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Sunday, 4 December 2011

Heading East Gets West. Sponsored by Toffee Crisp.

Dear readers I am not going to apologize, for the lack of input, on this blog. Equally I am not going to apologize for the small amount of birding I have done since the summer. Circumstances have changed, I have a new job, which is taking up time, and when not doing that I have family who need me first. I have missed many good birds, many lifers and so now I have to take my chances when I get them. Some of you won't be able to comprehend what I'm saying here but others of you will. It's all about priorities I guess but for this year my feathered friends have had to take a bit of a rest. I've still seen good birds, I've still had great days out. I've still dipped and equally still had my bits of luck.

A recent piece of fortune was this Desert Wheatear, an addition to my Shropshire life list. This photo was taken on my belly due to the harsh winds that were whipping Titterstone Clee. I probably resembled a scene out of Frozen Planet (thinking Walrus here) but it got me the shot.

                                                 Desert Wheatear, Titterstone Clee, Shropshire.

Equally some other recent Shropshire lifers that have obliged have been Steppe Grey Shrike and Red Throated Diver. Obviously the deflector shields have been removed from the county this autumn. 

So with December on us it was with great excitement I learnt of the arrival of a Western Sandpiper at Cley. I really wanted this bird. So on Friday evening the negotiation began with my wife. You know when you know you can go virtually immediately and this time I knew I could go. Normally it is me who cannot go but this time several usual suspects were working, or couldn't be bothered or were washing the cat. Some had already been to see it. Only one brave soul ventured to come with me and that was Dave Western.

So at 4.15am (Saturday 3rd December) I picked Dave up with my drive through McDonalds coffee and donut in hand. The journey was very good, my sat nav found a new route and we made Cley in 3hrs 30mins. The journey included a stop off for more coffee  and a double sausage and egg mcmuffin, and allowed us views of Fox, Barn Owl and Deer along the way.

We pulled up at the NWT reserve car park along with about 20 more cars with bleary eyed birders dropping in. One of the reserve guys accosted us all for £4.50 and gave us a sticker each which wasn't a bad deal for a sticker.

Onto the reserve we charged and got to the 3 central hides and chose the central one to view from. In we went to find it chocca block filled with scopes. Establishing that the bird was distant and left of a mole hill, and was running in and out of view, I was wondering how I would get to see it. A local old chap was kind enough to let me look through his already set up scope and the bird seemingly ran out and let me glimpse it for a millisecond as it hid under a Lapwing. There was no way we would get a good look at it from here. All I could say was the size was good.

Suddenly the flock got up and moved Left and all dropped down on the left hand side of the hide where we were standing. A bit closer now and books appeared and much debate ensued but the light was better here and we were getting excited when we started to see much clearer views of this wader.

I decided to use the benches at the front of the hide as nobody else seemed to be using them. The birds got up again and swirled round for an age but then dropped in on the island nearest to us. All the Dunlin were obscured on the far edge of this island but then they all started to walk around to the front just as the sun shone through. The wader we all wanted was coming closer and closer and eventually appeared and put on a great show for us for about 20 minutes on the closest bank. I shot some photo's but my lens wasn't quite powerful enough to get a real close shot. I guess digiscopers would have won here. One shot was ok and shows the overall feeling of the bird next to a Dunlin. 

                                                     Western Sandpiper (left) with Dunlin.

Western Sandpiper On My Life List!!

The Dunlin flock got up and moved further away taking the sandpiper with them but our eyes were now accustomed to what we were looking for and in total we viewed the bird for about an hour. Happiness all round.

So back to the car we skipped and second breakfast consumed. Dave seemed to be the one with the massive bag of food on this trip. I got rewarded with a Toffee Crisp! 

We headed to Burnham Overy. No Rough Legs at this point so we carried on to Titchwell where a Yellow Browed Warbler had been for a long while now. The weather wasn't helping us, high winds, one minute sunny the next overcast, then rain. We perservered and located the YBW heard it call 5 times but did not get a single view. A very frustrating bird and how anyone can post "showing well" for this bird, on the bird news services, god only knows. Maybe that's on the days when they trap it! The only obliging birds at Titchwell were the trained Robins an example of which i photographed. We also picked up a Mealy Redpoll, amongst the Goldfinch flock, feeding near the visitor centre.

We had wasted an awful lot of time trying to see the YBW and tiredness set in so we decided to head home as we'd seen what we wanted to see. In the car park Dave rewarded me once more with a Toffee Crisp!

