Monday 28 October 2013

Inland Seabirds, Two Black Redstarts, Hornets, a Great Grey Shrike and a Hoopoe an Autmun Update - 28th October 2013

Unfortunately the run of good luck that I had during the spring has well and truly run out just as autumn approached hence the lack of birding posts recently. Due to a combination of work and bad weather I missed a lot of the good stuff in Norfolk and never did get to see the target life birds I had set myself in the shape of Red Flanked Bluetail and Red Breasted Flycatcher so they will have to wait for another year. I have though had some good days out with great company and still seen a lot of good birds on the way - even if it has been a bit slow! On the 29th of September me Jon and Kirsty Philpot and Sam Candy headed to Norfolk with the hope of seeing or perhaps even finding a Yellow Browed Warbler as lots had come in over the previous few days. Unfortunately it looked almost impossible from the offset as a very strong wind ripped a long the coast. Most of the bushes were almost horizontal and all the birds were quite rightly keeping their heads down. I had the odd tantalising glimpse of small birds in the undergrowth but the conditions were so bad no positive identification could be made. We did have some consolation though in the shape of an exhausted Gannet which got fed up of bouncing up and down on the waves and came and sat on the beach at Holkham Gap so me and Jon sneaked up on it to get some pics using his 500mm lens before it took off and carried on it's way down the coast.

Gannet, Holkham Gap, Norfolk

Gannet, Holkham Gap, Norfolk
Gannet, Holkham Gap, Norfolk
We also had a bash at Warham Greens to see what birds we could see but the wind was still howling and the highlight ended up being a very confiding Southern Hawker Dragonfly which posed nicely on my finger as Jon managed to grab a pic. I also managed to get my best Red Admiral photo I have ever got, sor some reason i have never been able to nail one in the past.

Southern Hawker on my finger, photo by Jon Philpot
Red Admiral, Warham Greens, Norfolk
 The next venture out was on the 7th October when me and Sam Candy decided to walk all the way around Grafham Water. We had a great day and managed to see a total of 60 different species of bird during the walk with some nice other wildlife a long the way including this 4 Spot Orb Weaver and capturing some slow motion footage of a Frog making a leap of faith.

4 Spot Orb Weaver, Grafham Water, Cambs

The following weekend Jon, Kirsty, Sam and me spent the day in Leicestershire after the recent report of Whooper Swans and Ring Necked Ducks at nearby Eyebrook Reservoir. We had no trouble finding the Whooper Swans (all 21 of them!) at the feeder stream end and then our attention was drawn to the Ring Necked Duck. A pair had been present the day before but only the female had been reported while we were there and after a while we managed to find it with a few Pochard near the shore. We then moved onto Rutland Water to try and see the Leach's Petrel that had been found mid morning as this would be a lifer for all of us. Once again the weather proved to be an obstacle as strong wind and driving rain had set in and the minute the binoculars were raised they were covered in water seriously limiting the visibility. To add to it a hunched up and soaked birder wandered up the bank to say it had flown 5 minutes previous and gone to the other side of the reservoir and to see such a small bird at such a distance would be impossible so we decided to cut our loses and look for the Grey Phalarope that was near the Dam. It wasn't long before we connected with it and we moved off the dam and around the corner for a closer look. The Phalarope was busy feeding along the waters edge and putting on quite a show for the admiring crowd.

Grey Phalarope, Rutland Water, photo by Jon Philpot
While we were watching it one of the birders exclaimed that he though he had the Petrel and sure enough after a bit of scanning over the water a small dark bird could be seen bobbing up and down on the reservoir. We had to wait a bit for it to fly but eventually it did showing the wing markings and forked tail. A Rock Pipit was also found on the shoreline with all the Meadow Pipits and then the Great Skua that had been there for a few days took off from the far side of the water and did a few laps before flying straight over our heads allowing Jon to get the shot below.

Great Skua, Rutland Water photo by Jon Philpot
On the 19th of October me Jon and Kirsty headed over to RSPB Sandy to try and see the Great Grey Shrike that had been there for the previous few days. The bird had been very flighty and didn't show all the time and unfortunately for us today turned out to be one of those times. We searched and searched but no Shrike could be found but there was plenty of stuff here to keep us occupied. Lots of fungi could be seen growing everywhere with some massive Fly Agaric specimens and a huge Sabre Wasp was flying around a large log pile.

Fly Agric, RSPB Sandy, Beds

Fly Agaric, RSPB Sandy, Beds

Sabre Wasp, RSPB Sandy, Beds
The real stars of the day were the Hornets though. For years I have tried to get pictures of them but a combination of their speed and aggressiveness have always limited my success. Today though as the early morning mist lifted the odd Hornet could be seen lazily trying to wake up on the leaves of a Bramble bush. I jumped on the opportunity and despite a couple of hairy moments as one or two flew up after I got too close I managed to get some shots I am really happy with.

