Friday, 27 April 2012

A Nightingale Sang...but not in Berkeley Square

The DBWPS meeting yesterday started off at Thurlebear Woods near Taunton, a site I’ve not been to before. There were only nine of us this time, maybe due to the fact that it was forecast to rain all day.

We were only briefly in the woods themselves, soon emerging onto the adjacent shrubby grassland. I didn’t know before we arrived that this was a Nightingale hunt, a bird I’ve never seen in the UK so can’t count on song alone. We hadn’t been there long when someone heard one singing. I must admit that I wouldn’t have known what it was as it’s a few years since I last heard one, and that was in Spain. At first they were only making short burbling noises, but by about 11:00 they must have warmed up their vocal chords (or their syrinx to be exact, as birds don't have vocal chords!) as their songs got longer & more complex.  There must have been 4 or 5 of them singing but actually seeing one wasn't easy. At one stage one sounded really close & although a couple of people saw a bit of it, all I saw was a bird drop down through the foliage. Although it was almost certainly the Nightingale, my conscience wouldn’t allow me to count it.

Just imagine.... Nightingales singing in the bushes ...
... & still blue sky despite the forecast
We were there for nearly 2 hours & were on our way out when we heard one singing nearby which then flew out of the bushes towards us, changed its mind & flew in again. So, although not the best view in the world, this time I saw enough!

There was a surprising lack of other birds about, but we did see a Mistle Thrush, a swallow, 2 Bullfinches, Blackcaps, Chiffchaffs, Buzzards & a Sparrowhawk that did a low fly-by. 

On to Staple Hill for lunch, intending to eat at the viewpoint overlooking the Somerset Levels below. However, the rain finally arrived at the same time as us, so we ate in our cars/van in the car park. Amazingly enough, when we finished lunch, the rain stopped!

Off to the viewpoint, and it was a great view. David reckoned he’d found some Cranes, but at 3 or 4 miles away, they were just pale spots to me! Only Goldcrest & Dunnock were added to the list, but it was still worth a visit.
Dave & Wally debating the identity of the white dots...
Resting on a slice of geology
On to Otterhead Lakes which is part of an old abandoned estate & very close to the source of the River Otter.We walked past the lakes and back through woodlands. We had lovely views of a Grey Wagtail in a tree & a Common Sandpiper having a kip on a tiny floating island of vegetation.

The Common Sand was on its private island at the far end of the lake
The last stop was Upottery Airfield in Smeatharpe, in search of the Little Owl that hangs about the old airfield buildings. Unfortunately, we didn't see it and there was just a lot of wind, some Linnets, Skylarks & Stock Doves. A local out walking his dog said that he’d found a dead shrike a few weeks ago. Presumably that must be the bird I came to see back in Feb.  ( ). A sad end.

Little Owl hunting on the windy runway.
Headed home. Not a long list, but three new sites visited, another bird on the Year List & a new UK one at that! And what’s more, despite the forecast, we stayed dry all day!

Year List on 174 + 2

Thursday, 26 April 2012

Long-legged lovelies

Yesterday, I checked Birdguides at lunchtime & got all excited when I saw there were 3 Black-winged Stilts at Exminster Marshes. My excitement was short lived as the next entry was that they'd gone! Bother (or words to that effect). Had it not been monsoon season I would have gone anyway, but I didn't fancy a wild-wader chase in the pouring rain.

I didn't have a 3G signal all afternoon, but when it came back at about 4pm Birdguides showed that the Stilts had been relocated. It was lashing it down, but I put on my waterproofs, leapt in the van & headed straight over to Exminster. I could hardly see where I was going in the torrential downpour, but miraculously as soon as I parked in the Fisherman's car park, it eased to a slight drizzle.

I walked along the path about 50 yards & looked through the bins..........even though I was looking for the Stilts & hoping they would still be there, my heart still skipped a beat when I spotted one. Then the second. And the third! Fantastic! I put up the scope & had a good look at them wading about in among the Whimbrels & Black-tailed Godwits. Something spooked them & the waders all flew up & across to the estuary. Well, I thought they had, but when I looked back they'd all gone except for the 3 Stilts who were still there, neatly lined up facing into the wind. It would have made a fantastic photo....

Unfortunately I only had the Lumix with me.....the Stilts are out there, honest!
It started to rain so I dashed back to the van to head home. It eased up again as I drove up the lane, so I stopped to have a quick look about. The wind was making quite big waves on the water but at least there was a bit of blue sky along with a Peregrine on a post.

