Friday 25 February 2011

25th February 2011 - The dipping continues

It has been an unbelievably bad month for twitching for me and my mate Kieran, and  it's one thats going to be remembered in the future for all the wrong reasons. There has been quite a bit about but for a variety of reasons we have just dipped everything. This run of bad luck started with the Ring Billed Gull no show and few weeks ago and continued into last weekend. Kieran had travelled all the way from Norfolk to join me and another mate of mine Pete Bateup to go and see the Oriental Turtle Dove thats been kicking around Chipping Norton. We arrived on site at midday and made our way down to the area in which it had been seen, and its not a very easy place to bird! The street in question is a row of terraced house with a few semi's along the way - and its through these gaps you have to look to try and glimpse the bird in the trees in the back gardens. The chap who lives in number 41 has had the bird in his back garden feeding so has kindly opened up his house so people can view the bird for a small donation to Birdlife International. After and hour the man at number 41 gestured that the dove was in his garden so frantically lots of people rowed up to get in and see it. Unfortunately it was at this point ( when I was looking down to take my boots off and Kieran and Pete were busy putting their scopes onto the front garden) the bird flew from the garden and over the road. If only we were looking up at the right time!! Only 2 people saw it leave out of about 50. We then spent the rest of the day searching in vain, along with about about 100 birders who all dipped as well. With a heavy heart we called it a day and made our way back cheering ourselves up with a post birding pint in the Loco on the way home. The Sunday also went spectacularly wrong and this time it was my fault. Kieran had asked me to take him back to Norfolk today to save him a 4 hour bus  journey, so we decided to get to Lynford Arboretum to try and get the Firecrest that had been reported there. On the way Kieran kindly offered to put some fuel in the car to pay for the journey so blurred eyed I pulled onto the forecourt and promptly put a load of petrol in my car - problem is my car is a diesel!! I have just learnt the hard way that as of last year the colour coding (black for dieasel, green for unleaded etc) of pumps has since stopped being common standard of doing things so the forecourts are now colouring their pumps whatever they like - no doubt so they can put more advertising on there. So when I picked up a black pump with a black handle I wasn't expecting unleaded to come out. I didn't realise I had done this until I had started the engine and was on my way to Cambridge. A quick chat to a few mechanic friends of mine all pointed in one direction and that was to fill the car to the brim with diesel and hope for the best. After all of this mayhem we finally arrived at Lynford 2 hours after we had planned to be told that an hour earlier a Firecrest had been showing very well in the bushes near the bridge right by the footpath and after a fruitless search of about 3 hours we both decided to right off the weekend as a another bad one. Fingers crossed the car seems ok now and it has been a weekend I will be hoping to forget, I somehow don't think it will be that easy though! Roll on spring!!

Friday 11 February 2011

11th February 2011 - Twywell Hills and Dales

A trip to Twywell Hills and Dales was called for today as the sun was shining and the air was still. Loads of birds were singing in Finedon this morning, with Song Thrush, Dunnock and Greenfinch all heard from the front door. Uopn arrival in the car park Dunnocks, Wrens, Chaffinch, Great and Blue Tits were all singing away and Carrion Crows were calling overhead. A Buzzard was perched in a tree towards Cranford. A walk towards the pond produced a calling Marsh Tit, 3 Dunnocks with 2 males displaying to a female, 7 x Magpie, and a Yellowhammer over. Lots of Rabbits along the banks but no sign of the Kingfisher unfortunately. Along the top of the Gulley and all the trees below were absolutely alive with Tits and Finches with a sungle female Bullfinch, at least 2 Song Thrush, Red Kite, Buzzard, 2 x calling Green Woodpecker and a small flock of 15 Siskin. The buds are starting to break through now so spring is obviously just around the corner.
Skylarks could be heard to singing above the meadow on the other side of the meadow, as the trail passed round and into the woodland. Lots of activity here and quite a few Squirrels around with signs of their past feeding habits laying on the floor.
The crossroads near to the Twywell village entrance was productive as ever with loads of Tits kicking around and 3 Goldcrest zipping around the branches high up in the canopy. A male Sparrowhawk passed through 3 time causing an amazing fuss as all the Long Tailed Tits trilled their alarm call. In fact you always knew where the Sparrowhawk was due to all the smaller birds alarming calling it's presence. I started walking back towards the other end of the wood an the call of a Buzzard raised my eyes up to see 3 Buzzard circling overhead in the sunshine.
One of the birds then started to display fly in the sunshine, flying straight up then closing it's wings before plummeting down towards the tree tops and opening it's wings right at the last minute. Nearing the Gulley again and a Greater Spotted Woodpecker could be heard calling and 8 Redwing were flying around near to the woodland entrance at the Gulley end. Nothing much apart from what has already been mentioned was along the lower Gulley path, but 2 Mallard had appeared on the Pond. Up into the Whitestone section and Linnet, Greenfinch, Blackbird, Wren and Dunnock were all singing away. Another Red Kite overhead and a Kestrel perched in a tree along with 2 male Yellowhammers. I then wandered down into the Thicket area towards Cranford and was astounded by the numbers of Fieldfare. I counted 136, but there must have been many many more. They were mixed in with lots of Starling and a few Redwing. As always Corvids were all over the place down here with the majority being Jackdaws and Rooks with a lot of Carrion Crows overhead and Magpies looking out from the Thicket. A pair of Greater Spotted Woodpecker was working their way around the tress calling to one another, no doubt looking for a suitable nest hole. The way back to the car had a nice view of a perching Red Kite which flew just before I could get a shot, and another Skylark flying up over a field. Another cracking day, with some fantastic views.

