Tuesday, 28 June 2022

RSPB Arne :: 25 June 2022

Well that didn't turn out quite as expected. On Friday evening I was checking my emails to find that I had one from Birds of Poole Harbour to say that the Puffin Cruise we were booked on for Saturday evening had been cancelled due to the forecast wind strength, direction, and the tide. Damn - we'd been looking forward to it too. Our plan had been to stay over in Bournemouth/Poole and make a weekend of it - we love the area and have had some time to explore while our daughter was at Arts University Bournemouth.

We hatched a new plan and tried to contact the hotel we'd booked (non-refundable) to see if we could check in early. They didn't respond immediately and by the time they did we'd booked a place we know for an early lunch-come-dinner. In fact, they declined our request to have an early check in (we explained that we didn't actually need the room but would appreciate having a key for late arrival) and so we opted to spend the later part of the day at RSPB Arne and stay on to (hopefully) see nightjar.

Saturday morning arrived and we eased into the day knowing that we just had to get to Poole in time for our early lunch - a pub / restaurant / hotel on Pinewood Road called 'Inn in the Park'. We were about 10 minutes early and so quickly strolled down the Branksome Dene Chine Road to see if we could see/hear any firecrests - given the short time available we dipped on that, as I had last time I was there. Worth a try though.

After a very nice lunch we jumped back into the car and made for RSPB Arne and arrived to find the car park quite full but the overflow still empty and closed. We popped on our walking boots and set off to make a circuit of Coombe Heath. As we climbed onto the heath proper, we started to appreciate why the boat trip had been cancelled - a stiff blustery wind blew although it was still quite warm. There were few birds around on the heath and it was only at the watchpoint looking over the estuary that we started to see gulls, common tern, little egret etc. Of course, my objective up hear was to catch up with a Dartford warbler but it was starting to sink in that the weather might not be conducive. We spotted some meadow pipit and then dropped down to the screen overlooking the inlet - the tide was out but on the turn. The only birds to add were shelduck and some distant Canada geese. A horsefly buzzed passed and landed on the fence - a big brute.

We climbed up to the heath and as we reached the end of the tall gorse I heard an encouraging call - a Dartford warbler - it only called once but as I turned round I saw it hop across the branch of a small bush - I raised my bins and caught it just before it flew off and away from us - a year tick but only the briefest of views. Perhaps I'd get another. We looked back down the slope to see a spoonbill fly across and down the channel - it landed and was visible but distant. We moved on spotting more mipits but nothing of any consequence. The mipits were busy provisioning their nest and were very keen to lead us away - we took our cue and moved on.

Meadow pipit
Horsefly

It was approaching time for the Visitor Centre to close and so we dropped in to have a cup of coffee as it was going to be a long day. As we sat the rain started, and then stopped as fast as it had started - that was as much as we'd get. As they started to close up, we set out again and headed to the Middlebere Lookout. On the way we stopped at a gate and joined a lady listening to calls above our heads - spotted flycatchers. We saw some birds flitting about, but these were mostly chaffinch and not the source of the calls - again we only had the briefest of views and then the individual flycatcher we'd located was gone.

We looked out from the screen to find that the water had risen and that there was virtually nothing on the water - across the water were four curlew and to our left were a lovely coloured male linnet on a wire fence, with a female. We stopped for a while but eventually decided to make another circuit of Coombe Heath. From the bottom path we stopped to listen to a calling Dartford warbler but it never showed - it was eventually drowned out by a calling chiffchaff in a tree to our right.

Chiffchaff

We retraced our steps and started our circuit in the opposite direction to before and had another encounter with the mipits. At the viewpoint we didn't have any repeat of Dartford warlber and on the estuary found a sleeping spoonbill and five warders which from distance I'd guess were black-tailed godwits - without a scope I couldn't be sure and it will have to go down as unknown. As we walked a woodlark rose, sang and dropped.

By the final viewpoint we decided to sit and look at the view - we watched a fox on the far side, sika deer and a bird that dropped in behind us. It looked a little strange for mipit but I'm assured that it is what it is - I recorded the call - the photos have very dark to black legs which I found strange - live and learn.