Water water everywhere....

Year List now on 173 + 2

Tuesday, 24 April 2012

Close to the edge....

I was at Orcombe Point by 7:45 this morning. The sun was out & it was lovely!

Last night I did what I should have done before i.e. homework on not just Manx Shearwater, but other birds that have been turning up in the area recently. So, as I did a sweep of the sea & spotted a large, chunky, dark bird quite a way off, I immediately thought ‘Great Skua’. Well, I hoped it was anyway as I’ve never seen one. It was much darker & more uniform looking than any juvenile gull I’ve seen & also appeared to be very buoyant, floating high on the water. I kept watching for ages hoping that it would fly & give me a look at its wings. After about 10 minutes it obliged & flapped its wings to reveal very bold white patches, just as I’d hoped it would! Great! It must be the cleanest Great Skua in the West as it was having a bath for at least half an hour! It occasionally flapped its wings, and even flew about 20 yards twice, but then settled down to more bathing! I finally decided to see if anything else was about, after all, being such a big & obvious bird the Skua would be easy to relocate.  Wrong! After having a look about I couldn’t find it again, I assume it must have finally felt clean enough to move on.

I’m quite happy that it was a Great Skua, especially having seen the Arctic Skua on Sunday. This bird was much bigger & chunkier and those white wing flashes were very striking.

I still didn’t find a Manx Shearwater. There were however lots of Gannets about, some quite close to the shore. There were also about 20 Sandwich Terns flying about & doing a spot of fishing, although I still couldn’t find any Common or Little Terns. A raft of about 80 Shags was bobbing about off the Point & 2 Whimbrel flew past towards the estuary. On the cliffs all I saw was a Rock Pipit that came within a few feet of me & a flock of Linnets.

I'd been a bit distracted during my birding by a bloke in nothing but a pair of short shorts or trunks just West of the Point. At first I thought he’d been camping there overnight, but it then appeared he’d come to do his exercises. At one stage he was on his back with his legs in the air, but the best one was when he stood up, put his arms out and span around in circles for about a minute. All very well, but I’m not sure that doing that about 2 feet from the cliff edge was entirely sensible. When he stopped spinning & started wobbling I thought I’d be calling out the Coast Guard! Each to their own....

By now the wind had picked up & had frozen my fingers, so I moved just beyond the fitness buff into the shelter of the bushes. I was joined by a visiting Midlands birder who’s been birding since he was a lad....great, someone that knows what he’s looking at! A couple of times we saw a pale morph Arctic Skua, I don’t know if it was the same one twice or if there were 2 of them. A Guillemot & a Great Crested Grebe were the only other additions to the list.

I briefly stopped at the Lifeboat Station on my way home where I saw the Arctic Skua again & a couple of Swallows flying low over the beach. I watched a Cormorant trying to eat an enormous flat fish. “He’ll never get that down” I thought “Oh yes I will” it demonstrated. I wish I’d had the camera to take a photo...its neck stuck out almost to the tip of its beak, but after a lot of effort, amazingly enough it did finally manage to get it down.  The sky was getting dark & I headed home before the rain hit. 
A front coming through
Late afternoon we went for a quick walk along the cliffs up to The Beacon. We left Vera in her basket at home as it's too much for her now. We saw 3 Peregrines attacking a Buzzard & then attacking each other with some very impressive dive bombing. The only other sighting of note was in the newly ploughed field along the access road to Sandy Bay Holiday Park where there were 7 Wheatears, 5 male & 2 female.

Year List now on 172 + 2

Sunday, 22 April 2012

The Learning Curve

I set off for Orcombe Point at about 7.45am. I’m such a beginner at sea-watching that even quite common birds would make me happy. ....everyone else seems to be seeing loads of Manx Shearwaters, well I’ve never seen one! I’d done a bit of homework, watching Birdguides videos (narrated by the scintillating Dave Gosney) in the hope that I may be able to recognise one should it happen to fly by.

It’s a half hour walk up Gore Lane to reach the path across to the cliffs, so I was distinctly unimpressed when I got there to find this....

What are you looking at?
I admit to being a real coward (how appropriate) when it comes to bovine beasts. I briefly considered braving the cows & their bog, but at least one of them had horns....and I was wearing a red coat. On to Plan B, I headed for Exmouth front.

I set up the scope by the Lifeboat station & started to scan the sea. 

