Monday, December 29, 2014

Goodbye 2014

So the last hurrah of 2014 ended on the most beautiful of winter days - the kind of day that dispels the longing for Spring, for warm evenings and extended daylight hours.  And having bumped into @porthkillier on the way round, it was a pleasure to share a great mornings birding.

So it started at Lockwood where a very vocal Kingfisher once again flashed up stream near to the sluice, and a Song Thrush skulked within the shelter of the foliage.  On the water, a drake Goldeneye was present with three females, six Gadwall flew out from the waters edge, and numerous Black Headed Gulls were sharing the banks with around 50 Common Gull.  Five Chiffchaff were seen along the tree line to the west of Lockwood along with two Goldcrest.

A patch first was a female Goosander that took flight a few moments after seeing it swim close to the bank at the north end.  Fortunate really as three had already taken flight towards Banbury that included two drakes.

Onto High Maynard where three flighty Grey Wagtail were present along the edge, and a Green Sandpiper shot past be coming to rest along the waters edge.  A male Sparrowhawk flew low through.

There was no sign of the Greater Scaup anywhere on the complex and Tufted Duck numbers appeared to be lower than of late.  Another three Goldeneye were seen in flight over no.5 including one drake and a wintering Common Sandpiper was feeding along the eastern edge.

East Warwick held half a dozen Shoveler, another Kingfisher sat along the reedbed on the southern edge, and another drake Goldeneye was present on West Warwick.

Saturday, December 20, 2014

Local Birding

It had been a while since I had ventured onto the patch - a mixture of apathy, weather, work - being lulled into feeling that this more like the sporting off-season.  The end of November, and December feels a bit transitional.  It is a time of year where surprises can be found on local patches.  I remember my first ever Leach's Petrel on Startop's Reservoir (Tring) in early December back in 2006.  Not that I was thinking that similar fortunes would fall my way.

So anyway, a combination of a tough end to a working week, blue winter skies, and a text from @jarpartridge - I headed up to Lockwood where the light was brilliant, the breeze brisk, and the prescence of a good selection of birds.

Approaching Lockwood, a vocal Kingfisher flashed past me along the channel, and a male Sparrowhawk flew low eyes fixed on its prey.  A few Common Gull were mixing in with the Black-Headed Gull but no sign of the Med that had been seen the previous day.

A patch tick for me were the Goldeneye, a drake and two female bobbing on choppy waters.  Heading round the Maynards, a few Teal were sheltered within the small islands, with Common Pochard and Little Grebe.  A couple of Grey Wagtail flew through.  A wintering Common Sandpiper alighted from the shoreline of High Maynard.

Moving onto No.4, the main target was the Scaup associating with a raft of Tufted Duck and seen very close into the shore.  A lovely adult drake, not often seen at such close range, but the diagnostic head shape, bright yellow eye, black nail on the tip of the bill, and the delicate mottled pattern on the sharp grey mantle were all observed brilliantly through the scope.

Around 40 Shoveler were present on East Warwick and No.1 (30 & 10), with another drake Goldeneye present on no.1.  There were also around 15 Gadwall there.

Must return soon.

Friday, December 5, 2014

Turning Forty - Extremadura

Age is just a number.  Not unless you turn forty it aint.  So I made it to the big 4-0 which still doesn't compute with me but I will just have to trust the integrity of the date on my birth certificate.  Those who said you will not feel any different were guilty of lies against humanity.  I felt totally different.  Every time I closed my eyes I could see those two numbers etched onto the inside of my eyelids.  I felt panicky, queasy, time has slipped by into middle-age and I'm still no clearer on what to do when I grow up.  I think that's it.  I've turned forty and I've not grown up.  Maybe it's time to start shouting at other people's children and ironing my underwear.  There are things to look forward to after all. 

The plan then for said birthday.  A four day trip to Extremadura to ease the pain.

A champagne breakfast at Heathrow's Terminal Five overlooking the westerly apron and watching the planes disappear into the low cloud as they departed from runway 27R.  I was getting the best of both worlds.

Arrived in Madrid on a BA/Iberia flight without any drama which of course all starts when picking up a hire car.  I'm not entirely sure what part of my brain is missing but I have lost that once innate aptitude for orientation.  It's an age thing.  Four and a half hours later, having re-routed via many of the Spanish cities, the comforting sight of Trujillo was upon us.

