Welcome to my birdwatching blog. This blog will contain stories about my bird watching trips, interesting bird news and other tales that may or may not be bird related. I want to make it useful to the avid birder as well as those who may only have a passing interest in bird watching. I enjoy photographing bird life, common and rare through a spotting scope, not that they always sit still long enough for me. Being on the outskirts of North East London, my reports will not only cover my local patch of Redbridge/Waltham Forest, but also dip into deepest Essex, Suffolk, Kent and Norfolk.


Monday, 17 December 2012

Ambling around Amwell

Dragged myself over to Amwell NR today on a day off. Only a few birding days to go until my year list starts all over again and I would really like to get it to 160. This by any normal birder standards is pretty meagre but I’m not someone who dashes all over the place to see everything that has rare wings.

I mean I could have gone to Berks for the Buff-bellied Pipit at the Queen Mother’s Reservoir but decided to just enjoy a leisurely, if somewhat muddy stroll around one of Lee Valley’s better birding spots in Amwell. I had hoped for barrow loads of Smew with a splattering of Goosander and perhaps a smidgen of Waxwing or Hawfinch. No such luck.

Instead I had to be satisfied with a 1st winter drake Scaup that swam around with a small flock of Tufted Ducks on Tumbling Bay Lake. And to give it its due, it is the first Scaup I have seen for a couple of years and it has rocketed my list total up to 155. So I have a little under two weeks to find another five species – won’t be easy but not out of reach.
Scaup
Other birds of note included at least 3 Goldeneye (1 drake), Buzzard, 40 Lapwings and a Water Rail.

Saturday, 3 November 2012

Desert Wheatear. Good things come to those who wait.

Last Sunday, reports came in of a Desert Wheatear having been sighted at Abberton reservoir in Essex. This only the second recored of this bird in Essex with the last one being in 1987.

The trouble with this birding lark (poor pun) is that I have to work for a living and can’t drop everything to swan off (and another) to see a rare bird. So I had a tantalising wait each day to see if the bird had been reported and then if it had disappeared. As each day went by, people were posting amazing images of the wheatear and even the BBC got in on the act with a news report on it, telling me it would probably be off as soon as it could because it would be able to tell it was too far north by the shortening days. Great I thought.

So it came down to Saturday (today) and with my good bro also planning to visit the site, I crossed my fingers and hoped for the best. The early morning air was cold with a threatening swathe of thin rain clouds making the prospect of driving the 50 miles for a potentially pointless exercise all the more daunting. Why do I do this to myself?

The wheatear was usually watched from the visitor centre car park and I was the second car to arrive. The first was driven by a volunteer who had come to open up an hour early so that madmen like me could satisfy their craziness. I walked over to him and he just pointed. I followed his direction and saw the desert wheatear distantly on a post. He said it would come to us so I didn’t need to go to it. Sure enough after ten minutes, it started to work its way from post to post in our direction. Others arrived including my brother and for the next two hours we were all entertained and amazed at the confiding bird.

A big thank you must go to Essex Wildlife Trust and Essex and Suffolk Water for making it easy to access the site out of normal hours while major redevelopment is going on.

It owned the place today.
Such a beauty






Here’s looking at you kid!

Wednesday, 10 October 2012

Braun Avian Rhapsody in Norfolk ...any way the wind (won’t) blow...

Not sure when the American phrase 'Jaywalking' came into existence but it should now be called Jay-flying and be attributed to Norfolk. There has been a huge influx of Jays across the county and my brother Ant and I saw it first hand as we stopped in Hunstanton for a hot sausage roll breakfast. We witnessed squadrons of Jays passing overhead as we headed for Holme Dunes at the start of our epic weekend of birdwatching on the North Norfolk coast.

Holme Dunes NNR (just as it says on the picture)
Normally this time of year heralds the right migratory winds from the east that would make any birdwatcher salivate at the prospect of the rarities in abundance falling at their feet. Not this weekend though. With a very light North Westerly, things were quiet on the land and on the sea. Nice day for a stroll though.

There were a few wader species on the beach. Knot, Turnstone, Sanderling, Black-tailed Godwit, Redshank and Oystercatcher all allows close viewing with only the occasional dog walker or weekend walker sending the flocks into the air. Don’t think these people even noticed them.

