25 April 2010

Spotted Crake.

A dash down to WWT Slimbridge this evening to see a Spotted Crake lurking right infront of the Robbie Garnett hide. A jewel-encrusted hand-painted ornament of a bird. Wonderfully marked, and cocking its tail repeatedly for character. Unfortunately, I neglected to bring a camera with me (left it behind in the rush), but did see it twice for a total of about four minutes (for twenty spent in the hide).

As great as the Crake was, for sheer satisfaction my bird of the weekend remains the Lesser Whitethroat. Now I've broken my Lesser Whitethroat duck, I'm sure I'll see many more of them... but right now it's ace.

Common Sandpiper.

A quick return to Witcombe Reservoirs this morning produced three Common Sandpipers with no fuss, two Pied Wagtails, a White Wagtail, a Grey Wagtail... but no Yellow Wagtails! Also lots of ducks and two very showy Whitethroats just beyond the abandoned cottage. Pictures of the third Sandpiper and first Whitethroat:

24 April 2010

Lesser Whitethroat!

A personal triumph. Bog-standard for others, I'm sure - BUT I DON'T CARE!!!!

Anyway, rewind. I was at the 100 Acre's first viewing platform for 6.45am. A chilly morning to begin with (needed gloves), but little to no wind and lots of birds. Couldn't ask for more. Saw a Buzzard munching on some prey on the way from Splatt Bridge. A mutilated photo follows:

There were two major highlights of my couple of hours on the platform (with another birder for welcome company):
- My first ever Little Gull. I suppose it was the same first-winter bird seen cruising above the reeds to the back-right of the platform over the last few days. And it was first-winter, as it had no hood. I sent my sighting to Bird Guides who changed it to first-summer. Still, I spotted it and correctly identified it - which is important for me. I didn't expect to see it, as it hadn't been reported since Monday.
- My first ever Winchat (yeah, how silly). But still, it sat obligingly on the near hedgerow infront of the platform and gave good views. Unfortunately a small branch obscured a portion of its head and the viewing platform wasn't wide enough to work around it! Still, a record shot:

Also seen was a noisy Sedge Warbler in the reeds immediately behind the platform (good to very good views of that); a lovely bird to see again; I hadn't seen one since Scilly in May of last year! Other highlights were loads of Blackcaps, two Sand Martins, endless Willow Warblers and Chiffchaffs, Swallows, a Linnet, lots of Redshank, a Snipe in the open, a Whitethroat, a Ruff, a Little Egret and a number of Reed Buntings. Here's a poor photo of one of the Reed Buntings:

I walked further down Green Lane (as far as the sharp left turn). Here I experienced joy and frustration:
- A Grasshopper Warbler was reeling in one of the hedgerows. It was, I was sure, right infront of me - not more than three yards. Unfortunately I could not locate it. After ten minutes of silence I decided that it had probably moved on. What a tick that would've been...
- And then THE moment. I had learnt the Lesser Whitethroat's song, and had been listening for it all day (and previous days!). I'd become fixated on seeing this bird. Finally, just along from the corner in Green Lane, I heard it. As I'd been lead to expect, the bird was skulking deep in the hedgerow. It wasn't going to perch atop the foliage and sing for my convenience. Anyway, I could see it moving about alright but NEEDED a clear view to add it to my year (and indeed life) list. After five minutes of careful and quiet tracking, it moved for maybe 30 seconds into an area with fewer branches. I had my clear view; a dull grey cap and mask, dull brown back and wings. Unmistakable. YES! Made my weekend, that did; and ID of a new bird triggered by hearing its song.

On the way back to Splatt Bridge I was treated to a fantastic view of a Cuckoo sat at the top of a tall canal-side tree. Got my scope on it, and watched as it called across all it surveyed. Fantastic bird.

