Wednesday, 27 September 2017

Red-Necked Phalarope

The last 3 weeks ago has really hotted up on the birding front. After what seems like forever, we have finally experienced some easterly winds producing the first couple of waves of Yellow-Browed Warblers to the coast, together with a decent sprinkling of other scarce migrants.

There has been a slight upturn in wader passage too, most notably a pretty decent wave of Little Stints, as well as a small influx of Red-Necked Phalaropes, pretty much exclusively all juvenile birds. Inland, they are a valuable commodity, so when one turned up at Farmoor Reservoir (Oxford) last week, I was really hoping it would hang on to the weekend. By Friday evening it was still in situ, so regardless of any news, I decided to head to Farmoor first thing Saturday.

It was a pretty dull, cloudy morning, however was pretty mild. Soon after my arrival, I checked the Oxon Bird Log website to find it had already been reported...excellent!

I made my way round F2 to the Causeway, grilling a couple of flocks of Tufties on route for the recently reported eclipse drake Scaup. No luck.

As I approached the causeway, it was pretty clear where the Phalarope was, with a huddle of birders / photographers peering over the concrete edge on the northern side of F2. I joined the gaggle and was immediately treated to an exquisite little juvenile Red-Necked Phalarope. It was noticeably smaller and more elegant that it's close relative the Grey Phalarope, a species still very fresh in my mind following that cracking Grimsbury bird.

I spend a good hour watching the RNP, probably no older than a month or two and totally unperturbed with everyone's presence, as is generally the case with Phalaropes. It's plumage was very fresh and while not exhibiting the wow factor of a spring adult, I think they still look super smart with that dark smudge through the eye and almost golden stripes down the back. To see one so close was a real treat, particularly being only half an hour from home.

While there, also eventually picked up the long-staying juvenile Shag, out on a raft with a bunch of Cormorants. There were also several Yellow-Legged Gull loafing about, 2 Common Sandpipers and a striking, partially albino Coot. A really enjoyable visit and certainly one of my birding highlights of the year.

Saturday, 16 September 2017

Wonderous westerlies

The past week has produced some really exciting birding with a couple of spells of strong westerly winds hitting the UK, producing a sprinkling of displaced seabirds throughout the UK. Going out, you didn't really know what you might see!

Monday 11/09 saw the first burst of these winds and I was therefore keen to hit the Grimsbury patch in the vain hope I could muster something juicy. I couldn't make it up there until the evening, following work. I arrived in between a couple of rain showers and the sun was out. I made my way up the Western side of the res & roughly half way up, I was far enough along to scan the far northern end.
I soon picked out a pale bird pecking around along the northern shore. It was hard to get a feeling for size at that range and so I thought it was likely to be a Pied Wag. It then turned breast on and it was gleaming white; too white for a Pied Wag. It then promptly hopped into the water and starting swimming...holy cow this was definitely no Pied Wag...surely it couldn't be what I thought it was?! Without hesitation, I began sprinting the 150m to the far north end of the reservoir, passing a rather bemused dog walker in the process!

It didn't take me long to confirm the ID of the it was a Grey Phalarope!! I was understandably buzzing!

I got on the phone to Gareth straight away and got the news out far and wide, before settling down to enjoy this charismatic little wader, with my chest still burning from my unprovoked sprint! Thankfully, most of the local birding scene made it down to see it, despite a relentless and torrential period of rain, that failed to dampen the spirits too much! This was a first for Grimbo and also therefore a cherished patch tick for both myself and Gareth. What a great record for our humble little patch, pulling in birders from further field over the next few days.

For us, it felt like genuine reward for the daily, largely uneventful hammering of the patch and proved to be a very welcome distraction, providing endless photographic opportunities and the chance to really enjoy this patch mega! On one occasion, I also got to go inside the reservoir perimeter fence and see the bird up really close, together with Mike Pollard. Grey Phals are renowned for their approachable nature and this bird was no different, wandering within 5 feet of us sat on the concrete, not remotely bothered by my presence.

After 4 days, the bird was last being seen on the evening of Thursday 14/09. However that was not the end of the week's excitement!

Late afternoon on Wednesday 13/09, Gary Pullan discovered a beautiful juvenile Sabine's Gull at Daventry Reservoir. Thankfully, following Gary's call, I only had another 20 minutes before I finished work.

The journey from Banbury to Daventry is straightforward, however usually pretty slow-going and of course on this occasion, I was soon stuck behind a typically sluggish driver. I did however hold my patience with Gary updating me that the bird was still there. Unfortunately, on reaching the country park car park, Gary called again to say it had flown off north. Bugger!! 