Knot with a dodgy wing
We noticed in the distance a Great Skua sitting on the beach. We got as close as we could to view it as they don’t often come to shore, usually seen attacking gulls and terns for food. These birds are the pirates of the sea.

Great Skua

Great Skua
On the sea, Gannets flew east and we had one late Sandwich Tern heading west other than that, with virtually no wind, there wasn’t much to see. The pine wood by the observatory wasn’t a lot better. The usual Coal Tits – which I missed and Goldcrest flitted about high in the trees making bird watching a pain in the neck. Skeins of Pink-footed Geese came in waves across the sky and a few Swallows flew low over the dunes preparing for that long journey south. From the hides only Little Grebe, Wigeon, Teal and Shoveler were noted and a Kestrel stood guard outside,

Common Darter. Yes there are two of them.
Dragonflies are starting to really interest me. I’m pretty new to this game but when the birds go a bit quiet in the summer, the dragonfly may just take centre stage. This is a Common Darter  in a well, compromising position known apparently as a copulation circle. Look that up on the web at your peril.

Kestrel
On leaving Holme I had to be careful not to destroy the underside of the car as the number of sleeping policemen made travelling the entrance road like piloting a trawler in high winds. Did I say high winds...I wish.

Our next port of call ( like the link?) was Titchwell. You can’t go wrong with Titchwell; it always has good birds. The car park was heaving and this was a good sign. Ant and I walked through to the picnic area and it was full of pointing birders with huge camera lenses. The excitement wasn’t for a Red-flanked Bluetail although you’d think it was but it was a female Pied Flycatcher. Hey ho, beggars can’t be choosers. It was a great bird though but it wouldn’t sit still for my digiscoping lack of dexterity.

Curlews on the other hand do sit still. Well this one did anyway. It makes a big difference when the buggers stay still I can tell you.

Curlew
Another perfect example of how to pose came from a Bar-tailed Godwit. This one was a cracking bird, feeding on the saltmarsh. Overhead more Pink-footed Geese came in for the winter along with wave after wave of Brent Geese. Norfolk is one of the best places in the UK for watching geese and today was no exception.

Bar-tailed Godwit
We made our way to the foreshore hoping for some better sea-watching but we were wrong. Sure, there were waders on the breakwater and some distant Gannets, Auks and Geese but nothing special.

Ant looking for birds but thinking about beer.
We heard a 'probable' Blyth’s Reed Warbler had been seen nesr the Fen Hide so we went there for a while. Nothing showed but this gave us the chance to check out the new trails at Titchwell and these led us to four Greenshank on the freshwater marsh. Probably time for a beer.

If we thought trying to find good birds was difficult, you should have seen us trying to find our apartment. yes, apartment. We are posh birders didn’t you know? We were booked into the Langham Upper apartment at Langham Hall, spookily enough in Langham. Now Langham we could find. It has one pub, about 10 houses and no shops that we could see. The pub closed at 3pm and reopened at 7pm (remember those days?) But we couldn’t find this Langham Hall anywhere. We asked an ASBO urchin with a pitbull and he directed us to a Hall right in front of our eyes. No wonder we hadn’t seen many birds so far. Even then when we were there, we, I mean I still couldn’t find the actual Upper Apartment where we were suppose to stay. Look we found it eventually and it was fine. A spiral staircase, lounge, kitchen, two bedrooms and a bathroom with a crap shower and no soap. On the plus side, it had a few jigsaw puzzles, a few shit CDs and a couple of DVDs without a DVD player. What more could you ask for?  We dined in the King’s Arms in Blakeney which was great. Good food and beer and a lot of screaming women. Don’t think it was because of us though, think they were just merry. We heard a Tawny Owl when we got back to our pad.

Sunday morning came and the whole of Langham was smothered in fog. Things were looking promising. The influx of Jays continued and after a hearty breakfast of bacon and eggs we set out for Wells Wood at Wells-next-the-sea.

