Sunday 29 January 2012

Winter birding blues

Every year around late January, with its short, cold and often miserable days, I find myself thinking that perhaps I am getting a bit bored with birding. I can't muster any enthusiasm to get out of my warm bed, get out in the damp cold air, and see what's about.

From recollection, I am pretty sure I have felt like this each January for the last few years. I question myself, am I get bored of birding? After all I've been "really into" golf, fishing, astronomy and of course football (West Ham Utd season ticket holder for 20+ years in the past), but there's always been birding somewhere in the background. But now, birding is firmly in the foreground with the odd footy match squeezed in, and fishing and golf are nowhere to be seen, in fact the thought of either doesn't sound appealing at all.

Today on Birdguides I saw "Parrot Crossbill - West Sussex", a life tick, and I couldn't even get excited about that. Don't get me wrong, I have a couple of really good days out in Norfolk already this year, and I've even had a tick with the Spanish Sparrow, but I can't for the life of me bring myself to get out and stomp round The Chase or anywhere else locally and enjoy the local birds. I take my hat off BIG TIME to you local patchers, you put in a lot of time and effort, often for little reward, keep it up folks, your dedication is admirable.

On the plus side my lack of birding is providing time to do some great family stuff. Yesterday Jamie and I went to watch our local football team, Hornchurch FC, which was great; last weekend we all went to the cinema to see War horse and have dinner out. Today we met friends at Lakeside for lunch, again, which was nice and in the long run I must be racking up brownie points like billy-o! So once I've bucked my ideas up, shaken off the January birding blues, I'll be ready and able to get out there and enjoy my birding. Hopefully starting next weekend!

Sunday 15 January 2012

Short Eared Owls Rainham

With prefect clear and still conditions yesterday afternoon I headed back to the west end of Rainham Marshes hoping to latch onto the Short Eared Owls. This time I got onto the higher section of the silts where I think the owls prefer to hunt. Walking up the back to view I immediately had 2 owls about 75 yards ahead of me. Bingo!

I watched the owls for a good 30 minutes, in plummeting temperatures, with one heading east and the other remaining loyal to the immediate vicinity; although it mained pretty distant (200 yards) most of the time.

I'll be back to stake it out and try and get some good photos. (unlike this) Watch this space.

Thursday 12 January 2012

Hampshire 2 Dorset 0

The quest for 2012 life ticks kicked off in ernest today. With a busy weekend ahead I booked the day off and headed south, to Hampshire, for a Spanish Sparrow, whose residence in a hedgerow in Calshot has only just come to light, despite apparently the bird being in the area for some time now, up to 2 years, according to some people! My accomplice on this occasion, was snoozy birder, Rob Burgess.

We arrived on site at around 8.10am to be told the bird had come out of its roost and had flown off. Bugger. However, the friendly bloke acting as steward, calmed our nerves by telling us that the bird had a regular pattern and would be back in about an hour. As the hour approached I was getting a tad nervous. There were plenty of House Sparrow zipping about but non of them was playing castanets! Almost to the minute, an hour after it had disappeared, and as promised, it was back, mostly frequenting the hedgerow on the other side of the road. Some record shots would have been gettable had I not forgotten to change the battery in my camera. I'm sure they'll be plenty of others doing the rounds in the coming days.

It was here we met Californian birdman, Rob, who tagged along with us for the day, and was great company as we swapped birding stories from both sides of the Atlantic.

Next stop, a Dark Eyed Junko, just a short 15 minute drive away. Again, arriving on site it took a good hour of checking every bird before the smart yank appeared, and showed well. My 2nd after the Dungeness bird 3 years previously. We were also treated to great views of Crossbill, Brambling and Siskin during our hour on site.

As it was only 11.30am we decided to head across the border to Dorset for the long staying Humes Leaf Warbler and a nearby Richard's Pipit. Almost 1.5 hours later we arrived. We looked, we listened, we looked some more, listened some more, but nothing, not so much as a Blue Tit, it appeared to be a bird free zone.

With a 3 hour plus journey home we decided to call it a day. I think the excitement of it all got too much for UK Rob as we had to stop on the way home so he could have a "power nap"!

Boozy birder or snoozy birder, you decide!

Cracking day though, 2 quality birds, including my 1st life UK tick of 2012.

Monday 9 January 2012

East Anglia provides yet more quality birding

I have been to Norfolk on average about once every 3 weeks since Oct 2011, either birding/twitching or with the family. I've been so often that I think my toes are starting to web together! Oh well, at least that will be handy when sea levels rise and half of the county floods! Only joking, I love north Norfolk and in another life would love to live there. One day maybe! Anyway.........

Just 6 days after a cracking start to the 2012 birding calendar; year ticking 90+ species in a day last week, I found myself yet again heading up the A12 to Norfolk on Saturday. This time it was accompanying Shaun,(and Hawky) to try and see returning Lesser White Fronted Goose, a bird we spent a good few hours catching up with in Jan 2011. Shaun dipped out last year so it would be a lifer.