Finally, a short visit to Witcombe Reservoirs produced no Common Sandpipers. I though this was odd. Plenty had been reported there over the last few days. I looked around all the 'shoreline' of the three reservoirs and off towards the stream coming down from the hill. Can't think where else I should look. Still, a pair of Green Woodpeckers flew through and a Little Grebe was on the water. Pied Wagtails were present, but no White.

By now it was 1pm, and I had to go. Right at that point a Wagtail flew past me. I got my bins on it but wasn't sure if it was a Grey or a Yellow. The view didn't permit a satisfactory ID - at least for my low standard. Shame really - if it was a Yellow (and I suspect it was - its tail was rather modest) it would've been a year tick. I'll go back one evening to suss it out.

140 birds now. Only seven shy of last year - I'm aiming high, now!

23 April 2010

Tree Pipit & Cuckoo.

An anticlockwise walk from Wardens Wood to West Wood to Wontley Farm and back to Wardens Wood was notable for:

- My first ever Tree Pipit at Wardens Wood. Only briefly, but good enough to identify (plumage and song). Very pleased with that.
- At least four Cuckoos calling after emerging out of West Wood but only one seen. An even briefer view of this than the Tree Pipit; I caught it spinning around trying to catch its balance after landing on a branch too slender to support it. By the time I'd readied my scope, it had gone. At least 50 Linnets in a ploughed field here, too. Noisy!
- South of Wontley Farm many Meadow Pipits, a smart male Stonechat and a male Yellowhammer.

I also may have glimpsed a Cetti's Warbler in low foliage at Wardens Wood, but cannot be sure as the view only lasted a split second and the bird's rear end was not visible.

P.S. If I don't see a Wheatear or Whitethroat of any description tomorrow I'm gonna scream.

20 April 2010

To do list.

Despite a healthy year list of 133, this is a ridiculous litany of list absentees:

Barn Owl
Common Sandpiper
Common Scoter
Glossy Ibis (must've gone to Ham Wall the only day they weren't there)
Grasshopper Warbler
Grey Partridge
Hen Harrier
House Martin
Jack Snipe
Lesser Spotted Woodpecker
Lesser Whitethroat (although this would be a lifer)
Little Gull
Little Owl
Redpoll (never seen one. EVER)
Reed Warbler
Ringed Plover
Ring Ouzel (less said the better...)
Sedge Warbler
Spotted Redshank (blown that until the winter)
Tern (any)
Wheatear (I think they're avoiding me)
Woodlark (blew it in Suffolk)
Yellow Wagtail

LRP & Osprey.

A trip to the 100 Acre on Monday evening produced a Little Ringed Plover, and this morning (Tuesday, 20th April) I was up at the crack of dawn in the hopes that the Osprey seen at Witcombe Reservoirs the on Monday evening would still be there before heading out. It wasn't me that located it, but it was still there and I had brief views of it sat at the top of a tree near the water and great views as it slowly flew south west (all the while mobbed by gulls).

Didn't get a chance to take a photo.

18 April 2010

Whimbrel at Saul Warth.

Went out and about this weekend - Cleeve Hill and the Hawling area (both Sat), Saul / Slimbridge WWT (both Sun), but didn't see anything hugely exciting. Should've tried the 100 Acre viewing platforms, by all accounts! So... here's a couple of Whimbrel (amongst four in total) at Saul Warth this morning.

13 April 2010


My failure to get on the drake Garganey at Saul Warth on Sunday irked that evening, all day Monday and indeed this morning. I was glad then, at midday, when a report came up on birdguides confirming the bird was still present on the right-hand flash this morning.

Right after work. Off I went.

Beautiful evening.

A quick check of the left-hand flash (less of a walk) revealed nothing Garganeyesque. A check of the right-hand flash, and the assistance of another birder after the same bird, revealed the Garganey showing well in the middle distance. Well lit by the dropping Sun, too. Could've easily been a silhouette.

A lovely, gorgeous, handsome, paintbox duck... and a lifer.