Wells Wood
We had a great start with a pair of Bullfinch and a few Brambling up in some silver birch. Three Redwing and a couple of Song Thrush appeared as we headed for The Dell. The Dell is a deep dip in the woods that attracts autumn migrants like Yellow-browed Warblers, Firecrest and Red-breasted Flycatchers....and Magpies. We saw Magpies and Jays with a few Goldcrest and Coal Tits but that was it. We came out of the wood and Ant found a Marsh Harrier quartering the grazing marsh. A Great Spotted Woodpecker flew over.

We then tried to find Kelling Water Meadow for a Pectoral Sandpiper but again I failed. We gave up and went to Cley. You know where you are with Cley. A few Egyptian Geese were seen just before the reserve and from East Bank, we found a few Bearded Tit but they would play ball for the camera.

Cley next-the-sea with windmill but little wind.
Sea-watching was better with Common Gull, Guillemot, Red-throated Divers, Common Scoters and Gannets feeding close to shore.
Common Gull
Guillemot
Ant thinking he had found a barrel of Woodforde’s Nelson’s Revenge bobbing on the sea
We walked the circular path from East to West Bank, popping into the hides as we went. We added to our bird total with Common Buzzard, soaring high over Walsey Hills. Walsey Hill would be our final stop.

Wigeon

Walsey Hills is a reserve that specialises in migrants. less than half a mile from the sea, the reserve is a dense vegetated hill that acts as a magnet to tired migrant travellers. I know one thing, we were tired and we had about an hour of energy left but it was worth the effort. A Cetti’s Warbler showed well. These skulking shy warblers are always heard but rarely seen. We got good views here. On the feeders, Lesser Redpoll, Coal Tit and Great Tit visited often and a Chiffchaff got our migrant warbler hopes up. Alas, that was all we saw from the path.
Coal Tit
Lesser Redpolls

The path leads out onto farmland where loads of crows and pheasants sat on the rolled bales of hay. In the field though, we found a number of Red-legged Partridge that gave us a grand total of 91 species for the trip.

Red-legged Partridge
I can’t help thinking that if the wind had been anything like an easterly or a northerly one, that total would have been over the 100 mark. Maybe next time


Thursday, 4 October 2012

Pineapples and pears

I have decided to go back to basics and learn watercolour techniques properly. I suppose you could liken this to fieldcraft when birdwatching. It’s nearly all about observation and interpretation. I can easily make assumptions about a bird just because it’s what I expect to see and it’s possible I have mis-identified something because I haven’t looked at it properly.

So hopefully my Thursday evening watercolour classes will train my eyes and brain to focus on the detail of a subject hard enough to understand it with clarity and confidence. These examples show I have a long way to go!
Pear

Early Pineapple

A bit more graphic

Very graphic

Detail

Final effort

Tuesday, 4 September 2012

You can’t beat a Phalacrocorax Aristotelis, first thing in the morning

Yesterday morning I stole an hour before work and visited Shoebury East beach. The tide was out but the immature Shag was still around. I managed to take a shot of Shoebury and some large ship and was lucky enough to have a speck on the lens that is the Shag.

Spot the Shag
There were loads of Pied Wagtails and a couple of Wheatears on the front. Waders included 20+ Curlews, 50+ Oystercatchers and a few Redshank.

That’s it. Oh, apart from an irritating dog that wouldn’t stop barking at me or rather my tripod. The owner didn’t have a clue how to control it but if the sea had been in I know what I would have liked to do...


Saturday, 1 September 2012

Dungeness delivers

September 1st and the early morning darkness greets me as I step out into the autumnal chill.What summer we had is disappearing fast. And that is great news. Late summer in the world of birding can be a little quiet and everyone has an impatient eye on the calendar and autumn can’t come quickly enough. So today I had high hopes of a good days birding and a trip down to Dungeness felt like a good plan and if nothing else, it should clear the hangover I felt from the night before.

Dungeness. Note the complete lack of anything avian in this picture.
Funny old place Dungeness. Not just for the dilapidated shacks, perculiar hand-scripted offers for lugworm and shellfish propped up against rusted lumps of marine machinery but the fact that there are quite often days when there are no birds on the land apart from the odd woodpigeon or scruffy magpie. So it can be a bit of a gamble. Overnight rain is no bad thing and if the wind is coming off the sea from a south westerly direction, seawatching would be productive. Well it had rained but when I got out of the car there was nothing in the way of a breeze. Zilch. Still I was here now so I decided to head to the sea hide first.

