Saturday, 17 August 2019

Seamill & West Kilbride :: 12-15 August 2019

Our summer visit to the family in West Kilbride. As usual this gives me the opportunity to do a bit of birdwatching between dawn and breakfast. So on the first morning I woke and left the hotel to change into walking shoes at the car - don't want sand everywhere! Rock pipitI then headed for the beach, only to find the gate from the hotel onto the beach locked ... I returned through the car park, along the road and down Sandy Lane. Overhead were flocks of greylag geese on the move, in v-formation.

Four species of gull were visible at the end of the burn, as it flowed into the sea. The sea was dead-calm. There were also oystercatchers and curlew. I stopped on the bridge over the burn but the water was deep and flowing fast - no chance to catch a dipper feeding as the rocks they feed from were submerged. Grey heronI continued along the paths through some bracken noting that it was still quite wet from the previous day's rain. I added rock pipit and linnet on the rocks and dunlin feeding in a distant pool. When I reached the Waterside Inn I had two distant fly-bys from a peregrine, spooking many of the birds resting on the rocks. There appeared to be good numbers of redshank and curlew all along the coast.

I turned for home and came across a few sedge warbler chatting away in the scrub beside the path. They were quite mobile but only once gave decent views. Unfortunately the photo I took had foliage right across the eye. To the right were reed bunting, showing better. There were also half a dozen stonechat (mostly juveniles) resting on the posts and fence to the fields on my right.

When almost back to the burn I spotted a greenshank feeding in a pool, but almost as soon as I did, it took off and landed far in the distance - I'd look again tomorrow. Sedge warbler

The following morning wasn't as still but it promised to be another nice day. Although the burn had slowed, there was still little chance that any dippers would show so I headed on quickly. I passed the spot where I had seen greenshank the day before and I soon picked it up - unfortunately already quite distant. Fortunately it was possible to navigate to a closer vantage point and get a couple of photos - after a few minutes it took to the air and headed left, and was joined by another that had been out of sight.

I had better views of the sedge warbler and as a result better photos. WhinchatThere were more rock pipit than you could shake a stick at. I reached the turn, at the Waterside Inn and spotted what might be a likely candidate for whimbrel on the sand. As I turned to get a better position I noticed a small bird on the fence behind - it turned out to be a female whinchat. I decided to cautiously make my way forward and was treated to decent views and photos of the whimbrel. Satisfied, I started off for the hotel when I saw a small flock of birds offshore. Luckily for me, they spun round and passed reasonably closely - around 45 knot!

I didn't go for a walk on the Wednesday due to rain and blustery winds. On the Thursday it started heavy grey and rain could be seen over towards Arran. I doubted that it was a good idea to head out, as I was likely to get a soaking. I decided to take the chance and was rewarded with the rain staying offshore until breakfast time, when there was a short shower. There wasn't anything to add and I could locate the greenshank. The blustery wind didn't help.

After breakfast we headed for the Ardrossan Ferry Terminal and boarded the ferry to Arran. I took a seat on the rail and watched for passing birds. On the way out I had several gannet and a couple of Manx shearwater. We had a great day on the island and enjoyed a lunch at the Auchrannie Resort. On the return journey we saw a couple more Manx shearwater, and around six or seven groups of guillemot, in groups of 2 to 5.
Manx shearwaterGuillemot

Sightings (47) included: black-headed gull, blackbird, carrion crow, chaffinch, collared dove, common gull, cormorant, curlew, dunlin, dunnock, eider, gannet, goldfinch, great black-backed gull, greenshank, grey heron, grey wagtail, greylag goose, guillemot, herring gull, house martin, house sparrow, jackdaw, knot, lesser black-backed gull, linnet, magpie, mallard, manx shearwater, mute swan, oystercatcher, peregrine, pied wagtail, redshank, reed bunting, robin, rock dove / feral pigeon, rock pipit, sandwich tern, sedge warbler, song thrush, starling, stonechat, swallow, whimbrel, whinchat and woodpigeon.