En route I started to get nodding off syndrome and pulled in for a rest at several locations. One in particular though was memorable, a small lay-by after Guyhirn on the A47 just passed Wisbech and virtually at Thorney. Whilst i rested Dave had been scanning the fields to our left. Suddenly he said, in a very unexcited way, 8 common Crane flying in. I thought he was taking the mick but then he said, "I'm getting out to scope them". By some randon chance we had seen 8 Cranes! Another birder pulled into the lay-by and told us these had been reported in the area before but we hadn't seen this news. (I discovered later on this was John Hague who I am on a facebook birding group with). He told me about a cafe car park further up the road that we could view from. Off we went and fortunately the light was good from here and I got this shot. This is the biggest group of Crane I have seen in the UK.

With another dose of Adrenaline we headed home and got to the A14 where I stopped for a coffee. Dave produced another Toffee Crisp for me (must have been a family pack) and we motored back listening to talk sport. Eventually I got home to discover a homemade curry waiting for me. What a day!

Wednesday, 22 June 2011

Shropshire Birds and Butterflies

Well it's that time of year when the birds dry up (except for Mega Scoters that I can't reach!) and the insects come out (and bite me to death!) so this write up concentrates on both. I had a Saturday free so joined up with Jim Almond and Rob Stokes to try and locate some butterflies that I've never seen in the county. I was extremely jealous as both have fantastic macro lens' (want one!) but I thought I'd make the most of my set up and still managed to get some shots.

First stop was to see Wood White. This is probably on the edge of their range but once at the site (secret I'm afraid) we quickly got onto butterlies and a damselfly sp. Large Skipper, Common Blue and then the Wood White. The latter wouldn't keep still, but eventually it landed half way up a bank and I had to laugh as both the macro guys climbed up and slipped down again whilst trying to get ultra close.

Common Blue.

Wood White.

Rob da bank!

So mission accomplished we now had another rarity in our sights and headed toward a well known hill range. The weather that day had been variable with a mix of showers and sunshine. At our new venue we headed along the track toward a path of marsh that was, unbeknown to me , 2.5km away. This was not helped by having to shelter below trees to keep the camera equipment out of the rain. This did, however, allow me to notice this little beauty that was not used to humans it seemed.

Baby Common Redstart.

So on we trudged and to be honest my enthusiasm waned but eventually Rob (who had zoomed on ahead) called us both on the mobile and with a bit of shouting put us onto a patch of Marsh that held our quarry, Small Pearl Bordered Fritillary.
Small Pearl Bordered Fritillary (underwing)

Eventually the sun came out and we got the upper wing shots we were after......

So elated happy bunnies we were and headed back to the car and onward to collect the car from Venus Pools. At VP we decided to take a look out the hide and whilst my partners went about trying to take Macro photo's of a weird wood wasp, on the hide window, I decided to take my chance at getting the best shot of a Grey Heron I have done so far.....

A cracking end to the day.

Tuesday, 7 June 2011

White Throated Robin

                                                           Like our Robin but different.

Thanks to the Doctor who opened his garden up so that I didn't have to make an ass of myself climbing a ladder!

Sunday, 5 June 2011

Norfolk N' Gold.

I had booked the half term holidays off to spend time with the family, before I did this, I had negotiated a days birding and had decided to go east with the hope of seeing some of my favourite birds.

On 28th May I headed over to Lichfield to rendezvous with Alan Northern and Dave “Robbo” Robinson (Cheshire). I had already picked up Dave Western (Shropshire) and off we headed toward Cambridgeshire to Little Paxton in the hope of seeing Nightingale.

On arrival the rain began and we were a little concerned by this as it may put the birds off from being as vocal as normal. Sure enough we walked quite a way before we actually found a singing Nightingale and typically it was deep in scrub. But with patience and a bit of luck we saw one very close in and I managed to get this shot.

The Rain suddenly got harder and so we opted to dive in the nearest hide named “ Kingfisher hide”. We sat down and opened the shutters and within a minute a Kingfisher flew out from underneath the hide. Believe it or not this was the first Kingfisher I had seen all year!
The rain subsided and we emerged from the hide to hear a cuckoo, which we  managed to pick it up in flight, giving me my third year tick of the day. This made me jolly and grumbles came from some of the ranks who hadn’t had a tick yet (their own fault for going out of the blocks early I say).

We ambled back to the car and many of us had a pit stop en route.  Just a word of warning hear, if you are going to do this, make sure you are on the alert for herds of joggers in fluorescent clothing which frequent these parts!

So next we headed in the general direction of Lakenheath Fen, but decided to drop in to a well known spot to view Stone Curlew. You know, the place where you can’t park but everyone does. We picked out one bird very quickly (4th tick of the day) and fortunately it ran toward us to eventually give me a half decent shot of it.

