Sunday 24 February 2013

Black-bellied Dipper & Otters at Thetford

After a marathon 500+ mile day trip to Somerset and Devon yesterday, today was going to be a rest day. But after Robert is told about Otters being seen on the river at Thetford and the fact that he had never seen an Otter in the wild, he is very keen to make the trip today.
So after collecting him at 6.30am this morning, we set off towards Thetford. On route we get views of a Barn Owl perched on a roadside post. 5-6 Buzzards are also seen along with two Muntjac Deers close to the road and a Hare is also seen.

On arrival at the site we meet a guy who asks us if we are down for the dipper. When we reply that we are there more for the Otters today, he tells us that he has just got some information as to where they may be.
So we head off along the footpath in his company and soon find a birder with bins trained on a channel a short distance away.


The channel looks empty at first, but then there are ripples in the water and two Otters appear. They seem to  be playing, as they twist and turn in the water. 
The light is very poor and photo taking is not going to be high on the agenda for me. Robert can't believe he's  actually watching Otters right in front of him.
As we watch the Otters a Kingfisher drops in and lands on a nearby branch. A very welcome bonus year tick. 
One of the Otters emerges from the channel and proceeds to swim upstream. We follow as it swims all the way  upstream and under the bridge and back down the other channel.
We lose sight of it as it moves into the riverside vegetation, so we head back towards our starting point only to spot the second Otter coming upstream. It swims past us no more than 4-5 feet away and proceeds to take exactly the same route as the other Otter had done.
It reaches the bridge and as Robert is standing bankside it swims over and half emerges from the water to within two feet of him.
A fantastic sight for all of us, but especially for Robert being his first sightings of wild Otters.

It would be rude not to see if the Black-bellied Dipper was showing, so with that in mind we head across the bridges and  spot it straight away in the far channel.

Again the light is terrible but a few photos are taken before it flies into the first channel and then moves further away and flies up the nearby channel and under the bridge.

A morning Otter watching with an added bonus of a Black-bellied Dipper and a Kingfisher thrown in. 

A superb weekend.

Pied-billed Grebe, Somerset & Devon day trip

Leaving Loughton at 5am this morning, with RSPB reserve Ham Wall in Somerset the destination. A 179-mile drive ahead of us.
Two and a half hours after leaving Loughton, we are pulling into the car park at Ashcott Corner. 
Last year we headed West from the car park to view the two Long-billed Dowitchers that were present. Today we turn East and cross the road and make our way along the track heading towards the second viewing platform.
On the walk, down two Great White Egrets and a  Marsh Harrier are seen and a Water Rail is heard. Reaching the viewing platform a small group of birders are already present and after a short scan of the lake, the Pied-billed Grebe is quickly found. It's distant but we get good views through the scope.
Present since the 15th February it seems to be feeding well, and while watching the grebe it catches what looks like a Roach and after a bit of a struggle, it manages to swallow its catch.
With plans in place, we don't really have time to look for the Temminck's Stint at Steart, but Brian gives it go as we are not too far from the site. Soon after arriving we quickly decide that it is going to take too much time out of the day to find the stint.
At this point dad thinks Brian is heading for home, But Brian has other ideas and is heading further from home.
He's heading for Devon, with four more target birds on the list. First up is an American Wigeon at Dart Farm Fishing Lakes at Topsham. As we pull into the car park dad and Brian head to the reserve centre to get the latest information. As I wait in the car the Wigeon comes up on the pager.
A quick drive down the track to the small car park, a short walk around a small lake and we are at the viewing screen. A flock of around 100 Wigeon are feeding on the short grass, and among them is the American Wigeon. 
A 1st winter Rose-coloured Starling has been present around Milbury Lane in Exminster for the best part of three months. So with it being only five miles away, it's our next target.
A couple of drives along Milbury lane and the surrounding roads doesn't produce any sightings of the bird, so we decide to park the car, split up and go in search of it. 10-15 minutes later Brian rings to say he's found the bird. A quick run up to the top of Milbury Lane, a walk through an alleyway and we join Brian in the church cemetery. The bird is perched near the top of a lone tree behind the cemetery. We grabbed some good views of the bird before it flew from the tree. With other target birds still to try for and time not on our side, we left the other three birders to try to relocate it.

