19 November 2010

150 Minutes on the 100-Acre Viewing Platform.

Having been reminded on Thursday afternoon that I had four and a half days still to take as holiday this year, I legitimately ducked out of work for a spot of Friday afternoon birding.

Frampton was beautiful (always is), and the 100-Acre / Green Lane area blissfully empty. Blue skies, sun, no wind. I was hopeful of something worth seeing. My pre-determined shift would run from 1400hrs to 1630hrs.

I'd thought there would be more Fieldfare about, but only three showed from the platform. A large flock in the trees enroute back to the canal made up for it, though. The main field infront of the platform was coated in Curlew - rarely taking flight but constantly piping away to each other. The Kestrel sat on the fenceposts to the right, frequently dropping to the ground to take (presumably) worms.

My notes say female, but should of course read male... it's only worth taking one's gloves off if absolutely necessary!

The Merlin was perched on the very far fenceposts, and so was never really within range of my camera. Respectible views were obtained through the scope, though, before the bird flew off at about 1515hrs. Throughout my audience, it appeared to be hunting Starlings (generously interspersed throughout the Curlew flock).

A Short-eared Owl showed up at 1545hrs, and was immediately harassed upwards and north-east by an army of Gulls and corvids. It came back ten minutes later, working its way along the far fenceposts where the Merlin had been stationed before disappearing over the river wall. Finally, at about 1610hrs, I was pleased to pick it up perched on the nearer fenceposts to the right-hand side of the platform, after which it finally obliged with a close fly past... before once again being chased off by corvids - this time towards Slimbridge. Even in the fading light I could've tried to take a good photograph of the Owl... but I decided I would rather just watch it.

The following are the finest pictures you will ever see of a Merlin (without a head) and a Short-eared Owl.

I also viewed a reasonable flock of Starlings wheeling around the Slimbridge grounds and large numbers of Lapwings moving upriver.

It was damn cold by 1630hrs.

14 November 2010

Red-breasted Merganser.

Despite foggy conditions the first winter drake Red-breasted Merganser (year tick 209; lifer 222) at Bredon's Hardwick (nr. Tewkesbury) was an easy target. At the five bar gate I bumped into a bloke who had just finished doing a wildfowl count. He confirmed the bird was still present. Nevertheless, it was 45 minutes before it showed again - probably lurking behind one of the trees or the island so inconveniently positioned in the middle of the lake. Once it showed, it fed with gusto but gave good views during the brief periods it spent above the water.

A Common Sandpiper was a welcome surprise.

13 November 2010

Probably not a Water Pipit.

After the good birds (Eider, Scoter, Divers, Little Auk, Bonxie, Arctic Skua) seen at various points along the mouth of the River Severn this week, this morning I took a trip to Severn Beach in the hope of grabbing a straggler. Unfortunately two and a half hours over the high tide produced little sparkle.

I did have some Pipit-related anxiety, though - infact, I still do. Watching a Skylark pottering about in the vegetation from the footpath, I got a very quick look at an interesting Pipit (c.20 yards away). Please note, this was an interesting bird because I've never seen a Water Pipit.

It wasn't a Meadow Pipit, that was for sure. I've seen many Rock Pipits, throughout the year, and never seen one with such a pale white and well-marked ('clean') supercilium - and matching submoustachial stripe. These two features leapt off the bird. I am not accustomed to seeing Rock Pipits with such a well-marked face.

I also clocked the overall hue of the upperparts before it flew (out of sight but not too far, which bothers me). Grey. I am confident it wasn't an olivaceous grey - as I might expect to see on a Rock Pipit. As a dominant characteristic, I'd plump for pale grey. The light was good and even so I didn't think optical tricks were at play.

Now, I would definitely clock winter Water Pipit if it had the colour of the bird that was at Farmoor Reservoirs recently:

That bird conforms to what I'd expect a winter bird to look like. Pale brown. My Collins says that winter Water Pipits are paler than winter Rock Pipits. The bird in that picture is satisfyingly pale, as was mine. Indeed, my Nils van Duivendijk sums the difference up as "upperparts brown-grey, paler and greyer than Rock w.". I saw mine as a pale grey, but perhaps pale brown can easily convert to pale grey if one is fresh to the species and not sat on top of it. My memory is of pale grey, though.

