Monday, June 30, 2014

Rye Meads

The June doldrums is something I hear mentioned from time to time.  I understand this to an extent.  Spring heralds the magic of migration.  Birds completing long journeys from their wintering grounds to set up home in areas that we call home.  The emergence of butterflies and (in)vertebrates, the changing weather, a new dawn, a new spring.  Then in a flash, it all settles down.  Breeding begins, the young fledge, and we wait in anticipation for return passage and the slow ebb toward autumn.  I am so guilty of compartmentalising the offerings of local wildlife.  There is always plenty to see.

Today, a visit to the wonderful Rye Meads RSPB reserve revitalised my appreciation of the seasons.  Only half an hour from home by train before I was warmly greeted at the centre by the reception volunteers.

Rye Meads Visitor Centre

Heading off along the boardwalk, and within a few metres a Large Skipper settled onto a reed with numerous Common Blue Damselflies darting along the watercourses.

Large Skipper

This area is great for Water Vole.  Feeding platforms are set up to encourage increased visibility of these elusive mammals.  I could hear the rustling within the reeds so I maintained my position, and then, this fine fella emerged.

 Water Vole

 Nom Nom Nom Nom

From the Draper Hide, much of the open water was covered with duckweed.  Moorhen and Coot attended to their young, seven Shoveler (five drakes in moult) roosted by the islands, and Black-Tailed Skimmers whizzed about above the surface of the water.

 View from Draper Hide

Two Green Sandpipers that were seen earlier flying into the reserve, fed on one of the pools to the left of the hide, signs of early autumn migration.

 one of three Green Sandpiper seen today

There were plenty of boisterous Black Headed Gulls that are successfully breeding here with many of the juveniles seen feeding alongside the adults.

 Black Headed Gull

 View from Gadwall Hide

The bird I was keen to see was the Black-Necked Grebe that have bred this year.  Initially, a pair had been seen with three young, but this had apparently been reduced to two.  After a short wait involving constant scanning, an adult bird appeared with one of its' young just to the right of the Gadwall hide and to the right of the nearest island.

 Adult Black Necked Grebe

Really hope the young are safe and well.

Walking back toward the centre, Comma and Ringlet butterflies were on the wing, Common Terns were noisily feeding their young, and what I believe was a third Green Sandpiper flew into one of the channels followed shortly by a Little Ringed Plover seen departing in haste.

Wednesday, June 25, 2014


....and some more local stuff.  Cycled this morning down to Limehouse Basin and dropped by Hackney Marshes and the Waterworks on my way back.  A beautiful morning with nesting Sand Martin, Common Tern, Grey Wagtail, and a family party of Egyptian Goose noted along the way.

 Essex Skipper

 Common Blue Damselfly

Small Tortoiseshell

Tuesday, June 24, 2014

Waterworks - Butterflies

A while since I've wandered down to the Waterworks.  A warm afternoon and the search for Butterflies produced Small, Large, and Green-Veined Whites, a stunning Red Admiral - the first I've seen for a while - plenty of Small Tortoiseshell, a few Small Skippers, and a single Ringlet.

Male Banded Demoiselle 

 Red Admiral


 Small Skipper

Red Admiral

Tuesday, June 17, 2014

Ashdown Forest - Short-Toed Snake Eagle

Armed with a box full of jelly bellies, we made good time in arriving at the vantage point deep within the Ashdown Forest.

Inconveniently, The Prof managed to consume the entire box of Eagle fodder not long before reaching our destination.

Despite this setback, and after brief flight views at around 9am, the SHORT-TOED SNAKE EAGLE obliged the expectant crowds with several sorties along the escarpment best viewed from the path by Gill's Lap Car Park in the period around midday.  A wonderful bird particularly when viewed hovering with talons extended.