We are now some fifty miles from Ernesettle Creek, the location of a Lesser Yellowlegs. Upon arrival, we Park along Lakeside Drive and head down the hill towards the creek. Plenty of Redshanks are present along with 3-4 Spotted Redshanks, Curlew, Dunlin and a single Greenshank.
With no sign of the Lesser Yellowlegs, we again decide to split up and each take a section of the creek to scan. Ten minutes of searching with no luck, Brian rings to say he's got the bird at the far eastern end of the creek. A dash along the footpath letting dad know on the way and we join Brian on the foreshore to get some good scope views of the bird.

Cirl Bunting

Leaving just time for one more stop. We head for Broadsands and hope to see Cirl Buntings. It's a bird I've wanted to see for quite a while. Having only ever been to Devon once before, and that with the local football team on tour.
We arrive at the pay and display car park and make our way through to the unused second car park. A birder is standing at the far end with bins trained on a small flock of birds.

As we approach closer we can see they are Cirl Buntings. The next half an hour is spent watching 20+ of these delightful birds as they drop down from the trees to feed on the scattered seed put out by local birders.
With four lifers and five year ticks added today it's just the 250 miles left ahead of us before we reach home.
A fantastic days birding, thanks to Brian without whom it just would not have happened or been possible. 

Sunday 17 February 2013

Black-bellied Dipper, Thetford Norfolk

Awake early again this morning, I check the phone to find no messages. So I decide to visit Lee Valley at first light.
But the plans are put on hold when just as I'm about to leave the house the phone indicates a text message. It's Brian and he's leaving for Thetford in five minutes, Do I want to go? He already knows the answer.
Shortly before 8.30 we are parked in the car park just off Nun's Bridge's Road. From here it's a short walk across the first bridge, over the second bridge and turn left.

The dipper is spotted as soon as we scan the stream. It's constantly searching for food in the small stream. The water is so clear in places that we can even watch it seeking out food under the water. It's a stunning bird and doesn't seem a bit bothered by all the attention it is receiving.
It was first seen feeding near the small bridge that we walked across and continued feeding and working it's way along the stream. Never moving out of this small stretch of water the whole time we were there.

Hearing of two Otters being seen on a fairly regular basis near this area managed to drag us away from the Dipper, but with time not on our side we failed to find them this time and headed for the car. 

With the weather looking perfect for Goshawk this morning, we stopped off on the way home at a well known site and headed along the track towards the viewing area.
Woodlark was added to the year list when two birds were heard singing. Reaching the far end of the track the resident Red-tailed Hawk was spotted perched in a tree not far from us. Scopes were quickly trained on the bird and as it stretched it's wings the red tail was on full view.
Upon reaching the viewing area there were already four birders present and we were quickly joined by another three who had followed us up the track.
Thirty minutes and no sign of any Goshawks, not even a Sparrowhawk is seen. A single Crossbill calling from the trees behind us adds another year tick and shortly afterwards a small flock are found feeding in a birch tree some distance away.
Just as I am watching the Crossbills fly from the tree, the calls goes up "Gos". With Brian's directions I'm quickly on it with the bins, and I manage to pick it up again in the scope. it flies left and then circles back round giving stunning views as it glides across the sky.
With a couple of flaps of it's wings it heads lower and disappears below the tree line and out of sight. Within ten minutes another Goshawk or possibly the same bird is back in the air. With no heat haze for once the bird is giving fantastic views. It's joined in the air by a Sparrowhawk for a good comparison. 

Black-bellied Dipper, Goshawk, Crossbills and Woodlark.

Not a bad morning's birding. 

Saturday 16 February 2013

Penduline Tit, Stodmarsh

Another early start this morning and first stop is Stodmarsh NNR hoping to get a view of the Penduline Tit that has been present in the area since the 6th. We arrive just after first light and make our way along the boardwalk and find two birders already present. As luck would have it they are watching the bird as we approach. It's sitting at the top of a nearby tree and soon drops drop onto the reedmace heads.
It remains in view for 15-20 minutes and then flies off round the back of the tree. It's re-found near the other end of the boardwalk, and seen a couple of times either from the bridge or along the return trail path before it flies off again.
It's not seen again for 30-40 minutes, then I spot it back at the top of the tree where it was first seen when  we arrived this  morning.
Again it drops down onto the reedmace and I manage to grab a record shot.

