Saturday, 30 June 2012

In search of Nightjars

A phone call from Brian saying he might try again for Nightjar tonight, and would I be up for it? It doesn't take much time to think about it, and by 7pm we are leaving for Suffolk.
It's only around an hours drive and I have the front seat tonight as dad has made other arrangements and so can't make it.
We have some rough directions to a site at West Stow and after a short drive around the local roads we find what looks to be a good area. It's only just gone 8.15pm so we have some time to wait. There's plenty of Jay's about and they are very noisy as they fly from one side of the clearing to the other. There's also a few Hares about feeding at the edges of the sandy paths. They keep us entertained as we wait for the light to fade.
The sun starts to drop down behind the trees and the local crows and gulls start to head for their roost sites. There's also large numbers of Swifts overhead.
It's gone 10pm before the light starts to go and the area falls silent, then the silence is broken by a "roding" Woodcock as it flies along the top of the trees. It's still light enough to get really good views of the bird. I have seen Woodcocks before but it's the first time I have ever heard one roding.
It's approaching 10.30pm now and still no sight nor sound of a Nightjar, another Woodcock flies through and again I get reasonable views of it. 
It starts to look like we are going to be disappointed again , When a bird starts "Churring" from somewhere out in front of us. It's distant, but it's an unmistakable sound. We head towards the area where the sound seems to be coming from, but realise it may be in the next clearing on the other side of the trees.
Back in the car we drive along the narrow lanes looking for any likely spots to pullover and listen. We can hear plenty of Tawny Owls calling and the odd Nightjar, but it's difficult to pinpoint the area from where the sound is coming from.
Happy to have finally heard if not seen a Nightjar and with good views of two Woodcocks and also to have heard them roding for the first time we head for home.

Saturday, 23 June 2012

Pacific Golden Plover. Norfolk

With news of a Pacific Golden Plover at Cley on Friday,  It's a 5am start. and a two hour drive ahead of us, But the weather looks quite good. Mainly dry with isolated showers and some strong winds.
There's a handful of cars parked at the beach car park when we arrive. Making my way along the shingle beach towards the North Scrape I stop to check out the Avocets close by on the nearby field.
At the hide we're disappointed to be told that there's been no sign of the plover this morning. A scan of the scrape reveals a smart summer plummaged Spotted Redshank and a male Ruff in breeding plumage. Dad is keen to take a look as he's only seen non breeding Ruff before.
While I'm looking at the Ruff Brian spots a Hooded Crow. It doesn't hang around and heads towards the beach and I fail to pick it up before it's out of sight.
Back on the scrape there's Dunlin, Knot and Ringed Plover present. Avocets are here in good numbers with 100+ birds seen. Shelduck are also present and I count thirteen youngsters with four adult birds.
With still no sign of the plover we decide to move on. Brian sees a Peregrine on the walk back to the car and watches it until it flies out of view.
Back in the car and we are looking for any sign of a Montagu's Harrier, There's plenty of marsh Harriers quartering the fields and then a Red Kite drifts over the trees. No Montagu's seen though.
Great Ryburgh
Next stop is Great Ryburgh, Before reaching the watch point we spot a harrier over a field and stop to check it out. From a distance and with only bins on the bird it looks to have a white rump, But with the scope trained on it, it's clear that it's another Marsh harrier. It has a very pale rump and tail but it's still a marsh harrier. While looking through the scope a dove flies through and I can clearly see it's a Turtle Dove. It's a year tick for all of us so we are well pleased.
At the watch point we see plenty of Buzzards and one of these looks good for Honey Buzzard. But it's distant and we can't get a good enough view of it to clinch it, So it won't be making the year list this time.
On the way home we take a detour to Newmarket and Devil's Dyke. Brian has visited this site a few times in the past year and found it very good for butterflies. Today it's very windy and there's no sign of any butterflies on the wing. But it's a good site to return to when the weather conditions are more favourable.
An hour or so after returning home, News comes through that the plover has reappeared on Cley's North Scrape.
That's birding for you!

