Saturday, 14 July 2012

More catch-up: Lesvos wildlife

Scarce Swallowtail - not very scarce!
We couldn't resist taking some photos of these butterflies, dragonflies, reptiles etc.

Eastern Dappled White

Eastern Festoon

Cream-spotted Tiger

Starred Agama

Dice Snakes
Small Pincertail Dragonfly
Broad Scarlet Dragonfly

Overdue catch-up - our Birds of Lesvos!

Scop's Owl
At the beginning of May, Gen and ourselves went to Lesvos for a week's birding. Being our first trip to Lesvos we were in exploratory mode,with  the considerable help of Steve Dudley's excellent book and many references to his Blog. We loved the island and it's people but most of all we loved the birds. It wouldn't be a blog - it would be a book if I recounted all the places we visited and we only covered half of the island! That gives us a good reason to return. Hopefully before it is ruined by massive wind farms (see Steve Dudley's blog). Here are just a few of our photo's...........

Black-headed Bunting

Cretzschmar's Bunting

Cirl Bunting

Apart from the wonderful buntings we had sightings of most of the birds that Lesvos is so famous for, including Kruper's Nuthatch feeding young at the nest.

Another treat was a very obliging Ruppell's Warbler....
Ruppell's Warbler

and .....
Rufous Bush Robin


Masked Shrike

and last but not least....... a very elegant Spur-winged Lapwing!

Thursday, 19 April 2012

More Beds Birds

Our weekend plans were stymied by our car breaking down on Friday so instead of going to Norfolk to see what was about we decided to stay 'local'.
First stop Blows Down paddocks - after watching and photographing a very vocal Chiffchaff we were lucky enough to meet Rob D on his 'rounds' who kindly pointed us in the direction of the male Ring Ouzel which had been seen there. It was not on view at first but a good scan round the paddocks soon picked up on a female Wheatear by the fence-line. A short time later the Ring Ouzel appeared on the ground near the shelter.

Broom was our next stop, unfortunately with fewer birds than we had hoped. A single Common Tern being the most notable.
After lunch and a 'warm-up' at Danish Camp we set off to see what was about ...... Chiffchaffs, Willow Warblers and Green Woodpeckers calling but surprisingly few birds on the river. A few Canada Geese and Mallard on the fishing lake. Looking over the scrapes we saw a Snipe flying in and then spotted Little Ringed Plover crouching in the vegetation and at least two Ringed Plover scuttling along the edges. As we scanned the ploughed field and grassland either side of the path Gen spotted a male Wheatear. We all stopped to take photos and it was then we noticed a second Wheatear.
Wheatear at Willington

Alas no sign of any Wagtails - neither Pied or Yellow.
Our last stop was at MVCP to pay a visit to the Slavonian Grebe and see if there were any different Warblers about. Blackcaps, Chiffys and Willow Warblers but nothing else calling.
Chiffchaff at MVCP

Saturday, 14 April 2012

Easter Weekend

Having spent some time studying the weather forecast for the holiday weekend we decided to go birding on the Friday and Sunday.
Good Friday was spent at Welney WWT and the Ouse Washes in cool but reasonably dry conditions with a few patches of sunshine. We dipped on the Sacred Ibis but were pleased to see our first Sedge Warbler for this year - unfortunately a rather shy one that didn't pose for photos! We also saw a tagged Marsh Harrier - tagged by the NW Norfolk Ringing Group at Sculthorpe Moor, Norfolk on the 10th June (biometrics indicated that it is a male from a brood of 6).
Wing-tagged male Marsh Harrier AA

We also saw Little Ringed Plover and a large group of 11 Snipe on the scrapes left of the main hide.
After lunch we drove round to the Ouse Washes in search of Garganey that had been reported there. With a short walk to the hides overlooking the 'Washes' we spent some time checking out the numerous Teal that were feeding there. Eventually a pair of Garganey were spotted emerging from the vegetation at the side of one of the pools.
Then after the Teal were spooked, taking to the sky, they settled in a channel directly opposite the hide. The Garganey had taken off with them and when we found them again there were actually 2 males and a female. It took them a little frantic calling and swimming around in circles before they found each other again.

