Sunday, June 30, 2013

Lakenheath Fen

After dropping my brother at Stanstead Airport on Friday I decided to drive another hour north-east to Lakenheath Fen RSPB Reserve in Suffolk. Here the weather hadn't changed since the previous week - rain! Undeterred I plodded my way round the reserve in hope of a bird or two. The top two targets;  Common Crane (missed it by ten minutes) and Golden Oriole, eluded me during my stay, but I still got some nice birds.

Cuckoo was seen and heard around the reserve as was Cetti's Warbler. Swifts hawked over the reed beds pursued by a hungry Hobby. One Water Rail was heard while at least 5 Marsh Harrier quarted the marsh. Top birds for me were a fly-by Bittern and Great Egret, a pair of Bearded Tit, foraging the fringes of the pool above and a distant Kingfisher which I digi-scoped with my iPhone. 

Tuesday, June 25, 2013

Surrey to Northumberland....and back

Who new Eider's were so funny? I guess Alan thought my legs must of scared them away...
Where to start? Well, maybe with the totals. We have just returned from an amazing birding trip with our good Canadian friends Mike and Amber; we tallied 120 species and 1086 miles from Surrey to Northumberland. As this was Mike and Amber's first visit to England, we arranged to explore some of England's finest areas for birds. Our first port of call was Pulborough Brooks RSPB Reserve in Sussex. Here we got to grips with many of our resident species and a few summer visitors including a lucky viewing of a Nightingale. A visit to the pub (The White Heart) was also in order, to officially welcome our friends to England.

birding at Pulborough Brooks
While Lori and I finished the last couple of days of work, Mike and Amber took in the sites around London. On Tuesday evening Mike, Amber and I did a little local birding, taking advantage of the long days and nice weather. We got great looks at Stonechat at Ockham Common, Cuckoo at Papercourt water meadows, Little Owl in Pyrford and Nightjar at Chobham Common. This was a great start to our holiday and a taste of what was to come.

Right! Lets see some Gannets!

Bempton Cliffs

Wednesday was an early start,05:00 am, putting us at Bempton Cliffs RSPB Reserve at 11:30 am. Here we had good views of all the regular breeding seabirds; Puffin, Razorbill, Guillemot, Kittiwake, Fulmar, Herring Gull and Gannet. Though the cliffs were spectacular and brimming with life, the fields behind us also held their own beauties including Skylark, Meadow Pipit, Chaffinch, Linnet, Tree Sparrow, Hobby and Corn Bunting.

Another 3 1/2 hours after Bempton Cliffs put us in Alnwick in Northumberland, our home for the next two nights. After settling in we had a nice meal to finish off our day. However, en-route back to the Youth Hostel we had a surprise. The man in the top photo might give it away...we met up with our good friends Alan and Amanda Martin! Unbelievable!! Alan, Amanda and their two friends were also on a trip to the Farne Islands. After catching up we all turned in for the night.

The duck whisperer (St. Cuthbert re-incarnated?)
Our original plan was for us all to go on a 2 1/2 hour trip to the Farne Islands with Billy Shiel's boat trips and a 1 hour trip to Coquet Island with Puffin Cruises. However, the timings didn't work out so the revised itinerary put Mike and Amber on a 6 hour trip to the Farne Islands, and Lori and I on the Coquet Island trip. After dropping Mike and Amber at Seahouses harbour, I headed back to Alnwick to meet Lori. We had a chilled out morning, sipping coffee and shopping in the town before heading to Amble for our boat trip.

Mike and Amber - tern beaten but happy

Black-headed Gull
We headed out from Amble at 13:00 and had a pleasant one mile crossing to Coquet Island. Here we had great views of Sandwich Tern, Arctic Tern, Common Tern, Fulmar, Puffin and our target bird ROSEATE TERN! These rare breeders (98% of the British population breed on Coquet Island) were represented by 20 breeding pairs this year.

We were back in Amble by 14:00 then headed up to Seahouses to meet up with Mike and Amber. When we got their we had some time to kill so I poked around the harbour, taking a few snaps.