Still, I decided to continue and walked up to the dam in the hope that it may return. I could see quite a few gulls coming and going from the direction it had gone, so I remained positive. Roughly half-way along the dam, my positivity was fulfilled as I looked up to see the bird fly across and land just off the dam, right below me! Oh my word!!!

In no time a few of the already present Northants birders arrived from further up the path, including Gary. We all stood, pleased as punch to see it return and went on to enjoy some fabulous views as it pottered about along the dam and Lovell's Bay, close to the visitor centre. Eventually, it flew to the centre of the reservoir, signalling that it was time to head off.
This was a lovely county tick, being a tricky species to catch up with inland and it was yet another excellent Gary Pullan find! Following the Phalarope, it made an already good week, into a thoroughly great one! 

Monday, 28 August 2017

The dish delivers

Patching at the 'soap-dish', or Grimsbury Reservoir, Banbury is always pretty hard work, particularly this year with seemingly endless periods of bugger all! However, it's convenient and very occasionally something half decent turns up!

The last week/10 days has seen far happier times, with a handful of decent birds. The pinnacle was an exciting find on the morning of Tuesday 22/08, with a group of 4 Common Scoters appearing out of the early morning mist. These were my 131st species for the patch and a bird I have always hoped to find here. So, understandably, I was pretty chuffed!

Monday (21/08) also proved to be a decent day with me finally connecting with my first Grimbo Redstart of the year, as well as an impressive SEVEN Wheatear. There was a real sense of things 'on the move' with several Yellow Wags heading south and a steady trickle of Swifts through too.

Gulls have in relative short supply so far this July/August compared to the previous couple of years. But on Friday (18/08), it was good to see a smart juvenile Med Gull, pretty much the only gull on the reservoir during it brief half hour stay, before circling of high to the NE.

Hopefully, these are all the start of a bit more happening at the patch over the coming few weeks!

Friday, 25 August 2017

Day in North Norfolk

On Saturday (19/08), Em and I decided to have a day out to North Norfolk, as well to meet up with friends Kieran & Leila and their cute little daughter Nahla.

After a torturous drive, discovering that the Oundle to Peterborough was closed for roadworks, we eventually make it to the North Norfolk coast. We had a wander around Wells for a bit and then drove further E along the coast, pausing at Stiffkey Flood which is looking fab for waders at the moment. Birds here included 41 Black-Tailed Godwit, 5-6 Greenshank and a Green Sand.

A walk around Cley was followed up with a great catch-up over lunch at the Dun Cow, Salthouse with Kieran & Leila. Kieran and I had a bit of a look for the Glossy Ibis close to Salthouse duck pond. Somehow, we failed to connect with the bloody thing but as a small consolation, we had fabulous views of a juvenile Yellow-Legged Gull feeding around the duck pond.

After spending a bit more time with them with headed off back along the coast. Before we left Norfolk, we decided to go for a big evening walk up to the beach at Titchwell.

The light was stunning and the freshmarsh had plenty of waders to enjoy including particularly good numbers of Black-Tailed Godwit, Ruff & Dunlin.

Highlights were 3 Spoonbill (unsurprisingly asleep most of the time we were there!), at least 20 Med Gulls, a decent flock of Barwits, a Yellow Wagtail, and a couple of Sandwich Terns.

On then to the beach, where it was pretty breezy but stunning, as the sun became lower and lower in the sky. We spent a while here, enjoying quite a few Sanderling putting on a great show, coming quite close if you stood still and were patient.

There were several moulting Barwits strutting around, together with a few approachable Turnstones. A couple of Little Terns flew past too and a juvenile Med Gull put in a brief appearance.

It began to get quite chilly and so we slowly made our way back to the car and hit the road home. A wicked day out!

Wednesday, 23 August 2017

Birding the reservoirs

I spent quite a bit of time in the Northampton area across the 12/08 & 13/08 weekend, so I found some time to have a blast at a few sites I haven't been to for a while.

On Saturday (12/08) afternoon, I popped into Harrington Airfield for a walk in the hope of finding a few passerines or perhaps a Clouded Yellow. Unfortunately, I saw neither, with very few birds about. Butterfly-wise there were a few Brown Argus, Common Blues, Peacocks, Small Tortoiseshells & a Small Heath. Best thing I saw there was probably a Stoat scuttling about along the old runway.

