Tuesday 27 October 2015

Going Steady

This morning started off with a pleasant enough stroll around the trails in the hope of finding something to go with my flyover Tree Sparrow yesterday.  It was warm enough to be wearing my sandals and it was still and dry.  Cetti’s were as explosive as ever and Goldcrests and Chiffchaffs were particularly vociferous in the Cordite where a few Redwings and Blackbirds darted for cover at my approach.  Common Darters and Migrant Hawkers were still on the wing and one Wasp Spider is hanging on in there!

Common Darter
Common Darter
Female Syrphus sp hoverfly on Great Mullein

I was musing about two species as I ambled on. The Reedmace crop is superb this year and it is about time that we got another flurry of Penduline Tits for a winter or two to turn these bullet cigar heads into so much candy floss and the other was Dartford Warbler which we have not had on site for about five years now following a the two cold snap winters that so damaged the inland strongholds. I was historically ticking off both species as ‘Seen Pendies there... seen a Dartford then’ when I heard a scold from the brambles before the Ken Barrett hide but I only registered it the once and thought...’umm... wishful thinking’ and moved on. I even had a chat with a chap about feeling like a Dartford day especially as Paul and Dave had found two at East Tilbury last week.

The Marsh Harriers were having a good fly round and the Buzzard was on his box but it was pleasant rather than outstanding and I headed back to base. I was greeted by a carrier bag in which was a fairly recently deceased Kingfisher. The victim was found beneath our window and must have got things terminally wrong at some stage early in the morning. The all black bill told us that it is a male and I think that the general plumage tone and tiny points on two tail feathers suggest that it is one of this year’s young. Whether or not it is one of our own birds is unanswerable. It was a real pleasure to be able to see such a beautiful bird close up and to lose yourself in the electric blue, teal green and autumn orange with those cute little feet with grippy pads and the fused two front toes and an incredibly sharp and pointy, fish stabbing bill. 

I put him somewhere safe and settled down to cover the shop for a while which all went well until people started coming in telling me about the lovely Dartford Warbler around by the Ken Barrett Hide!  See I was not going mad... trust your instincts and I should have not been so hasty to move on. 

A quick change of plans (sorry Alex) and I was off out again in the sunshine for a very brisk scoot around to the spot where Andy was already waiting with a few others including the Branch family from Carnforth who we saw back home in the northwest in July. There was no sign but I now had other quarry with the solitary Pink-footed Goose miraculously reappearing on the Target Pools so I did not stop and left them looking while I zoomed further round and quickly picked up the goose as it grazed with the Greylags thanks to pinching Caroline’s scope (no not the one in the cafe – the ex RSPB Rye Meads one!).  This is still an excellent bird here and hopefully it may linger with its larger cousins. 

Pink-footed Goose - Andy Tweed

A quick gander and then back to the Warbler, where, after a short wait and better angle, Andy and I were able to relocate it, as it was followed around by the ubiquitous pair of Stonechats. A nice first winter type bird which is quite interesting as it was reported to me earlier as an adult male so who knows... there could even be two.  Five House Martins hawked above the trees and the Barn Owl was grumpily perched in the front of its box.

I left Andy and Smiffy in charge of showing it to any new arrivals and came back to centre to find Alex and Caroline (cafe one this time) donning cycle helmets to go out looking for the missing keys lost by the family that hired the bikes earlier so I hopped back onto reception for a while - well long enough to get a call from Smiffy to say that they had now found a female Goldeneye in Aveley Bay so I was off again for a short sojourn along the wall in the name of helping to look for the keys and nabbing my third new bird for the year on the patch in the bargain.  It was a lovely still calm evening with flat water and a pink sky and a Dark-bellied Brent Goose bobbing around offshore rounded things off just nicely.

Goldeneye - another quality bird for the reserve - Andy Tweed

Time to stop I think....

Thursday 22 October 2015

A Second Date With Mojo...

