Saturday, 25 November 2017

Rutland 25th Nov

I wasn't sure whether to do some local birding today, perhaps looking for some winter grebes or divers, or whether to go further afield to Rutland. In the end I opted for the latter as I'd been to Oakham earlier in the week and fancied a bit of a session round there. Also a Great Northern Diver had been knocking about all week, and the ever-elusive Red-necked Grebe which I always dip had also been regularly seen in the South Arm.

I started by walking the Dam from north to south, stopping every so often to check for the diver, but it didn't appear to be there, and I hadn't seen any recent reports of it... The 3 Red-breasted Mergansers that have been present all week were still there, so that was some recompense, and there were several Goosander about too. It was quite windy and very cold, so I didn't stick around for too long.

I then parked at Old hall and had a look for the Red-necked grebe... another dip. The light was pretty poor and so I could have missed it in the glare, but there was plenty about, including 11 Great white egrets on the south shore, and a flock of 40+ Red-crested Pochard, as well as a few Redshank. Again, it was cold and windy so that eventually forced me to retreat to check out the North Arm. There wasn't much from the small fishermans carpark just outside Hambleton, but the area by Burley Fishponds was crammed with birds, including another 3 Great Egrets. There was a flock of 40 or so Pintail and a fair few other smaller groups, always nice to see, and there was a huge raft of mixed wildfowl, mainly Tufties and Wigeon, which unfortunately didnt hold any hidden gems. I was hoping for a Slav or Black-necked grebe around here, but it wasnt to be, and after a quick check for Smew at Burley fishponds (there weren't any), I went home - a little disappointed for the lack of year-ticks, but it was good to get out nonetheless.

Tuesday, 14 November 2017

Last coast trip of the autumn?

At the end of October, I engineered a cunning plan to both go on a little break with Michelle and the Dog, Abbie, as well as cram in a bit more Lincs Coast birding. We were staying on the Lincolnshire riviera, in a chalet in Mablethorpe, a short walk from some dunes and the beach, and only a quick drive to some other birding spots.

We arrived on the thuerday and had a quick wander down the beach, picking up a few Sanderlings but little else (still a well overdue year-tick). Much more interesting however was a bird hopping about just in front of the dunes. Without my bins i was a bit unsure, but it allowed close approach and turned out to be a Snow Bunting, a first for me, so not a bad start.

The next day I drove up to Theddlethorpe mid-morning and had a wander round the dunes at crook bank for a couple of hours. Although not completely dead, there was little of interest in the scrub, just lots of Goldcrest and a few tit flocks. An unfamiliar call sparked my interest and I staked out an area for some time, but it came to nothing, I still have no idea what it could have been. However, intermittent Pink-footed goose flocks kept it going, with around 220 going over in small skeins and a group of 100 or so feeding in a rape field.

The next day I spent some time in the morning partaking in a short seawatch - an activity I'm very inexperienced in - but it was quite pleasant sat at the top of the beach and there was a bit of activity. Small flocks of Shelduck were moving North, and there was a frequent passage of Auks and Gannets. Year ticks were provided with a group of 25 Common Scoter and several Brent geese, and it was nice to see a drake Eider moving north. Only one diver was seen, but was too distant to ID.

With the wind strengthening from the northwest, I didn't hold much hope for the dunes,so spent another hour watching the sea on the Sunday before taking Abbie out again. It was a lot quieter than the day before. A lot more Auks were passing, all North, and there were more Gannets about too. Another unidentified Diver flew south and 3 Eiders were seen and that was about it.

So a quiet end to a quiet autumn, but I'm happy that I got myself familiar with some of the sites on the Lincs coast. Whether i get out there again before the end of the year, I don't know, all depends on free time!

Obligatory in situ scope shot

Sunday, 15 October 2017

Another Lincs coast Trip

Yesterday, Pete and I took another trip over to the Lincolnshire coast, leaving poor Ian behind feeling a little unwell. Continuous westerlies and a lack of reports of any significant falls of migrants made us a little concerned that it may be a little quiet, but we remained optimistic of at least finding one or two birds of interest.