I followed this up with a visit to Pitsford Reservoir, north of the causeway. This proved to be pretty decent. From the Scaldwell Bay's Bird Club Hide there was a sizable flock of 29 Black Tailed Godwits, a mixture of adults and juveniles and a nice find. Also present were 2 juvenile Garganey, 2 Great White Egret (1 Scaldwell Bay, 1 Walgrave Bay), 4 Green Sand, 1 Common Sand, 2 Yellow-Legged Gulls & 2 GBBGs.

Sunday (13/08) was a beautiful sunny one. Dan Watson and I spent the day touring quite a number of sites throughout Northants, in the vain hope we may actually find something. It was good fun and we came away with a few decent birds. We started off at Ravensthorpe Reservoir and located 3 Green & 2 Common Sand. Nearby Hollowell Reservoir produced for me, the highlight of the day with an Osprey cruising about for about 10 minutes before drifting off. Also here were a very approachable juvenile Dunlin and 3 juvenile LRPs.

A drive further along the A5199 brought us to Naseby Reservoir, a new site for me. It actually looked pretty decent. There were a few fishermen about, but also lots of muddy, fishermen-free shoreline too. There were 5 Green Sands present, as well as 2-3 Yellow Wagtail and a Garden Warbler in with a tit-flock. Nearby Welford Reservoir was pretty quiet, other than a couple of Common Sands.

We had planned to go to Stanford Res, however with time pressing, we decided instead to head to Pitsford Reservoir, north of the causeway. The Black Tailed Godwits in the Scaldwell Bay had decreased to just 6 birds, while there were also the 2 Great White Egrets, a juvenile Greenshank, 3 Green Sands and a Snipe.

A visit to Summer Leys afterwards was short-lived, with the site drastically overgrown and very little shoreline (and any birds of note) on offer. So to complete our day, we paid an early evening visit to Clifford Hill GPs. Both reported male & female Redstarts showed intermittently along the 'Chat hotspot' of the Hardingstone Dyke. Also along here was a very fresh, surprise juvenile Stonechat (below). The highlight here though, was undoubtedly Dan's reaction to finding the escaped female Bufflehead, losing his mind thinking he'd found a true mega!!

There were lots of gulls about. We had a good look through to see if we could pick out the earlier reported adult Caspian Gull. Best we could find though were 3 Yellow-Legged Gulls and that, was the end of that!

Monday, 31 July 2017

A walk in the woods & Brown Argus Aberration

I had much of Saturday (22/07) to myself so during the morning, with a bit of sun on show, I went for my regular walk in Bucknell Wood for a mooch about for butterflies, not expecting to see anything too extraordinary. However, it turned out to be a really fruitful visit.

First up, I was hoping to find some second brood Wood Whites and I managed to come across at least 3 pretty fresh ones which was cool.

There were still plenty of Silver-Washed Fritillaries about, including 3-4 Valezina forms too.

Around one of the two main path crossroads, I was chuffed to finally break my Bucknell Small Copper hoodoo, clapping my eyes on one holding territory, initially picked up with the binoculars! In fact, I ended up finding a further two in a couple of other areas. This was my 29th butterfly species in Bucknell. It would be cool to make it to 30...fingers crossed we get a late summer burst of Clouded Yellows!

There appears to have been a really good 2nd brood emergence of Small Copper so far and these were some of a number I've seen recently. Encouraging, as in the last two or three years, I've really struggled to find any locally.

Also at the same crossroads was a stunning 'out of the box fresh' Painted Lady which performed nicely, together with several pristine Red Admirals feeding away on the Knapweed flower heads and Bramble flowers.

Finally, I also connected with a couple of Brown Argus, usually very scarce in Bucknell.

A heavy rain shower eventually curtailed my walk but a fab visit, notching a total of 21 species.

The next day (Sunday 23/07) I popped into Summer Leys for a look, before going out for Sunday roast with my parents. Bird-wise, it was relatively uneventful with a distant Green Sandpiper, as well as juvenile LRP & Redshank, but that was about it.

With a bit of sun beginning to show, I thought I'd have a little dabble looking for Brown Argus in the area close to the car park. After a short while I managed to locate a lovely fresh female, however this one no ordinary Brown Argus. It was clearly an aberration with a number of spots missing from it's underwing.

With some help from my good mate and Northants Butterfly Recorder, Dave James, we managed to find a match and it appears to be an ab. glomerata + obsoleta. What a beaut!

Red-Necked Phalarope

The last 3 weeks ago has really hotted up on the birding front. After what seems like forever, we have finally experienced some easterly win...