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.


Saturday, 28 March 2015

The space in-between.

Tomorrow we hit the Spring Equinox when we can all spend hours staring at the oven clock trying to remember how the damn thing works so that we can move forward with our lives.

Lee Valley is a bit like my oven clock to some extent. Today I stared at it trying to will it forward into spring so that I could get out of the chilling wind and see the clouds part bringing down rays of warming ultra violet. It didn’t start well as rain sprinkled down from a flat concrete sky. I probably should have stayed in bed for an extra hour so as to balance the one I will lose tomorrow. Still, you know me...

I took my car to the Hooks Marsh car park and walked along Walton’s Walk getting a small blast of spring from a couple of enthusiastic Chiffchaffs. All the regular chaps were about; Chaffinches, Robins, Goldfinches, Song Thrushes and a bucket of Blackbirds that threw themselves at me. I ignored most of these and made my way to Friday Lake. There had been a Redhead Smew here for some while and if spring wasn’t going to play ball, then maybe winter still would.

There was no sign of the Smew and a main pathway had also been shut for maintenance so I only had limited places to view the water. There was one Redhead Goosander, a few Great-crested Grebes and the 'buy one get one free' Tufted Ducks that litter the lakes here.

I went next to Hall Marsh where a Little Egret was stirring up the silt to find food.

Little Egret
A quick circular walk brought me back round to Walton’s Walk where in the relief channel, I found a rather docile drake Goosander. Normally they disappear sharpish like, but this one just floated about like a duck in a bath.

Goosander

Back at the car park, this Greylag Goose posed happily for photos and I would have done more but it was time to go on duty at the BIP for what might be the last time I’d get a chance to photograph the Bittern.

Greylag Goose
Before getting the BIP ready, I still had time to find what I consider to be an uncommon bird around Fishers Green...a Rook.

Rook
And not rare but definitely weird... a black Pheasant...

These seem to be a bit of a speciality around here as I have counted at least 8 different birds.
At the BIP, the wind was getting up and worse still, getting through the viewing windows making things very uncomfortable. Sod the Bittern I thought and went the other side of the BIP where we watch everything from HD cameras with monitors on the wall. While enjoying a hot coffee, one of our regulars flew onto the trunk of the tree outside. We have been getting a pair of Common Treecreepers here daily and getting a few photos was something to do.

Common Treecreeper

Common Treecreeper (although this one seems to be running rather than creeping)
There wasn’t any sign of the Bittern and the reports on our board from the past few days would suggest that they have departed here for their breeding grounds. A Grey Heron did manage to keep some of the punters happy including myself as we lamented the lack of Bitterns.



So now we must wait in that space in-between for the Common Terns to arrive along with all the Warblers, Cuckoos, Waders, Nightingales and Hobbies.

Friday, 20 March 2015

Lynford Arboretum brightens up a dull day

Where I work, you get a day off on your birthday. Yippee!

My plans were all over the place. Should I go to Kent or Rainham again or somewhere else? The weather was looking dull as dishwater everywhere; there was no escape.

I opted for Norfolk, don’t know why really, the car just veered off up the M11 and that was that. I had been to Lynford Arboretum a few weeks ago as part of my weekend with my mate Ed and like it a lot. We only spent a hour or so there so this time I decided to do a whole day. Surely a Hawfinch would show for me this time?

My word it was dark. I thought the solar eclipse had arrived early in Norfolk as i adjusted the settings on my camera to the 'show me anything' mode.

Nuthatch looking like it’s just noticed there’s a gate.
A very popular place within the Arboretum is 'The Gate'. Now, gates aren’t that exciting except for the one to Buck House or even the one in Stargate which I have to say is a bit clever. No, this one is just a wooden gate. It is however a gate you can lean on and this is especially useful if you like taking pictures of birds just the other side of said gate.

There was a lot of activity. Coal Tits, Marsh Tits, Chaffinches pretending to be Bramblings, Brambling pretending to hide under the fallen leaves and mast, Great Tits, Blue Tits, Blackbirds, Nuthatches, Long-tailed Tits, Dunnocks, Robins (pause for breath) Siskins, a Wren, Great-spotted Woodpecker and a squirrel but no Hawfinch. I would have gladly swapped all these, well not the Brambling) for a Hawfinch but it wasn’t offered to me.

