Thursday, December 31, 2015

Rainham Marshes

Seeing the year out at Rainham Marshes on a cool winters day with the sun shining and the breeze blowing was a perfect way of ending a year that has been a bit of a struggle.  Was thrilled to have bumped into @dhpainter and Steff where we took to prizing out as much as we could on the eve of a new year.

Keen to catch up with the Dartford Warbler, and after a short vigil, the male bird appeared in the bramble closest to the gate by the conservation area and showed reasonably well for around 20 minutes in the company of a pair of Stonechat of which there were plenty dotted around the reserve.

A Barn Owl was seen distantly sitting in the box, but against the sun, views weren't ideal.

A short heavy shower passed through while we sat in the shooting butts hide where two Water Pipit alighted from the scrape before circling, where one returned allowing decent views from where we were sat.

Moving on post-rainstorm, the skies cleared, but the wind had picked up.  A stunning rainbow arched over Wennington as we progressed round.

 Marsh Harrier graced the large reedbed at Wennington with both a male and female there, but the Short-eared Owl were capturing the attention of those assembled to see these amazing birds in full attack mode.  Only two were seen but there are more in the area.

Tuesday, December 29, 2015

Second Homecoming - Tring

Spent an enjoyable day at Tring Reservoirs in the company of the irrepressible @ianbennell75 whom I hadn't seen since since birding was just an embarrassing pastime.  Now of course it's the coolest thing ever (geek=cool).

So while shooting the breeze on a lovely sunny day tempered only by a cool shooting breeze, we meandered round picking off what was available which wasn't a great deal, while filling in the gaps of twenty odd years past.

The water levels at Wilstone were the lowest I had ever seen it during my six and a half years living in Tring, a little surprising considering the amount of rainfall that other parts of the country are continuing to experience.  A crazy situation.

Best was a 1st winter Scaup on Startops that appears to be developing nicely into adulthood.  A female Red-Crested Pochard roosted on the bank of the island at Wilstone where a pair of Goldeneye were present along with eight Golden Plover in with the Lapwing, a flyover Buzzard and Red Kite.  Two Chinese Water Deer were the first I had ever seen there.

In the hope of seeing the Bittern, two Snipe were perched at the base of the reedbed at Marsworth, a few Water Rail were squealing from either end of the reservoir, with a vocal Cetti's Warbler present along with a patient Kingfisher perched within the reeds.

Monday, December 28, 2015

Norfolk Gold

A really fantastic day in Norfolk again - much cooler than of late, high cloud and that light that I keep going on about.  The sun - hanging low in the sky and peeking through the clouds like a nosey neighbour through the venetian blinds.

Plenty of highlights today:

Golden Pheasant - a new bird - seen at Wolverton Triangle and snapped through the back window of the car as it crept along the verge before disappearing into the thickets.

Pallid Harrier - cracking views through the hide at Abbey Farm.  A stunning bird that has been present now for a while, posing in front of the hide with frequent sorties around the pastures.  At one point it sat out on the field observing a rabbit kill by a resident Stoat.  A wonderful moment of nature to witness.  This was my 2nd for the UK and 3rd for the WP.

Rough-legged Buzzard - found this bird at Holkham Freshmarsh.  Having arrived five minutes too late for the Red-Rumped Swallow that had duly disappeared, I decided to leave the assembled crowd and try my luck further down the road towards Holkham.  Parking in a layby, I chanced upon this gorgeous Buzzard that sat on top of a tree for a few minutes before flying inland.

Twite - a flock of around 20 seen on the approach road to Thornham Point.

Tree Sparrow - at least 3 at Abbey Farm.

Barn Owl - 3 seen today.  One south of Kings Lynn, one along the A149, and one at Titchwell RSPB.

Marsh Harrier - at least 13 seen today including a pre-roost group of 10 birds at Titchwell.

Peregrine - one over Thornham Point.

Velvet Scoter - one bird flew west at Titchwell.

Common Scoter - 3 on the sea at Titchwell.

Brambling - a few calling at Wolferton, and one by the feeders at Titchwell.

Greenshank - a surprise of one at Titchwell.

Bar-Tailed Godwit - at least 15 along the shoreline at Titchwell.

Black-tailed Godwit - at least 20 on the marsh at Titchwell.

Avocet - 22 on the marsh at Titchwell.

