Wednesday 21 November 2012

Waxwings, A Great White Egret And A Short Eared Owl - Sunday 18th November 2012

News had been trickling out over the previous week that a small group of Waxwings had been frequenting the berry bushes near Homebase at Sixfields in Northampton. As mentioned in the previous post my birding is becoming limited to the weekends now as the nights rolling in means I cannot get out of work in daylight. I did manage to get to the area on the Wednesday night after work at dusk but to no avail. Also on the Saturday morning I had to pick up a parcel at the nearby post office and gave the site a look but didn't find any. I then received a text an hour later to say they were there but they had turned up in a different area of the estate but as once again I was at work I couldn't do much about it. I received a steady stream of texts and tweets from various people throughout the afternoon but as I was at work I couldn't do too much about. It did though give me an idea of their movements around the estate. As they had been there for a few days now I was feeling fairly confident that I would be able to catch up with them on the Sunday so a plan was made with John Friendship Taylor and he got to mine first thing in the morning. We headed to the car park next to Sixfields Lake and started to head east in the direction they were seen in late on the previous afternoon. The morning was absolutely gorgeous with beautiful clear blue sky, no wind, and generous layer of frost. This has to be one of my favourite times of year - I just love the crunch of frost under foot and the crisp bite of the air on morning like this.

Lots of birds were about too with lots of winter Thrushes and flocks of Finches flying about. As we started to wander along the side of the lake I had a scan with the binoculars and noticed a flock of birds flying quite high up but sticking close together. The largest number of Waxwings seen yesterday was 14 but with this flock there was over 20 and as they were flying so high I was starting to wonder they were in fact just Starlings. Then though a moment of luck! They stopped flying round and round and started to fly in a straight line, straight towards us! Luckily John had managed to get his scope on them by now and got  good view as they flew along the lake and passed us and he confirmed they were indeed the Waxwings we were after. We then watched them fly into a tree behind us so we raced back along the path to view them. We counted 25 in all and they looked fantastic in the morning sunshine. Unfortunately they were perched too far apart for a group shot of them all but I did manage to get a couple of record shots. Apologies for the not so good quality but the pics are cropped and taken on the phone.

After spending about 20 minutes enjoying the Waxwings they all took off and headed towards the Lift Tower so we headed back towards the car park. By now other birders had started to arrive in order to see these birds and it then turned into a Northants birdwathers social event with a lot of faces turning up with some I hadn't seen for a while. Mike Alibone, Bob Bullock, Douglas Macfarlane (who incidently writes a great blog which you should really check out!!), Jon and Kirsty Philpot and Keith Tinworth making up the numbers. After getting our fill of socialising and enjoying the very showy Redpoll on the opposite side of the river John and me headed over to Harrington Airfield. John quickly picked up on a couple of Crossbill calling over the pine trees near the memorial which was nice as they were very vocal if not showy. A quick yomp around the area though started to show that the Crossbill may have been the highlight of the area. Lots of Linnets near the sunflower area by the straw bales and some very nice looking Brambling (we counted 5 with 3 females and 2 males) feeding on the grain put out by the entrance along the concrete track was a nice addition. After this we decided to take a trip to Pitsford Reservoir to see the Great White Egret that had turned up. It is easy to get complacent about these birds in Northants as they seem to be remarkably regular visitors to the county. Luckily for us it didn't take much finding as standing in the trees directly opposite the causeway was a stonking great white bird, in fact you really didn't need to use the binoculars to see what it was. Great scope views were to be had but no pics unfortunately as they are a nightmare to get a decent photo of, especially when you're trying to digiscope them with an IPhone - the brightness of the bird along with the darkness of the background makes exposing one almost impossible. From here we nipped off for lunch and after a large Big Mac we headed over to Blueberry Farm near Maidwell to see if any Short Eared Owls were about. The area is brilliant for Owls as mentioned in previous posts, and it is a site I look forward to coming to for it's peace and quiet along with the fantastic birds the area has to offer. Unfortunately though this romantic ideal was shattered by the sound of a trials bike warming up on the Hanging Houghtin to Cottersbrooke Road. As we stood by the southern field the sound of this bike, which was then quickly joined by another one, became infuriating. Constant revving and speeding up and down the road were soon the only sound we could hear. A Barn Owl didn't seem to be paying too much attention to the racket and was hunting silently around the field but then the bikes got closer and therefore got louder. I would just like to point out that I am not a spoil sport and I appreciate that the countryside is there to be enjoyed by a variety of people but the behaviour of this pair was awful. They were basically trying to make as much noise as they could, which to be honest I could have put up with if they stuck to the road, but they didn't. The first part of the off roading consisted of riding up and down the neighbouring farmers fields, then going backwards and forwards along the road and then they decided to head onto the Blueberry farm complex. This area is set up as a refuge for raptors so to watch someone ride straight through the middle of it on a trials bike with mud flying everywhere is a sad sight indeed. With a complete disregard they road off the footpath and headed straight across one of the fields, road around the tree with an Owl Box and across the next field and then returned in pretty much the same way. Perhaps if they had stopped we could have explained to them the impact they could be having, but to honest and perhaps a little prejudgemental I doubt if they would have listened. Anyway we met the land owners daughter as we returned back up to the farm area and we related what we had seen. As she has received more and more witness statements regarding the disturbance these guys are causing the ball is starting to be rolled to get these guys stopped, i just hope it successful. I'm not against people trial biking at all - just not on important wintering grounds for birds! Anyway I have finished the rant now. As it got dark we kept scanning the fields in the area and as the light had almost completely faded we saw a bird flying along the hedge. I managed to get the binoculars on it just in time to see the distinctive face of a Short Eared Owl flying towards us before flying up and over the hedge into the dark. It had been a good day with some very nice birds, I will admit it was marred slightly by the incident with the bikes but hey I guess we can't have the whole of the countryside to ourselves.

Sunday 4 November 2012

Bonaparte's Gull at Boddington Reservoir - It's Been A Funny Weekend! Sunday the 4th November 2012