Sunday, 4 August 2019

Rutland Water :: 03 August 2019

We decided to do something a bit different for our annual osprey pilgrimage, booking on the Rutland Water Dawn Osprey Cruise. Rather than try and get up and aim for a 5.45am arrival, we booked into 'the noel' hotel, just 5 minutes from Whitwell Harbour. Arriving in the evening before the visit we checked in, had a drink and headed to a nearby pub restaurant, the "Fox and Hounds - Exton'. Having booked, we turned up at 8.00pm and were surprised when they instantly knew who we were - they have had good reviews and this is why we picked them out ... unfortunately they said that 'they had a bad night, the earliest they would be able to serve us was at 10.00pm', and that 'we would be better going somewhere else'. Slightly taken aback I asked why they hadn't called; they said that they hadn't known until now. All very strange ... easily solved by going back to our hotel, where we had no problems being served some great food.
Rutland BelleNormanton Church

We arrived at Whitwell Harbour, joining the queue for the Rutland Belle at 05.45am. It was very misty but we hoped that the sun, just rising above the horizon beyond the boat, would burn it off quickly. As we waited, an osprey cruised by offshore. We boarded at 06.00am and set off into the mist. We passed great black-backed gulls, common terns and large numbers of cormorants, but it wasn't until we reached Normanton that we saw any clearing of the mist. The organisers decided to hold-up at the bay beside Normanton Church to see if conditions would improve.

We listened to the history of the church; when the demands of a growing population had to be met at the end of the 1960s, consultation had taken place to decide on a suitable site for a much-needed new reservoir and the Gwash valley in Rutland was chosen. The valley had to be cleared and so Normanton Church was deconsecrated and scheduled for demolition, but the general public had other ideas and their protests were successful. When it came time to flood the area, it became obvious that the church would be partially submerged once the high-water level was reached. This would mean the gradual erosion of its lower walls and foundations. A hastily formed trust was organised with the aim of rescuing the building from a watery demise and various proposals were considered.
Mandarin duck

Finally, it was decided that the lower level of the church should be filled with rubble and topped with concrete to create a new floor. This would be approximately 60cm above the water level. The church would become a small island once the reservoir was filled, and so a causeway was built connecting it to the nearby shore of the lake and an embankment was constructed around the building. A layer of boulders was then put in place as a defensive breakwater.

We sat and spotted common sandpiper flitting along the shore, grey wagtail and then five mandarin duck. Little egretCalling ahead were wren and green woodpecker. Pied wagtails hopped along the parapets of the church and common tern fished around the bay.

Conditions seem to have improved and so we eventually took to the water again. Not too long into the journey one of the other passengers spotted an osprey running fishing circuits off towards the shore. We watched and sailed to try and get a closer look; unfortunately, after a few minutes the osprey turned and headed away into the mist without any actual diving for fish. The mist was still hanging on across most of the reservoir and so we made for the sailing club and then along to the dam. Willow warblerWe didn't see any other ospreys but it had been a magical cruise on an atmospheric reservoir.

We disembarked, jumped into the car and returned to our hotel for breakfast. Bizarrely, the couple we had been sitting beside on the boat were doing exactly the same! Full cooked breakfast ... get in.

We checked out and decided to head for the Lyndon Visitor Centre and to head for the Shallow Water hide in Manton Bay. As we pulled into the car park, there was the couple we had sat with on the boat, and who had stayed at the same hotel - stalking?

Great-crested grebeOn the trail to the hides I stopped to watch a mixed flock of blue and long-tailed tits - a couple of 'yellow' birds flash across. I left the path and headed for the tree/hedge-line to investigate. About halfway across the meadow a grass snake broke cover and shot off towards the hedge. It didn't half move - really good views. When I got to the edge of the meadow I found the birds and ID'd them as willow warbler.