Looking across to Dawlish Warren from the Lifeboat Station
Almost immediately a dark bird with pointed wings & a white belly flew into my view & landed on the sea. It had a black cap, a pale face & neck, a small dark bill & I hadn’t the faintest idea what it was (I did say I was a beginner at this lark!). It then flew up & I could see small white patches on the wings and an odd shaped tail. It chased a Sandwich Tern, twisting & turning after it in a pretty impressive acrobatic display. It then landed back on the sea & I reached for my Collins. When I looked again, it had gone.  

I started going through the book.....not a Shearwater or a Petrel....then a chap appeared with his bins. “You look like you know what you’re doing,.....what was that bird that was just chasing the Terns?” It just goes to show that you really can’t judge a book.......
It was a hands-up job “I haven’t a clue” I said. “Do you think it could have been a Skua?” he suggested.  I was just coming to them.....

A quick look at the Collins narrowed it down to a Pomarine or an Arctic Skua. I couldn’t exactly fall back on my personal experience which consists of a possible Arctic Skua flying by at Cley in Norfolk in 2001 & a fleeting glimpse of a Pomarine Skua from the ferry to the Isles of Scilly in 2004! It definitely had an odd projection on the tail, but was it a point or a spoon? As far as I could remember it had looked more point-like. Luckily the bird came back & did a bit more nifty Tern chasing relatively close to shore. It did look more like a point & the bird looked the same size as the Sandwich Tern, which all matched the Arctic. The bird then flew off towards Dawlish Warren & I lost it when it landed on the sea.

I was about 99% happy with the ID, but I always like confirmation. Whilst trying to find it again, I spotted 4 birders with scopes looking out from Dawlish Warren. Hopefully they will have seen it & put an entry on Devon Bird News later. Well, I can always hope!

I watched the Gannets diving quite close in to shore, had a good look at the Terns hoping to find a Common but only found Sandwich & saw 8 Whimbrels & 2 Shelducks heading into the estuary.  I probably missed loads of other birds whilst trying to figure out the Skua, but I’m more than happy with my lot!

Simon was walking out along the cliffs from Sandy Bay to meet me so I headed off East along the front. Having just put the tripod legs up, the Skua reappeared. I quickly put the scope back up  & watched as it chased another Tern & flew off towards Dawlish Warren again. I was a happy bunny as I climbed up onto the cliffs at Orcombe Point. It had been threatening rain & there was a brief shower, but not enough to get wet. I just love the views from the cliffs, we’re so lucky living here! There was the added interest of a large ship heading West across Lyme Bay carrying another ship on the deck!

Looking West towards the Exe Estuary & Dawlish Warren

I found a hairy man sketching on a bench & we headed back along the cliffs.

Simon but no V.....she's at home resting in her basket

I‘ve now had a chance to watch the Birdguides Skua videos, and read the Collins & ‘Birds by Behaviour ‘ books a bit more carefully & I’m now 100% sure it was an Arctic Skua. The 2010 Devon Bird Report & old Devon Bird News reports confirm it’s the most likely of the 2 as well. I’ve clawed my way a little bit further up the learning curve!

A life tick! Year List now on 171 + 2

Saturday, 21 April 2012

A damp morning at BGM

I didn’t expect to find much at Bowling Green Marsh yesterday morning as the tide was out, but as it was forecast to rain I thought I’d go there anyway so that I could hide in the hide. It was actually dry at first & quite pleasant as I mostly had the hide to myself. The best on offer were about 60 Black-tailed Godwits, a Little Grebe, a few Teal & 2 Swallows. I stayed there for a while before wandering down to the estuary view-point where there were several Redshank & a couple of Curlew on the mud. 

Gloomy Exe Estuary
As the rain was still holding off, I went down to the Goat Walk, the furthest point from the hide. As soon as I got there the heavens opened. I normally carry a brolly in my scope back-pack, but I must have taken it out at some stage. By the time I got back to the hide I was drenched.

The scene had changed since I left. Instead of the 2 Swallows, there were now about 30 Swallows & a few House Martins hurtling about low over the marsh. It was fantastic to watch.  It was still bucketing down, so I just sat there watching them & waiting for it to ease up so that I could get back to the van without getting even wetter.

I Googled 'Swallows' & 'rain' following their appearance during the downpour. It turns out that there's an old saying involving Swallows & the weather:

"Low flies the Swallow, rain to follow. When Swallows fly high the weather will be dry".

