31 August 2010

Two More Down, Fifteen More To Go.

Since I last posted this 'Should've Seen This Year' list I've seen many Yellow Wagtail and a single Merlin. I still think I could get half of the remaining birds:

Barn Owl
Common Scoter
Glossy Ibis
Grasshopper Warbler
Grey Partridge
Hen Harrier
Jack Snipe
Lesser Spotted Woodpecker
Pied Flycatcher
Ring Ouzel

Also, my year list is now at 174, and I think that my 200 target is very achievable - especially with a trip to Scilly in September. Now, I know that September isn't peak time, but since I'm still a relative novice it should give me a number of birds I've never seen before. For example I'd go bat crazy for a Red-backed Shrike or a Buff-breasted Sandpiper - both of which are quite likely.

I'm also conscious that my UK llife list it at 197. I wonder what the 200th will be?

30 August 2010


Saw my first ever Merlin (year tick 173; lifer 197) today. A Raptor long overdue.

Rewind and I went along with Martin McGill's walk to the Slimbridge estuary late morning / early afternoon. The man knows his birds!... and what a perfect habitat. I can now see why it's kept out of bounds. You can get so close to the birds, and although most visitors would be mindful a number would not. Plus, you'd have to alter the habitat to let visitors down there - restrict their movements and so on - and that would be no good.

Seen at the high tide were large numbers (100 each?) of Ringed Plover and Dunlin, one Little Ringed Plover juvenile which was seen on the estuary and later from the Zeiss hide, probably ten Sanderling (almost entirely juveniles - but the best views I've ever had of this species), one Snipe (apparently the first they've seen for an age down by the river), a flock of Curlew flew past, one Greenshank flew over and one juvenile Turnstone (year tick 174).

A juvenile Sanderling, and below that a Ringed Plover:

Two Ravens flew overhead, wheeling and cronking. At least six Little Egrets could be seen nearer Middle Point.

Also beside the estuary were one Wheatear and one Whinchat. Both were sat on the fence. Indeed, at one point they were sat only c.30cm from each other. Would've made a good photo. The star non-wader however, was the Merlin. It was a juvenile, and made a couple of passes at the small waders. Martin said it had been trying the same trick yesterday, too. This definitely counted as a bonus bird, as I'd pretty much resigned myself to not seeing a Merlin - ever! In two years of serious birding I'd never even had a sniff of one. Rubbish photos, but necessary since this was a lifer:

Martin then moved us ('us' being 38 people!) on to the Zeiss hide overlooking the Top New Piece. The tide had pushed the waders up nicely. The stars, of course, were 10+ juvenile Curlew Sandpipers (one also seen by the estuary but I didn't catch it). Heat haze made viewing them difficult, but the supporting cast was typically strong. Ruff, Lapwing, Snipe, Redshank, Greenshank, Green Sandpipers and Black-tailed Godwit.

A good few hours. Fewer numbers of people would've been better, but beggars can't be choosers!

Three visits to Slimbridge in three bank holiday weekend days. Tiring. Five year ticks (Little Stint, Sanderling, Curlew Sandpiper, Merlin and Turnstone) and two lifers (Curlew Sandpiper and Merlin) though... so I'm not complaining!

29 August 2010

Curlew Sandpiper.

I did try again.

0715hrs: Saul Warth. Blustery conditions first thing, with an ever-present threat of rain. Other than Curlew and Black-tailed Godwit, the only wader action came from two Common Sandpipers. Two Peregrine Falcon's passed through as I walked to the shore. One stopped in an unsuccessful attempt to pluck a Blue Tit from a small tree. Along the dividing hedge a Great Spotted Woodpecker was drumming furiously.

0845hrs: Middle Point. What a difference a day makes. Yesterday the wader flocks were far too distant to the right, or hidden from view too the left - and the strong sunlight made viewing conditions difficult. Today huge numbers of Dunlin and Ringed Plover (adults and juv.) were occupying the mud infront of and a little to the right of the hide. Tremendous. The Sun was poking out from behind clouds, but the light was predominantly good and even.