This time it was much easier. We arrived at Buckenham at around 8am, and by 8.30am it was in the bag. The little goose with the big White flash on its forehead was still hanging out with a group of 50ish Tiaga Bean Geese and few Greater Whitefront, viewed from just 100 yards up the path. The blighter didn't make it easy by mostly feeding in a gully providing the odd head and neck scope view, but eventually it walked out for a minute or two providing better views. Tick! Along with a flock of Barnacle Geese and 3 fly by Bewicks it was a great start to the day.

Next we tried for Common Crane around Horsey with no luck so we decided to head out of Norfolk and to Suffolk, stopping on route for the distant Great Northern Diver at Rollesby Broad.

Out first Suffolk stop was Ness Point; a very liable place for Purple Sandpiper in winter and we were not disappointed with 4 providing great views, a couple of hundred yards further than the point. Kittiwakes and Red Throated Diver we also seen at sea. Just up the road we stopped at Lake Lothing for Black Throated Diver; the same location where I life ticked the species on an Essex Birders day trip, what seems like years ago but was in fact just 6 years previous. In very windy conditions eventually saw the bird distantly from the Asda car park.

Waxwings had been widely reported from a number of sites in Suffolk for a few weeks now so off we went to search for them. The nearest location was Reydon, and 30 minutes later we arrived. A group of 16 of these fantastic birds could be heard 50 yards away and were frequently visiting a small berry tree not far from the road. 10 minutes later, they arrived, quickly eating a few berries each before heading back to their look out post.

It is impossible to get bored of Waxwings. There are fantastic and I will always go and see them if I can. In the end we stayed for an hour or so, enjoying the photogenic beauties.

Heading south we decided to have one last stop at Abberton Resevoir. We arrived at the Layer Breton causeway at about 3.30pm. Good numbers of Pintail could be seen but no wild swans and no Smew. With light fading we called it a day and headed home. Another day quality birds; Shaun saw his goose, and we all enjoyed the Waxwings, definitely the birds of the day for me.

Long may this quality of birding continue in 2012!

Tuesday 3 January 2012

2012 kicks off with a bang in north Norfolk

After a quiet Christmas mostly spent convalescing from my operation, and not seeing any short eared owls on my two visits to Rainham Marshes, what I really needed was to kick off my 2012 birding with a bang! And that I did. Sometimes things just seem to go right, and yesterday was one of those days.

Myself, Hawky, filthy twitcher; Jono and Nick crammed into the Bradders-mobile and headed north. First stop around 2 hours later was Fakenham for a Great Grey Shrike that had been showing well for a good few days now. There had been some excitement when it was originally found as it was thought to be of the race, homeyeri, and therefore making it a rarer form of the Great Grey Shrike that is usually found on our shores each winter. After 45 minutes or so of freezing our bits off, the bird got out of its bed and decided to show itself. A very smart and pale bird it could be seen why some people thought it was of a different form, but, it now appears it is the commoner species after all. Anyway, who cares it was still very smart. Of note we also had double figures of Grey Partridge.

Next we headed to Cley for the now long staying mega Western Sandpiper. It was a month to the day since I had first seen it, and again this time it showed well although more distantly. A life tick for Nick too.

Salthouse was next for a sea watch and a warming coffee. Hot drink in hand we climbed the shingle back to view the sea. Before I was anywhere near the top Hawky began shoting that a Glaucous Gull was flying past. I ran to the top spilling my coffee all over my hand to view the brute heading along the beach. The bird then landed on the beach, with other gulls, about a mile away so we decided to try and get close to take a few snaps. Half way there a Snow Bunting popped over the bank and landed on the beach just a head of us, providing good but brief views. Unfortunately, a dog walker got to the gulls before us and put the birds up, landing on the sea. Another 10 minutes later and the Glauc was up and heading away up the coast.

Back to the car we decided to head west. Checking news, we were informed of 2 Black Brants at Wells and a Rough Legged Buzzard at the east end of Holkham. After 10 minutes we arrived at Wells to search through the Brents and Bradders quickly picked up a Pale Bellied Brent and one of the Brants. On we moved, and minutes later we picked up a large bird circling relatively close to the road. We quickly parked, jumped out to view the bird as unfortunately it slowly headed away. It was very pale and a had distinct dark tail bar; Rough Legged Buzzard. It was just too far for me to get a picture but check out Hawky's blog (link on the right) for one showing the key detail.

Back on the road we headed to Titchwell where we were all keen to try and see the also long staying Coues' Arctic Redpoll. This bird had been playing very hard to get on occasion, including the 2 hours that our mate Shaun had searched for it a couple of weeks earlier. Carrying on our run of luck on the day, we arrived on site to find a crowd of 30+ people crowded around the picnic area, all looking upwards. We joined the throng to find at least half a dozen or so Redpolls (of various form) feeding rather frenetically making picking out the arctic roll, not straight forward. After just 10 minutes or so it was finally nailed and soon gave up hiding away towards the back of the canopy and provided some good views.

Happy we headed out onto the reserve. Of note we had 2 Scaup and managed cracking views of Spotted Redshank, before arriving at the beach for a sea watch. Here we managed to add Velvet and Common Scoter and Whooper Swan to a now bulging day list. With an hour of light left at most we had to decide on our final stop of the day. We plumped for Flitcham, we at dusk had Tree Sparrow.

It was a cracking way to start off 2012 with 90+ species recorded, including many scarce and rare species. Long may this quality of birding continue.