Monday, 14 January 2019

New Years by the Exe

I spent a couple of nights over new Years with the Mrs in Topsham, Devon, on the Exe Estuary.

Staying literally right on the estuary, a bit of birding was inevitable, making it a solid start to the 2019 year list!

I didn't see anything outrageous, however there were good numbers, of a variety of waders and wildfowl including a few Red-Breasted Mergansers, 100+ Avocet, Dark-Bellied Brent Geese, Grey Plover, Knot, Greenshank and quite a few Pintail.

Bowling Green Marsh was holding some an impressive amount of Black-Tailed Godwit. They were regularly spooked, making for quite a spectacle as they wheeled around.

It's often possible to get really good views of wildfowl from along the lane at Bowling Green Marsh, peering through the several gaps in the hedge. On this occasion, it allowed for particularly close views of Teal & Wigeon feeding away contently relatively unbothered.

Thursday, 10 January 2019

The five Grebe day

This Christmas was a busy one, catching up with friends and family. I did though have Friday 28/12 free to myself, so I thought I'd go somewhere a bit different, but not too far. I settled on giving Rutland Water a go, to finish the year off with some good winter birding.

I'd intended to leave earlier than I did, but anyhow by 10am, I popped into Eyebrook Reservoir on the way, to look for the group had Smew that had been about.

I stayed probably longer than I needed to, but there were quite a lot of birds to go through! Unfortunately, I couldn't find the Smew, but did find the recently reported Bewick's Swan. There was also a nice mix of some 40+ Dunlin & c200 Golden Plover towards the inflow end.

On then to Rutland, starting at the dam. Here I spent around 45 minutes enjoying the confiding Snow Bunting that at one point wandered towards me, pecking around my left foot!

Before I moved on, I also sussed out a couple of the over-wintering 1st-winter Shags, which showed well just off the dam.

The North Arm next, produced good scope views of the 2 Slavonian & 2 Black-necked Grebes, together with at least 2 Great White Egret, a Green Sandpiper, a couple of Redshank, 3 Goosander and lots of commoner wildfowl.

A move onto nearby Old Hall, on the Hambleton Peninsular, produced the Red-Necked Grebe a little way offshore, loosely tagging onto a load of Tufted Duck. Having seen Little & Great Crested earlier, that completed the FIVE grebe species for the day. Pretty impressive indeed, especially for an inland site! 5 Bewick's Swans were also here, exceptionally distant but could just about make them out!

Having got to Rutland later than planned earlier on, meant that I was now running out of time! But I still managed to grab the last hour and a bit of light on the Egleton Reserve. After a bit of searching, I eventually found a Smew and it was worth the wait...a lovely drake at the back of Lagoon 3. A Curlew and another Great White Egret were also closeby.

Sunday, 23 December 2018

Ring-Necked Duck

With Pitsford Reservoir holding a great range of interesting avian winter visitors, I decided to pay the place a visit for a few hours on Saturday 08/12.

The feeding station / Scaldwell Bay area was the place to be. I began scanning from here, looking for the drake Ring-Necked Duck that had been around about a week, playing hide and seek amongst the big numbers of wildfowl present.

It took a good 25 minutes, but thankfully I found him, in with a distant feeding flock of Tufties and diving regularly between the Walgrave & Scaldwell Bays. After quite a while, it slowly made it's way into the mouth of the Scaldwell Bay, where it stayed near to the Maytrees Hide, for the rest of the time I was there. My 2nd Northants Ring-Necked, after the Billing GP female some 3-4 years ago.

There was plenty more of interest and the Scaldwell Bay held lots of wildfowl, including a single Bewick's Swan and 10-11 Whooper Swans - in fact a very rare chance to see all 3 species of swan together in the county!

The now usual Great White Egrets were in situ, with at least two about. A Ruff, a couple of Green Sands, c3 Red Crested Pochard and several Pintail completed an impressive supporting cast.

That wasn't all...a trip over to the dam, confirmed the continued presence of a single juvenile Great Northern Diver lingering in the Yacht Club Bay, too distant for any picture.

Tuesday, 11 December 2018

Down south

For much of November, any birding has been concentrated to the southern half of Northants and also the usual Grimsbury Res patch in Banbury.

On Sunday 25/11, I spent a large part of the day going around some sites between Brackley & Banbury, before heading on towards Boddington Res, Daventry Res & Borough Hill.

I started the day at Thenford Church, near Brackley in a hopeful attempt to find Hawfinches. Not surprisingly, I drew a blank. Last winter was certainly exceptional for Hawfinch, however regardless, Thenford still looks very favourable for them. I'll certainly be keeping an eye out for them there for the remainder of the winter.

For the first time in ages, the Middleton Cheney / Chacombe area, had drawn in some decent numbers of gulls, feeding on cattle feed and manure. One such area just SW of Middleton Cheney held at least 3 Yellow-Legged Gulls, all adults and a lovely distinctive adult Caspian Gull. The adjacent hedge also sprung another surprise, with c20 Tree Sparrow also coming down to the field to feed. 

The water levels continued to be very low at Boddington Res, but was also very quiet on the bird front. Daventry Res painted a similar picture. There were though plenty of birds about, however the only thing of note was a vocal Green Sandpiper.

On then to the adjacent Borough Hill, in search of the recently reported Short Eared Owl. It was about 14:30pm and was very gloomy, so there was a reasonable chance it would appear. I walked through the centre of the hill and spent a good 40 minutes scanning and searching, right up to the far north end of the hill. I wanted to get back to Banbury, to Grimbo for the gull roost, so I reluctantly began walking back to the car, taking a slightly different route.

