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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.

Saturday, 30 April 2011

Days of Red Thunder2! The Lincs Connection.

With the royal wedding imminent a few phone calls quickly established that 5 of us would be heading well away from any TV set and east for a days birding. I am certain we were not the only birders to take this view. After all it was a free day to go birding in peak migration.
At 4a.m I picked up Mike Stokes, in Shrewsbury, and very quickly realised that he had not been to bed by the fact that the first thing he did was open a can of Carlsberg and start swigging it as I drove down the A53 heading for Stoke-on-Trent.
At 5 a.m our 3 Cheshire lads met us at the usual lay-by and the journey to Lincolnshire began and my first can of Red Thunder consumed. For Mike and Mark Payne there were lifers to be had in the form of Tawny pipit and for me, and Robbo and Ian, just the potential for a good days birding in good company.
The banter started immediately and we reached Derby in what seemed like 5 minutes we were chatting so much. I announced that I was dropping into the 24hr McDonalds to get a coffee and before I knew it they all ordered sausage and egg McMuffins!
Suitably refreshed the talk started about a Red necked Grebe at Hatfield Moor in South Yorks. So maps were consulted, web sites too and route discussed. We got to Hatfield Moor but were we in the right bit? We got to a car park and Ian got out to release the gate. As he did so a Blue tit flew out the locking mechanism which was bizarre but we got into the car park and got out.
Immediately we all listened and heard "Woodlark!" , none of us had expected this and started to head for where we heard the call come from. Me and Robbo lagged behind chatting and this gave us an idea. Robbo pretended to go behind a bush for relief but instead played the call of the Woodlark on his PDA. As you can imagine, calls of "there's another one over here" occurred and we had to hold our faces straight to keep the joke going. 
The original Woodlark had done one so we decided to head back to walk the path to Ten Acre Lake where the grebe was meant to be seen. On taking a short cut through some rough terrain a bird flew up  off the ground and we all knew that we'd flushed a Woodlark by accident. It flew high and showed us its bulky skylark shape but with no tail as such just a blunt ended look to it.
So Ten Acre Lake, well they may as well have called it Ten Mile Lake, as it took us probably 45 minutes to walk to it! We passed the prison and noted many Garden and Willow warblers en route. Eventually we reached another car park right next to where we needed to be. Well the expletives were unmentionable, "we could've driven!" followed by quick justification that we wouldn't have seen the larks if we had of done.
We scanned Ten Acre Lake and eventually Mark picked out a stunning summer plumaged Red Necked Grebe we had seen the target bird and picked up a year tick on the way! We trudged back to the car, noting that the prison had a nest box erected for a Kestrel, "maybe that's what they mean when they say doing bird". Ian and Robbo discussed the finer points of Chinese cuisine on the way back and made me hungry so as soon as we got to the car a scotch egg was consumed and so was my second can of Red Thunder.

Our next move was to head for Immingham. A Collared Pratincole had been showing well here at Rosper Road Lakes. On arrival we were greeted with approx 30 birders and cars all standing overlooking the lake. None of them seemed to be looking at anything. Was the bird there? Well no it had flown off. It had done this before though and had always returned. We waited about 10 minutes and then in it flew with its erratic and very fast flight. It stayed actually very close to us and seemed to fly in an elongated figure of eight. It was too fast to scope but you didn't need it. My bins views were excellent and picked out the key ID features. The rusty patches under the wing were noted. I got my camera and took several flight shots but the low overcast light and the speed of the bird made it very difficult to get a good flight shot. Then out of the blue it landed. "It's close in behind all these bushes". The main throng moved right. I moved left and found my own personal viewpoint that gave me a clear look at this bird. I used the scope as a rest and shot some pictures. I had got a clear shot of this beautiful bird and it was on the deck!

I called a few people over including Steve Dunn and Mike Feeley (who I'd been on an epic twitch with) so that they got equally good views and we were all elated. On discussion gen was obtained about an establishment, not so far away that would ply us with good grub and tea and at low cost "Baps and Buns". Sure enough we found it and discussed with the lady proprietor the reason we were not watching the Royal wedding that day. Burgers were the order of the day and Tea, big polystyrene cups of tea. We were very happy as you can see below.