Yesterday my body decided that it was about time I started brewing up a sore throat and stinky cold and by this morning I will admit to feeling less than tip top but drugged and caffeined up I made it in. I took myself for a walk along the river wall before opening up to try to clear my head a little and hope for a flyover Tree Sparrow or Woodlark or anything that may add some points to my faltering Patch Work Challenge attempt this year. Goldcrests were calling from the burning red Dogwoods with a couple of Chiffchaffs and ‘tsipp’ing Song Thrushes while there seemed to be more Robins around.   

A pair of Stonechat posed nicely on brambles and Cetti’s belted out their stake on a winter territory but although a few Skylarks and Mipits were on the move there was nothing of note and I reflected that, as discussed with Andy Tweed yesterday, it would be nice if the Walthamstow Reservoir Glossy Ibis of yesterday relocated to our salubrious reserve at Rainham Marshes...

Phone binned Kestrel in a sea of Hawthorn berries

Drawbridge down and first punter through the door; ticket given and a glance over my shoulder and there was a Glossy Ibis flying right past the window.  I had not even got my bins back out but it was so close I did not need them.  I shouted and then remembered that I needed to do that into the radio and within seconds the office had emptied and all were watching this all dark flying Gonzo head off down the river wall and appear to be dropping down onto the MDZ Pool.  I willed it to do so but as with so many birds here it circled back towards the centre and then made a determined b-line across the Thames and into Kent (yes Kentish lads it did go east of the Darenth Barrier) where we followed it to a distant dot on its way to the North Downs and beyond.

The Ibis! - Jerry Hoare

You may laugh but I am very grateful to Jerry Hoare for this shot of the Ibis - especially as he was on the Northern Trail at the time....

I know that Ibis are not super rare any more but they are a cool bird and it is only the second record for the site AND I just checked and the four points for it on the PWC goes up to a whopping 12 points for finding it myself!!  Whooo hooo!  Now that may help me in my Estuarine League battle against the mighty Lincs Washes RSPB Reserves!

I gleefully put the news out but as the adrenaline wore off it was obvious that more drugs were required and although I refrained from sampling the bottle of Sloe Gin that I was in the process of making on reception.  I was just saying goodbye to my Dad who had popped in to make the view better across the Purfleet Scrape from the centre for all you comfy chair people when in walks Martin Harper our RSPB Conservation Director and Graham Madge our Senior Media Officer on their way back after a nearby meeting and me with a snotty nose and huge bottle of homebrew spirit on the shelf behind my head!

What then ensued for the rest of the afternoon was a game of musical rooms with radio messages from Gerry and Jamie about Short-eared Owls extricating people including our VIPs to look for them followed by me shouting down the radio that another Shortie was just gliding past the window.

This second bird gave the most wondrous of views as it bobbed and weaved around the attendant Magpies with its glaring yellow eyes before ditching on the saltmarsh to huge smiles from everyone present – there were even some visitors by this point!

Short-eared Owl - Shaun Harvey
Short-eared Owl - Paul Hutchison
More drugs and a nice adult female Marsh Harrier and some swirling Golden Plovers and Lapwing and then a faint message from an excited Alan Tanner of ‘I am sure I have an Ibis flying behind the Butts Hide’. I hastily responded and got directions and there it was albeit a long way off but that shape is unmistakeable. There was more fervent office evacuating and everyone had their second look at a Glossy Ibis as it traversed Wennington and dropped down somewhere near the Serin Mound. Unbelievable and I am sure that Martin and Graham thought I had staged the whole thing!

The interesting fact here is that we had been staring out of the windows all day and the Ibis in the morning, five hours earlier, had flown to a microdot in the distance and we had not seen it come back.  Alan’s bird came up from the quiet corner of Aveley Pool near the Butts Hide so could there have been two birds?  It is quite conceivable but two sightings or two birds – either way I am very happy.

To round things up nicely a couple of late Swallows flicked around the centre and our two Ravens kronked noisily low over the car park on their way back to their Kentish home.

