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.

Thursday, 31 January 2013

A bit of Bittern action

Filmed the Bittern through my fieldscope to see if it worked.  Sort of worked.

Sunday, 27 January 2013

A Bittern bonanza as the routine goes out the window

Routine. Routine is one of those words that feels a little bad or slightly derogatory. It can describe someone’s life as boring or it can describe things as predicable and by association, unexciting.

Well I have a routine when I volunteer at the Lee Valley Park. It begins with an hour or so walk around a part of the park to see what’s about. Normally I do the same old boring route as I also do a BTO winter thrush survey and have an allotted square kilometre to cover and count the numbers of Fieldfare, Redwing Song Thrush etc in that area. Well today would be different and I don’t know why.

The day began with a beautiful blue sky. The past few weeks had been grey and snow white but there was a real sense of things become mild and nature preparing for spring. Instead of wearing what I normally wear, I donned my box-fresh Lee Valley Fleece and volunteer badge. Not exactly exciting I know but it made me feel more a part of the Park and what they do. Silly but there you go.

Approaching the Bittern Watchpoint
Upon arriving at the Lee Valley Park, I was surprised by the amount of snow and ice still quite prominent here. In some places, the snow was still 4-5 inches deep and the sheet ice made walking around on some of the pathways almost deadly.

Before opening up the Bittern Watchpoint, I took a walk or slide or whatever you want to call it to Friday lake to find Smew. All the lakes had extensive ice covering them and very few wildfowl. I did happen upon a couple of twittering Siskin as I negotiated a rather tricky part of the park which I have now renamed the Cresta run. Even when just standing still and viewing the siskin, I could feel myself sliding sideways as if I was on a conveyor belt.

I opened up the centre and put out the telescopes and binoculars; switched on all the CCTV screens while all the time, keeping one eye on the reedbed for the elusive Bittern.

The usual views you get of a Bittern, if you’re lucky.

The morning went pretty much as it usually did. The odd glimpse of the bittern as it sneaked around at the back of the reeds and a couple of water rail chasing each other around and around in a routine of their own. As it was a sunny day, plenty of people passed through.

Even dogs are allowed in.
Then, in the early afternoon, everything changed. A second Bittern flew in and disappeared into the reeds. 10 minutes later it flew out across the lake and settled, distantly in another part of the park. This must have upset or disturbed our regular bird because it’s routine is to stay at the back and frustrate everyone. However, now it decided to come out of the reeds and give us all incredible views.

Now if the Bittern did this as a matter of routine, routine would become one of the most exciting things that could ever happen.

Oh yes, and on Friday morning I finally managed to see some Waxwings.

Bad shot of waxwings but who cares?
Not you weren’t expecting that were you?

Friday, 11 January 2013

Northern lass hits Essex.

Now, Long-tailed ducks are normally to be seen off the Northern and Eastern coasts in winter. From Scotland down to Norfolk/Suffolk is their usual range and most of the time, can be seen bobbing merrily on the sea or flying low across it. rarely are they seen on what can be at best described as a small lake but at Gunners Park near Southend, this is what we have.

Gunners Park Lake
Gunners Park is a pretty good birding spot. Plenty of scrubland and trees, metres from the sea brings in the right conditions great migrants in the spring and autumn. In winter the shoreline is awash with waders. Today, Sanderling, Oystercatcher, Common Redshank, Turnstone, Ringed Plover, Lapwing and a few Bar-tailed Godwits fed along the outgoing tide. In the scrub, bag loads of Song Thrushes, Dunnocks and blackbirds heralded in the new day.

The air was slightly damp with an irritating mizzle. The light was very poor so any images are rather grainy I’m afraid. On the lake, Mallards topped the numbers chart with a few Mute Swans and Little Grebes. A lone female Common Scoter was a bit unusual but the star of the show was definitely a female Long-tailed Duck. Both the Scoter and the Long-tailed Duck have been here since 20th December so they weren’t that much of a surprise. The surprising thing was they were still here when I was here.

Long-tailed Duck

Sunday, 6 January 2013

My life and other animals, birds, people and doodles

One of the best bits about volunteering at the Bittern Information Point in the Lee Valley apart from the obvious, is the people I get to meet. You get all sorts but they fit into quite defined segments.

1. The lone birder (usually with a beard and usually male)
We don’t need to give these chaps much info. They know what they’re doing and apart from asking the key question, 'Is the Bittern about?' not much interaction takes place. They prefer silence and a hot flask of coffee.

2. The regular friend of the valley.
These people are singular or come in pairs. A mixture of men and women of all ages with binoculars and often, semi-pro cameras. They know the valley better than me but that’s not saying much. They love a chat and some even bring chocolate bars that they share out. They can spend nearly all day in the hide or pop out for a few hours and then come back to report their sightings. Love them.

3. Families
They are great because the kids love to use our binoculars and telescopes. Their enthusiasm is infectious and their questions endless. I don’t think the lone birders like them that much especially if they make a lot of noise.

4. Walkers/bike riders
They usually just want a map or to report a mad swan on the path. They don’t really want to stay long or stare at a reedbed for hours. Fair play to them.

5. Young couples
Interesting one this. It’s usually the guy trying to impress a girl with his romantic, nature-loving but a little wild side. The girls always look bored. I get a look from them that says 'Haven’t you got any Elle mags in here or something for Christ’s sake? Sorry, only RSPB mags from 1991 so long as the mice haven’t chewed them up to make a nest again.

6. Mature couples
Another group that love to chat. They will often sit at opposite ends of the hide, not because they have had a row but because they are covering off all the angles in order to spot a bittern or rail. They still communicate often through me or another volunteer which can make us dizzy.

