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Catching Up With A GBBG

Since last December a Great-black-backed Gull has been turning up in the fields around Liddington Castle and Folly Farm. A local birder has told me a couple of times that it would have been visible from my house. Well certainly not any time that I have looked for it it hasn’t. early this afternoon, just a short time after arriving home from Hayling Island a message came through reporting it at Liddington. A quick question to the finder gave me the location and despite having a lot to do in the garden I headed out to hopefully find it. I drove to the top of the lane by Folly Farm and scanned the field that it had been reported in. Black-headed and Herring were flying around but no GBBG. However the field rises and then drops down out of sight to the south but I really didn’t have time to walk the track to view the hidden area. So it was back in the car and off to Lower Upham from where the other end of the field can be seen. A quick scan didn’t turn up the expected flock of gulls so I had a better look. There was a lone large gull in the middle of the field and a look with the scope confirmed that it was indeed the right bird. So at last I had, with some help caught up with it. A nice bird for my still small 10km local list.

A Harbour View

Following a recommendation we booked a four night break at the Sinah Warren Warners Hotel on Hayling Island. We chose to upgrade to a sea-view room, partly as it would be nice to see the sea but mainly for the birdwatching. From a quick look on google I had already worked out that the sea-view was actually a view of Langstone Harbour rather than the open sea but that suited me fine. We arrived early afternoon on Monday to find an excellent view from the room, the tide was rising and there were a lot of birds to be seen. As always it wasn’t a birding holiday but having the harbour so close meant that any few spare minutes saw the bins and scope in action. The amazing thing about Langstone is how quickly it goes from being a sea of water to a sea of mud and back again. It was great watching the waders moving around from literally being spread out over a little more than five acres of mud and creeks to being concentrated on a few rapidly receding islands. I soon worked out the pattern of movement between the different feeding and roosting areas so was able to follow the flocks around. I found both the Oystercatcher and Grey Plover high-tide roosts but wondered where the Curlew, Dunlin and Ringed Plovers moved to. A high-tide walk along the shingle beach at Sinah Common answered the Dunlin question with a large roost found on the beach, the Curlew and Ringed Plovers I didn’t find. When viewing the north-side of the harbour from the car park at Farlington there are always a good number of Blackwits, I didn’t see a single one from Sinah the whole time we were there. A lot of the Brent Geese moved onto the Kench which was just around the corner from our room, one visit found at least four hundred there along with many Oystercatchers. On the water it was mainly gulls with just a few Cormorants, only four and maximums of four Great-crested Grebes and ten Red-breasted Mergansers. Partly due to the wind not many land birds were seen but a couple each of Great Spot and Green Woodpeckers were always around. As for the Hotel itself, to be honest we found very little to fault, the room was really nice, the facilities and activities varied and good, the food was of good quality and plenty of it and the staff were friendly and efficient. Guest wise were definitely at the lower end of the age scale, it was sometimes interesting dodging the mobility scooters and zimmer frames in the corridors. However, every day a 92 year old gentleman and his (a little) younger wife beat us, and almost everyone else on the air rifle and archery ranges. In the evenings the same couple rarely seemed to be off of the dance floor. Over the five days I managed thirty-six species with three year-ticks which was a good bonus to an excellent few days away.

Fudge Duck

Earlier in my birding life when I knew a little less than I do now I heard about a Fudge Duck, initially I couldn’t work out why it wasn’t in the books but eventually I got there. Once you know it sort of makes sense, after all Ferruginous is a long word to write in the notebook and who can spell it anyway. There had been one on the Thorpe Park complex of lakes from December through to the beginning of this month and every time I was at my Mum’s I intended going for it but a combination of short hours of daylight and things to be done meant I never got around to it. Moving on a few days and one was reported from a lake near at Dorchester -on-Thames. As the Thorpe bird was not being reported maybe it was the same bird. The location was a little more out of my way but with the late afternoon light getting better I had time to go for it. Typically the afternoon I had chosen was wet and windy and as I turned off of the M4 towards Henley-on-Thames the rain was hammering down, maybe not such a good plan. My rain radar map was showing a clearance at a bit after two so despite some doubts I carried on. I had decided to approach from the Days Lock direction, I thought it would be more interesting that walking from Dorchester. As I parked the car by the Church at Little Wittenham the sky was definitely starting to brighten. The Archers had just started so I chose to sit in the car and listen to it hoping that the rain would soon stop. Amazingly it did so it was on with the wellies and off across the Thames. Access to to Allens Pit was along a private track that the landowner is happy for people to use. The wet fields alongside held a large flock of Wigeon along with a few Teal, also seen here were a couple of Herons and a Red Kite overhead. The first small lake had several Tufted and Pochard but no Fudge Duck. The bigger one had many more duck on it but a good search through the main rafts turned up nothing but more of the same. Three Goosander were against the far bank and a Great White Egret flew in. I walked the length of the lake to no avail and was beginning to wonder if I was going to dip. Back at the southern end another good scan finally turned the target up, asleep but obvious. Had I missed it earlier or had it been tucked up against the bank? I managed a few pictures but the only time it put its head up was when it was obscured by some reeds. Still I was happy with another success and a little later than hoped headed off homewards having enjoyed another new site. This was my third good bird in the area this year following on from the Pallas’s Warbler and Ring-necked Duck seen back in January.

