Wednesday, February 03, 2016

Double Dipping

Count the Bramblings!
Deepest midwinter and a spare morning. Which bird to miss? Top of the list is the Pallid Harrier in Norfolk. Better birders than I have been several times for this and missed it. Then out on the Norfolk coast there are Shore Larks and Snow Buntings. Much opportunity here to walk miles and not see them. Or the Brecks with "distant" Great-Grey Shrike, single Hawfinch at Lynford. hmmm.

In the end I decide to miss the Hawfinches at Bramfield again. Something I achieve with ease, as a twenty minute patrol produces nothing. Standing waiting is not my kind of birding.

On to Rye Meads RSPB, a reserve that gets better year-by-year. No sign of the Bittern or Water Pipit, but the obligatory Green Sandpiper and a few Shelduck made the list. And for the first time this year Brambling. Three of us set up with scopes and camera a reasonable distance from what is a quite skittish flock and eventually found three males and a female, the males now looking quite spectacular. The grain put out by the staff had attracted 13 Magpies too. The photo above of a bush by the path has a Brambling clearly out in the open about a third from the top, a second one near the RHS two thirds of the way down, and a third bird hiding in the bushes in the lower left.

The second dip was a very predictable one on Monday night. The regulars at Amwell had seen a Franklin's Gull in the roost on Sunday so about forty birders dutifully turned up on Monday. To no-one's surprise the star bird didn't turn up, but a Caspian Gull and a Peregrine dashing through made up for the no-show.

Saturday, January 23, 2016

The King of Finches

Out again on the patch today. Added Coal Tit to the patch list. Checked through the finch flock again with similar result to the last trip: 2 Lesser Redpoll, 2 Bullfinch, then low tens of Goldfinch, Linnet and Chaffinch. Slightly further over there were 3 Reed Buntings and low tens of Yellowhammers.

Finches are amongst the most glorious of birds. Brambling provide a variety of spectacular plumages, and Hawfinches are favourites of many birders although that is partly down to their scarcity. But for me the King of Finches is the Bullfinch. On a cold winter day a plump male is a truly spectacular sight; the colours are outrageously vivid - an ostentatious challenge to the notion that birds should be difficult to spot for their own safety.

At this point I should show a photo such as this one.  But I had my scope and contraption to day, so you get the picture below instead.

The Lesser Redpolls showed well, with one male beginning to come into summer plumage. Again there are better photos out there, but this is from the patch so has a particular relevance.

Otherwise a surprisingly full list; Kingfisher, Nuthatch, c50 Redwings - a definite increase - and c20 Fieldfare, 7 Cormorants, Heron, Goldcrest

Wednesday, January 20, 2016

Dartford in Essex

Dartford Warbler is something of a blot on my list. It's on there, Rame Head April 1984, but it was a fleeting view at best. The tail end of something diving into a gorse bush. Probably a Dartford Warbler. Possibly a Long-tailed tit, or maybe a Dunnock.

Blot no more! A morning visit to a frosty Rainham Marsh RSPB saw me finally getting decent views. One was following a Stonechat around which I gather is a frequent pairing, and for a skulking bird was being very showy. Sat out in leafless thorn bushes, perching on barbed wire, even singing. And a surprisingly nice bird to look at too - rusty red throat and underparts, a slight white moustache. Much nicer and easier than I thought it would be,

For a while it looked like that would be the only notable bird, but a Short-Eared Owl gave a cracking display near the rifle butts in the SW corner of the reserve. It even called a few times - rather like a deep-throated sneeze. Other birds worth a mention include 2 Marsh Harriers, a few Pintail, Kingfisher, 7 Stonechats, and the bizarre circumstance of having Jack Snipe in my year-list but not Common Snipe was ended when 7 Common Snipes flew over the frozen reserve.

Finally, some music. The death of David Bowie made me think of another star from glam rock - Marc Bolan, and I found this video from 1972 . It is worth looking at this with a perspective of 40 years of "progress". They look like they are playing our local village hall, but in fact it is Wembley Stadium. Just the four of them, and one (Mickey Finn) seems to do nothing other than bang a tambourine and try and get the audience going - a kind of proto-Bez. Various commentors note a marked resemblance to Mr Bean. Compared to the modern stadium concert with large screens, light shows, dancers, walkways into the audience and a host of backing musicians this show seems a complete shambles, a ludicrously naive thing to do. But there is, nevertheless, bags of star quality in Marc Bolan that seems to be missing from many of today's manufactured stars. Enjoy!