Great Black-backed Gull
Herring Gull

Mike and Amber arriving back at Seahouses

Rock Pipit

Mike and Amber had an absolutely amazing time on their trip and both raved about their own seabird adventure. We decided to finish our day by heading up to Holy Island where we had a great meal at The Manor House Hotel.

Mike and Amber at Lindisfarne Priory
The following morning we ate breakfast, packed the car and headed for Norfolk. The 5 1/2 drive actually went very quick, only hitting one bit of traffic; broken down truck. We arrived at Titchwell Marsh RSPB Reserve late afternoon and after a bite to eat we hit the trails!

Mike and Rich at Titchwell Marsh RSPB Reserve
Photo opportunities were a little thin on the ground compared to the Farne Islands but Mike did get some cracking photos of one of his most wanted birds: Lapwing! Having said that, the birding was fantastic. Species of note: Ringed Plover, Little Ringed Plover, Ruff, Redshank, Spotted Redshank, Black-tailed Godwit, Bar-tailed Godwit, Knot, Oystercatcher, Little Egret, Little Gull, Little Tern, Marsh Harrier, Pochard, Tufted Duck and Reed Bunting to name a few.

Lori made friends with this juvenile Robin

Twitching Rose-coloured Starling
En-route to our hostel in Sheringham we snuck in a quick twitch at Wells-next-the-sea, where after a little patience, we got brief looks at a rare adult male Rose-coloured Starling! Another late pub meal ended our day before finally hitting the hay at the Sheringham hostel.

Another hostel breakfast and pack-up put us on the road at about 10:00 am, though Mike and I had been birding since 05:30 am in the rain. Not a total loss as we added Sedge Warbler, Red-legged Partridge and Cetti's Warbler to the list. We planned three stops on the way home; the first was the raptor view point at Swanton Novers. This is a famous site for Honey Buzzard; unfortunately weather and time were against us, and after twenty minutes of scanning we moved on. Next we stopped at Weeting Heath. This Norfolk Wildlife Trust site is famous for one species in particular: STONE CURLEW. We were not disappointed. Within seconds of entering the West Hide, we were looking at 2 adult and two young Stone Curlew! They were a little far for photos, though I snapped a few with my iPhone through my scope.

Stone Curlew

After getting our fill of this very cool and unique bird we headed back to the visitor centre getting Coal Tit and Goldcrest along the way. At the centre one of the staff was processing moths caught in a moth trap the night before.

Small Elephant Hawk Moth

The last stop was just up the road at Lakenheath Fen. Regrettably the weather turned against us and we headed for home; finding a Great Crested Grebe just before we left. The following day, Mike and Amber's last day in the UK, I took them up to the Chiltons to finally see a Red Kite! These massive graceful raptors put on a show; at least 18-25 individuals at Watlington. A quick run back down the motorway put us back on my local patch where we added Little Grebe and Garden Warbler. We finished our trip with a lovely meal at Abinger Hatch in the Surrey Hills. A fantastic week spent with two very special people, thanks guys for the memories!

Amber and Mike - ready for phase two - FRANCE!

Mike Ashbee is an amazing wildlife photographer:
Click on the link below to view his work

Monday, June 10, 2013

Mad Dogs and Englishmen....and birders...

...go out in the midday sun. Apparently, they do. When pondering over a descriptive word that truly portrays Sunday's twitch, I first considered epic. However, with some time to reflect, I now think that insane would be more appropriate. I will back up a little and give some explanation for this decision. Saturday nights dilemma was: 'which bird shall I go for on Sunday morning?' There was Little Bittern, a rare breeder in the UK, showing, all be it briefly, at Ham Wall RSPB reserve in Somerset. A good bird and a lifer for me. On the other hand, there was a European Bee-eater hanging out in a park in Kent; a British tick. What to do? Another sighting came in through Rare Bird Alert, reporting on a Night Heron, another British tick, also in Somerset. My mind was made up. Go for greed not ease.