Birders becalmed.

There were a few other birders there already and The Patch (an area of the sea where the power station spews out warm water used for cooling and in turn, attracts sea life that forms a meal for gulls and terns) had a good number of terns hovering and dipping down to touch the sea and pick a morsel from the sea. There were Common Terns and a few Arctic Terns feeding here as well as a Little Gull and a Kittiwake. Further out a few Common Scoters passed by along with parties of Shelduck. After about an hour, the wind started to pick up a little. This was just enough to invite a few Skuas to come closer to the shoreline. First we had an Arctic Skua flying east followed minutes later by a Great Skua (Bonxie). Gannets were now visible and there was a Grey Seal and a couple of Harbour Porpoises also close to the shoreline for our entertainment.

Nothing else happened after that so I headed over to the 'desert' which is aptly named as it is a vast area of sparse scrub covered in shingle. A beautiful landscape but unfortunately bird free. But some nice plants like the Toadflax...I think.

God I hope this is Yellow Toadflax.
After an hours ankle breaking walk around the 'desert' I got back into the car and drove the mile or so to the RSPB reserve. There was a bit more activity here with Little Stints, a Curlew Sandpiper and a Hobby at the ARC Pit.

Curlew Sandpiper with Lapwings and Dunlin.
Little Stints (2) with Lapwings and Curlew Sandpiper.
This was the first time I had visited the ARC Pit’s Hansen Hide and I was very impressed with it. But now I had to trek the miles back across the road and along the track to Dengemarsh. There were hundreds of Sand Martins gathering up the enthusiasm to head off to Africa and a glorious female Marsh Harrier gliding about in front of the hide. The now regular Great Egret was visible – just at Dengemarsh but no sign of any Purple Herons or the recent Cattle Egret.
Great Egret
Over the day, I added ten new species to my year list and that’s a lot more than I expected. The photography was a bit disappointing as nothing ever got that close for a decent shot and if the desert had had a few migrants, it would have been amazing. Maybe next month.

Tuesday, 21 August 2012

Today’s motto when birding is 'expect the unexpected.'

The last few weeks have been manic at work mainly due to one particular client and getting any 'before work' birding has been near impossible and very frustrating. This morning I did manage to get an hour at one of my favourite work patches, namely South Fambridge.

I was hoping to see my first autumn arrivals like Whinchat or maybe a Black Tern along the estuary or something. Things were pretty quiet but I was glad for the peace and tranquility this site brings. A few Reed Warblers were still croaking out splutterings of notes but rather half-heartedly now. The shoreline had a few piping Curlew and Redshank while in the distance three Black-tailed Godwits probed and prodded the mud for breakfast.

The skies were overcast but the air was warm and scented with wildflower and nothing really mattered. I walked high along the seawall path and any movement in the sky was largely due to Woodpigeons.

A few of these pigeons came down on a recently harvested corn? field. A much larger and darker creature suddenly caught my attention. Due to the location, I immediately assumed it to be a Marsh Harrier. Still, it was worth a snap so I took a couple of pictures but knew the distance and the light conditions would relegate it to the annuls of my hard drive for ever.

It then got annoyed at a low flying Kestrel and lifted itself off into the air. I attempted to capture this but totally failed. I didn’t however, fail to notice the whiter than white rump this so called Marsh Harrier possessed. It probably wasn’t a Hen Harrier because of the time of year and the bird’s rusty colouring so could I dare think it to be a Montagu’s Harrier?
Montagu’s Harrier

With a good deal of help from The Southend Ornithological Group’s Don Petrie, it could be confirmed as a Monty. Obviously I was pleased as this has been a bit of a bogey bird for me in the past.


Tuesday, 14 August 2012

Not exactly Sir Peter Scott but what the hell....

Dotterel, circa 1999
Okay, it doesn’t look anything like Sir Peter Scott but you know what I mean. At my age it’s easy to forget what I did yesterday let alone 13 years ago. This watercolour resides in my mum’s dining room and although she is a keen collector of my masterpieces – like only a mum could be, I always forget about this one.