Due to me working full time, and the nights are now rolling in, my birding is limited to my days off. To be honest I hate it as birding after a hard day at work is one of my ways of winding down but as there isn't much i can do about it I guess I have to accept it. Accepting it is hard though when you receive a text to say a Bonaparte's Gull has been found mid week on a county reservoir. As I knew that being able to see it would be impossible until I had a day off I tried to put it to the back of my mind, and on the Friday a blank was drawn by the people searching the roost. So on the Saturday my mind was made up to head to completely the opposite end of the county to see what had arrived. I knew that due to social commitments I couldn't make the Boddington roost anyway (while days birding are rare in the winter months, time off with my wife are even rarer), but frustration was setting in early on as the predicted "prolonged spells of sunshine" had in fact turned into prolonged, heavy and relentless rain! I went to Fermyn Woods as it is one of my favourite places in the autumn. The berries around here provide a feast to the wintering thrushes as they move in, and the added bonus of the chance of a Hawfinch is also a draw. Despite the rain I put the waterproofs on and soldiered on regardless, and I am glad I did as the amount of Redwing was pretty incredible but despite scouring the flocks I couldn't find anything other than the odd Fieldfare. The Jays here were also putting on quite a good show too, perching often right out in the open in their quest for Acorns. All the normal Tit and Finch species were present along with quite a few Siskin (one individual showing very nicely at the top of a Birch Tree singing in the sunshine). In the evening as I was preparing to head to a house warming party I received a phone call to say the Bonaparte's Gull was back at the Gull roost. By then though I wouldn't have reached the site before nightfall anyway (as well as ruining the families plans for the evening) so I went out and started to think of a plan to get there very early in the morning instead as that was going to be my last day off for 5 days. I woke up very early and headed to Boddington reservoir reaching the site before daybreak. This posed another problem as I have never been here before in daylight let along in the dark. I found a car park and headed down a path all the time hearing the disconcerting noise of Gulls already leaving the roost above my head. My plan this morning was to be perfectly honest a bit of a shot in the dark as Gulls normally do leave roosts early on, and by the time there is any kind of light they are quite often all gone - but if you don't try then you won't succeed! The path went passed the yacht club and eventually I found a gate on the right, I have no idea if i was supposed to go through it but I did anyway, and soon found myself on the shoreline with a good view of the water. To my relief a lot of the Gulls were still on the water and a large raft of Gulls could be seen by the dam. I scanned from left the right, and then from right to left and back again before finally finding a bird in among all the Black Heads that was noticeably smaller than the others. It had it's back to me but zooming in on the scope also showed it to have a darker mantle than the others too! "Could this be it?" I asked myself and gradually the bird rotated round in the water showing a distinctive black ear spot and a small black bill. This was it! I couldn't quite believe my luck and I managed a few more  minutes of viewing before it before it flew up and over the dam with a lot of the other Black headed Gulls vacating the roost. As the weather wasn't too good and the early morning light was a little dull I couldn't grab any decent pics but luckily local birder Bob Bullock managed to get these images on the previous evening showing the Bonaparte's. You can see the smaller size, darker mantle, distinct black ear spot and small black bill not only clearly in these pics, but as an added bonus you can compare the features with the Black Headed Gulls surrounding it.

Bonaparte's Gull, Boddington Reservoir, Northants - c.Bob Bullock

Bonaparte's Gull, Boddington Reservoir, Northants - c.Bob Bullock
Bonaparte's Gull, Boddington Reservoir, Northants - c.Bob Bullock
The weather then proceeded to turn nasty again so I went home and watched the Grand Prix while the rain poured and poured. Eventually it eased of so I spent the final part of the day at one of my local patches Clifford Hill. I am pleased to say winter is starting to arrive here too with a large flock of Golden Whirling around. I did the check for anything more juicy but to no avail. Also the Lapwings are now forming larger flocks, with about a hundred or so doing constant laps of the gravel pit whenever anything disturbed them. Another nice surprise was a single drake Goosander having a preen on the central peninsular, this being the first one of the winter for me. Not a bad weekend despite the weather, with the added benefit of a lifer too! 

Thursday 25 October 2012

Spotted Crake, Merlin, and a Richards Pipit in Northants - another long awaited update.

Once again it has been a while since the last post. I have been very busy with "other things" and consequently  birding and blogging about it has had to take a bit of a back seat over the last couple of months. Things are getting back to a bit of normality now though so hopefully things will be back to normal. Still as always I have been able to grab the odd trip out to see some good birds despite the others things happening (my marriage and a house move!). I finally managed to see a Spotted Crake in the reedbed at Stanwick Lakes on the 13th September. Thus was a relief all round as I had spent several evenings in the this place in vain, getting a lot of mosquito bites on the way, after Stanwick Lakes patcher Steve Fisher had found one. In fact my back became the talking point of a few Northants birders due to it having 42 bites on it! Anyway most of the local birders gave up after a weeks or so of negative news so it was quite a surprise to receive a phone call saying a Spotted Crake was showing well a few weeks after the initial sighting. It's believed that this is a different bird to the previous one, and was a painful text to receive as I was at work at the time. I finished work as quickly as I could and managed to arrive on site just after 5pm to be rewarded with incredible views of the Spotted Crake walking about right out in the open in front of the reeds. After 45 minutes of very good viewing it crept back into the reeds again and then proceeded to show intermittently for the rest of the evening allowing a few more birders a look at it. The pics really not the best but you can just make out the bird in the lower left hand corner of the pic below.

The next major outing was a quick trip to Norfolk (27th September) with my usher (Matt Whitelocke) to pick up the best man (Kieran Nixon) for my rapidly approaching wedding. We had a good day with some good birds, nothing major but the seawatching was superb with Arctic Skuas, Bonxies and a Sabine's Gull drifting around. At this point I got married, had a few days away and then proceeded to move house. On the 6th of October while I was taking a break from lifting heavy boxes I received a text from the county recorder, Mike Alibone, to say a Richard's Pipit had been found at Borough Hill near Daventry. I knew that if I didn't go for it I would almost certainly miss the bird, so with a quick explanation to my new wife (and a lot of convincing) I shot over to the Hill to be greeted with a large area covered in long grass. It was clear from the outset that this was not going to be easy! Chris Coe, a local birder, was just returning to his car and pointed in the general direction to where he had last seen it fly. By now quite a few other birders had arrived so we decided to split up and search the area. We trudged around hoping to hear the distinctive call and after an hour of fruitless searching I decided to head over to a field just down the slope where it had been seen in the morning before relocating to the top of the hill. A pipit was showing nicely perched up on the top f one of the bushes but this turned out to be a Meadow. Pangs of guilt were now setting in as I should really be moving boxes into the new house, so I decided it just wasn't mean to be and started heading back towards the car. I crashed through a hole in the hedge and as I got back onto the hill I could see a load of birders running down a path shouting to another birder near to them that the Richards Pipit had flown into the field I had just come from - the little sod must have flown into it as I walked out! So getting back through the hole in the hedge I got back into the field and started walking along the path. Within a few minutes a bird flew up from next to the path on which I was standing and up it went calling with that distinctive call. Richard's Pipit in the bag, a county and a life first! Unfortunately when it flew up it didn't stop and went up higher and higher before heading over in the direction of the car park. A Meadow Pipit shot up and had a go at it and they both appeared to drop but a search of the general area did't re-find it. The next couple of weeks were spent moving yet more boxes and settling into the new area. As things are now getting slowly back to normal I spent a day out with birding pal John Friendship Taylor. A Merlin had been seen on the previous day at Harrington airfield so we headed there first. Visible migration was superb with Redwing and Mipits flying overhead. It wasn't long before a single Golden Plover rose up from the field and called as it circled, below it a sleek bird was shooting across the field - the Merlin was showing well! In fact it showed very well as after it had gone across the field it proceeded to sit on top of the wires next to the road and fanned it's tail out while preening. This area had lots of birds in nearly every bush, lots of Yellowhammer and Linnet with the odd Reed Buntings thrown in too. "Eagle eared" John picked out a Brambling calling from one bush and after a bit of searching we located a female Brambling with the Chaffinch. From here we headed to Stortons Gravel pits as a few Beerded Reddling had been found in the morning but unfortunately they had gone quiet by the time we got there and we had to give up as the wind was picking up. To add insult to injury Mike Alibone arrived on the site while me and John had gone to the local KFC for lunch and he had a Bittern fly in in front of him! Our next area was Summer Leys but we didn't see anything of note so we headed to Pitsford Reservoir. We spent quite a lot of time admiring the Black Necked Grebe that has been residing just off the yacht club, but other than that there wasn't much about again. Still a great day to be out and with the addition of the Merlin I am now on 165 for the county yearlist.