Well, I don't know about predicting the rain, but they were certainly happy to hunt in it. There is however a scientific basis for the old saying. Swallows feed on insects which they mainly catch in mid-air. The ability of bugs to fly is effected by air pressure & water vapour content. Low air pressure, associated with rain, tends to lead to a higher water vapour content, and cool & windy conditions. This all makes it more difficult for bugs to fly & they therefore tend to stay close to the ground. During high pressure, associated with clear sunny days, there is less vapour in the air making it easier for bugs to fly & thermals develop helping to carry them  higher. The Swallows simply follow their dinner.

Monday, 16 April 2012

On the Levels

Yesterday there was a DBWPS trip to the Somerset Levels. About 20 of us met up at the car park at Swell Wood RSPB & started with a quick visit to the hide for a look at the Heronry. There were a few small furry beasts scuttling about in the vegetation in front of the hide which the RSPB helper told us were Bank Voles. Unfortunately they were a bit too fast to allow a good look.

When I visited Swell Wood with Mary a couple of weeks ago we admired the view across the Levels not realising that the area we were looking at below the wood is actually West Sedgemoor RSPB. I certainly didn't see any signs & the Swell Wood map doesn't show it either.

We walked down the lane onto the Levels and watched from there for a while. However, there didn't appear to be any trails or viewing platforms. Apparently there used to be a hide but that's been removed. It all seems a little odd. We had a couple of very distant views of a Marsh Harrier & a possible Hen Harrier, (it was too for off for a definite ID), but nothing else too exciting.

Walking down to West Sedgemoor

& looking out over the reserve

Then off towards Othery, stopping on the way when another possible Hen Harrier apparently flew out in front of the leading car (we didn't see it). We stopped for lunch & a few hardy birders ate along the river bank in the sunshine, despite the cold wind. We ate in the car & almost got left behind when the convoy moved off without telling us, we couldn't see them as they were hidden behind a camper van.

When David (the day's leader) & Wally recced the route last week, they found the 33 released Cranes in a field near Othery. We went back there, but there was no sign of them. We stopped again at a bridge which gave a good view across the Levels. There were some very very distant grey blobs which most of us agreed were a few of the Cranes. Some of the group were adamant that they were in fact sheep, however they must have been a very rare breed as we saw them flapping their wings a few times!

A bridge provides a handy viewpoint 

On to Greylake RSPB. A Red Kite had left just before we arrived, but at least we had good views of a female Hen Harrier. There were also a few Redshanks, Lapwings, Wigeon, Teal & Tufties, but nothing of note.

Greylake from the hide

The last stop was Shapwick Heath. We quickly found the 2 Long-billed Dowitchers in their usual spot in the drained lagoon, along with 2 rather nice looking Spotted Redshanks. There was also a black billed white Egret on the far side of the pool with an orange ring on each leg. There was a bit of a disagreement as to whether it was a Great White or a Little......

We moved on towards Noah's hide. A huge flock of Martins flew over, I think they were mainly Sand but there were at least a few House in there too. A few of the group went to the hide but came back to say it was packed solid, so we spent a bit of time in the track down to it instead. We were treated to some lovely views of a Goldcrest preening & a Bittern flying directly overhead. David thought he heard a Whitethroat singing, but we couldn't find it. At last we started to hear some Bitterns booming and a Cetti's singing.

Back at the lagoon, the light was fantastic for admiring the Dowitchers. A Buzzard flew over quite low putting them & the Black-tailed Godwits up. When they landed, the 2 Dowitchers had become separated. They're always side by side, so there was a bit of a mad dash to get back together. You could see their relief on being reunited!

The mystery Egret was now on the move & showing us its black feet as it waded in the shallow water. That clinched it, it was definitely a Great White. One of the Little Egret camp maintained it must be a different amazing coincidence, both having orange leg rings like that!

Saturday, 14 April 2012


This morning while we were having breakfast Simon mentioned that there was a Magpie in our neighbour's garden having a really good peck at something in her apple tree. I got the bins & was glad I'd already finished my breakfast..... the Magpie flew off leaving a gory mess where it had been eating what appears to have been an adult Blue Tit. Nasty.

Magpie breakfast
This is the second murder we've had in the garden this week. A few days ago I let Vera out first thing while I got dressed. When  I went out a few minutes later there was quite a large pool of blood on the drive. I checked Vera & she seemed fine. I couldn't see any fluff or fur on the drive so it was all a bit of a mystery. The drive had been quite wet as it had rained over night, but during the morning it gradually dried out & I could then see a few small fluffy dark feathers scattered about. I have no idea what ate what.....but the victim must have been something reasonably sized. There were no flight feathers, so the suspect presumably removed the body & dined elsewhere.