11 April 2010

All that for a Redstart.

A lovely Redstart, mind you (although my poor pic doesn't do it justice):

A morning / early afternoon on Cleeve Hill in pursuit of a Redstart and Ring Ouzels was only half-satisfactory. Got the Redstart (year tick 129) within two minutes of arriving at the Wash Pool. Spent the rest of the morning looking for Ring Ouzels - across (what felt like!) the whole of the Hill. Out to the Radio Masts (will park there in future), and everywhere else in between. Lots of Skylarks, Yellowhammers, Willow Warblers, Chiffchaffs, Linnets, Meadow Pipits, Kestrels, etc... and zillions of Blackbirds.

Frustration. I was so diligent. Of course, I will try again.

(still no damn Wheatear!)

I toyed with the idea of trying Slimbridge for the Spotted Redshank seen yesterday. But as I wandered along the canal bank to Saul to try for the drake Garganey I bumped into another birder who had already looked around the reserve to no effect. So I decided that the Garganey would be the final bird of the day.

No Garganey. 45 minutes scanning the flashes with a Buzzard, Teal, Shovelers, Mallards, Mute Swans, Gadwall, Redshank, Chiffchaffs, Long-tailed Tits, Willow Warblers and so forth.

Got fed up. Went home.

09 April 2010

Red-legged Partridges.

Beautiful day today. In view of my trip to the Gadget Show Live in Birmingham tomorrow (thus no birding possible), I took another early evening trip to Hawling in the hope of catching up with another lingering Short-eared Owl. Alas, not to be. Plenty of Skylark though - like a choir at times - a couple of Buzzards, a few small flocks of Yellowhammer, and in the form of a year tick, many Red-legged Partridges.

Met a chap who does the BTO surveys for the area (Steve Brown, I think, but I'm embarrassed to say I'm not sure I have his surname right!). Anyway, he was kind enough to let me know a good place to see Barn Owls in the area. So, I went to have a look and stuck around until sunset. No Barn Owls though - but I will try again soon.

As compensation, I came across a small number of Roe Deer. Picture of a buck:

04 April 2010

Short-eared Owl.

An evening visit to Hawling (the crossroads beyond the derelict barn - SO055225) produced many Skylark and one Short-eared Owl (year tick). I saw it hunting briefly, and then it spent twenty minutes sat on a wall. This was between 7.15pm and 7.35pm.


I took a trip to Slimbridge this morning to finally tick the Pink-footed Goose. Fortunately, it was still there. Unfortunately, it was sleeping for quite sometime before it rose to feed. Here it is amongst some Shelduck, Coot and Barnacle Geese:

Having done that, I scooted off the the 100 Acre viewing platform to see what was about. Truthfully, I had hoped to see a Water Pipit - but that was a no go. There was actually a lot of good stuff there including Skylarks, Swallows, Sand Martins (year tick), usual ducks, Redshank, Coot, Moorhen, Black-tailed Godwits and a single Greenshank (year tick). I also got a fantastic close view of a Willow Warbler (year tick) when one landed on the bushes right next to the viewing platform. It was ten to fifteen seconds before it clocked me standing right next to it. I've decided that this stuff about confusing Willow Warblers and Chiffchaffs until they sing is nonsense - they're very different (unlike Gulls!).

The Willow Warbler was my 126th year tick.

There was also a Bittern in the reeds behind the viewing platform. Once it flew and was mobbed by gulls, and once it crossed a narrow grassy area on foot. Both times it was seen by other birders - but neither time by myself!

Chatting to a couple of other birders on the platform, I gathered that the Little Gull was no longer on the sailing lake - and so didn't bother going to look for it.

Back home to watch Everton vs. West Ham, I decided.

Lesser Kestrel gone AWOL.

2nd April 2010.