Tuesday, 19 June 2012

Stone Curlews in Wonderful Breckland

Home from work and just deciding whether to watch the Spain or Ireland match tonight, When the phone rings. It's Brian and he's thinking of trying for Nightjars. Now I can either stay in and watch the footie or spend the evening in the Brecks? It takes all of a second to decide.
Traffic is good and we arrive around eight. Turning off the main roads and driving along the narrow track Brian spots a Little Owl sitting on a large haystack. Dad still needs it for his year list so is well pleased, Especially having dipped the Little Bittern earlier in the day much to Brian's amusement.
Continuing down the track the tarmac turns to sand and it gets much more rough and uneven. There's hardly any wind tonight and the temperature is around 20 degrees.
Breckland
A Stone Curlew is spotted and then two more are heard calling and then seen in flight. We park up along the track and scan for more sightings of Stone Curlews. There's a very noisy Woodlark singing behind us and it's found sitting on the top of a small bush.
Scanning the area west of the Woodlark we find a Hobby flying low and fast over the heath, It turns into the sun and gives some super views. Shortly afterwards it lands on a nearby fence post and with the sun behind us and directly on the bird , it's a stunning looking bird.
Back to scanning for Stone Curlews, But it's not long before I get distracted again, This time it's the sight of an Owl flying over. It's quite high in the sky and it takes a little while to realise that's it's a Barn Owl. It drops down below the tree line and begins it's search for a meal. I never tire of watching a hunting Barn Owl and tonight was no different.
Seen Anything?
As we follow the owl along the fence line, Two falcons appear from nowhere. One is clearly a Hobby and it's being harassed by a smaller, faster and even more agile bird. The Merlin continues to pursue the Hobby until it flies away to the distant trees and out of sight.
It's now 9.30pm and it's still surprising bright. A Cuckoo is calling in the distance and we have been hearing it for much of the time we have been standing there. 
Away in the distance in the wooded area I can hear a Tawny Owl calling, It's a year tick and one which was pretty much guaranteed. On the opposite side of the track there's a Little Owl calling from somewhere close but from cover, and a male Stonechat sits up on top of a bush and starts calling, trying hard to compete with the Woodlarks and Cuckoo.
Driving back along the sandy track, It's now 10.30pm and  we can still hear the Cuckoo calling, Woodlarks singing and Owls hooting.

The only disappointment of the evening is no Nightjars heard or seen. But it's been a really enjoyable 2-3 hours and one we will no doubt be doing again in the not to distant further.

Sunday, 17 June 2012

Little Bittern is a bonus at Rickmansworth

An early morning visit to Lee Valley today and with the roads empty it's only fifteen minutes before I'm at Cornmill Meadows.
Walking along the grass track, There's plenty of House Martins flying along the river and over the flooded fields. There's no sign of any Sand Martins in amongst them though. (Still needed for the patch list). On the river there's six cygnets with their parents close by.
Reaching the metal gate I find the other side blocked by cows, I hate cows but faced with the choice of walking all the way back round I go through the gate and quickly edge round the outside of them. They show signs of movement towards me, But I'm off at a rapid pace and leave them well behind.
There's a very vocal Garden Warbler and an equally vocal Cetti's nearby.
Entering the hide I'm pleasantly surprised to see some muddy margins around the water's edge. Two Grey Herons are quickly located among the reeds and on one of the small muddy islands are nine Lapwings.
A second scan of the area produces a Little Ringed Plover and then a Sandpiper species comes into view. It's obscured by the reeds and I can't get a good look at it. Is it Wood or Green?
A quick text to Brian and fifteen minutes later he has joined me in the hide and we are both now looking at the sandpiper. By this time it's been flushed and is now in front of the hide. It looks much more brown and white then black  and white, But most of the other features suggest it's a Green Sand. Greenish rather than yellow legs, bill length, eye stripe, tail barring all suggest green. It's the one hundredth bird of the year for the patch.
Heading back towards the car my plan is to go on to Fisher's and have a wander round the rest of the patch. But Brian asks if I want to try for the Little Bittern. He already knows the answer and so we head off towards Rickmansworth Aquadrome car park.
Leaving the car and heading along the footpath we meet another birder coming the other way. "It's flown down river ten minutes ago" Not what we wanted to hear. We can see by all the down trodden grass where the birds favoured area has been, But there's no birders here now so we keep walking until we find the group of birders further along the river bank.We are told the rough area the bird was last seen going into, "Left of the small willow and to the back of the reeds". The bird is not visible so it's a waiting game as it so often is. There's no sign for around 15-20 minutes and then there's movement from within the reeds and then something spooks it and it jumps up and lands a short distance away but at the front of the reeds, Giving good but brief views before it dives back into the cover of the reeds. Knowing where it went into the reeds I can keep the bins on it and follow it as it moves left among the reeds even watching it catch and eat what looked like a newt. It puts it's head up and looks like it is struggling to get the newt down it's throat. It makes it's way behind a thicker clump of reeds and just as it looks like it's going to come to the front of the reeds a flock of Canada geese get to close and flush it up and along the river and out of sight.
We have no time to follow it, But we are more than happy with the views we have already had of the bird. Just as we are leaving we bump into a couple of familiar faces in Harry and Barry. Harry just managed to get a brief view of the bird in flight before it disappeared further down stream.

A very good morning's birding, With the Little Bittern and the Green Sandpiper to add to the year list, Which now stands at 229, and the Green Sandpiper to add to my patch year list as well which brings up the hundredth bird for the patch this year.

