Tuesday 29 January 2019

Cattle Egrets, Hertfordshire

A short trip this morning to Amwell Nature reserve, but we failed to connect with the Yellow-browed Warbler. Three birders were already present when we arrived but there had been no sign of the bird. During our search, there were feeding parties of Blue, Great, Coal and Long-tailed Tits regularly coming down to the feeders but the Yellow-browed failed to show among them.
Much of Great Hardmead Lake was still frozen over, the wildfowl, therefore, was concentrated along the far edges. We found Goldeneye and Goosander among the commoner ducks and Brian located a female Red-crested Pochard. 

On the way home, we visited Penton Drive Open Space hoping the two Cattle Egrets were still present. Both were spotted before we reached the gate! Still happily feeding close to the play area.

Sunday 27 January 2019

Cliffe Pools revisited for Red-necked Grebe

Having tried and failed to locate the Red-necked Grebe at Cliffe Pools on the 8th January, in what was very challenging conditions we decided to pay another visit this morning.
Picking Brian up at 7.30am we arrived at Cliffe an hour later. However, with the gates to the car park still locked we tried an alternative route. Following the public footpath, we eventually arrived at the Southern end of Alpha pool. The weather conditions were much calmer today and the early morning rain on route had now disappeared. A sizable flock of pochard was hugging the Western edge of the pool and after several scans, through them, the Red-necked Grebe was located. Also found among this flock was a superb looking Black-necked Grebe. Another scan of the water produced a group of three Black-necked Grebes. On the return walk, I finally managed to add Sparrowhawk to the year list when Brian spotted one overhead.

With no news of the Bonaparte's Gull at Erith, we decided to pay another visit to New Hythe GPs for the Ring-necked Duck as Brian still needed it for a year tick. Today we parked just off New Hythe Lane and took the footpath through the Country Park. This proved to be a much shorter walk than parking at Leybourne CP, as we had done on the previous visit. Arriving at Abbeymeads Lake the Ring-necked Duck could not be found at the Southern end of the lake. Brian headed off towards the Northern end and soon located the duck among a group of Tufted Duck, Gadwall and Coots.

Ring-necked Duck among Tufted Duck, Gadwall and Coots

Just the two additions to the year list today, but it was another enjoyable morning's birding.

Saturday 19 January 2019

Holkham, Shore Larks and Snow Buntings

With the holiday crowds out in full force at Holkham on New Year's Day, we decided to avoid the area thinking there would be too much disturbance for the birds to settle.
This morning we again headed for Holkham and instead of the masses of New Year's Day, there were only four other cars parked up along Lady Anne's Drive when we arrived at 8am. After feeding the parking meter we headed off along the boardwalk and out onto the beach. 

Looking from the boardwalk towards Holkham Gap

A section of the beach East of Holkham Gap had been roped off and this is where our target birds had been feeding. As we neared the area the Shore Larks were spotted busily feeding amongst the salt marsh. A quick scan with the scope revealed twenty-seven birds. The other target bird here was Snow Bunting and they were quickly located at the far end of this enclosed area. At first, there was a small party of fifteen birds, later the flock would grow to fifty! 

Shore Lark

Snow Bunting

With an eye on the time, we headed for the car park but were distracted by movement within the Buckthorn. A Stonechat appeared close by, but sudden movement behind the Stonechat revealed a Dartford Warbler! Although not needed for the year it was, however, a nice addition to my Norfolk list. I scanned every goose in every field on the way back to the car park. In the fields East of Lady Anne's Drive there were thousands of Pink-footed Geese and a large flock of Brent Geese dropped in, but no amount of scanning could produce any White-fronted Geese.

At Cley, a Glaucous Gull had been feeding on a dead seal carcass for the previous two days and when news broke of its presence again today we decided to head for Cley. There was mixed news on arrival. The Glauc had been disturbed from the carcass and had flown to the far end of the beach near East Bank. A lengthy walk on shingle followed, but it proved rewarding when the Glauc was spotted resting on the sea. It began drifting back towards Cley Coastguards but suddenly flew onto the beach only a few metres from where we were stood.

Sheringham was less than ten miles along the coast, so we went in search of Purple Sandpipers. The incoming tide had already begun covering the favoured rocks but Brian found a single bird feeding among the rocks close to the promenade.

Purple Sandpiper

Still needing White-fronted Goose for a year tick, we headed back to Holkham and scanned the fields around Holkham Freshmarsh. Some likely candidates were seen through the bins, but the scope was needed to confirm that they were indeed White-fronted Geese.

As we were leaving for home news broke of a Rough-legged Buzzard present at Choseley. Another ten-mile detour and we were scanning the ploughed fields South of the Pig field. A male Marsh Harrier and Several Common Buzzards were seen including a very pale bird. Another Buzzard was picked out and this was the Rough-legged buzzard. We watched it in flight through the scope allowing for some superb views. It then landed on the grass verge at the top of the road before returning to the field and resting upon the hedge bordering the two fields.

