Hi all, I am finally back on line now after a temporary set back in my personal life that ended in me moving house and losing an internet connection. It has all been sorted out now so I can start blogging again. Although the last month or so has been hard I have still managed to get some good birding in so although this post maybe a bit long I shall try to keep it to a minimum to stop people falling asleep while reading it.
Sunday 4th April 2011 - Firecrest at Lynford Arboretum.
Over the last winter I have been searching high and low for Firecrest, and although they shouldn't be too difficult to find they have eluded me now for 6 years. I will fully admit that I should have put more work into it but the idea of maybe bumping into one on my local patch was seeming to become ever more unlikely. So over the last winter I have been scouring Holkham Pines in Norfolk and Lynford Arboretum also in Norlfok with the hope of finally connecting. Unfortunately all attempts proved fruitless (see posting ) and I was beginning to feel that it just wasn't going to happen again this year. One of my closest friends, Kieran Nixon, used to be a fellow Northants birder until finally jumping ship and moved to Norfolk (and who can really blame him?) and Lynford Arboretum has become one of his local patches. So as you can imagine, receiving a phone call saying that there must be at least 4 or 5 Firecrest moving through Lynford made me a very happy man! A car share was quickly organised and on the following Sunday John Ward (aka Big Jake), Kieran and myself were on the way to Lynford with Firecrest as the main target. The birds had been showiung around the visitor centre and is wasn't long before a couple of crests could be heard calling. Now depending on your politics in this a certain technique called "pishing" can be employed to get birds out of the undergowth - and it works particularly well with Crests. I say "depending on your politics" because some people don't like it at all, and to be honest in certain circumstances I agree with them, but this was late winter so we wasn;t going to interfere with any breeding so we all used the technique to try and convince one to come out and show itself. What happened next was one of the moments that make you realise why we do this mad hobby. We split up into a triangle and we all worked a section of woodland to try and get a bird out. I was standing a section surrounded by trees and as I could hear a Firecrest singing started to pish, while quite aware that I was sounding daft to most of the passes by I really didn't care as I could hear the birds calling around me and I wasn't going to leave without getting one even if I had to stand there all day to do it. Eventually a small bird started to respond to my pishing and came out onto a branch with it's back to me........it then looked over its shoulder to show a bright white supercilium. At last a Firecrest!!!! How I didn't do a cartwheel I'll never know. From then on I started to relax a bit, took a deep breathe and calmly birded the area. The Firecrest I managed to pish was a female and I'd really wanted a male so we hung around before getting a male singing up at the top of a tree. Firecrest was finally in the bag after 6 years of searching, and I think even if we didn't see another bird all day I still would have left happy. From here we popped over to Grimes Graves to try and see the Great Shrike that had been kicking around the area. I'm pleased to say we got it from the car window as we pulled up, and when we got out we had some great scope views of the bird sitting high up on a branch nicely out in the open. The next target after this was Stone Curlew so we nipped over to Weeting Heath. Frustratingly you could hear the birds but they had all gone down to the other side of the slope to getting a view was impossible so we abandoned this site and headed over to Foxhole. After about 20mins scanning with the scopes John managed to get one creeping through the gorse on the top of the hill. From here we decided to head back to Lynford to see if we could catch anything else there as nothing else really twitchable was in the area. From leaving the car park John and myself wandered into the park while Kieran hanged back next to a tree near the car park. As we turned round we could see Kieran was starting to get excited so we made our way back and learnt that he had found another male Firecrest........and this one was showing very well!! We watched it creeping around the ivy for about half an hour and I managed to get a couple of record shots. They won't win any awards but you get the idea.
Tuesday 5th April 2011 - Slavonian Grebe at Grafham Water
After receiving the news about a summer plumage Slavonian Grebe at Grafham Water I had to go and see it. I'd already seen sum plums in Scotland but the thought of seeing one this close to home was too good an opportunity to miss. I went with Pete Bateup a good birding friend of mine and we had some incredible views from the Plummer Car Park with the bird preening at times in the sunshine.
Sunday 10th April 2011 - White Spotted Bluethroat at Welney WWT
This was another grudge bird. A White Spotted Bluethroast had stayed almost all of the summer last year at Welney WWT but due to having a problem with my car which I couldn't afford to fix in a hurry I had to let it go. Consequently I haven't lived it down since so when the news came out that the bird had returned it became a priority. Myself and my father (he birds sometimes) drove over to Welney to get there early and take advantage of the early opening hours (they open at 7 when the Bluethroat's here as it rarely shows after 10). Although the bird was mainly seen last year along the path to the Lyle Hide, this year it was favouring the area of reeds infront of the Allport Hide. Despite this all the crowds were congregating in the Lyle Hide, but I decided to risk the Allport Hide and see what happens. After about half an hour of watching Reed Buntings and Sedge Warblers flying about I saw a small bird hope onto a reed near the waters edge. All I could see was the back of the bird, and then it opened up it's tail to show the 2 red edges going down the sides........the Bluethroat was right infront of me! It warmed up a bit in the sunshine and started to sing, unfortunately it flew just as Kieran (he met us there) walked into the hide. I watched it fly up and down to where it is more traditionally near the Lyle Hide. As I walked along the path I met a chap who I had met previous at the Slavonian Grebe at Grafham a few days previous, and while I stood talking to him everyone went over to the Lyle Hide to stand and look over either side of the path. I am very pleased I stayed where I was as the bird started singing at the bottom of the bush infront of us and then it hopped up to the top and sang away in the sunshine right infront of us. Never have I been so happy not to tag along with the crowd in my life as everyone at the hide had to use scopes to get a decent view, but to me and the guy I was talking to it was literally 20 feet away tops. It was facing the sunshine nicely and as it raised its head to sing you could clearly see the white spot on the throat.