Trujillo should be a three hour drive south-west of Madrid towards Badajoz on the Portuguese border.  A stunning fortified town set in the province of Caceres that throughout the generations has been inhabited by Muslims, Christians, and Jews.  The architecture is stunning, the narrow cobbled streets are a joy to walk through, the town remains untouched by commercialism.  It was also an opportunity to practice my Spanish - some amusing moments but all good.



View from Monfrague Castle


Iberian Grey Shrike

Red Avadavat

Vegas Altas

Birding was carried out at a leisurely pace.  No rush.  This was a holiday, but there were certain targets I had to hunt down that involved two sites.

The first site at Vegas Altas was an hour out of Trujillo.  Here, Crane were present in large numbers.  Huge flocks feeding on the rice fields, moving through in flocks as they wheeled around pronouncing their anxious 'kraw'.  Difficult to count but I estimated around 5000 birds in the area and such a fantastic sight.  Definitely the bird of the trip.

In the area were three lifers.  In the ditches that ran alongside the rice fields, Red Avadavat flew round in flocks, jumping out of the reeds and disappearing into cover.  Some bright red individuals were seen, but there were mainly transistional males, females, and juveniles.  Sharing the habitat were a few gaudy Common Waxbill, a stunning bird with their diagniostic red eye-mask.  Flitty Zitting Cisticola were common.  A few Willow Warbler were present too, a couple of bright juveniles enjoying the relatively mild conditions.

Just the numbers of birds here was astounding.  Clouds of Spanish Sparrow and House Sparrow along the roadside, Spotless Starling, Corn Bunting, Marsh Harrier quartering the rice fields, Iberian Grey Shrike sat on the telegraph wires, and hundreds of Cattle Egret following tractors as they churned up the fertile soil.  A majestic male Hen Harrier flew through flushing gulls and smaller birds as it ruthlessly hunted the dense populations of birdlife.

Cattle Egret

Further away from the main road, the hunt was on.  Driving through sandy tracks, fields were scanned successfully for Great Bustard, a flock of 75 together feeding at distance as they nervously creeped through the wheat fields.

Taking a route past Mohena Alta, Crane again were present in number, stalking through the orchards obscurely resembling mammals on the Kenyan plains.  Here, good numbers of Azure-Winged Magpies gregariously passed between the trees, energetic and boisterous.

Other highlights were the Hoopoe that lined the roadside, up to 15 feeding individuals interspersed by short flights as the car creeped forward toward them.  Very confiding.  A single Merlin was seen dashing low over the fields, a Green Sandpiper flew round one of the rice fields, as did a couple of Kingfisher.  There were birds everywhere - this was the end of November.

Monfrague National Park

An iconic area of Extremadura, Monfrague National Park with breathtaking scenery enhanced by a short climb up to the Castillo where thermalling groups of Griffon Vulture can be seen at close quarters partrolling the barren slopes.  Beneath, the River Tagus flows through disappearing into the misty horizon as it meanders past the rolling hills.  As well as the Griffs, Black Vulture were here too, with at least eight seen, immense yet serene.

The climb up to the Castillo on a cool clear day routed through semi-coniferous and deciduous woodland where Nuthatch were active, Woodlark were in brief song, and Crag Martin numbering up to a hundred flirted with the rocky scree.

This place deserves time, but there is more to be seen.  The road traverses the river via the bridge pictured in the photo above.  A further fifteen minutes down the road is a traditional site for Spanish Imperial Eagle where two were immediately noted sitting high up on a rock, commanding their positions ruling authoratitively over their vultuorous rivals.  Both were adults, and the pale shoulders were clearly visible.  They were present for around twenty-five minutes before soaring away.  Both Griffon and Black Vulture were present as was a single Blue Rock Thrush that sat high upon a tapered rock.  There were decent flocks of Azure-Winged Magpie seen from the roadside here.

Griffon Vulture

A return trip the next day back to Vegas Altas was a disappointing and fruitless search for the rare and localised Black-Shouldered Kite.  They do winter in this area, but I will one day catch up with it.

Extremadura will be the first of many visits.

We got lost driving back to the airport. 

Monday, November 24, 2014

I Smell Winter

A very pleasant day, cold, crisp, and relatively clear, but pretty routine birdwise.

The Marshes were very soggy, the north marsh is practically submerged by the rainfall over the last couple of days. Not even wellies were sufficient enough to access the north-east corner.