To the best of my knowledge the Ibis was not seen again on Wennington this evening but four Short-eared Owls took the day tally to at least five so let’s hope some linger (along with the Ibis) to give everyone the opportunity to be balefully glared at by an Asio owl...

Short-eared Owl - Paul Hutchison

My birding mojo and I got to know each other again on Monday and today we have been on a successful second date.

Tuesday 20 October 2015

A Day In The Woods - Norfolk 19th October 2015

So, yesterday, at long last I managed a proper day out birding this autumn and my group and I spent nearly all day sauntering up and down Holkham Pines and Wells Wood on the sunny Norfolk coast. We arrived at just after seven and were downing that first cup of coffee as the sun rose to the tune of several thousand ‘winking’ Pink-footed Geese.  We checked for stray white geese but no joy and had to be happy with a ghostly Barn Owl weaving in and out of the cattle in the field alongside. 

An early rising Marsh Harrier was perched up close by and Goldcrests were pinging around overhead in the poplars hinting that there were at least going to be some birds to look at today! Redwings and Blackbirds called and three Bramblings alighted in the closest tree where they ‘dweaked’ away at each other.  James Lowen ambled up and I suspect he was slightly surprised to see six birders cars there so early in the gloom on a Monday morning but at least we now had another set of eyes in the field to share information with. With enough light to see we headed east towards Wells and it soon became apparent that there were still Goldcrests aplenty along with numerous Robins and the constant calling of Redwings and incoming Skylarks. Two noisy Buzzards came out of their roost and a Great Spotted Woodpecker high over could have been a migrant.

A crest and Long-tailed Tit flock moved through with both Treecreeper and Coal Tits in tow and I heard a Yellow-browed Warbler call but could not find it.  Our first Fieldfare ‘chacked’ by and Song Thrushes and more Redwings erupted from the pines.  Some of the Goldcrests were ridiculously tame and allowed you to get within a foot or two as they gleaned aphids from the leaves and bark.

Goldcrest - Gill Price
The explosive Pied Wagtail-like call of the Hume’s Yellow-browed Warbler told us that we were at the right spot and although it called very well and at close range, it was a bugger to see and most had to be happy with a few glimpses of this frosty grey and white sprite.  

The Red-flanked Bluetail was beckoning in the Drinking Pool area and the thumbs up and ‘no problem’ comments from outgoing birders were the immediate kiss of death and we spent the next hour patiently waiting and looking for this most desirable of birds. Crests and Coal Tits came and went and Bramblings, Siskins and Redpolls called over the trees but of the phantom there was no sign so I took everyone off down the track to the spot where the Blyth’s Reed warbler had been frequenting.  It was currently on the south side of the path in an almost unviewable area and we needed it to move back the nice brambles on the north side.  I heard it quietly tacking almost immediately and saw it flit up into a birch before descending again. It was going to be one of those days.  James then text me to say that the Bluetail was back so with everyone’s eye staring feverishly back the way we came, I decided that a skulky brown Acro had nothing over a skulky Bluetail so off we went leaving Ruth Barnes to try and get better warbler views.

The crew - Sam Shippey

Thankfully the wait was not as long this time and we all eventually got the most magnificent views of this most enigmatic of Siberian waifs. Who would have thought that after the unblocking Winspit bird in Dorset way back in November 1993 that it would slowly become a more frequent autumnal feature of British birding and that I too would one day find my own one on that memorable day at Berry Head on the 18th October 2005?

Red-flanked Bluetail - these three shots by a jubilant Sam Shippey
Red-flanked Bluetail - James Lowen http://jameslowen.com

Red-flanked Bluetail - James Lowen http://jameslowen.com
Happy Antony

There is just something special about this special and we do not even get to see it in its full finery.  The smiles all around told the story with Antony and Sam being especially grinny!