Siskin on my side of the gate. 




Brambling forgetting to hide


Nearly

Nice try.
I wandered down to the paddock but only a pair of Common Buzzards overhead and a Common Kestrel to see here. Oh, there was a flack of about 70 Siskins singing away and feeding up in a couple of alders.

Back at the car park, I bumped into the unmistakeable Frank Gibson who I see at Weeting Heath as he seems to run the show there. He said he was expecting the Stones back any day now, just need a warm front. Another visit soon then I guess.

Thursday, 19 March 2015

That Rainham Marshes magic

Still basking in my Serin glory, I warmed down by heading straight for the familiar surroundings of Rainham Marshes. After Lee Valley, this is my home. I love it; I love the warm welcome and I love the diversity of the birds that come here. It’s a true barometer for spring migration and frankly, anything is possible – any time.



I headed straight for the Cordite area and quickly picked up a singing Chiffchaff. At the feeders, the Brown rats were putting on a show (funny how in a totally natural setting, these rodents retain a certain ahhh factor as they busied themselves picking up seed and chaff from the feeders.




This area is a hotbed of action. Great Tits, Blue Tits, Chaffinches, Collared Doves and Reed Buntings all commute in to the feeders, taking turns and jumping away when the next bird is due. If I did’t know better, I would think they have a ticket system like you see at the deli counter at Tesco.




I made my way round the circuit not seeing too much until I got to the Butts Hide. I knew a couple of Little Ringed Plovers had arrived and it wasn’t long before I picked one up on a small mud island close to the hide. then, as if by magic, a Water Pipit flew down beside it. Thank you God!


Water Pipit

Water Pipit
Another two to my growing list for the year at Rainham. High above, a lapwing went mental with a display of aerobatics worthy of any RAF fighter squadron.

Pull out of that one Peewit.
From the Butts hide, I went through he Dragonfly Pools without incident (one day I will get a Bearded Tit here!) and then watched a majestic Little Egret fish for its supper.






Finally, I conjured up a resting Snipe at the water’s edge and a drake Pintail showing off its fantastic plumage to bring an end to a great day or so I thought.



A footnote: The best thing about Rainham Marshes isn’t any bird or animal it’s a human nature. And by this I mean the people who run the show. Well no, the person who runs the show, Howard Vaughan to be precise. I watched him point out Rock Pipits to some of the punters before collaring him about my bird race total which was out of date. Not only did he check my species list, he then pointed me in the direction of at least three species my team needed almost from where we stood. The man is a the magic that is Rainham Marshes.

Serin-dip-ity?

As is often the case with me, I watch a report of a 'good' bird and then um and ah about whether I should go for it or not. Often it’s not because the twitching thing although exciting, just doesn’t lie in my blood. I like my birding to be a release, a relaxation away from the stresses of work and and well, work.

This doesn’t mean of course I don’t imagine getting a first for the UK or even a second. I have dipped plenty in my time, not least those jokers in the shape of Parrot Crossbills at Gunners Park even though I only worked down the road.

So you can imagine when the pair of Serins turned up at the same said Park, I wondered should I? But left it. Then I get a day off. I get to thinking and I get to going up the A127 to haunts of old.

The weather was shit. Low grey swirls of mist descended on the Essex east side and even arriving at the spot my brain went into panic mode. I convinced myself I had made a bad choice; the birds had been here for a couple of months and were now only being seen sporadically.

The favourite spot for the Serins had lots of activity. Greenfinches, Dunnocks, Song Thrushes and Great Tits were everywhere. No sign of serins though. A few other birders joined me and we split up to cover the area. Eventually I heard one singing deep in a bramble bush. Trouble is , it saw me and flew away low and toward the sea. Nothing for at least 30 minutes after that and a long search found nothing. The sky was beginning to break so I took a break and walked along the seawall for a bit.

I found some nice Turnstones and a few Brent geese close to the shore but my focus was still on getting a shot, even a record one of the serins.






All the dog walkers in essex were now out and about and where the new houses have sprung up, workmen were sand-blasting pretty driveways making a terrible noise. 'Fat chance now' I thought but I was here so I might as well have another look.