A Chiffchaff was present in horseshoe thicket, and a male Blackcap appeared in scrub along the eastern edge of north marsh. A lone Meadow Pipit sat along the fenceline of the Paddocks with around forty Pied Wagtail there.

The Waterworks produced two Water Rail, 12 Teal, 10 Tufted Duck, a pair of Gadwall, and a Sparrowhawk.

Sunday, November 9, 2014

A great Reculvery - Desert Wheatear

I was in a foul mood last week, admittedly I spent much of Friday clearing up the toys that I had unceremoniously thrown out of my pram.  I shouldn't really have these items in my flat anyway as I have no children of my own or anyone else's.  The reason for these histrionics were simple.  A sprinkling of DESERT WHEATEAR shaped gold-dust along the eastern coastline, and no efficient means to see them.

There are many photographs of the bird that I went to see today at Reculver in Kent scattered like gold-dust all over the interweb, by which I mean, websites dedicated for proliferating news about birds.  And the reasons were strikingly obvious.

So today, I took out a second mortgage and headed over to Avis rent-a-car in the centre of Londinium, where it took around four days to complete the paperwork, and another week and a half to negotiate my way out of London.  Thankfully the bird was still present when I arrived.

Having mentioned gold-dust twice and through a complex transmutation alchemic reversal process, this gem of bird was just behaving ridiculously.  It is any wonder why there are so many amazing photographs as it posed beautifully firstly on the right side of the path a hundred metres or so east of the wonderful Anglo-Saxon church on top of some discarded detritus.  The bird then moved beach-side, the light was fantastic, the bird even more so, and I still couldn't get a decent photograph on my point 'n' shoot.  Nevermind.  It was a complete joy to spend my time in the presence of this delightful bird.  A real privilege, and a real cracker and my third this year (with two stunning Spring males seen in Cyprus).

And if this wasn't enough, then how about, a Shore Lark along with two Snow Bunting, a very late Whinchat, c120 Golden Plover, and 300+ Brent Goose, and half a dozen Stonechat.

The toys and the pram are on Ebay.  I need the money.

Thursday, November 6, 2014

Walthamstow Reservoirs

Pretty quiet around the ressies today with the best sighting (apart from the shuttlecock) a Green Sandpiper flushed from the north-end of Lockwood that flew round and up the relief channel.  Two Skylark later flew over and a Meadow Pipit alighted from the bank.

A flock of five Skylark then flew over No.2, but that was about it apart from three Grey Wagtail over No.4, 24 Shoveler on No.5, 22 Gadwall on (15 on East Warwick and a further seven on No.2), four Shelduck (two on No.5, and two on No.3).  A total of ten Skylark were noted during the course of the morning.

Tuesday, October 28, 2014

North Norfolk

Back again.  This time with The Prof and when I go birding with The Prof, I see things.  And this time I saw a new bird.  It was the SURF SCOTER that had been loitering off Holkham Gap for a couple of days.  Despite the strengthening wind, the light was great and there were Scoters to be seen on the sea.  The bird was associating with three Velvet Scoter, with a few Common Scoter in the vicinity.  Seven Sanderling skipped along the foreshore.

Now the day actually started off at Salthouse where the Grey Phalarope was seen without too much fuss and bother, just a beaut of a bird looking skitty as they always do with those punctuated movements perversely bearing resemblance to a fully wound-up toy on full power.  Diminutive in size, these birds are tough, enduring hard winters out in the ocean in areas that even the shipping forecast doesn't reach.  Seeing it being mobbed by a Jackdaw was a little harsh.

Heading over to Lady Anne's Drive, a large group of birders were assembled looking at a Great White Egret that we later observed from a pull-in along the A149.  In the same area was a very pale Buzzard.  With the presence of a Rough-Leg around Holkham, there were murmurings that this was their bird.

However, a later search for the RLB produced five Common Buzzard, two of which were conspicuously pale and worryingly deceptive to the assembled folk that were leaving convinced they had seen it.

The Prof was also up to his tricks, white flags appeared to be an identification challenge, some were Egrets, some were not.  Then there were Kestrels and Eleanora's Falcons, and we were agast at the whimsy we were creating, conjuring up fictictious birds and nailing them to our mental notebooks.