Sunday, 10 June 2012

It's all quiet at Lee Valley

It's 5.30am, The cars parked and I'm heading towards the farm. Stopping by the first barn I can already hear the first Yellowhammer of the day singing.
Common Blue Damselfly
By the time I locate it high up in a tree, I have heard at least two others singing. In the hedgerows bordering the fields there's also a pair of Common Whitethroats present.
Instead of returning to the car park, I continue on and walk up the hill towards the top field.
There's singing Blackcaps and Common Whitethroats in the bushes and Skylarks overhead, With another Skylark seen feeding in the field.
In the trees along the edge of the top field there's a really smart looking male Bullfinch.
Walking down the hill heading towards Langridge Scrape there's another two Yellowhammers singing, Chiffchaff, Garden Warbler and Linnet are all added to the day list before reaching the scrape.
With all the rain of recent weeks the water levels on the scrape are too high to hold much of interest. I add Lapwing, Common Pochard, Reed and Sedge Warblers with little trouble and there's a family party of Long-tailed Tits busy feeding in the bushes near the water's edge.
Walking down the footpath along the edge of the sailing club I get a year patch tick when a Lesser Whitethroat starts to sing and I get a brief view of it before it dives back down into thick cover. Not to be outdone a Cetti's Warblers blasts out it's song close by.
Long-tailed Tit
The weir is also quiet, But does have Common Terns flying across the water, and there's an unusual sight of a Terrapin sunning itself below the weir. Although it's an unusual site  I have seen one from this location before.
The goose fields only hold the usual suspects, With Canada and Greylag Geese, a pair of Shelduck, Lapwings and a single Little Grebe present.

Only the one year patch tick to add today, But it's been just as enjoyable watching and listening to some of the more commoner species. 

Saturday, 9 June 2012

Purple Heron at Dungeness

5am start and by 6.30am we arrive at Dungeness. We would normally drive round to the beach for a spot of sea watching, But we are keen to see if the reported Purple Heron is showing. So we head along Dengemarsh Road and walk down to Springfield Bridge.
It's quite bright but there's a strong wind which make it feel much colder. We scan the reeds and the marsh edges, But there's no sign. I scan the lake and among the many Coots, Great Crested Grebes and Greylags I find a female Red-crested Pochard. There's also large numbers of Swifts flying over the water and good numbers of Common Terns.
After an hour or so we leave and drive round to the beach. Out on the sea it's really quiet. There are a few Gannets and the presence of two Little Gulls really close in is a welcome sight. With the strong winds the Little Gulls struggle to make any headway and Brian takes the opportunity to grab a few photos.
I check the patch for any presence of Black Terns among the numerous Common Terns, But I can't pick any out and with the winds getting ever stronger I head for the car.
New Lighthouse
It's time to have another try for the Purple Heron, On arrival we meet the two birders who were present earlier and they informed us that they have had the briefest of views when it flew up and quickly back down.
Back on the bridge we scan the area for another one and a half hours without any sign. Back to the car for a coffee we give the area another scan again with no luck, So it's off along Galloways Road which runs parallel with Dengemarsh Road. We got Turtle Dove from here last year, Today it's quiet and the only sighting is of a single Green Woodpecker. We take a turn off the road and find that we are now back on Dengemarsh Road. There's an area to park the car that overlooks the marsh area where the Purple Heron has been reported from earlier in the week. Brian says "We'll give it five minutes" and we start scanning again. There's a flock of Greylags feeding in the field in front of us, and while scanning several more start to fly up from the marsh.I have my bins trained on two Greylags on the grass mound in front of us when Brian shouts "HERON" almost immediately the Purple Heron appears in my bins. It flies up and then circles round. It's in the air for two-three minutes and gives some great views as it turns and the sun brings out the birds colouration.
What looked like being a disappointing day, Turns out to be a really good day. It gets even better for me after returning home I realise that the Red-crested Pochard seen earlier in the day is needed for the year.