We now were headed for Tetney Lock where recently both Tawny Pipit and Dotteral

It had a strange jizz that involved it nodding it's head suddenly opening it's eyes and then closing them again and returning to a position with its head either extended (as above) or flopped downward. A most unusual species.

We arrived and parked up and headed out following the canal. Many birders were here but none had seen the pipit. We made our way up to the field that held the Dotteral and 7 birds were seen. All of us commented on the relief we had of not having to climb a large hill to see these birds. What beauties they are.

Now for the pipit. On several occasions we saw birds that looked pipit like, even called pipit like but we never got on them. We saw where they dropped into fields and scanned and found nothing. There were many other species here including Lesser Whitethroat, Linnet, Skylark, Reed Bunting, Reed Warbler, Swallow and Yellow wagtail. Eventually, after much searching, we rested on a grassy bank and pondered.

I decided to take this opportunity to look for a shot of something and found a very nice Yellow Wagtail. I sat myself down ready to take my shot and yes it flew off! However, I'd seen it perched in the same spot on several occasions. I waited a bit and sure enough it came back. I got my shot.

We got back to the car and with no other news in the area we were wondering what to do. We decided to head for Covenham Reservoir, as we had seen news of Arctic Terns coming through the country, we got there, got out the car and the more energetic of us climbed up the steps to the summit to view a reservoir devoid of birds. I ate cake, good cake, cake with marzipan in it and fruit. Well at least it gave me the energy to get half way up the steps.

Then news broke, the lingering White Tailed Eagle had been seen near Louth, "That's just down the road!" We sped off in search of a flying barn door. On arrival we got into the field with the other birders and over looked a valley with 2 trout pools backed by tall trees and Fields with Oil seed rape in them. Any raptor that flew was scrutinised but all were buzzards (except one potential Rough Legged which we haven't ticked as it was 2 miles away at least). The eagle had apparently taken refuge in the trees below but was it visible? NO.

The wind was surprisingly cold, I discussed, with two older Doncaster birders, the Hatfield Moor reserve, the cold wind, women in birding and how do you go for a pee when they are around at a twitch? Also they asked me why I was birding with one of the Millibands (Lol) . I eventually took the risk and went back to the car and got my fleece. On my return a few guys were looking at a buzzard when someone called the eagle.

OMG! I saw my first one over 18 years ago on Canna island, my second about 5 years ago on a nest with chick in Denmark, this was my third, a juvenile and jaw droppingly big and beautiful. When I first got on it I had a full broad view of its wings as it banked and then swooped low over a rape field, it's brown wings contrasting against the yellow oil seed rape flowers. Its ability to hold its own, on the fierce wind, was amazing. It was on the hunt and was heading our way. I ran to the car to get my camera (which I stupidly had left in the boot) and as I shut the boot I saw it fly over the road in front of me and over the next fields but against the sun. I fired some shots but only got this.

At least, I suppose, you can see its massive beak but that's all I'm afraid. We watched it for a while, it was hanging in the air (like bricks don't to quote Douglas Adams) scanning for potential prey. It made flying look easy.

So back in the car we got, more red thunder consumed and home we headed but all of us happy with a superb days birding. The eagle gave us all a show and left us all on a high.

Last week. - Local Birding and Welsh Wonders.

The Perfect Local Day

Sometimes you get days when things fall into place and you really don't expect it. I had been given a 2 hour slot to get a bit of me time and decided I needed to get out there and find some newly arrived migrants. First target bird was Garden Warbler. I know a little fisherman's car park that usually comes up trumps as is surrounded by scrub. I managed to reverse my motor into the tight gateway and noticed 2 Red Legged Partridge on the field opposite. Fortunately cars make good hides and I managed to get this shot out of the window.

On getting out of the car the Partridge made a run for it but my attention was drawn immediately to the trickling call of a Garden Warbler doing its thing deep in a bush near the gateway. A bit of pishing slowly drew the bird further up the bush and eventually it sat at the top singing it's heart out. Unfortunately no pictures here as it was straight into the sun.
So next stop was Venus Pool. On entering the car park I noticed Rob Stokes' car and decided I'd go look for him. On stepping out I immediately heard the well known call of a Lesser Whitethroat which I looked for and found in the hedgerow by the car park entrance. It was in cover so decided to wait a bit before having a go at getting a shot. So off I went down the path and ran into Rob at the bottom. We started chatting and then out of the corner of my eye I saw a large bird being mobbed, my instinct said "that's not a Buzzard" and i looked up to see a female Marsh Harrier flying into the reserve high from the North. Straight away it went out of sight behind the tall trees by the hide so we dived into the hide to view it heading South East with a crow still mobbing it. Consequently it didn't stop but this was a local Mega for us and so we were both elated.
On leaving the hide we stumbled on a toad basking in the sunshine and got this great shot.

