Dawn Marsh Harrier

Dawn Marsh Harrier

Sunday, 29 March 2015

A Swift Turnaround

I was doing family things yesterday afternoon when news broke that an Alpine Swift was hurtling around the skies above Crawley. If I hadn't been otherwise engaged I would have been on the M25 before you could say 'life tick'. But while I was enjoying an evening meal out with my nearest and dearest, a sneaky peak at RBA revealed that the Swift appeared to have roosted on the Virgin Atlantic Building. A discrete under the table text to Sharpy and a plan was hatched for an early morning meet. 06.30 at Maple Cross (which was effectively 05.30 - clocks - forward - etc), Virgin Atlantic Building, Flemming Way, Crawley in the sat-nav and we were on the way. When we arrived, 2 things struck us as surprising. The building was only 3 stories high and there were no other birders there. LGRE soon joined us on the scene and immediately commented that the building didn't look suitable for our bird to roost on. Anyway, to cut a long story slightly shorter, there are 2 Virgin Atlantic Buildings on Flemming Way and of course we were at the wrong one. On learning that a good crowd were watching the 'right' building without success, we opted to try the church that the bird had spent some time around yesterday. Here we teamed up with several others including yesterdays lucky finder. Well done sir. But after a lengthy spell in the wind and rain, only negative news on the messaging services and a particularly menacing looking black cloud heading our way, we decided a strategic meeting in a nearby McDonalds was the best course of action. We were soon warmed and refueled but the news was still negative. Surely our bird must have made a 'Swift' getaway unnoticed. So we made the decision to cut our losses and head for home. 36 minutes into the journey back, the news came through that our bird had finally risen and was performing for the crowd. About turn!!! Anxious drive back, leap out of van grabbing bins and camera in mid flight and BOSH!, there it was flying low, close and magnificent in front of us. But we'd got back in the nick of time as within seconds the bird swung round the side of the building and went back to roost. We were able to view it clinging under the eves briefly, before being ushered away by a member of staff as apparently we were "frightening the office workers."

We all retreated to a less intimidating distance and waited in hope that our bird would get airborne again. But apparently it had been spurred into action by a sunny interlude and the sky was showing no sign of another one any time soon. So we set off for home happy in the knowledge that we'd made the right decision to make a 'Swift Turnaround'. My only regret being not getting a flight shot. While on site Rob Stokes showed me a stonking shot he'd got before we got back so for some decent images take a look at http://robs-birding.blogspot.co.uk

Saturday, 28 March 2015

Farmoor Distant Than Expected.

What would seem to be last years Red Necked Grebe has returned to the F2 basin at Farmoor. When we visited last year it performed very obligingly, strutting it's stuff close to the bank in front of the Bus Shelter. Reports, photos and a very nice video on  http://oxonbirding.blogspot.co.uk/  showed it to be repeating this very same birder friendly behavior in the very same part of the reservoir. So myself and Sharpy set off yesterday morning with our cameras primed and ready for some frame fillers. Not quite what we got though. The bird was happily feeding bang in the middle of the reservoir and showed no intention of coming to pose for a photo shoot.

Last year

This year

Other Grebes are available.

 and a bit more sociable.

Sunday, 22 March 2015

Mipit, Rockit, Wipit & Dickit.........

.....and that's not an extract from a lad's mag.

Yesterdays target bird was the Richards Pipit at Newhaven. Myself and Sharpy set off from Maple Cross at 06.30 and opted to stop at Staines Reservoirs along the way to see if the now fully drained North Basin had attracted any Waders of interest. Little Ringed Plover was a nice year tick but only Redshank and Lapwing added to the Wader role call. The Great Northern Diver was still present on the South Basin and showing the first hints of summer plumage. 8 Black Necked Grebes were visible toward the far bank. We noticed that the local boys were showing an interest in something further along the causeway and this turned out to be a couple of Rock Pipits in the far corner of the South Basin. A decent record for this area.