Meadow pipit

We eventually repaired to the car and ate our sandwiches, waiting on the sun to start dropping. Time passed slowly and so we jumped out the car and made our way along Hyde's Heath Trail and found our first stonechats of the day. The light was getting low, and the photos were never going to be anything but records shots. Where were they on Coombe's?

Stonechat
Stonechat

We reached the spot we would later be looking for nightjars and looked around for any roosting birds - as expected with no success. Three grey herons flew by and the odd swift fed over. We'd return later but for now we headed back to the car park. We walked along the road and heard some commotion as three ravens approached. I took a photo of one of the ravens and realised that it was in fact two ravens mobbing a buzzard. It then became apparent that it wasn't just any buzzard, it was a honey buzzard! Amazingly I got a photo although in the moment I couldn’t remember if I had.

Honey buzzard

A car passed by and flushed the buzzard from a tree ahead and they stopped and jumped out a couple of times to try and relocate the bird - unsuccessfully.

We met the couple from the car coming the other way and confirmed all our suspicions of the buzzard's ID. I knew I recognised the chap and confirmed that he was indeed also a member of the Banbury Ornithological Society - who'd have thought it.

We met again at the spot we’d wait for nightjars, chatting as the sun set. It was getting late - the sun had been down for a good ten minutes when our companions went for a walk further along the trail. We waited and watched as they returned not ten minutes later - they stopped and pointed as a nightjar started to 'chur'. A bird left the trees and I photographed it against the sky - it was the start of a number of birds calling, leaving the trees and fluttering around - frustratingly it was so dark that getting a focus lock was damn near impossible on the moving subjects - it was hard to keep our eyes on them at all. One of the birds fluttered to and onto a tree branch, picked out by Charlotte - I took a couple of photos not expecting much.

Nightjar
Nightjar

It was now 10.15pm and we had to leave to check into our hotel back in Bournemouth. A tawny owl was seen in the reserve car park. Despite the wind it had been a good day with two year ticks, woodlark and honey buzzard.

We started Sunday with a cooked breakfast in the hotel and then made our way over to Weymouth and the RSPB Lodmoor reserve. It was a nice reserve but mainly dominated by the viewpoints by the coast road and the colony of terns - there was one sandwich tern amongst the commons.

Oystercatcher

We then made for RSPB Radipole where we managed to get a brief glimpse of two flying bearded tits. The wind was playing havoc and we left without any decent views or a photograph.

Tuesday, 21 June 2022

Floodplain Forest Nature Reserve :: 14 June 2022

It was mid-afternoon on Tuesday and a message buzzed on my watch and phone. I stopped to look and noticed that the Bucks Bird News WhatsApp group was very busy - not an unusual occurrence I suppose as there is quite a bit of chat compared to most of the other groups I am a member of. However, there was news of a red-backed shrike at the Floodplain Forest Nature Reserve (FFNR) - apparently discovered when someone had dropped in to view visiting shelducks. I sent a message to Kevin Heath as I was tied up with work - he said he'd get details and go. By 5.00pm he'd sent me a photo taken through his scope and said the bird was showing well - there was also a little owl showing in the trees behind the Manor Farm Hide.

It came to home time and I decided to call home and seek a pass to go and see the bird - it was given and I was there within the hour. I dropped down from the car park at Manor Farm Court and as I arrived at the hide I spotted the little own watching me from its perch - well it would have been rude not to take a photo!

Formerly pastureland, these fields were quarried for sand and gravel by Hanson between 2007 and 2014. Once quarrying ceased, the site was redeveloped with 2km of footpaths, bridges and boardwalks and three bird watching hides installed, giving great views across this new landscape. The nature reserve was finally opened to the public in August 2016.

Little owl

I entered the hide to find Kev and Karen Heath and Adrian Sparrowhawk amongst the onlookers. Kev stepped aside and let me look at the bird through his scope - done! The bird fed from a tree and worked along the hedge and scrub staying a constant distance from the hide. Kev said it had previously dropped into the scrub just in front and it was probably only a matter of time - I waited. Kev, Karen and Sparrow all went in search of the little owl and eventually departed having arrived more than an hour before me. Cuckoos called across the reserve - a nice place and new to me.