Sunday 17th April 2011 - Blue Winged Teal, RSPB Ouse Washes
Another recent report had mentioned a Blue Winged Teal that had been sighted from the Welches Dam Hide at the RSPB's Ouse Washes reserve over the previous few days. So back in the car this time with Pete Bateup and my father once again and back to the Ouse Washes. When we arrived the light was terrible and shining right in our direction so trying to get a good vies of the birds was a bit of a nightmare on certain parts of the reserve. Fortunately just infront of the hide where the light wasn't quite so dazzling a few Shovelor made their way out of a small sheltered area and the Blue Winged Teal was with them. He put on a good show after feeding as he came up on the bank and started to preen, every now and then flexing his wings to show the broad bright blue bar.
Sunday 1st May 2011 - Temminck's Stint and Summer Leys
Myself and local birder Steve Fisher had been putting a lot of time into the local patch recently trying to get some good stuff on spring passage but apart from some Little Gulls, Arctic Terns and Barwits things had been pretty quiet. So when Steve received a phone call saying a Temminck's Stint had been found at Summer Leys I didn't take much convincing to go and see it. It showed well when I got there on the main scrape with Wood Sandpipers, Snipe, Bar Tailed Godwit, Ruff and Little Ringed Plover. Eventually it flew and landed on an area known as the slips which is right infront of a screen hide, the view from here of the bird was excellent and soon after being relocated it was joined by 20 Bar Tailed Godwit landing tired from migration and had a preen.
Friday 6th May 2011 - Green Hairstreak Butterflies, Twywell Hills and Dales
Last year I got into butterflies, and it opened up a world I had no idea existed.So last year I decided to learn a bit more about them. Quite coincidently one of my local patches, Twywell Hills and Dales, is quite a butterfly hotspot with some speciality butterflies of chalk grassland including Dingy and Grizzled Skipper and Green Hairstreak. So today the sun was shining and I went out with the camera to see what I could find. It didn;t take long up on the Whitestones area of the reserve to find the first Grizzled Skipper.
And the aptly named Dingy Skipper
It took a little longer to find the butterfly I was really after though. Basically I was looking for a small leaf shaped butterfly in an area full of bushes covered in leaves, it was a needle in a haystack job to say the least. Also to add to it I came here today on a bit of a whim so hadn't really done much pre planning before hand. All I knew was that they were somewhere in the Whitestone area, and when you're looking for something the size of your thumbnail in an area the size of a football pitch the problem becomes apparent quite quickly. Luckily I did remember that they are very territorial and the males will sit on the same perch waiting for threats to pass by. Eventually I walked passed a bush and I noticed something flitting out as I walked passed, trying to find it again was impossible but then I had remembered about the territorial behaviour I had read in the books. So I walked back round the bush to where I had first seen it and stone me if it wasn't back on the branch! I got closer to take a pic and it flew again, this time just zipping around a bit before settling back on the branch. This was interesting, I disturbed it trying to get a decent pic a few times, and without fail it landed on the same branch time and time again. The really clever bit though was when it flew across the bush and vanished out of sight, I tried keeping up with it but never could so back tracking back to the branch where it had sat on and is was back everytime.......it had just flown right the way around the bush losing me in the process and was back defending it's territory! Anyway I used this to my advantage and grabbed a couple of pics.
Thursday 6th May 2011 - an unexpected day at work!
Today was one of those days which come very unexpectedly, and if you had said that before the days out you will have ticked new bird (an american one too) I wouldn't have believed you. So it was a great surprise that I quickly checked the bird report to find that a Spotted Sandpiper had been found at a lake right around the corner from where I work. The area where it was seen was also right next to a car park too so it seemed like a very good spot to take a lunch break. This bird was stunning, and also almost tame as it walked freely up and down the path and only flying when people got within feet of it. The down side is because I was at work I don't have any pictures of my own to show you but never mind a summer plumage Spotted Sandpiper is so far the bird of the year for me and full marks go to Keith (aka Holding Moments), he reads this blog sometimes sometimes so Keith if you've got this far in this post then a huge pat on the back for you and well done for finding a Buckinghamshire first!!
That concludes the round up, and apart from spring passage stuff like Black Tern, various Sandpipers and Whimbrels that has been the highlights.