We eventually reached the hide and set up the scope. The only ospreys we could find were roosting in a tree opposite. Those who had been there for while said they had been treated to a flyby not 30 minutes before, and that there were another couple of birds in the trees - just not visible. In front of the hide there was a great-crested grebe nest; the adults swapped over several times showing a couch of eggs - surprisingly large! Another pair on the water had already fledged their young but only had one visible - perhaps the others under the wings of the adult, or already predated?

From the trees one of the fledged youngsters flew onto the rest beside the nest. It called for a while and eventually another took to the pole to the left of that. After another five minutes or so, the adult arrived and at one point we had four osprey in the air and another two in the trees. One of the birds dropped into the water near the nest and rose again without a fish. We waited until it was late lunchtime and having watched an adult fly off towards the trout farm, we decided that it would like be a while before we saw much more action. We headed back for an ice cream and the journey home.

Sightings today (38) included: black-headed gull, blue tit, buzzard, canada goose, carrion crow, collared dove, common sandpiper, common tern, coot, cormorant, egyptian goose, great black-backed gull, great crested grebe, grey heron, grey wagtail, greylag goose, herring gull, kestrel, lapwing, little egret, long-tailed tit, mallard, mandarin duck, marsh harrier, moorhen, mute swan, osprey, pheasant, pied wagtail, reed bunting, rook, sand Martin, starling, swallow, swift, tufted duck, willow warbler and woodpigeon.

Sunday, 28 July 2019

RSPB Otmoor :: 25 July 2019

The hottest day of the year - 37°C locally and 38.7°C in Cambridge - and so I decided to go looking for redstart along Long Meadow. It was last chance I had to use up some the holiday's I'd carried over from the previous year. I had to stay at work later than I'd planned but made my way down arriving at around 2.30pm. Marbled white butterfly

Boy it was hot, so after a drink from my water bottle, I set off along Otmoor Lane to the entrance of Long Meadow. No signs of bird call and as I walked on the most obvious fauna were the hundreds of butterflies and the ocassional dragonfly, including Emperors. Butterfly species I could identify were: meadow brown, gatekeeper, small white, large white, ringlet, peacock, speckled wood, red admiral, small skipper, brimstone and marbled white.

I walked until I reached the tall brick wall and stopped to survey the area. A lone common tern screeched overhead but apart from this, there were no signs of activity. BitternI continued on until the hedge by the ditch and followed it across the meadow, on the far side. Again, apart from butterflies and dragonflies there was only a flyby from a kestrel, chased by a crow.

As a headed back I spotted a couple of small birds hopping in the base of a bush; as I approached they went deeper and then exited out the far side, never to be seen again. In the hedgerow to my left I could hear the chatter of great tits but nothing more.

I got back to the car, had another swig of water and set out towards Greenaways. Green woodpecker

Still no avian company by the time I got to the bridleway but then found a reed warbler calling, and then showing briefly. Hoorah!

I walked along the bridleway watching numbers of ruddy darter until movement to my right caught my attention - a bittern had taken to the wing and made a 6-7s flight into some distant channel. I hadn't been ready but did get my camera to shooting position, and opted to ensure I got a photo rather than mess around trying to zoom closer.

BullfinchGreen woodpecker, juvenile moorhen and pheasant were all of note at the hide and so I continued down to the first screen. Along the path there was a cloud of dragonflies and a range of butterflies. Despite the water levels having reduced there were good numbers of ducks on the water, with a couple of common tern and black-headed gulls. Some swifts cut the sky to the distant left.

Back on the bridleway I added a pair of bullfinches, three sedge warbler and five fly-through swallows.

Species today (32) included: bittern, black-headed gull, blackbird, bullfinch, carrion crow, chaffinch, common tern, cormorant, goldfinch, great tit, green woodpecker, grey heron, greylag goose, kestrel, lapwing, magpie, mallard, moorhen, mute swan, pheasant, red kite, redshank, reed warbler, rook, sedge warbler, shoveler, stock dove, swallow, swift, teal, woodpigeon and wren.