Red-backed shrike
Red-backed shrike
Red-backed shrike
Red-backed shrike

The shrike continued to show and feed at distance but was eventually flushed out of view by a juvenile starling. I waited 10 minutes, but my pass was about to expire and I left - the bird did too at the end of the day and could not be relocated the following morning.

Monday, 20 June 2022

RSPB Langford Lowfields :: 11 June 2022

On Saturday lunchtime my wife and I were very fortunate to be hosted by a friend having a special birthday. We lunched at Kilworth House and watched Carousel at the outdoor theatre. This postponed any birding until Sunday.

So early on Sunday morning I met up with Kevin Heath and set out to see the great reed warbler at RSPB Langford Lowfields, just north of Newark-on-Trent. Kev had been there earlier in the week with Dave South and had good views but didn't mind a second go.

Langford Lowfields is a flagship partnership project involving the RSPB and Tarmac, showcasing wetland habitat creation on a large scale. A thriving reedbed sits at the heart of this expanding reserve, with highlights including bitterns - Kev had seen a couple on his previous visit.

We walked through the wood to the Beach Hut and right to the patch of reeds being favoured. We'd encountered great-spotted woodpecker, large numbers of garden warblers, sedge and Cetti's warblers, and song thrush on the way.

It took only 20 minutes or so for the great reed warbler to show - and boy did it! Almost oblivious to our presence it fed on insects, mostly caterpillars, climbing the reeds into view on a number of occasions - one onlooker complaining that it did so just after the sun was obscured by clouds - oh how greedy we are! The views and song were stunning - the onlookers soaking up the show.

Great reed warbler
Great reed warbler
Great reed warbler
Great reed warbler
Great reed warbler
Great reed warbler
Great reed warbler
Great reed warbler

Having bagged our bird and sure I had a photo, we tried to decide what to do next - try and find the red knot locally or head to the Welbeck Raptor Point and make an attempt at honey buzzard. Welbeck won. We arrived and hooked up with a birder already in residence, chatting as the morning passed. We spotted numbers of common buzzards, a couple of hobbies and a red kite but not the target bird.

Then we saw a couple of birds through our scopes which were different to before - one made its way along the distant treeline and was mobbed by the rooks there. That was our bird but way too distant for a proper photo and only really visible with bins and scopes. We watched for the remainder of the morning but had no better views and decided to head up to the tearooms at the end of the road. We stopped at the car park halfway between and talked to some birders stationed there - they confirmed a honey buzzard sighting at the same time we had picked out our bird and it appeared they had benefited from better views - perhaps this car park is a better place to view from?

We stopped at the tea rooms for lunch and made our way home after a successful twitch - this is getting to be a habit!

Saturday, 18 June 2022

RSPB Bempton Cliffs :: 09 June 2022

Having returned to work after my break in Scotland, I then had to leave for meetings in the Northeast of England, most inconveniently on my wedding anniversary - I did send flowers and ask if she'd had a nice day! On the Thursday we had a close out meeting which lasted until lunchtime at which point I could leave and drive home - ETA was 5.00pm and so my working day was over. Instead, I made a detour round the North Yorkshire Moor to RSPB Bempton Cliffs, a place I've never visited before - a journey of just under two hours. On arrival I made use of the facilities and set out to where Albert, the black-browed albatross had been reported. From reports Albert was roosting on the rocks as viewed from the second platform on the right as you came from the Visitors’ Centre. Never have I seen the numbers of kittiwake, guillemot and razorbill on the cliff, in the air and on the water. The sky was also full of gannets.

Soon I reached the platform and managed to squeeze in amongst the onlookers. In addition to the birds already mentioned I also picked out handfuls of puffins on the rocks - too distant for anything but a record shot. I waited for about an hour before a shout went up that Albert was on the wing and wheeling around the bay below - he made a couple of passes before landing on the rocks but out of sight. About 15 minutes later exactly the same happened and I shot off another series of photos. How lucky was I - my first ever attempt to see the bird and I had, twice and within 1½ hours.