A Trip to the Coast

When to go for the American Robin was the question I was asking myself last week. Some local birding friends were planning on going on Sunday but I was out for a meal on Saturday evening and had family staying overnight and into Sunday. So the choices were to go on my own to do the return trip on Saturday or to leave it to Monday and to combine it with my regular visit to Mum’s in London. I settled on going on Saturday so set off on the M4 at around half-past-four. Overnight and weekend motorway closures stopped me using the most direct route but I still arrived in Eastbourne at not long gone first light. Having listened to requests from locals I parked a little way down the hill, the steep climb up certainly loosened the body after the drive. I got to the top to find at least fifty birders already on-site. It wasn’t long before the call went up of “there it is”. We all started to scan the grass and bushes of the horse paddock until another call went up that it was to our right by the houses. All turned in unison, soon to be rewarded with the sight of the bird appearing on a metal fence not that far away. It posed here for a few minute before flying over to a bush in the paddock where it again sat in full view. It then flew again and settled on what, apparently was it’s favoured feeding place, a large berry laden Cotoneaster bush in front of the houses. I reckon a few locals could well have been woken by the barrage of sound from the many cameras that were firing off. As I have mentioned before, housing estate birding is not my favourite but this one was not so bad.

I was running on a tight schedule as I needed to be home in reasonable time to do some work in the garden at home so after having had some great views of the Robin I headed off to the seafront to try for the elusive Hume’s Warbler that is wintering along the esplanade. Despite a good number of birders searching it remained elusive and wasn’t seen or even heard in the hour or so that I was there. Having been fortunate enough to life-tick the one in Kent last month it was a shame not to have seen it but I needed to move on. Next stop was the service area at Polegate where a Hooded Crow seems to have set up home. As I was pulling in a crow flew off but I wasn’t able to confirm what sort it was. Myself and a couple of others were looking and despite there being plenty of birds around there was not a single crow of any sort to be found. After about twenty minutes a lone crow flew in and it was indeed the target bird, only my second in England. It landed in the trees between the ambulance station and McDonalds and gave great views before moving on.

Again it was decision time, head home or divert to Poundgate in the Ashdown Forest to try for a long-staying Little Bunting. After parking in the car park I soon found the right area with three birders on-site. All had drawn a blank so I decided to give it around thirty minutes before leaving for home. With a strong wind blowing birds were few and far between with initially only Robin and Dunnock seen. Then a Dartford Warbler was heard with a very brief flicker of movement deep in the Gorse and that was it for my Sussex trip. The M25 lived up to its reputation on the drive home and I ended up coming off and weaving my way through the leafy suburbs of Oxshott and Cobham before reaching the outskirts of Woking and Bagshot. I decided to avoid Bracknell and headed cross-country to join the M4 at Reading. After a quick shopping stop I finally arrived home at half-past two with another lifer and two other year-ticks in the book.