Wednesday 9 February 2011

9th February - Farmland Birds

This morning I decided to visit a local area between the town where I live ( Finedon ) and Irthlingborough to see what Gulls were about. Sidegate Landfill site is close by so lots of Gulls loaf about in the fields during the day. I parked the car at the track in Kenmuir Road and walked up into the countryside. Chaffinch, Greenfinch and Dunnock were all calling along the hedgerows and as I approached the open field Skylarks started soaring up into the sky signing away. Gulls seemed pretty thing on the ground, with loads of them still circling over the tip I made my way over to Cherry Hall which is next to the Gulls favourite field as invariably its flooded. Unfortunately not one Gull was there so I decided to pop over and have a look at the hedgerows just to the south. This is an incredible site for Tree Sparrows but some years can be hit and miss, and last year I think the largest tally was just 8 birds.

As I walked around to the area where the birds have frequented in the past I noticed a small flock fly up and perch in the corner of the hedgerow infront of me and a quick scan produced 29 Trees Sparrows and a single male Yellowhammer. Further scanning found loads more in the side of the hedge and more birds still flying in the join them. As I moved around the the left to view the other side of the hedge they all took flight. 3 Large flocks all flew up into the air calling as they did so, and there was no less than 60 Trees Sparrows in this lot at least. In fact that's a conservative estimate as I simply didn't have time to count them all. what a fantastic sight, and one which beats my own personal record of 55 here 5 years ago. In normal years Yellowhammer and Reed Bunting out number the Tree Sparrows by quite a lot, but to here all these Sparrows in the air all calling at the same time was a superb sight. it became obvious that they were not going to return to the site any time soon so to reduce the risk of too much disturbance I started to head back to the Gull field. this time 8 Black Headed Gulls had landed along with 2 first Winter Herring Gulls. I glanced behind me to see a pair of Hares approaching my position, and as I was tucked into the hedge they didn't see me. I was hoping for a boxing display, but evidently the female had just given up and let him have his way with her.

Soon after the Hares left I made my way to the footbridge which takes you into the Gull field and noticed this little pellet. I'm assuming an Owl but I'll have to do some research to see what made it.

After all this I made my way back to the car with Skylarks signing everywhere. Its really good to see such numbers of these farmland birds, as its not always like this every year and as they've suffered so badly recently is quite reassuring. Obviously they've still got a long way to go to get back to the numbers from years ago, but hopefully it heading in the right direction. A final nice sight was had courtesy of this very obliging Dunnock who seemed far more interested in singing its song than my presence.

A nice morning, and I really should get up this area more often - even though I never did many Gulls!

Tuesday 8 February 2011

4th - 7th February 2011 - a run of bad luck!!

After most of the previous weeks good fortune with connecting with the birds I was after I realised at some stage it was going to end, and boy did it end. The run of bad luck started with the almost gale force winds which hit Northants on friday. I had met with local birder Pete Bateup as he had asked me to show him one of my local patches (Ditchford Gravel Pits) as I had seen the Glaucous Gull there a few days ago (see previous post). It soon became apparent that gull watching was not going to be on the agenda today as the weather was horrendous, with huge waves going across all the lakes in the complex nothing was going to settle on them. We decided instead to head to Summer Leys as its local and has hides so we could get out of the inclement weather. Lots of birds around here all in good numbers, especially the wildfowl and a large selection of Tits and Finches at the feeding station with a couple of Tree Sparrows too. A quick scan produced a Tufted x Pochard hybrid. I called local birder and Summer Leys volunteer warden Big Jake to let him know in case someone claims a Lesser Scaup sighting , and after a brief chin wag we decided to meet up and go for Rossi the Ringed Billed Gull that overwinters in Southend on Sea down in Essex on the coming Sunday.