In amongst the Dunlin and Plover were two Little Ringed Plovers, two Little Stints, one Bar-tailed Godwit and c20 Curlew Sandpiper (lifer 196; year tick 172)!!! It was amazing... myself (and a number of other birders present) couldn't stop picking them out from the crowd. You could point your scope at any part of the flock and pick out a few of them. At times they came quite close providing truly excellent views in truly awesome numbers. Most were in juvenile plumage, but a couple were sporting a little deep red on the breast.

An awful snap of (left to right) one Dunlin, one Ringed Plover and one Curlew Sandpiper:

Eventually the waders all flew off to the left and out of site.

1030hrs: From the Zeiss Hide were Redshank (possibly a Spotted, too), Greenshank, Ruff, Ringed Plover, Dunlin, Snipe, Green Sandpiper and Black-tailed Godwits. Also present - coming in off the high tide as predicted - were some of the Curlew Sandpipers (I counted six).

Ducks too, but this wasn't a Duck trip.

In conclusion... WOW! So many Curlew Sandpipers! A triumphant lifer, and one of my best birding moments of the year.

28 August 2010

Waders at Slimbridge.

0650hrs: Frampton Sailing Lake and no Arctic Terns. Still, it's always a pleasure to watch Common Terns feeding. Mist was rising off the lake, and all was well. I wandered over to Court Lake, to be greeted by nothing more surprising than a dead Swan on the bank. Mauled by a dog, no doubt... I noted two or three Chiffchaffs along the edge of the Sailing Lake.

0815hrs: Middle Point. Only myself and two others had come down to watch the high tide. Surprising, after all the good stuff reported during the working week. There was great movement back and forth (never stopping right infront of the hide) of Dunlin and Ringed Plover. In excess of 100 birds. In amongst them we spotted a lone Little Stint (year tick 170), and briefly one Greenshank. As the tide rolled in, a small party of Knot cruised past alongside the usual rafts of Curlew and Shelduck. A Grey Heron was mobbed by a Black-headed Gull. Actually, it was attacked!

1015hrs: Once the tide had covered the estuary (birds seemed to congregate towards the left, out of site), it was time to retreat to the Holden Tower. Many more Knot, Curlew, Ringed Plover, Dunlin... a single Green Sandpiper and two Sanderling occupied the last remaining scrap of shore (year tick 171). The Sanderling were identifable by size, colour and behaviour.

The heat haze looking towards the river was getting worse by the minute, and soon the hide became next to useless.

On the shore I could see a WWT vehicle giving four lucky people fantastic views of the waders. I imagine there are hundreds of birds trapped there on the high tide - invisible to everyone else. Why the heck isn't it possible - outside of the occasional wader viewing trips - to pay a little extra and get down there? It seems to me that one of the best sights the reserve has to offer is closed off. I'd pay. Anyway one of the lucky few, I noted, was The Gloster Birder. I would later learn from the Slimbridge website that they had seen two juvenile Curlew Sandpipers.

Just before I left two Wheatears cruised over the Dumbles.

1100hrs: I moved onto the Zeiss hide. This is where it got frustrating. Those in the hide when I arrived reported seeing THREE Curlew Sandpipers infront of the hide only a few minutes before I arrived. I guess they'd gone back out onto the estuary as it began to uncover once again. I stuck around for a little while, as Curlew were coming and going so movement wasn't one way just yet. Needless to say, they didn't come back. A lifer missed.

Big plusses from the hide were seven Greenshank (the most I've ever seen in one place), four Redshank, six Ruff, large numbers of Black-tailed Godwits, three Buzzards (a family party) and a Kestrel.

A Ruff is hassled by a Lapwing:

Redshank, a Black-tailed Godwit and Greenshank:

1130hrs: Finally, the South Lake held yet more Blackwits and three Spotted Redshank.

I'm thinking of doing the same thing again tomorrow but going to Saul Warth first thing and the Zeiss hide immediately after Mid Point. Holden Tower is frustratingly distant from the waders, and completely incompatible with tripods.