Onwards to Lakenheath, got gen from the visitor centre and a sumptuous cereal bar to keep me going. Headed out onto the paths and found a group of about 30 birders holding watch over a small stand of trees. Actually, come to think of it, none of them were watching anything, or even trying to scan the trees, so our chances were looking slim and after an hour of seeing only a Cuckoo (in front of us) and Bittern and Marsh Harrier (behind us) we were all getting impatient. We hadn’t even heard a Golden Oriole and this strong wind was not going to encourage them to come out and sing for us. It was at this point that a call of nature, of the 2nd variety, came about and so I had to kind of waddle back to the visitor centre to use the facilities whilst the rest of the team decided to try going to stand in front of some other trees and not look.
After this we all met up on the “Wash” side of the reserve and managed to see a pair of Garganey on one of the pools (5th year tick of the day).

Off toward Norfolk we trotted and as we approached Swaffham (where some of the worlds scariest Marsh Beasts live) we decided to park up to get some well deserved fish and chips. This little lot only came to £5 and was deemed a medium size portion. I would be intrigued to see the large offering.

We opted to go and look for some Monty’s and failed and so we headed to Cley where some other targets had been seen earlier in the day. On arrival at the car park we were fleeced for £1.20, so I gave the man £1.50 and he casually walked away without giving any change (probably needed to feed his book habit) and we parked up amongst the 4 x 4’s of Barbour wearing families flying kites and shouting “Tarquin stop that!”.
Over the shingle we trudged and entered the hide and positioned ourselves carefully amongst the throng. No Little Stint (Damn) but we did bag 2 Little Gulls.
Word of a Shorelark got Dave Western excited so we all yomped over to the east bank and waited for Dave to do his thing whilst I tried to get a half decent shot of Sandwich Tern (see below).

By now it was getting late but we decided to go to Titchwell as we all needed a bird that had been seen here. Mr Western was getting emotional and suggesting to me what photo’s I should get and eventually I got these 2 shots.

I also tried my hand at getting Avocet in flight but failed miserably.

In the end we got to the new hide (I liked and disliked this hide, liked the wind up windows and the twirly seats, didn't like the depth of the shelf in front of the windows) and located our quarry in the form of Curlew Sandpiper. I got many shots of this bird but all were in the weed, until it decided to associate with the Dunlin, and then I got this shot, which I like, because it clearly shows the differences of these 2 species.

On leaving the hide a Male Shovelar

As we left Hunstanton I saw a bird, on the phone wires, which was small enough to be Turtle Dove. None of us had been paying attention so I screeched on the brakes and turned the car around for all of us to see this bird fly off. None of us got a good enough look so we decided to continue on home. We did a quick trip around Wolferton triangle but this didn’t produce any Golden Pheasant. Seemed like the Golden birds didn't want to show on this overcast windy day.

Onwards home for us, as we neared a place called Elm, I noticed a bird fly out of some bushes and land on an advertising board near the road. I couldn’t believe my eyes.  I just slowed the car down and pointed “Turtle Dove!” It was as if it had decided to hop out and be our final bonus bird of the day.  Eventually I got home at 11pm exhausted but satisfied.

Saturday, 7 May 2011

This Week.... I have been mostly ticking lifers!

This week has been a tiring yet interesting one for me and for once has pretty much gone my way when it comes to our feathered friends.
Over the past few weeks I had noted a Kentish Plover in Ireland that was a long stayer. I was cursing. They never stick like this in the UK. To my knowledge I have been for 12 of these and have dipped every time. It was beginning to become a joke, amongst my peers, especially as they had all ticked the Eyebrooke reservoir bird last year. So when news of a Lancs bird hit the news this week I was itching to get at it. It would have to be an early start the next day as my only choice and chance. 4a.m I was out the door and at 5.50a.m got to Cockersand Abbey. Got out the car into a glorious sunny morning and things felt right. I had said my little prayer to the birding gods and I was ready with the right attitude. Even the swallows seemed to sense how good a morning this was and obliged me with this picture as they sunned themselves.

I started along the coastal path toward Plover Scar where the plover had been seen (pretty apt really) and nudged a Wheatear along the wall as I went.

On scanning the sandbanks I picked up an unexpected year tick in the shape of Eider and there were a good number here certainly over 20. Also showing was a Black Swan which equally I wasn't expecting. I looked ahead and noticed a flock of waders milling about on the sandbanks up by the light station on the scar so headed forward with anticipation. As I arrived I could see the flock was made up of Dunlin and Ringed Plover, this is where it would be so I set up my scope. Typically as soon as I did this I the flock flew away from me and into the sun. Not good. However, patience is a virtue and soon enough they moved back to their original position and I started scanning. After 20 minutes of scanning I thought the worst until suddenly I picked out a smaller paler bird with its back to me. I waited and it turned around and sure enough it was the female Kentish Plover and a lifer for me. I can't explain how happy I was but safe to say I was jumping about with joy. I tried to take a shot with my camera but at distance it was a guess. But to my surprise when i zoomed in on the picture I had indeed got a  picture but obviously blurred. That was it I'd done it and went back to my car with a spring in my step and picked out 5 Whimbrel on the way.