We had decided that it would be worth scouring the dunes and scrub of the Rimac reserve south of Saltfleet, a place Pete had visited several times with some success. Getting out of the car to the sound of calling Chiffchaffs gave us hope and 3 in one bush was seen as a glimmer of hope. We walked the seaward side of the dunes, but the vegetation was largely quiet apart from some tit flocks with the odd Goldcrest. More encouraging was the continuous light passage of finches, buntings and Meadow Pipits. A few Siskin, Redpoll and Yellowhammer were of note. A small skein of 11 Pinkfeet also flew north.

At Sea view farm, we overlooked the scrub and managed to pick out a few bits, including a couple of Mistle Thrush, a Tree Sparrow and several Redwing, whilst 3 Snipe flew north. Walking back towards the farm, Pete thought he'd heard a Yellow-brow but we never heard it again. After that it was more of the same, the landward side of the dunes were extremely quiet, in the whole walk back to the carpark and then the further walk south of the carpark, we failed to really pick anything other than the occasional tit/crest flock. 2 Stonechat by the main gate were nice, and we got exceptional views of a very confiding Water Rail in a small reed-fringed pool, but it migrant-wise it was a bit disappointing.

Before leaving, we drove north to the 'Paradise' carpark at Saltfleet to check the pool and channel there for waders. The tide was in however, so no waders at the channel, but we were pleasantly surprised to see that the Long-billed Dowitcher that had been present for several weeks was still about, sitting with around 30 Redshank and 5 Ruff on the Pool. We hadn't expected to see the Dowitcher, as it hadn't been reported since the Monday before, so that was a bit of a result. With strengthening winds and not much faith left in the possibility of finding anything else in the dunes, we called it a day.

Paradise Pool

Thursday, 5 October 2017

Scotland - May/June 2017

I've had photos just sat on my computer doing nothing, from various holidays/trips away that I had intended to blog about. The most recent is when we went away to Scotland at the end of May this year to go and experience the Isle of May in the summer, with all its seabirds, as well as a trip to the Cairngorms to see if we could find a few Scottish specialities.

We drove up to Anstruther on the May bank holiday, and arrived there after around 7 hours of travelling (Edinburgh at rush hour is not the place to be). Michelle was unaware of where we were going so was confused as to why we were travelling for so long. She hadn't even cottoned on when we got to the Library Hostel in Anstruther, nor when I told the staff that I'd been before. I let her know that we'd be watching Puffins the next day, which resulted in much excitement.

Puffins above the Brae

We got the boat to the Island the next morning, on a flat calm sea in beautiful sunshine. As we approached, seabirds slowly began appearing, with the odd Guillemot and Puffin creating a sense of anticipation. The boat passed before the looming West Cliffs, an unforgettable experience, with hundreds of Auks in the sea, and birds plastering the rocks above.

Puffins atop the West Cliffs
We docked at Kirkhaven and were allowed around 3 hours on the Island. It was great to return here after seeing it in such a different light last October. Whereas then it was covered in Goldcrests and Thrushes, this time they had been replaced by Terns, Rock Pipits and Auks. Arctic Terns were nesting at the south of the island, and as we walked up Fluke Street and onto Palpitation Brae, more and more Puffins were seen, ever alert to the presence of the Gulls keeping an eye on them. Eider mothers were seen either on their nests or with creches of ducklings, again striving to keep their young safe from the hungry gulls.

Eider Family, Isle of May
We sat atop the Cliffs for some time, enjoying close views of Razorbills and Kittiwakes, and with Fulmars riding the breeze above us. I retraced many of my steps that I had taken the Autumn before, endlessly pointing out features to Michelle and recalling the many migrants that I had seen. It was nice to see Low Light again as we walked to the north of the island. 

Much of the rest of the time was spent on the Eastern side of the island, where we sat and simply enjoyed the sights and sounds of scores of Puffins, and the cool breeze coming in from the North Sea. Great to be here again, and it certainly made me want to return... perhaps for another autumn spectacular! 

