Friday, May 30, 2014

Poland in the Spring - Part 1/2

If I could imagine a place where the air was alive with birdsong, where the atmosphere was organic and pure, and observing nature felt unobscured by time and pressure, I found this place in Poland.

This for me was birding heaven.  Birds that I had been longing to see, I was fortunate to catch up with.  Some passed me by, but this just makes another trip back there an absolute certainty.  An initial visit to a relatively small area of woodland in the suburbs of Warsaw held a chorus of singing Wood Warblers with up to four birds present.  I was to find out later just how widespread these birds are within the country.  Singing Common Redstart, Woodlark, a flyover Hobby, and I hadn't even started.

The journey to Bialowieza took over four hours, accounting for misdirections (ie. we got lost getting out of Warsaw) arriving at our accommodation located behind a petrol station.  A lovely place though and one that comes totally recommended.  Using the Gosney Guide for birding in Poland, the first stop was the Palace Park that is a must for any trip to the area.  Anticipating the possibilities, the area was animated with birdlife.  Just in the car park, Common Rosefinch and Icterine Warblers sang from a wooded avenue.  Great Reed Warblers croaked away from the reedbed by the right-hand lake and from the island, a Thrush Nightingale whistling and warbling extraordinary sounds.

A walk around the park produced Hawfinch within the woodland, a singing male Pied Flycatcher, fluting Golden Orioles from the treetops, and a little bit of a surprise to connect with a White-Backed Woodpecker sounding agitated within a tall silver birch,   I arrived at a gate to the park, a path to the right led to the gated entrance to the promised land of the Bialowieski primeval forest.  The view on a warm evening overlooked a meadow, untouched by humans and a fertile land for wildlife to thrive.  A River Warbler reeled low down in the scrub, and two Corncrake crexed, sounding somewhat subterranean.  Walking back towards the 'town' two male Red-Backed Shrikes supped on insects, and a male Marsh Harrier wheeled around searching for something a little more substantial.

And there was evening on the first day.

Back at the hotel, dawn arrived, as did the chorus.  Just from the room overlooking a small meadow, among the common birds were calling Corncrake, River Warbler, Red-Backed Shrike, and Fieldfare.  Eye-and-ear boggling.

A 4.30am start with my guide and the search for Woodpeckers.  The morning was cool and still, with a fine mist hovering over the dewy meadows.  A Yellowhammer and Tree Pipit sat along the telegraph wires by the path, and Whinchat sang from the top of the small bushes.

Entering the forest through the large wooden gate into dense woodland, the clearly defined paths led into the most evocative dawn chorus.  Red-Breasted Flycatchers were singing, five males heard, and three seen - two first-summers and a lovely full adult male.  Great see, great to hear.

Then there were Woodpeckers.  The first seen, an active pair of Black Woodpecker at a nest site, feeding young and very flighty.

Black Woodpecker

While observing the pair, a family of Wild Boar crossed the path just ahead of us scampering away into the undercover .  Beguiling wildlife.  Within a minute, the guide connected with a Three-Toed Woodpecker extracting sap as it flickered across a tree trunk, giving great views for one of my primary targets.

Three-Toed Woodpecker

A Middle-Spotted Woodpecker was the next stop, another active pair feeding young.

Middle-Spotted Woodpecker

Then there were the singing Collared Flycatcher that sang high in the treetops, darting out to feed and then returning back to their singing posts.  Further along the path, a nest site was found with an adult seen disappearing into a nest-hole.

This forest is an inspiring place.

An afternoon visit back to the Palace Park was rewarded with a sought after singing male Barred Warbler.  This first summer male was in full voice as it commuted around its territory.

Along the road from Bialowieza towards the small village of Pogozelce, the habitat opens up into a large marsh with a reed bed on the right, and an area of woodland on the left side.  Here Thrush Nightingle and River Warbler sang, male Red-Backed Shrikes flew alongside the road, and Common Rosefinch whistled in melancholy.  The area is also good for Lesser Spotted Eagle with one seen soaring over the woodland.  There was also a male Marsh Harrier here.

Moving onto two more sites.  The woodland at Stara Bialowieza had singing Wood Warbler and a Hazel Grouse scuttling nervously along the forest floor.  The next was Kosy Most, but the flies here harass and torment as they pursue you towards sheer madness.  Having seen two more Hazel Grouse and Golden Oriole, a swift escape was made.  Along the road, plenty of Hawfinch flew regularly past the car, and a Black Woodpecker was surprisingly flushed from the side of the track.

The next stop was the Biebrza Marshes.