Not sure why I painted a Dotterel. It’s a smart bird with the female bucking the trend and being more striking or at least slightly more striking than the male. Rubbish plumage observation and as for the legs, less said the better.

Sunday, 22 July 2012

Only read this if you’re interested in birds

I can’t believe this is my first blog for over a month. It’s true that the months of June and July can be a little barren when it comes to bird watching especially when you are away from the coasts of the UK but the fact is, I have been birding...and thinking.

My first thought was why do I go birding? Clearly I love going out to reserves and digiscoping any species of bird; enjoying the habitats and the people I come across. I have trips and bird images I should have shared but to me, they were uninteresting and routine so didn’t or don’t deserve your valuable time reading them etc... Perhaps I’m being unfair on you. Perhaps I expect you to want to see images of rare or interesting birds with tales of woe or intrigue from me? I don’t know.

So then I thought why do I do this? I don’t do it to get home to write a blog and I don’t do it to get brilliant photos – that will rarely happen trust me. I don’t want to be top of the top 200, let alone 400 bird club lister list. So what the fuck is it?

Originally I did it because it relived stress and it became my 'shed', somewhere to escape to and enjoy in isolation. The web has allowed me to share my bird sightings and bird images for a few years now. This blog has encouraged me to take more photographs because people want to see the 'proof' and I can pretend to be a wildlife expert, an exponent of things others have never seen. But that’s bullshit. I do that for myself, another collection because birders are collectors. They are collecting memories, lists, events and information that makes them, me, more experienced and knowledgeable and ultimately the oracle for all things avian. Again, at least for me, this is not enough.

I’ll explain. We have an incredible variety of bird species in on this island of ours. Some are abundant, some are scarce and some are quite frankly on the verge of never being seen again. The armies of bird watchers in the UK are pivotal to reporting what is and what isn’t 'around' and this information is vital to all of the bird organisations from the RSPB to the BTO. They give us the reserves and they lobby the government for better land management and it then becomes apparent that these organisations are the reason why we have such a diversity of birds and other fauna and flora. Because without them, we would have nothing.

I have visited so many great reserves to see great birds. We all expect to see Marsh Harriers at Minsmere, Bearded Tits at Cley and Bitterns at Lee Valley Park but they wouldn’t be there if it wasn’t for the hundreds of people who do their bit to support the organisations who bear a responsibility to maintain and improve environments through financial or physical donations to do everything to protect and encourage these and other species and not just for our enjoyment.

So I have decided to give something back. I have enjoyed the facilities and efforts others have put into the habitats that have drawn the birds I have wanted to see and now I want to repay that with my time and in some way, my experience to support my local reserve with voluntary services that they can use to continue the work they do.

So now, rather than getting excited by a day spent on the Norfolk coast or rummaging through the scrub at Dungeness. Now, as a volunteer at the Lee Valley Park, I talk to families, random walkers/cyclists and over-excited children about Coots, Grey Herons and the chicks of Black-headed Gulls. I see a light in their eyes that I have never seen in those of a twitcher who has just seen a lifer. Fact.

Next time, I promise to have a list of great birds and an odd assortment of photos to go with them. I just needed to get things in perspective.

Sunday, 17 June 2012

Am I going to see the Little Bittern? No, I’m going to photograph Tufted Ducks, okay?

Okay, I’ve just proved to myself that I’m not a bona fide twitcher. If I was, I’d have been bashing elbows with all the other birders of Herts, Essex and London over at Stockers Lake, Herts, for the Little Bittern. Instead, I went to Rye Meads also in Herts for Kingfishers and Kestrels. Okay, the Kingfishers didn’t show so just the Kestrels then and a couple of Green Sandpipers if you will.

Rye Meads is nice (nice cool not nice twee). It’s been a few years since I’ve walked the boards there but I like what they’ve done with the place. I really wanted to shoot Kingfishers and Rye Meads is the place to do it. My problem was timing. The Kingfisher pair are on a clutch of eggs so activity is low to say the least. I gave it a couple of hours but no change of place between the male and female happened in that time so I gave up. All was not lost though as five Kestrel young, almost at the stage of flight took turns to either defecate out of their nest box or have a gander at what the outside world looks like.