Sunday morning Big Jake, my good friend Kieran Nixon and myself were all in a car heading down to Southend in Essex. It took about 2 hours to reach Rossi's ice cream parlour where the bird frequents (hence the name Rossi), we parked the car in prime position and waited on the sea front. The weather hadn't improved since Friday and a strong wind was blowing straight off the sea which made keeping the scopes steady a nightmare, but the view with the tide out and the stormy weather was still impressive.

I managed to find a shop and bought some bread as it looked as if we were going to have to work to get Rossi, and the easiest way of searching for Gulls is to get them to come to you. So after a loaf of bread was torn up and thrown to the eager Gulls we started going through them. There were loads of Black Headed and a few Common Gulls with 3 Mediterranean Gulls thrown in too, and they were quite a sight flying around our heads.

A few Brent Geese were working their way up and down the beach too which made a nice distraction.

After a quick coffee to warm up a bit we headed down to an area of cover to try and get out of the wind and scoped across scanning through all the Gulls but Rossi still hadn't turned up. Another birder arrived on scene at this point and he seemed to be very keen to point at birds saying that they were Rossi but after a brief inspection were all proved not to be. One bird, a small Herring Gull with a very dark gony's patch did look at a distance to be the Ring Billed but a closer look showed that it wasn't. At this point as the tide got higher and higher a group of Turnstone were feeding along the shoreline and getting quite close to us. A one stage there was as many as 17 birds, and after a while they were accompanied by a single Sanderling who seemed to have little fear of humans and came within 6 feet or so of our feet.

After 5 hours, and the tide now at its highest we decided to call it a day. We left the birder who seemed very happy to tick every Common Gull in the area as Rossi despite us explaining that it wasn't, and after we left a report came through on Birdguides that Rossi was showing well just were we had been standing - no doubt put on there by this individual. Kieran, Jake and myself are positive though that the bird simply wasn't there, and whether this chap was just hanging around waiting for us to leave so he can put the report out to make his list look better must remain speculation. One thing I will say though it's just a shame that all birders can't be honest, if you include the time spent driving backwards and forwards we spent 9 hours in the chase for Rossi so the urge to see it was huge..............but if you didn't see it then you didn't see it, and there is absolutely no point in trying to pretend that you did!

The Monday the 7th was my birthday, and Kieran and I had planned for  long time to spend the day birding in Norfolk. The first species targeted was Golden Pheasant at Wolferton as both Kieran and myself had never connected with one before. They wander along the road side at dawn so an early start was needed to get there in time. The alarm was set for 4.30am and the we reached Kings Lynn by 6am. A quick breakfast in McDonalds was had and then we headed out to the site. During the drive to Norfolk I had noticed a whistling sound from the back of the car but wasn't entirely sure what was causing it, unfortunately we found out the hard way as we were driving around the Wolferton triangle when we hit a dip and the wheel bearings collapsed. So instead of spending a day in Norfolk birding, I spent it trying to limp home a very poorly car praying to god that the wheel wasn't going to fall off on the next bend. Not a good day at all!

Things can only get better! (well lets hope so anyway)

Thursday 3 February 2011

3rd February 2011 - Stanwick Lakes

Toady was spent birding around Stanwick Lakes. Spring is certainly in the air now and the slight raise in temperature has had the birds singing. From leaving the car next to the A6 and Robin could be seen and heard next to the road. In the field opposite the complex somebody has obviously thought it a good idea to drive a car round in it churning up all the mud, and evidently the Redwings seemed to agree with them as the field was full as they feed in amongst the ruts in the mud. Into the old Irthlingborough Station area had Lomg Tailed, Great and Blue Tits, Chaffinch and a Dunnock, and further up the path the lakes held numbers of Teal ( all starting to display to females), Mallard, Gadwall, Shovelor, Coot and Wigeon. 2 Grey Herons next to the large lake next to marsh lane and loads more Wigeon feeding on the meadows in between. The small lake next to the visitor centre had a few Black Headed Gulls along with a solitary Lesser Black Backed, and a look at the main lake produced lots more displaying Teal, a few more Wigeon, male and female Goldeneye, Lesser Black Backed Gulls, Herring Gull and at least 6 Common Gulls. The wooded section failed to produce any Woodcock, and the reedbed failed to produce anything too except a few Tits calling in the trees around it. A walk up towards the Raunds entrance got another Long Tailed Tit flock but the only other birds following were Great Tit. I decided to walk back towards the other reedbed but failing to locate the Bearded Reedling that have been seen here recently I started heading back towards the car. A Buzzard was being mobbed by Carrion Crows overhead and Fieldfare were feeing in the bushes on either side of the track. A nice surprise was a Goldcrest hovering in the Brambles and it put on quite a show in the sunshine, its incredible how such a tiny bird can have so much energy. The A45 layby pit had lots of Black Headed Gull with about a dozen Commons thrown in. That pretty much sums up the visit, again nothing out of the ordinary but its always good to see all the birds out in numbers with some already starting preparations for the breeding season to start. Where does the time go? I am sure time has gone a lot faster since I took up wildlife watching. I guess that's because there is always something to look forward to.

