Sunday, 29 January 2017

Pine Bunting: Little Murston, Kent

Another birthday, and what better way to spend it than out birding, even more enjoyable if you can add a lifer to your list.
We headed for Little Murston in Kent, arriving at first light we parked up close to Little Murston Farm and headed off along the muddy track towards the sea wall. We joined the small group of birders already present along Saxon Shore Way. The Pine Bunting had already been seen but it was very elusive and mobile. We spent the next three hours scanning all the favoured areas without any sign. By this time the small group had grown to almost seventy birders. Then a shout went up, someone had the bird in sight! It was sitting out at the top of a tree on the far edge of the field. It stayed in that tree long enough to obtain good scope views.

With a lifer in the bag we made a fifty mile detour to Crawley, hoping the Rose-coloured Starling would be on show. First reported on the 27/11/16, it had remained almost exclusively faithful to gardens along Beachy Road, Broadfield.
Almost immediately after parking up in Beachy Road the Starling was spotted perched up in an apple tree in a back garden close by. It remained for a while and then dropped down to feed in the garden, soon to reappear in the same tree or in the fir tree behind. 

Sunday, 22 January 2017

Dungeness, Scotney GP and surrounding areas

A Red-necked Grebe had been present on a small lake just outside the village of Camber from the 3rd January until the 11th, it had then disappeared until news came out that it had reappeared on the 20th. 
A trip to Dungeness today gave us the opportunity to check the lake out this morning, As we left the car the temperature was -6 and it was no surprise that most of the lake had frozen over. Just a small corner at the far end was still ice-free and almost immediately the Grebe was found happily swimming and feeding along the edge of the reeds.
A short distance from here is Scotney GP, Several scans from different vantage points failed to locate the Black-necked Grebe, but I did manage to find a Redhead Smew moving along the far bank. The only geese present on Scotney were a flock of Barnacle, so we parked up and headed for the pits behind the farm buildings trying to locate the Graylag flock and hopefully the two Bean Geese. The Greylag flock was indeed present and after a short scan, the two Bean Geese (Tundra) were also found along with several Brent and a single Pink-Footed Goose. While scanning the geese a bonus year tick came when the familiar sound of a Lapland Bunting flew overhead. It flew across the path calling several times and may have landed on the path to drink from the puddles if they had not been frozen solid.
Arc Pit had nine Great White Egrets in the roost as we drove past, but we failed to find any Black Redstarts around the power station complex.
At the reserve entrance, a large flock of Tree Sparrows were present, but there was no sign of the Ring-necked Duck on Cook's Pool due to it being almost completely frozen over.

Before leaving for home we stopped off at Hythe and after checking a few spots eventually found a single Purple Sandpiper feeding among the rocks.

Tuesday, 17 January 2017

Iceland Gull. Thetford

This mornings birding trip began at Lynford Arboretum. The light wast just beginning to improve as we left the car park with the temperature not much more than 1-2 degrees.
We headed South along the edge of the arboretum over the bridge towards the paddocks. Several scans of the area later and no Hawfinch to be seen. I began scanning the surrounding pine trees running along the Western edge of the paddocks and finally managed to locate two Hawfinch. Having reached the Southern end of the paddocks we got lucky when two Crossbill were heard calling overhead. At the second bridge we put some seed down on the pillars and soon were rewarded with close views of Nuthatch, Marsh Tit and Coal Tit. On the walk back we found a sizable flock of Siskin and several Brambling feeding on the ground.

Holkham Hall

We left Lynford and headed for an industrial estate on Burrell Way only 12 miles from Lynford  A short walk from the car park to view the gulls roosting on the Plumb Center building and almost immediately the Iceland Gull pops into view. Several times the gulls got spooked and took to the air, but would land again close by or back on the same building.

Saturday, 14 January 2017

When is a Stejneger's not a Stejneger's?

