mother Reservoir in Berkshire. 
So plans changed we meet up and head off towards the reservoir. On route we call in at Staines Reservoir, hoping to add a year tick or two.
But it proves fruitless as no new birds are added. I was thinking I would at least add Black-necked Grebe from here, or Scaup or maybe a Great Northern Diver. But the only grebe seen were Great Crested and apart from the usual ducks, Cormorants, and gulls, a handful of Goldeneye were the only other birds noted.

So on to Queen Mother Reservoir hoping for views of the Buff-bellied Pipit.
At 9am and after pulling into the reservoir car park, giving our names and handing over the donations, we head off up the slipway with permits in hand.
Plenty of birders are already present, but as yet none have seen the bird. At 9.25 the pager beeps and informs us that the bird was seen in the south-west corner but had then flown off towards the sailing club.
So we decided to make our way back towards the sailing club.
No sign of the bird anywhere during the walk back and the guy who reported seeing the bird is now heading off along the opposite side of the reservoir in search of it.
We make good use of the sailing club cafe, and refuelled and warmed up we head back out in search of the pipit.
The Long-tailed Duck is picked out amongst a group of Tufted's while we scanned from the sailing club. Heading back down the path we stop at the pier and scan the reservoir for the Slavonian Grebe. Brian gets on it, but it's way over below the far bank and I can't get a view of it.
A nice bonus comes along in the shape of two Peregrines. One flies low across the reservoir and joins the second bird on the tower in the middle of the water.
I head off with dad to see if we can catch up with the Slav Grebe. Plenty of birders have seen it, but it always seems to be moving away from us.
We have now walked well over half of the reservoir without seeing it and start to think about heading back towards Brian.
I give it a last scan and get straight on it. A Great Crested Grebe in front, with the Slav Grebe tucked in behind it. Dad has trouble getting good views of the bird as it dives regularly and reappears some distance away. But he manages good enough views in the end.
So now just the long walk back towards Brian and the car. As we turn the corner and start the walk back up the path, two birds fly in from behind us and drop down onto the concrete bank in front of us.
At first, I'm thinking wagtails, as we have been seeing wagtails all morning feeding along the water edges. But viewing them through the bins they are clearly the target birds.
As I turn round Brian is right next to me. He has had them from his spot and followed them down along the bank.
They only feed for a very brief time before they take flight and head up and away out across the surrounding fields and towards some distant houses.

Later in the day, they would be reported from Kingsmead Quarry at Horton Gravel Pits.
While searching for the birds earlier we hear some birders saying they doubt whether there was ever two birds present. So it's good to see both birds drop in and feed together.

A day that started frustratingly at Staines, ends with two Buff Bellied Pipits, Slav Grebe, Long-tailed Duck and two Peregrines.
Another tick is added on the way home when three Red Kites are seen along the M25 between junctions 20 & 21.

Sunday 6 January 2013

A morning at Rainham Marshes

The plan this morning was to take a wander around Roding Valley Nature Reserve. But that all changed when Brian texts.
"Are you up"? Yes."Fancy a couple of hours over at Rainham"? Ok
So by 8.30 we are parked up in the Coldharbour Lane car park and heading off along the sea wall. Along the Thames we picked up Redshank, Teal, Dunlin,  Ring Plover and Curlew. Rock Pipits were present in double figures with one or two Water Pipits and  a handful of Meadow Pipits also seen.
While scanning the reserve feeders the presence of a Ring-necked parakeet was all to obvious, not that I was complaining, I was just happy adding it to my year list.
A scan across the reserve found the Ross's Goose tucked in with the Greylags. A tractor being used on the reserve sends them all into the air, which enables us to get some nice views of the bird in flight.
The weather stayed pretty much the same throughout the morning visit. The skies were grey and the mist never cleared.

On the way home we stopped off at Epping Forest. Strawberry Hill Pond is a good spot for Mandarin Duck, and it didn't disappoint this time either. Up to twenty birds were seen on the quick circuit of the pond.
On the walk back I managed to add Nuthatch and Coal Tit to my year list

So back home, and as I walk through the door and check out the feeders I find a Redpoll sitting on top of one of the bushes. Another tick and the list hits 112.

