Monday 17 March 2014

Firecrests, Black Grouse, Surf Scoters, Adders and a Glaucous Gull - 17th March 2014

It's been a while since the last post and now I think it's time for a catch up. The recent spell of good weather has made winter (well what we had of it) seem a long time ago and a lot of butterflies are already being seen. To start this post though we shall head back to the 23rd of February when a touch of local birding came up trumps. Jon, Kirsty and me decided to take it easy today and we didn't start birding until mid morning but a tweet saying a pair of Firecrests were still showing well at Thrapston Gravel pits meant we were heading straight there. We parked up in the town lake car park and walked along the river Nene towards the birds location stopping briefly to admire a couple of Kingfishers along the way and in no time we found ourselves on the footbridge across the river to be greeted by a handful of birders all looking pleased. We saw the Firecrests within minutes of arriving and we spent most of the day there trying (and failing) to get pics. The little gems kept flitting among the undergrowth and trying to get a clear shot was proving to be a nightmare and in the end me and Jon decided to wait in a sheltered area where the birds were frequenting. Kirsty walked off along the back of the hedge while we tried in vain snapping away but all the shots were either out of focus, behind branches or of their backs! While we waited patiently for the Firecrests to reappear we noticed Kirsty walk back to the gate near where we were standing and her smile said it all - below is her stunning picture!!

Firecrest, Thrapston Gravel Pits - pic taken by Kirsty Philpot
After leaving the site we headed for Lowick to see the long staying Great Grey Shrike that had been very elusive for a lot of the local birders. I have no idea what we have done to deserve such luck but as we walked along the footpath where it had been seen Jon pointed up into the sky and the Great Grey Shrike flew over our heads and landed in a tree right infront of us! Here's a ropey record shot of it.

Great Grey Shrike, nr Lowick, Northants
The week after (1st of March) we had a special trip planned into North Wales as some of the birds here were proving to be too good an opportunity to miss. After a very early start me, Jon and Kirsty and Sam were on our way to LLangollen with the hope of getting there at sunrise. Despite the highways agency trying it's best to stop us (night time road closures on the M6) we somehow managed to get to Worlds End at dawn and it was looking like it was going to be a beautiful day with hardly a cloud in the sky and a layer of sharp frost over the ground. The target here was lekking Black Grouse and the area certainly didn't disappoint! Just about wherever you were along the road you could pull over, wind the window down and hear the strange noise the male Black Grouse make when performing their dance. We didn't have to search too hard before finding a few in a clearing by the road and a lek of 11 birds could be seen higher up the hill. Further down the road though a lek was taking place right next to us. We had amazing views as we watched the show from inside the car and the bright sunshine also made getting pics possible too!

Black Grouse, World's End, Wales

Black Grouse, World's End, Wales

Black Grouse, World's End, Wales

We finally tore ourselves away from the amazing spectacle and headed to Pensarn on the North Wales coast with the hope of seeing some of the drake Surf Scoters that had been present. We found the town and after various wrong turns we found the promenade and the cafe and set up the scopes. Within a few minutes I had two very dapper looking Surf Scoters in amongst thousands (and I do mean thousands, I have never seen so many Common Scoter in my life!) of Common Scoters. Their white flashes on the head shone like a beacon in the glorious bright sunshine and the light wind also helped considerably too. Every now and then they'd turn their heads and the huge orange bill would gleam in the sun! These absolutely made my day being a lifer and I got this very ropey record shot below. In fact it's so bad I'm not sure why I'm even sharing it it's so bad but I guess it's a record, the birds were too distant for even effective phonescoping so this is a still from a vid. If you look carefully you can just see the white flashes on the birds heads.

Dodgy record shot of Surf Scoter, Pensarn, North Wales
We then headed around the coast after a tip off from a Facebook friend (thanks Matt Potter!) to look for Purple Sandpipers and after scanning a few of the Turnstone flocks we found a small flock of 7 Purple Sandpipers right by the side of the path. Once again they looked great in the light.

Purple Sandpiper, Rhos-on-Sea, North Wales
I also couldn't resist getting a phonescoped video of one too, as always play on the best quality possoble.

From here we headed inland to LLanbebedt-y-cennin for Hawfinch. We arrived in the village and headed to the church but despite all the Yew trees having calling Hawfinch in we didn't really get a view good enough for a shot. I had a tantalising glimpse of a couple perched in the top of some trees but it was short lived as they flew shortly after. We headed to the local pub to relate what a great day it had been and warm ourselves with some pub food.
During the weeks after The weather really improved and the first large numbers of Butterflies were seen, as were the first of the summer bird migrants. As I sat in the garden on the 9th of March I had a surprise in the shape of a Yellow Wagtail flying above me calling it's head off! It turns out this bird beat the previous county record by 24 hours as until this the earliest ever recorded in Northants was on the 10th of March 1975. Also a stonking 2nd winter Glaucous Gull turned up briefly at Clifford Hill gravel pits while Sam and me was there. It had a preen and then shot off almost as quickly as it arrived. A record shot is below.

Glaucous Gull, Clifford Hill Gravel Pits, Northants
 As the weather was continuing to be good we then decided to go for a very special reptile - the Adder! On the 16th of March me, Jon and Kirsty headed up Ketton Quarry in Leicestershire arriving nice and early and got straight to work in trying to find the snakes. Unfortunately a cloud went over the sun and the temperature dropped significantly so we headed off the Stamford to have breakfast and then headed back to find fellow Northants birders Frank Porch and Sharon Johnson already there and they had already found an Adder. Great stuff! We spent a while snapping away at them before exploring the area as the amount of Brimstone's flying around was staggering! Lots of Small Tortoiseshells, Peacocks and Commas were present too.

Brimstone, Ketton Quarry, Leicestershire

Comma, Ketton Quarry, Leicestershire
On a stump a couple of Common Lizards were sunning themselves too and showing very well indeed! Even allowing me to start doing macro shots while they basked.

Common Lizard, Ketton Quarry, Leicestershire

Common Lizard, Ketton Quarry, Leicestershire
We then returned to the Adders and tried to get some more pics. They're very difficult to get clear shots of as they spend most of their time in the undergrowth but here's the days best efforts. In total we saw at least 3 males and 1 female and we are looking forward to coming back soon to see them again.

Adder, Ketton Quarry, Leicestershire

Adder, Ketton Quarry, Leicestershire
We left here and spent the rest of the birding day at Rutland Water taking in the views of the Garganey in lagoon 3 and Jon very kindly let me use his lens at the feeding station. I love taking pics of some of the common birds at this time of year when they're all looking at their absolute best.

Chaffinch, Rutland Water

Goldfinch, Rutland Water
Today (17th of March) I have been wandering the local reserves. I didn't see much out of the ordinary but as always it was nice to be out. I did spend some time pondering what this year will be like? The weather will play a big part as butterflies are high on the itinerary so lets hope the next few months are kind. I'll leave this post with a rather nice looking Small Tortoiseshell seen this afternoon at Grange Park.

Small Tortoiseshell, Grange Park, Northampton

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