Grey Plover - 3 on the shoreline at Titchwell.

Sanderling - 2 along the shoreline at Titchwell.

Common Snipe - small groups flying over at Titchwell.

Stoat - one pursuing and successfully taking out a rabbit at Abbey Farm, Flitcham.

Stoat smashing a Rabbit seen from the hide at Abbey Farm - Flitcham, Norfolk

Common Skate - one found dead on the beach at Titchwell.

Saturday, December 26, 2015

Raising a Yellow-brow at Christmas

So that's Christmas over for another year.  Presents opened, crackers pulled, the turkey demolished, and before we know it, we're tucking into the surplus of the previous day.  It all felt rather subdued this year.  I'm not sure why, but family time is valuable time, and I am grateful for this.

However, a day spent indoors and I was itching to get out in the morning.  Surprisingly I felt rather energised despite the sloth of the previous day so decided to head down the road to Brent Reservoir to try my luck for the unseasonal Yellow-browed Warbler that had been present for a few days.

Having lived near Watford for twenty-nine years, it was a little curious that I had never made a visit there.  The habitat looks great and there was plenty of wildfowl on the Marsh.

I headed over to the its favoured location behind Heron Hide and waited.  A few of the local birders were present for a while but decided to move on.  I was now on full sensory alert.

The wind was brisk, it was typically dull, overcast but mild, it certainly didn't feel like the right conditions for seeing a skulky phyllosc.

Fifty minutes had passed before I heard it call, and then call again, but it was all too brief, and I questioned my senses.  Then I saw it, moving swiftly around the treeline, at times it did briefly pause for decent views.  It then flew back from whence it came, and called again.  As for me, well I was now full of cheer.  A really nice bird to see in London, notwithstanding it's flipping December.

I moved onto the North Marsh, where a drake Pintail roosted toward the back of the lake.  There was plenty of wildfowl there, good numbers of Tufted Duck and Coot with smaller groups of Teal and Shoveler.

Common Gull were also present in good numbers.

Back home, this lovely Blackcap put in an appearance in my mum's back garden, managing to get this photo through the living room window.  A Jay and five Redwing were also seen - a nice little haven for wildlife where in the past I have had Black Redstart and Lesser Spotted Woodpecker.

As for today, it was back to more leftovers and more Christmas Pud.  Happy Christmas.

Saturday, December 19, 2015

A trip to Norfolk

Trips to Norfolk are a real joy.  Opting to head north rather than do battle with the multitudes of Christmas shoppers, I chose wisely.  Not that today was a rip-roaring success, trips to Norfolk don't have to be.  Just being here is enough to satisfy that longing for escape.

There were a few things I wanted to see and while it didn't all go to plan, it was a good day.  That said, the wind was a little keen, particularly in the morning at Choseley Drying Barns where a single juvenile Rough-legged Buzzard was seen stalling on the wind, and a brutish female Peregrine was in pursuit of a Marsh Harrier that was just going about its business.  The breeze had me leaning sideways.

The wind did not abate, and a walk round Holme Dunes was a challenge but worth the effort for the three Shore Lark that were present along the beach on the retreating tide.

At Brancaster Harbour, the Red-necked Grebe was still present, but remained distant and frequently submerged.  Not a bird I see very often.

A quick walk onto Titchwell where a Red-Rumped Swallow had been seen earlier but had disappeared by the time afternoon set in.  Two male Marsh Harrier quartered the reedbed, a flock of Snipe flicked overhead, and there were plenty of wildfowl on the Marsh.

Then it was down to Flitcham, not enough time to have a real go at the Pallid Harrier, but this covey of Grey Partridge was another bird I don't often catch up with.

And so it was back to the Wolferton Triangle where it all started this morning.  Another search for this wretched Golden Pheasant that continues to elude me despite the multiple visits made over the years.  Arriving just before sunrise, Brambling were calling from the conifers, and a Woodcock took flight as I made my approach.  A male Reeve's Muntjac fed along the verge with complete disdain, but the pot of Gold I was searching for remained hidden for another time.

Sunday, December 13, 2015

In search of Christmas - Bratislava

Maybe I just need to acknowledge that I am not a child anymore.  In fact 25 years have passed where that would legally apply but you know, when it comes to Christmas, there is something inside us that just wants to re-ignite that warm fuzzy feeling of Christmas past, the excitement of a hallowed season and of unconstrained excess.