Sunday, 30 June 2019

RSPB Arne :: 27 June 2019

A few months ago I booked a place on a nightjar walk at RSPB Arne and the day duly arrived. The weather has been unsettled but the forecast was set for 27°C, and wall-to-wall sunshine. I enjoyed the journey down in my new car (Katya), trying out the various modes of automatic drive.

I stopped at Branksome Dene Chine on the edge of Poole as this has been a consistent spot for firecrest; despite searching for half an hour I could only spot a couple of candidates high in the treetops, and no positive ID was possible. I was entertained by several common lizards basking on the side of the road as a paced up and down the slope.

I moved onto a small reserve on the other side of Poole, beside a Caravan Park - Ham Common Nature Reserve. Parking is free for half and hour but I paid the £1 fee as I hoped to stay longer. There are numbers of dartford warbler on the common here, but after a couple of circuits I couldn't find any. I ventured further into the reserve and came across three jays staying close to a row of trees. Lots of magpies circled the area and they became more active when the jays called. I haven't heard chiffchaff calling recently but there were a few in good voice here, as were some blackcaps. Good sightings of butterflies with some I didn't know - on the wing and I couldn't get photos for ID. It was getting late for lunch so I decided to move onto Arne. Chiffchaff

As soon as I arrived I popped my RSPB card onto the dashboard (in lieu on the parking fee) and made my way to the Visitor café for a sandwich and drink. Afterwards I headed back to the car and changed into my walking boots, and loading up with a camera, scope and bins. Looking on the sightings board it appeared someone has spotted pied flycatcher in the trees leading to Coombe Heath, so I headed in that direction. Needless to say I didn't find it and no-one I asked had seen it either. Stonechat

I made a circuit of the heath spotting goldcrest, coal tit, chiffchaff and juvenile male / female stonechat. On the estuary there were many shelduck and 12 curlew. As I watched, four oystercatcher flew to the far end. Small herds of sika deer grazed on the far shores. I also added little egret and black-tailed godwits.

It got later in the afternoon and I headed back to the Visitor café for a coffee, having dipped on dartford warbler. Perhaps the wind was too strong ... Dartford warbler

I still had an hour before dinner was scheduled, so I decided to try a stroll down the Raptor trail. The only raptor I saw was a buzzard. As I reached a fence blocking the path ahead, I heard a dartford warbler gently call. I got a couple of clear views through the gorse and bracken and a few photos - many more out of focus or 'hopeful'.

With 10 minutes until dinner I reluctantly turned back. Dartford warbler

After a dinner (chilli, then fruit salad) we went out onto the Coombe Heath again to talk about the habitat. Not even stonechats this time - I think the wind was a little stronger.

As we got to 8.45pm we headed off to a new area of heathland that the RSPB have purchased, on the other side of the road from Coombe Heath. The area was a commercial pine forest until 18 months ago. We followed a path along the lower side of the heath, bordering the woods. Dartford warblerThe gap between was filled with bracken.

We talked and waited for the main event. The guides were starting to look a little concerned that perhaps to wind would scupper our evening, but at 9.45pm we could hear the 'churring' of nightjars back along the track. Then a nightjar struck up right behind us, but no sighting. At about 10.00pm we eventually saw a single nightjar quarter out ahead of us and it disappeared for a minute or so before we located it on the branch of a tree ahead. No sooner than we spotted it, it alighted. Nightjar

We could then hear 'churring' in several directions and saw a couple of birds on fence posts further down the track. It was effectively dark but a took a couple of photos handheld at 1/6s and ISO 12,800! A decent record and there was little chance I would be able to catch one on the wing. As we walked back we caught sight of three more. In my mind I likened their flight to terns; very slow wing beats.

We almost needed torches to navigate back to the cars and I set off for home at 10.30pm. Unfortunately the A34 was closed just passed Winchester and I had to detour through Basingstoke and Newbury, to get back onto the A34 - eventually arriving home at 1.05am. Sloped into work at 8.45am.