The amble back was somewhat more upbeat that it had been an hour before and when the Hume’s gave itself up and showed well a few times in the oaks and willows there was even more to smile about.  It was calling frequently and very loudly and was even joined in voice by a Yellow-browed which Jason and Nicole saw shortly afterwards. 

Hume's Yellow-browed Warbler - James Lowen http://jameslowen.com

Back at the cars I very generously gave everyone a full 15 minutes pit stop before heading back out on the track through Holkham to the west.  The sun was beating down and layers had been removed and I did not want the sun getting any more into our faces than necessary for looking for the Isabelline Shrike.


By the time we were down near the Washington Hide (via a Firecrest!) it was really warm and the jumpers were now also off and the sleeves rolled up.  The Shrike was a long way off but it looked vaguely rusty and no one was too fussed!  Five thrush species (no Ouzel) were foraging on the grass with Pheasants and Rabbits and Marsh Harriers were on the prowl.

Visually Impaired Shrike - Antony Wren

Shaggy Ink Cap

Down to the Crossroads where a Pallas’s had been seen but it was actually quite quiet and so we had to make do with having a look for the other Red-flanked Bluetail and although it did not sit up for us it did make a couple of mad dashes including one right through the group when the cobalt blue of that tail was flared as it swept into a bramble clump.  It was gone two and stomachs were complaining that the tour leader really should be getting the rest of the attached bodies back for sustenance and so we slowly headed back in the warm sunshine with a highflying Short-eared owl (thanks James), much better Issy Shrike views and another Firecrest to help us along.

Goldcrest - Mark Vale

However, we were not finished as in the last tree before the cars the magical, mesmerising seven striped sprite that is a Pallas's Warbler was bouncing around the Holm Oak on some sort of elastic string that caused it to hover and show off those stripes and lemon yellow rump. We plonked our achy bodies down on the benches and were even able to watch it whilst top up those diminished reserves.  What a great finale to a stunning seven and a half hours birding.

Pallas's Warbler - Mark Vale


More Papping - Gill Price

Pallas's Warbler - James Lowen http://jameslowen.com

Pallas's Warbler - James Lowen http://jameslowen.com

There was more to come though and after a slightly tortuous journey in convoy to the east during which time it was suggested that I get out and jog up to the car in front and ask them to go a little faster.  Pat was almost foaming...

Beeston Regis Common was the spot and the second Isabelline Shrike of the day was in the bag in under one minute from the cars and performed beautifully in the late evening sunshine.  I even managed to at last take some pictures of something!

Isabelline Shrike

Isabelline Shrike

Isabelline Shrike - James Lowen http://jameslowen.com

Isabelline Shrike - James Lowen http://jameslowen.com

Time was slipping by but with the light holding we nipped back to Kelling Heath to have a look for a Great Grey Shrike that had been seen earlier in the afternoon but as expected it had moved through.  Linnets, Meadow Pipits and Redwings were heading off to roost and three Stonechats were still active.  A distant Buzzard and a male Goshawk with two crows in attendance were seen and another large raptor with corvid attention delightfully proved to be a Rough-legged Buzzard which was a superb way to end the day.  The walk back did not produce any Dartfords but there were some mighty fine Fly Agarics.

Handshakes and smiles and off on the journey home via the regular stop off for dinner at Mother Hubbards in Swaffham which was going swimmingly with the usual Special of fish ‘n’ chips, buttered roll, drink and mushy peas for £6.95. Pat and his Yorkshire roots always takes exception to the nature and appearance of overly green southern mushy peas but declaring to all and sundry with typical Pat volume that ‘there is too much peaness’ was a step too far and then when much guffawing ensued saying even louder ‘I said peaness... PEA....NESS’ does not in fact make things better....

Well, quite a day with a haul of Siberian waifs and strays to make any notebook gleam with poorly drawn doodles and a plethora of ***** and !!!!!!!

Birding mojo and I reacquainted? I very much think so...

PS: thanks to everyone for letting me use your pictures!