I'm not the only one that feels that 2015 has just flashed past, I thought that it was an age thing but I actually think that time is speeding up, just no one has been bothered to, well, time it.

And so, we are once again thrust into the festive period, that commercially started around mid-September, whether we liked it or not.  I personally like to embrace such things, moreover, I was born in a Christian home and spent a large part of my life serving within the Christian church.  Times now are a little different, but I still possess what is left of the spirit and of the Christmas message.

It's just that this year, I'm not feeling it at all.  And so to remedy this, I thought a trip to a European Christmas market would be just the gin and tonic required to fire up the old festive cheer and get us in the mood for what is inevitably a protracted period of pure tack and laborious repeats.

This year, the search for our portion of the Christmas spirit took us to Bratislava.  Perhaps an unlikely destination, but it was a country tick for me, and they had a Christmas market.

Taking advantage of cheap Ryanair return fares, we arrived into a gloomy Bratislava , the cloud base no more than 500ft, it was damp and cold.  Festive cheer it appeared could not have been further away.

I always like my first glimpse of a new city.  The bus ride from the airport to the city's main railway station passed by old prefab buildings with their vivid yet muted yellow facades, the remnants of the old Eastern Bloc that still appear to reverberate through the streets of this once Communist ruled state.

A gentle walk from the station to the old town takes around 20 minutes and passes by the Grassalkovich Palace, the primary residence of the Slovakian President.  Impressive real estate set within modest surroundings.

The old town holds real charm, the cobble-paved pedestrian zone is typically lined with quaint tourist shops and small local restaurants serving local and international foods.  The Christmas Market itself is located within the city's main square (Hlavne Namestie) and offers a typical selection of grilled local foods, sausages, kebabs, chicken or pork rolls (Ciganska Pecienka), potato pancakes (Lokse) and a generous selection of traditional cakes and sweets.

Christmas Market taken from the Tower of the Old Town Hall

On these cold wintery days, a popular draw are the alcoholic offerings, the most popular being the red and wine wine based punches, traditional mulled wine, and Medovina (my personal favourite) made from fermented honey and water.

Think that was my 4th Medovina

The market extends onto Hviezdoslav's Square, just a short walk from the main market with further offerings of local food and drink.  It is a pleasant market, not excessively overrun with tourists and provides a convivial yuletide experience for the locals of this modestly populated capital city.

The rest of the city has much to offer.  The old town does not appear to have been engulfed by western capitalism, maintaining respectful deference of it's past while offering contemporary shops for the passing trade.

The medieval churches here are simply stunning and are certainly worth a look inside.  Trinity Church and St Martins Cathedral were particularly impressive.

Trinity Church

St Martins Cathedral

The Castle may have been worth a more thorough look round but it was out of view even from street level such was the gloom and the low cloud.  It did rather spoil things as I can imagine the illuminated architecture would have given the city a much more agreeable appearance.

Svatopluk I of Moravia at the Castle

It was quiet around the city streets, the gloom exacerbated the feeling of a past blighted by a period of Nazi occupation and controlled by Communist authoritarianism.

I am always particularly impressed by street-art.  For me, it provides a raw and authentic expression of a period in time, artistic representations by the disaffected during periods of oppression and injustice.  There was obviously some opposition here on the availability of children's toys.

On returning, I'm not sure whether we really felt the Christmas period in that warm fuzzy nostalgic sense I personally was hoping for. Not really sure what that actually means.  The markets were pleasant without really capturing the imagination, but the old town provided the setting that make these eastern european cities well worth a visit.

Saturday, December 12, 2015

First Homecoming - Stockers Lake

Back again to where I spent a total of 12 years in my youth.  Stockers Lake.  And I love this place.

It was a dull day, really dull that started off with heavy rain which thankfully cleared within half an hour of arriving.

Sightings are as follows:

Goosander - A lovely drake.  Amazing how it seems to glow in the gloom.  Stunning bird.

Red-Crested Pochard - impressive numbers.  13 in total including 10 drakes.

Wigeon - 15+

Goldeneye - single female (come on fellas).

Lapwing - 25 sat on the island.

Greater Black Backed Gull - 1 adult

Siskin - 50+ in and around the alders

I then walked from Stockers along the canal and onto the Ebury Way.

Siskin - another 50+ along the track.