A 2 1/2 hour drive to Somerset and a 4 1/2 hour vigil over a reed bed produced no Little Bittern. I gave up and walked the walk of shame (WITH A NICE SUN BURN) back to the car. To keep me entertained during my time, I kept a species list which tallied 40 species. A pair of Marsh Harrier were present while I was there as were Great Egret, Little Egret, Bittern, Hobby and Cetti's Warbler. Checking RBA, I noticed that the Bee-eater had been reported at 11:50 am, though distant. Over two hours later, just as I had excited off the M3 at Woking, a report came in  saying that the bird was back. It was 15:13.  I did three laps of a roundabout (guilt laps) before slipping back on the M3. At 17:00 I arrived at Pegwell Bay Country Park; southwest of Ramsgate in Kent. After about 1 1/2 hours of searching with some other birders, I threw the towel in and started walking back to my car with another chap called Bren. It was then that I spotted it, perched but hunkered on a gorse bush; my first British EUROPEAN BEE-EATER! It kept us busy, as it was mobile within this little area, but we did manage a couple of record shots. We signaled over to the other birders to come see it. They, like us, were thrilled at finally catching up with this exotic rarity. 15 hours and 430 miles later I was home. Was I happy to get this bird? Yes. Am I going to re-evaluate my twitching? Yes. There needs to be a balance. That was insane. Thanks Bren for the use of the top photo. A distant shot in bad light. You did great mate! 

* en-route to Somerset M3/A303 were 5 Red Kite.


Monday, June 3, 2013

Stomping Ground

Little Owl
No tearing around the countryside for me this weekend,instead, I decided on birding locally;  and see what was happening close to home. On Friday afternoon I checked Papercourt water meadows and Papercourt Lake. On Sunday morning I spent some time out on Ockham Common and Boldermere Lake, and later, Pyrford and Walsham Weir

Species list below:

1. Mute Swan - 13 adults + 6 fledged young on Boldermere Lake
2. Egyptian Goose - 3
3. Mandarin Duck - female and 10 fledged young on Papercourt stock pond
4. Mallard - 8 + fledged young
5. Tufted Duck - 7
6. Pheasant  - 4
7. Cormorant - 1
8. Grey Heron - 1
9. Great Crested Grebe - 3 
10. Buzzard - 3
11. Kestrel - 2
12. Moorhen - 3 adults 4 fledged young and 1 nest
13. Coot - 45 adults 2 fledged young and 1 nest
14. Common Tern - 2 adults feeding 2 small young on floating platform on Boldermere Lake.
15. Woodpigeon - 21
16. Collared Dove - 6
17. Ring-necked Parakeet - 9
18. Cuckoo - 2
19. Little Owl - 2 
20. Swift - 6
21. Green Woodpecker - 4

22. Great Spotted Woodpecker - 3 + male and female at nest carrying food. Young vocal in nest.
23. Magpie - 5
24. Jay - 1
25. Jackdaw - 20
26. Carrion Crow - 13
27. Blue Tit - 2
28. Great Tit - 2
29. Long-tailed Tit - 10 family party
30. Woodlark - 2 flight songs on Ockham Common
31. Sand Martin - 4
32. House Martin - 8
33. Swallow - 2
34. Chiffchaff - 8 
35. Blackcap - 14
36. Whitethroat - 9
37. Reed Warbler - 6 
38. Treecreeper - 1
39. Wren - 16
40. Starling - 20
41. Blackbird - 23
42. Song Thrush - 5 adult carrying food
43. Mistle Thrush - 1 adult carrying food.
44. Robin - 18
45. Stonechat - male and female at Ockham Common
46. Dunnock - 2
47. House Sparrow - 8
48. Grey Wagtail - 2 adults feeding 1 fully fledged young - Walsham Weir
49. Pied Wagtail - 4 adults feeding fledged young 
50. Chaffinch - 13
51. Greenfinch - 4
52. Goldfinch - 5 
53. Linnet - 2
54. Reed Bunting - 6 
55. Black-headed Gull - 1