Norfolk makes you heady.  The sea air is dripping with hallucinogens that make the sane fanciful.  I'm roaring out for Norfolk at the moment.  I've not visited this area as much as I have done this year.

It really has gone to my head and I'm acting like a proper birder.

The video really isn't great so I will call it 'record footage' of the Scoter, Phal, and Egret.


Painted Lady

Great White Egret!

Sunday, October 19, 2014

North Norfolk (again)

So I returned the next day, but I don't want to talk too much about it.  Instead I would like to mention the beauty of the landscape, a truly wonderful place, those beaches and those skies.  We walked from the far side of Wells to Holkham Pines and it was amazing.

I love North Norfolk for everything it provides.  The moderate walk along the beach on a warm afternoon and birding really wasn't the focus, well maybe just slightly out of focus but I could see things clearly enough.

A Red-Throated Diver hadn't realised the tide had receded and sat along one of the channels close to the beach.  A single Greenshank surprised me as it flew along the harbour.  A Common Buzzard flew over the pines and 70+ Pink-Footed Goose flew in a small skein off the sea.

At Holkham Pines, a Yellow-Browed Warbler briefly flew through the trees in among the titmice flock, but it was far too windy to see anything really.  The walk back was great too.

Happy days.

Saturday, October 18, 2014

North Norfolk

When the A11 spat me out onto the adjacent meandering countryside lanes, I had a feeling it wasn't going to be my day.  The week before had seen a decent fall of migrants along the North Norfolk coast swept in by some active weather systems out across the near continent.  The east winds of autumn is what the spiritual birder points to the heavens for, arms aloft in reverence to the ornithological deities, prayerfully sending up requests that a nice slection of eastern vagrants would be our portion.  My atheistic tendencies frankly do not subscribe to the religiosity of the birding gods.

Nature steers its own path, of course I was praying like mad.

So after a frustrating journey northwards bewitched by the uniformity of the Cambridgeshire countryside, I arrived at Warham Greens.  An Isabelline Shrike had been present here for around three days, but starting the walk toward the marsh, the gods were speaking to me.  What I mean is I could tell that there was nothing to be found here.

Of course that wasn't true.

A couple of Brambling in a hedge among a large flock of finches and buntings is nothing to complain about.  Neither was the Red Kite that flew low over the back fields nor the Merlin that hunted in haste low over the freshmarsh.  The sole Pink-Footed Goose in an adjacent field looked a little bemused, and the four Marsh Harrier quartering distantly definitely deserves a mention.  At least ten Goldcrest darting around an old oak shouldn't be ignored, the 22 overflying Golden Plover would attract derision if omitted, and how could I fail to document the sighting of a Rough-Legged Buzzard that flew low over Stiffkey.   Brief joy, among the relative disappointment.

So onto Holkham Pines in search of my next monumentous dip. I've never seen a Pallas's Warbler, and as I write, I still haven't seen one.  The main act was present, in fact I was only five metres away from this little gem, but such distances equate to light years when you're so close and yet so far.

The supporting cast was ok though, two to three Yellow-Browed Warbler showed well as they passed through the sallows associating with the flock of titmice, as did two gaudy Firecrest that boldly skitted around a now naked birch tree bereft of foliage.  Three Common Buzzard sallied on a light breeze over the marsh.

No rares, but with faith restored, this is still my Jerusalem.

Wednesday, October 15, 2014

Patchwatch - Short-eared Owl


Short-eared Owl seen distantly to the east, flying around for 20 mins being mobbed by a corvid and a small group of Starling. A patch first.

Female Bullfinch, first seen flying into bushes along the main path just past the wildlife garden.  It called frequently and then moved toward the trees at the back of the reserve and was seen well from Bay 15.  A patch first.

A calling Green Sandpiper on the reserve but not located.

Two Skylark flew over.

Around ten Redwing over.

Six Wigeon, 15 Teal, Cetti's Warbler calling frequently, an adult Greater Black Backed Gull over, and two Goldcrest.

Walthamstow Marshes

A brief walk round, two Stonechat present in the Cow Field (male and female), Skylark over, c15 Meadow Pipit over, 2cy Common Gull, a Chiffchaff, and three Goldcrest by the entrance to the Riding Stables.

Middlesex Filter Beds

A pair of Gadwall on the Relief channel.

