Thursday, 7 June 2018

Fentasy

 
A week off work in the homelands.  The Fen was lively with the thrum of summer, handsome buntings belting it our from their chosen perches.
 
 
 
On the Wildspace Marsh Harriers widely ranging across the site and straying over the town and parks.
 
 
Out on the Washes Cranes wandered and bugled indiscreetly while Swifts tore across the cradge bank, wings screaming past my ears.  A Wall Brown, hen's teeth around these parts, skipped along a chosen pathway.
 




 
Further afield a well timed trip to Strumpshaw Fen was rewarded with lots of Swallowtails and Norfolk Hawkers.  How long until these beauties make a return to the Cambridgeshire Fens? Within my lifetime I hope.
 
 
 
 
 
 
 




 
 


Tuesday, 5 June 2018

Fire

 
 
A weekend trip out to the Brecks saw the family at a popular play park with the bonus of several Firecrest singing around.  They can be quite confiding and one bird sang from a low branch drenched in sunlight and set against the dark foliage of Rhodendendron, a real firecracker of a bird.
 
 

 
A little down the road a picnic at Lakenheath Fen was brightened by a Kingfisher fishing around the visitor centre pond.  Dragons and damsels in profusion, a Hobby and Bittern were highlights of a lovely walk.
 



  

Wednesday, 30 May 2018

Race For The Prize

 
May is such a cracking month, everything is bursting with life, racing to grow and reproduce as the days lengthen, squeezing the darkness from both sides.  It is the month for a quirky ritual, the bird race, of which I am an addict.  An excuse to push a full day out birding to it's ultimate conclusion and indulge in a full 24hrs of the good stuff.  We've had plenty of practice and good fortune over the years but when the BIG day did come last year and waders were literally pouring out of the sky and birds were on the move everywhere we blew it and failed to see 5 common enough species that we really shouldn't have struggled with.  We have made a pact now, race every year, hone the route to it's absolute efficiency, and be absolutely ready for the next BIG day.
 
The last week of April has recently been the week for greatest movement of waders, terns and gulls that make the difference between a good haul of over 130 species in Cambridgeshire and a record breaking haul of over 138, incredible for a land locked county.  Despite the very protracted arrival this year of summer migrants, the stormy weather conditions and the very high water levels across the Washes we ploughed ahead with a late April date and started just after midnight enjoying the perfect proclamations of a roadside Nightingale.  We headed to the wilds where we were rewarded with 2 Spotted Crakes dripping their whip crack across the wet meadows and a Bittern thumped an accompaniment but no Corncrake rasping tonight.  Approaching the Fen a Barn Owl hissed and on the periphery of the headlamp beam an Otter crossed the road it's body almost the width of the rough tarmac. With it turning distinctly blustery and cold we heard little as we slopped through the sodden pathways stopping for lengthy ear strained vigils.  Aside from the metronomic pips of many Water Rail interspersed with Sedge and Cetti's Warbler insistent on holding their territory we heard little.  A Little Ringed Plover called overhead but for the first couple of hours the soundscape was slow going.  As the gloaming crept in from the east a Tawny Owl called, an odd repeated grunting nearby didn't confuse Ben who had been listening to Mandarin calls in the event of such a situation.  Mark checked Xeno Canto through the wonders of modern technology and as the call played from out of the phone speaker it was repeated organically by the Mandarin out on the marsh and then a Long-eared Owl called from over to the left, and there again.  Success, despite the far from perfect conditions.  The buzz of a Grasshopper Warbler battered around with the wind but became clearer as we walked back to the car, we glugged some coffee and headed to town.
 
A recent helpful tip off led us to a young Black Redstart holding territory and within a minute of pulling up the distinctive whistle and intermittent crackle was heard and the bird located on the corner of a building, tail trembling between bursts of song in the grey dawn. Onwards and able to see fully now, Crane added itself to the list, now a certainty but not too long ago we found one on a bird race, completely unexpectedly, an adrenaline inducing find.  Two Short-eared Owls were hunkered down in the grass playing hide and seek and shortly after Mark said have a look in here....he'd found a Black-winged Stilt.  It was well before breakfast and everything, despite the weather was going very well. The drizzle turned to rain and we headed across the eroding peats of the drained basin of an old mere seeking Wheatears, Corn Buntings and Tree Sparrows all which gave themselves up with little resistance.