After much inner turmoil, and an apparent no-show on the Thursday (April 1st), I decided to make the four and a half hour pilgrimage to the Minsmere area and try for the Lesser Kestrel. This was my only chance to see it, as I couldn't get out of work in the week, and had other commitments from Saturday onwards.

I left Gloucester at 3.15am, and arrived onsite at Dunwich Heath shortly after 8.00am. Adrenaline saw me through the drive, although I did learn that long-distance driving in the dark is more challenging than I'd expected.

I knew the weather would close in for a couple of hours late afternoon, so the clock was ticking. Along the way to the quarry area I spotted Green Woodpecker, Yellowhammer, Skylarks, Greenfinch and a Linnet. I was encouraged, as I always take Green Woodpeckers as good omens! I also crossed paths with a very chilled out Muntjac:

I stayed on the Heath - scanning carefully - for a couple of hours as many other birders gradually filled the area. The wind was fairly relentless (as it was all day).

A relatively barren patch of land near the large NR car park was producing Woodlark most of the day, but sadly everytime I checked it out none were present. Shame, as that would've been one of the birds I'm embarrassed about not having seen. Still, there were a couple of pairs of Stonechat about - which were a year tick.

I did see my first ever Dartford Warblers, though. They were great - I can't decide if they're beautiful or ugly. They're colourful, but the colours are rather dull, I think. Still, GREAT BIRDS. I nearly had one long enough for a photograph, but not quite.

At 10.30am-ish I decided to make the trip to Kessingland for the Pallid Swift. This one was easy. Dead easy. It was directly above everyone's heads - sometimes coming quite low - and my bins were all I needed to get great views. On the way back down I stopped off at what I think was an estuary on the River Blyth. It was very windy, so holding the scope still was a challenge, but amongst other birds (Blackwits, Redshank, Curlew, Dunlin) were my first Barwits of the year. I tried for Little Stint, but in the conditions - and given that the birds were some distance away - I couldn't be sure. Never seen so many Avocets, though.

(You know, I almost hate identifying small waders as much as I hate identifying large Gulls.)

Next another quick stop on the Heath. More birders - and this time some Kestrels and Marsh Harriers, but no Lesser Kestrel.

I decided to go to Minsmere, as coming all this way and not taking it in would be a crime. It's gorgeous. I started with the Bittern and Island Mere hides. Alas, no sign of any Bearded or Penduline Tits. Far too windy for them to show, I reckoned. I did spot a Red Kite, though. Some Woodpeckers and Treecreepers in the trees on the paths, too.

Next, I decided I would go anti-clockwise around the other hides - which meant first hitting the West Hide. Gull central! This held what was probably my moment of the day. A pair of adult summer Mediterranean Gulls. This may not sound like much, but these were my first - and I'd been trying for Mediterranean Gulls all year with absolutely no joy. Here they are:

And then the call came.

The Lesser Kestrel had - according to the pagers and birdguides - been refound on the Heath. Minsmere and it's joys (and many lifers for me, I expect) would have to wait for another trip. I pegged it back to the Heath and joined the throngs headed for the logpiles. I'm relatively sure it was the right spot, as on Saturday (amidst unnecessary and unhelpful recriminations about directions) the chap who spotted the bird put a map up of where he saw it on birdforum. The bird didn't show, and as by now it was 4.00pm... rain arrived on schedule.

Most people went back home or to Minsmere (I imagine), but I simply returned to my car and had a kip for an hour. It was no longer than that before the rain gave way (some people were even going out looking in the rain)! Anyway, as soon as possible I went back out, and as the skies cleared between 5.15pm and 7.30pm I stayed on the Heath. Bloody cold... and not a single sodding Kestrel. Not one. The best it got was a distant Marsh Harrier.

I was the second last person to leave the quarry side of the road, and in disappointment retreated back to my hotel to sleep in preparation for my long drive home in the morning.

As a postscript - I noted a large number of 'SAY NO TO SEA EAGLES IN SUFFOLK' signs in fields.