27 August 2010

Witcombe Friday.

Today - after two days - the rain finally stopped. After work I shot down to Witcombe Reservoirs to see if anything had been down and stuck around. No waders (water levels removing any useful shoreline), but two Wheatears bustling about the edge of one reservoir made the trip worthwhile.

25 August 2010

Black Tern.

Nobody reported the Common Terns as Arctic Terns. Good.

However it seems that Court Lake was at the same time playing host to a juvenile Black Tern. I didn't visit Court Lake due to the endless Common / Artic Tern conundrum. Arse.

24 August 2010

Not Arctic Terns.

So four Arctic Terns (2 adult, 2 juv.) were present at Frampton's sailing lake on Monday - the 24th. I went this evening to see if I could see them - it would be a year tick and a lifer.

I arrived at the lake at about 1800hrs, and immediately picked up on four Terns feeding over the lake. Two juveniles and two adults. Then it got hard. As much as I wanted to make these birds into Arctic Terns, I just could not. I'm no Tern expert, indeed I've never seen an Arctic Tern (thus I've no real world frame of reference)... but I really thought about this and I reckon they were all Common Terns.

Neither of the adults displayed the advertised grey wash on the breast, and so their cheeks did not seem contrastingly white. The primaries had more black on them than the distinct narrow bar one would expect on an Arctic Tern. Their bills were most definitely not blood red, and both had a clear black tip. I tried to convince myself that they had shorter necks, but not so. It wasn't inconceivable that their centre of gravity as they flew was towards the chest, but I don't see enough Common Terns to be sure of their jizz! I don't know how short the legs of an Arctic Tern actually are, but I reckoned these were too long.

So to the juveniles. I struggled with the head markings, but their bills both had a significant area of orange on the lower mandible (more than just the base). There was very little ginger-brown across the birds, though - which complicated matters. Both juveniles had pale inner secondaries and darker outer secondaries creating a pale patch on the wing. I would expect a Common Tern juvenile to sport this dark secondary bar - an Arctic Tern should recede to white along the edge. I saw them both perched, and noted the dark carpal bar was particularly obvious.

All this is cribbed from books and text, sure, but it was all a match for Common Tern.

Finally, I do have one type of experience on my side... I know that if I am trying to convince myself I'm seeing the less-common bird (I couldn't describe Arctic Terns are 'rare'), then I'm probably not seeing it.

Boy do I hope nobody reports these birds as being Arctic Terns... but I have to fall on the side of Common Tern.

In the form of compensation, I got a great view of a nearby Kingfisher, and a noisy Green Woodpecker.

22 August 2010

Wood Sandpiper.

A trip to Ryall Pits in Worcestershire (not very far up the M5) produced a very satisfying lifer. The Wood Sandpiper had been reported early afternoon, and so a late afternoon trip threatened disappointment. Fortunately the bird was present on the southern scrape - interacting with a couple of Green Sandpipers.

Noticably more elegant than the two Greens and sole Common it shared the scrape with, the Wood's yellow-green legs, prominent white supercilium and bold upperparts leapt through the eyepiece.

Also present was a Little Ringed Plover, a Little Grebe and many House Martins and Sand Martins.

I still don't possess a decent camera and adapter setup for my DCA, so below are my best efforts at photographing the Wood. Dreadful. Indeed, if you ignore the splash of supercilium you could mistake it for a Common. But it's not. It's a beautiful Wood.

09 August 2010

Witcombe Monday.

The threat of rain lingered from the moment I arrived, to the moment I departed. Indeed, as I saddled up to leave water began to splash on the windscreen.

The star bird was a Kingfisher. Too distant to determine gender, but close enough to get a good view. The bird - positively glowing in the dull conditions - popped out of a thick waterside bush, took a prey item from the water and landed on the shore. Smash, smash, smash, and away.

I tried to identify it's hunting position, but couldn't.

01 August 2010

Yellow Wagtails.

Tens of them on the Tack Piece at Slimbridge - associating with cattle.