                                                                                                     Black Necked Grebe, Pitsford Reservoir

As I write this huge numbers of birds are landing in Norfolk and will hopefully be making their way inland. Fingers crossed we will have some juicy rarities gracing the county. Until then though I shall be birding my new area, that being Grange Park just outside Northampton. There looks to be a lot of suitable habitat to be looking at so I will need to do a bit of exploring. One last thing, I guess I can't leave without posting a picture of me and my new wife after the wedding, this is probably the one and only time you will see me in a suit so take a good look as you probably won't be seeing it again! Good birding all!

Sunday 9 September 2012

Roesel's Bush-Cricket in Northants - Tuesday 4th September 2012

I have already heard a Quail this year at Chelveston Airfield but as it was very close to the county border I have been a bit unsure whether to add it to the county yearlist. The comments by well regarded birders did reassure me it was in the county but according to my ordnance survey map the bird I heard was just slightly on the wrong side of the line. So with this in mind when I received a text so say that a Quail had been heard in Northants  recently I didn't take much convincing to go. Quail chasing in September is not something to be taken lightly as they should have stopped calling long ago, and to add to it I didn't get to the site until midday so I knew it was going to be a long shot as early morning or late evening is normally best. The bird had been heard the previous morning at Stanford Reservoir (again right on the Northants border but this one was definately in Northants) and despite the odds stacked against me I waited patiently by the field it was heard in. After just over an hour of listening a single "wet my lips" called out from the middle of the bean field - and that was it. I stayed for another half an hour or so but gave up on hearing it again. Normally I wouldn't post about this sort of experience as it is a little dull I admit but the thing I would like to share is the little lady I found on the way to the Bean field with the Quail in it. As I walked up the road towards the footpath an insect caught my eye so I had a closer look. A Bush-Cricket was hopping out into the road and after a little chasing I finally caught it. The colours were quite bright which is what originally made me look twice at it.

I certainly do not confess to be an expert as this sort of thing so after taking a couple of pics I went home to identify it. Turns out this is a female Roesel's Bush -Cricket, I have certainly never seen one before. According to the Wildlife Trusts website they were only found on the south coast up until the early c.20th and due to rapid expansion they are being seen further north now. Which is good as I would never have encountered it if it hadn't. The long curved ovipositor at the back show it to be a female and the green face, dark brown/orangey legs, and the green line along with the 3-4 greenspots behind the head are all distinguishing characteristics of the species.I know I sometimes seem to be mainly bird orientated in my wildlife watching but I enjoy seeing it all, including the bugs, after all a lot of the smaller things that we pass by  without noticing have incredible stories too!

Tuesday 28 August 2012

Greenish Warbler, Blakeney Point - 26th August 2012

At 5am it was a bleary eyed start to the day as on the previous evening I had attended one of the Bat evenings put on by the local Wildlife Trust and didn't get back until late. I have to say it was a real eye opener. I have been out a few times in the dark after birding late and I always noticed the odd bat flying around here and there but until that night I hadn't realised how many there were. With the aid of bat detectors and infa red lamps we went around the fishing lodge section of Pitsford Reservoir and picked up the "clicks" of Soprano and Common Pippistrelle, Norctule and Long Eared Bats easily, and shining the lamp across the water showed lots of Daubentons Bats flying around over the surface. It impressed me so much I recon a bat detector is on the next shopping list so I can find a few for myself. So after waking at 5am John Friendship Taylor met me at my place and by 6am we were on the way to Norfolk on one of those spur of the moment trips we seem to be good at. We arrived at 8.30 and headed straight for Cley to do a bit of sea watching but unfortunately we were too late as the northerly winds had changed to westerlies and all the birds were flying well off shore. We persevered regardless though and picked up a Manx Shearwater and 2 Bonxies (with lots of other stuff that was too far away to i.d.) and then went over to have a quick look at the reserve. A couple of young Swallows sitting on the wire fences put on quite a show and really didn't seem to mind us being there as we took a few pics.

From the hide a few Little Stint could be seen, along with a Curlew Sandpiper and a Spotted Redshank being the highlights. Also a nice site was the spectacle of 7 Spoonbill flying overhead too, they looked very nice in the mornings sunshine! After this we met up with a couple of Norfolk birding buddies in the shape of Kieran Nixon and Dave Norgate. We birded their local patch (Stiffkey) before getting back to the car park and try and decide where to go next. There didn't seem to be too much about so we were a bit unsure what to do, Kieran and Dave were toying with the idea of looking for some rare Orchids and John and I were looking at heading back homewards and stopping at the Ouse Washes on the way. Luckily though Dave's pager went off to herald the arrival of a Greenish Warbler on Blakeney Point. As most birders would know, Blakeney Point isn't the easiest place to get to. It is a 3 mile long gravel bar that sticks out into the sea with a few areas of vegetation at the end and it seems like a very long walk to the end over the shingle. So we headed to Morston with the hope of getting one of the Seal cruise guys to give us a lift over. Unfortunately we drew a blank as none of them would drop us off on the point because of the tide making it difficult for them. Luckily though I did notice another company offering sail boat cruises just next to the entrance to the car park so I decided to try and work my charm with them. Luckily it worked and they agreed to get us over there in a small boat (very small!) so long as we didn't mind getting wet. We of course leapt at the chance and despite realising we were stranding ourselves a little bit we soon found ourselves on the water heading out to the point. We arrived in no time at all and after watching Kieran fall out of the boat (quite possibly one of the funniest things I think I have ever seen in my life) we made our way to the bush the bird was in. I am pleased to say the bird was showing incredibly well, the sun had really brought it out into the open and it busily fed around the top of the bushes for a long time affording superb views. We were a little apprehensive at the start as the initial report on the pager was that the bird was allusive by my word were we glad we made the effort to get over here. This gorgeous green warbler with light coloured wing bars and distinctive supercillium fed away and we took a few pics. The best one being this taken by John Friendship Taylor.

After enjoying the Greenish Warbler we started the long trudge back to Cley. Due to the tides we had to leave Morston in a hurry and we didn't have time to get a car to Cley so we could drive back to the other car in the harbour car park. This also meant that the boat company couldn't pick us up either so we knew we had a long walk ahead of us. We checked the plantation before we left and although we couldn't find the previously reported Pied Flycatcher we did find this rather dapper Whinchat there which posed very nicely indeed, in fact it just kept coming closer and closer.

We checked the vegetation as we made our way back to the land but with the exception of a fly over Tree Pipit we didn't find much other than Skylark, Meadow Pipit and a few Dunnock. By the time we nearly got back to Cley the sun was getting low and the scenery was quite spectacular with the dark clouds and the low sun meeting the beach so I took the opportunity to grab a pic before we reached the bank at Cley and followed the road into the village.

The first port of call was the pub and we sat in the garden until darkness having a laugh and a few beers to try and recover from the walk. As darkness fell our taxi arrived and we got back to the cars at Morston. It was a very good day, good birds, good laughs and probably most important of all good company!! Lets hope we can do it again soon.