In just one section of the Washes we counted more than a dozen Little Egret. We also found Ruff, displaying Redshank and a pair each of Pintail and Goldeneye. To our surprise there were still several Whooper Swans grazing on the water meadows.
In contrast we started out in rain on Easter Sunday to travel to Dungeness for our first visit there this year. As it was still raining when we got there we decided to visit the hide on the ARC pit first (we usually go there after a walk around the RSPB reserve). It was a good call as we had fairly close views of the Spoonbill, which has been there for a while, before it retreated to the other side of the pit.
Dungeness Spoonbill

Other birds seen included Snipe, Oystercatcher, Goldeneye, Curlew and Little Ringed Plover. As we returned to the car we spotted a beautiful male Hen Harrier hunting over the scrub opposite Boulderwall Farm, before it flew low over the road and onto the reserve.
The reserve itself was fairly quiet - few people and even fewer birds. There were Marsh Harriers quartering the fields, pristine Common Gulls amongst those sheltering/roosting on Burroughs Pit and a few Swallows flying through.
A visit to Dungeness is not complete without a sea watch. Despite the meanness of the winds coming in off the sea there were good views of Little Gulls patrolling the shoreline and a number of adult Gannets flying through as well as a couple of groups of Common Scoter. We had hoped to find any early migrants near the lighthouse but the poor weather kept them skulking out of sight.

Monday, 2 April 2012

Beds Birds

Yesterday morning a quick visit to the Open Morning at DSTW gave us good views of a visiting Green Sandpiper and a Water Rail.

The Water Rail was sensitive to noise from people on the site but made frequent forays into the open.

Hawfinch, Goshawk and Short-eared Owl

This is just a round-up of the last three weekends - days spent in the Suffolk Brecks, Gloucester's Forest of Dean and Lincolnshire's Gibraltar Point, Freiston Shore and Frampton Marsh.
We spent a day in the Brecks with our friends in the Beds Bird Club, starting out at Olley's Farm in the hope of seeing Goshawk. We drew a blank on Goshawk but enjoyed the singing Woodlark.
Lynford Arboretum was our next stop, with Crossbills, Goldcrest and Firecrest (heard) and a very bold Hawfinch clearing up beneath some feeders. Unfortunately the Hawfinch was difficult to photograph but this Marsh Tit was more obliging.

There were high hopes for Lakenheath RSPB which had been good the day before, in persistent rain. We had a short sharp shower whilst there but in cool dry conditions we walked the length of the reserve. Hunting Marsh Harriers, a fleeting view of a distant Bittern and some elusive Beardies were the best on offer. The day was very nicely rounded off by a visit to a nearby site where we saw 7 newly arrived Stone Curlew.
The following weekend we rose extra early (British summertime arrived!) and left Sandy RSPB at 7am to travel to the Forest of Dean. The day started well with a very obliging Tawny Owl perched on a fence at Sandy.
The Lodge Tawny Owl
Our first stop was at South Leigh, Oxon to search for a Great Grey Shrike. After a while it was discovered perched at the top of a tall tree. It began hunting and was quite mobile but at least we all got to see it. We arrived at New Fancy in the Forest of Dean mid-morning and climbed up to the viewpoint. Those who had visited before were all thrilled that the weather was being so kind to us - clear views and light clouds instead of bitterly cold winds. We had fantastic views of displaying Buzzards and Ravens and at least one Goshawk flying and one perched on the edge of the forest.
Canop Ponds were very busy with picnickers taking advantage of the summery weather. There were a few Mandarin ducks on view along with the Mallards.
Mandarin Duck at Canop Ponds