Four Days on the Road

Last week for work I spent four days out and about. On Tuesday I visited Chichester, Portsmouth, Gosport and Weymouth. Time was pretty tight but I managed birding stops at Farlington, Lee-on Solent and Hill Head. This gave me my first chance this year to see a good amount of waders as my only coastal visit has been the Weymouth area. Farlington had loads of Brent Geese, Curlew, Redshank, Oystercatcher and best of all a flock of thirty plus Avocet. The coast road through Lee-on-Solent and Titchfield added Eider, Turnstone and a single Sanderling. Unfortunately there was no time to stop at Lodmoor or Radipole but the route home took me across Salisbury Plain where a male Hen Harrier was an excellent sighting, no Short-eared Owls though, they are certainly in short supply this winter. Wednesday took me to Hereford, Bridgend, Newport and Bristol and I had no chance of any birding at all. For Thursday and Friday it was a trip to Devon and Cornwall starting at Exmouth. No birding time here unfortunately but breakfast was had at Dozmary Pool where three Ring-necked Ducks were eventually found right at the back on the bank. St aAustell was next and then Truro where the mudbanks on the river had good numbers of Blackwits and Dunlin. It is always nice when things go to plan and I managed to get to Swanpool Falmouth for my lunch. Surprisingly I have never been to Falmouth so wasn’t sure what I would find there. I was pleased to find a car park overlooking the beach and sea and the bonus was that it was free to park. Target bird here was a Black Guillemot that has been reported as favouring the area around a pink buoy. A scan with the binoculars soon found the buoy and then getting it in the scope I found right next to it the Black Guillemot. For whatever reason, apart from when it dived it seemed to spend all of its time really close to the buoy. Certainly made it easy to find. A scan of the sea didn’t turn up anything else out of the ordinary so it was time to head for Camborne and Penzance. There were loads of birds, mainly gulls, on the Hayle estuary but, with two visits to be done in Penzance again time was not on my side so I didn’t stop. Fortunately after I had finished my visits it was still light so I headed for Newlyn to try for the regular Glaucous Gull. Despite a lot of looking I wasn’t able to find it but a Red-throated Diver very close in amongst the boats was a nice bonus. It made it more annoying that I had forgotten to bring.t my camera as it gave some of the closest views I have had of one. With the evenings starting to draw out I had time for a look at Jubilee Pool and Battery Rocks where the Black Redstart didn’t show but half-a-dozen Purple Sandpipers gaagian made me wish I had the camera. After a pleasant night at the centrally located Premier Inn I was greeted with a lovely first light view over the bay to St Michaels Mount. After another no stop pass of the Hayle Estuary I started to head homewards with stops at Redruth (including for Pasties), Bodmin, Launceston , Exeter and Taunton. A late lunch-stop was made at Weston where the Penduline Tits failed to show for me. Overall the four days saw me cover over thirteen hundred miles and got me seven year-ticks.

A Windy Somerset Day

Having picked Matt up at half-past six we headed west on the M4 for a day out in Somerset. A slight miscalculation with the time saw us catching a bit of traffic in Bristol. The rush-hour is certainly on its way back. Arriving at Barrow Tanks at a few minutes before seven we took a punt on the Long-tailed Duck being on number two. It was a good call as we soon found it on the lee-side of the reservoir amongst a group of Tufties. There was no intention of hanging around here as we had a busy day planned so we soon headed off to the outskirts of Weston-Super-Mare Despite some delay getting through the village of Banwell we made it to the reedbeds on the old airfield at Locking in good time. We had unfortunately chosen to come out on the windiest day for quite a while and the reeds and rushes were in constant motion as we started to look for the Penduline Tits. We were surprised to actually see some Bearded Tits, they usually stay lowdown and out of sight in these conditions. Our luck wasn’t running with the Pendulines though and despite a thorough search we had to leave empty-handed.

We had set a time-limit on the tits as our next stop was for the what would hopefully be the star bird of the day; Baikal Teal. I’m not a regular visitor to the Somerset Levels so it was a sat-nav job to get to Greylake, a site that I thought I may have visited before. On the way I saw a sin for the village of Mark and remembered that this was on the edge of Tealham Moor where another of our target birds was hanging out. So a small diversion soon found us on the straight (apart from the right-angled bends )but bumpy roads of the Levels. This area I did remember but could not recall what I had seen here before. The target Tundra Bean Goose had been reported as associating with Canada Geese so a flock of those was what we were looking for. What we found was two Canada Geese along with the Bean Goose, so a nice easy tick. A little further on and we had our first Cattle Egrets of the day with two close to the road and another thirteen a little further away. Also of interest here was an abandoned Milk Float, not necessarily what you would expect to find miles from anywhere.

So on to Greylake where we found a pretty full car park which we thought meant a busy hide. Fortunately for us it was obviously a group visit and it appeared to be over as people were returning to their cars. We made the short walk to the hide and found just a handful of people there. The first words were heard were “it’s showing but is asleep which apparently is what it does most of the time. After a quick look in someone’s scope we set about finding it ourselves. Potentially not easy but with a sleeping male Wigeon as a marker the head and eventually most of the rest of the bird was found. It wasn’t easy viewing with a strong wind blowing straight into the hide, keeping the sopes still wasn’t the easiest thing to do.Over the thirty minutes or so that we watched it, and despite most of the other Teal around it moving about, it only put its head up twice. Still we were well pleased with the views we had of a lifer for both of us. We then moved to the other hide to have a general scan and to eat our lunch. There were a large number of birds on show but mainly of just five species. Teal, Wigeon, Shoveler, Lapwing and Golden Plover. Four Great White Egrets were seen as was a single Marsh Harrier.

