Wednesday 10 April 2013

March to April Update - 10th April 2013

It has been a surprisingly busy month despite the ever present icy cold grip the winter has continued to hold. Easter 2013 turned out to be the coldest on record and it started to feel like we were never going to venture outside without thermals again.A few birds did trickle in though and after the Bittern from the last post a few birds have been added to the yearlist. A couple of fly over Curlews and a few Ringed Plover were the highlights until the 12th of March when I managed to find a Rock Pipit at Clifford Hill Gravel Pits which unfortunately flew up high and east within minutes if getting onto it, and the Willow Tit I finally managed to see at Salcey Forest despite walking almost all the way round before locating one just near the car park where I had parked. Then thing quietened down again before a really good bird appeared! I received a text early on the 24th of March to say Mike Alibone had just found a Green Winged Teal at Stanwick Lakes, I shot over and met a couple of other birders who had also heard the news and after a brief search we found it. The area it was on is very hard to watch as there are a lot of little inlets that you cannot see very well from our vantage point and it just becomes a case of watching the Teal (there were LOTS of Eurasions) swimming between tufts of grass until you saw the one you were after. After this I went home and was slightly dismayed  when an Avocet was discovered at nearby Irthlingborough but as I was now off work for a week I had opened a bottle of wine mid afternoon so was unable to go (it's never a good idea to drink alcohol in daylight hours when yearlisting - it's only asking for trouble ha ha). I got up very early the next day but despite being there at sunrise I missed the Avocet and after birding the whole area for hours I couldn't relocate it. The next day I received a call from another birder who was watching the Green Winged Teal to say 3 Ruff had arrived on site too. So once again I found myself back over to Stanwick where I managed to connect with 2 of them. Then things went quiet again so I spent the next couple of days patching but not coming up with anything of note. On the Thursday I spent most of the day wandering along the Grand Union Canal before receiving another text to say 2 Common Cranes had been reported at Thorpe Waterville earlier in the afternoon. I looked at the time thinking that Thorpe Waterville is quite a drive for a report at this stage in afternoon, and I had to pick up my step daughter from school but something told me to start heading back to the car. I sent a text back to say if there had been any more news and as I watched a Goldcrest flitting around in a bush I received a text to say that not only were the Cranes still there but they were being watched by the finder right now! Common Cranes are rare in Northants and would be not only a yeartick but a countytick aswell. My slow walk became a gallop as I rushed up the tow path to get to the car. I rushed over to the school to get my step daughter Jess and we headed straight for the site. Luckily Bob Bullock had got there before me and as we reached nearer and nearer we had confirmation they were still there. Then though the text that every birder dreads! The text to say they'd flown! My heart sank but as we'd come this far (we were nearly at the site) we soldiered on and arrived to see a couple of not so happy faces standing by the road. One of these was Chris Coe and after a brief chat I told him I was heading off to the local Nature Reserve to see if they'd come down there. Almost as soon as I'd parked up at the reserve and walked down the track I received a call from Chris to say he's seen them in flight and they looked like they'd headed in my direction. Me and Jess ran around the wood and looked up just in time to see the majestic sight of 2 Common Cranes drifting low overhead. What a privalege! We watched as they slowly flew back in the direction of the field in which they were found so we got back in the car and were treated to great views of them feeding on the ground in the sunshine. Unfortunately they were quite far away so this is the best pic I could manage disiscoping - certainly won't win any awards but it will do as a record I guess.

This was now Good Friday and the start of the Easter weekend so me and my mate John returned to the site again the following morning but despite getting there early (5.45am) we were just that little bit too late as they flew before we got there and despite a very thorough search of what felt like the whole of the north of the county we failed to find them again. We also failed to locate the Green Winged Teal at Stanwick despite looking everywhere but as all the bays had completely frozen over (it had got very cold again) we didn't hold much hope for it. By lunchtime John and I went to McDonalds to make ourselves feel better - getting up early is ok so long as you see the birds you're after but unfortunately birding isn't always like that and today was one of those days. We had been fruitlessly birding for 8 hours already and the cold was starting to seep into our bones. Then I remembered the field the Avocet was found in (the one I dipped earlier in the month) and realised this area had "Teal" written all over it! Surely if the Green Winged had left Stanwick this is where it would come? So we headed over and parked up at the bottom of Lime Street in Irthlingborough and it wasn't long before I found it. Thank heavens for that! John looked a bit happier (by now I think severe depression was setting in) and I'd forgotten how cold I was. We put the news out that the bird had been relocated and was thankfully a little easier to see than before and it wasn't long before people started to file in to have a look. Saturday was spent patching again for little of note and I spent Easter Sunday relaxing - until a text came through that a drake Garganey had been found at Ecton Sewage Farm. John was already out and offered to pick me up enroute and it wasn't long before we got there getting great views of it swimming around in the stream. Here's the video below.