Our final stop was at Symonds Yat for the Peregrines. We were lucky enough to get reasonable views as the pair returned to the cliff shortly after our arrival. A few minutes later a Goshawk came into view as it rode the thermals above the cliff. A fantastic end to the day.
On the last day of March Gen, Paul and ourselves went to Gibraltar Point in Lincolnshire in the hope of catching up with some early migrants. We started off well with great views of a Short-eared Owl hunting over the river and then overhead as it crossed over to the saltmarsh. In the first hide we had just got settled when it started to rain. This was not the drizzle forecast but a squally shower which brought the temperature down to a bitter 4C. There were a few Golden Plover - some males going into summer plumage and looking quite smart. Our best bird from the hide was a Merlin, it was hunkered down in the grass it took a while for us to work out what it was.
As for migrants there were none to be seen in the usual scrub and grazing areas. If they were there they kept a very low profile!
There was a distinct shortage of water, especially on the large pool on the way to the dunes. A Little Egret found the fishing easy!
Little Egret fishing in shallow water

Freiston Shore looked a bit more interesting with numbers of Avocet, Brent Geese, a Bar-tailed Godwit and Ringed Plover to add to the usual Redshank, Canada Geese and Lapwings.
Brent Geese

Bar-tailed Godwit

Frampton Marsh promised more than it gave. Someone had put Jack Snipe on the board but we couldn't find it - only Common Snipe. There was plenty of water around. A group of about 60 Black-tailed Godwit were standing, hunched against the cold wind. Kestrels were showing a keen interest in the nest box at the far end of the car park.

Thursday, 15 March 2012

Best Bitterns

Last Saturday we ventured to Minsmere in the hope of seeing some of the birds reported there during the week. UK Glossy Ibis would be nice! We took our usual route along the north bank encountering a couple of small groups of  Bearded Tits feeding at the tops of the reeds and flying around. We had some pretty close views.
Bearded Tits

With the sound of Cetti's Warblers singing from the cover of the bushes, we made our way to the beach. At first the sea looked a bit quiet, until we got our eyes in and spotted divers! Unbelievably there were a mix of Red-throated, Black-throated and Great Northern Divers (mostly Red-throated) on the sea in groups and singles, strung out offshore from Sizewell to Southwold. We estimated the numbers that we saw clearly to be in excess of 50 and probably the whole area contained over 100. They were making their way north, which was evident in the general movement with birds flying and then settling on the sea.  The only other birds we could find were a small group of Common Scoter.
There was a distinct lack of waders on the scrapes, which was rather disappointing. The most interesting bird being an 'exotic' (possibly from a nearby shoot) - a White-faced Pintail.
After lunch we made our way to Bittern Hide where there were very recent recorded sightings of Otters and as a consequence was rammed with people wanting to see them. According to one guy who had photographs taken earlier in the morning (he was there all day!) they were most likely to appear early morning or late afternoon. No Otters for us! Bittern and Water Rail were the order of the day.
Water Rail

After waiting a while with no Otters or Bittern on view, we went to see the new Island Mere viewing room - can't call it a hide as it's like a mini version of the monstrosity at Titchwell. The only bird of note was a red head Smew, there was supposed to be a male as well but he chose not to put in an appearance. Similarly the Glossy Ibis kept a low profile and didn't appear for us!
Red Deer

So it was back to Bittern hide just in time to see a Red Deer walking along the bank and then over the bank and down to the water where it caused some comments on it's culinary use as it obscured views of a Bittern emerging from the reeds. For those of us standing it wasn't a problem we just moved behind those seated and were able to get some reasonable photos.

A short while later when the crowd had thinned out a bit there were good views of a Water Rail and more sustained views of Bittern.
Altogether a day of multiple sightings!

February updates!

