Tuesday, 21 April 2009

20th April

I had a call from Will Bowell this morning, informing me that Mandarins were back on the Welland in Market Deeping - I popped down and soon located a female just west of the Old Coach House, and took this photo with my phone:

More plastic madness...

The newly-reformed active yearlister Bowell was getting twitchy by early afternoon, keen for new ticks. So, when the Hoopoe at Upper Sheringham (Norfolk) came on the pager as 'still present', there wasn't alot going to get in the way of him and the bird. I decided to go with him, although in hindsight lazing around on my arse at home would have been the more sensible option - lots of midweek brigade, no Hoopoes and a bad accident on the A47 made the afternoon somewhat more unpleasant than we had hoped for.

A quick look at BLGP on our return in the evening produced a passage wader at last(!) - a Common Sandpiper was buzzing around the New Works. Typically, there was absolutely nothing else of interest.

Monday, 20 April 2009

East Anglian tour, 19th April

Today, predominantly triggered by poor local birding, I went on a 350-mile drive around East Anglia with my companion Will Bowell and his offensive red shoes (see image below). It turned out to be a very mixed trip - we dipped a few things and also had some nice bits and bobs along the way.

First stop was Wereham (Norfolk), where a Dotterel had been seen the previous evening. Arriving at around 07:50, we failed to locate the bird - it later transpired that it had flown off at 07:35. Rather than piss about, we moved on to a Breckland site where at least six Golden Pheasants were heard, two of them affording fantastic views. A Nightingale was also in sub-song and a Yellow Wagtail flew overhead. Nearby, a heath produced two Stone Curlews showing well on territory, albeit slightly distant. Our final Breckland site was Mayday Farm, where a Goshawk displayed and a Woodlark sang.

Without really realising, we soon found ourselves on the north wall at Breydon Water, where a 3rd-summer Yellow-legged Gull was blogging about but the American Golden Plover had 'done one'. To cheer ourselves up, we indulged ourselves with copious amounts of fast food from a nearby McDonalds.

Southwold (Suffolk) was our next desination, where the green-ringed juvenile Glaucous Gull was strutting its stuff on the jetty at the mouth of the harbour, but there wasn't alot else knocking about. Westleton Heath produced the unavoidable Dartford Warblers, and lazing around overlooking Minsmere RSPB from Dunwich Heath produced my first singing Reed Warblers of the year, along with a Sandwich Tern past offshore and several Mediterranean Gulls getting down and dirty on the scrapes.

Juvenile Glaucous Gull

A male Black Redstart was singing between the power stations at Sizewell, and there was plenty of Kittiwake activity offshore. Waxwings have been lingering in Ipswich, so we decided to pop our heads in, alas to no avail. There was also no news on the lingering Purple Heron in the Shingle Street area, so we headed south in to Essex.

Nuclear-frazzled Black Redstart

Eventually we arrived at Maldon (after much swearing and problems with finding the site), and the Lesser Yellowlegs was duly on show at appalling distance as it fed on the Blackwater Estuary, viewed from the recycling plant. Much more impressive was the congregation of gloriously-plumaged Icewits (c.400), as well as 3 Avocets and a couple of Greenshanks.

Will Bowell actively birding at Maldon in Allwood-style converse.

So - a brief account of what turned in to a surprisingly exhaustive and stressful day, with more dips than hits. The joys of competitive year listing.... good luck for 2009, Will...

Friday, 17 April 2009

Local Bits, 16th April

I've been doing a few local sites over the past few days (concentrating on my patch, Baston & Langtoft Pits) without any real impact. Best of the bunch have been a Wheatear at Maxey, along with lingering Green Sandpipers and a Pink-footed Goose at BLGP - magic stuff.

Yesterday, heavy clouds rolled in and there was rain in the air, and a cool northeasterly breeze. Plenty of bits and bobs seemed to be on the move through the midlands, but all I could manage were a few Yellow Wagtails and increased numbers of hirundines at BLGP. The weather had brought results elsewhere, with these two excellent Sanderling (along with four Dunlin) on a local scrape:

Two spring-plumaged Sanderling with three Dunlin.

Monday, 13 April 2009

Down South, 12th April

With news of a White-throated Sparrow in Hampshire, a dream team (consisting of Will Bowell, Dan Pointon and myself) was quickly assembled for an assault on the south coast. Leaving Langtoft just before 02:00, we arrived at Old Winchester Hill mid-morning (following a couple of hours' birding at another site en-route).

