Sunday 27 November 2011

Dark Bellied Brent at Clifford Hill Gravel Pits

A certain bird has been eluding me lately, that being the dark bellied Brent Goose that has been seen at Clifford Hill Gravel Pits near Northampton. I have never seen a Brent in Northants before and as Clifford is one of my local patches it was going to be a good patch bird in the bargain too - but despite my best efforts I haven't been able to find it despite 5 attempts so far. As the nights are getting dark so early now at this time of year I'm limited to weekend visits only as a pop in on the way home from work wouldn't now be feasible until next year. So despite not seeing it on my previous attempts I wasn't going to give up, and after spending the morning getting stuck in the mud at Barnes Meadow again looking for Jack Snipe (I didn't see any this time) I made my way over the road to Clifford Hill. All the Geese were in their normal loafing area at the south eastern side of the lake so I made my way over and luckily enough just to the right of a small group of Canada Geese was a small black Goose busily feeding away. Finally here it was at last, hooray! I got a quick digi clip just for the records.

As you can see the bird is a juvenile, with the lack of a white neck band but nevertheless it was nice to finally get it. In my defence there has been so much happening recently with Short Eared Owls and Great Northern Divers (see previous posts) so most of my birding time has been spent elsewhere, and the geese here are very mobile and commute between here and somewhere else. It seems that luck plays a large part in finding the geese here. After watching the Brent for a while I wandered further along the bank to see if anything else was about in the goose flock and soon I had noticed another different looking goose fast asleep with the Greylags. It didn't take long to realise it was a Pink Footed Goose, then it got up after a dog walker got too close and wandered about for a bit allowing me a couple of pics before it went back to sleep again.

I did return here the following day (Sunday 27th) but unfortunately couldn't find the Pink Foot. The Brent was still around but mobile and was also joined today by the Egyptian Goose that I'd seen a few weeks ago. It would be nice to find out exactly where these geese commute to and from as rarer geese in the future will probably be easier to find instead of just relying on pot luck. Never mind that will be for another day.

Thursday 17 November 2011

Great Northern Diver in Milton Keynes and a Lifer in Northants - 17th November 2011

The news came out yesterday that a Great Northern Diver had been found at Caldecotte lake in Milton Keynes and as I had a day off today I thought I'd pop down to take a look. I've seen them many times before in Scotland but I've only had one down south (Pitsford Reservoir a few years ago) so it felt like a good time to catch up with one again. The bird has been fishing in a small bay on the north eastern side of the water almost in the middle of a housing estate and luckily it was still there this morning. So I found myself pulling up along the road to have a look myself. At first it couldn't seen but as anyone who has spent any time looking for Divers will know they can be surprisingly difficult to spot - due in main to the fact they spend a lot of time fishing underwater. In fact it took quite a while to finally see it, and when I did it had come up right where I had started looking in the first place so I must have walked passed it while it was submerged. I'd estimate it was spending at least a minute underwater and then only surfaced for about 8 seconds before diving again, and to add to it the bird would swim a long way underwater so it rarely comes back up anywhere near it dived. This makes getting a clip or pic a difficult and frustrating business - especially if you are like me and is trying to digiscope it by putting a phones camera against the eyepiece! Anyway I persevered and came up with a few results. Apologies for the camera shake in the clips but it was quite a chore getting these, at least they're short. Quite pleased with the photo - not bad for an IPhone.

From here I popped up to have a look at a new birding site for me. Jack Snipe have been one of my bogey birds for years so I had a word with a local guy who told me about a reliable site. Barnes Meadow is an area just south of Northampton and is a Wildlife Trust Reserve that I had never visited before even though I pass it every day. So with wellies on I made my way into the reserve and started to wander along the margins or the wetland hoping to flush a bird. Normally flushing anything is strictly against my birding ethics but unfortunately one of the only ways of seeing Jack Snipe is to do just that. They are renowned for not flying until you are nearly on top of them and when they do they only fly a short distance before dropping down again. I walked around the outside before moving into the middle trying to judge the depth of the vegetated and very muddy water so as not to get a bootfull while all the time trying to keep an eye open for anything flying up. Then as I started walking into a very heavily vegetated part a Snipe sp. flew up about 4 feet from me, flew a short distance before landing 25 feet away. Despite watching where it landed I just couldn't get the binoculars on it and as I only saw the birds back when it flew I tried to get a better view. I've heard that Jack Snipe tend to run a short distance when they land so where they dropped won't necessarily be where they are when you go back. As I walked into the place where it landed I managed to flush it again but this time it flew around me so I managed to see the short bill as oppose to the long bill of the Common Snipe. At this point I decided to leave, I'd seen what I wanted so there seemed little point in disturbing them any further. Jack Snipe at last so it was a worthwhile afternoons work, despite getting covered in mud.