At about 10:00hrs I took the scope for a walk up Gore Lane to the cliffs just east of Orcombe Point. I didn't find anything of note in the fields & hedges on the way up. It was really quite hazy looking out to sea, but I did find a raft of over 100 Shags, a few Gannets flying & bobbing about, a Razorbill, a Great Crested Grebe & 2 Sandwich Terns. There were 2 Willow Warblers in the bushes on the cliff edge & a flock of Linnet in the adjoining field. As I was about to leave my first Devon Swallow made me duck as it suddenly hurtled up & over the cliff edge towards me. I wonder if I was the first thing it saw on its arrival from Africa!

It was a pleasant couple of hours but it turns out that I was in the wrong place......about 1/2 mile to the West on the Exmouth seafront someone saw a Short-eared Owl fly in, a Common Crane fly out, a Little Tern fly by and 2 Garganey land briefly on the sea! I would have been ecstatic with any one of those let alone all 4!! Oh well....there's always next time.

Friday, 13 April 2012

A glorious morning at BGM

This morning Simon went to Bridge Triumph in Exeter to get some filters for his Bonneville. As he would be passing pretty close to Bowling Green Marsh it seemed daft not to hitch a lift. I'm glad I did as it was a glorious morning  & the tide was just right. I even managed to take my Year List to 170 with a Common Sandpiper from the hide. There were also flocks of over 50 Bar-tailed & Black-tailed Godwits & a few Knot. Unfortunately no Black-winged Stilt though!

There was an RSPB meeting of some sort in the hide so it was a bit busy, but I stayed for a while until even more people arrived, at which point I scarpered & went off to the estuary viewpoint. Nothing of note from there, except for the fantastic view. I'd forgotten my camera, but the phone did a fairly good job.

Looking South along the Exe from the BGM viewpoint

Wednesday, 11 April 2012

More Suffolk & a bit of Herts

Sunday was the last full day of our trip & we had to make our way across to Hertfordshire ready for Mary's flight back to Switzerland from Luton on Monday morning.

We're definitely showing our age....rather than an early start to cram in as much as possible, we actually indulged in some toasted Hot Cross buns for breakfast. No dedication!

A Spoonbill had been seen on Saturday at Boyton Marshes, an RSPB reserve on the coast between the Butley river & Ore estuary just South of our Youth Hostel at Blaxhall. We decided to give it a try, it would be another reserve explored even if we dipped again. We hadn't been there long when we heard a Sedge Warbler singing beside the path & we even managed to get a reasonable view of it. A new bird for the year. A Swallow then flew in & landed on the fence in front of us, only our 3rd of the trip. We walked along the raised bank bordering the estuary, which exposed us fully to the cold wind & occasional drizzle, but gave us good views in all directions, including Havergate Island, another RSPB reserve with limited access. We scanned for a while, but there were no large white birds (except for a field of Mute Swans). We just started heading back to the van when Mary spotted 3 large white birds flying in from the North, & yes, they had ridiculous bills! Fantastic! Another few minutes & they would have flown in behind us & we would have missed them. That's just what happened to the 4 other birders that had come in after us. They had spent a while scanning from the bank but were walking back across the low trail when the Spoonbills arrived. They were looking the wrong way when they flew in & would have been unable to see them through the reeds once they landed. If we'd managed to catch them before they left we would have let them know......but they'd gone when we got back to the van.

On the bank at Boyton Marshes RSPB

2 of the 3 Spoonbills, the other was following behind
Our final Suffolk stop was Alton Water, a large reservoir near Ipswich. We chose it as a Red-necked Grebe  had been there for a while, but of course we didn't find that. However we had a nice walk along the Northern arm, and as reservoirs go, it was quite nice with 'natural edges & marshy fringes'. We were going to check out the Southern half as well, but there was only an 'all day' parking rate which was a bit much for the short time we had to play with.

We headed West. The route plotted by the GPS took us pretty close to Amwell Gravel Pit near Ware in Herts, one of the first sites that we visited when we started birding. I knew there had been quite a lot of work done since my last visit a few years ago, so having explored lots of new places,  we decided to  finish with an old favourite.

There were a couple of new hides & a second level had been added to the old one. The highlight was a flock of about 40 or 50 Sand Martins, our first of the year. We also added a 'colchicus group' (ie non-ring necked) pheasant to the sub-species list.

