Tuesday 28 February 2012

Snow Buntings!

We had a group of Snow Buntings bombing past most of the day. Initially they showed distantly and seemed to be the same 74 from yesterday but as we packed up late on about 120 birds were performing immediately infront of us. A bit dark but still some reasonable record shots.

This was preceded by a bit of drama, largely of my own making. The battery of the hire car went flat due to the radio being on most of the morning. I redeemed myself with a proper bit of man-ness. A reverse bumpstart down a single track sand road between a lagoon and the sea. Real adrenalin rush - especially when the engine fired and I wasnt in the lagoon. To improve things we had a drag up to Titchwell cafe for our lunch. Which was closed. Bummer! To cheer me up was one of the ridiculously tame Robins.

Monday 27 February 2012

Snobs, Lulu and no GPs

Im staying in Dersingham, West Norfolk as I am working down the road in Snettisham. Just finished my first day today and there were massive numbers of waders at high tide - much more than last year. A couple of Black-tailed Godwit, Avocet and a decent wedge of Pintail were the highlights on the survey although far more like it were the 74 Snow Buntings that gave us a flyby a couple of times. And that was todays survey - plenty of common. Yesterday we tried for the Golden Pheasants at Wolferton (and twice today) but failed. Now up to 15 dips for that particular species. Arse. We did have a wander on Dersingham common after we packed up today and birds were singing all over. Woodlarks were very much in evidence with three singing birds and a small group of Crossbills darted over. Crests calling all over but only Goldcrests seen. Must try harder! Plenty of Hares and Muntjacs in the woods and fields as we traversed the local area.

Village Little Egret
 Yesterday at home I had an hour walking in the village and a Little Egret was still in the stream (saw 3 the day before - I wonder if the GWE is knocking about here as well). A Kingfisher provided a brief spark of ultramarine but disappeared quickly. Lots of birds were singing but it was the Hares that were the chief interest with several chasing round the fields and boxing.

The last couple of days in Essex were steady with the same species recorded. The best bits were a Least Weasel hunting the scrub in the track margins as we crossed the reserve and a Wood Mouse that Jon trapped. Peregrines and Spotted Redshanks were regularly in evidence and Brents topped out at over 1400 birds but no RB Goose or Black Brant sadly.

Sun came out in Essex and the grebes started displaying
Wood Mouse looking happy with his cheese
Oh - forgot, I also saw my old friend Y20, a Black-headed Gull at Hornsea Mere when dipping the white-wingers. Still cant find out where he is from.

Nearly sum plum

Tuesday 21 February 2012

North Essex Marshes

Over the last couple of days I have been working on the North Essex Marshes. Yesterday was a little frustrating with both work and birds. I didnt get to start my survey until today but this gave me the opportunity to check out a few places.

Old Hall Marshes held over 1200 Dark-bellied Brents and plenty of common wildfowl but not the hoped for Red-breasted Goose. We wander over to the Layer Breton causeway at Abberton Reservoir and see lots of not very much. A few Goosander and plenty of Cormorants but far too much feral yuck hides the prizes. We were also oblivious to the Great Grey Shrike a couple of miles up the road. We decided to hit up Tollesbury marina for a spot of luncheon and whilst stretching our legs on the sea wall a very large falcon ambles high over the marsh flushing everything to the horizon. Naturally we assume it is a Peregrine but something doesnt feel right about the shape. Thankfully the bird does the decent thing and gives a close and extended fly-by revealing a brown colour. Suddenly my mind raced back to the autumn and a string of Saker Falcon sightings in the local area. I look at the bird and see the dark brown trousers, kestrel like back pattern with brown on the mantle with the wing tips dipped in black. The crown was dark showing the bird to be immature and it had a very thin moustachial stripe. Gorge. The underparts were dirty brown and the bird was a overall pretty drab. No jesses, rings or trackers evident but no obvious sign of hybrid origin. I guess we will never know. No photos as I wasnt even birding!