Walking back along the causeway Sharpy was a bit ahead of me when I got distracted by a Wheatear being harassed by some stroppy Pied Wagtails.You'd think that living on the Heathrow perimeter they'd be used to migrants but the message to this one was clearly "Get off our land" They pushed it along towards where Sharpy had now stopped and was looking intently at something. I soon caught him up and was able to get him on the Wheatear but what had caught his eye? He'd come across  a small group of Meadow Pipits in the corner of the South Basin by the water tower, but on initial inspection, one of them looked good for Water Pipit. As I raised my bins for a look they all took flight and kept flying. Something I said maybe. We decided to give it a while to see if they'd return. Mipits began to reappear in ones and twos and almost at once we both said something along the lines of "what about this one then?" A pale pipit had appeared in front of us on the bank. It had dark legs and a fairly prominent supercillium. The almost white lightly streaked  underparts were enough to satisfy us that we'd nailed are 3rd Pipit sp of the day and with luck the big one was still to come.



Less than an hour and a half later we were in East Sussex. The Richards Pipit had been seen 15 mins before we arrived but was currently laying low. We didn't have to wait long though before it popped up on a fence on the far side of the reed beds.


It flew left and out of sight but reappeared 15 mins later in the shorter grass in the meadow giving decent scope views for a while. It then flew left again and appeared to keep going for some distance. We were debating our options as to where to go next when another couple of birders arrived and we got talking like you do. As we chatted Sharpy spotted a good candidate for the Dicks Pipit land on the bank about 40 yards away. Now it was great scope views but do you think I could find it through the camera lens. What an amateur! It foraged the the slope for maybe 5 mins before departing again.

The beach was just down the road so it seemed only polite to pay a visit before heading for home. Not much to trouble the notebook here, but several pairs of Fulmar zipping in and out of holes in the cliff face were a pleasant surprise. Great birds to watch.

Fulmar chasing shadows.

So a 4 Pipit day. Certainly a first for me. But the day was tinged with some sadness when RBA posted the news that the  Richards Pipit had been taken by a Sparrowhawk shortly after we left it. Of course we shouldn't be anthropomorphic. It's nature and hungry predators don't discriminate between the rare and the common. So after briefly sticking my bottom lip out I pulled myself together and hoped the Sprawk enjoyed his meal.

Sunday, 15 March 2015

A New Pair of Creepers in Belgium.

The last time I had a pair of creepers they were purple suede and my hair was technicoloured spikes. Yes I had hair. Oh the joys of a mis-spent youth.

Anyway, enough nostalgia. Yesterday I had a day trip to Dinant in Belgium with Sharpy, Brendan Glynn and Dave Johnson. A 05.00 meet at Sharpy's and we were soon on the road to Folkstone and then the Chunnel to Calais and back on the road to Dinant. The journey highlight was a pair of Common Cranes flying across as we drove through Northern France. Our target was of course the Wallcreeper that's set up home on the sheer rock face below the ancient Citadel. Good old Sharpy had been furiously Google Earthing and had a parking place sorted opposite the towns Police Station. Dinant is an idyllic, picturesque, riverside town with the  dramatic  backdrop of rock. A lovely place for a long weekend break if only you didn't have to constantly watch your step for the copious amounts of dog turd. Pity. Anyway, where to start? The rock face was more vast than we'd anticipated and obscured from various angles by buildings and trees. Reports of the bird had been sketchy at best for the last couple of weeks and I'd seen several tweets from people who'd gone and dipped. There were no other birders around so we had a challenge on our hands. We started out walking along the street surveying the rock in the hope of inspiration. Phone reception was good so we initially agreed to split into twos and start at each end, working towards each other. Myself and Sharpy scanned the far end of the cliff immediately below the Citadel but with no sign of the bird and a lot of tourists climbing the steps or using the cable car, we set off to look for the next vantage point. Dave and Brendon found 2 other English birders who had just arrived and exchanged phone numbers with them as they joined the search. We soon caught up with Dave and Brendan again and the area they were viewing looked promising so the team reunited. We'd no sooner joined the boys when Brendan lifted his bins and uttered those immortal, adrenaline surging words "I'VE GOT IT". This followed by the usual frenzied response of "WHERE!!!? WHERE!!!? WHERE ARE YOU LOOKING BREN!!!.? WHAT'S IT NEAR!!!"? and all that stuff. But no need to panic, Brendan soon had us all on the bird and just then the other 2 guys appeared right on cue. We were soon joined by a couple of Belgian birders and were able to get them straight on the bird as it worked the rock, poking and pecking the ins and outs of the crevices. I wont bore you with the usual excuses and apologies for the woefully poor record shots but they mean something to me.