Amwell from the view point
Well, that was about it. We spent the night about 15 minutes from Luton, and had a last minute bonus on our way to the airport in the morning when a Red Kite flew over. It was just inside Herts, which was a shame as it would have been another County on Mary's list had we been another mile up the road in Beds.

The trip had lasted 10 & a bit days. Mary had amassed a Year List total of 126 + 2 (although it may be more as we have a slight discrepancy in the list & we still have a pipit & a gull to work on!) spread over 7 counties (Somerset, Dorset, Hampshire, Essex, Surrey, Suffolk & Hertfordshire). I had added 21 + 1 to my list, which now stands at 168 + 2

We have an impressive list of rarities, unfortunately though most of them are birds we dipped!

Lowlights: (Twitches we dipped on)
Hume's Leaf Warbler (Wyke Regis, Dorset)....again
Richard's Pipit (Wyke Regis, Dorset).....again
Puffin (Portland Bill, Dorset) ......NEVER seen one
Glossy Ibis (Radipole Lake, Weymouth, Dorset) it later
Spoonbill (Middlebere, Dorset) it later
Spanish Sparrow (Calshot, Hants)
Hawfinch (Lakeside Country Park, Hants)
Glossy Ibis (Chelmsford, Essex) it later
Long-tailed Duck (Abberton Resv, Essex)
Red-necked Grebe (Alton Water, Suffolk)

Highlights: (Successful Twitches/ good birds we saw):
Long-billed Dowitcher (Shapwick Heath, Somerset)
Bearded Tit (Shapwick Heath, Somerset & Minsmere, Suffolk)
Ring Ouzel (Portland)
Common Redstart (Portland)
Rose-coloured Starling (Hordle, Hants)
Glossy Ibis (Minsmere, Suffolk)
Stone Curlew (Minsmere, Suffolk)
Great Grey Shrike (S Hollesley Heath, Suffolk)
Spoonbill (Boyton Marshes, Suffolk)

Had the sole purpose of the trip been to twitch, I would have been disappointed with my list, especially as some great birds were turning up near Exmouth!! In particular the Ring Ouzel & Redstart that were about a 5 minute walk from my house! However, we had a great time exploring places we hadn't been to before & visiting lots of new reserves. I drove 1090 miles & have come home for a rest......apart from nipping out to the Otter yesterday to see the Purple Heron of course!! It kindly waited for me to get home before flying off!

My Year :List total 169 + 2

Tuesday, 10 April 2012

Suffolk......part 1

I'm now blogging from the comfort of home, having returned from my wanderings yesterday. Postings were prevented by dodgy signals & lack of time. This is a round-up of the highs & lows of the last few days of the Mystery Tour.....

Ever since we've been birding, Mary & I have been meaning to visit Minsmere RSPB on the Suffolk coast. We finally made it on Friday & we weren't disappointed. It's a mixture of woodland, wetland, heathland & coast & has a large visitor centre & lots of hides.
As we were driving into the reserve I mentioned that it was nice to be going birding rather than twitching for the day, at least we couldn't dip again. At that moment we came across a couple of cars parked up & several scopes & cameras all pointing in the same direction. Of  course we stopped to investigate & there it was, a Glossy Ibis. After 2 failed twitches in Dorset & Essex, we had come across one by accident!

In the reserve we started off by walking East along the North Wall where we saw a couple of Bearded Tits, followed by several Red-throated Divers a few minutes later from the beach. So far so good, all new birds for Mary.
Minsmere looking South from Dunwich , with Sizewell in the background
We diverted North onto the adjoining Dunwich Heath National Trust reserve when we were told that Dartford Warblers & Whinchats were cavorting in the bushes, but we didn't find either, or even a Stonechat, despite the enormous expanse of Gorse & Heather. However, what we did find was a chap with a huge lens who showed us photos of a Stone Curlew which he'd taken on his way into the reserve. That would be a new UK bird for both of us. I think we were particularly cool, staying for another 10 mins of Whinchat hunting before heading back to the van.

Mary doing some  relaxed Whinchat hunting
We added a Firecrest to the list on our way back to the car park, a nice bonus for Mary.

We easily found the spot where the Stone Curlews had been seen. We scanned the field for a while & had just taken a photo of the location where Stone Curlew had been (as usual) when we found an oddly shaped stone....

There were 2 of them & we managed to get quite good views of them from the road. Mary even managed to take a video with her Lumix down the scope. We were 2 very happy bunnies & celebrated with a late lunch before heading back to the Visitor Centre.

