Wednesday 25 January 2012

Wednesday 25th January 2012 - Northants Year List Coming On Nicely

The first month of the year is now nearly at an end and although I haven't been out too much, mainly due to it still getting dark very early, my list of birds for Northants is increasing steadily. This year is the first year that I have embarked on a year list, and to keep it local I have decided to keep it all in Northants. I have done this for a number of reasons, firstly as the price of diesel is getting higher and higher the cost of twitches all around the country is getting silly and as I have a wedding to pay for I thought it would be a good idea to limit costs a little, and secondly keeping things local gives you the incentive to look harder at your own local patches. This a lesson I learnt when I did the BTO atlasing for the Finedon area. Here was a site around where I lived, in fact right on my own doorstep, and I am ashamed to say I probably knew more about the birds in Norfolk or anywhere else for that matter than I did these perfectly within walking distance. When I started to become interested in birds I very quickly caught the twitching bug and spent most of my time off tearing all over the place to see rare birds, but the question I have to ask myself is "did it make me a better birder?" and the answer is no it didn't! I had the idea to do survey work when I thought it would be a good idea to put something into the hobby, not knowing at the time it would teach me a valuable lesson in birding. When you are looking for birds on your patch you realise that it can limit what you are going to see so in order to make sure you don't miss anything you go through each bird individually to make sure you know exactly what it is. I see all too often when out birding people will see a flock of Wigeon or Teal wintering on a reservoir and will then walk away happy that they have seen a flock of Wigeon/Teal - what seperates the dedicated birders from the rest is instead of just walking away go through them all methodically, and when you have done that go through them again, and then again from a different angle. This way if there is an American Wigeon or Green Winged Teal in amongst them you will be the one to find it. Anyway I am drifting from the point here a little. Last week a female Scaup was discovered during a WEBS count by a local birder at a place called Wilsons Pits near Rushden. So last Sunday this was the first stop and I am pleased to say I only had to walk 25 yards from the car before I was onto it. Back in the car and then over to Ditchford Gravel Pits in the hope that I would see one of the Iceland Gulls that have been reported. The whole of this complex of pits is populated by horses from the local traveller sites and I think them must be able to smell the extra strong mints that I always carry in my pocket, they certainly seem partial to them anyway.

Unfortunately though despite a 3 hour search no White Winged Gulls could be found, in fact some reason the whole place seemed quite barren of birds considering previous trips I had made here. So I had to give in and concentrate my efforts elsewhere. From here I moved on to Barnes Meadow Wildlife Trust Reserve near Northampton. As you may have read in a previous posting this place is a paradise for Snipe and as I had managed to see one not long ago I decided to come back and try for the year tick. The site is a flooded meadow with lots of shallow margins and the technique is to put your wellies on and wade through the mud to see what flies out from beneath you. It can be a bit hairy at times and you can spend more effort freeing yourself from the sticky mud than looking for birds but in a childish kind of way it is quite fun. Again though another let down, despite the fantastic habitat (see pic below) the best I could manage was 2 Common Snipe.

Moving on once again I went over the road and into Clifford Hill Gravel Pits. The highlight here was a pair of Peregrine putting on an amazing display in the wind above the lake. The wind was starting to really blow by now and keeping the scope steady was a nightmare, but I was rewarded with one of the best and most prolonged views I have ever had of these magnificent birds. I had a good look through the vast flocks of geese but nothing other than Canadas or Greylags could be found. I finished the day at Cogenhoe Mill and the surrounding fishing lakes but again couldn't find anything out of the ordinary with the exception of the wintering pair of Green Sandpiper. As I drove home I received a couple of texts alerting me to a couple of White Fronted Geese that had been found at different ends of the county so my next day off (today) I headed to the closest one. This is the bird at Fawsley Park near Daventry. I have to confess this is an area in which I had never birded before and driving through the very quaint villages and countryside made me wonder why I had left it so long to explore this area. I made my way to the park, which is on a country estate, and found the 2 fishing ponds the bird has been seen on. It had been associating with Canada Geese and I did find a flock of these but they were feeding on a hill so any birds down the other side I couldn't see. A couple of very chatty fishermen pointed in the direction I should head for a better view and within 20 minutes or so I was enjoying very good views of the White Fronted Goose as it fed along the bank before flying into the middle of the pond for a drink.