Then, once we'd stopped celebrating and telling all we could what we'd just seen we went off for a walk around the top field to try and find Whinchat. This proved fruitless but when we got back to the car park we both decided to go and get a better look at the Lesser Whitethroat and fortunately for me it allowed me this photo.

So back into the hide for the last time I could have and the usual suspects were about but one new year tick for me was present in the form of Common Sandpiper. The LRP's had seemingly paired up at last and one was displaying to the other quite near to the hide so I had a go at taking a few shots of them. Usually I get nothing worthy of showing but this time I was lucky and got my best LRP shot to date.

So Venus pool proved to be the place to be that morning and what a morning it had been!

Later that day I got the chance to go into Wood Lane NR. I made certain this time to keep my rucksack and scope firmly latched onto my back as i did not want a repeat of my last visit here. I was hoping for Garganey but no such luck but did have some lovely views of familiar species. The Reed Warblers and Sedge Warbler were in, the Sand Martins were having fun landing on the mud and the local Mallards were already looking after their new offspring.

The Moorhens particularly look smart, at this time of year, so I grabbed a few shots top show them off.

Then 2 wagtails dropped in, which normally I would overlook, but on this occasion I noticed one was different and so got the chance to compare Pied and White Wagtail side by side.

Then I noticed the LRP count had grown to 3 and normally they don't come anywhere near the hide but today one came just within range, so that I could go for a shot, and this is what I got.

A wonderful way to end the day. I swung into Colemere, in case a tern or two were there, but quickly realised there wasn't anything about, and then I went home. Not a bad day I reckon.

This reserve is relatively new to the list, in Shropshire, and it has only been over the last couple of years that it has been watched regularly. It has a small car park and a new hide to view from and a few of the local birders have started trying to keep a site list for it. Personally I haven't really given it a chance but, one evening, I decided to drop by. I could hear a Lesser Whitethroat without even getting out of the car and then when I did a call I recognised came from overhead and sure enough my first Yellow Wagtail of the year was in view. 

In the end it seemed there were in fact 2 pairs knocking about and calling to one another from the fields so maybe  they will be successful in breeding? I went in the hide and hoped again for a Garganey but all I saw were tufted ducks and Teal. One nice thing though was 3 pairs of Goosander and fortunately a pair were very photogenic on the shoreline.

A work trip to Cardiff allowed me to do 2 things. The first was to get up stupidly early and go to Upton Warren, before work, and pay £3 to dip a Bluethroat
I made Cardiff on time and the weather picked up from being dull and overcast in Worcester to being glorious sunshine in Wales. After work I took the opportunity to visit Goldcliff pools, as it has produced many ticks for me over the years and sure enough I got myself 2 Spotted Redshank and a dashing Spoonbill. A couple of Lesser Whitethroats eluded me in the hedgerow but a Peregrine performed a short aerobatics display above as consolation. Oh and a Common Whitethroat allowed me to take a half decent photo of it for once.

                          Hello. Guess what my name is?

Common Whitethroat.

I then decided to go up the road to visit my birding pal Matt Meehan, who runs the RSPB shop at Newport Wetlands. On arrival I was greeted with the site of Matt peddling expensive optics, to unsuspecting dudes, and also to a list of birds seen on the reserve that day. One caught my eye immediately "Red Backed Shrike". WHAT! 
Nobody seemed to know if this was a real sighting or not but I got a bit of gen and, after tea and hobnobs, went and had a look. Nothing was there to speak of but did hear a Cuckoo and saw 3 little grebes have a fight. Also I got to have a go with the new Nikon EDG Bins and must say they are rather dandy with a very bright image. 

With the Royal Wedding looming my next birding trip will be while Wills does the deed. So I'll let you all know the outcome very soon.