A stunning bird and a fitting end to a great days birding.

Monday 14 January 2019

Green Sandpipers at Lemsford Springs, Hertfordshire

A brief late morning visit to Lemsford Springs today. After getting the key and entering the gate we headed along the path and entered the first hide, picking out a Green Sandpiper immediately. There were several Little Egrets feeding among the watercress beds and another scan revealed three more Green Sandpipers. A Grey Wagtail called overhead and dropped in close by. Walking on towards the second hide we stopped for a brief chat with the warden Barry Trevis. 
Four more Green Sandpipers were seen from the second hide, but it was relatively quiet with no Snipe present,  probably due to the weather being relatively mild for this time of year. When other water sources freeze over these Watercress beds remain ice-free. We took the short circular route back to the car, stopping at the bridge to add another year tick in the form of a Red Kite.

Green Sandpiper

Tuesday 8 January 2019

Hit and miss at Cliffe Pools, Kent

A relatively short trip (44 miles) today to Cliffe Pools. All three of the rarer Grebes had been reported intermittently throughout the previous week on Alpha Pools.
We took the footpath alongside the Conoco Pools and spotted our first Avocets of the new year. Another scan of the water's edge added two Common Sandpipers busily feeding among the hundreds of lapwing. Eventually, we found our way to Alpha Pools. Scanning the pools proved very challenging, with a severe headwind buffeting my glasses against the scope eye-piece and the water surface was proving just as challenging with the winds sweeping across straight off the Thames. Little and Great Crested Grebs were abundant but we did manage to find three Black-necked Grebes among them. I had a very brief view of the Slavonian Grebe but failed to relocate it. The Red-necked Grebe proved the most frustrating. I thought I had the bird in the scope, only for it to dive almost immediately and I failed to re-find it among the very choppy water. So the Red-necked won't make it onto the year list!

It was a short drive from here to Northward Hill another RSPB reserve. This site proved very quiet and the only bird seen of note was a male Marsh Harrier.

We decided to cut the visit short and head for Leybourne Lakes CP. A Ring-necked Duck had been present on Abbey Meads Pit. We parked in the pay & display car park and were pleasantly surprised to find that it was only £1.20 for a four-hour stay. Abbey Meads Pit was the furthest Pit from the car park

We followed the main path and eventually arrived at a railway crossing. A quick step over the wooden stile and we were standing by the Southern edge of Abbey Meads Pit. There were numerous Tufted Ducks at the Southern end of the Pit and luckily the Ring-necked Duck was found amongst them.

A decent days birding, the very strong winds whipping across the Thames didn't help to locate the Red-necked Grebe at Cliffe but other than that an enjoyable day.

Saturday 5 January 2019

Lynford Arboretum produces the birds

This morning we spent a very rewarding few hours at Lynford Arboretum.  It was a dull and overcast morning but at least it was dry.
We headed for the feeding station and were immediately rewarded with views of several Brambling. They were foraging amongst the leaf litter and at one point numbered over fifty.  Treecreeper, Nuthatch, Chaffinch, and Coal Tit were all seen from here before we moved on towards the "paddock". A stop at the bridge was rewarded with excellent views of Marsh and Coal Tit along with a large flock of Siskins, noisily feeding in the treetops above us. Common Crossbills could be heard calling and shortly afterward seven flew directly overhead. Several scans of the paddock area finally produced a single Hawfinch.

We returned to the feeding station, having seen several Goldcrests on the way. More seed had been scattered on the ground at the feeding station and this had attracted plenty of birds. A Lesser Redpoll dropped in briefly to drink from the drinking pool and a Hawfinch perched on overhanging branches allowing superb close views. At the entrance, three more Crossbills flew overhead, then landed in the tops of the tall pines revealing a male and two females.

Leaving Lynford we made a brief stop at Santon Downham and quickly spotted a Kingfisher along the Little Ouse River.

A short detour on the way home allowed us to visit Eagle Pond in Snaresbrook. A Caspian Gull has quite often been seen here and today was no exception. The bird was even spotted before we had left the car. The Caspian Gull took flight when a woman arrived and threw a lot of bread down for the Pigeons but it returned shortly afterward and gave great flight views before it settled back down on the water.

Friday 4 January 2019

Dungeness Cattle Egrets and Capel Fleet Raptors.

We decided to start the day with a sea-watch at Dungeness. Arriving at first light, we headed for the fishing boats. Large numbers of Guillemots were resting on the sea and instead of long-range dots flying rapidly past at distance these were all relatively close to the shoreline. Several Razorbills were also seen at close range. Gannets and Cormorants had located a shoal of fish and were busily gorging themselves. Small groups of Red-throated Divers were seen flying through at mid-range and one individual dropped onto the sea close to a sea fisherman along the shoreline.
The local birders arrived armed with bread, but even that wasn't enough to tempt a Caspian Gull to join the feeding parties of Gulls. Two Skylarks flew up from the short grass near the pylons and three Stock Doves added to the year ticks.