The Ashdown Forest is a stunning area providing suitable habitat to a number of heathland species.  Those seen today were at least two singing Woodlark, a couple of Tree Pipit, a single Hobby, Siskin and Redpoll, and plenty of Common Buzzards some of which were seen displaying.

A real treat came in the form of a Nightjar.  Not the best views, but I did my best.

Clip of the Eagle.

Saturday, June 14, 2014

The search for Owls - A trip to Finland

My credit card lies flat on the table.  Two symmetrically charred holes like piercing eyes, melted by the cost of an owling trip to Finland stare apologetically back at me.  It was not cheap, but it was something very special.

Booked back in January, a relatively cheap flight from Gatwick routed via Helsinki arriving into Oulu in the evening.  The weather had been hot and humid that day, not something I had expected for Oulu, but dark storm clouds over the city looked threatening.  Deciding not to hire a car, I took a cab costing a wallet busting €50 to the Liminganlahti Wetland Centre where I had booked a four night stay.

At the Centre, a 600m boardwalk leads to a wooden tower that overlooks a lagoon covering a large area of shallow water with good areas of exposed mud.  The area isn't tidal as such but water levels are determined by the direction of the wind.

An initial scan across the bay produced a good selection of waders and wildfowl.  Of note were decent numbers of Mallard, Tufted Duck, Shoveler, and Eurasian Teal.  In amongst the selection of duck in smaller numbers were four drake Smew, a dozen Pintail, three drake Garganey, and a couple of pairs of Red-Breasted Merganser.

Waders were a significant feature with numerous pairs of Black-Tailed Godwit on territory, around ten stunning male Ruff gilded in fine costume, drumming Common Snipe, a few Wood Sandpiper, and good numbers of charcoal-ed adult summer plumaged Spotted Redshank already returning from their breeding grounds.

Black-Tailed Godwit

Slightly higher up the food chain were raptors of which three sub-adult White-Tailed Eagles patrolled the bay with Marsh Harriers common around the marshes causing havoc among the breeding waders.

The first evening also saw a couple of summer plumaged Dunlin, sizable flocks of Ringed Plover, Greenshank, breeding Greylag Goose with young, and eleven Whooper Swan.

There are positives about staying in one place, I just wasn't thrilled about it at the time, but it really was a blessing, particularly here at the wetland centre.  This was my first experience of spending time in a part of the world with perpetual light.  Technically, there was night-time.  Sunset was at 23:54 and sunrise was at 02:47 punctuated by a couple of hours of twilight.  The next morning I arose early and was on 'deck' at 04:45 to experience a Finnish dawn.  Birds were active - displaying, attending to young, feeding.  Whatever the activity, this was perfect nature taking it's course.

A male Pied Flycatcher sang from just outside of the visitor centre, as did a  Common Rosefinch along the boardwalk, and a single Corncrake called from the fields beyond.  Two male Whinchat picked off insects from their vantage points.  A Short-eared Owl hunted the open areas and were active well into the morning.

Continuing the search for more birds from the viewing tower, a flock of calling adult Little Gull drifted into the bay that were present throughout my stay, and a single Honey Buzzard soared over.  A Hobby hunted dragonflies over the marsh, and four Crane flew low at tree level to their feeding areas.  The sudden clatter of noise from breeding waders was the alarm call for a trespassing raptor.  With the elevated position, birds were easy to see.  An Osprey flew through carrying its fish supper, but the real treat was a male Pallid Harrier that despite the harassment gave superb views as it flew round behind the viewing area.

Having been tipped off earlier in the day, it took a while to catch up with an elusive singing male CITRINE WAGTAIL that showed reasonably well for just over a minute but enough to have been satisfied with a new bird.

A male Citrine Wagtail sang from the reedbed

More highlights from the bay included three Caspian Tern, and surprisingly an adult Gull-Billed Tern - an individual that at the time was only the third record for Finland that had now returned to the area for its fifth consecutive year.

A pair of Red-Backed Shrike were discovered distantly from the watch-tower and a male Montagu's Harrier flew through providing once again great views of another stunning Circus.