Another pair of birders were on the hunt and we met up and exchanged notes. They seems pleased that I had seen one and we started to search afresh. Before long, one of them called that a Serin was on the far side of the pond. Sure enough, the distinct yellow glow was clear to see as it flitted through the trees. I like God, God always seems to come good if you try hard enough and for that matter, pray hard enough. Our little continental friend must of sensed our frustration and flew right over to us and straight into a bush only metres from us. My camera went into overdrive...










This was my first European Serin in the UK. What a beauty! So, no dip this time and as Del boy would say, He who dares Rodney, he who dares....

Saturday, 14 March 2015

Don’t be careful what you wish for...just be sure.

Normally I take an early morning walk around the Lee Valley at Fisher’s Green on my own, before going on duty. Today was different. Today was special. The powers at LVP are always looking for new volunteers and are always asking how and why we (volunteers) do it in order to get an insight on how they can persuade others to join the team. well, the answer is simple; volunteers form close friendships with other volunteers and this means days like this.

Instead of my normal insular walk, I was joined by my good and generous friends Brenda and Jo. We met at Fisher’s Green before most people are even awake and enjoyed a bracing 3 hour walk around the park pretty much to ourselves before taking up duties at the Bittern information Point.

50 shades of Grey Wagtail.
We made our to the Grebe hide, a trail I often take and stopped at the vantage point that look across the Grand Weir. Now, I have only ever seen a Grey Wagtail once in this park...back in some forgotten year but we were lucky enough to find one enjoying insects close to where we were.

It could just call the number rather than shout.


Would I have seen this beautiful wagtail on my own? I doubt it. Just a change to ones routine can sometimes throw the routine into the random. We lapped it up.

We looked for any late Goosanders but none were seen. Grey herons seemed to be everywhere along with Great Crested Grebes and Cormorants.


Grey Heron
From the Grebe hide, we backtracked and took the path to Hooks Marsh. We checked the concrete bridge and walked into the world of Disney. There were Dunnocks, Robins, Chaffinches, Mallards and a Squirrel all coming together on the top of the bridge as we stood there.




Mind you, these ladies can talk. I tried to focus on the world around me but also had to learn to hear above the conversation for the bird calls...so I learned a new skill I suppose. (Joking ladies, joking)

Jo then found the find of the day. A pair of Long-tailed Tits had started to build a nest and we stopped to watch them at work. I couldn’t focus on the build but my camera and me have a way to go yet in terms of building our own relationship!

As 10am approached, we said our goodbyes to Jo who unfortunately wasn’t on duty today (something she will have to live with for some time to come I expect) and Brenda and myself prepared for a day in the information point.

For those of you who are not familiar with the Lee Valley or the Information Point, dedicated to the Bittern God, we have had a pretty meagre year with said Bittern. It has shown but often only fleeting views or obscured views so we didn’t expect or imagine what would unfold, only wish for.

To be blunt, it was like f***ing Pinocchio. Brenda had only just opened the shutters to the hide before she brilliantly shouting but in a whisper 'Bittern...Bittern...It’s showing!" The Dream was coming true.

We grabbed cameras and our hopes but the damn bird showed a tail and disappeared back into the reed bed. Well at least we knew it was there and where it was. We settled down for the inevitable.

The inevitable is written in birding law and a page written on this blog many times this year in the valley. Fleeting moments of Bittern punctuated by hours of rhetorical discourse around the appearance or non-appearance of the bird.

Well bugger me!





Yes, just try creeping past without being seen!

Water Rail did the warm-up act
Do you know what, I get it. People come to the BIP to see the Bittern, get a pic etc but unless you really believe in it...in other words, spend the whole day getting cold and hungry, reed-blind and depressed, you won't get these shots. I’m so lucky. I volunteer. I have to be there and I’m lucky to have other volunteers who are happy to operate the remote cameras, serve coffee and feed any passing dogs while I do my thing. But then, that is what friends do. Friends like Kevin, another volunteer  and a saint. He’s always there to cover and do the stuff in the nerve centre but he will still do a 9 second, 100 metres, to tell me about a Treecreeper just outside the centre. Love him for that.



It was totally a dream come true today. We even had a docile Jay in the picnic area that was happy for its picture to be taken and used in this blog.

Jay walking it.

So, wish for the things you want the most but never overlook the things that make you really happy.
And in my case, it isn’t the Bittern; it’s my friends – I couldn’t wish for any better.