Saturday, 2 April 2016

Firecrest-fest at Dunge

On Easter Sunday, Nick and I went to Dungeness, lured there by the promise of a whole lot of Firecrests. It was a bright (at first) but very blustery day. We kicked off at the obs and were soon seeing Firecrests aplenty, darting in and out of the scrub. We then went down to the lighthouse garden and saw a bunch more.

Here are two of at least six that were bouncing about on the lawn like tiny, colourful thrushes. This garden is very sheltered, so a good place for them to hang out while they wait for the wind to drop before making the sea crossing back home (presumably!). Getting pics was really difficult, which is why this pic is so rubbish.

We then walked down to the patch. On the way Nick found this lovely male Wheatear in the little vegetated strip between the path and the power station. It was very flighty...

... not helped by the fact that it was being harrassed by a couple of Pied Wagtails. Here's one of those, falling off the wall.

There wasn't a lot happening offshore. The patch was, as usual, gull-filled, but neither of us could pick out anything out of the ordinary.

The only other action was a series of skeins of Brent Geese going by. So we went back to the reserve.

The first few hides produced nothing in particular - the usual array of dabbling ducks, Cormorants busy nesting, that kind of thing. Then a hirundine came through - a Sand Martin.

It was Dengemarsh hide that proved the winner for us. On the very far bank there were a small group of Barnacle Geese among the Greylags.

Then three more Greylags flew in, except one of them wasn't a Greylag, it was a Tundra Bean Goose.

Nick asked me to look at a very distant white bird hunkered on the far bank behind a bush. I could see no useful details and thought it was probably a domestic Greylag. We left the hide, but Nick continued to wonder about this bird and we decided to go back and try for a clearer view from the other end of the hide. We could indeed see it a bit better from here, and after much staring and me taking dozens of photos of it, realised that in fact it was a Spoonbill, and we were glad we'd returned.

So with the Firecrests, Sand Martin, Wheatear, Barnacle and Bean Geese and Spoonbill, plus the Water Pipit and scoters from Rainham and the Woodlark from Broadwater Warren, the Easter weekend brought me nine year-ticks and advanced my list to 139. It brought Nick 10 year-ticks, because Chiffchaff was new for him (we heard them at all three places, but I forgot to mention them til now, and he's on 140. NOT that we are competing. Much.

Two last birds from the Dengemarsh hide - a lovely pristine Common Gull, and a Cormorant carrying nesting material. We were caught in torrential rain and hail on the walk back to the car, but we didn't really mind.

Broadwater Warren and no photos

Easter Saturday was MISERABLE - drizzly and very grey. My camera stayed in its bag all morning as Nick, James, Imi and I walked around Broadwater Warren RSPB (near Tunbridge Wells).

I often just don't blog when there are no photos, but I thought I would this time. This site is somewhere I used to visit often, when I lived in Groombridge (it's walking distance from there). Once a rather neglected conifer plantation, it's now being 'RSPB-ed'. There's much evidence of ongoing management - regeneration of heath, some new ponds, well-marked trails and boardwalks, and signs saying 'ground-nesting birds - please keep dogs on leads', which were largely being ignored. There was also a sign saying that thanks to RSPB work 'nightjars had returned' which amused me because the Nightjars have been here all along... but the RSPB are obviously working very hard to improve habitat so I shall forgive them.

We'd come in the hope of Woodlark, and very soon we did hear one singing, though it was way off in a no-entry area so we couldn't try to get a look at it. Lovely to hear, nonetheless. The feeding station in the car park was attended by Siskins as well as the usual tits and whatnot, and there were also Siskins singing around the place, so maybe they will breed here. The open bits held several Stonechats including singing males so they are getting down to business too.

That aside, the birds we saw/heard were mainly the usual woodland stuff. Great Spotted Woodpecker, Nuthatch, lots of Coal Tits, Grey Wagtail down by the (lovely) Decoy Pond, Common Buzzard overhead. The new trail is quite lovely (if muddy), with a particularly lovely loop through a stand of mature pines that had 'crossbills' written all over it (though sadly no actual Crossbills) and the open heathy areas bristled with Whitethroat potential. There are allegedly Yellowhammers here though we didn't see any. The new pools looked the business for Odonata as well, and with time/maturity I'd be hopeful of the likes of Golden-ringed Dragonfly, Keeled Skimmer, Black Darter, Brilliant Emerald and Small Red Damselfly here.

Hopefully I'll get the chance to come back on a sunny day in summer, and look for Nightjars/Woodcocks, plus all the other nice things that might be about in the daytime.

Rainham and Sevenoaks

On Good Friday, the sun shone and it was lovely, and Nick and I went to Rainham Marshes in the morning and Sevenoaks Wildlife Reserve in the afternoon. Things got off to a good start when we arrived at Rainham - some of the staff were on the far side of the drawbridge (it was pre-opening time) scoping the river, and pointed out a small flock of Common Scoters.

Here they are. Far, far away but you can see what they are (I hope) - can see a couple of sticky-up tails, at least.