Then there was the midnight sunset.  Just awesome.

The weather had been reasonably warm, but more rain had moved in as the trip went on.  In the hope that the weather system had passed, it was disappointing to awake at 02:15 for the Finnature Owl tour to hear heavy rain pounding off the wooden decking outside.  The group of five (that included an indifferent top world lister) headed off promptly at 03:00 in search for owls and local specialties.

The first stop targetted Wryneck (that continues elude me), Black Grouse, and Pallid Harrier, but none obliged us with their presence, put off by the unfortunate weather.

Heading off to the first Owl site was rewarded with an initial sighting of a GREAT GREY OWL, an adult male perched commandingly in a pine tree.  The first sighting of such an inspiring bird is simply breath-taking particularly when it took flight through the forest, looking monstrous in the morning light.

We continued our progress to the nest site.  It was damp, and wet but it is the Mosquitoes that get you.  Hard to describe the relentless pursuit of these creatures that bay for your blood, experts in blood extraction, they are also adept at sucking out your sanity.  They get everywhere.  I had them setting up home in my hair, my scalp was ridden with bites, and running my hand over the bumps felt incongruously like bubble-wrap.  My mind was about to pop.  The birds however ensure your sobriety.

The nest was an untidy ensemble of branches.  Contained within it were two fluffy owlets.  To the right keeping watch was a female Great Grey Owl, holding station while the male made sorties for voles.  The male did return just on one occasion but again, seeing this bird in flight is something to behold.  Also at this site, a Black Woodpecker called high up in the trees, and I was lucky to see a Three-Toed Woodpecker feeding close to the nest-site.

Moving onto the next target bird as the rain continued to fall, the weather had no intention of abating.  The forest floor was sodden but our valiant attempts to connect with Ural Owl were in vain.

The next bird was Hazel Grouse, found with the assistance of the 'Grouse Whistle' much to the delight of a certain individual in our group in the pursuit of reaching an impressive target of 9000 world species.

Continuing on to the next site, it took a while to see PYGMY OWL but this was only possible by intruding into the nest box where a female sat with her young.  A great experience, a lovely bird, but unsatisfying considering the circumstances.  At this site, a GREENISH WARBLER was in a full song providing great views before flying into the trees.

One of the helpful things about the Finnature tours is that the guide is determined to help group members out in seeing different birds.  I was therefore grateful to see my first ORTOLAN BUNTING singing in a tree alongside typical farmland habitat.

The last site was that of TENGMALM'S OWL.  With a very slim chance of seeing the adults during daylight hours, it was another visit to a nest box where a single chick remained that was close to fledging as it's two older siblings had already done.

Tengmalm's Owl chick sadly with a deseased sibling that was later removed by the guide

On our return back to base, we dropped by a site that had seen Terek Sandpiper in recent days.  Unfortunately the bird failed to show while we there.

An eight hour tour culminated in twelve hours of solid birding in difficult conditions, but we felt satisfied having made the best of the inclement weather.

After a brief hiatus from birding, we were back on it after dinner.  The rain had stopped and the sun shone.  Accompanying a few really great birders from the centre, we headed back to the Terek Sandpiper site in search of our prize.  The small pond (puddle) that was reported to have had the bird drew another blank.  The other site was curiously a disused car park with an impressive selection of breeding birds.  Temminck's Stint according to the sign at the entrance to the site breed here, but again, no sign of these diminutive waders.  There were however breeding Arctic Tern, Little Ringed Plover, Redshank, Skylark, and Common Snipe.

Two flyover Woodcock ended a great day.

June was a bit late to visit but still within range of catching up with breeding Owls.  The Ural Owl chicks had already fledged, hence our failed attempts to catch up with this species.  There were no nest sites found of Hawk Owl but the other species did have young.  There was absolutely no way of seeing them without a guide.