Hornet, RSPB Sandy, Beds

Hornet, RSPB Sandy, Beds
We went to visit Grafham Water on the way home and got good views of the Long Tailed Duck bobbing along just offshore and also a couple of late migrating Arctic Terns. The following day me Jon and Kirsty went back to Norfolk and started the day by searching for the Parrot Crossbill that had been reported at Wells Wood. Yes we saw the reported bird, yes it was a big chunky Crossbill and yes it was very loud in it's calling but quite how the throngs of twitchers were happy to walk away with the "tick" I have no idea - it will certainly be staying firmly off my list until I get a better view of one. We also had a close call with a Yellow Browed Warbler after we heard it calling well from a line of trees but despite a thorough search we just couldn't find it. We sought consolation with a male Black Redstart which was on top of the buildings at Cley Spey in Glandford. We arrived on site to meet Kieran and Rob who had rang us to say it was still there and saw it flying from rooftop to rooftop in the sun. A cracking little bird and Jon let me use his lens to get the picture below.

Black Redstart, Glandford, Norfolk
We spent the last part of the day sea watching off Salthouse but apart from a Guillemot and a Red Throated Diver there wasn't much else to be seen.

The weekend after though turned out to be a bit of a "Red Letter" weekend for us here in Northants. We all finally caught up with a Great Grey Shrike as one reported earlier in the week hung around long enough for lots of people to see it (in fact at the time of writing this post it is still there). We arrived on site just after dawn and after we walked through all the way to the third bunker without seeing it we went back to the second bunker to wait for it to come out. It wasn't long before eagle eyed Sam managed to spot it hidden just on the side of a bush and we all quickly got on the bird. It spent a bit of time here before it started to act a bit more like a Shrike and flew up to perch on the top of the tree. It moved a couple of times and everyone got great scope views of it as a steady flow of birders came and went. We decided to leave after an hour or so and as we left it flew up into a bush next to where we were standing and I managed to get the pic below (thanks once again for the use of Jons lens).

Great Grey Shrike, Harrington Airfield, Northants.
The following day on the 27th of October something very unexpected happened. Just as the Grand Prix finished I received a text to say a Hoopoe had been found and was showing very well at a site near Woodford Halse. I had a family day planned as for a nice change my wife was off work too (she works most weekends) so I realised my chances of seeing this bird was very slim indeed. I rang up a few people to make sure they knew the news and then tried in vain to forget all about it. I had a nice roast dinner with my parents and then went to visit my Nan and then my wife said something that was music to my ears. "Do you want me to take you to see this bird?", I didn't need asking twice and we were soon on our way across the Northamptonshire countryside on a mad dash to get all the way to the west side of the county before it got dark. I knew I was cutting it very thin and was constantly watching the height of the sun while trying to give direction to Desica hoping it wouldn't have gone to roost by the time we got there. We found the site (Brickhill Farm Fishery near Eydon) to find a few people standing by a five bar gate. As I got out of the car the owner looked at me and put his finger to his lips to let me know to keep very quiet. I shut the door as quietly as I could and made my way towards them. I looked into the tiny car park it had been seen in but couldn't immediately see the Hoopoe. I turned to the guy who had asked me to be quiet and quietly asked if the bird was still there and he whispered back "yes it's down there" pointed to just beyond the gate. I couldn't believe my eyes! It was only about 15 feet away from where we were standing! I went back to the car to get the scope and had to stand a little way back to be able to fit the whole bird in the field of view. Even now I am still pinching myself at just how close it kept coming as it walked around in circles while eating lots of Leather Jackets along the way. It seemed to like throwing the Leather Jackets up into the air before catching them and swallowing them down. I didn't get any decent photo's unfortunately as the light was fading fast but I did manage to get a few shaky phonescoped videos with one of them below.

The bird flew up to roost just ten minutes after I arrived but there was no way I could have bettered the view I had so I wasn't too disappointed. Fortunately the bird stayed for another day and more people got to see it with one of them being Warwickshire birder/photographer Kevin Groocock who managed to capture a staggering set of images of the bird, with multiple images of the crest extended and a Leather Jacket in mid air! He has also very kindly allowed me to post the pics on here.

Hoopoe, Brickhill Fisheries, Eydon, Northants photo by Kevin Groocock

Hoopoe, Brickhill Fisheries, Eydon, Northants photo taken by Kevin Groocock

Hoopoe, Brickhill Fisheries, Eydon, Northants photo by Kevin Groocock

Hoopoe with Leather Jacket in mid toss, Brickhill Fisheries, Eydon, Northants photo by Kevin Groocock
So it has so far been an interesting Autumn with some highs and lows but even when we didn't find the birds we were originally after we always found something else to see. The last few days have definitely been the highlight of the autumn for us so far here in Northants. Lets see what November has to bring!


  1. What a great selection Dave.
    The third shot of the Gannet is a cracker.
    The Hornet looks a real meanie in the first one, and, wow, that Hoopoe! I'd love to see one of these.

  2. Ditto, fantastic set of images, well done to all...wish my partner was as keen to let me see birds, not fair :o(


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