We ambled down the river and back, in time for opening, not seeing terribly much on the way but it was such a lovely sunny morning that it didn't matter.

We settled down in Purfleet hide and started trying to find the Jack Snipe that had been there of late. We couldn't, nor could anyone else. There was a bit of compensation though when a small beige-ish grey-ish bird dropped in and revealed itself to be a Water Pipit. Otherwise, here were the usual dabbling ducks (numbers clearly dwindling now) and some Redshanks and Lapwings that were gearing up for the breeding season.

The MDZ was stuffed with people poking their lenses through the mesh at a Kingfisher perched close to the nesting bank.

The rest of the open areas produced much what you'd expect - Marsh Harrier at the far end, Reed Buntings... all over, a few more additions to the day duck-list. When we got to the sheltered woodland we added a couple of butterflies - Peacock and Brimstone.

The feeding station back at the centre was oddly quiet, perhaps because of these two miscreants.

We went back to the Purfleet hide for another try for the Jack Snipe - no joy again. Instead, here is a selection of male dabbling ducks showing off their backsides. I have not seen a Pintail from here before, so that was very nice.

Gadwall, Pintail, Shoveler.

And as we left this hide, the female Kingfisher decided to provide me with a brief photo opportunity.

As it was still very much daytime, we called in at Sevenoaks Wildlife Reserve for a couple of hours in the afternoon.

A couple of early spring insects enjoying the sunny weather - Hairy-footed Flower Bee and Bee-fly.

We wandered down to Tyler hide and enjoyed views of Black-headed and Common Gulls, Teals and other ducks, Great Crested Grebe, Lapwings, you know the deal... then a Sparrowhawk came blazing over the Serengeti and up over the hide. I thought that was that, but then a chap who'd just left the hide came back in to say the Sprawk was perched in clear view outside, so I went out for a look.

Sprawky McSprawkface. I think after much deliberation that this is an adult female, with a bit of a rusty tinge here and there as mature females often have - what you can't see from the photo is how big she was.

We carried on down to the Sutton hide and then the Slingsby hide. Not a lot on the water (though there were four distant Wigeons - unusual for them to be here rather than Snipe Bog Lake) but these two little ones showed at close range from Slingsby, also a very dark female Reed Bunting who I didn't manage to photograph properly.

We went up to Willow hide to end the day. From here, not much to see. Intriguingly there was what looked like a tern raft out on the water - surely not for actual terns? I've hardly ever seen them here... There were numerous Canada Geese on the water and watching them perform their somersaulting ablutions was most diverting.

Friday, 18 March 2016

Bushy Park

Over the last week I've spent some quality time in Bushy Park with my camera - here are photos from two days (one of which was sunny, both of which were COLD). These pics were mostly taken around the Heron Pond.

As ever, the park's heaving with Ring-necked Parakeets, and their screeches provide a constant bizarre soundtrack.

The other green kid on the block. The open areas are full of anthills and so attract lots of Green Woodpeckers.

A confiding Jackdaw.

And another, this one showing some partly white wing feathers, a sign of poor nutrition. Lots of people feed bread to the ducks here...

This Jackdaw looks OK, though was not being allowed to land on the bridge. Most of the adult Black-headed Gulls now have full hoods and will be off to breeding grounds soon.

First-winter Black-headed, in b/w. To be fair the original photo was almost monochrome anyway.

Only a few Common Gulls were here, plus one or two Lesser Black-backs.

One of the rather few Feral Pigeons here. I am pretty chuffed with the sharpness of this pic (though there were 30 more that went in the bin).

Grey Heron, poised to pounce on a slice of bread.

DUCK! Or maybe DRAKE! Male Mallard coming in to land. All the wildfowl is getting frisky, lots of 'three-bird flights' going on.

These two seemed mellow enough. The photo is a reversal of those old field guide illustrations where the male bird would invariably be shown in front of the female and partly obscuring her. I'm subverting this trope even further by having the male completely out of focus.

It was not just the ducks feeling frisky. I am not sure exactly what this Coot hoped to achieve but the Red-crested Pochard was NOT into it. After it got away it spent several minutes bathing.

That's better.

The result of a previous unconventional coupling, this Tufted x Red-crested Pochard hybrid was a startling sight. He seemed to consider himself to be a Tuftie and was consorting with a female Tuftie - clearly she admired his punky style.

Female RCP having a preen.

Male Gadwall. They are confiding here and it was nice to have some very close views, to properly appreciate those lovely scalloped and vermiculated markings.

Geese present were the predictable triptych of Canada, Greylag and Egyptian - all of non-native origin of course.

Little birds were harder to find and photograph. Here is a female Reed Bunting, one of at least three on the south shore of the lake. Also seen were Great Spotted Woodpecker, Blue, Great and Long-tailed Tits, Redwing, Goldfinch, Chaffinch, Goldcrest.

Oh yes, and Mistle Thrush.