So there you have them. yesterday had most of these and the bittern hide has now become a focus of attention as a bittern or two is now being seen on a regular/daily basis.

We had a Bittern at just after 10am it only showed briefly before skulking off into the reeds again. We had another few sights as the morning went on but photographing one proved too difficult. I managed a few sketches and finished this off at home later. The one we do see is a big bird. Bigger than most of the bitterns I have seen in the valley. Very impressive.

Bittern watercolour sketch
Water Rail watercolour sketch
I also made a sketch of a water rail. This wasn’t done from life as the devil wouldn’t stay still. At least a bittern can pose motionless long enough to get the main details down with a pencil. A water rail fidgets too much but is fun to paint nonetheless.

My duty at the hide was only for the morning and as one of my 'Mature couples' had informed me of a Goosander up at Holyfield Lake, a huge sailing boat lake, I decided to take a chance and have a look for it. It’s a bit of a trek, probably close to a mile from the bittern hide but it was there so it was worth it.

Drake Goosander
They had told me that it was a female they saw but this was clearly a male bird so the female must have been around somewhere close but didn’t appear. Obviously a mature couple themselves.

One the way home, I stopped off at Mansfield Park, a high elevated public open space that is brilliant from snooping in at the William Girling Reservoir which itself is closed to the public. I spied at least 8 Black-necked Grebe here which is probably half of the number that regularly bob about on the reservoir. Overhead, a single Ring-necked Parakeet squawked its head off.

Keep the noise down, I’m a lone birder mate.

Birds seen:
Little Grebe, Great-crested Grebe, Black-necked Grebe, Cormorant, Bittern, Grey Heron, Mute Swan, Greylag Goose, Canada Goose, Egyptian Goose, Mallard, Gadwall, Shoveler, Wigeon, Teal, Pochard, Tufted Duck, Goosander, Pheasant, Water Rail, Moorhen, Coot, Lapwing, Black-headed Gull, Common Gull, Herring Gull, Lesser Black-backed Gull, Great Black-backed Gull, Woodpigeon, Great Spotted Woodpecker, Wren, Robin, Redwing, Fieldfare, Blackbird, Chiffchaff, Goldcrest, Great Tit, Blue Tit, Long-tailed Tit, Magpie, Jay, Jackdaw, Carrion Crow, Chaffinch, Goldfinch

Total: 46

Thursday, 3 January 2013

New Year’s day; the best day of the year to go birding

With ten whole days off over the Christmas and New Year period, I was expecting to have a halcyon period of birdwatching. But as the norm in our household, I was doing those odd jobs that needed doing, going on shopping trips (groan) and of course, looking up at the dark, rain-filled clouds that appear whenever I get the time to go out birding. All my dreams and schemes to get my yearly total to 160 lay in tatters; 155 would have to suffice.

So on New Year’s day, I had the chance to get out of the house. The weather was forecast to be beautiful sunshine with a cool breeze but thankfully no rain. I decided to go to Old Hall Marshes which was a random choice for me as I have only ever been there twice in my life. But the thing with birding on 1st Jan is that you can start a new year list – if you do one that is and every species is a good one.

Old Hall Marshes RSPB reserve
From the car park, I took a clockwise direction and basically walked the whole circumference of the reserve. No ideas how far that was but with the heavy rain over the past few weeks, and a less than even path, the going was heavy to say the least. The hard bit is trying to look up at the sky for raptors, geese and waves of waders while avoiding slipping over into the thick mud or worse, the water.

View from Pennyhole Bottom (I know)
Old Hall Marsh is renowned from its strongholds of Curlew, Grey Plover and wintering Brent Geese. The latter was very much in evidence with skeins crossing the Essex skyline and floating down into the grazing marsh areas.

Brent Geese
There were 100’s of Wigeon and Teal swimming along the Salcott channel along with four Pintail (2 drakes) and a couple of Red-breasted Mergansers, Huge flocks of Golden Plovers(400+) and Lapwings(850+) lifted upwards as a Marsh Harrier glided past them and Common Redshank, Oystercatchers and Dunlins called as they flew low into land at the waters edge.

Red-breasted Mergansers
Along the water’s edge, a few Rock Pipits and Pied Wagtails were feeding on insects in the seaweed. They ran along the sea wall flying a few feet to catch their prey.

Not the best shot of a Rock Pipit
Offshore, a couple of Goldeneye did great disappearing acts as they dived under the water and surprisingly, a female Common Scoter played the game with them.

Looking towards Tollesbury
After about 5 hours of trudging through the mud, over stiles and through iron gates, I eventually made it back to the car park. I had seen that a Little Owl and a Barn Owl had been seen regularly around the Warden Office and car park but was still taken aback when this beautiful creature landed on the fence. It stayed long enough to pose for a few snaps before dropping down on an unfortunate field vole and carrying it off for dinner.

Barn Owl

Birds seen:
Little Grebe, Cormorant, Grey Heron, Little Egret, Canada Goose, Brent Goose, Greylag Goose, Shelduck, Mallard, Teal, Wigeon, Shoveler, Tufted Duck, Pochard, Pintail, Goldeneye, Common Scoter, Red-breasted Merganser, Kestrel, Marsh Harrier, Coot, Lapwing, Golden Plover, Grey Plover, Common Snipe, Turnstone, Common Redshank, Curlew, Oystercatcher, Dunlin, Black-tailed Godwit, Barn Owl, Black-headed Gull, Common Gull, Lesser Black-backed Gull, Great Black-backed Gull, Herring Gull, Woodpigeon, Skylark, Meadow Pipit, Rock Pipit, Pied Wagtail, Dunnock, Stonechat, Blackbird, Long-tailed Tit, Starling, Magpie, Carrion Crow, Chaffinch, Greenfinch, Linnet, Reed Bunting