A Garganey & a Caspian Gull had been seen in the morning. I got quite excited, thinking I'd be able to put into practice the Caspian Gull lessons from Gavin's 'Not Quite Scilly' blog....however, as soon as I found out that it was a 2nd Winter bird & not the 1st Winter that I've been trying to get to grips with, and that it was in with loads of other juvenile gull, I decided to give it a miss. I know when I'm out of my depth!

We headed to the South Levels to look for the distant Garganey, which of course we couldn't find, but we did find a rather nice Spotted Redshank. It was changing from Winter to Summer plumage so looked quite different to the one I'd seen on the Exe back at the start of March.

A raptor in a tree in the distance dropped down into the reeds before we could identify it. As we walked back towards the Bittern Hide we came across a couple watching a Sparrowhawk eating a Snipe. They'd seen it fly into the edge of the pool with the Snipe & hold it under the water for a couple of minutes to drown it before tucking in! It was probably the same bird we'd seen drop into the reeds. We watched it have tea, eating the only Snipe we've seen on the trip. I don't think we can put it on the list though.....

As we walked into the Bittern Hide a chap was just leaving & kindly pointed out a Bittern that was just emerging from the reeds below the hide. We've heard plenty of booming on the trip, but it was really nice to actually see one.

View from the Bittern Hide. The Bittern was in the right/front of the reeds. 
We finally left the reserve at about 7pm, having spent the whole day there & still not having had time to go round the woodland loop or visit all of the hides. I would definitely recommend a visit.

By the end of  Friday Mary had added 9 new birds & was on 115 + 1 Sub-species. I had added the Stone Curlew & was on 163 +1

There are so many sites nearby in the 'Where to Watch Birds' book that on Saturday we were spoiled for choice. Our direction was determined by a Great Grey Shrike that was shown on Birdguides about 20 mins to the South of us on Hollesley Heath. It had been there for a few days, either on the wire fence of an MOD property or on the wires by a pig farm. We found a spot that fitted the bill & a 2 minute scan found the bird on the MOD fence. We actually got fairly close & watched it flit between the fence & nearby trees.

Mary photographing the Shrike
We stayed in the vicinity & birded around the Alde estuary. It was very pleasant, but we didn't find anything of note. At least Mary finally added Dunlin to her list at number 117!

Iken Cliff on the The River Alde..... no Cliffs in sight
North Warren RSPB had a very impressive list in the book. We went there with high expectations & were totally unimpressed. It was an area of wetland but we struggled to figure out how to access it & when we finally found a path, there wasn't much to see. It was so boring I didn't even take a site photo! We'd lost interest so didn't even try to find the area of woodland. The extremely naff RSPB map didn't help as usual. We've complained to RSPB staff whenever we get the chance. They're all style & no content, & certainly don't expect to navigate by one.

No birding trip would be complete without a visit to a sewage works/ chalk pit/ quarry/ outfall or power plant. Being next to Sizewell, the choice was easy! We started at the beach to see the Kittiwake colony on the offshore installation (not quite sure what it is exactly). There were hundreds of them & they were a new bird for my Year List.

Kitttiwakes & Cormorants

A nice back-drop!
We then treated ourselves to a coffee in the Sizewell Cafe before having a nice wander around the Sizewell Belts, an area of woodland & meadows that borders Minsmere & the power station. It was quite a long pleasant walk although we didn't see much until we were heading out as it was starting to get late. As we passed an open area in the trees I said "there should really be a Barn Owl quartering over that field". Cue Barn Owl! Mary is now calling me a witch! We sat & watched it for at least 20 minutes, it was fabulous. It was also a new Year bird for us both

Looking for dinner.....
Mary had added 7 new birds & was on 122 + 1
I had added 2 & was on 165 + 1

To be continued......

Friday, 6 April 2012

Rustic rewards

Yesterday we were compensated for our stay in the rustic hideaway by a Lesser Spotted Woodpecker that started singing whilst we were walking back to the van.

We were heading for Blaxhall in Suffolk. Mary needed to do some shopping, so under duress we called in at Bluewater shopping centre.

I checked Birdguides to see if there was anything nearby and found a Glossy Ibis just South of Chelmsford & only a few miles off our route. It had been in a pond near to the Fox & Raven Pub for a while; sounded easy. Sure enough we found the pond, but no Ibis.