Putting my pathetic images above to one side, I've always looked at photos of Wallcreepers and thought what a brilliant bird. But I have to say that after scoping this amazing creature in the flesh, even the best, 'proper' photos don't do it justice. It's a truly remarkable bird. The subtle rock grey and black camouflage betrayed by the brilliant crimson flashes as it frequently flicked it's wings and fanned it's tail, wandering around the vertical rock like some avian gecko. It was interesting to watch how it ceased its preoccupation with feeding and became very alert as a pair of Kestrels shamelessly and noisily set about creating their next generation in the tree above our heads. We spent a cracking 2 hours savouring this distant but wonderful bird. Sometimes obscured by branches but a slight change of position was often enough to get straight back on it.

There was enough time left in the day for a stop on the way back to Calais and we managed to find a tempting looking area of mixed forest. We hoped that Middle Spotted Woodpecker might be on the cards but alas only Great Spot. It was strange to see quite a large flock of Yellowhammer foraging the woods and Marsh Tits were everywhere and very confiding. As we were heading back towards the car, Dave called a pair of Treecreepers and pointed out that in Belgium they were likely to be of the Short Toed variety. This was confirmed as the male obligingly burst into song. 2nd new bird of the day for me and nice bonus. Another poor record shot later and the birds disappeared through the trees.

Back on the road and 4 happy birders were homeward bound. Our crossing back to Folkstone was cancelled and we had quite a lengthy wait for the next one but that was never going to take the edge off the day. I arrived home about 23.30, knackered but smiling. A long but really enjoyable day.

Special thanks to Sharpy for all the organisation and the epic driving effort, to Brendan for nailing the wonderous Wallcreeper and Dave for picking out my 1st Short Toed Treecreeper. And thanks to all 3 for the great company on a great day out.

Thursday, 12 March 2015

Who needs enemies!!!

As my working day was drawing to an end, I was thinking I should go and have another crack at the Lesser Pecker at my local Stockers Lake on my way home. Then I got a text from Sharpy saying he had found a Wheatear at Woodoaks Farm Maple Cross. As this was also just down the road from home and a more likely year tick I plumped for this option. I rocked up at Woodoaks and was soon on a treeful of Yellowhammers.

 A couple of males were going on about cheese sandwiches signaling the arrival of Spring. My first Brimstone butterfly of the year was confirmation of this. I pressed on and scanned the dung heap but no sign of the Wheatear. I walked a bit further and as I rounded the bend in the path there it was.

As I was enjoying the company of this early migrant, I got another text from Sharpy. He was at Stockers and on the Lesser Spot. I hot footed it back to the van and hooked up with Sharpy within 15 mins. The pecker had disappeared and didn't reappear. As I drove home it dawned on me what had happened. Obviously, Sharpy had got a tip off that the Pecker showed well but briefly on its favoured branch at 4.15pm everyday. To make sure I wasn't there he planted a Wheatear at Woodoaks and clipped it's wings to make sure it stayed. He knew I wouldn't be able to resist an early year tick on my local patch, enabling him to grip me off on the prized bird. With friends like that......