Wednesday 22 August 2012

Yearlist Update and a Sacred Ibis in Northants! - 22nd August 2012

The last month has been spent chasing around trying to build up the yearlist, and despite things still remaining a little quiet I have managed to see some good birds. Since finally seeing the Kingfisher last month I have heard Quail at Chelveston Airfield with a singing individual just on the county border, seen 3 eclipse Red Crested Pochard at Pitsford Reservoir on one day and then returned a few days later to see the Marsh Harrier. The good thing about yearlisting birds is the fact that you have to really keep at it and go for everything, so during the quiet times of the year you can concentrate on catching up with missed birds and trying of course to find you own. I have been birding Clifford Hill Gravel Pits just outside Northampton now pretty much every evening after work. It is a very frustrating place to bird at times mainly due to the disturbance by the public who show a blatant disregard to the signs put up asking people to stick to the perimeter bank and insist on walking their dogs along the shoreline scattering any waders in the process. Despite this though I have been plugging away and I have to say there has been some good stuff trickling through. The concentrations of Black Headed Gulls here in the evenings has been quite impressive with large flocks gathering in the evenings. They unfortunately don't roost here choosing the roofs of the warehouses and factories at the nearby Brackmills Industrial estate instead so they all fly off as it gets dark but if you are here early enough you can catch them. With this in mind I have been searching through them most evenings looking for Mediterranean Gull and on the evening of the 8th of August a rather unexpected surprise turned up. I wasn't the only one with Med Gulls on my mind that evening as I scanned the Gulls on the water from the south shore as I could see the Northants County Bird Recorder, Mike Alibone, scanning from the north. I scanned and scanned and scanned but to no avail so turned my attention to the opposite shoreline to look for waders. I noticed Mike was walking around the pit at this point  and as I scanned along the north shoreline I couldn't believe my eyes, quite out of nowhere as Sacred Ibis had flown in and was having a preen on the bank. It should be mentioned that Sacred Ibis aren't on the British List as none of them seen in Britain can be proven to be genuine wild birds, most of them are certainly escapees as is this. Earlier in the year 3 Sacred Ibis escaped from a Cheshire Zoo and have been roaming Britain ever since. 2 birds appeared in Northumbia and one in Norfolk. Both the Northumbian birds flew south with one joining the bird in Norfolk south east and the other flying due south (over a raptor watchpoint in Nottingham according to one of my Twitter Followers) and I am assuming this is that bird. Here is a pic I took, it's certainly not the best but you get the idea of what it looks like.

Mike and I watched it for a while as the sun went down and and I am pleased to say a flock of birds came over that I could add to the yearlist. As I walked around to the lake I noticed a flock of birds flying over.. I had somehow managed to miss every Northants Curlew so far this year and I was starting to get a bit worried about not seeing one so it was a nice surprise when I looked up and counting 13 flying overhead calling away. To add to the evenings entertainment a small flock of 4 Black Tailed Godwit came over in the dwindling sunlight and did a few laps around the north shore before heading off just as quickly as they arrived. The Sacred Ibis hung around for a few days despite being constantly disturbed by the dog walkers before eventually relocating itself to Stanwick Lakes where it seems quite happy. Steve Fisher found a Spotted Crake at Stanwick Lakes on the 14th August which got quite a few of us racing over there but unfortunately despite a lot of thorough searching (and getting eaten alive by mosquitos) it couldn't be relocated - not surprising really though as the reedbed is very dense and you need an awful lot of luck to be looking at the right place should it emerge. Another yearlist bird came on the 17th August again at Clifford Hill as the constant searching through Giulls finally paid off with a 1st summer (moulting into 2nd winter) Mediterranean Gull with all the Black Headed Gulls, and an adult Yellow Legged Gull thrown in too. A juvenile Northern Wheatear could also be seen in one of the field south of the pit which heralds for first returning Wheatears and as I walked back to the car I bumped into Mike Alibone again who had just picked up a Black Necked Grebe on the water - I was concentrating so much on the Gulls I had rather stupidly overlooked it when I had birded the area (in my defense it was feeding well and did spend a lot of time underwater). I attended the bird fair on Saturday the 18th of August and while sat in the events marquee I received a few texts from up and coming local bird photographer who had found a female (ringtail) Hen Harrier at Harrington Airfield. So leaving the birdfair rather rapidly Pete Bateup and me found ourselves standing by the first bunker scanning the field - but unfortunately we dipped. I arrived back at Harrington Airfield at 0630 the following morning but despite a 3 hour search we couldn't find it. Mike Alibone had joined me by this point and we decided to head out to Hollowell Reservoir to see what was there. Due to the amount of rain we have had this year the presence of any wader scrapes this autumn is rather few and far between and as Hollowell's water levels have dropped this seems to be the best shoreline around in this area of Northants. It wasn't before we had a couple of Common Sands in the feeder stream and as we walked further along I looked up and saw an Osprey heading in. It looked absolutely beautiful in the mornings sun as it soared around for a while giving amazing scope views, a real shame it didn't go for a fish but you can't have everything. The final yeartick occured last night as I returned to Stanwick Lakes to have another search of the reedbed - unfortunately the tick didn't come in the shape of a Spotted Crake but came in the shape of a very showy Water Rail instead. The current Northants County Yearlist now stands at 161. I have recently learned that the County Record is 201 but that was apparently an exceptional year, so I recon my 161 is fairly respectful considering I work full time and it's only August - the autumn migration has only just started and hasn't really got into full swing yet! Lets hope it does soon!!