Another visit to Dungeness started with a seawatch from the beach hide. Hundreds of Black-headed Gulls were streaming through. Gannets were present in good numbers and several Guillemots were resting on the sea. The only addition to the year list was Kittiwake when 2-3 were seen heading down towards the fishing boats and another individual was found on the sea. After failing to find any Black Redstarts around the power station boundaries we headed for Kerton Road and a search for the supposed Stejneger's Stonechat. Having failed on two previous attempts to locate this very pale Stonechat, we had better luck today, when it was located along the fence line of Lade GP. A very striking bird.

We already knew that there was much debate surrounding this bird, many still having plenty of reservations even after a sample of the birds dropping's had come back from a DNA test as positive for Stejneger's. With the sample now going through a re-test, we returned home to negative news. The sample had been mixed up with a sample from the Spurn bird!
So it's a Stonechat of either rubicola or hibernans form. It won't now be making it onto the year list and plenty will be removing it from their lists in the coming days. But given this news, it was still a very striking bird and I'm still pleased to have seen it. 
Cook's Pool just inside the entrance of Dungeness Reserve failed to produce a sighting of the Ring-necked Duck (later to be located on Burrowes Pit) but did hold good numbers of Ruff, Lapwing and Golden Plovers in the surrounding fields. A Great White Egret flew into the reeds at the edge of the pool as we watched the Lapwing and Plover flock swirling above.
We ended the day at Scotney GP's and failed to find the reported Bean Geese or the Black-necked Grebe despite several lengthy searches for both. 

Monday, 9 January 2017

Sparrowhawk visits the garden

While having breakfast this morning a female Sparrowhawk suddenly appeared in the Willow tree. It stayed for 30-45 minutes allowing a few photos. I'd prefer it not to take any birds from the garden but it also has to eat to survive.

Sunday, 8 January 2017

A special morning at Wallasea Island

With the weather not looking good for Dungeness we switched plans and decide on a visit to Wallasea. As we approach the entrance track a Barn Owl is seen quartering the roadside fields. 
Having parked up in the car park we headed out and quickly picked up two Short-eared Owls in the half light. As the light began to increase a Male Merlin zipped past and landed on a grass mound, allowing close scope views. On the walk back towards the car a Green Sandpiper flew up from the water channels edge and several Corn Bunting and Skylark were found.
We took the main footpath below the sea wall and soon had stunning views of a male Hen Harrier searching for food across the marshland. It was joined by a Ringtail soon afterwards and we watched them for an hour before they dropped below the grass and out of view.
As we headed back along the footpath we got lucky when a Mealy Redpoll that had been keeping close company with four wintering Twite flew in and landed on the wire fence along with the Twite.
A tip from another birder, saw us head for the Marina and after a bit of searching found both the female Eider and the Shag frequenting the River Crouch. While scanning for these a Kingfisher flew from the bank and added another welcome year tick.
A couple of stops on the way home,  firstly at Southend-on-Sea, where we located several Med Gulls along the foreshore and a second Kingfisher of the morning, this one was fishing from the jetty.
Last stop of the morning was to Pitsea where a flock of Waxwings had been reported earlier. We arrived to find a healthy flock perched up in treetops on the central reservation. Then flying down onto trees within the Macdonald's car park.
A fantastic mornings birding!

Saturday, 7 January 2017

Waxwings and local birding

After spending the first two days of the new year in Kent and Norfolk, It was very much local birding for the next four days.
The 3rd was spent at home where a garden watch produced three additions to the year list, with a Redwing snapping up the remaining berries from the Holly along with House Sparrows and Ring-necked Parakeets regularly visiting the bird feeders.
I spent the morning of the 4th trying to locate the local Little Owls, but despite a walk around all the normal areas I failed to find them. Great-Spotted and Green Woodpeckers were seen with a pair of Mistle Thrush the only other additions.
With the weather showing signs of improving we spent the afternoon in Epping Forest, visiting a small pond that regularly holds good numbers of Mandarin Duck that have dispersed from their usual lake for the winter months. Several pairs were again on show as we approached. The surrounding woodland was alive with birds calling, and a walk deeper into the woods came up trumps with Nuthatch, Coal Tit, Treecreeper, Goldcrest, Jay all heard and seen at relatively close quarters. Walking back to the car I  heard a Firecrest singing from within a  patch of holly. I caught a glimpse of movement low down, but failed to get a clear view. I walked into the forest to scan the area from the other side and this paid off when the bird began foraging in a clearer area. The habitat has always looked perfect for Firecrest and this year I finally found one!
We dipped Waxwings in Norfolk earlier in the week and with news breaking of a flock only ten miles from home, we made the trip on the 6th. On arrival there was no sign, we drove around the surrounding roads trying to locate them. We started searching for likely areas the birds might come into feed and found just two suitable spots. We parked up and waited, and after forty five minutes three birds flew in and landed in a tree close to the berries. The three birds took flight but circled high and as they re-emerged they were joined by the rest of the flock. We watched them for over an hour happily flying back and forth from one tree to another. 