Just in case anyone's taking me serious - please don't - its known as the Green Eyed Monster.

Flirting with my new bird.

With my fairly modest camera and lens combo, I've never managed to capture the full beauty of the glorious Kingfisher as they are usually already disappearing by the time you spot them. Or if they're perched you just can't get close before they vanish in an electric blue and tangerine blur. So imagine my surprise when walking along the stream at Desborough Rec Ground High Wycombe yesterday to look at a job, and one such little gem dropped out of a tree beside me, caught a fish and perched back up in the same tree. I was working so didn't have the camera round my neck but I always have it in the van for such eventualities and the van was only 50 yards away. I backed off slowly for a bit and then hastened back to the van for the camera. I wasn't too confident it would still be there when I got back but it was. Knowing how skittish these birds tend to be, I didn't want to push my luck and get too close, so I stealthily crept up behind a large London Plain and discretely poked my lens round the trunk. She behaved nicely for me as I fired off a few shots.

We made eye contact and it was apparent that she knew I was there so I was amazed at what happened next. She took off and flew towards me, perching in a closer tree. Heart rate increasing I clicked away on the shutter.

Suddenly 2 dogs came racing down the garden across the stream from me, loudly and aggressively protesting their disapproval at my presence. Surely this would spell the end of my close encounter.Oh no, she responded by flying into the tree directly between me and the snarling hounds. She then casually plunged into the stream and came up with a tasty minnow which she set about battering to death on her branch.

Next the owner of the still barking mutts came down the garden shouting at them to shut up. This would surely be the final straw. Well the lovely lady Kingfisher couldn't care less. On seeing me the guy demanded to know what I was doing in the park with a zoom lens. Sadly, in this day and age it was a reasonable question. I explained that I was photographing a Kingfisher, to which he replied " oh, the blue and orange bird. That's always here." Reassured he wished me good luck and left me to it. Incredibly, there in the tree a few yards away was still the Kingfisher.

Finding myself with a spare 20 minutes this afternoon I couldn't resist paying another visit. I walked the same stretch of stream but a pair of Grey Wagtails were the best thing on offer.

Then suddenly, almost as if jealous of the attention I was paying the wags, she came sweeping low down the stream, perched in a bush and stared straight at me.

Distant compared to yesterdays encounter but when do Kingfishers come to see you. I was running out of time but she did me the honour of posing from various angles before I had to leave.

No doubt I wont be able to resist the opportunity to flirt further with this stunning little tease and will be sneaking out to meet her again soon. A romantic fish supper maybe.

Tuesday, 10 March 2015

So, Stockers Power Depleted.

No prizes but a hearty well done if you can decipher the above title from the story.

After several sightings of a Lesser Spotted Woodpecker at my local Stockers Lake in the last few days, I decided I'd make the most of the lovely early spring weather and swing round there on my way home from work.  A Lesser Pecker is big news in our neck of the woods these days, as sadly it is most places. The bird had been seen drumming in an oak tree it seems to like at 07.20 this morning and as it was seen in this tree at 17.20 yesterday evening I thought I had half a chance.

I arrived at Stockers Farm to find Kevin Farrell enjoying 3 Common Snipe on the flooded field. The field behind was covered in feeding fieldfare, probably 60+. Kevin told me he'd had 2 sessions looking for the Pecker today but with no success. Undeterred, I made my way round to the lake. A couple were just leaving having failed to connect but kindly showed me not only the tree but the very branch the bird likes to drum on, so I opted to loiter in this general area and keep my eyes and ears open. The more or less resident Red Crested Pochards were showing nicely in the low evening sunshine.

An hour and a half passed quickly with displaying drakes of various species keeping me amused.

Tufting it out in the fading light

Eventually the sun dipped below the horizon and no sight or sound of the Lesser Spot but I can think of worse places to spend a glorious March sunset than Stockers Lake.