Thirty seconds later, and BANG the Short Eared Owl flew up out of the long grass, no more than 4 foot in front of me!! After a bit of fly about, it settled in the dead branches of a nearby bit of scrub and then went on to quarter the hill for a good 20 minutes. Big success, although felt a little bad for accidentally waking him up!

Monday, 10 December 2018

Rough Leg reward

Saturday (17/11) was spent going a grand tour of mid & north Northants sites, something I hadn't done for quite some time.

First up, at Clifford Hill GP early on, it was cold and cloudy and while there was nothing outrageous, a female Red Crested Pochard & 4 Pintail were something of note at least. Nearby Hardingstone GP drew a blank.

I then moved on further north to Thrapston, to have a scan of town lake. After a while, sunshine appeared and I managed to pick out the lone remaining 1st-winter Velvet Scoter, as well as a couple of female Pintail and plenty of Pochard, Goldeneye & Tufted Duck.

Further north still and to the Polebrook Airfield area looking for raptors, in particular Rough-Legged Buzzard, however just the standard Red Kites and Buzzards, plus a pair of Stonechat about too.

Having a look on Googlemaps, I was only 15-20 minutes away from Holme Fen, just into Cambridgeshire, which had been holding two Rough Legged Buzzards for the previous week or so. Having been unsuccessful in finding my own and having not seen one for a few years, I decided to give Holme Fen a go.

I made my way to the general area of where one was reported earlier and after a bit of scanning and searching, came across several birders who confirmed one had been seen not too long ago.

After some 20 minutes a buteo species appeared quite distantly, soon turning to reveal that distinctive black and white tail...Rough-Legged Buzzard! Over time it came a bit closer, hunting over the farmland and ditches, hovering regularly.

I enjoyed decent scope views for a while, before deciding to head back in the general direction of Northampton. Turning the car round, I noticed the Buzzard was getting closer and it's flight path was heading towards the road further up. So I swiftly drove further along the road and using the car as a hide, was able to enjoy some brilliant views as the Rough Leg casually hunted close to the roadside, again spending a lot of time hovering. Flippin' awesome!

I then really did leave and decided on my way back home, to pop into Pitsford Res, for a look at the Scaldwell Bay area during the last hour or so of daylight. Here, it was cool to see the 11 Whooper Swans that had hung around in recent days. They showed well, albeit spending most of the time with their heads under the water feeding! Also about were at least 2 Great White Egret, 11 Red-Crested Pochard, 10 Pintail, and large numbers of commoner wildfowl.

Sunday, 11 November 2018

Treat day

I had the day off on Friday 02/11, given to me by work as it was my birthday the following day. The Mrs and everyone else I knew was at work, so there was no choice but to go out birding for the day. Poor me!

I had a plan in mind to set off early and get up to Thrapston, to see the group of 6 1st-winter Velvet Scoters that had taken up residence on Town Lake since the previous Sunday. It looked likely I'd miss out on this valuable county tick, but miraculously, they had hung on for me.

Friday was a beautiful bright, crisp day and ideal to be out and about. I made my way to the southern side of town lake, hoping the scoters would still be in situ. I eventually found a gap in the lake side trees to view a reasonable amount of the lake.

Relief soon enveloped me, as a single Velvet Scoter appeared in my bins, loosely associating with a group of Tufties. I walked further along and after a bit of effort, found another opening in the trees to enjoying closer, better views of the bird.

After a while, a second Velvet joined it and then the other 4 appeared a little later too, in the middle of the lake. I don't know where they were all hiding but now all 6 were in view! I spent some time getting lovely scope views and also picked out the recently reported 1st-winter Scaup too. Bonus!

It was now 10 o'clock and I was mulling what to do next. Either I mooched around a few county sites to try and find something OR, being well on the way to Norfolk, would it be a bit mad to go there for the afternoon?

Well, I'd realised that I had spent so much of 2018 patch birding and keeping it local, that I'd yet to see a lifer at all this year. So with the lure of of the probable Stejneger's Stonechat & King Eider in North Norfolk, I was soon heading around the Peterborough ring road and on towards Kings Lynn! Calling my Norfolk mate Kieran, he was luckily free and so we agreed to meet at Salthouse beach road, about 12:45pm. 

The possible Stejneger's Stonechat was a short walk away, along the Meadow Lane track. To be honest, we thought it would be relatively straightforward, particularly as it had been reported a few times already during the morning. But, for a good half hour it went AWOL! Thankfully though, someone else picked it out not too far from where we were. It certainly is a distinctive bird, with a noticeably white throat, pale underparts and a peachy rump which was not easy to see but could occasionally be seen when the bird was at rest. With DNA obtained from it's poo, we all await the results with interest!

Just after 2 o'clock, we hopped in our cars again and headed along to Sheringham. Just right of the seawatching shelter were several others already looking. After a brief scan with the bins, the 2nd-winter King Eider was duly located and there was my second UK lifer of the day! We soaked up the bird for a good 20-30 minutes, watching it diving for crabs. The light was immense and while it was a scope job to see it, the views were not to be sniffed at! We had a quick look for Purple Sands on the rocks down by the public toilets, but just the usual Turnstones were in situ.

With it now 3pm, I had about an hour and a half until sunset. Enough time then to finish the day at Stiffkey to look for raptors, before getting home for dinner! I therefore parted ways with Kieran and wound my way along the coast road to Stiffkey.

I walked a short way west from the campsite car park and set the scope up. No more than a minute later, a female Merlin flew past west, really close by before setting off after some Mipits. Better was then to come with a fairly distant but fantastic male Hen Harrier, slowly making it's way west, pausing several times to half-heartedly chase something before carrying on it's path. Well that was all rather easy and seemed like the ideal way to end the day.

New Years by the Exe

I spent a couple of nights over new Years with the Mrs in Topsham, Devon, on the Exe Estuary. Staying literally right on the estuary, a bit...