On phoning my mate Damon he said "well you could make it 2 lifers if you try". It turned out there was a Subalpine Warbler at Spurn. I knew I was stopping in Wakefield in a hotel that evening so decided that I might be able to make Spurn after work. So at 5pm I left Harrogate and headed to Spurn and got there at 7pm to a very blustery obs. I parked up and started looking around all the likely bushes at the warren. Nothing except a Whitethroat, a Blue tit and a Linnet. I didn't give up though and walked back onto the road and heard a call I wasn't certain of. I stood looking over some buckthorn and could still hear it but couldn't see anything. I then saw 2 locals appear out of nowhere and they were looking photo's. I went over and asked about the bird, "didn't you see it? We were watching you and assumed you'd seen it" It appears that whilst they were taking great pictures I was staring in the right area but all I could see was the sun shining in my face. They gave me some gen on the bird and it's favorite haunts and it turned out it had a liking to one particular bush. I waited by it and as the sun started to go red and lower something moved low down in it. There it was! It eventually came out onto exposed branches several times and allowed me to see its slate grey appearance and its eye ring. My first Subalpine Warbler (female) and I had ticked off 2 lifers in a day, both of these had been real bogey birds and I was amazed at my luck. I headed off for Wakefield into the Spurn sunset.

To top it all off I got to see a Barn Owl hunting along the roadside shortly after taking this and got to Wakefield at 11pm after feeding myself at the local golden arches.

The next day produced more, Wood Sandpiper at Eddersthorpe and Stone Curlew at Old Moor RSPB. I was put onto this by local birder Richard Collis and was pleased to also see here Ruff (see photo's below), Spotted Redshank, Med Gull, Common Tern and Hobby. The attractive young lady who gave me directions at Old moor turned out to be my good friend Mr Archer's girlfriend. It's a small world.

On my way home I dropped by Blithfield Reservoir and picked up Arctic (4) and Black terns (8).

Once home I thought to myself what luck I'd had could it get any better. Well it did, 2 shots I'd been trying to get from my back door for weeks I managed to get. House Sparrow (they nest in my roof space) and Goldfinch.

Sanderling at Neumann's flash. Did I need it for the year? Yes! so we nipped around and got Little Stint instead. What a week!

Monday, 2 May 2011

Early Morning Dots!

Last night I got a call from Rob Stokes to tell me there were 9 Dotteral on the Long Mynd at their usual place by the gliding station. This has recently become an annual event. Me and/or Rob check the gliding station and get nothing then, a few days later, someone else finds them and we have to dash like mad men to see these lovely birds.
So this news set me on edge a bit as I couldn't go immediately as it was dinner and bed times for my girls. A morning hunt would have to be arranged and so myself and Damon Howells drove up there this morning and luckily the birds were still present.

On a high we wondered what else we could get so we headed for Venus Pool and got 2 Swift flying over the car park. The pool was not really giving us anything new so we got up and headed for Wood Lane NR just in case that had produced a wader. It had, but only in the form of Common Sandpiper. So off to Colemere just in case a tern was about but alas nowt of interest except a nice party of Sand Martins flying low by us.
En route home we had 2 lots of Red Legged Partridge running in front of the car but other than that the Dotteral were the star birds.

Sunday, 1 May 2011

Venus Pool: 2 Hours Of Results!

So It's a sunny Sunday afternoon and I have been given a slot to go out for a couple of hours. With all the migrants coming through I thought why not sit it out at my nearest reserve Venus Pool. Maybe I'll pick something up?
On arrival I went to the main hide and saw a Lapwing close by and thought how stunning it looked in the light. Their feathers are amazing and produce many colours.

Then some action caught my eye, over by the new public hide, so I got my stuff, wandered round and sat myself down. The reason for my move was the chance to take photo's of Wagtails but my first shot ended up being a Lapwing in its infancy, one of 2 chicks (previously there had been 4) I wonder if any will survive?

Eventually the Wagtail action began with a very smart, yet surprising, White Wagtail showing up first. 

Much paler on the back than Pied Wagtail and with a defined contrast at the neckline between the grey and the black.
Then it was the turn of one of 6 Yellow Wagtails to give me a show. This particular bird was having a paddle.

Then out of nowhere came the one I had waited for, Channel Wagtail! This bird has been hanging around Venus Pool for a while now but I hadn't seen it. With it's pale blue/grey head, with strong supercilium and extensive white on its throat, this bird was simply something new for me to gaze at in wonder. This was a first for me having previously only seen Blue headed Wagtail which it is derived from.

What an afternoon. Then to top it all off the Little Ringed Plovers came the closest they have ever come to the hide when I have been there and I got my best LRP shot to date.

My afternoon was complete. All I needed to do now was go home for my Sunday Roast. Happy times.