And finally a couple of Red Deer stags. The rut long over and hostilities suspended, they are in their bachelor herds and several have dropped one or both antlers. The stag on the left here has broken off a bit of one of his but in a few months' time will have a shiny new set.

Monday, 14 March 2016

Dove Stone (but not really) and Etherow Country Park

The day after Frodsham, we drove east into the Peak on the assumption that the snow of a few days ago would have thawed by now. How wrong we were. The Peak was snow-tastic and the tarmac path up from Dove Stone reservoir was a slippery nightmare. The car park at Binn Grene was also a slippery nightmare (actually it was fine going in but getting out again took some serious driving skill from N).

So my hopes of finding Mountain Hares fell apart and I came away with only a pic of this smug male Pheasant and this smirking female Chaffinch.

All was not lost though as the way back took us to a place called Etherow Country Park, on the edge of Stockport, where Nick said we would find Mandarins (a year-tick for him) and Dippers (a year-tick for both of us).

Here there was much less snow, though the weather remained very dull and dark. We parked by a big lake full of manky Mallards, dodgy farmyard geese and a lot of Black-headed Gulls. The path took us along a wall-sided canal, that ran alongside an actual river.

People were feeding the ducks on this river - and most of said ducks were Mandarins - proper free-flying wild ones.

The path crossed the canal and we could finally see down to the proper river that rushed along at the bottom of a steep gorge. It looked good for Dippers, especially when we found a Dipper, standing on a boulder in true Dipper style and contemplating the rapids. A little way ahead was a rather spectacular weir.

We veered away from the river at this point and followed an uneventful looping path through hilly woodland, where we found a small party of Goldcrests but nothing else.

Back at the top of the weir we found a pair of Grey Wagtails.

The return walk didn't produce anything new apart from rain. I couldn't resist another quick go at the beautiful Mandarins though.

Frodsham Marsh and Moore

Oops, this trip was more than a week ago. Let's see if I can remember what happened. Frodsham Marsh is a great big site but we only saw a little bit of it because some paths were closed. The bit that we did see, though, was a place I have been to before... but quite a few years ago, when I was at uni in Sheffield and twitched a Semipalmated Sandpiper on the Weaver Bend. It was a quite bright but very cold and breezy day.

For me, the day was already a winner when we drove through the town of Frodsham and a Sparrowhak nipped across the road ahead of us. My first of the year, unbelievably. Nick didn't see it properly but as luck would have it we saw two more Sprawks later on.

On the way to the main part of the reserve, we found this Fox, eyeing us from across a marshy field. When it jogged away it revealed a sadly threadbare backside and tail. In the same area were Redwings, one Fieldfare, a Linnet flock and a number of Pied Wagtails, but then we found the path ahead was closed and we turned back.

On the way back towards the Weaver Bend, this Common Buzzard wheeled overhead, and a pair of Ravens went croaking past.

The path down to the river became extremely boggy and muddy as we got closer, but we battled through and made it to the riverside. The view stirred vague memories of that day one autumn many years ago, scoping a stint-sized wader on a bit of muddy shore. There was no mud today though - the water was high and birds were few. There were a number of Goldeneyes bobbing about, and on a small grassy spit Nick found a Black-tailed Godwit alongside a couple of Oystercatchers. The odd Lesser Black-backed Gull wafted by.

We were meant to be meeting Hazel and Mike here. They'd arrived before us and embarked on a full loop but from a different direction, so they didn't find the blocked path until they had already done a very long walk, and they had to retrace their steps. We arranged a place to meet in an hour's time, and Nick and I had a walk alongside fields full of sheep and newborn lambs, where we hoped to find some interesting gulls.

There were lots of Starlings enjoying the sheepy pasture, and a few Black-headed Gulls - also more Ravens.

We met H and M and escorted them back to the Weaver Bend, this time finding a slightly less soggy path.

Two more raptors on the way - Sparrowhawk and Kestrel. We also met a couple of birders who said they'd found Grey Partridge in the fields by the river. We actually flushed a couple of Red-legged Partridges as we continued but alas no Greys.

At the river we showed H and M the same birds we'd seen before, plus a flock of Redshanks that flashed by but didn't stop.

Two more Ravens to round off the morning. H and M headed home after that, while Nick and I went on to Moore Nature Reserve near Warrington.

This lovely reserve incorporates woodland and lakes, and a bit of open grassland. It is rather similar to Sevenoaks Nature Reserve, actually. Nick saw Lesser Spotted Woodpecker here recently. I wasn't so lucky - in fact we didn't see anything very exciting but had a very nice walk around nonetheless.

Male Pochard having a Timotei moment.

There is a very nice feeding station here, with a little pond (though Nick says the pond isn't always there). On this occasion, it was not only there but had Teals in it.

 The actual feeders were attended by this male Great Spotted Woodpecker, plus Great and Blue Tits, Greenfinches, Chaffinches and Reed Buntings.

We explored a bit more of the reserve, and went back via the LSW spot - no luck again but found some Siskins demolishing what was left of the alder cone crop.