Where does the time go? February saw us visiting Pitsford Reservoir in snow and ice, Otmoor Reserve in cool but brilliant sunshine, Wicken Fen in the rain and a second visit to Pagham Harbour with Bedford RSPB Local Group and last but not least Titchwell and Holkham.
The highlights at Pitsford were a group of Goldcrests flitting in and out of the trees, Goldeneye and Smew in pairs and a very lucky fly-over of a Woodcock. There was a very large flock of Canada Geese which dominated the areas around the open water.
Smew at Pitsford
A pair of Goldeneye
After leaving Pitsford we went to Fineshade which was also very icy (except for the lovely hot chocolate, enjoyed in the cafe). There wasn't much about, Marsh and Coal Tit on the feeders were the best we could do! So we made our way back home via Corby, counting Red Kites as we went.
Malcolm and I went on a mid-week trip to Otmoor, hoping to see Short-eared Owls but the best we could do was a Peregrine, a large mixed flock of Fieldfare and Redwings and Mealy Redpolls and Yellowhammers near the feeders.
A morning visit, in drizzle, to Stockgrove gave us some good views of Nuthatch and some cheeky Grey Squirrels.
Nuthatch at Stockgrove

We went to Wicken Fen on a most unpromising day, weather-wise, but the forecast had said it would brighten later! So we didn't go out very early and we managed to stay reasonably dry. The effort was not wasted. Mid-afternoon saw us approaching the 'tower' hide which was already occupied by a couple of birders, we just filled it to capacity! We were delighted to see up to four female/juvenile Hen Harriers hunting and perching on posts or on the ground. The clouds drifted away to leave a beautiful setting sun which cast a golden glow across the reserve. The birds looked magnificent in the sunlight. A Short-eared Owl was seen, briefly, hunting over the fen and at least two Barn Owls joined in the hunting spree. Unfortunately it was not a good day for photography.
Our second visit, for the year, to Pagham Harbour was very enjoyable. We saw the usual waders and geese but the highlight for us was the overwintering? Black Redstart at Selsey which eventually showed very well. There were quite a few Med Gulls, especially on the beach near Church Norton, where the receding tide invited more and more waders down to feed.
Black Redstart

On the last weekend of February we decided to try our luck in North Norfolk for the Rough-legged Buzzard that had been eluding us last year. We made an early start so that we could visit Titchwell first - this proved to be a wise decision. Along the path to the visitor centre we stopped to see if the Redpolls were about, we could hear them but not see them until we spotted a couple flying over the tree tops and away. A Treecreeper calling was easy to spot, then another turned up so we watched them long enough to get a couple of photos.
Treecreeper at Titchwell

We caught up with the Redpolls in the alders along the path, they were a mixed group but we were unable to identify the Coue's in amongst them. Then we made our way down to the sea where we had one of our best Titchwell seawatches. Long-tailed Ducks, Red-throated Divers, Velvet Scoter and Eider to name but a few!
At Holkham we parked up and made our way to the beach in the hope of catching up with the Shorelark but there were too many people about on such a lovely sunny day! A Barn Owl sat on a post in full view, looking for it's lunch. After walking along to the hides and drawing a blank on the RL Buzzard we decided to call it a day. Sitting in the car ready to drive off Malcolm spotted a Buzzard flying along the woodland edge between Holkham and Wells and it was 'hovering' so we quickly got our bins out just as it dropped out of sight!! Perseverance paid off as it reappeared, briefly, a few minutes later. Not great views but definitely the Rough-legged Buzzard!

Monday, 13 February 2012

Winter Ducks and Geese

The first weekend in February, Gen and ourselves joined John, Pete and Geoff in Dumfries and Galloway to look for wintering waterbirds and anything else of interest. The weather was mixed with very wet conditions on the Saturday but fine, if chilly for the rest of the time. On the way we stopped off to visit WWT Caerlaverock, which was disappointing as the tides were not in our favour and the Barnacle Geese were very distant. Possibly the best birds seen there were a small flock of Yellowhammers feeding on the ground and in the bushes close to one of the hides.
One of the Yellowhammer flock (taken through glass!)