From here it's a quick visit to Oare Marshes. The usual species are seen here, Teal, Wigeon, Lapwing, Snipe  and plenty of Pintail are also present. There's no sign of the redhead Smew that was seen on our previous visit here.
From here we make a stop off at Cliffe Pools. Wigeon are present in large numbers and Goldeneye, Pintail and Pochard are also seen in good figures.
A walk along the path and a scan across Flamingo Pool produces a Greenshank tucked in along the back edges. 

Last stop of the day is to Littlebrook Lake for the Slavonian Grebe that's been present on this tiny piece of water since the 19th January.  It's on the way home and it's well overdue a visit.
We park up and walk the short distance to the Lake and find the bird tucked in under a tree. It dives and resurfaces right at the other end of the lake.
There's some fishermen present and even when they use a remote controlled bait boat the bird isn't bothered by it.

The light never really improved until we were on our way home, when the sun tried to break through the clouds. A couple of year ticks added today with Penduline Tit and Greenshank. With superb views of the Slavonian Grebe a real bonus.

Sunday 10 February 2013

Rough-Legged Buzzard, Norfolk birding trip

Met Brian at 6.30 this morning undecided on where to spend the day birding. A few birds and sites were mentioned the night before, Leach's Storm Petrel at Brogborough Lake being high on the list. But with the forecast saying mist and fog for much of the morning  in Bedfordshire, we decide to head for Norfolk. A wise move as it turns out as the Petrel hadn't stayed overnight.

The trip started on a high when we spot a group of swans in a field at Hale Fen. A quick scan reveals that they are all Whoopers. 
The drive along the A10 produces a Barn Owl, in exactly the same area as the bird seen on the 1st January. It's perched on a fence post right by the roadside.
On to Wolferton and after a couple of drives round the triangle two male Golden Pheasants are seen feeding on the grass verge. A passing car pushes them back into the vegetation and out of sight.
A short wait and a single male bird reappears and starts to feed again. 

Not a bad start to the day, Thirty Whooper Swans a stunning Barn Owl and two male Golden Pheasants and it's only 8.30am.

On to Holme Dunes hoping for a sighting of the two Shore Larks reported the previous day. Skylarks are everywhere here, and with the sun breaking through the clouds and the Skylarks in display flights all around us it's turning into a cracking morning. 
No sign of the Shore Larks or any Snow Bunting. A flock of twenty plus Linnet are seen and five Twite seen feeding near the edge of a small pool of water is a welcome addition to the year list. There's also a single Knot seen feeding here. Along with plenty of Black-headed Gulls.

On the walk back towards the car I take the lower path and wait for dad and Brian to come over the ridge. No sign of them so over the ridge I go to find them. Big mistake as after walking round the dunes Brian shouts out to me "Short-eared Owl". If I had stayed where I was I would of had cracking views of it. But it's dropped down out of sight before I reach them.

Black-headed Gull

Time for a coffee and a bite to eat, so it's off to Titchwell. At the feeders by the reserve centre there's plenty of activity, with double figures of Brambling and two Water Rails on show.
Heading up along the path a Bittern flies up from the reeds close by and gives stunning views before it drops back down a short distance away and out of sight.
Having been told about a Long-tailed Duck on one of the pools showing well, we reach the spot only to be told it's flown towards the sea.
At the beach there's plenty of birds on show. Sanderling, Turnstone, Oystercatcher, and numerous gulls are feeding along the shoreline. On the sea Goldeneye are present in good numbers along with a few Eider and Red-breasted Mergansers and the Long-tailed Duck is also found. Brian spots a diver close in among a group of gulls, and it's another year tick when it's confirmed as a Black-throated Diver.
The walk back produces a Spotted Redshank feeding close by and several Snipe and Ruff are feeding on the pools.

On the drive toward Salthouse we stop off at Burnham Overy. I'm scanning the trees to the East, when Brian calls "Rough-Legged". I manage to swing the scope round and get on it surprising quickly for once. Once on the bird it gives cracking views as it circles round in the clear blue skies, and I manage to stay on it for at least fifteen minutes before it flies low and away and out of view.
Most of the people present managed to get views of it after Brian had pointed them in the right direction.  Three Red Kites in the air together and two Marsh harriers quartering the fields were an added bonus.