As I walked back to the car I had to admire the area I was standing in, I may very well return at some stage to give the site some birding justice as I think could have spent the whole day here quite easily. The stately home and the church seemingly in the middle of nowhere set amongst the grounds was quite picturesque.

A nice touch at the end of my visit was a Nuthatch calling from the tree above my car, and showing really well in the branches. From here I headed to Pitsford Reservoir in the hope that I may be able to connect with the Brent and Pink Footed Goose. Once again though another dip. I'm not too disheartened though as this can be the trouble with working the hours that I do, with the early dark nights ruling out after work birding and not being able to get out at the drop of a hat! When a bird gets reported you sometimes just can't get there in time. Anyway despite a very thorough search of all the geese flocks south of the causeway I simply couldn't find either of the birds I was after. Hopefully they will re-appear and I will be able to get them again (I have seen them at Clifford Hill last year, in fact it was me who found the Pink Foot but this is a year list at the moment so those birds don't count). I spent the rest of the daylight hours walking around the north side of the reserve. Some fantastic flocks of Teal and Wigeon are here but not much else that I could see. The water levels are very low at the moment and if you look at the picture below the bridge you can see at the bottom of the frame is normally under quite a few feet of water, in fact I can only remember once seeing the water this low and that was many years ago.

Despite this though I had a nice walk round and as it was getting dark a few of the mammals were starting to emerge. This area is quite large and not too many people venture around to the far end as it's getting dark so perhaps this was giving the local Muntjac Deer population a false sense of security. I counted five in the end with at least 2 of them not paying any attention at all to my presence until I got too close for comfort, and a Hare in the field next to farm near Scaldwell Bay rounded the day of quite nicely. So far the year list has hit 81 different species, all in Northants obviously which can be frustrating as I work in Bucks which means any birds seen down there I can't count, but anyway here is the current list (in no particular order)

1 Bullfinch
2 Blackbird
3 Collared Dove
4 Carrion Crow
5 Woodpigeon
6 Lapwing
7 Starling
8 Great Tit
9 Gadwall
10 Mallard
11 Wren
12 Coot
13 Black Headed Gull
14 Wigeon
15 Goldeneye
16 Shovelor
17 Tufted Duck
18 Mute Swan
19 Fieldfare
20 Green Woodpecker
21 Cormorant
22 Common Gull
23 Pochard
24 Moorhen
25 Golden Plover
26 Dunnock
27 Reed Bunting
28 Chaffinch
29 Great Spotted Woodpecker
30 Little Egret
31 Greenfinch
32 Kestrel
33 Red Kite
34 Grey Heron
35 Glaucous Gull
36 Robin
37 Common Buzzard
38 Yellow Legged Gull
39 Pheasant
40 Great Black Backed Gull
41 Lesser Black Backed Gull
42 Herring Gull
43 Long Tailed Tit
44 Greylag Goose
45 Canada Goose
46 Goosander
47 Goldfinch
48 Ruddy Duck
49 Long Tailed Tit
50 Blue Tit
51 Shellduck
52 Pintail
53 Smew
54 Tree Sparrow
55 Pied Wagtail
56 Redwing
57 Yellowhammer
58 Short Eared Owl
59 Magpie
60 Egyptian Goose
61 Meadow Pipit
62 Little Grebe
63 Great Crested Grebe
64 Jackdaw
65 House Sparrow
66 Rook
67 Caspian Gull
68 Sparrowhawk
69 Scaup
70 Marsh Tit
71 Common Snipe
72 Peregrine
73 Green Sandpiper
74 Barn Owl
75 Skylark
76 Jay
77 Nuthatch
78 White Fronted Goose
79 Goldcrest
80 Red Legged Partridge
81 Teal