Thing is, what else could it have been? I've looked at pictures of littoralis, but they don't have the same obvious and clean supercilium my bird had.

I'm just confused because it seems obvious grey (albeit olive grey) on the upperparts leans more towards Rock Pipits, and brown (albeit pale) towards Water Pipits... and yet the supercilium and submoustachial stripe were both as as plain as day. I wish I'd seen it for longer. I waited in the hope it would come back, but it did not.

In conclusion I may have seen a Water Pipit at Severn Beach today... or I may not. I can't tick it. Damn.

03 November 2010

American Bittern and Green Heron.

I really, really wanted to go, but didn't want to admit to myself how much I wanted to go. Inevitably, I went. Departure from Gloucester at 0530hrs, arrival back in Gloucester 2030hrs.

The weather - all day - ranged from threatening to rain, to actually raining. Fortunately, it was only threatening whilst I was with the American Bittern (year list 207; lifer 220). This made waiting outside the hide (0830ish to 0930ish) tolerable. The bird spent it's time in an area north west of the Tower Hide (an excellent hide), so good views from both ends of the hide were not possible.

Still, I thought that behaviour inside was pretty good. Once those at the front had seen it well, they generally moved on allowing others access to the front. It wasn't a quick process, but it seemed to work. I was concerned that a front of serious-types would monopolise the good views, but happily not so. At least, this was the impression I got. In addition, those with scopes already set up were good enough to let those yet to get that far glimpse the bird to alleviate any fears of it buggering off just as they made it into the hide! There was perhaps a little frustration about at not being able to pick it up through bins, but this was because it was only possible to search with one's scope it if you were seated, or had a good perch at the best end of the back wall. If you were waiting your turn, and thus still standing with only bins, it was impossible not to feel a little anxious.

The bird was quite settled, though, and by the time I made it to the 'front benches' (1015hrs) I enjoyed a good views as the bird moved slowly left along the ditch it was favouring (juncus, juncus, juncus, red leaves, juncus!). I'd had a nice view. Conscious that others were as keen to see it as I was, and conscious of my plans for the rest of the day, I fired off a few lousy photographs (compiled below) and skedaddled.

It seems it stayed out in the open for a bit longer after I left (about 1045hrs), but didn't come any closer - at least until the afternoon when good views were had from both hides. In retrospect arriving later in the day might've been a good move as the crowds (myself included) all turned up early morning. Still, I am happy with what I saw... but envious of those who can easily go again!

Whether you get a long view, or a shorter one, provided you are patient the bird is obliging.

Also, thank-you to the CBWPS for letting the public in to see the bird, and shame on those who didn't stick a couple of quid in the collecting bucket. Judging by the number of people present, and the amount of money in the bucket, lots of people just didn't bother.

Next stop was The Lost Gardens of Heligan, and their resident cash cow - I mean, Green Heron (year list 208; lifer 221). Easy to find, as the rain reached it's peak for the day, around the edge of the top pond. Lovely scope views were a doddle to obtain. No real light for photographs, but I took some for the record (they're all very dark!).

All done by 1330hrs.

There were three hours of useful daylight remaining... enough time to get to Berry Head and have an hour on site. The main motivation was the possibility of Cirl Buntings. Alas, I saw none. Indeed, the fare from both ends of the peninsula was poor. No good warblers in the wood, and only Gannets, gulls, Fulmars, a Kittiwake, Cormorants from the end. Possibly a couple of small Skuas but I'm not skilled enough at sea watching to be sure. A good spot, though, for sure - made pleasant (even without any good birds) by the weather finally breaking and some late sunshine. I enjoyed looking accross the bay to Exmouth, where I could see the brightly coloured beach huts - one of which we use when visiting the town.

Should've gone back to see the Bittern again, though, really! Would probably have gotten some better views of it, but I would also have got home much much later than I did. I was really VERY tired on the long drive home, so from a common sense point of view stopping at Berry Head (essentially on the way home) was not the worst idea in the world.

All things considered a successful day, and one that helps dim the memory of dipping the Lesser Kestrel (my other long twitch this year).