So, is........ 'Stockers power so depleted'?????.......I don't think so.

Sunday, 8 March 2015

Happy Hunting in Hants

Of course when I say "happy hunting" I mean enjoying finding and watching birds and not that other nonsense. The forecast was for a warm fine day so the main objective was to hopefully see Goshawks in the New Forest. A 06.00 meet up with Sharpy meant we had time to fit some general birding in before the Goshawks woke from their slumber and took to the skies, so we started off at Shatterford. We'd seen Dartford Warblers here on a previous visit and a year tick in the shape of these pocket sized, bulbous headed, mad eyed beauties would make a perfect start to the day. The trouble was, despite the springlike forecast, the wind was blowing a hooley. Not ideal for seeing Dartfords sitting up, nor for Goshawks come to that. But if you don't look you don't find.

I've got a lot of faith in the old adage "if you're looking for Dartfords, look for Stonechats." It wasn't long before we found our 1st pair of Stonechats braving the wind and perching up attention seeking like they do.

And it also wasn't long before we heard the harsh rattly calls of Dartfords coming from the undergrowth around them. A few teasing glimpses as they hugged the vegetation. following the Chats before one finally perched up briefly on a bush. Needless to say it chose to sit up where we were viewing straight into the low morning sun; at least that's my excuse for the grainy photos below.

We figured that there were at least 3, probably more Dartfords associating with 2 Stonechat pairs in the vicinity.

As we reached the edge of the forest we were greeted by a very carefree Treecreeper which had been Sharpy's bogey bird for his 2015 year list, so he was happy with that.

A distant Peregrine drifted across the heath as we headed around Bishops Dyke.

I told you it was distant

It was now mid-morning and quandary time. Was it worth going 'Goshawking' in an ever strengthening wind? The decision was to head for Pennington Marshes for a wander in the hope that the wind might abate in the afternoon. There's always a nice selection of birds to be found at Penninigton, and today was no exception. A Green Finch welcomed us with a serenade as we got out the van. I didn't have the heart to tell him it was a nasty,wheezy noise as after all, its the best he can do.

The usual array of Gulls, Ducks and Waders were all present and correct and spring was in the air as Lapwings displayed and "pewitted" in the sunshine like there was no tomorrow.

The ever handsome Pintails gave nice views as they dabbled close to the bank.

"Uuum - Nice pin!!!"

Next year tick in the bag was a striking  Ruff, of which we encountered several along the way. Always a pleasure.

Followed by another year tick with a group of 5 blissfully sleeping Spoonbills out on the mud.

This one gave us a flash of his spoon for all of 2 seconds before it all got too much for him,

....and he went back to sleep.

Rock Pipit

A Rock Pipit did a decent rock impression as we started to head back and a pair of Red Breasted Merganzers were on the sea.

As we neared the car park a Black Tailed Godwit was showing very close on one of the pools.

It appeared to be still celebrating Ireland's lucky win over England in the Rugby as it proudly sported the Tricolor on it's legs. But Sharpy has since done a bit of research and discovered that this bird was ringed in Iceland as a juvenile. I'm sure there will be more on this at http://sh4rpysbirding.blogspot.co.uk/

Well it was now early afternoon and the wind had indeed eased quite a bit, so Acres Down went in the sat nav and Goshawks were back on the agenda. As we made the climb to the raptor watch-point it was evident that it was still fairly blowy away from shelter but definitely not as bad as it was earlier. A pair of Woodlark were a welcome distraction as we neared the watch-point.

We were encouraged by seeing 6+ Common Buzzards and a couple of Kestrels within a short while of getting our scopes up. Raptors were flying. And we'd probably been there less than 20 mins when we got our reward. It was distant but it was a Gos. 

Again, I told you it was distant.

So, another fabulous day in the wilds. 76 species in total and 4 year ticks - Dartford Warbler, Ruff, Spoonbill and Goshawk. Roll on next weekend.