Distant views of the Short-eared Owl as seen from the Waterworks NR

Saturday, October 11, 2014

'Steppe' Grey Shrike

So I saw this confiding little chappy.  The 'STEPPE' GREY SHRIKE showed stupidly well on a still grey morning in Burnham Norton.  What a charming bird this was, flighty and extremely obliging, it was shrikingly active chasing insects while displaying its black and white wing coverts while it darted off treetop perches onto the muddy deck.  Still couldn't get a decent picture but great to experience the character and behaviour of another rare shrike.

Also on site was a family party of eight Bearded Tit of which a male sat up on a reed 'pinging' away imploring me to take a photo.  Of course I failed to get my camera ready in time.

Pink-Footed Goose flocks were witnessed numbering around 70 in two groups as they called loudly over the marshes.  An evocative sound of winter.  A lone Swallow flew through in haste keen to catch up with peers already well advanced in southerly migration.

From here, the plan to head down to Minsmere for the Little Crake hit a snag.  The bird which had been seen over the past ten days or so failed to appear despite a five hour vigil staring at a dubious area of mud and swaying reeds that appeared apologetic in my statuesque efforts to connect with this elusive bird.  Feel a little unlucky it didn't show particularly as it had been seen that very morning,  But that's the way birding goes sometimes.  Watching three Marsh Harrier in a pre-roost display over the vast reedbed was a lovely sight in the fading light, but I left a little disappointed.

I thought back to the Shrike this morning, and all was well again.

Sunday, October 5, 2014


I'm nowhere near a Sibe Rubythroat, a Great Grey Shrike visiting us from far off lands, or a small Crake that I contemplated twitching today until I realised that this was a Sunday and upholding the Judeo-Christian values of the day of rest might not be a bad thing after all.

Stunned by the awful accident in the Japanese GP this morning and coupled with one of those irritating morning afters having indulged in a little wine, I was in no mood to do anything.

It was a stunning day though, so I got myself onto my bike and headed down to the Waterworks where I surprisingly heard a Green Sandpiper - attempts to connect with it were in vein.  It may have alighted from the relief channel as there is no exposed mud as yet from any of the bays.

Also there was a flyover Common Buzzard, a vocal Cetti's Warbler, and a Little Egret flew up channel.

So it's now a long wait till next weekend until I'm able to get out and claim my next target.  An arduous week awaits me.

Air France A380 - AF006 Paris CDG to New York JFK at 38,000ft 

Tuesday, September 30, 2014

It's still there!

Great to see the Nightjar still present on it's favoured perch.  A great crowd present this evening, and it was a pleasure meeting new people and hanging out with the locals too.  The bird rested typically until sunset when it became much more active, firstly preening, then stretching its wings before shuffling forward where it then perched at the end of the branch waiting for air traffic clearance.

Finally it lifted of at 7.14pm where it dashed through the murk only to be seen again five minutes later back on its perch.  It then disappeared, and despite a brief aerial search, it wasn't seen again.

Let's see whether it returns tomorrow.

Sunday, September 28, 2014

Local Nightjar

What a splendid day.  I got a message from my good friend Graham Howie of a Nightjar at Middlesex Filter Beds.  Nightjar + Local Patch + 28th September = extraordinary.

Not only that but the manner in which the bird was found also merits a mention.  Local jogging birder Alistair Dent breezed past the tree-lined boundary at the southern end of the filter beds and noticed a bird sitting along the horizontal branch of an elder tree.  Quite a spot - undoubtedly at speed!

So the birders gathered that fuelled interest of passers by who all enjoyed great views of this wonderful bird.  Hopefully many would have experienced something new, wildlife is inclusive and should be enjoyed by all.  I enjoyed the conviviality immensely, birders and general public alike with many great conversations had.  Please can we leave a Nightjar permanently on site.

Also noted there were two vocal Goldcrest and a Chiffchaff.  A Great Spotted Woodpecker flew over.

Later at the Waterworks, a Common Buzzard flew low over and a Blackcap fed on berries and three Meadow Pipit flew over.

But the day will be remembered for the first Lea Valley Nightjar - a great find, and a great day.

Swaying Nightjar

Friday, September 26, 2014

Shrike while the irons....

This aint no upwardly mobile freeway, oh no, this is the road to Hull.  I really don't know how these twitchers do it, coursing (and cursing) up and down the country, negotiating traffic and nerves.  Must be adrenaline or madness.  So in my madness, I wangled a day off, stole a car, and headed to Spurn.