2nd February 2011 - Fermyn Woods

This morning I decided to pop over to Fermyn Woods. A local patch that's famous for it's Purple Emperor and White Admiral butterflies in the summer, but is also a superb site during the winter months. It has held Hawfinch in the past but these haven't arrived over the last couple of years. After leaving the car the first bird I saw was a Red Kite soaring low overhead, then on entering the park lots of Great, Blue, and Long Tailed Tits were around the car park, with Marsh Tit and Chaffinch on the feeders. A trip round into the woods got another Red Kite, loads of Fieldfare and a large flock of Redwing overhead. Into the deciduous section of the wood saw a large flock of Long Tailed Tits being closely followed by Blues and Greats with the odd Coal Tit and Goldcrest thrown in. A Nuthatch could be heard but frustratingly I couldn't get a view of it even though it was very mobile. A Jay flew off the ground infront of me and perched nicely in a tree giving fantastic views before realising how conspicuous it was and shooting off. Such a beautiful bird and yet so rarely seen well. Into the coniferous section brought up more of the same, with lots of various Tits and Finches. More Red Kites soaring overhead, one wing tagged individual made a fantastic sight as it flew down low paying as much attention to what I was doing as I was to it. Back towards the park got around 8 Bullfinch with some cracking male birds. They seemed oblivious to me being there as they sat right out in the open until one called next to me and they all shot off into the bushes. Back into the deciduous section and an even larger Tit flock was discovered. long Tailed Tits as always leading the way with Blue, Great and Coal Tits all following. 2 Treecreepers showed well on the trees next to the path and then the call of another (or possible the same) Nuthatch was heard, and this time I managed to locate it flying from tree to tree. In the park itself I decided to take a short rest on the benches next to the pond dipping pond, and a quick scan found 10 Siskin standing on what looked like an old fence post floating in the water as they all took a drink from the water below. Cracking views but unfortunately as I was birding the woodland I didn't have my scope with me so I couldn't digiscope a clip. Never mind, another Red Kite on the way back to the car rounded the trip off nicely.; Nothing rare just lots of good birds and in good numbers too.

Tuesday 1 February 2011

1st February 2011 - back to Ditchford

After yesterdays run of success I decided to have another bash for the juvenile Glaucous Gull that has been seen over at Ditchford gravel Pits. I popped here a few weeks ago and saw the Iceland Gull but dipped the Glauc. At first I started to wonder if I had made a tremendous error of judgement as the weather was a lot different than yesterday. It was very dull and cloudy, rain had started to fall and not to put to finer point on it it was flipping freezing. In fact even with 2 pairs of gloves the cold was still getting through, but even so I decided to do the site justice and spend some time here - you won't after all see Glaucous Gulls sitting at home in the warm! I walked along the river towards the viaduct where a group of Gulls had accumulated in the shelter behind an island. The lake started to freeze over again during this weeks cold snap and a lot of the Gulls were standing on this, so I started to work my way through them backwards and forwards as new Gulls kept coming in. Over a period of about an hour more and more Gulls were joining in and gradually the numbers were starting to get quite large but still no sign of the Glaucous. After 2 hours I moved scanned the birds from left to right constantly checking each one and then as I got to the end started scanning back.......but this time an enormous white winged Gull had landed right infront of me on the ice. Finally the Glaucous Gull was standing out in the open, it must have landed after I had gone through them as its hardly easy to miss.

It showed really well out in the open and I managed to get a few record shots and a couple of digiscoped clips (see below)  before the cold got to me and I decided to get back to the car. An absolutely stunning bird, and as you can see from the scale its enormous.

Yet another good day, I wonder how long this run of luck can continue?