Tuesday, 24 January 2012

Iceland Gulls

second-winter Iceland Gull
first-winter Iceland Gull

Monday mornings are a bit of a mess for me and currently involve a compulsory 'Tutorial' lesson first thing - any college student will know that this means being called in to either be told that you're not needed and may as well have slept in, or be exposed to a load of utterly neutral non-achieving naff all cack (usually some nonsense like 'let's get into groups and discuss what is British about these pictures...') and then be sent off - then a big gap, part of which is being filled by my weekly driving lesson, before I finally get to the two lessons of the day. I'm using the remaining part of this gap to spend a little time each week at Beddington.

So, yesterday I took advantage of the said situation and spent a couple of hours at the 'Bog Dump' with Johnny, Garry and 'Prof'. No luck had been had by the others in their first four hours on site and I started to think I might be in for a bit of a duffy but then two Iceland Gulls (one of the second-winters that has been knocking around and a new bird, a first-winter) appeared and performed well. A big pale-winged northern Herring Gull was of interest, too. Also managed to scope one of the resident Peregrines in Sutton distantly.

northern Herring Gull

Friday, 20 January 2012

Duck in the park


At lunch time I found a little wetland area in the final corner of Morden Park that I had not, until today, really visited properly. It's mainly a small patch of boggy ground with reedmace and a bit of a algae-infested watery area under a patch of trees and bushes. There's one very small open pool about the size of my tiny bedroom. I had a scan around for any snipey birds that could have been lurking around - failed to see any but did find my second Moorhen for the park, following one in the diminutive stream that I found along the southern side a few weeks ago. Just to be sure that there wasn't anything lurking in the boggy area, I took a walk around the edge of the small pool. A splash and a movement in the corner of my eye swivelled me round - expecting it to be the Moorhen having a shuffle, I was amazed when I raised my bins to a drake Teal!

A Mallard would have been a great tick but... wow, that really is reaching lofty waterfowl heights for the sort of water-deprived places at which that I seem to end up spending my time. The bird spotted me and crawled onto the opposite bank, eventually it decided to find somewhere away from me and flew, circling a few times before having little choice other than to land in the boggy undergrowth and wait for me to leave. Which I did.

Morden Park does have potential. A green and thoughtfully managed area surrounded by concrete near the Wandle Valley. There's good habitat but not too much to make it unworkable. It has mixed woodland areas, short and long grassland and patches of scrub. I have yet to really experience a migration period there. I started my courses nearby last September and had the odd potter about then but didn't really know the park and largely stuck to a small part of the park - even so I found a Wheatear on my first visit - since then I've sussed out likely areas for passerine migrants.

Sunday, 15 January 2012

Spanish inquisition

Spanish Sparrow's rare so Phil and I twitched it today. First we went to see the DARK-EYED JUNCO - again - I'm not complaining, it's a really nice bird and I would go again to see it. This time was amazing; Phil seeded a stump about ten feet away from the path and eventually it plonked itself there to the crowd's delight! I digiscoped away, hoping for at least one good profile shot but when it was in profile it was behind a blade of grass and when it was in clear view it was a bit at an angle or doing something odd. A few Crossbills, Reed Buntings and Siskins again.

Dark-eyed Junco at Hawkhill Inclosure
in the kitchen...
 Happy, to Calshot we went. It felt like we were going inside to worship the thing, taking our shoes off and going inside to join the crowd of crouching and staring admirers. The SPANISH SPARROW was actually a very striking bird and showed well quite a bit. Its brown cap, white cheeks and strong breast and flank markings made it easily seperable from the House Sparrows with which it kept company.

Spanish Sparrow at Calshot
 We visited Blashford Lakes and dipped the Fudge Duck again (but the Siskins and Lesser Redpolls on the feeders were great to see) and dipped the Hume's Leaf Warbler at Wyke Regis - I've now only got a 33.3'% hit rate with this bird.

Siskin at Blashford Lakes

Wednesday, 11 January 2012

A little bit of fame

From Scilly Now & Then - shame they got the URL wrong. Click to enlarge
A little while ago, Scilly Now & Then magazine contacted me asking for comments on my experiences on the Isles of Scilly. I got the impression they were after a couple of little snippets but gave them a couple of paragraphs to select material from; it seems I got a few column inches in the end!

As for my day today - it was annoying. Making my way out of Circle Field slowly towards the Watchpoint I saw an interesting looking flock of birds - quick! Scope on them. Golly they look like Golden Plovers - about twenty of them! I try to juggle counting them and getting a final ID on them in two or three seconds before they fly behind Canons Wood. Bloody hell.