Now according to the good book, God rested on the seventh day, but thankfully (and taking full advantage of my lightning reactions) I connected with the juvenile MASKED SHRIKE (present for its 7th day) that had been re-identified last Saturday while I was in Norfolk.  Masked Shrike.... whatever, I exclaimed. Whatever my arse.

Was gutted not to have connected with it earlier but with gratitude and luck and timing and stars aligning, I made it to the site.  The bird was seen so very well in it's preferred location in a big field, cocking it's tail like a Nightingale, flitting along the metal fenceline like a chat, and catching insects, well, like a Shrike.  A delightful bird, my second for the WP.

Thank goodness I forgot the memory card for my camera.  Wasn't pissed off in the slightest.

Did I mention anything about the journey?  The A1(M) has to be one of the most depressing roads in Britain.  I'm right now craving the tube - to me it feels like space travel by comparison.

Also seen today, a bobbing Jack Snipe on Canal Scrape, and eight Tree Sparrow flew past over the triangle.  It was generally very quiet birdwise.

At Kilnsea Wetlands a Little Stint was feeding alongside seven Dunlin, a male Stonechat was present as were 45 Wigeon.

Sleepy time.

Monday, September 22, 2014

North Norfolk at the weekend

Masked Shrike?  Whatever.  I was in North Norfolk for the weekend.  I was dragged under duress by my girlfriend who wanted to escape the hustle of the big smoke.  Go on then.

A stocky gentleman approached us, face hardened by plenty of twitches no doubt, hardened by the highs and the lows.  "The bird is just up the track here..... when you get to the green bin, turn right and follow the birders".  Well how warm and forthcoming that was, and that's really how it was for the whole weekend.  Birders enjoying the scene, uniting with their peers young and old, singles and couples, black and white.  It was palpably utopian and a real joy to be a part of it.

So it started at Burnham Overy.  The skies were grey, but there were plenty of birders and a fair few birds.  The bushes alongside the path up to the seawall held a decent flock of titmice that contained a Lesser Whitethroat, Willow Warbler, and Chiffchaff.  Three Spoonbill flew gracefully across the marsh, a Grey Plover and two Knot sat pensively on the fresh mud.  Plenty of Swallow were flying round the pools east of the sea wall with a few House Martin and a single Sand Martin.  I failed to connect with the Black-Necked Grebe that had been present for a while.

Northern Wheatear dashed around in number along the coastline, one of my favourite birds.  A single Whinchat sat along the fenceline and there were at least six Common Redstart seen on the walk towards Holkham.  The highlights were two Red-Breasted Flycatcher both of which were typically flighty, but gave great views as they darted out of the hawthorn, one next to the boardwalk, and the other low down on the wired fenceline adjacent to the sea-wall.  Further east of the boardwalk, a Barred Warbler showed typically briefly low down in the vegetation, but seen well for its abbreviated appearance.

Onto Wells Wood, and it wasn't long before connecting with the Olive-Backed Pipit, a bird that has no understanding of what it means to be a pipit as it crept cautiously within the tall grass near the dell but seen well as it traversed the muddy path.

And there was darkness on the first day (along with a couple of pints and a pie).

The next morning had a totally different feel, brighter but with a strong onshore wind.  With the report of a Long-Tailed Skua at Cley, we headed over to find that it had drifted east toward Salthouse.

Now seawatching is something I don't do very often.  If feels strange and unconventional, I can imagine it to be a bit like playing football on Andorra's home ground.  Sitting on the damp shingle also makes your arse go numb.  But there were seabirds going past, of which I managed to identify two Bonxies, four Arctic Skua, eight Red-Throated Diver, two Razorbill, two Guillemot, four Manx Shearwater, a decent movement of Sandwich Tern and Common Tern, regular flocks of Dark-Bellied Brent Goose, and inevitably Gannets moving through most of which were first year birds.

Further east of the Beach Road, were a few clumps of bushes and a number of birders forming the front-line.  The reason for this were the two Yellow-Browed Warblers delighting the crowds as they flitted around a young oak along with a Goldcrest.  The hawthorn next to it hosted another Barred Warbler.  This one had no idea how to behave as it sat on top of the bushes feasting freely on blackberries.  It was a brute of a bird, but showed brilliantly - having not seen one before this year, I've had a singing male in Poland, and now three more in eight days.  I was thrilled to have seen this one so well.