Last stop is to Salthouse hoping to see some Snow Bunting. Arriving at the car park we find twelve birds feeding a short distance away. A dog walker puts them up and they land on the shingle ridge before flying down onto the small grass bank in the car park. A quick coffee from the van in the car park while being entertained by  forty plus Turnstones feeding among the shingle.

Snow Bunting

On the way home we drop in at Sculthorpe Moor. It''s too late to take a walk round as the reserve is closing but we get some info for the next trip.
A Barn owl flying across the road in front of us and into the nearby field is a nice end to a great days birding.

Sunday 3 February 2013

Great Grey Shrike, Therfield Heath

Undecided this morning on what to do and where to go.
At 8.30 it's decision time. So having done a bit of research on the location of the shrike at Therfield Heath and it only being thirty-seven miles from home, and having dipped it on the first attempt we decide to make another trip for it.
A couple of texts to Brian without response means it's just the two of us today.
Having had a couple of replies on the forums, we decide not to park along Mill lane but to take Briary Lane and park outside the pumping station.
Heading down the track we meet a dog walker who asks what we are looking for. Telling him it's a shrike and the size and colours of the bird. Shortly afterwards he thinks he has seen something similar fly from a nearby tree. But neither of us had got on it to confirm this.
We head further down the track and meet a birder from Ipswich. He's come in from Mill Lane and so far had no luck locating a shrike.
He does have some info about looking towards an old barn. The barn is quickly seen and a quick scan of the hedgerow to the left with his bins and BINGO! he's on the bird.
The winds are fierce and straight into our faces, making the eyes water and the scope shake. Not ideal for us but it has helped in locating the bird as it is taking shelter from the wind on our side of the hedge.
We decide to do the same and make our way to the back of the nearby hedges and use it as a windbreak.
A wise move as much better views are had of the shrike. The shrike gives excellent and prolonged views for the next twenty minutes or so. Then it takes flight and heads up along the next hedgerow and out of view.

From behind us, a Common Buzzard flies low across the field and lands in a nearby tree.
A second Buzzard is found perched on top of the hedgerow that the shrike had just flown towards.
Shortly afterwards the shrike is re-located in a distant tree, tucked in halfway up and out of the winds.
On the walk back we meet a nice couple who tell us they had just seen a shrike from the location that the dog walker thought he had seen it earlier. 
A short search of the area but no sign of the shrike this time.
We decide to do the same as the shrike and shelter from the winds and head for the car and home.

Saturday 2 February 2013

Barn Owl, Lee Valley

A dawn visit on the patch and a start at Cornmill Meadows.
The first sounds I hear are of Wigeon, and a quick scan reveals a flock of forty-three birds.
On the opposite side of the river, there's three Fallow Deer feeding on the short grass outside the office building. A brief look-up when they spot me, and then it's back to the grass.

As I approach the cattle gate a Barn Owl flies low across the meadows up over the fence posts and heads across the river and through the trees. It soon reappears and begins hunting the meadows. A fantastic sight and a bit of a surprise as I had not seen it since October of last year.

On the flooded pools and channels there's Teal, Shoveler, Wigeon, Tufted Duck and Great Crested Grebe. There's 100+ Lapwing along the water edges and four Snipe are found either feeding or sleeping amongst them.
A good start this morning for patch ticks and before heading for Hooks Marsh car park I add Greenfinch and Lesser Redpoll.
Several stops and scans of Hooks Marsh doesn't produce any Smew Sightings and it's a similar outcome at Friday Lake.
A look over the field opposite Hall Marsh Scrape produces a single Fieldfare, another patch year tick.
At Bowyer's Lake, several scans and still no sign of any Smew. A male Goldeneye appears from behind one of the islands and then, at last, a Redhead Smew pops up in the scope.
At the farms, there's no sign of any Little Owls, but a Common Buzzard circles over the trees of Galley Hill Woods and a second bird is seen flying low along the hedge line being mobbed by crows.
I'm still missing a few birds that I would normally expect to have on the patch list by this time, but I'm more than pleased with the Barn Owl sighting and with finally catching up with the Smew.