Immediate impressions were not good; although the bird was seen soon after arrival, chaos had broken out amongst the hordes of dudes present on site. Every time the bird was seen in a different spot, mass panic broke out and the group would charge over to gain further views. Most were stood next to the thicket (no wonder it shows only occasionally!), with some even in the bushes themselves. The total lack of fieldcraft on display was somewhat worrying, and did prompt the occasional complaint from yours truly and a few other sensible souls who were standing at a reasonable distance. Twitch-wise this was one of the all-time lows, but the bird made up for it. A stunningly bright male, with striking head pattern and surprisingly rufous-toned upperparts, it was often located by its prominent 'chipping' call - my rather poor photos below don't do it justice. Apparently it had also been heard singing, but unfortunately I missed this. A couple of Bullfinches were also noted.

male White-throated Sparrow, 12th April...

... and again.

Keen to get away from the carnage, we headed back north. A Ring-necked Parakeet flew over the M25, but the ever-sharp Pointon missed it. This meant we had to stop at Wraysbury so he could add the species to his year list. Sure enough, several noisy birds were seen around Magna Carta Lane without having to stop the car, so we continued northwards.

A call from Mick Frosdick informed us that the previous day's White Stork had been reportedly relocated in Hertfordshire, but a search of the area failed to produce anything of real note, let alone the stork. Finally got home a little before 16:00, exhausted and ready for sleep after having just 5 hours over the previous two nights!

Sunday, 12 April 2009

Red-rumper, 11/4

There seemed to be alot on the move today; lots of Sandwich Terns and Common Scoters moving amongst other species. Naturally, I gave the patch a morning grilling and the best I could turf up were a couple of Green Sandpipers and a male Wheatear - not exactly the calibre of bird I was hoping for. The aythya hybrid, first seen on February 27th, was again present on the Ocean:

Aythya hybrid: very Tufted-like, but note the grey flanks, head shape and orange eye. In the field, a reddish tinge to the head was often noticeable, as was mantle colour - a very dark grey.

A female Goldeneye lingered, and several Little Egrets were about. On arriving home, I realised that the Red-rumped Swallow found near Leicester had been lingering, so I decided on a pre-work jaunt. The journey was somewhat unremarkable, taking just over an hour to reach Wanlip. The Red-rumped Swallow, a pristine individual, was showing very well over the pit opposite the Hope & Anchor pub with other hirundines, including the first decent numbers of House Martins I have encountered this year. Some time later, the weather cleared slightly and the flock flew off high to the north. The bird did not return so I left (although it did return later on in the afternoon).

At least you can tell what it is...

A quick stop at Manton Bridge, Rutland Water, on the way home revealed my first Common Tern of the year but very little else of any significance.

Monday, 6 April 2009

Ups and downs, 6th April

After an abortive attempt at setting off for the Cornish Great Spotted Cuckoo last night (abandoned after deciding the weather was too poor for the day to be in any way a pleasant experience), I stuck local today. A pleasant walk with the dogs at Castor Hanglands (Cambs) was surprisingly productive. Undoubted highlight was a Hawfinch which was seen flying over the clearing near the main ponds; a totally unexpected sighting. It appeared to land, but did so out of view and despite searching, wasn't relocated. My first singing Willow Warblers and Blackcaps of the year were heard, and a few Marsh Tits were also seen. A Tawny Owl was noted in flight in the main woodland, a Siskin flew over, and Bullfinches were commonplace. Buzzards were also present in remarkable density, with at least five being seen.

Following a spot of lunch, I hit the patch. The weather had become a little more unsettled, with the breeze picking up and clouds rolling in. I had high hopes for some new arrivals, and as soon as I got out the car by the old wader scrape, my first BLGP Willow Warblers of the year were heard singing. At least three Buzzards were in the sky, and a couple of Little Egrets flew by. The Ocean failed to produce anything of real interest, but it was on my walk back to the car that the mega chose to appear - a splendid Egyptian Goose on the island on the old wader scrape. It may not sound much, but it's the first site record for almost five years, following a bird in May 2004 at Grummit's Scrape! The New Works were pretty standard; 5+ LRPs, 2 RPs, a Green Sandpiper, Redshank, Little Egret and so on. A second Green Sandpiper was in the Cross Drain, but there were none of the hoped-for Little Gulls.

Plastic fantastic.

A second visit during the evening produced much of the same, and there still weren't any Little Gulls. A real blow came as I arrived home; I discovered a whacking great bulge on one of the tyres - it appeared the tyre wall had weakened, rendering the car somewhat unsafe to drive. For a second night in a row, plans to head to Cornwall were aborted. I guess that's what some people call unfortunate.