Saturday, 7 January 2012

Junco junkee

I got a good flight view of the junco on Tuesday with Ian but really wanted to get a prolonged look at it on the deck, so I discussed the possibility of going today with Phil - he was up for it so it looked like it was on. Phil also needed the Hume's Leaf Warbler; seeing as this was the furthest site he was keen to do this first so we we followed the satnav there from 5.30am. A big yellow M at Weymouth drew us in to an assortment of breakfast delights as the sun rose. We had a look for the wafty Hooded Merganser from the car park but didn't have any luck, instead seeing groups of Black-tailed Godwits and Common Snipes which wasn't too bad a start.

Richard's Pipit at Wyke Regis

 Wyke Regis was very popular today with hopeful birders popping up around every corner. My friend the Richard's Pipit showed well in the bridging camp and we were amazed to see a good seven hundred or so strong flock of Brent Geese - one being a 'Pale-bellied' that I picked out. I pointed out a couple of Med Gulls and each time I looked I saw more and more. The last time I had a rough count it reached around or beyond ninety birds. But I didn't have time for precise counts. There was lots to do. Notwithstanding an hour or so of staring at bushes in the company of several other guys we did not hear nor see the warbler which was especially annoying as I had no problem seeing it in far more calamitous weather on Tuesday and it was reported both before and after our hunt.

Brent Geese, including 'Pale-bellied' (centre), Wyke Regis
 It was past ten and we needed to go. Discussion settled on heading for the junco. The car park was far more suitably packed than Tuesday morning (when Ian and I were one of two cars there for quite a while - and the other car was a dog walker). We joined the main line of tripod legs and enjoyed great views of the DARK-EYED JUNCO after about twenty or thirty minutes of trying to see through the hordes of kip-kippy Crossbills. We got a couple more looks before a little bit of a gap then we watched it foraging under a carpet of twigs before flying out and feeding right out in the open on a fallen pine - gorgeous! It shuffled over to the other side of the trunk and, realising that daylight was running out and that we planned to visit three more sites...we got out of there.

Dark-eyed Junco at Hawkill Inclosure
male Crossbill at Hawkhill Inclosure
 First: Blashford Lakes. Phil wanted the Ferruginous Duck. We looked and saw lots of Tufted Ducks and Pochards but not the quarry - as apparently lots of other people already had. A singing Siskin was nice.

Ok, it was decision time. We could either race over to Wyke Regis for another go at the Hume's for Phil, getting to the bird's roost spot just before dusk, or go a few miles to get Blue-winged Teal for me. Phil selflessly decided to go for the latter... both were probably doomed to failure. There were lots of birders at Longham Lakes but apparently no-one gave a rat's arse about the Blue-winged Teal, they were all after the pair of Smew that had been found. I couldn't quite understand this because there are several Smew knocking about the area and the Lakes would be doing well do have a patch crew that big. Anyway, we saw the said pair of Smew which were very nice, and I caught a redhead Goosander fly in just before dusk. A Kingfisher flew about, there was a good variety of common wildfowl, a lone Lapwing and that was all. Day over. Thanks Phil for a good day out!

Smew (drake above, redhead below), Longham Lakes

Thursday, 5 January 2012

Year list soaring...

...not quite.... but I did manage my first good bird of the year in my second visit of 2012 today. I got there pretty late today - as usual I peered into the large barn near Reads Rest Cottages. It took me a while to spot a promising looking shape crouched up in a corner but I got it in the scope and it was the Barn Owl! My first owl species at CFBW this year (it was very closely followed by a calling Little Owl). Being late in the day and a little overcast, the light was not great and by the time I started thinking about shots it was really rather dark - the only way I could find to get any kind of image was to whack the compact camera to a 15 second exposure and 3600 ISO then photograph the screen with my phone - improvisation see - result shown here.

I'm now on a mighty 28... I know it's not great but I have only been twice this year and both visits have been brief late afternoon ones. I still need Nuthatch, all woodpeckers, Mistle Thrush, Redwing etc etc etc.

Wednesday, 4 January 2012

Pellet scroungers

I was so glad to finally get on the patch for the first time in 2012 today and my main reason for this post is to announce that fact and that I am on a grand total of 22 for my patch yearlist. I've already missed Mealy Redpoll - drat. There's little of note in that total, one of the wintering Common Buzzards probably tops it.

Franko and his partner Susanna came round to the farm this afternoon and charmed Mrs Roe into allowing us into her barns to collect Barn Owl pellets. I think we managed about ten. Susanna works in education, doing things like takings apart owl pellets and constructing skeletons for tots to get an early fascination for nature. It was good fun. Susanna's website can be found here: The Nature Collection.

they look 'eww' but are simply compressed dead rodents

2011's northern finale

I usually visit my family up in Manchester with my mum and dad each New Year - apart from last year we've done it each and every New Year that I can remember. Anyway, I spent some time birding up there this time - as usual - including a couple of trips with Liam Langley whom I met on Scilly.