Another birder mentioned that there were Whooper Swans at Burrow Mump, a location we didn’t know that turned out to be fairly close. After a short drive we parked in the National Trust car park to have a scan. With some distant swans found we decided to take the scope up the hill from where we had good views of distant Whooper Swans and a couple more Cattle Egrets. Back at the car we had a nice surprise with a male Blackcap feeding on mistletoe berries. Next it was over to another new site at Catcott where we were hoping to find a Glossy Ibis but unfortunately it had flown off. Still a great site with many more wildfowl including our first Pintail of the day.

It was then time to head home and with the drive back adding Pheasant and Red Kite to the list we ended up on sixty-two species including a lifer and five year-ticks.

Wandering at the Water Park

I had hoped to get out for a full day of birding today but with loads to be done at home I settled for a morning at the Water Park. The route today was along the Thames Path from Waterhay to the Reed Hide and screen and the back alongside Lake 68. First stop was Lake 82 where there were good numbers of Tufted Duck, Pochard and Red-crested Pochard. Then it was fingers crossed that the goose flock was in the Waterhay field. It was and along with a couple of hundred Canada and forty or so Greylag were the three Pink-footed. Fortunately they were the nearest birds and they weren’t bothered when I stopped to take some pictures.

From here it was a case of following the Thames Path past some more pits until it meets back up with the river. It was pretty quiet along here with little on the water and not much more in the trees and fields.

Arriving at the Reed Hide I sat for a few minutes but apart from a small flock of Teal over the only birds seen were Mute Swan and Mallard along with corvids and pigeons. There was a lot more to be seen from the screen, from here there is a good view along lake 74 and it seemed that most of the wildfowl was at this end. Amongst the Tufties, Pochard and Wigeon were fourteen Goldeneye and a dozen Pintail. The Goldeneye were pretty active with lots of displaying and even some mating. Also seen from here were two of the hybrid Golden Merganser (Goldeneye x Hooded Merganser) which have been around the Park for two or three years. They are certainly interesting looking ducks. The walk back along the path by 68 was quiet as well. It is a big lake but there were less than twenty birds on the water. The highlights along here were a Great Spot and a couple of Bullfinches. Back at the car I was greeted as usual by the local Robin which, when I left the drivers door open while getting out of my wellies decided to fly into the car for a look around. In all I managed an okay forty-three species which got me three Wiltshire year-ticks.

Don’t Rely on the Weather Forecast

For some birding today I quite fancied trying for the Penduline Tits at WSM, the Baikal Teal at Greylake finishing up with my third attempt on the Snow Bunting at Mere. In the end though I decided to stay local as I have quite a lot of work to do in the garden. The Water Park was my final choice and having seen on the weather forecast that there was going to be fog from the early hours until nine I planned to leave home at around eight. Typically I woke at four and again at six and at both times there was no fog. Anyway I arrived at the Water Park at about twenty past eight and parked along the Spine Road to walk around lakes 28, 29 and thirty. It was -3 and 28 was completely frozen, it’s neighbour, 29 had no ice at all and was the lake of choice for Mallard with at least a hundred and fifty counted. I then set myself up to scan lake 30. I had been there about five minutes when a bank of fog rolled across the water which left me peering into a sea of grey. So it was back to the car and on driving north I found that Kent End and Cleveland lakes were still clear. Kent End had around a hundred and twenty Lapwing and a good number of ducks. I then tried 68 which was pretty quiet but did have four Goldeneye and a flyby Marsh Harrier. On 82 were over a hundred Red Crested Pochard and Tufted Duck. I then moved onto Twitchers but unfortunately the fog had caught me up. With very little visibility here I decided to give the lakes to the north of the A419 a go but the fog had reached these as well. So I decided to give up and go home, obviously halfway back the fog cleared and I arrived home in sunshine. The only consolation being I got plenty of time in the garden.