A shoddy video below shows footage of Olive-Backed Pipit, Red-Breasted Flycatcher, and the Barred Warbler.

Sunday, September 14, 2014

Burnham and Blakeney

The new job started Monday last.  A week of utter mediocrity, apathy, and a deep sense of regret for leaving the aviation industry - one that I love.  Yet at the time it felt it wasn't for me and I left.  Now eighteen months later, and a couple of months away from a significant birthday, I am kicking my own ass.  As one masochist said to another, don't beat yourself about it brother (Heaton, 2013).  This job isn't for me.  It is as far away from my aspirations as a bull is from a china shop.  We keep searching, and the hope for something in aviation is what I am now completely ready for.

It's been a hell of a year, but through it all, my outlet has always been wildlife and birding.  With rare access to a car, the ultimate escape was a trip to Norfolk, just the most magical place and one where I could totally get away from the exasperation I had been feeling.

En route, news came in of a BARRED WARBLER at Burnham Overy so reacting to this, we headed up to the area close to where the Speccie Warbler was seen earlier in the year.  After a short wait, the bird appeared low down in the bushes at the bottom of Gun Hill before disappearing a few moments later.  The easterly wind was pretty keen, so opting to change my view of the hawthorn bush, I was rewarded with much better albeit brief views of the bird as it hurriedly skipped through the foliage remaining typically elusive.  Having seen a singing male earlier in the year in Poland, this was a new British bird.

Also in the area were a single Whinchat, half a dozen Northern Wheatear, a Green Sandpiper, two Greenshank, nine Black-Tailed Godwit, Grey Plover, a Marsh Harrier, and a few 'pinging' Bearded Tit all by the pools.

Heading away, our initial destination was Blakeney Point.  Having never taken the walk from the Beach Car Park to the Point, we decided to negotiate the seven mile walk.  The skies cleared, and it was such a joy to take in the sea air and get some decent exercise in.

Despite the easterlies, it was relatively quiet with a few Northern Wheatear scattered along the shingle spit.  A Common Redstart and a Whinchat were at the plantation.  The sun was warm, the views over the freshmarsh were stunning and with that, I fell asleep.

On the way back, a quick seawatch produced a few passing Gannet of varying ages, a flock of Common Scoter, and a Fulmar flying east.

This was a nice surprise - my first Air Canada Dreamliner crusing at 40,000ft on AC085 from Tel Aviv to Toronto

Friday, September 5, 2014

Walthamstow Marshes

On the Marshes for a quick lunchtime visit, a Spotted Flycatcher was present in the scrub by the railway bridge.  A late Common Swift flew low over, and 13 Swallow headed north.  Three Little Egret were wading in the shallows of the relief channel, and a Common Buzzard soared low over.

Onto the Waterworks, there were two Spotted Flycatcher feeding on insects from the large tree near to the cow pen with six Willow Warbler including two bright juveniles for company.

Wednesday, September 3, 2014

Walthamstow Marshes

Now I can't keep away from this damn place.  This morning was very gloomy, mainly because I bumped into The Prof early doors.  We shot the breeze and cut through the mist in the hope of a crippler without success.  Of course when he pootled off, the birds arrived.

First a Yellow Wagtail flew west with another two flying north.  A dozen Swallow soon followed also flying north bamboozled by the low cloud.  It was all pretty quiet after that apart from around five Willow Warbler around the reserve.  A juvenile Common Tern flew lethargically over.

It got a little warmer, and heading down to the cow field, I discovered a couple of Whinchat that were new in.  Having been satisfied with this, I returned once again to the paddocks where two Northern Wheatear had arrived, male and female, and three Yellow Wagtail including one rather smart adult bird.

A Hobby then flew in and sat atop the electricity pylon at the far end of the paddocks with another seen circling in close proximity preying on insects.

A slumberous walk took me over to the Waterworks where three Common Buzzard drifted then thermalled before heading away, but no repeat performances on yesterday.

Other noteworthy observations were a singing Common Whitethroat, and the two resident Kestrel.

It was also a pleasure meeting Adam Winstanley today who jammed onto the Common Redstart this morning.

Below is a video of today's highlights.