Monday 14 November 2011

Blueberry Farm Short Eared Owls - 13th November 2011

A local patch of mine has been playing host to an amazing amount of Short Eared Owls recently. Blueberry farm near Maidwell in Northants is a raptor hotspot due in main to the Hawk and Owl trust and the local landowners working together to provide suitable habitats. It has been famous most years for wintering Short Eared Owls as the fields have been left as set aside and are cut to the right lengths at the right times of year. A talk with the landowner is very informative and it makes you realise just how much work can go into a conservation project even though sometimes it may look simple. Anyway as I have said this year has been absolutely exceptional with the sheer numbers of Short Eared Owls currently here. I popped here a couple of weeks ago with Pete Bateup and bumped into another Northants birder Keith Tinworth - just standing in the one place we had at least 10 Short Eared Owl, 4 Kestrel, 2 Buzzards and a Peregrine. Keith and I agreed to meet up again this week with a hope of perhaps seeing the Long Eared Owl that has been reported here too. Unfortunately we never did see it though a very dark bird had us racing into the next field at one stage only for it to become clear it was only a trick of the light. Short Eared Owls though are literally everywhere on the complex and it really is an incredible sight to see so many. Keith did a count while I was trying to digivid one and he managed to get a total of 12, which is currently believed to be a county record at one location. When we arrived on site we another nice surprise as we watched a Short Eared Owl and a crow have an altercation, it was only when we noticed to Crow in question was bigger than the Owl we realised it was in fact a Raven. Anyway here's a couple of very shaky clips of Owls flying and one of a preening bird in the bushes - they won't win any awards but they area a nightmare to keep up with!

Also nearly forgetting to mention, earlier today I received a text from Bob Bullock saying 8 Bewicks had been found at Summer Leys Nature Reserve so I shot over here before making my way to Blueberry Farm. It was the first time I'd seen them in Northants so was a good addition to todays sightings.

Dolphins at Chanonry Point - 29th October 2011

At the end of October I took my better half Desica up to Scotland . She had never been to the highlands before and as I've been a few times chasing the local wildlife I decided to spend most of the week doing the tourist stuff and sightseeing showing her around. A very good friend of mine, Matt Whitelocke, lives up here and was good enough to put us up for a few days and take us round all the best places to see. Despite this mainly being a relaxing break we couldn't resist the opportunity of perhaps seeing the Dolphins near Inverness. I have been up here before but unfortunately in vain, and Matt tried a few times before finally seeing them earlier this year - so it was with a fairly unoptimistic heart we decided, after taking Desica shopping in inverness, to head out here just on the off chance they were about. We initially popped to the Dolphin and seal watchpoint just across the bridge but nothing could be seen from the vantage point so we took the drive out to Chanonry Point. This area is a small headland going out into the Moray Firth and makes an excellent viewpoint to observe the water for and birds or cetaceans. A Grey Seal greeted us not long after our arrival as it headed around the point and as we were scanning the area around us a photographer approached  and asked if we had seen anything as not long before he had seen a few Dolphins breaching right out in the middle of the water. We looked towards the red buoy he had mentioned and within minutes 5 Dolphins were breaking the surface and putting on quite a display with one or two clearing the water a couple of times. We were lucky enough to watch them for 10 minutes or so before they dived and disappeared from view. We spent a bit of time chatting with the photographer who said he'd been waiting up here for 4 days waiting to see them which goes to show just how lucky we were to get the views we did -then he stopped talking, looked shocked and pointed towards the water just off the beach, we spun around just in time to see 2 Dolphins coming up for air just 25 feet from us as they swam around the point. They came up another 3 times as they made their way along the shore line giving incredible views. It was an incredible moment and was doubly good as Desica isn't into wildlife watching so it was good to show her one of the reasons I do what I do and I am pleased to say her reaction to the moment showed that she enjoyed the experience too. This was also my first sighting of Dolphins in the wild and I have to say I was very surprised just how big they were, it turns out these are the biggest Bottle Nose Dolphins in the world. To add to the incredible wildlife around here the scenery was stunning and the moody weather and gradual sunset made for awe inspiring landscape. In all a very enjoyable trip!