The East of the Island

The next 3 days were spent at Aviemore, where I had a few plans to go looking for birds, but only in between just enjoying the area (it wasn't supposed to be a birding holiday!!). I had intended to 'go high' for some montane species like Snow Bunting, Dotterel and Ptarmigan, but I never really got the chance. We opted instead to go on more low-level walks round some of the woodland and lochans around the area. These were beautiful and not without some ornithological interest. 

The first day we walked round some of the Rothiemurchus estate, where I heard the only Wood Warbler of the Trip, shortly before seeing our first of many Red Squirrels. A brief, distant raptor appeared to be a Golden Eagle but I didnt count it as the views were so terrible. We wandered through some beautiful woodland, surrounding Loch an Eilein, where I managed some reasonable views of Crested Tits, as well as a number of Redstart, Spotted Flycatchers and a Tree Pipit. It was nice to see Goldeneye on the Loch too, as I'm so used to only seeing them in the winter back home.
Red Squirrel, Glenmore

The next day we followed some directions to try and find Capercaille, near Grantown-on-Spey. We were unsuccessful, but enjoyed the silence of the ancient pine forest, and had great views of a Spotted Flycatcher, as well as a few Red-breasted Merganser and a Dipper on the river, and Curlews on the opposite bank. 
Spotted Flycatcher, Grantown on Spey
In the afternoon, we attempted to see Golden Eagles up near the Findhorn Valley. This was typified by lots of wrong turns and driving down unlikely single track roads, but I think we eventually got in around the right spot. Unfortunately we were tired and grumpy by then so we didnt stay for long, but it was a beautiful area and well worth another visit, and whilst there we did see plenty of Common Sandpipers and families of Oystercatchers.

A bit more walking the next day didn't really result in any more exciting birds, although the beer garden at the Old Bridge Inn was a good place to watch Common Sand on the river, and Spotted Flycatchers were in the trees around the picnic benches too. I tried for Slav Grebe at Loch Vaa early on the Saturday, and tried from a viewpoint about halfway up Cairngorm to see Black Grouse (both without success), and late we tried for a 'rogue-male' Caper at a site on the way back home. We staked out the area for some time, but it was clear that it wasn't about (if it was a 'rogue' then I think it would have quickly tried to see us off), but it was nice to add Cuckoo to the trip list, with many singing in the area, and a couple more Red Squirrels too.

Although I failed to see almost all my target birds in this area of the country, it was good to experience this beautiful area, and get a bit more familiar with where to go to see certain things. It's certainly my intention to return and really give it some effort to successfully find some of  these highland specials.

Saturday, 30 September 2017

Newark Adventure

I was meant to go to Lincolnshire again today, mainly to look for migrants around the dunes again - with the added draw of the Long-billed Dowitcher that has been present for a few weeks. However I was unable to get out til mid  morning and decided it wasn't worth a 3-4 hour round trip for just an afternoon - especially as the winds werent especially favourable. (Looks like i missed some YBWs and a Barred warbler but not too fussed!)

Instead, I went to have a little look around a few sites around Newark, always productive, and I like to pay the area a visit a few times a year!

I began at Collingham, where vegetation and water levels meant there wasnt much in the way of wader habitat, but I did pick out a couple of Pintail on the pit north of Ferry Lane lake. Speaking to a couple of birders later it seems i missed a Black-tailed Godwit here. Otherwise there wasn't much of note, and i failed to pick anything up along the hedges and farmland around ferry lane.

Mons pool was more productive with up to 200 Wigeon knocking about - but no American compardres. 4 Curlew were sitting, soporific on one of the islands and a couple of late Swallows also flew through.

I had a Collingham Co-op Special lunch (cheese pasty and a packet of crisps) and decided i would visit Langford Lowfields. I don't normally visit here as I find it a bit restrictive, only being able to properly bird in the public areas, but it occasionally comes good. I noted a Ringed Plover on the walk down to the main part of the reserve, and a nasal-saddled female Pochard provided some interest, but i failed to read the code on it, hopefully it will be picked up by someone else on site.