Sunday, January 17, 2016

Local Redpolls!

This weekend I've been out on the patch. Mostly it was a good range of the usual stuff (2 species of Woodpecker,  Common Buzzard, Sparrowhawk) , but there was patch gold hidden in a flock of finches. The numbers have built up recently and there was about 50 mixed Linnet and Chaffinch with a Bullfinch and on top of a dead plant a Lesser Redpoll.

Way back in the 1970's when I started birding in Leeds, Lesser Redpolls were commoner than Sparrows. In the garden, at school, whenever I went out, they were almost a permanent accompaniment. It did take me a while to be able to separate them from Linnets in winter. I know - completely different - but I had my Grandad's old Zeiss artillery glasses from WWI (he was British but borrowed them from a dead German), and I was young. I spent ages down at Golden Acre Park noting details of a flock until finally I was able to 100% identify them as Redpolls Linnets.

Party of that trauma remains, but the finely barred shawl and distinct wing bar were enough. The other finches routed around on the ground but this remained firmly on the head of a plant. It remained long enough to get a photo. Here indeed is the proof ...

No mistaking the id of that!

one of the many Yellowhammers
I returned today in a light covering of snow, the scrape completely frozen over with some Teal out on the ice, and this time took the scope. A very pleasant hour was spent going through the flock, finding a few Reed Buntings, and about 30 Yellowhammers. And  two Lesser Redpolls, very neat birds sitting out on dead heads.

I know Redpolls are still common enough to not warrant a second look in many places, but these are my first for the patch in over five years of watching. There are a few local records on the Herts Bird Club site so I suspect the cold weather may have encouraged some inward movement.

With Siskin flying over this makes the patch total now 50 for the year.

Monday, January 11, 2016

Listing Badly

I don't really do listing. No idea what my UK list is. But with this year being more uncertain than previous ones, I maybe able to do some decent birding so getting some year lists together could be fun.

I've borrowed some advice from the doyen of patch watching at North Downs and Beyond  and divided the world into three regions; there's the 'core patch' of south Sawbridgeworth and Pishiobury Park. this is mainly wet farmland and parkland. Then there's a wider patch region that covers (specifically) Trimm's Green and the high ground round Shingle Hall Farm, The Stort as far north as Stortford; Pincey Brook at Hatfield Broad Oak, and Hatfield Forest. Then finally there is everywhere else.

I've had a couple of walks round my core patch so far this year, and so far I'm on 42 species. Its poor, but I'm relaxed. Its interesting what you don't see on a normal walk round. No House Sparrows or Reed Buntings, for instance. There are a few winter thrushes, okay numbers of Yellowhammers and Linnets, and healthy numbers of Blackbird, Robin, and Dunnocks amongst others. So far the only notable species are Little Egret on 4th, and Common Gull on the deck. Plenty of the latter fly over on their way to roost, but not many actually touch down.

Overall there's the distinct impression that winter hasn't really started. That's probably down to an El Nino inspired record warm spell.

anyway, here's some sights from around the core patch.

One of those continental types getting ready for Spring.

The Corvids of doom await North Korea's nuclear holocaust.

Feakes Lock: the southern edge of the core patch.

Finally a good-bye to David Bowie, a star of mine and lots of other people's youth. I'll post a few of the more obscure tracks starting with this early one from The Man Who Sold The World,  The Width of a Circle

Tuesday, October 27, 2015

Hatfield Forest photos

I like to think that if there is one that that makes this a unique birding blog it is the truly awful photography. Despite my best efforts all my photos look like I have taken them through the bathroom window on a foggy day. I have decided it is time to hone my skills and perhaps eventually to become merely adequate. So on a sunny afternoon off I went to Hatfield forest, which despite the photos below looked spectacular.

I arrived to a swarm of ladybirds. They were everywhere and on everything. I think they may be harlequin ladybirds looking for places to hibernate?  