Redpoll - 3 flew over.

Chiffchaff - in with a small group of titmice.

Goldcrest - a total of 5 seen along the path.

Shoveler - 5 on one of the fishing lakes.

Friday, December 4, 2015

Fairlop Waters - Great Northern Diver

This bird was hilarious.  First seen distantly toward the back of the lake, I thought that's all I would get, decent scope views but nothing more.  But this creature moves by stealth.

Once the bird dives, it is then a matter of pure guesswork as to where it would resurface.  And it was normally further away than anticipated.

So it wasn't long before the Diver had made its way from the far side and into the small bay by the foreshore.  A real treat to see it close in where it preened for a few minutes, stretched it's wings, and performed some interesting moves.

Monday, November 23, 2015


It was again a beautiful, cool, still morning at the Waterworks and with plenty of interest on and over the reserve.

On Bed 18, a personal best count of 12 Shoveler were in company with six Gadwall, four Tufted Duck, and two Little Grebe.  Three Goldcrest and two Chiffchaff remained in the bushes along the main path.  A Reed Bunting was present in the reeds.

A flyover Jackdaw was again a scarce sighting with other skyward sightings that included two Skylark, three Stock Dove, two Little Egret, ten Fieldfare, seven Greater Black Backed Gull, single Sparrowhawk (that was in an intense battle with a corvid), and an adult Peregrine that flew onto its favoured pylon.

Sunday, November 22, 2015

Walthamstow Reservoirs

Today was the calm after the storm and there were reasonable hopes for finding a 'wrecked' seabird on our local.  Well inevitably this never transpired, but it was a stunning morning nevertheless, hardly a breath of wind and the blue skies were textured with patches of high cloud.

I concentrated solely on the south side where the first sightings were of Fieldfare, small flocks totalling 50+ passing overhead.  Common Gull were now present in good numbers with many 1st winters accompanying the adult birds.

Passing along the banks of East Wawrick, three Lapwing alighted from the island and circled the reservoir before heading north where they were later observed over Lockwood.  My first Goldeneye of the winter was present, with a sole female there.

On West Warwick, a female Stonechat appeared from the reedbed, and a pair were later seen on East Warwick.  An Aythya hybrid was also on West Warwick, and appeared to be the same bird that has been present on the Waterworks for a few days.

Five Meadow Pipit flew through.

Tuesday, November 17, 2015


A very dull day on the reserve where the most notable sighting were of 30+ Magpie passing through the treeline at the back of the Beds.

Three Goldcrest and a single Chiffchaff were present as was the calling Cetti's Warbler.

The interesting 'Aythya' hybrid was still associating with it's bona-fide peers on bed 18.

'Aythya' hybrid

Monday, November 16, 2015


Routine fare today in dull conditions but with a good selection of birds on the reserve and overhead.

A count of the wildfowl across the Beds yielded 17 Gadwall, 23 Teal, five Pochard, four Tufted Duck, and seven Shoveler.

A single Redpoll flew past Bed 16 as did a couple of Stock Dove.  A Snipe roosted at the back of Bed 16 at the edge of the reedbed.

A Cetti's Warbler called and a Water Rail squealed almost simultaneously.  There were eight Common Gull passing through over the reserve along with eight Meadow Pipit.

Sunday, November 15, 2015

Chesterfield - Crag Martin

It took three trips to see the Crag Martin, but ultimately it was worth the effort as this rare vagrant dashed around the Parish Church in Chesterfield.  The church itself provided a wonderful backdrop for a particularly bizarre sighting of this hirundine.

Having failed to see it on Monday and Wednesday, I was relieved to catch up with the turbo-charged Martin as it whizzed back, forth, and around the spire providing the onlookers with an impressive aerobatic display.

For me it was an agonising week having had two failures, but these are the obvious pitfalls of twitching which I have somehow been drawn into over the last couple of years.  I am enjoying seeing new things, but I still harbour a few questions inside me of why exactly I am doing this.

Numbers, lists, competition, credibility, position, all play a part.  I was once scathing of twitching in my youth, now look at me.  Three trips of three hour single journeys to see one bird.

I am not sure whether twitching is a mild form of mental illness, but I understand the draw and the obsession.  It's a slippery slope that I am on, it serves no real purpose, it's not really why I fundamentally enjoy birding and wildlife, but it is really quite addictive.