Sightings today (42) included: blackbird, blackcap, black-headed gull, black-tailed godwit, blue tit, buzzard, canada goose, carrion crow, chaffinch, chiffchaff, coal tit, collared dove, common tern, cormorant, curlew, dartford warbler, goldcrest, goldfinch, great spotted woodpecker, great tit, green woodpecker, greenfinch, grey heron, herring gull, jay, lesser black-backed gull, linnet, little egret, long-tailed tit, magpie, nightjar, oystercatcher, pied wagtail, raven, robin, shelduck, siskin, song thrush, stonechat, swallow, swift and woodpigeon.

Monday, 27 May 2019

Farmoor Reservoir & Bicester Wetlands :: 27 May 2019

Bank holiday Monday today and so I asked her indoors if she'd like to go out for a stroll around a reservoir or wetland. We had read that sanderling, dunlin and red-crested pochard had been recorded at Farmoor Reservoir last night and thought that would be good.

We arrived to find the car park almost empty. Unfortunately so was the reservoir. SwiftWe didn't find anything on the causeway and I resorted to trying to take a photo of the swifts cutting through the air like bullets - the fact they were in the sky rather than over the water didn't help avoiding them appearing like silouettes. Soon we spotted there were a couple of sand martins too.

We dropped down in the Pinkhill reserve and saw both sedge and reed warbler, and a fly-by great spotted woodpecker. We climbed back up to the reservoir and headed across the causeway and a spot of lunch.

On the way home we dropped into Bicester Wetlands - the gate was locked and it looked like it had only been Alan Peters that had visited over the weekend. Green woodpeckerSaw a few warblers but had been hoping for green sandpiper but none were present. There were views of a green woodpecker to cheer us.

Just one of those days.

Sightings today included: black-headed gull, blue tit, canada goose, carrion crow, common tern, coot, cormorant, gadwall, great crested grebe, great spotted woodpecker, green woodpecker, greylag goose, house Martin, lapwing, magpie, mallard, mute swan, pied wagtail, reed bunting, rook, sand Martin, sedge warbler, swift, whitethroat and woodpigeon.

Sunday, 26 May 2019

RSPB Otmoor :: 26 May 2019

It was due to drizzle thought e late morning / early afternoon so I set off after breakfast to see if I could eventually catch up with a turtle dove at RSPB Otmoor. Willow and sedge warblers as I headed to the bridleway and the cattle pens. Already I could hear cuckoos to my left. I reached the cattle pens to find a couple of joggers both dressed in luminous pink facing Greenaways, with two dogs off their leads. As I approached they asked whether I knew the species of the bird ahead of them. Having only just arrived I located the bird and found it was my long awaited turtle dove - Turtle Dovehoorah! I lent them my bins and they were excited to know they had seen it. Soon they were off running again.

Added more sedge warbler along the bridleway, and then reed warbler too. I was distracted by the incessant calling of cuckoo along the hedgerow - great views but almost all were in flight, and out of range before I had my camera on them. I managed to take my eyes off the hedgerow long enough to see a weasel bound across the path and into the reed bed to my right.

Marsh harrier, redshank, snipe and Linnetvarious duck species all at the first screen. Soon drops of rain started to fall and I turned to make my way back to the car park. Before I reached the kissing gate leading to the bridleway, I heard what promised to be the reeling of a grasshopper warbler. Unfortunately it stopped and I wasn't able to locate the source. As I searched, cetti's warblers called from behind me and I managed to see them only when they alighted and took off down the path and back into the hedgerow. Swifts, swallow and house martin passed overhead and linnet dropped into the branches and brambles ahead.

More cetti's on the bridleway but I couldn't see them at all. The rain got heavier and became a drizzle by the time I turned into the car park.

Species (49) today included: black-headed gull, blackbird, bullfinch, canada goose, cetti's warbler, chaffinch, chiffchaff, collared dove, common tern, coot, cormorant, cuckoo, gadwall, garden warbler, goldfinch, great crested grebe, great tit, grey heron, greylag goose, house Martin, jackdaw, lapwing, linnet, mallard, marsh harrier, moorhen, mute swan, pheasant, pochard, red kite, redshank, reed bunting, reed warbler, robin, rook, sedge warbler, shoveler, skylark, snipe, swallow, swift, teal, tufted duck, turtle dove, whitethroat, wigeon, willow warbler, woodpigeon and yellowhammer.