Sunday 1 July 2012

Otters in Northants! - Wednesday 27th June 2012

Things have been a bit quiet in Northants recently bird wise so I have been concentrating my efforts on catching up with a few of the commoner birds I have been unable to see so far this year. The main one quite unbelievably is Kingfisher! In fact I've never had to look for Kingfishers in the past as you normally just see them while out birding anyway. This though has been a different story, for me anyway, and has resulted in me putting in hour after hour walking lengths of river after work and into the evening without success. Whilst doing this though I have of course been admiring a lot of the other wildlife the rivers around here have to offer. Barn Owls seem to be everywhere and I had found at least 3 in different locations over the last few nights. The other species being Otters. I have known for a long time about the presence of Otters at various places in Northants but I have never been lucky enough to encounter them. A couple of weeks ago did get a glimpse of a head disappearing under water and the shadow of one swimming past me but that's been about it - until Wednesday the 27th of June when I had an evening that was special in every aspect, and one that I will certainly never be forgetting. The area will remain a secret I'm afraid as they're obviously breeding so to keep disturbance to a minimum I won't be posting any photos of the area. I arrived at the site at 19.30 and it was a gorgeous summers evening, hardly any wind with bright sunshine and warm. The river was still with hardly a ripple on it and with fish jumping everywhere it just felt good for Kingfisher, so with binoculars slung over my shoulder I started the walk along the river. I had gone about half a mile when as I was scanning the banks of the river from a viewpoint I noticed two strange shapes floating in the water, they didn't look like birds even at this distance as they circled around and dropped under water before coming up again. I got a bit closer and looked again - oh my god they're Otters!!! I watched for a while as they dived and surfaced and then dived again, and trying to use all my fieldcraft I crept along the bank and got closer and closer. The whole of the area if reed fringed and getting a view (and of course doing it quietly through vegetation) was quite a challenge to say the least. The area the Otters were hanging around in is part of a backwater to the river which has no access but this actually worked in my favour as it meant I could creep around it to get to the river on the other side without getting too close to them. When I got further down stream I found a gap in the reeds and looked back up the river to where they had previously been, I couldn't see anything at first glance but then a splash in the reeds to left and the large concentric series of ripples heading out into the river signified the presence of something close. I sunk down lower and the reeds rustled before an Otter emerged right infront of me and swam passed - it was so close I could actually see right into its earhole! It somehow never noticed I was there so I continued along keeping as quiet as possible before reaching another bare section of bank in between thick vegetation and sunk down again. The Otter seemed to have split from the other one and was hunting in the reeds along the bank, the views were simply stunning as it dived, surfaced, crashed up into the reeds and then plopping back into the river again. It was once again getting closer and closer and nerves started to kick in as I prayed it wouldn't see me - and then as I crouched down it came out of the reeds this time much closer and I watching the Otter swim underwater right underneath my feet! I couldn't quite believe what was going on, I have been lucky enough to see Otters in the past up in Scotland but to get these kinds of views in my home county was just something else. It was making its was further along the bank towards a calmer area of river just before a weir so I made my way here and say down patiently tucked away in the corner and waited. It wasn't long before it came around the corner and I was then treated to a fantastic show as it swam backwards and forwards across the small pool and sometimes rolling around in the water with its long tail flapping around in the air - all the time calling to its mate! I feel so privileged to have been able to witness this first hand and in the end I watched these for a good hour and a half before a couple walking a dog along the river path and chatting away disturbed them and they vanished - I wonder if they'll even know they had 2 Otters about 10 feet away from them at one point! As its pretty obvious they have a holt in the area I will just leave these guys to it, I may perhaps pop down if I have another nice evening free just to keep and eye on them but the views I had that night will never be surpassed and as I have said before will never be forgotten. The icing on the cake came at 22.00 as it was getting dark, as I walked slowly along the river I heard the unmistakable "pip pip pip" call from a small branch and I looked up just in time to see a Kingfisher flying down the river. At last a Northants Kingfisher, after 6 months of the year already passing I was starting to get worried!

Thursday 7 June 2012

Nightjars, Montague's Harrier, Golden Oriole and a European Roller - 2nd to the 5th June 20122

This was the Queens Diamond Jubilee weekend and while the rest of the nation was either at street parties or infront of the tv I was travelling all over the place in the pursuit of some very good birds. Nightjar have been on my to-do list for years and for some reason I just never seem to get round to it, so this year I decided to put that right. On the Saturday evening after finishing work I quickly got changed and headed for Norfolk arriving at Kierans place early evening. Another local birder, Johny Diego Prochera, also joined us as we headed out to a place fairly close to Norwich to see what we could see. A local rave seemed to be tuning up in the background when we reached the site which took our minds slightly off the matter in hand but after a while a Nightjar started to chur and then as we moved around to get a better look at the area it was coming from had the great view of the bird flying into the clearing before holding up it's wings a parascending down to earth showing it's white wing and tail spots in the process. It was good place to be in as darkness fell as deer started to bark, Tawny Owls started to hoot and a few Woodcock coming really close flying over head calling away. We didn't see anymore after this but had a couple churring away in the gloom, but after the view we had we could all still leave happy with the evenings vigil. The following day I woke up on Kierans sofa and started to look at the information services to see what was being reported, the main bird of note that was shouting out to me the most was the Roller at Aldborough in East Yorkshire and as there wasn't much about in Norfolk we went pretty much as soon as Kieran got up. After picking up a guy who'd requested a lift from Norwich we started the journey and reached the site at about 3.30pm. The bird could easily be seen from the car as a bright blue bird stands out a lot against a brown muddy field. It was quite mobile and spent a lot of the time flying about in the field before the rain started to come down and it popped onto the famous post where everyone has been taking pictures of it! What a cracking looking bird!!

After this I had the delightful prospect of a six hour drive back to Northants via Norwich as I had to be at work the following morning. My birding mate John Taylor had text earlier to see if fancied heading back out to Norfolk on the Tuesday so never one to turn down a days birding I of course agreed. Tuesday morning John  arrived at mine at 6am we headed straight to Lackenheath Fen getting there for 8, a Golden Oriole could be heard singing it's flute like song about half way to the watchpoint and while we were trying to pick it out John luckily turned around in time to catch a Bittern flying behind us! We had heard at least one Bittern booming on the way to this point but it was great to see one in flight. We abandoned the Orioles hoping to catch up with one later and headed further along the path before reaching the end of the reserve. A quick scan of the vast reedbed got loads of Marsh Harrier with quite few Bearded Reedling pinging about too. A Barn Owl flying back to a nest site carrying a vole was a nice surprise in broad daylight and after waiting patiently for it to emerge again ( it didn't! ) we went and took a seat at the watchpoint and sat here admiring the view of a couple of Marsh Harrier food passes and the sound of booming Bitterns. After a while we started to head back into the reserve, this time giving the Golden Oriole a bit more attention. The bird was obviously moving about in the trees quite a lot as the direction of the sound was continually changing. We positioned ourselves along the path and John was lucky enough to get a glimpse of it zipping through the canopy. We kept listening and searching and gradually the bird moved right. A lot of the birders then headed in that direction but I kind of had the impression it would probably start to move back over to the left as a little bit of a pattern in it's movements was starting to form so I chanced my arm and stayed put. John and I scanned and scanned and then it popped out right on our side of the trees looking gorgeous in the morning sunshine - bright yellow, black wing and a bright red bill! Great stuff! Whenever I have had views of Golden Oriole in the past I can't help thinking that the guide books just never to them justice, no matter how bright the illustration or vivid the photograph they always look much brighter in the flesh. That and the hunt you have through to see one I think makes getting a view like this so much more worhwhile. From here we headed out towards the coast and meeting Kieran at Bunham Overy. We had a quick walk round after introducing John and Kieran to each other with not much to report so after a quick set of directions off another local chap we headed off for a look at a Montague's Harrier. We didn't have long to wait in the area we found ourselves in before a ringtail Monty's was whirling away above a wooded area before she climbed up high onto a thermal, hung there for 15 minutes, and then treated us to a superb acrobatic display in the air with lots of swoops and dives before she flew down and settled in the woods again. From here we nipped to Choselely Barns to listen for Quail. No Quail unfortunately but quite a few Corn Bunting were about singing their jangly song from various vantage points and the good local Hare population were putting on quite a bit of entertainment too. Titchwell was the next stop and as always it didn't disappoint with loads of Little Gulls on the freshmarsh, a fly over Spoonbill, a leucistic Pintail spotted by John, Avocet all over the place, several Little Terns over the sea and a few Sanderling running along the coast. As it was now getting quite late we headed for the last port of call, this being Dersingham bog. Following the directions of a local birder Rob Smith, and a little pointing in the right direction after we got a bit lost and he had to come over to show us the right place, we found ourselves standing in the middle of the bog next to some trees. This was the good news, as in we were now in the right place, the bad news is the rain was now starting to come down. We heard a Nightjar churring around the corner closely followed by a call from Rob to say he had seen one fly over his head as he was on the way back to the car. The Nightjar then flew in our direction before wing clapping and settling for a while. Then up it came and flew right passed us within 20 feet or so! Then the rain started to really come down again so after listening to a distant chur of another Nightjar and a reeling Grasshopper Warbler we called it a night. All was quite except for the Woodcock which had been flying over us since we arrived and didn't seem to be put off by the rain and gloom. We made our way slowly to the car in the darkness, what a great day! We should really come here more often!!