Today was awesome. It was sunny and it was still (at least at first). As we entered the reserve we saw thousands of ducks and geese. Lovely. A Sparrowhawk was over the entrance and we soon had Marsh Harriers dotting all over. 5 in total. Plenty of Pintail on the marsh. Strangely a Jay sqwaked its way through a hedgerow. A belated year tick. 800 Brents bombed about including a single Pale-bellied Brent. Very tidy. It was largely the birds of prey that provided the highlights despite the numbers of wildfowl. A Merlin passed by close mid morning and a ringtail Hen Harrier was seen at distance evading 3 birders gaze despite passing extremely close by. Then ping-ping. A single Mandarin 'tached Bearded Tit was in the small stand of reeds infront of us. My colleague didnt get on it (despite it passing by 5 times during the day) but as he looked for it he found a showy (female? uncalling) Cetti's Warbler that sat in the morning sun for fully five minutes. I havent had such extended, easy views before but didnt go for the scope until too late as I just expected it to dive off. A couple of distant presumed Peregrines were dogfighting distantly toward Mersea Island. Later in the day a single bird cruised overhead giving better views but by this time the wind had got up and the clouds had arrived. Late in the afternoon a rash of Spotted Redshanks arrived with at least three birds being present. Not a bad day all said.


Saturday 18 February 2012

4th Birthday

Apologies for the lack of posts recently but I have been at sea on and off for the last ten days or so. During this time I have made the annual missing of Ornithological Idiocy's birthday come true. This year we turn 4. I cant believe I am still churning this bollocks out after 4 years but I love going back through it so it will continue.
Deck of a boat
In actual birding news I managed to visit the Hebrides and still not see an Iceland Gull although I did stumble upon a Buzzard and a Raven mobbing a couple of juvenile White-tailed Eagles just east of Oban. At the time I was driving and I took it to be a couple of crows mobbing Buzzards. Thankfully I snapped out of it but it was over a copse. Very odd. Raven and the eagles were year ticks although I hope to get much better views of the eagles soon. Additional (and expected) year ticks came in the shape of Hooded Crow and Black Guillemot. Very nice. On survey was terrible. 10 species in two days (3 auks, 4 gulls, Gannet, Fulmar and erm... something else crap). Razorbill and Puffin were year ticks! Can tell I hadnt been to sea in January. Common Scoters were seen on transit and were also a year tick. A couple of Grey Seals and a good number of Harbour Porpoise were good value but neither was as funny as my survey leader puking his brain out in a 3m swell. Poor fella was annihilated and humour was eventually (grudgingly) replaced with sympathy. And that was the best bits although a 6'4 women who looked like late-era Michael Jackson at the Highland Cattle meeting in an Oban hotel bar was very funny. Even weirder was her 6'6 mother towering over her. I felt small.

This week I have been largely in the North Sea somewhere. Less in the way of year ticks (Little Gull) but certainly a little more variety. Not gonna say too much really aside from a Greenshank was a surprise and a couple of Common Seals  were decent. So 4 years old!

Wednesday 8 February 2012

Icy Webs

I have spent the last couple of days undertaking WeBS counts on the middle Humber. This area is pretty quiet normally but the cold weather and ice cover has led to a ten-fold increase in wader & wildfowl numbers plus the odd surprise.

Yesterday I was working on the south bank and hundreds of Dunlin were supplemented with plenty of Turnstone, Redshank, Lapwing and Curlew with the Grey Plover. A lot of Mute Swans were associating with a healthy dose of Teal and Mallard. In the trees behind the bank all five species of thrush were in evidence plus finches were in good order with a small flock of Lesser Redpoll the highlight. So far, so mundane but better were a small family herd of 7 Whooper Swans on the mudflats looking very out of place and then a massive female Goshawk hunting over the saltmarsh. I had excellent views the bird showing its distinctive head shape and flight pattern (flapping at about 50% as fast as the female Sparrowhawk which was seen at the same time but in bursts of 5-7 beats rather than 2-3). Cracker.

Today was on a quieter stretch on the north bank but this still held surprising numbers of Dunlin and Bar-tailed Godwits as well as the expected Common Gulls. A few Fieldfare helped enliven procedings plus a Meadow Pipit grubbing in the snow looked smart. All good.

Tomorrow I am on the outer Humber doing disturbance monitoring and this is followed by a trip to Islay over the weekend. Nice.

Monday 6 February 2012

Extra Bloggage

I wasnt expecting to drop an additional blogpost today but it was so remarkable that I thought I must. Oh James, you really do spoil us! Im not what you would call an avid patch worker but over the last 4 years I have come to appreciate what my local countryside has to offer and have mentally formed a patch, even if I dont work it that hard. I even thought that after today I would outline the patch and the main areas in a google map.