On the main part of the site it was initially a bit quiet, but things picked up when I noted a smart male Stonechat knocking about in one of the reedbeds. Walking up to the viewing mound, a Water Rail popped out of some reeds and skitted about for a bit, a cracking adult male Sprawk bombed through and a Common Sand was bobbing about in the distance. Another group of about 20 Swallows flew through too. Not much else of note though, and I didnt really want to linger, so i soon moved on.

I popped in to Kilvington for a bit on the way home, and as usual there were good numbers of large gulls. Mostly lesser black backs, but an adult Yellow-legged Gull was new for the year for me. Lots of other birds about but the only other notable birds were the 5 Ringed Plover that had been reported the night before.

Tuesday, 26 September 2017

American Wigeon

Following a couple of uneventful visits to the patch, where its getting difficult to visit after work these days, I decided to go further afield again at the weekend. One of my field trials at work is in Oakham and I needed to visit it so i coupled it with a visit to Rutland on Saturday morning. I usually pop my head into the North Arm when I'm in the area, and I've picked up some reasonable birds whilst visiting in the past.

This time I decided to have a look in at the Egleton reserve, as an American Wigeon had been knocking around there for a few weeks, and I haven't been for some time. I quickly picked the bird in question up, feeding with a good sized flock of Wigeon in front of the Grebe hide on Lag 2. Also around were a good few Pintail, and a Great White Egret - now a common sight in the area, amongst the other numerous wildlfowl.

I didn't stick around on the reserve for too long, but did have a look at Lagoon 4, as its usually good for waders, but there was only 2 Greenshank and a Ruff, as well as another Great Egret. Another 15 or so Pintail were about too, nice to see in numbers.

Before heading home, I poked my nose in at the North Arm, as a Little Stint had been reported here. Scanning the banks, I only managed a couple of Ruff, 7 Dunlin and 8 Ringed Plover. Just before giving up, I had another look at the Dunlin and suddenly picked up the Stint, running round amongst them, though pretty distant, but always nice to see, and a new bird for me there.

Tuesday, 19 September 2017

Lincs coast expedition

Each year I tell myself that I'm going to go to the Lincs coast to have a crack at some autumn birding, but never really get round to it. However this year I've been encouraged to do it more, as I now have a companion to spur me on, namely Ian Blackmore-Allen, a friend and a recent returner to the world of birding after a brief hiatus.

On sunday we joined Pete Leonard and Nick Crouch, and I drove us to Gib Point to work the Scrub and Sand Dunes to see if we could pick up any migrants. Winds on the coast haven't exactly been favourable, but a few breaths of north-easterlies overnight gave us some hope.

We pitched up at 7am and worked the west dunes and around the Sykes Farm area til around mid-morning, but it was quickly evident that there hadn't been any sort of influx of birds, with very little moving around, aside from the odd Chiffchaff and small numbers of Goldcrest. Whilst we were watching a group of Swallows I picked up a Pied Flycatcher, sat in elders by the Roadside Pond, where there seemed to be a hive of activity, but it soon disappeared and wasn't picked up by anyone else. After watching a Kingfisher for a time, we decided to relocate to the East dunes, working our way from the field centre, back towards the car. Aside from several Reed Buntings and Mipits by the Obs and 9 Pink-feet flying over (relocated by Tennysons Sands later), there was very little to see, the dunes being very quiet indeed

Tennysons sands held some wader interest, holding around 250 Black-tailed Godwit, as well as c30 Avocet (including a colour ringed bird), several greenshank and a pintail. After this we headed back around Sykes Farm with no joy, and tried unsuccessfully to see some reported Yellow-browed Warblers at Aylmer Avenue.

After some chips at Skeg, we recced Chapel Six Marshes and Wolla Bank, a couple of sites further up the coast. Both were quiet, but Wolla Bank in particular seemed like it had potential and I managed a Wheatear on the beach, as well as a very close-in Guillemot on the sea (about 30m out!). Pete and Nick had a good explore and it was agreed it was certainly a site to consider in the future.

Looking forward to exploring more of this coastline, I'm hoping to get out there again in two weeks time, hopefully with some more easterlies and some more birds!

Sunny birding over the Saltmarsh