Black-browed albatross
Black-browed albatross
Black-browed albatross
Black-browed albatross
Black-browed albatross
Black-browed albatross
Black-browed albatross

I calculated that I only had at most another hour before I'd need to be on my way home - a journey of 3½ awaited. I made my way back along the clifftop towards the platforms to the left of the Visitor Centre. I stopped as I came across a small flock of tree sparrows which seem to be doing OK here - we've lost all ours from local sites around Banbury.

Tree sparrow
Tree sparrow

I'd watched fulmar on the wing while waiting for Albert but now had better views of an individual on the cliffs. There were razorbills galore and guillemots everywhere you turned.

Fulmar
Fulmar
Guillemot
Razorbill
Razorbill
Razorbill
Razorbill

I stopped to look for puffins but was taken with the gannets on the rocks - I thought I was going to get one of those classic shots of bonding pairs but there were individuals behind, and it was a messy shot. They were still tender and I took a photo. when I found a different viewpoint and cropped appropriately.

Gannet
Gannet

I found several puffins but all too distant for anything other than a record shot - great to watch though. On my return a pair popped out from a crack in the cliff and showed well, this time at an intermediate distance. What great views I had in the bins.

Puffin
Puffin
Puffin

So that was it, time called, and I had to head home - but what a couple of hours - and I bagged Albert on my first attempt!

Worth, Kent :: 04 June 2022

We'd arrived back in Banbury before 10.00pm and unpacked the car before I headed straight to bed - I'd discussed the long-staying Eleonora's falcon at Worth in Kent with Kevin Heath and he'd offered to drive to Worth in Kent on the Saturday morning. We stopped only for a breakfast roll from a great little bakery in Wingham, not far from out intended destination and picked up some filled rolls for lunch. It was around 8.20am when we left the car park with our boots on, making for the area the bird has been frequenting - talking to some birders coming the other way it appeared the bird had been seen at first light over the car park so it could still be in place.

We joined a line of birders on the track looking at a wood, particularly the side sheltered from what could only be described as a stiff breeze - surely the bird would favour this side? I suppose that is what everyone was thinking and supported by the presence of two hobbies perched in the trees on the edge of the wood on this side.

Hobby

We waited and watched as the hobbies started to make forays out into the field in front of the wood, becoming three hobbies too. And here we stood over the next two hours picking out raptors and, on each occasion, deciding they were hobbies - the number of hobbies ebbing and flowing up to maybe half a dozen at a time. There was a flurry of activity as a chap ran down the path to say that the falcon had spun round at the other side of the wood and was heading down the field behind us - a few decided that the bird we'd watched re-entering the wood was our bird and the group all decamped to the gate at the top of the track. From here it is reported that the bird rose, hovered, and dropped back into the trees but despite searching on the internet later I have been unable to find any photos of the bird despite the massed cameras present. Kev and I went for a look but to no avail. We returned to the original camp and waited.

Shortly after we saw a bird high and distant heading away and down passed the car park which looked a contender, and I snapped a record shot to investigate. It was our bird! Some say that they watched it from the car park for a short time but the bird we saw just kept on going. Perhaps it spun round when we had lost it from view?

Eleonora's falcon

We waited to see if the bird would return as it had apparently done the previous day, but we never picked it up again. We talked with various birders finding a chap who with his mate had been on the other side of the wood and picked it up earlier in the day - they had watched it hunting in clear view. Perhaps we'd made a mistake joining the group and making an assumption of where the bird would feed ...

We spent the remainder of our visit following hobbies, having lunch by the car and watching avocets taking to the air to protect their airspace largely from crows. As we ate lunch we had a flyby from two spitfires - perhaps taking part in the Queen's Platinum Jubilee celebrations somewhere.

Hobby
Hobby
Hobby
Avocet
Spitfire

The bird wasn't ever seen again so we were ever so lucky to have visited when we did. It had been a long day and it was such a boon to have had Kev drive as I'd done over 1,000 miles in the last few days. We'd bagged our target bird - a lifer for us both - we had a photo and had a great day watching hobbies. Just a shame we hadn't had some of the views of the Eleonora’s afforded to others on previous days.