North Wales, 3 - 5th April

Been in Wales over the weekend on a family visit, celebrating my aunt's 60th birthday. We headed up late morning on Friday, aiming to arrive in Wales by mid-afternoon. First stop was the usual on the A616 Woodhead Pass where at least six Red Grouse were seen from the layby. The weather was particularly nice on the moors, affording very pleasant views.

View from the Woodhead Pass, 3rd April

Next detour was at Frodsham (Cheshire). At Bradley Orchard Farm, the Cattle Egret was performing somewhat distantly in a cattle field between the farm and the River Weaver. A particularly drab individual, with pale, washed-out bill and limited buff markings on the crown. There were also a few Buzzards blogging about. During the afternoon, we walked to dogs along the River Dee at Queensferry; the highlight here was a pleasant female Wheatear. A Swallow flew through and there were a couple of singing Chiffchaffs. Back at my uncle's in Hawarden, a Lesser Redpoll was singing in the evening.

After a heavy one the night before, it was something of a surprise that I managed to boot myself out of bed before seven on Saturday morning. Then again, the main target of the morning was one of my personal ornithological favourites -lekking Black Grouse. Sure enough, at least nine males were watched until just after 08:00 when the lek dispersed. In the nearby valley, I recorded a pair of Dippers and at least one calling Crossbill, but completely unexpected was a calling Lesser Spotted Woodpecker. The bird called several times and was also heard drumming; a real bonus. My next destination was the Horseshoe Pass. A wander around the quarry area failed to produced any Ring Ouzels back, but more surprisingly no Wheatears! A Swallow was over farmland towards lower ground.

Early morning on the moors

Lekking Blackcock, 4th April

Later on in the day, we headed over to Erbistock, where a walk along the picturesque River Dee revealed 3 Goosanders (m & 2f), Kingfisher and several Grey Wagtails. Back in Hawarden, the Lesser Redpoll count in my uncle's garden had risen to three.

Did comparitively little today; a walk around Shotwick Pools produced a couple of Grey Partridges and two Siskins, but very little else. There were at least five Buzzards in the area; the density of this species in North Wales and Cheshire now is astonishing. On a nice day, the sky is full of them! Two Siskins flew over my uncle's house in Hawarden, and at least two Lesser Redpolls were again present.

The afternoon was relatively uneventful, being spent travelling back to Lincs. The most notable parts of the journey were a couple of Red Grouse on the Woodhead and a ridiculous number of badger road casualties!

I managed to get out on the patch for an hour or so this evening; highlights were a Green Sandpiper, 14+ Little Egrets, 6 Little Ringed Plovers, c.8 Snipe, c.20 Teal, 3 Redshanks and a fine Barn Owl. Sorry for the rather uninteresting round-up but I'm knackered and am off to bed.

Thursday, 2 April 2009

Lesser Scaup for lesser boredom, 1st April

Yesterday (Wednesday 1st), I decided that to relieve the monotony of Green Sandpipers and Little Ringed Plovers on the patch, I'd go for Alan Clewes' long-staying Lesser Scaup at Holme Pierrepont, Nottinghamshire. I was surprised at how smoothly the journey went, arriving there no more than 55 minutes after leaving my front door. With the sun shining, it truly felt spring had arrived. To celebrate I did something seasonal, and grilled the good numbers of aythya present on A52 Pit. It took me a few minutes, but eventually I located the drake Lesser Scaup on its own in the near corner of the pit. Typically, the bird spent 95% of its time asleep in the half hour I gave it to perform. A near-pristine bird, it still retained some brown feathering on the upper flanks, but otherwise was looking splendid. It had a strong purple sheen to the head when catching the light, and a clear peak at the hindcrown. Black was limited to the nail of the bill, and the grey mantle was coarsely vermiculated. It was very slightly smaller than the accompanying Tufted Ducks.

drake Lesser Scaup, 1st April

The bird swam off towards the centre of the pit with Tufted Ducks (thus becoming much more distant), so I decided to sack it off and head home. I can't help but wonder how long it will be before Lesser Scaup falls in the Peterborough area - it must be overdue - next stop BLGP?

Talking of BLGP, I gave it a quick once-over in the evening. Much the same as in previous days, with a Buzzard, 3 Little Egrets, 5 Goldeneye, 2 Shoveler, Snipe, 2 Little Ringed and 2 Ringed Plovers, Redshank and c.10 Teal. The highlight was a splendid White Wagtail on the New Works, my second of the spring here.

On Tuesday (31st), BLGP gave 2 Green Sandpipers, 2 Little Egrets, 2-3 'Nordic' Jackdaws, 17 Fieldfares, 2 Redshank, a singing Chiffchaff and 3+ singing Corn Buntings.