Saturday 5 January 2013

Kent: Cranes, Egrets and Harriers

Kent is the destination today, arriving at Walland Marsh at first light.
Parking the car in the Woolpack pub car park, it's a short walk along the road until the footpath is reached. Following the path all the way around until we are scanning the surrounding fields at the end of the fence line. A Cetti's is heard along the path and there's plenty of Marsh Harriers quartering the fields and also perched in nearby trees.
Among them a ringtail Hen Harrier is spotted. Scanning the fields in front of the wind turbines the Crane is finally found feeding out in the open.
From the far bank a flock of  twenty Bewick Swan appear and head off to the west.
Passing the reedbeds on the way back to the car produces several "pinging" Bearded Tits. 
Two miles along the road a good group of Bewick's are found. Around 70 birds are seen spread within two fields. Having scoped both fields and not finding any Whoopers among them we are about to leave, when a superb male Hen Harrier appears in front of us.
It's only the second male I've seen, and it puts on a show for the next twenty minutes in front of us. It spends it's time either quartering the field or resting on the ground.

Next stop Dungeness.
Approaching the reserve, we get a surprise when a Great White Egret is seen really close to the roadside fence. At the reserve entrance Tree Sparrow is added to the year list.
At the beach there's no sign of the Glaucous Gull today, but two juvenile Kittiwakes roosting inland are a nice bonus. Great Crested Grebes are numerous on the sea and found among them is a very strange looking leucistic Great Crested Grebe.
Gannets and Guillemots are also present in good numbers, plus several Red-throated Divers.
On the return trip past the reserve a redhead Smew is spotted along the back edge of the New Diggings for another tick.
It's off to Dover Harbour before heading for home. Parking by the life boats, two Shags are found and close by is a Red Breasted Merganser. A walk out along the pier, with frequent stops for scanning eventually bags a couple of Purple Sandpipers.

On the way home we make a very brief stop at Rainham in case any Short-eared Owls are hunting.
This time we are out of luck, and none are showing.

Tuesday 1 January 2013

New years day birding in Norfolk

The new year started with an early start and a drive down to Norfolk.
A quick stop off on route at Wolferton for Golden Pheasant, but there's no sign of any birds this time. 

Driving through Cambridge along the A11, the first Barn Owl of the new year is spotted sitting on a fence post. 
Short daylight hours mean we need to make every minute count. Titchwell is the first point of call, and before we realise it, it's already midday.
Sixty plus species later and with Red-crested Pochard, Water Pipit, Eider, Long-tailed Duck and Spotted Redshank among the birds seen the year list is off to a good start.
Brancaster Staithe is on route so another quick stop off, four more species are seen here. Grey and Ringed Plover along with Dunlin and Knot.

Brancaster Staithe

At Cley, the Richardson's Canada Goose is picked out among the other Canadian Geese and then the Sacred Ibis is spotted in a nearby field.

Sacred Ibis

Another quick stop this time at Stiffkey, and it's not long before we are watching two ringtail Hen Harriers. A male Kestrel close by and then a Sparrowhawk makes it a nice hat-trick of raptors added.
Holkham proves impossible to get near with the amount of traffic. So we pull over and scan the roadside fields. There's plenty of Pink-footed Geese on show and lesser numbers of Greylags in the same fields. 
With daylight hours rapidly falling we head over to Buckenham Marshes. On arrival, the only geese viewable are the large flock of Barnacle Geese. 
So it's back to the car and a quick drive round to Cantley. Scanning the fields from the gate, the Bean Geese (Taiga) are located in the far right-hand corner and then a flock of White-fronted Geese call noisily as they fly overhead.
The light has almost gone by now, so it's back to Buckenham for the incredible spectacle of the crow roost.
A fantastic sight and sound of tens of thousands of Rooks and Jackdaws going to roost.
A great ending to the first birding day of the new year.