The Fox & Raven PH,  the pond, and no Glossy Ibis

There was also a Long-tailed Duck on Abberton Reservoir in Essex. A chap I used to work with always used to rave about it as a birding venue, so we decided to do a spot of exploring & hopefully pick up the duck. We did the exploring but of course……no duck. There was quite a lot of work being done around the reservoir, and it was probably the wrong time of the year, but it was all very uninspiring  The only interesting thing was a large Cormorantry (if there is such a word!), apparently one of the biggest in the country. They're meant to be mainly the Continental sub-species (Sinensis), but they're really hard to identify, especially when at the distance that these birds were. We took a few photos & will see if we can measure the angle of the gular pouch at some stage…..if we can actually see the gular pouch that is.

Mary on the causeway at Abberton Resv

We had quite a long way to go, so headed straight to Blaxhall from there. I had no new birds & Mary had 3, the Lesser Spotted W/P, a Green Sandpiper that had been in a boggy pool in a field near the reservoir, a Red-legged Partridge that she had spotted in a field as we were driving.

My Year List still on 162 + 1
Mary's Year List on 106 + 1

Thursday, 5 April 2012

Double-Dip Depression

 We stayed in the back of beyond yesterday, so had no signal. More of that later.

We spent a few minutes in the woods around the hostel, which didn't get us any good birds, but an overhead  squirrel pooed in Mary's eye! We decided to have a morning exploring a few Hampshire sites, starting off at Acres Down, which is apparently the best place to see raptors in the county (according to Where to Watch Birds in Britain). It was quite cold and overcast so we weren't optimistic but thought we'd give it a go. It did brighten up a bit so we gave it a while, but we we didn't see anything, not even a buzzard. It was a nice view though. Whilst keeping an eye out we also booked our accommodation for the night. There were 2 hostels close together in Dorking which was on our route, I read the summary info & they both sounded OK so I just picked one. I learned a valuable lesson……more later.

The raptor viewpoint (or not as the case may be) at Acres Down
Then we went to Beaulieu Road, an area of heathland to the East of Acres Down. As we walked up the track parallel to the railway line, we were impressed to see our first Swallow of the year fly by. There were also quite a few Curlew and a surprisingly large number of Reed Buntings. We had a Pipit that we think may have been a Tree Pipit, but it disappeared before we could make a positive ID. Mary did manage to fire off a few shots so hopefully when we download onto a large screen we may be able to decide if it was a Tree of just another Meadow Pipit. There were a few Siskins in the Car Park, but other than that nothing of note.

Beaulieu Road (although it isn't one)

Time for a spot of Twitching, so we headed to Calshot in search of the Spanish Sparrow that's been hanging about since the start of Jan. It hadn't been on Birdguides for about a week, but it's not been shown for a while before & then reappeared. 

We spent about 1 ½ hrs staring at House Sparrows. We chatted to a few friendly locals, including the lady who's garden Pablo had been frequenting. She came home after we'd been there a while, said she hadn't noticed him for a while & checked her garden for us. He wasn't there. 

The Spanish Sparrow aka Pablo Was Here....

Hawfinches had been seen in Lakeside Country Park, Eastleigh (Hampshire) which was almost on our route. We decided to give it a try. We did, and despite our best efforts didn't find any. 

Dipping is becoming a bit of a Lakeside County Pk

We set off towards our hostel at Tanners Hatch. We received a phonecall from the warden giving us directions, which has never happened before. This is when we discovered the bad news….

This is the bit I'd read about the hostel:

"This picturesque self-catering cottage in National Trust woodland is a relaxing rural retreat for a countryside activity break. Set in the Surrey Hills, with a network of footpaths and bridleways on the doorstep, the hostel is ideal for walking and cycling holidays"

This is the bit that I hadn't:

"The hostel is 0.75 miles down an unlit and unsurfaced track, so please bring a torch. Customers can unload at the hostel (by pre-arrangement), but the nearest parking is 0.75 miles away. All washrooms are outdoors"

A few expletives were uttered as it was getting late. It took ages to find the entrance to the incredibly rough track to the hostel even with the warden's directionsl. No one is allowed to park there, so I dropped off Mary & the bare minimum of kit & drove back in the dark to leave the car in a National Trust Car Pk. I was not looking forward to the walk back in pitch black in the woods, so was relieved when another chap parked up to walk down to the hostel. 

It is actually quite a nice place to stay, but not when it's just a quick stop over. It was an experience to say the least with its triple decker bunks & outside loos & showers.

At least there was gas & electricity & even ice cubes....

.....and comprehensive H & S info (we were on the 1st floor)

At least we added Tawny Owl to the trip list & Mary's Year List as it was calling as we unloaded the van. 

My Year List 162 + 1
Mary's Year List on 103 +1