Further along the Solway, at Carsethorn, we had fantastic views of a Peregrine patrolling the shore and putting up the large flocks of Lapwing, Dunlin and Oystercatchers. Yet again geese were seen at great distance on the mud banks of the Solway.
As Saturday was such a washout, with poor views across Loch Ryan, we returned to our hotel in the afternoon, to amuse ourselves by a roaring fire, playing dominoes!
Sunday morning saw us at Port Beg cottage before breakfast for views of Black Guillemot, Eider, Red-throated Diver, Shag, Rock Dove, Fulmar and Gannet. Later, along the western shore of Loch Ryan we saw large flocks of Scaup, a group of Eider with a Long-tailed Duck, a trio of Long-tailed ducks, Slavonian Grebes, Mergansers and Black Guillemots and Red-throated divers, one in particular was quite close to  our viewpoint. We also found a couple of Rock Pipits on one of the slipways.
A flotilla of Scaup

Eider males
Long-tailed Duck

Slavonian Grebe

Red-throated Diver

Just beyond Stranraer we had a possible Iceland Gull, Turnstones, Redshank, Black-headed Gulls, Dunlin, Black-tailed Godwit, Knot and Oystercatchsrs with one leucistic Oystercatcher that has possibly been seen in previous years.
Turnstones, Redshank & Black-headed Gulls

We moved further east to a car park where views towards the northern end of the loch gave us a distant Great Northern Diver. From the eastern shore of Loch Ryan we counted two groups of Red-throated divers, one containing 12 and the other 10.
After leaving Loch Ryan we travelled to Wigtown where a Long-billed Dowitcher has been a long staying visitor but alas we were unable to locate it. Not a lot else to be seen apart from some very elegant Pintails and a Peregrine.
On our way home we crossed the moorland to the east of Stranraer in beautiful sunlight. Very few birds about except in the wooded valleys on the way through to the A75. Unfortunately patches of fog became more intense as we travelled and we found RSPB Mersehead enveloped in mist and fog. Views from the hide were very limited as the nearest ducks melted into the mist.

Monday, 23 January 2012

Pagham Harbour and Selsey Bill

Yesterday saw Gen, Paul and ourselves up before the crack of dawn to travel down to West Sussex for a birding adventure with Beds Birds. John, our leader for the day, had prepared for the trip meticulously including going down a day ahead and scouting out the best viewpoints.

We assembled at the visitor centre before setting off for a walk around the western side of the harbour. From the hide we had good views of Wigeon, Teal, Shoveler and a large number of Shelduck feeding on the water to the west of the road. Lapwing, Golden Plover and Curlew were also present. A couple of Red-legged Partridge were spotted at the back of the field. The walk along the 'embankment' revealed Redshank and Pintail feeding and dabbling in the saltmarsh. Further along the path we saw more Pintail, then a group of Avocet, Grey Plover, Dunlin and a couple of Oystercatchers resting on the end of one of the mud banks. In the distance, across the water, we saw Brent Geese along with more Shelduck. On our walk back to the cars Mike spotted a Goldcrest moving through a bramble hedge but it quickly moved on and only a couple of us saw it. The feeders outside the visitors centre were busy - we saw plenty of Goldfinch, Chaffinch, Greenfinch, Blue, Great and Long-tailed Tit feeding there as well as a Great Spotted Woodpecker.

Then we all drove down to Selsey Bill for a sea watch and for most of the group a very fleeting view of a Black Redstart. There were several Med Gulls on and around the beach area as well as a small number of Mergansers a bit further out to sea. We also had an eclipse Eider moving rapidly westwards in quite a rough sea. Further round, near the Lifeboat Station we stopped for lunch and a more prolonged seawatch where the water was not quite so choppy. A large group of Turnstones were gathered on the slipway and at least one Great Crested Grebe diving around the moored fishing boats.