Wednesday 6 June 2012

Birding Wales, 26th May 2012

During the previous week a Cream Coloured Courser had turned up on a golf course in Herefordshire and John Friendship Taylor and me had planned to see it after work on the wednesday but unfortunately it did a bunk at midday so we well and truly dipped. During the discussion about going for it we had mentioned how nice it would be to pop into Wales as we would be in the area to see what delights were on offer but as the main target bird had rather unhelpfully flown high and west we were at a bit of a loss as to what to do as not much else was nationally being reported - so we decided to go to Wales anyway! At 6am on saturday morning John and a new guy to the birding scene, Sam Candy, met me at my fiance's house and we made our way straight to South Stack on the West coast of Anglesey. The weather was absolutely superb with hardly a cloud in the sky and as we left the car park a male Stonechat was sitting high up singing away on the gorse. We made our way to cliff edge to be greeted with the amazing site, sound and smell of the seabird colony with lots of Guillemots clinging precariously on the cliff edge. Closer inspection easily found a few Razorbill, Fulmar, Kittiwake and 4 Puffin down on the sea below. It was nice to see the pair of Raven that had been here a couple of years ago on my last visit still very much active flying backwards and forwards from their nest to the seabirds and stealing eggs with incredible ease. We also didn't have to wait long for a sight of a Chough as one drifted passed on the sea breeze. From here we took a walk along the cliff tops and admired the incredible views of this amazing coastline, marred ever so slightly by the odd fishing boat coming into the bays. We had a few Rock Pipit and Stonechats along the way and also a Wall Brown and Small Pearl Bordered Fritillary butterfly, both life ticks for me.

                                                                                                      Small Pearl Bordered Fritillary

After taking in the scenery and admiring great views of two Chough in the fields opposite the visitor centre we headed to Holyhead Harbour for the Black Guillemot. A thorough scan of the main side with the boats couldn't locate one so we followed the road around to the other side to the fishing quay and found a mini bus of birders had just pulled up and already they had a Black Guillemot out on the sea. Turning around to face the calmer waters inside the harbour another summer plumage Black Guillemot was sat on the water closer in and the views were outstanding. I had been informed of an area called Worlds End in Wales and as it was on the way back home I thought I'd ask the tour leader from the minibus if he had any tips. I was astounded to discover this was non other than Alan Davies (of The Biggest Twitch fame) and his wife Ruth on one of his North Wales birding tours. I have to say he was an incredibly nice guy and while his tour was having a bite to eat he took the time to give me all the info I needed - even drawing a map for me on the back of an old phone bill I had in the back of the car. So armed with this information we headed to Llangollen taking in some of the outstanding landscape of the Snowdonian National Park.

The reason we had gone to Llangollen was due to it's reliability as a Dipper site and as you can see from the photograph below it absolutely ideal for them.

The bad news is though what you can't see in the photograph is the multitude people swimming in the river just out of shot. As soon as we saw this we realised that seeing a Dipper would be very lucky but we persevered regardless but unsurprisingly drew a blank. Not too disheartened though we headed up to Worlds End and after a lot of scanning eagle eyed John managed to pick out four distant flying Black Grouse - not the best view but a view all the same. Then a little further down the road John and me saw a pale Harrier sp. flying up and down over a ridge to our right and as I got the bins on it it turned out to be a male Hen Harrier which then shot off before we could get to higher ground for a better look. Never mind we had got what we had come for pretty much and with the exception of Dipper and Wood Warbler we'd cleaned up. The addition of a male Hen Harrier and a couple of new butterflies I hadn't seen before were added bonuses, and along with a few beers along the way and the incredible weather we had a great day out birding an area I should really make the effort of getting to more often.

Now for a very rare sight indeed - me with my legs out so you have been warned! If you are of a nervous disposition then look away now. Sam Candy on the left, me in the middle and John Friendship Taylor on the right.

Saturday 19 May 2012

May Update 2012

It has been a good month so far with some very good birds. The run of good luck started right from the beginning after I received a text saying a Cattle Egret had been seen at Summer Leys. It was getting dark when I was told but despite this I shot over to the site (meeting up with the county bird recorder Mike Alibone when I was there) but unfortunately after a thorough search we couldn't find it. The following morning it was relocated and watched by various people pretty much all day, so straight after work I jumped in the car and made my way over. The bird was being very mobile and kept flying from field to field but luckily another birder had told me the fields it liked to frequent so I headed to the first place and couldn't see it. I walked across the road and walked along the Nene River along Hardwater Lake scanning the banks but could only find Little Egrets. Luckily I turned around just in time to see a birder was standing by the road trying to get my attention and after legging it back saw the Cattle Egret in the field where I had initially looked - it must have flown in as my back was turned. This was a fantastic looking bird as we don't often see Cattle Egrets at the best of times but to see one in all the breeding refinery like this was a real treat! The pics are Iphone digiscoped and really don't do it justice but trust me it was gorgeous.

My next day off work was the 4th and I turned my attention to a certain Black Winged Stilt that had eluded me over the last few weeks. One was located in Oxfordshire a short time before and it then went to Rutland Water before heading to a place in Lincs near Peterborough and then setted at Frampton Marsh. This was another lifer for me but I couldn't really warrant driving all the way to Frampton to see it, but it disappeared from there and the next thing we know a Black Winged Stilt is sighted at Paxton Pits in Cambridgeshire. This was good as it's not that far for me so first thing in the morning I'm in the car heading for the Cambs border. The whole country had suffered a deluge of rain in the weeks leading up to this weekend which caused a lot of localised flooding. This meant the normal route along the side of the reserve to the field east of the Pumphouse Pit was impassable, so I had to divert up to the other end and come in from the Buckden. It didn't take long to reach the area and a quick stop for directions from smiling birders coming the other way (they had already seen it!) got me to the place I needed to be and right infront of me busily feeding away was the Black Winged Stilt. Nobody can really decide if this is the Frampton bird or a different individual, infact this was the main topic of conversation while I was there but I wasn't too bothered about that - I just enjoyed the view!