Sunday, 19 May 2019

Farmoor and Grimsbury Reservoirs :: 18 May 2019

The weather was forecast to start dry but then break out into localised showers, some heavy, in the later morning - so I decided to head to Farmoor Reservoir early - @old_caley had posted photos of three sanderling the night before and given the weather, I hoped they might stay over. I'd opted against Grimsbury Reservoir where @987jonty had found sanderling the day before but it had departed - unlikely two days running?

DunlinI arrived by 7.45am to find that I was in a queue to enter as the gates were still locked - it turned out that there was a fishing match later in the morning and at least 14 cars and one scooter were all on the grid. While I waited I changed shoes so as not to waste time; who knew when a shower might come. At 8.00am the gates opened and we filed in.

I headed straight for the causeway and instantly saw a yellow wagtail fly in a circle, landing on the edge of the causeway ahead. It was gone moments later. I walked with one of the regulars and we came across a single common sandpiper and three dunlin. I had a go at photographing some of the swifts but gave this up as a bad idea. Black ternAs I got to the end of the causeway I scanned the water to find a black tern fishing in the centre of F2 that I'd missed before - only common terns previously. I strolled back and talked with a guy from Swindon who had his scope on them and said there were three now resting on the deck of a boat.

Nothing else was showing so I decided on a circuit of F2. There was little to excite but I did see three more common sandpipers and a flyby from a male sparrowhawk.

I returned to the Visitors Centre and found it was buzzing with fisherman, sailors and families. Black ternI decided to stop for a coffee and a wee croissant. The woman behind me was one of the fisherman in the match and was buying tea and some snacks for her teammate; apparently he had arrived with no food or drink. She assured me he had brought his rod, reel and flies! I sat outside and watched as the match fisherman were all instructed on match rules and logistics. Soon they were off and headed in every direction to get the best spot.

When I'd finished my coffee I returned to the causeway and bumped into the chap from Swindon again, now with a younger lad Egyptian geese- he was indicating the various species on view. The single common sandpiper on the causeway had increased to four, perhaps the others I'd seen earlier? The staff had moved the boat that the black tern had been resting - they weren't initially visible. Soon I found then gaining height on the far side of F2, eventually appearing to leave north. I continued down the causeway only adding a pair of Egyptian geese.

I checked my phone as I thought I'd heard a text and found it was something on the Banbury Birders WhatsApp Group - Gareth had located a sanderling at Grimsbury Reservoir. I told him to keep it there and I'd be back soon. SanderlingAs soon as I sent the message, the black terns appeared and crossed onto F1, surveying the water and eventually crossed back to F2. At least this gave me the opportunity to get a couple of photos.

I jumped in the car and drove up the A34 and M40 to Banbury. As I left the motorway some heavy rain set in and I wondered if I was in for a soaking. As it happened, the rain reduced to a drizzle and I got on the water relatively dry. Ahead of me was Dave Fuller and I eventually caught up with him as he reached the sanderling - tick! It was feeding on the western shore, turning as it got close to a fisherman and repeating the pattern. As Dave and I talked and watched, the sanderling got actually quite close to the fisherman and unfortunately he chose this moment to get out his chair to crouch near his fishing rod. The sanderling took off and rose higher as it went over the trees and river. Shame. That has been two different sanderling in two days, at least with possibly a third sighted.

Sightings (27) at Farmoor Reservoir included: black tern, black-headed gull, buzzard, carrion crow, collared dove, common sandpiper, common tern, coot, cormorant, dunlin, egyptian goose, gadwall, great crested grebe, grey heron, greylag goose, herring gull, house Martin, magpie, mallard, mute swan, pied wagtail, sparrowhawk, starling, swallow, swift, woodpigeon and yellow wagtail.