Sea-watch from the fishing boats at first light

We moved on in search of Black Redstarts and managed to locate one on the concrete wall of the power Station behind the sea-watching hide.
A single Great White Egret was seen among the reeds on Arc Pit and several Tree Sparrows were seen around the entrance to the reserve. 
Heading towards Galloways, we located four Cattle Egrets feeding together in a sheep field further along the road.

One of the four Cattle Egrets

At Galloways we found several Stonechats among the Gorse but more of a surprise was the sighting of a Dartford warbler.

On the journey home, we visited Capel Fleet and found a large flock of Fieldfare feeding in the stubble fields and a single Redwing perched in a roadside tree.
At the viewpoint, a female Merlin was resting on a small mound of mud in the middle of a field. Marsh Harriers were gathering before going to roost and a single ringtail Hen Harrier was seen. A Barn Owl was hunting the distant fields allowing good scope views. Flocks of Golden Plover and Lapwings circled the fields, the reason for the panic became apparent when a Peregrine was found perched on a fence post close by.
As we headed back along Harty Ferry Road a Short-eared Owl appeared and began hunting the field bordering the roadside. 

A fantastic ending  to a great days birding!

Wednesday 2 January 2019

A new birding year begins in Norfolk

The excitement of a brand new birding year is upon us once again. Year listing where every bird species however common and widespread has added importance has always been something we choose to do. It motivates us to get out of the house and visit places we would never have visited if it had not been for birding. 

This year's birding was to start with another visit to Norfolk. Shortly before heading along the A11 towards Norfolk we pulled into a layby within Epping Forest and quickly heard a male tawny owl. Another brief stop to refuel the car and One hundred and twenty miles later we arrive in Norfolk, having added a barn owl in Runton on route. First, stop this morning is Hunstanton Cliffs, a brief scan locates the Fulmars we were hoping for. A short drive from here is Thornham Harbour and it's our next destination. The target bird here is Twite, At first, there's no sign however several species of duck, geese, and wader keep us entertained. Soon a small flock of Twite fly in and settle within the vegetation. 

Titchwell is the country's number one bird reserve and even on quiet days, there's normally plenty to see. The car park was filling up quickly as we arrived and the excitement of a new birding year was very obvious. Several good birds were added during our visit. A large female Peregrine hunting over the Freshwater Marsh was a highlight. A sea watch from the beach added several good birds with Long-tailed Duck, Slavonian Grebe, Eider, Goldeneye, Scoter, Sanderling, Black-tailed, and Bar-tailed Godwits

Unfortunately, at this time of year, the days are short for birding and we left Titchwell and headed for Choseley. The Corn Buntings that were once almost guaranteed here seem to have disappeared completely, however, there are still good numbers of yellowhammers present. Red-legged partridge was also added from here along with several Mistle thrush.

We were planning on a visit to Holkham Gap for the Shorelarks and Snow Buntings, but the holiday crowds were out in force and the chances of connecting with these species seemed slim at best, so we decided to pay another visit to North Walsham for the Black-bellied Dipper. Upon arrival, the dipper had not been seen for a couple of hours, with time short we decided to move on to Ludham Airfield in search of Swans. Following directions to the airfield, we found ourselves at the other end of the stream and as luck would have it, the dipper had re-located to this end of the stream!

Black-bellied Dipper

Ludham Airfield is a short drive from North Walsham and we connected with the Bewick and Whooper Swans after a short drive along the bordering roads.

With daylight quickly fading we decided on a quick dash to Long Stratton, hoping to connect with Waxwings again. Upon arrival, we spotted the five birds perched in a roadside tree within the Police Station car park. 

The first day of a new birding year is always hectic but also great fun.
I ended the day with 87 species.

A final days birding of 2018

A Black-bellied Dipper had been frequenting a stream formerly used to provide water to an old water mill at North Walsham in Norfolk. The only other time I had seen this North European nominate race was also in Norfolk, on that occasion it was a very confiding individual at Thetford. We arrived at first light to find three birders already present. As I looked downstream from the bridge the Dipper was seen immediately. At first, it remained partially hidden by the streamside vegetation but soon it became more active and began searching for food within the middle of the stream. Caddisfly Larvae seemed to be the more numerous food source.

On the return journey home, we took a short detour into Norwich and after a brief drive around a housing estate soon located the four Waxwings at Walpole Gardens off Walpole Street. Waxwings are among my favourite birds and I never pass up an opportunity to see them. The day had been grey and overcast throughout but watching Waxwings brightens up any day.