Heading for the Hills

Today we went to see my son and his partner in Worcester. The plan was to head over to Malvern to walk up to the Worcestershire Beacon and to then go for Sunday Lunch. The Beacon is at 425 metres and our starting point at just over a 100 metres so it is a fair climb. As often the case it was not a birding walk but I did hope to find the Snow bunting that has been near tot he summit for several weeks. It was a lovely morning and we had an enjoyable walk up. We have done it several times before and this was by far the busiest that we have seen it. On reaching the summit I had a stroll around to look for the Bunting but with so many people around there was little chance of finding it in the short time available. Then it was time for the descent and to head off to the Swan at Whittington for what was a very nice Sunday lunch.

A Day in Kent

I usually go to see my Mum in London on a Monday but this week changed it to Tuesday so that I could have a days birding in Kent with Ian. With a couple of good birds having been there for a few weeks I was pleased to see that the weather looked favorable. I left home at half-four for the three hour drive to meet Ian at the interestingly named Saint Margaret’s in Cliffe. After a steady drive and a brief comfort stop I arrived at the Dover Patrol Memorial as dawn was breaking. Ian arrived just after me and we sat looking over the Channel towards France admiring an impressive sunrise. As the light improved we spent a few minutes seawatching where I got my first year tick of the day, a Red-throated Diver, there were plenty of birds passing with auks, gulls and Gannets noted. We then walked down to Bockhill to try for one of the three main target birds of the day. With the temperature hovering around zero I was glad that I was wearing my Christmas present base layers, they certainly performed well. After around half-an-hour of waiting with plenty of corvids and Wood Pigeon to watch we heard the Hume’s call from somewhere amongst the ivy-covered trees in front of us. There were a couple more birders standing further along the track and we alerted them that we had located it. It was a few more minutes before we saw any movement with just a short glimpse and then several more before the frequently calling warbler showed briefly but well. Again another wait and our patience was rewarded when the bird came out into a bare tree giving excellent views fro a minute or so. A lifer for me an the second leaf warbler seen in four days. With quite a bit of ground to cover we then moved on to the Sandwich Bay Estate where the road runs just inland of a couple of famous golf-courses. Along here we saw Grey Partridge, Reed Buntings, many Lapwings and a large flock of Greylag geese with several White-fronted amongst them. A Marsh Harrier drifted across putting many birds up including a good-sized flock of Golden Plover. We then walked to the track that runs alongside the beach trying for the Snow Buntings that have been around for a while. I picked up a flock of four small birds and thought they were the buntings but they landed on the golf course out of view. They were then flushed by a Sparrowhawk and gave great views as they flew overhead. Also seen here were a pair of displaying Green Woodpeckers. Next stop was Worth Marsh for the second of the target birds, White Stork. I have seen plenty just across the channel but never in the UK. This unringed bird has been around for a while now and my expert local guide knew exactly where to find it. While watching it hunting on the wet grassland a Ring-necked parakeet flew over, one of a growing local population this was the first time I have year-ticked one outside of West London. Next stop on the tour was the River Stour at Fordwich where we were hoping to catch up with Dusky Warbler. A friend of Ian was in the area and a quick phone call confirmed that the bird was still in it’s favoured location. A ten minute walk took us to the riverbank where within a few minutes we heard the hoped for tac call. With the location pinned down it was just a case of seeing it which was easier said than done. In the end we had to be satisfied with a handful of brief glimpses as the Dusky moved around very low in the vegetation. A little disappointing but at least we did see it. On the way back to the car we had a look on Westbere Lake. There were only a few birds to be seen, Great-crested Grebe was new for the day as was a Kingfisher that flew across the water and obligingly posed on a tree stump for long enough for us to get good view. Having alreadylogged two and a half new sites ( I have been to Sandwich Bay before but not the parts we went to today) the final stop of the day was Grove Ferry which is at the western end of Stodmarsh NNR. The plan here was to catch birds coming into roost. After spending some time in one of the hides trying to count Teal, with many of them tucked away in the reeds it was hard going but we got to somewhere near a hundred. Pintail was a nice but unexpected tick from here. We then moved along to one of the viewpoints from where we had some fun counting the many groups of Cormorants that were coming in, I think we gave up at around two hundred as they started to appear from multiple directions. Bearded tits were pinging away in the reed bed but remained unseen as did Cetti’s Warbler and Water Rail. A single Ringtail Hen harrier and half-a-dozen Marsh harriers came in and a group of eleven swans that tried to sneak in low across the back of the reserve were found to have a single Bewicks amongst them. Green Sandpiper was also heard but not seen but we were luckier with Snipe, five been found along the muddy margins. Final bird of the day was a Woodcock that was doing the opposite of the other birds by coming out from roosting. So another great days birding with 82 species seen or heard getting me 18 year-ticks a UK tick and a Lifer.