Tuesday, September 2, 2014

Walthamstow Marshes

On Sunday, this happened;

  • Walthamstow Marshes: Riding stables, front paddocks - Pied Flycatcher, 2+ Spotted Flycatcher, favouring Western side of paddocks either side of the track running East-West between them. A few Chiffchaffs and Blackcap. Rear paddocks - 2 Wheatear, Yellow Wagtail. Bomb crater field - 1 Meadow Pipit, 1 Whinchat, 4 Pheasant. North marsh - 2 Blackcap, Reed Warbler, 5 Swallow SW. (Paul Whiteman, Graham Howie, Su Huckle, JW Davies). 3 Spotted Flycatcher still present in front paddocks 16.00 plus 2 Wheatear still (Lol Bodini/Stuart Fisher).
  • Walthamstow Res: Black-necked Grebe West Warwick (per Pete Lambert). BNG still present this evening in NE cnr. (Paul Whiteman) 3 Yellow Wagtails, 2 Common Sandpipers Lockwood. 2 Spotted Flycatchers together bushes NW corner of Lockwood, 2 Lesser Whitethroats, bushes NE Lockwood, Kingfisher Lower Maynard (David Bradshaw)

...and the rest of London went bonkers with the number of migrants that had dropped in looking more like a coastal site than our capital city.  Of course I was no where near this carnage.  I was out spending the day with friends, and I wouldn't have had it any other way.  Erm...... anyway...

Today, I was able to have my fill.

A warm sunny morning and with light easterlies, it felt good for something.  Heading up to the paddocks, I noticed an unusual chat-like bird flying across the paddocks that on landing turned into a Spotted Flycatcher.

Over the Marshes, there was real evidence of significant Swallow migration, a bird I had failed to see all summer.  Pulses of small flocks were heading over, one of which had a late Common Swift for company.  A couple of Meadow Pipit also flew through, a first for the autumn.

Large groups of House Martin chattered as they flew high overhead.  A Willow Warbler sang in horseshore thicket, and down Track 13, three Lesser Whitethroat were enjoying the sunshine with another Willow Warbler, five Blackcap, three Chiffchaff, and two Common Whitethroat.

Heading back to the paddocks, I have recently discovered migrants having made a second visit.  This time, a Yellow Wagtail flew low over.  Along the horse riding track a Common Redstart then flicked out catching a fly before returning back to its perch.  It then called twice before disappearing.

I then decided to move onto the Waterworks.  The old pitch and putt has looked good for chats, and my first sighting today were of two Whinchat, a male and a juvenile bird.  A single Meadow Pipit flew over and Swallow continued to dash through with around 60 birds counted throughout the morning.

It was warming up, it felt good for raptors.  I camped out in the 'circle' at the Waterworks and then watched in a single hour a total of 13 Common Buzzard soar high over in groups of four, two, then a single bird followed by another single, then a group of five right overhead.  A new experience for me on the patch.  Four Sparrowhawk were also enjoying the warm conditions.

Saturday, August 30, 2014

Stapleford, Herts - Wryneck

There's certain birds that you just have to see.  I had joked about not having WRYNECK on my life list and had hoped that this would be the year that I would eventually see one.

The last few days had seen an influx of drift migrants propelled by an easterly onshore breeze depositing a decent number of Wryneck onto coastal areas with a large proportion of these in eastern and southern counties.

Yesterday a report came in of a rare inland sighting at Stapleford in Herts, which was interesting as one was seen at the same location last year.  It was also close by, but not close enough for an excursion using public transport.

Well that's what I thought.

Last night was a bit boozy, a night out in Camden and with a few pale ales consumed, I felt a bit jaded this morning.  With the bird still present, and finding out that Stapleford was a few miles from Hertford East station, I jammed onto the train with my bike.

Eventually finding the location, there were grown men staring at bushes.  For thoroughly appropriate reasons of course where the bird was eventually located skulking deep within the scrub, the majority of its body and tail obscured but parts of the grey scaly mantle visible, as were it's head, ochre throat, and underside.  It remained there for around five minutes without ever breaking cover.

A decision was made to flush the bird from the bushes, which in hindsight was a poor idea as the bird flew low out of sight and was not seen again.

Also on site were a flyover Hobby, five Red Kite, six Common Buzzard, two Kestrel, Sparrowhawk, around 20 Swallow, a Migrant Hawker, two Speckled Wood, Small Heath, and a smart Brown Argus.

Not perfect for a lifer, but far from disappointing.

It's in there somewhere