After this I headed up to Leicestershire with a Savi's Warbler on the hit list. This bird had been found in the morning near the Lapwing Hide at Rutland Water and by driving up the A1 didn't take me long to get there. the area the warbler was reeling from is a small patch of reeds on the other side of a 6ft fence, which didn't bother me to much as I'm tall enough to see over the top of it but the other guys had to stand on a section leaning over slightly. It was reeling like mad when I got there and I managed a quick glimpse of the bird while it was creeping about in the reeds. Then as it moved further into the reedbed I moved along the fence and was greeted almost straight away by a view of the Savi's Warbler reeling away right out in the open - sometimes there are benefits to being tall. I headed back to Northants after this and went to Summer Leys to see if the Cattle Egret was still about. 2 Black Terns on the main lake was a nice bonus before I bumped into Big Jake who mentioned a Great White Egret had paid the reserve a visit earlier that day. So parking up at Hardwater Mill (where I had seen the Cattle Egret a few days before) I walked along the river towards Mill Lake. A Hobby flew gracefully overhead and as I reached the banks of Mill Lake a large white bird could be seen wandering along the reeds - the Great White Egret was back in the same place we had seen it a few weeks ago! As I walked back the Cattle Egret came onto land on the bank Hardwater lake too, this was amazing I had a Great White Egret to my right and a Cattle Egret to my left!!!
The following day was the trip to Minsmere I had planned for a while. A couple of friends of mine, Julie and John came with me and we were not to be disappointed. A few days before our trip a Long Billed Dowitcher had been found on a reserve near Bury St.Edmunds and as it was on the way it was definitely going to be the first twitch of the day. The directions weren't very clear which lead to us starting off at completely the wrong end of the lake but after we soon realised our mistake we made our way to the area we needed to be in. There right out in he open with a head under it's wing was a sleepy Long Billed Dowicher! Good stuff but we wasn't going to leave until we got a better look at it so we waited patiently for it to wake up. Luckily it did after about 15 minutes and fed along the shoreline giving some great views at quite a close distance. Bizarrely it slept right out in the open but when it fed it did so under cover so getting pics was a bit hit and miss. John Friendship Taylor managed to get this one with it was ducking and diving in and out of the vegetation.

And I got this one shortly after it had woken up and was having a preen.

From here we went to the RSPB's brilliant reserve at Minsmere. Straight from the car we went to see the Wryneck that had been reported recently as this was a lifer for John. It was being a bit slippery to start with but luckily a couple of birders had seen it n a completely different place to the one where everyone else was looking and we saw it high up in a tree. After this we had a wader around, on the scrapes not much was happening to the recent flooding but a few Little Terns and a summer plumage Knot were nice additions. We walked along the beach and up to Dunwich Heath where we had the most amazing and prolonged views of Dartford Warblers I think I have ever had. The weather wasn't too good so my hopes weren't high but after finding a small dip 2 Dartfords could be heard singing away and after a short search could be seen showing really well.

One of the birds flew and posed quite comically almost doing the splits between 2 pieces of Gorse and luckily quick off the mark John Managed to get this pic!

We walked back to the reserve proper and this time got some really good views of the Wryneck showing back it had previously been reported in a large open area with a large gorse bush in the middle. Despite the attention it was getting it was remarkably well behaved and showed well the whole time.

Then to the Reddbed hides for unbelievably close booming Bitterns - one must have only been 50ft away from the hide at one point and despite the noise in the hide from the many birders the noise was quite loud! Marsh Harriers were of course putting on a good display as they always do here and Water rail were squealing in the reeds. When we came out of the reedbed area we went to see another couple of unexpected additions to today's list. We had heard rumours of Stone Curlew being seen nearby and as it's a pair I am not going to tell you exactly where but it's not on the reserve itself. We found the area without any problems and it was a nice surprise to see a male Ring Ouzel in the field too. John Taylor took this great photo of the Rouzel while I ran up the field to locate the Stone Curlew.

After enjoying good views we headed back to the reserve and enjoyed the rest of the day wandering around, had great views of a Black Redstart in the car park after John spotted it on a fence and going to places no one else would cos we were the only people wearing wellies (remember the flooding) before settling down at dusk to enjoy the serenade of booming Bitterns. Here's a pic of Julie and John having a paddle - this was the only way down to some of the hides!!

The latter half of the week didn't go so well. I missed a Dotterel by an hour but got good views of a Nightingale at Polebrook Airfield.

It's best to view to vid above full screen and on the highest quality - you can just see the Nightingale in the middle and after the first burst of song it moves slightly up and left before flying right down to the bottom and out of sight before carrying on singing. I returned to Polebrook the week after and also managed to add Turtle Dove to the county yearlist there which along with a lovely looking Little Stint at Summer Leys mid week now bring the list up to 151. Great stuff, now lets see what the rest of the month has to offer!

Friday 20 April 2012

Northamptonshire Yearlist Update 20th April 2012

Apologies for being a bit quiet on here recently but pretty much all of my spare time has been spent building up the year list. Just about every evening over the last few weeks has seen me shooting off somewhere straight from work to see a new bird that has been found. The last update I posted regarding the yearlist was on the 20th February and I am pleased to say I am starting to get up some good numbers. Most of the time has been spent catching up with birds that I have missed due to working full time and with the exception of Brent Goose, Crossbill and Curlew I am pretty much on target. Since my last update good county birds have been Slavonian Grebe, Avocet, Little Gull, Garganey, Bittern, Lesser Spotted Woodpecker, Pink Footed Goose, Great White Egret, Common Redstart, Ring Ouzel, Arctic Tern, Black Redstart and the latest Pied Flycatcher which brings the current list up to 127 species so far seen this year. The Slavonian Grebe took some work as it was very mobile as did the Great White Egret which has been present for a while but keeps flying up and down the Nene Valley making catching up with it a nightmare. I got very lucky with Bittern as I only had to wait half an hour before it crept out onto my side of the reeds at Summer Leys giving great views of it fishing, and the Lesser Spotted Woodpecker which flew right in front of me and landed on a branch just 20 feet from where I was standing. The Ring Ouzel was a sigh of relief too and they had turned up while I was in Norfolk chasing a Hoopoe (see previous posting), and although I did bird the area the following morning my cold had started to get quite bad so I had to give in and head home. Luckily a very helpful young lady (Kirsty) tweeted me in the afternoon to say her and her partner had found one so I shot straight over and connected. Here's a pic taken by her partner Jon Philpot.
                                                                                                                                                   Jon Philpot

The Black Redstart proved to be quite easy too as it flew up on top of a post as I walked away from the car after getting the tip off of it's location from local county birder Eleanor Mcmahon and then the Pied Flycatcher was showing very well too at nearby Daventry Country Park. Unfortunately I'll have to leave this post there as the suns shining and I've got some birding to do, sorry it's a bit rushed but duty calls! I'll be updating again as quick as possible!! Good birding all.