The tour was pricey, but well worth the expense.

Video showing clips of singing Citrine Wagtail and Great Grey Owl.

Tuesday, June 3, 2014

Burnham Overy - Spectacled Warbler

Well thanks to the rally driving champion of the UK, to whom we will refer to as The Prof, I was provided with an opportunity to head out of the local area to go birding. Not only that, it was to the wonderful county of Norfolk, excellent, as I hadn't visited there since last July (not ideal for a listing birdwatcher!).  As coincidence would have it, there was a UK mega somewhere along the north coast.

The mega SPECTACLED WARBLER was picked up singing and showing well atop a bush after a brief search at Burnham Overy.  It was a reasonable walk from the road through the brackish lagoons.  A really fine plumaged male bird.  Happy me.  Sadly I didn't get a photograph, but there's loads on the internet.

  It was seen around 400m from this sign 

A churring Nightjar from bushes just off the beach was a real surprise.  Also seen at the site were Bearded Tit, Grey Partridge, and Little Tern from the beach.

Onto Titchwell, the reserve was relatively quiet birdwise, but still plenty around with the highlights being two Greenshank, flocks of Bar-Tailed and Black-Tailed Godwit, Avocet in abundance, a single Turnstone, three Marsh Harrier, and at least two pairs of Red-Crested Pochard with young.  On the sea, flocks of Common Eider and Common Scoter rested upon the waves, a single Fulmar, and three Barnacle Goose (of unknown origin) flew through.

Black-headed Gull

Common Dor Beetle

Sunday, June 1, 2014

Poland in the Spring - Part 2/2

So onto the Biebrza Marshes, covering an expanse of marshland, boggy areas, forests, and big skies.  An abundance of birds can be found here.  Using Goniadz as a base, the first stop was the bridge over the river just north of the village.  Here, there were plenty of marsh terns with striking White-Winged Black Tern accompanied by a few Black Tern, their summer plumage pristine against the intense sunlight.

At this site, Thrush Nightingale sang from the bushes, Yellow Wagtail were common around the marsh, a Marsh Harrier showed well, and a Hobby pursued House Martins near to the bridge.

Yellow Wagtail

The sandy path to Barwik is a traditional site for lekking Great Snipe, but deciding to leave this for another time, a short walk through the woodland and marsh produced a singing male Pied Flycatcher, Hawfinch, and Middle Spotted Woodpecker.  Over the marsh, a Honey Buzzard appeared out of the woodland and soared out into the open area.

On the way back to the car, the pursuit by the flies was relentless but rewarded with a flyover Spotted Eagle being harrassed by a Common Buzzard.

The sunshine was golden, the heat was slightly too intense.  A viewing tower in the shade near to the village of Zajki overlooked the expanse of the marsh.  My girlfriend connected with a large soaring bird as I scanned the marsh.  Looking into the distance, an adult White-Tailed Eagle thermalled above the woodland.  An awesome site.  Here, there were drumming Common Snipe, singing Golden Oriole, Fieldfare, around fifteen White-Winged Black Tern, three Marsh Harrier, and a calling Corncrake.

The final site at Dluga Luka is a relatively new boardwalk a few hundred yards south of the traditional causeway, but we had to wait a few hours as the skies darkened and an impressive electric storm moved over at a glacial pace.  Heavy rain, lightning and thunder had us cacooned in the car until the evening when the rain subsided.  Along the boardwalk, at least three Aquatic Warbler sang from the short grass with one giving a good but brief view as it then flew low and away into the reeds.  Overhead, numerous Common Snipe were drumming, such an evocative sound.  There were calling Corncrake here, and just before leaving as dusk approached, a gleaming male Montagu's Harrier flew low and direct over the reeds towards its roosting site in the forest.  One of my favourite birds.

Poland is a magical place for wildlife.  It is cheap, and rich in history.  Please don't tell too many people about it.

Brief Poland Highlights