Thursday, May 29, 2014

Blyth's Reed Warbler

Just had a BLYTH'S REED WARBLER in East London.  Well I heard it anyway, and there were a lot of birders there talking amongst themselves.  A great find by whoever it was.  So when I left, there was some suggestion that it may be a Marsh Warbler.  Good to question things I suppose.  Played the clip at home, sounds like a Blyth's to me but I understand the argument.

Just got back from Poland where the birding was intense and gripping.  Such variety.  It felt free and unadulterated, but more of that later.

Monday, May 19, 2014

Better for Butterflies

At the Waterworks, a real surprise was the appearance of a Painted Lady butterfly that settled briefly on a flower before moving on, thus evading my hapless attempts for a photograph.  Other lepi's included an Orange-Tip, Peacock, a couple of Speckled Wood, Comma, and Brimstone.

Common Vetch

Common-Blue Damselfly have emerged from the small pond in the wildlife garden, and a female Banded Demoiselle was in flight around the meadow pursued by a Peacock butterfly.

On the bird front, all four species of our common hirundines were noted, a Kingfisher was heard flying up the relief channel where a stalking Little Egret took advantage of the much lower water levels.  A Common Kestrel flew over.

A lovely warm day, more of these please.

Saturday, May 17, 2014

Lea Valley

There are two sides to every story.  However, I have no idea what story the other side has to tell.

Today my good friend (@leevalleybirder) and I headed up to Waltham Cross to embark on a walk round the various sites of the country park in search of humanity, normalcy, and wildlife.  We thankfully got it all.

Apart from an early report of a Red Footed Falcon, we were in our stride albeit a slumberous, slightly below pedestrian pace fully attributed to my aching limbs that have aged faster than I have.  The morning was warm and it was a joy to be out in amongst the riches of the enchanting British countryside.

The walk provided the biodiversity that we were in search of, odanata, lepidoptera, passeriformes.

 Banded Demoiselle

Sedge Warbler

Cinnabar Moth

Birds as always were the real draw, at least three Hobby hawking insects, and four Cuckoo seen mostly in flight including one individual that took to calling from the top of an electricity pylon.  A Nightingale sang from the thickets just beyond the car park at Fishers Green and a couple of Cetti's Warbler were particularly vocal along the main paths.  A Garden Warbler sang boldly along the Dragonfly trail and a Lesser Whitethroat rattled from the wooded areas of Cornmill Meadows.

As for the Falcon, whether it was put out by a stringer or just a genuine case of mistaken identity, it did give us the runaround when I was in no position to run around.  Watching the Hobby freely hunting insects, descending flawlessly into their food gathering dives was just a pleasure to watch, so no harm done really, not to me anyway.

The Lee Valley is such a wonderful place to explore, observe, enjoy.  With good company and great wildlife, I breathed a massive sigh of relief.

Friday, May 16, 2014

What could be more bizarre....

Just feeling off colour, out-of-sorts, a semi-tone down on life's interlude currently performing in minor key.  I think I enjoyed birding before I moved to east London but for my fellow comrades that commit their time to the patch, I might have relieved myself from duty.

I've managed to get out and about over the past few days.  The Waterworks NR provides the peace that I at times crave - no dogs, no joggers, no bikes, no kids.  Well most of the time anyway.  The Cetti's Warbler continues to erupt into its' cacophonic refrain.  Difficult to exact precise numbers but perhaps up to eight Reed Warbler have been scratching away amongst the reeds, while Common Pochard and Little Grebe are ever present.

Today, a Common Buzzard soared high up to the south of the Waterworks.  Slim pickings from what was a glorious day.  Common Whitethroat were abundant and the high flying Cormorants mocked me as I impulsively raised my optics in the hope of something a little more alluring.

It was lovely out there.  The grasses and flowers providing the dining table for increasing numbers of (in)vertabrates.  Plenty of Bees - and I need to get my head around the different species - indiscriminately manoeuvring between their food plants.

Heading up towards Walthamstow Marshes, I was eager to cover as much of the area as possible.  Short of tipping copper paint over a Mallard, the infrequently reported Red-Crested Pochards were unsurprisingly absent from the river.  Butterflies provided a bit of an interest with a couple of Common Blue, Orange-Tip, Comma, a few Peacocks and plenty of Whites.

One I took earlier - I mean - a while ago (when birding/butterflying was fun)

A few singing Sedge Warbler, Common Whitethroat, and two Lesser Whitethroat, the birding was level par.  The search for the latter directed me to an area of the planet, and indeed the Marsh, that I wish never to return to.  A distant rattle of the Lesser White, and I was off on a tangent.  Hastily altering my route, I made for the metal gate just to the left of the railway bridge where I found a narrow path leading into the unknown.