View Patch in a larger map

So back to today - I had been slaving away at this machine trying to organise my work over the coming weeks and time had marched on. I decided to have a mooch round Nafferton Sewage Works and Nafferton Beck to see if the cold weather had brought any Woodcock or Snipe in. First stop the reedbed at the sewage works and a Snipe explodes from the undergrowth. This is a great bird for the area and only my third record after two flushed from rank vegetation in a field margin. Hoping for a Jack Snipe I pressed on but to no avail. I changed tacks and walked along the beck.

Track to the sewage works
Nothing special initially but suddenly a cloud of white explodes from the stream. 3 Little Egrets. Now you may poo poo this but bear in mind they are still pretty scarce around here and the stream is pretty small I was dead chuffed! No Cattle Egrets amongst them sadly. I may slate the bird at tophill but I would still like to find it here.

Nafferton Beck - pretty small
Pushing on I am surprised by a flock of 7 Siskin and an additional bird flew over later. These were the 4th and 5th records for the patch although in all likelihood they are scarce but regular winter visitors but all have been in February thus far. A skein of distant geese could have been pinks or greylags. Less mysterious were 2 Greylags that flew south along the beck. Surprisingly a Grey Heron that floated south was a patch first, my second of the day after the Little Egrets. The resident Kingfisher was seen hiding in vegetation fringing the beck. I was calming down when I had my mind blown. A Redshank was feeding in the beck. Habitat all wrong (tree lined chalk stream) but there bold as brass, not 15 feet from me was a Redshank (in summer plumage as well). The snow really was bringing me presents. It was not all finished though as I walked back home a second Snipe flushed, this time from the sewage works stream that feeds the beck. Just mental.

I did a bit of working out and figured I had seen 90 species on patch since I moved in with 3 Crane and a Jay the best bits. Mostly the good stuff has been recent with a Marsh Harrier and 2+ Quail in the summer and a Peregrine this year. I must try harder! As a postscript I saw a rather excellent male Merlin on wires just south of Langtoft when I went to collect Isabelle from my parents.

Turning Japanese

Mentalism is pretty much endemic amongst birders but two blokes this weekend twitched a Baer's Pochard in Japan. This is pretty much the biggest twitch ever for a single bird and the fact that it was for an Aythya is insane. Baer's Pochard is a very attractive duck and increasingly very rare with a total world population of about 500 birds in China. Odd ones reach Japan and this is the case with the attractive drake featured below. Read the full story on birdforum here. Respect to Alan Lewis and co.

Sunday 5 February 2012

A Wee Bit Chilly

The recent snow has brought a lovely male Reed Bunting into the garden plus 20 or so Blackbirds. No Siskin or (cross my fingers) Redpoll yet but this month is the prime one.

I was working down by the Humber on Friday and it was pretty chilly with a small covering of snow. The coldest we recorded was -8 celcius and my scope was frosting in minutes. A foggy start gave way to a glorious winters day although wader numbers were low with the cold weather pushing birds to more ameliable climes. There were hundreds of Fieldfare and Reed Bunting in the plantations beside the river and a good sprinkling of Meadow Pipits and Redwing. Cutting through the icy whiteness of 7am was a bolt of azure. A Kingfisher had been forced to the estuary by the weather as presumably had the 2 Barn Owls we saw - not a common sight at the moment. A single Short-eared Owl hunted the reeds actively which was a year tick which took longer to proquire than expected. The afternoon was similar to the morning with the small numbers of waders being forced into the site by a rising tide. Nothing of note amongst the common stuff but a Merlin did manage to dispatch a Dunlin. The snow on the mudflat had largely melted by the end of play but this was largely the work of the sun as positive numbers were on reached on the thermometer briefly before settling to minus 3 by the time I was home. A thoroughly pleasant day but one which longjohns were invented for. 

Yesterday saw a skein of 85 grey geese (seemingly Pinks) take off from near Kelk and head toward Tophill Low. I wonder whether Bob in the next parish managed to see them. Heading to the Humber for a days work this week and then hopefully to sea later on.

Wednesday 1 February 2012

My baby Olympian

Due August 2012

How birds and brains become mutually exclusive

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