 

 
To the woods, damp, lush and carpeted in bluebells. A Nuthatch then Jay and finally Marsh Tit called or appeared before us and we had to push on.  At Grafham there were a lot of terns - all Common and we added Swift, Hobby, Garden Warbler, Coal Tit and Little Grebe to our tally.  A weir stop produced a drive by Grey Wagtail and a hopeful Raven stake out revealed a greater surprise - an early Spotted Flycatcher.  Through the gravel pits with a stop off for Pink-footed Geese produced Goldeneye, a couple of tremendously elegant Arctic Terns and a pair of Bullfinch inched their way onto our list.  What was predicted and becoming evident was the difficulty we were having in adding waders to our list with such high water levels at all sites.  A walk around the reeds to look for Bearded Tits also revealed a pair of migrant Whinchat with Bittern and Crane vocal across the valley.

Back to the Washlands there was little in the way of  receding floods but those mark had checked out the previous day held a welcome Spotted Redshank, Dunlin, Avocet and a pair of Garganey.  Working up the Washes gave us Pintail, Whooper Swan, Grey Partridge, Great White Egret, Bar-tailed Godwit, Ring-necked Parakeet and Little Owl.  We decided to see out to dusk here knowing that with only Peregrine, Turtle Dove and Barnacle Goose as potential new birds obtainable to us and taking us over 130 that we had given the day our best and our route had delivered well.  A better wader day would usually provide us with Greenshank, Common Sandpiper, Ringed Plover, Whimbrel, Turnstone, Sanderling, Grey Plover, Wood Sandpiper or a Little Gull, Black Tern or Med Gull - 140 is still the dream and who knows next year could be IT.  


Wednesday, 18 April 2018

last of the Little Gulls


With all the gulling about recently I've been glad to get some sort of memory poured out onto canvas, just to clear the decks before I have a go at the Bonaparte's Gull seen at Fen Drayton this weekend.

Sunday, 15 April 2018

Once Bittern, Twice Shy

 

Having missed the American Bittern at Carlton Marshes, fortuitously close to our weekend break in Kessingland, the opportunity to spend more time not seeing this bird was too good to miss so when Mark H offered a trip on Monday afternoon I snapped it up.  Having missed the bird again there was nothing to do but go back on Saturday, after 13hrs total, I did pick the bird up on it's first early morning flight.  However the photo above is misleading, Mark did very well to grab a shot - I didn't see it like this, although everyone else around me did.  Something went wrong, I couldn't find it, I didn't panic but as the crowd ooeed and arggghhedd and cameras fired off like machine guns it became a real possibility after 15 seconds or so that I was going to miss out and be left hopelessly looking in all the wrong bits of sedge for this skulker.  I don't think it's ever happened to me before but there you go, it has now, not sure there's anything to learn from the experience.  What then to do? 

The decision was a swift one as Mark received a heads up that an adult Bonaparte's Gull, a long predicted first for Cambridgeshire had been found at Fen Drayton.  We twitched...again.  This time the bird was much more confiding and on show throughout allowing us to drink in the Nearctic gull. On the way home a smart 2CY Little Gull was briefly over the settling beds and a Little-Ringed Plover was on the boathouse flash.

 






 

Today Ben and I headed out for an afternoon scout along the washes.  The water levels are high although we did manage to pick up a Grey Plover on a flooded field.



A freshly arrived Lesser Whitethroat was rattling its way Northwards along the budding hedgerows, lovely to watch and listen to.  Spring is sprung.

Wednesday, 11 April 2018

Black Sabbath

 
 
Several Sundays worth of highlights, Ben's Common Scoter at the Beet Pits were fantastic and I think a new bird for the Wildspace.
 




 
This Sunday we were staying at the coast at Kessingland, my planned potter around the dunes and scrub was diverted by the news of an American Bittern found at Carlton Marshes just 5 miles away.  I didn't see the Bittern in the mud and rain but a bit later did find a couple of Black Redstart around the caravan park.
 


 
 
The run of Little Gulls at the Beet Pits were most enjoyable and a rogue White Stork that roosted on rooftops in Stretham was not without charm.
 







 


Tuesday, 3 April 2018

my newt us.

The expected rain was late this weekend, and before it eventually started I explored a few local spot's with Rich, on the lookout for Spring migrant's. A fine flock of fifty Avocet's at Isleham and a few Pintail at Sutton Gault drew the eye, and a grey Plover flew over before we looked s'outh to find the Ring-necked Duck consorting with a group of Pochard, but the only signs of Spring were a couple of Chiffchaff's and a Wheatear. Indeed it still felt like winter, with a sprawling gang of Redwing' at the Gault- despite a few trill's of their unfamiliar song echoing across the sodden field.
Thi's afternoon, however, I got a call from Dunc, who was bearing new's of three Little Gull's' at the beet factory. I trudged down there to find all three still raking across the water among a noisy spread of Black-headed Gull's, and proceeded to watch them for an hour or so. One in particular had a beautiful pink blush to its belly, and the three together displayed the subtle variation's of age and moult that all gull's show.