Just inside the gate, there were two bikes locked up high on the railings.  There were people here? Meandering my way along the path, the brush on either side pressed upon my growing sense of disquiet.  A shirtless guy approached from the opposite direction, head down, direct.  I stepped aside to let him pass. Inklings, I continued on in reticence.  The path opened up into a small clearing.  Two men stood up as if expecting me wearing nothing but tiny briefs.

For fucks sake.

In sheer panic, I made for a path to the right.  There was a figure lying discreetly behind a bush.  I made an abrupt turn.  Mr budgie smuggler was heading towards me. We passed each other like differential calculus in a History class.  In an attempt to avoid eye contact, I made eye contact.  The look was distinctly wanton.  I glanced back still not fully comprehending what I had stumbled into.  The male homo sapien stood rubbing his penis through modest undergarments.  Thankfully it wasn't homo erectus.

I didn't take this as a compliment..  I walked away, actually I think I minced away, buttocks clenched a little.

Tomorrow I am going to go somewhere far more convivial.

East London birding.

Tuesday, May 6, 2014


Don't worry!  For those who enjoy a walk or run in anything other than a gym, there will be fewer 'midges' then recent days as I swallowed around half of the London population during my walk round the Waterworks NR this afternoon.  God I'm stuffed.

The populations could be reduced further by the arrival of Common Swift over the last few days, with at least 80 wheeling around over the reserve.

Common Whitethroat - Waterworks NR

At least three Common Whitethroat were displaying including this showy individual.  Two Common Tern flew through, as did a lone Swallow and four House Martin.  Four Reed Warbler were audible from the reedbed, and the resident Little Grebe and Common Pochard were on the water.

Plenty of Butterflies were on the wing in the warm conditions with Holly Blue, Orange-Tip, Small White, Peacock, and Small Tortoiseshell observed today.

Sunday, May 4, 2014

Annual Walthamstow Patchwatch

Today around the London area, sketchy reports were filtering through purporting to a flying fish carrying prey alleged to be a Red Kite.  A tip-off from an anonymous source suggested two male Mallards were inexplicably involved in lascivious activity in close proximity to a major throughfare.  All I do know is that we were on a mission to surpass last years final species count of the Annual Walthamstow Patchwatch.

The 'we' in all this were the devoted patch-watchers, these individuals that tirelessly commit their time with little reward to the arduous process of monitoring and recording species of birdlife within a strategically defined area.  The area known as 'The Patch'.

This is not competition, but altruistic dedication.

Eighty-one was the target to beat.  My companions in our pursuits today were The Prof, a somewhat circumspect individual with a questionable british bird list, and an inclination to talk freely with other birders.  Very strange!  Then there's Oddbirdman who strangely isn't odd at all, he just likes birds.

It was a stunning morning, cold and crisp with a fine layer of frost by the paddocks.

Plenty of Common Whitethroat were in song around Walthamstow Marsh with the remaining Lesser Whitethroat rattling by the railway bridge.  Sedge Warbler and Reed Warbler were present by the small reedback adjacent to the boardwalk, and Sand Martin were active against the bank by the bridge opposite Leyton Marsh.

Onto Lockwood in the hope for some early quality, A swarm of Common Swift were pushing through, observed initially to the south but drifting through in a large group.  There were also a few Swallow dashing over the reservoir.  The walk round was relatively uneventful with a couple of Common Sandpiper and a Yellow Wagtail over High Maynard added to the day list.  A Woodcock had earlier been flushed from Banbury Reservoir but a call came in of a Little Gull on No.4 that showed well among the Common Tern.  This first summer bird was seen well, and was still present the next day.

Heading round through the southern complex, the day was warming up.  A real treat was observing a pair of Kingfisher at a breeding site, taking fish into the nest-hole with both adults actively providing food.

The warm sun was now opening the window for the possibility of raptors.  A single Red Kite was the first to be seen, thermaling high to the south-east but drifting out of sight.  A total of at least five individual Common Buzzard were seen within this period taking advantage of the warm conditions.  Another Common Sandpiper was present on West Warwick with two more Yellow Wagtail flying over.

Onto the Waterworks, another pair of Kingfisher were around a nest-site, and the Cetti's Warbler eventually sang again from the NR.

The plan was to then head back to Lockwood.  Good job too picking up a female 'Greenland' Wheatear that was seen earlier on in the day.  A high-flying Hobby was a good find as it shot over, a mere speck against the warm skies.

Strung-out and leggy, the neck had been rung out of the day, back-broken. The Prof wittering away in comotose, barely audible, but something about connecting with a distant Black Stork back in 1806.

The oddbirdman, presenting a solitary figure as he stood along the waters edge staring intently at the reservoir, throwing stones at his own reflection.

I vowed never to birdwatch again.

A combined total of 75 species, of which we picked up 72.  It was hard work - patch birding is hard work.