One of the flock of 23 birds counted.

Monday, 2 January 2017

Norfolk beckons

Having delayed the Norfolk trip because of heavy rain forecasts, we made the trip this morning, leaving at 5.15am. the first bird I encountered was in semi darkness when a Barn owl flew very low across the road in front of the car. 
A quick stop at Thornham added a small flock of Twite and my first Brent Geese of the new year. From here we continued our day with a seawatch from the beach at Titchwell. This produced large flocks of Common Scoter and several Velvet Scoter were among them with one individual showing extremely well relatively close in. A small flock of Long-tailed Ducks were also seen along with two Eider and several Red-breasted Merganser. The shoreline held good numbers of Sanderling and Turnstones and a Peregrine hunting, catching and releasing a Pigeon was fantastic to watch. It certainly made the freezing conditions and light rainfall much more tolerable.
Several more birds were added on the walk out and back, Water Pipit, Ringed and Grey Plover, Greenshank, Dunlin and Brambling to name a few.
We failed to locate any Bean Geese or the Red-breasted Goose among several flocks of Pink-footed Geese, but a bonus came in the shape of two Red Kites flying low over the hillside as we searched through the geese flocks.
A stop at Salthouse at first failed to find the reported flock of 50 Snow Buntings, despite walking the length of Gramborough Hill searching for them. As we headed back towards the car a juvenile Glaucous Gull dropped onto the pool at the end of Beach Road. A second Glac Gull  in two days! A couple we were standing with headed off towards Cley and as luck would have it they flushed the flock of Snow Buntings which promptly headed back towards Gramborough Hill directly over our heads.
A late dash to try to find the Wawings at Cromer proved fruitless, but a Woodcock flushed from the roadside on the way home was a very nice end to the day.

Sunday, 1 January 2017

Slow start to 2017 at Dungeness

With the weather forecasts saying Norfolk would have heavy rainfall for almost the whole of the day, we decided on a trip to Dungeness to start the new birding year. Light rain was falling on route and it would only become worse as the day progressed. 
We started the day off with a seawatch at the fishing boats, a heavy sea mist made for challenging conditions, but we still managed to find several good birds moving through. Red-throated Divers and a single Great Northern Diver headed  up towards the point with large numbers of Guillemots resting on the water along with a handful of Razorbill. Gannets were numerous and two Great Skuas close in were a real treat. Just as we were about to leave another birder drove up to us and asked if we had seen the Glaucous Gull? We hadn't, so we followed him towards the point and were soon watching the Glac out on the sea. We didn't get the birders name but we were very grateful.
A brief stop at the fish hut produced both Adult and 1st winter Caspian Gulls, but we were not so lucky locating the Stejneger's Stonechat off kerton Road. With heavy rain falling we managed to pick out the Slav Grebe on Lade GP before heading for the car.
As we headed through the reserve gate we quickly found a small flock of Tree Sparrows in bushes near the farm house and the drake Ring-necked Duck was still present on Cook's pool.
Heavy rain was still falling as we made our way towards the dipping pond hoping to connect with the Long-eared owl. We wasn't disappointed as it was awake and showing extremely well. At the Arc pit we managed a single Goosander and two female Goldeneye, but I somehow managed to miss the redhead Smew that was present on Burrowes Pit!
Heavy rain and freezing conditions made it hard work throughout the day, but we still managed to see some good birds nonetheless.