Lastly a visit to the Church Norton end of the reserve gave us views of the waders enjoying the increasing mud flats revealed by the retreating tide. New for the day were Ringed Plover, Little Egret and Knot. A short walk took us to the beach where another sea watch became more interesting as the receding tide left a sandier shoreline for the waders to forage along. The highlight here was the Slavonian Grebe that had been spotted the previous day but took quite a while to relocate. Unfortunately it wasn't a great day for photographs - just a great days' birding with friends!

Ducks and Swans

Ducks....... on the 14th January I joined Gen on a 'Duck Hunt' along the River Flit, through Flitwick Moor and Flitton Moor then on to Hollington Basin. It was a beautifully bright and frosty morning and although I started out in fog it was clear and sunny in Flitwick.
Our first significant bird of the morning was a lovely Goldcrest which alerted us to it's presence by it's call whilst it flitted through a garden conifer. Of ducks - not a lot to see. Our sightings were all on the millstream and river and amounted to Moorhen, Mallards and this odd hybrid!
Hybrid duck

We really enjoyed the walk despite the lack of ducks. There were 3 Grey Heron, standing in meadows, looking a bit fed up and two very vocal Little Egret flew over. This picture of the Soay sheep used for managing the Moor reminds me of the wintry views sometimes found on Christmas cards and jigsaws.

Best of all, was a pair of Bullfinches that were feeding on seed heads near the path. I managed to get a couple of photos but before I could get close enough for a decent shot a dog-walker disturbed the birds and they flew off.
Male Bullfinch
Unfortunately all the shallow water, including Hollington Basin was frozen and any water birds had gone elsewhere to feed.
Swans....... on Sunday 15th we went to the Ouse Washes and Welney with the Bedford RSPB Local Group. We visited the Ouse Washes first and were pleased to see that despite there being plenty of ice there were still plenty of birds. I was very glad not to be there to count them as there were Wigeon everywhere as well as plenty of Teal, some beautiful Pintails, Black-tailed Godwit, Snipe, Dunlin and a Temmincks Stint that some saw and others didn't. I think we saw it but as it was at distance we weren't sure. We had good views of a female Merlin hunting.
After lunch we visited Welney WWT. This was a chance for possibly the last visit this winter while the Bewick's and Whoopers are here. We certainly saw more Bewick's than we had last time we visited and they were better views. Malcolm took some video of this pair head-bobbing.

It was very busy in the main observation hide so we walked down to Lyle Hide, just in time to get good views of a perched Peregrine before it flew off. We were also lucky to see a small group of European White-fronts feeding with some Greylags. Although the hide was busy, people were sharing the space well and everybody managed to get a good view of a ringtail Hen Harrier that flew over. As the afternoon progressed the temperature dropped and light faded so we returned to the visitor centre to enjoy a hot chocolate and fantastic views of a hunting Barn Owl as it flew past the windows.

Thursday, 5 January 2012

Happy Smew Year!

A great start to the new year list began with the cracking male Smew at Caldecotte Lake. We hoped it would still be there despite a negative report the day before - and we were lucky to find it busily feeding amongst Black-headed Gulls and a trio of Goosander. Unfortunately the light was not brillant and this photo is, at best, a record shot.
Smew at Caldecotte

After watching the Smew for a while we hastened to the north lake to look for the Great Northern Diver. Here again we were lucky and found the diver feeding just off the northern bank.

We then went to Linford Lakes to see if we could bag the Great White Egret. Unfortunately it had gone AWOL to Brogborough and by the time we got there it had returned to Bucks!! Nevertheless we did get good views of Goldeneye on the lake and Marsh Tit and Water Rail from the Woodland Hide. Whilst scanning the lake to see what was about we were visited, in the hide, by a very trusting young Robin.
Our friendly Robin
Marsh Tit

We returned to Bedfordshire and dipped on the GWE. After lunch we went for a walk round Stewartby Lake but with the weather rapidly deteriorating we were lucky to locate the GND which was fishing in the lea the Marston Corner. After a brief visit to the Gull Watchpoint we retreated from the increasingly wet weather.