There are 5 young kestrels in this box!
I left the 'Kingfisher Hide' (apt term really) and went to check on all the other birdlife on the reserve. I decided to go to the Draper Hide which had a couple of Green Sandpipers on the scrape first.

The paths to the hide had singing Cetti’s Warblers, about 3 or 4 and numerous Blackcaps and Reed Warblers again in song. From the hide there was plenty to see. A Common Redshank probed the shallow waters at the back while a pair of Oystercatchers were in the mood for love and who knows, may breed here. Common Terns made themselves know with their ratchet cries and squabbling.

the Green Sandpipers were annoyingly asleep to begin with with their heads firmly tucked under wing. But as the sun emerged from greyish clouds, so did the Sandpipers. This was as near to a Green Sandpiper as I have got. Normally they skirt the marsh fringes on the opposite side of a scrape to me so getting a few images wasn’t too difficult.

Green Sandpiper

There were two of them. How interesting.


Green Sandpiper
Now with the Oystercatchers getting all romantic, not far away in another stretch of water, things were getting a little hot for one poor female Tufted Duck. At least three drakes were fighting for her attention (Buy flowers and chocolates guys, splashing algae all over her isn’t a good way of softening up the girl of your dreams). Not sure who won, maybe the prize-fighting Coot that also joined the melee got the girl like a strutting little James Dean that he was.
Female Tufted Duck looking in shock after fighting off a couple of frisky drakes
So maybe if the Little Bittern is still around next week, I’ll fight my way through the crowds of twitchers to get the bird.


Tuesday, 29 May 2012

wildgooserchaser.co.uk

Well I’ve been messing around with a website for a few weeks now and although I know it could do with a bit of spit and polish, it does the job. It’s solely dedicated to bird images I take through digiscoping and that’s it. If you want a laugh, go to www.wildgoosechaser.co.uk


Sunday, 27 May 2012

Greenish goes AWOL as I go brownish in the sun

You can’t blame rarities when they’re not where they’re supposed to be. After all, they aren’t supposed to be there anyway.

Every now and then, I choose to visit a place a rare bird has been seen. In this case, it was a Greenish Warbler at Northward Hill in Kent. It had turned up only yesterday and I was hopeful that it would be around for a day or two. A few of spent a couple hours searching for the Asian Houdini but to no avail. I did find a Nightingale which gave brief views and green and Great Spotted Warblers kept us entertained.

I left hoping it wouldn’t reappear and headed off to Elmley Marshes to get over it. This was probably a mistake as Elmley is a vast tract of land with very little cover. With the sun already beating down at a steady 26Âșc I was going to be toast.

I nearly ran over a Red-legged Partridge as I drove through the entrance gates so that was a new bird for the year. All along the 2 mile track to the reserve there were Lapwings, Yellow Wagtails, Skylarks and Meadow Pipits. As I neared the farm, a Brown Hare popped up and didn’t seem to mind my presence.
Brown Hare
There aren’t many reserves where you can bird watch in the WC. I thought I would make myself comfortable before the 6 mile walk on the reserve which really doesn’t have any cover so having a comfort break can leave you feeling a little exposed. As I answered the call of nature, another call from nature rang in my ears. A family of Swallows had made their home in the toilet block and I was clearly embarrassing them.
Swallow looking a bit embarrassed.
On the trek out, Goldfinches and a single Corn Bunting were singing. On the first set of pools, Avocets cared for the numerous young birds, Redshanks danced nervously about sending up a few Yellow Wagtails and a single Common Sandpiper prodded the mud seemingly without a care in the world.

Common Redshank
Not many trees

While there are no trees to speak of on the grazing marsh, there are small crops of shrub-like bushes that act as song posts for pipits and skylarks. One particular Meadow Pipit was happy to pose for me.

Meadow Pipit
And the sun seemed to really bring the birds out on show as even the usually skulking Reed Warblers gave me the time of day.

Reed Warbler
Approaching the Welland Hide, a Bearded Tit flew across the reedbeds with a few Reed Buntings and Sedge Warblers. Overhead, a Marsh Harrier was getting some grief from a few Black-headed Gulls and a bit later the same happened to a Peregrine although I doubt it was the same gang of gulls.