On Friday 30th, the day after arriving I met Liam at Pennington Flash. I am a true fan of this site, even though I've never seen anything particularly fantastic there. As an inland birder it really appeals to me as a site that presents a unique, and I'm sure productive in spring and autumn, environment to find birds in. The weather was pretty naff but we only saw a couple of Willow Tits, a Goosander, lots of Goldeneyes and a few Common Snipe. Sounds like a bit of an anticlimax but I very rarely see Willow Tit and the other two birds are waterbirds so are great rarities for me.

The next day my parents kindly took us to Martin Mere and Marshside RSPB. We failed to see the Green-winged Teal at Martin Mere but were treated to the sight of numerous wildfowl including Whooper Swans and Pink-footed Geese. While we were having a last check of the teals a first-winter Hen Harrier gave a brilliant performance over the wetland, with a couple of Marsh Harriers and Ravens not far away. I was impressed by the area of wilderness at Marshside and the number of birds present; flocks of Golden Plovers and Black-tailed Godwits enlivened the rolling, heavy sky along with swarms of Starlings. Wildfowl numbers were pretty good here, too - a flock of about a dozen White-fronted Geese being the pick of the mix. A female Merlin saw the year out.

Raven and Marsh Harrier at Martin Mere

New Year's Day, Sunday, and I was ready to head to Chorlton Water Park, Liam's patch, but he was snookered after a New Year do, and my family was running late so I took a leisurely trip to Pennington Flash. Finally connecting with the drake Scaup was the highlight and I saw Willow Tits and a Goosander again. I moved on to another site (secret) after lunch - I'd never been there before, quite a nice gaff - where I was pleased to see a "top secret duck" amongst other common wildfowl.

Scaup at Pennington Flash
***** duck in hiding

Monday I slept in, I was exhausted from being forced to try to be sociable with relatives and had more to come later in the day before a longish journey home. When I awoke I debated whether to have a brief trip to Pennington, or a look at the water body I spotted on Google Maps a five minute walk from my gran's. Being experimental and groundbreaking, I drove (yes, I did) to the site and was amazed at the inland birding wonderland that lay before me. Blackleach Country Park, containing Blackleach Reservoir. There were lots of people and lots of dogs but they would make any local patcher's finds there even more rewarding when they came about. It had great habitat, was a pretty big lake and fringed with reeds, shrubs and woodland. I was so glad I went there, I'll certainly be taking it up as a Manchester patch. In that one isolated trip I found what I have researched to be site notables, including a pair of Ravens, a pair of Gadwall and a winter Chiffchaff. There is a guy who watches it quite a bit and he's had things like Oystercatcher, Ringed Plover, Green Sandpiper, Red-crested Pochard, Little Ringed Plover, Whooper Swan, Whinchat, Wheatear, Willow Tit and Pink-footed Goose there.

Blackleach Reservoir, in Blackleach Country Park
Raven at Blackleach
I've got some shots of Willow Tits and things that I'll add later

Tuesday, 3 January 2012

Junco for joy

Today was a mixed bag... Ian picked me up this morning and we headed to the New Forest for the Dark-eyed Junco. On arrival, around 8.00am, after driving through rivers and hurricanes and around fallen trees, we found that we were the only people present! We didn't know where exactly we were meant to be looking and after a falling pine missed us by a couple of dozen yards we cut our losses. Wyke Regis was our next venue. We thought it was pointless getting out and looking for anything because the weather was truly apocalyptic, but we soldiered on. After a few miles of battling the wind and rain we heard and eventually saw the HUME'S LEAF WARBLER! I couldn't believe that we'd actually seen a bird. It showed quite well at times and I got a few record shots.

Hume's Leaf Warbler

On the way back Ian located the Richard's Pipit - a lifer for him - at the bridging camp and it gave pretty good views. Even though some blue sky had moved over us it was still very windy and hence the scope tried to take off a few times. My umbrella looked like it had been dunked in acid. A couple of Ravens played in the gales.

Richard's Pipit

As we were approaching the car, news came through that the junco had been seen again. Off we went. People told us the bird hadn't been seen for an hour and a half but we staked it out and, at something like 3.40pm, a few people shouted that the bird had flown into a fallen pine. As everyone was in the middle of moving closer, several of us got onto the DARK-EYED JUNCO fly out, a good hundred metres across our view and into a stand of young pines and birches. I'm rather picky with flight views of passerines but I was pleased that I managed a clear and prolonged look at it as it fluttered past, getting the pale bill, white tail sides, white underparts, slate grey upperparts and darker head. I'd like to see it on the deck so might try to get down there again at the weekend. Also seen at the Hawkhill Inclosure were a few Crossbills and a couple of Woodcocks.