Tuesday, 5 June 2012

It's a struggle on the patch

The last of the Bank holidays, So it's up early and out on the patch. With Fisher's Green's gates locked and the farm gate also locked, I have to park back at the start of the entrance track.
Leaving the car I head off towards the farm, Stopping at the barns to check for Turtle Doves, There's none seen, But the sight of a Red-legged Partridge on the barn roof was a bit of a surprise.
I head East along the edge of the first field. I can already hear Yellowhammers singing and locate one high up in a tree soon after. There's also Common Whitethroats and Blackcaps singing nearby.
Scanning the fields there's no sign on any Little Owls at their normal spot, But the presence of a Common Buzzard perched on a telegraph pole nearby may be the reason why.
I retrace my steps back to the farm car park and from here make my way to the goose fields. The first field holds a large number of Canada Geese, and I count sixty seven youngsters amongst the flock. On the small pool of water there's only four lapwings (two of which are youngsters) and a single Redshank.
Common Blue Damselfly
The second field is also quiet with only a pair of Lapwing and a Little Grebe of any note. 
Looking out of the Grand Weir hide there's a few Common Terns flying across the water and a couple more perched on the posts close to the weir.
I'm about to leave when I decide to have one last scan of the goose fields. It proves to be a good move as an Oystercatcher flies in and starts feeding on the grass. It's my first patch tick of the day, and will prove to be the only new tick .
At langridge there's plenty of Swifts and Swallows in the air and a pair of Shelduck on the water. Although it's bright the wind is blowing, So not good for butterflies. With only a couple of Speckled Woods seen, Plus a few Common Blue Damselflies around.
I was hoping it would be more productive, But it's still good to be out and it sure beats working.

Monday, 4 June 2012

Norfolk dunes and Strumshaw Fen

Leaving Loughton at 6, We head for Winterton in Norfolk. There's been reports of a Woodchat Shrike present in the dunes recently. Though no reports for a day or so now.
Little Tern
It's not the main focus of the day, As Brian wants to try for Swallowtail Butterflies at Strumshaw Fen. But it's not a big detour to reach Winterton.
Arriving at Winterton we head out amongst the dunes, but it's not a surprise when we don't connect with the shrike. Further along the beach we reach the fenced off area which is to protect a colony of nesting Little Terns.
We get as close as we can without causing any disturbance to the birds. There's a fence around the area and then another electric fence for added protection.
With the aid of the scope I can get right in amongst the colony as the birds bring back sand eels to the nest sites. Amongst the terns there are a few Ringed Plovers present and there's also a single Sanderling running along the waters edge feeding.
From here it's off to Strumshaw Fen in search of the Swallowtail Butterfly. Reaching the reserve conditions are not great for butterflies. The sun is doing it's best to break through the clouds, but there's strong winds around and not surprising we have no luck finding any Swallowtails.
The reserve is pretty quiet, But there are four Marsh Harriers in the air together, and we see one pair complete a food pass and a female taking nesting material back to her nest site.
There's also Sedge and Cetti's Warblers present in good numbers, and I get a brief view of a Bearded Tit as it flies along the back edge of the pool in front of Fen hide.
Before completely the walk I get goods views of a Kingfisher as it zips past me across the path and heads along the rivers edge.
So only Little Tern to add to the year list today, But it was a cracking little bird and good to watch them at really close quarters.

Saturday, 2 June 2012

Interesting times at Rainham Marshes

I'm at work on Friday when news of a Marsh warbler at Rainham Marshes comes through. With no chance of getting there that evening, I'm left hoping it will stick around until at least the morning.
We leave Loughton at 5.30am and head for Coldharbour Lane at rainham.
Reaching the car park, The weather is not good. It's cold and fine drizzly rain is falling. We make our way along the footpath towards the "Serin Mound". There's one other birder present and the weather most have caught him out as he's standing there shivering in shorts and a tracksuit top having cycled over. 
Asking if he has heard the bird, he gives us the reply we were hoping for. "yeah it's been singing and showing off and on".
It's not long after this conversation that we get our first blast of song from the Marsh Warbler, It's quite brief but it's also quite distinctive.
The weather shows no sign of improvement, But the bird doesn't seem to mind as it briefly sits up on the top of a branch and then flies lower into thicker vegetation. It's all to brief a view but it was a good view all the same.
With the other birder now departing while he still has the ability to pedal his bike, We are left on our own for the next 10-15 minutes listening to the bird  Sometimes it's brief bursts and other times much more prolonged and sustained singing.
Stone Barges
It's another 15-20 minutes before any other birders show up,  amongst them are a couple of familiar faces to us, Namely Les Harrison and Neville Smith. They tell us that they have heard a Grasshopper Warbler calling from further down the track, With Dad Brian and I all needing the gropper for the year list  we leave them and head down the path to try to connect with it.
Brian having walked on ahead has already heard it and seen it briefly fly from a nearby tree to thicker cover. There's no sight or sound of it when we reach him, So we decide to split up and cover more of the area. A short time later I hear it reeling. Dad is not far away so hears it at the same time. Cold and wet but happy, We head back to the car Planning on driving home for some breakfast. It doesn't turn out quite that easy.
Approaching the A13, Brian's Merc loses all drive through the throttle. We make it as far as the Ship and Shovel pub and have to pull in.
Four hours later and we are sitting in the back of a tow truck with the car on the back heading for Loughton.
It's been an interesting morning to say the least, But one that produced a lifer in the form of the Marsh warbler and another year tick with the gropper.
Here's hoping the weather improves for the remainder of the bank holiday.