A bit of a "comedy" moment ensued as we arrived at the Garganey site as we accidentally spooked a Mute Swan who had only one way to go to get airborne - and that was straight towards us which only just made it. I don't know who is more surprised to see who in the next pic as I managed to get a shot as it nearly flew into me. It certainly made me duck!!

 After this my holiday was over and I spent the next week at work until the Friday when I had been invited to head down the Kent with another mate if mine called Sam. We headed down on the Friday evening so we could be up nice and early on the Saturday but once again the weather was really having an effect with almost no migration at all. One thing that was there though was a Penduline Tit that had been reported as "showing well" at Stodmarsh. Now in my experience the name Penduline Tit and the phrase "showing well" don't really go together, in fact after dipping twice the phrase "showing at all" would have been a welcome one. The first dip was last year when me and John went to Marston Vale reserve and watched reed constantly for several hours not to see it and I have to admit the whole experience kind of put me off. As there wasn't much about in Kent though and the thought of finally life ticking this bird just proved too good an opportunity to miss so we headed over first thing, and I am so glad we did. When we arrived the only information we had was that the Penduline liked the area around the boardwalk, so first things first we had to find the said boardwalk. Luckily the map in the car park was quite informative and we headed for the area were a boardwalk was obviously present and hoped this was it. We stood on the board walk for a while still not sure if were in the right place before a couple of other birders arrived and confirmed this was where the bird was seen - but sometimes around the corner too. So after we'd spent what seemed like hours (but was in fact about 45 minutes) we headed around the corner and almost straight away Sam picked it up in a bush. At last a Penduline Tit and I can see it! Trying had to contain my excitement we enjoyed great views of it preening itself before it flew into the reeds. The other 2 birders we had met left when this happened but something was telling me to stay. I wanted a better view as although the view in the bush was good it was still slightly obscured and the pictures I had seen on the net were quite often of the bird feeding on the seed heads of the reeds. As me and Sam waited in the cold we talked and looked around before my eye caught something on one of the reeds infront of us. I couldn't believe my eyes and I think the video below speaks for itself.

I keep watching this video over and over as I still can' believe the view we got. To watch it pulling out clumps of seeds with it's foot like it does at the start was incredible. We watched it like this for quite a while before we left it in peace - what a little cracker! We spent the rest of the day birding Kent with a highlight of a self found Purple Sandpiper (which I was jumping through hoops about until I found out they aren't that unusual around here) and the impressive sights of large numbers of Dunlin and Black Tailed Godwits on the mudflats. It was a great day just ambling around and seeing what we could see. The Purple Sandpiper is below.

 The next day we headed back to Northants with the hope of  seeing a previously reported summer plumage Black Necked Grebe but we dipped, the first Sand Martins of the year though made up for it slightly. Unfortunately all this cold weather and early starts had taken it's toll and the cold I had for over a week turned into Bronchitis. I had to nip to the chemists to stock up on more painkillers (it was turning into serious man flu) and while I was on my way out Steve Fisher called to say he'd had a very good morning indeed. He'd managed to find not only another sum plum Black Necked Grebe but also a male Firecrest! I was in two minds whether to go or not as I did feel really ill at this point but I did have to leave the house anyway to get to the chemist and luckily both the birds were right by the road so I headed off. The Firecrest was just by the road entrance to the disused railway line under the A6 bridge near Stanwick Lakes, and when I got there other birders were already thumbing up to say it was still there. Steve Fisher and Big Jake got me onto it pretty much straight away and I was awarded with the sight of this amazing little gem flitting around in the Willow Trees. What a stunning bird and I don't believe you could ever tire of watching them. What they lack in size they certainly make up for in character and colour. I watched it for quite a long time and rattled off some passable shots like this one below.

From here I headed to the Stanwick Lakes car park to try and see the Black Necked Grebe. By now I was really flagging with the Bronchitis but Steve mentioned the bird had headed into the south east corner of the lake which as luck would have it was right next the car park. I headed up through the screen where I knew there was a bay and hey presto! Right under the trees infront of me a glorious looking Black Necked Grebe was almost sparkling in the sunlight. We normally only get these in the winter when they look fairly drab and the only other sum plum Black Necked I'd seen in the county was so distant at Pitsford Reservoir you couldn't appreciate it like you could this one. To add to it I even managed to get it to pose for the photo below.

Anyway things are now looking up. The weather is changing finally for the warmer and I'm finally starting to feel better too. I've seen my first butterflies of the year with 2 Peacocks and a Comma so it looks like spring is finally around the corner!