I got lost, and ended up walking a considerable distance. Goldcrests were the commonest birds today by far, other birds were Marsh Tit, Nuthatch, TreeCreeper, Jay, and the usual small stuff.


The Ladybirds had invaded all four doors and grouped together in the seals. Here's the picture from the next morning.

Monday, October 19, 2015

Holkham Wildlife Park - 19th Oct

With a fantastic set of birds in North Norfolk and a change of weather looming it was a no-brainer to have a second visit to Holkham Wildlife Park aka Holkham Pines.

I paid my entrance fee at the Queen Anne Drive car park and headed off to the first exhibit - Isabelline Shrike. I spent a half hour watching the bird work the hedgerow, dropping down frequently and once impaling a worm on a thorn. There was one other birder there; as I fiddled with my adapter and camera finally ending up with the horror below as my best effort he calmly clamped his iPhone to his scope eyepiece, stood back and calmly took a video. I think I'm wasting my time with this adapter lark.

That's the Isabelline Shrike. You can clearly see the distinctive reddish tail and dark eye patch. Honest.

He introduced himself as G and we paired up for the day, luckily for me G turned out to be a former twitcher, full of skills and knowledge but relaxed enough to approach this as a fun day out. G was less lucky as he got me. My only material contribution came next as I took us to the bush that had previously held the Red Flanked Bluetail. Last week I had stood in a crowd and had 5 seconds of view; today the pair of us had the bird to ourselves, quietly working its way through the undergrowth, even flitting through the branches above our heads at one point. Blue tail, red flanks, white chin, the lot. fantastic.

We worked the area a bit and G had a Pallas's Warbler stick its head out at one point, but we couldn't refind it, only masses of Goldcrests. On the way back to the car park we found our only group of birders of the morning at our next exhibit, a Firecrest. It gave typical Firecrest views, i.e. a fleeting glimpse of the head and shoulders but nothing else before it dived deep into the middle of a Holly Tree. One of these days I will see an entire Firecrest in full view.

Next we headed toward Wells Wood. Again the groups of birders were our guide; a large group stood under a group of spindly oaks watching a Hume's Leaf Warbler. It was earning its keep today, consistently calling and at intervals perching in the open to allow the crowd to admire its slightly faded look.

Next the Blyths Reed Warbler exhibit. the bird had not been seen for two hours and with only a few people looking for it out prospects were dim. G brought his experience to bear, and also his iPhone. A few "chuck-chuck"s from the bird call app were soon met with a response in kind from deep in the brambles. We then followed the line of gently moving flower heads until we began to see the bird working its way though the undergrowth. Larger than I had expected, it was washed out grey. It gave the characteristic "inverted banana" posture a few times, and was constantly flicking its tail. How to definitively tell it from Reed? No idea, but the affirmation of the crowd is good enough for my list! A smart little bird and thanks to G for finding this lifer.

Ideal Blythe's habitat. Less than ideal birding habitat.

It was mid afternoon and my permit to birdwatch was due to expire so I left G searching for more birds, in particular a skulking bird with a soft "tack" we had seen flit across our path earlier. The final exhibit was a crowd by the Car Park looking into a holly tree - Pallas's Warbler! Like the Hume's it flicked its way round suitably exposed twigs giving the admiring crowd full value - another outstanding bird. The only thing it could have done to please the crowd more was to sit in the open and sing, which I mention as the last time I saw this species 30 years ago that is what it was doing.

Supporting birds included an obliging and colourful Brambling under some pines, a couple of Chiffchaffs, a pair of Stonechat, a few Common Buzzards and Marsh Harriers, Redwings and Skylarks overhead.

I was left with some intriguing questions. Birders have a choice of visiting the exhibits or finding their own; how long does it take to find your own? Our experience from the Blyths was you could spend all day and not find one. How many other skulkers are there out there? A late Olive-Backed Pipit was reported after I left, and a second Bluetail was found over the weekend, so I suspect there may be quite a few other undiscovered skulkers in the 3-mile stretch of thick woodland. By contrast, I suspect most Shrikes have been found as they sit on the top of bushes out in the open.

Thanks to G for excellent company and expertise. Another smashing day in Norfolk