Sunday 8 January 2012

Adult Glaucous Gull at Ditchford starts the new year off nicely - 8th January 2012

With this being the first opportunity of the year to get out birding I was hoping I could make it a good one. I started the day at Summer Leys Nature Reserve where a Bittern had been reported recently and on a few occasions had showed well to the people lucky enough to be around at the time. This morning wasn't one of those days though unfortunately and despite an hours searching I couldn't locate it. It has apparently moved to a small reed fringed pool but the wind was quite strong and numerous dog walkers were letting their pets run riot in the area so if it was here it would have quite rightly kept its head down. So I decided to abandon the search in order to try and find other Northants birds in the area.

My next stop was Ditchford Gravel Pits which is well know in the winter for producing some very good Gulls. It's the Glaucous and Iceland hotspot of the county mainly due to the local landfill site. A mate of mine, Steve Fisher, has found 1st and 2nd winter Glaucous Gulls over the last few weeks and according to reports they were still in the area. When I parked the car another car pulled up behind mine and it turned out to be another Northants birder John Taylor. As he was also here for the Glaucous Gulls we started walking together up to the ploughed field which had a nice large flock of birds loafing around in the middle. We has only just started scanning through when John picked up a gorgeous adult Glaucous sitting right infront of the crowd. It was a stunning bird and was a good sighting for a few reasons. Firstly it was the first adult I have seen as all my previous records have been 1st year birds and secondly this bird hasn't been reported before so it was a new one - a nice self find for John. Shortly after we had picked it up a Lesser Black Backed Gull spooked it into flying a short distance, I did manage to get it again but it was right in the middle of the crowd this time and was lost from view quite quickly and we never managed to find it again after that. I just wish I had a quicker finger to get a pic of the bird before it cleared off. Despite searching we also couldn't find the other reported 1st and 2nd winter birds but we didn't leave too unhappy as the adult had more than made up for that. Also at the front if the crowd we found a nice contender for adult Caspian Gull. Very plump breast with long bill and a small dark bullet hole shaped eye set forward in the head. We couldn't see the legs unfortunately as it was standing in a rut in the ploughed field so I won't be ticking it but it was a very interesting Gull to see.

The next stop was Pitsford Reservoir mainly to get a few year ticks. Trees sparrows were there in quite large numbers with a flock of at least 50 birds around the feeding station. A few Goosander were kicking around the mouth of Holcot Bay as were 4 Pintail. Also 2 Shellduck were feeding in Walgrave and off the fishing lodge a pair of Smew with a drake and redhead From the feeding station I noticed a Commom Buzzard fly down from a tree and catch something before flying back up again. We located it in the other side and got lovely views of it ripping a rat apart before swallowing the back half down in one. It's quite a sight to see that beak in action as it made quite short work of the poor rat taking quite large chunks off it it one action. After its meal it wiped it's bill clean on the branch it was standing on before starting its vigil again, no doubt looking for more rats.

A visit to Bluebell Farm near Maidwell was next on the agenda to year tick Short Eared Owl. Even from getting out of the car at the farm itself 2 Short Eared Owls could be seen in the field opposite. Me and John walked around the whole site getting fantastic views of owls on posts and in hedgerows. We also bumped into another local guy, Keith Tinworth, and together we worked out there were at least 12 Owls over the complex and as we hadn't counted a couple of fields there were probably more than that. As we stood in the field back where we had parked the cars another chap turned up, Mark Skinner, who's a local birder/photographer. I've been friends with Mark for years on Facebook so it was good to finally meet him. All in all a good day, met up with some people I hadn't seen for a while and some very good birds into the bargain too.

The following day I nipped over to Clifford Hill Gravel Pits to see what was about. 10 Goosander (4 drakes), 2 Goldeneye, c.200 Lapwing, Egyptian Goose and 15 Meadow Pipits. The total count for the weekend was 59 species over 2 days so the Northants year list has started nicely.