Serin and Hoopoe at Waxham

Us birders often have what are known as "bogey birds". These are birds that seem just out of our reach a lot of the time and they vary from birder to birder. My previous bogey was Firecrest and it seemed that until last year there was a conspiracy against me in the Firecrest community to avoid being seen by me at all costs! Luckily though a trip to Lynford (see previous posting from last year) managed to get five of them with good views of three, so at that point my next bogey target turned to the Hoopoe. This is an exotic looking bird which comes to Britain quite regularly and to be honest shouldn't be that hard to see, but they have eluded me constantly for years. The last one I went for was in Norfolk and after driving all the way there it flew off - literally as I entered the car park! So as the news broke that one had been seen at Waxham in Norfolk I was in two minds whether to go. I kept an eye on the reports to see if it was hanging around and after a few days of it's presence I decided to go for it. I picked Pete Bateup up on the friday evening and we drove over to Kierans house near Norwich, after a few beers and a curry we hit the sack after setting the alarms for 5am. We found ourselves standing on the dunes at 6.30 in the morning the following day waiting patiently for the Hoopoe to appear. The area is a holiday camp with a selection of caravans to the left of view and a large open field with two buildings to the right - this open area was where the bird had been feeding. A Ring Ouzel was feeding away at the top of the field which did take our mind off the Hoopoe for a minute or so but then back to scanning the area. I have to admit I did have a sense of defeat right from the start as it had become very mobile over the last couple of days and my previous history with chasing Hoopoes was dire to say the least. To add to it I had woken up with a stinking cold so standing up here in the wind and the frost was getting difficult. I decided to head back to the car to stick some more layers on and while I was trying to find my gloves I got a text from Kieran saying simply "RING ME NOW". The Hoopoe had taken advantage of my absence to fly into the field (told you it was my bogey bird, it must have waited for me to leave!!) I ran back to our position to be greeted with a fantastic view of the bird feeding out in the open in glorious sunshine! Get in at last a Hoopoe. I put the news out on Birdguides to say it was still here and after a while a few more birders popped over to admire it too. Then as we were all looking at the target bird another birding was looking through the large Linnet flock that was also feeding in the field before exclaiming "Ive got a Serin in here", we all swung around the scopes and sure enough a male Serin was feeding right in the middle of the Linnets. Fantastic stuff, what a little gem to be seeing in this fabulous sunshine! I stuck the news of the Serin straight onto Birdguides and I'm pleased to say it hung around for a while given great views and sometimes coming in quite close but unfortunately the staff at the holiday camp were starting to wake up and a car drove across the field scattering the flock in all directions with some of the birds heading into the sand dunes and this was the last we saw of it. As we left quite a few guys were heading in to hopefully see the Serin with a guy saying he had heard it on the way and another 3 guys saying they'd seen it flying over the sand dunes. We wished them all good luck with finding it and made our way back to the car but not before recording a quick clip of why we came here in the first place.

We were in a bit of a loss as to where to go from here as apart from Ring Ouzels everywhere there didn't seem to be much out of the ordinary kicking about. We popped to Cley and got great views of Ringed Plovers and Avocets sweeping their heads back and forth through the water feeding away and then popped just inland to see a small party of 6 Ring Ouzels and then we went to the pub for a beer and lunch. Then to Titchwell which again was quite sparse, nice flocks of Sanderling on the beach and a lovely Spotted Redshank showing right next to the path.

The day was now drawing to a close and we decided to head inland even further now to try and see a large flock of Ring Ouzel that had been reported at Syderstone Common. With the help of Oliver we got to the area we needed to be in and were greeted with the sight of a staggering 13 Ring Ouzels. 20 had previously been reported but we could only count 13 but still up until today I had only ever seen one in my life and already today we had counted 20 in different locations in Norfolk.

We started to head back after this spectacle, it had been a very good day with 2 life ticks in it for me too! You can never get tired of coming to Norfolk though and the added bonus of having good friends to bird it with too makes the day even better. To celebrate the Hoopoe and Serin sighting we took a group shot on the sand dunes at Waxham. Pete Bateup on the left, Kieran in the middle and me on the right.

Sunday 4 March 2012

An Unexpected Trip To Norfolk - 3rd March 2012

It was an odd day today. The original plan was a quick trip down to a site in Bedfordshire for Firecrest and then to spend the rest of the day in Northants to try and catch up with a Hen Harrier. Things didn't go to plan though and by 3o'clock in the afternoon I found myself standing on the beach at Titchwell in north Norfolk! John Taylor was joining me today and we had planned to visit a site down near Ampthill in Bedfordshire to try and find a Firecrest that had been reported mid week. We spent an hour or so scouring the area in an effort to see it but unfortunately to no avail, as we had got here quite early in the morning I started wondering if a trip over to Lynford Arboretum in Norfolk would be a good idea as Firecrest are pretty reliable here and over the last winter there have been some sizeable Hawfinch flocks in the paddock as an added bonus. We decided to go for it and just over an hour later we arrived at Lynford car park. A Firecrest could be heard singing near the road but we decided to head over to the paddock first as the Hawfinch are quite mobile so they should take priority in case we missed them. We didn't have to wait long at the corner of the paddock before I managed to find one concealed in amongst the branches of the Hornbeam Trees before it flew off, luckily 3 Hawfinch then returned not long after and we got some cracking views of them perched up in the tops of the trees. The trees around the small bridge near the paddock were playing host to quite a spectacle too, they were full of Crossbill with some of the birds coming right down to eye level with Lesser Redpoll and Siskin flocks thrown in too. We birded the whole of the site after this but once again drew a blank with a Firecrest sighting. We heard at least 3 but the weather was overcast and quite windy and it seemed everything was keeping it's head down. By the time we got back to the car we still had the whole of the afternoon ahead of us so we then decided to head up towards the coast. The drive took us through a lot of back roads with some nice views of Buzzard and a quick stop at Chosely Barns got us good views of 3 Corn Buntings in the hedgerows with mixed Yellowhammer and Reed Bunting flocks. The picnic area of Titchwell RSPB Reserve was the next stop with a scan through the Lesser Redpolls to try and find the Arctic Redpoll that has been here for a while. A group of birders were already on it so after looking in the direction they were looking picking it up was easy as a white bird was busy feeding up in the canopy.

Then we had a quick bite to eat in the cafe and then headed down the path towards the beach. Pintail, Shellduck, Spotted Redshank, Avocets, Bar and Black Tailed Godwits were all easily seen on the way but it was the sea that was most rewarding with Long Tailed Duck, drake Scaup, Red Breasted Merganser and a close in Velvet Scoter spotted by John with a load of Goldneye. Lots of Sanderling were running up and down the beach with Knot, Dunlin, Oystercatcher and a few Bar Tailed Godwit along the shoreline too. A Marsh Harrier was spotted quartering the reedbed as we walked back to the car which was a nice end to our visit. As we were running out of time at this point we decided to start making the drive back home and as we had to pass the infamous Wolferton Triangle I thought we may aswell take a look down there. This area is home to Golden Pheasant, and I have tried to see one quite a few times but never had any luck. All the advice is to get here at dawn and drive around the roads hoping to glimpse one, but despite this I decided to give it a shot anyway. We drove along the north road and didn't see anything, then we turned and drove up the south road without seeing anything here either. I then went over the A149 and checked these backroads aswell before getting back to the north road of the triangle and giving it another go. As we slowly drove around a bend John spotted a long tailed disappearing into the undergrowth and as we pulled up nest to the area we could just make out a golden head creeping around in the thick vegetation. So I drove down to village and turned around heading back to the north road again, driving slowly along and luckily I managed to see the Golden Pheasants head poking out from under a bush. I pulled over, turned the engine off and switched off the lights before opening the window and sticking my camera out. We were then treated to an amazing view of an incredibly elusive bird! Getting any view of these cracking creatures is a privilege but to have one this close infront of us was something else entirely. As we sat there in the car he came right out and fed along the side of the road, the only downside though was it was starting to get dark and the lens on my camera couldn't cope with the poor light so the photos didn't come out too well but here is a record shot. The video I took though is a different matter and really shows off the birds plumage and is worth taking a look.

A brilliant end to a nice day out, even if it was a bit unplanned! Thanks also go to Kieran, Oliver and Rob who are Norfolk birders and through a few phone calls gave me some advice regarding Lynford and Titchwell.