Monday, 31 March 2014


I saw two beautiful things the other day, neither of them the thing I was looking for. I'd gone out after an LRP. They'll be in the wader meadow at Kingfishers Bridge soon but they weren't there yet. What I did get though was a pair of quite brilliant lapwings. Not the plover I wanted, but a plover nonetheless and one I've seen hundreds and hundreds of recently.

Lapwings have long been a favourite of mine, and this year I've really loved seeing a few more of them around; in the fields outside Cottenham, alongside the Ouse Washes and most spectaculary coming in to roost at Ouse Fen. They're great in huge numbers, all flip flapping away, black, white, black, white. They're not very special though.

So it was with slowly growing real joy that I focussed on a pair sat placidly right in front of the hide. They're dandy little birds with their white bibs, jaunty crests (something of the waxed moustache there) and their iridescent capes. It wouldn't have surprised me if I'd zoomed in to see a little monocle covering one eye. The colouring of their backs is just amazing. There must be an adaptive reason for it but I can't for the life of me think what it could be.

As I was looking at them, thinking how good it is to have a good, long, close up look at something quite familiar, a pair of stock doves alighted nearby. Wow. Maybe the laps had attuned me to iridescence or maybe the sunlight caught them just right, but the bright jade colour on the side of their smooth grey necks was astonishing. That's what I love about this life; the capacity to be blown away by a pair of pigeons.

A promise of spring

The weekend certainly had a warmth to it, a promise of spring and perhaps a migrant or two? On Sunday I went to Welney thinking that I'd probably be back by lunch but there was so much going on that it was late afternoon by the time I left. A Little Ringed Plover circled in a display flight and there were Dunlin, Ruff and Snipe as well as the inevitable Redshank and a good variety of waterfowl. Some Whooper Swans are still present but some skeins appeard to be heading out. Stars of the show were the 3,000 or so Black-tailed Godwits which whirled and swirled when a marsh harrier or buzzard put them to flight. Some are showing their bright russet breeding plumage and they looked stunning, especially in flight. I was interested to see from my photographs that when coming in to land some performed rolls and can clearly be seen to be flying upside down (although their heads are in the correct orientation)! Very pleasant to spend time with these flocks before most of them head for Iceland!

Right ID? Roughly...

What an unexpectedly beautiful day. The late march sunshine has real warmth to it despite the blustery breeze. It's a spring clean for the tired mind. I always enjoy an hour or two at Kingfisher bridge, often just for the solitude and stillness. I don't go there hoping for anything very exotic; it's just a nice place to be. Today starts dramatically though. I arrive in the car park just as a big buzzard is gettting the high hat from a pair of rooks. Fairly standard stuff, but always quite an interesting bit of behaviour to observe. Then a pair of kestrels arrive and join in. I don't often see kestrels in pairs, and I've never seen them get together with corvids to hassle a buzzard. They are plucky too; one of them repeatedly dives and clouts the buzzard on the top of the head. He's made of stern stuff though, and refuses to capitulate. Good for him.

As I get a really good look at the buzzard wheeling round with a yeah, yeah shrug of the carpals, something about it doesn't quite sit right. There's something of the marsh harrier about it's slightly more fluent, relaxed flight. It isn't labouring quite like a buzzard, and it holds its wings in a distinct vee. The markings are very pale but the exaggerated carpal patches and dark belly are obvious. The tail and wings have just a touch more elegance about them.

Might I have chanced upon one of those handful of rough legged buzzards that visit the east of England every winter? There's the supple flight and the upheld wings. There are the carpal patches, but buzzard colouring's all over the place so it isn't always a guide. It's clearly not welcome in this spot of marsh harrier country, so maybe it is a visitor. I strain and strain for a good look at the tail, watching out for the dark bar at the end but I just don't get a good enough view to say for certain. Whether it is or it isn't, it's a lovely thing. It's going away now, over the line of still skeletal winter poplars, another one for the maybe list.

Sunday, 30 March 2014

Out for a Duck (or3)

A sneaked in couple of hours early morning out to the Brecks unfolded to almost a full days birding with highlights including 4 singing Firecrest, 2 Goshawk, a wing barred Crossbill, 2 Red Kite, Peregrine, Woodlark, Little Ringed Plover, Baikal Teal, Ring-necked Duck, Garganey and Hen Harrier.

 A dawn look at the settling beds did not produce the hoped for singing Sedge Warbler but it was a lovely dawn and one of the male Marsh Harriers was skydancing enthusiastically.

Within the Ely 10 during the day Brendan Doe found a female Ring-necked Duck on the Washes at Fourballs Farm.  A great find as the bird was not close and even when I knew it was out there demanded a good grilling of all the diving duck.  I did luck in and whilst watching it had a 2nd winter male Hen Harrier drift in front of the scope.  A beautiful bird it showed both close and well as it moved down the Washes putting up flocks of Teal and Wigeon as it went.  At Pymoor I got distracted from looking for the American Wigeon by a bird that looked like a Marbled Duck.  I only ever saw the head and neck of the bird as it fed, well hidden within the grass, I watched it till it was too murky to see anything more of note.  Earlier, on my way back from watching the Baikal Teal at Fen Drayton, I popped in at Chain corner where a pair of Garganey were a very pleasant surprise.

Although outside the Ely10 I can't not pop in a picture of the Baikal Teal at Fen Drayton.


Thursday, 27 March 2014

The Early Bird

Darn it if after a 3.30 trickle trip I couldn't drop back into slumber.  By 4.30 I decided to make the most of the moment and enjoyed the dawn chorus.  Very welcome after the months of dark mornings but slightly muted and expectant, still awaiting the green light to deliver the unadulterated cacophony to be unleashed during April.  Once the light improved a little I headed down to the settling beds and Roswell Pits.  I'd gone a bit too early and very little was moving about.  I had a little stroll and admired the phragmites etched against the sky.  Anyone remember the coloured paper used as an indicator for water in Science lessons?  I reckon this is a Cobalt Chloride sky......


There wasn't a lot of action at the pools but Great-crested Grebes looked fantastic in the flat light.  The water was silver laced and I did manage to see a Cetti's Warbler well on several occasions feeding in the reedy tangle.


At Roswell there were Chiffchaffs singing in each copse and stand of trees.  A couple of Blackcaps warbled and chacked and Kingfisher and Green Woodpecker were both vocal.  I was drawn to a low ramble of bramble by an insistent high pitched seeping, a tone that I wasn't quite normal.  My reward for following this was to see a watch piece of behaviour from a pair of Robins.  One bird had a lovely pink worm in it's beak and pirouetted at the front and back of the other bird who cocked it's tail and strutted it's chest but ultimately moved away so that the other bird performed it's dance again both birds were contact calling with the arresting seep.  After several teases a very postured display feed took place and then the birds remained almost still for 30 seconds or so .  I then left them, undisturbed, to continue weaving their invisible bonds.
The flood meadows looked perfect for attracting a quick stop over Garganey or Avocet and I'm sure this spring that they will.  However I got my kicks from Teal, Gadwall and plenty of bright finches in the bushes.  Bull, Green, Gold and Chaffinch all looking very smart in their Sunday best. 
On a return trip past the settling beds a pair of Buzzards looked quite territorial and Marsh Harrier were also cruising the reedbed.

Monday, 24 March 2014

Peregrine rules the Fen

Here's a phone scoped pic of the Peregrine.  The Marsh Harrier that it pestered took to finding some cover in the minimally reed fringed ditch along the field edge.  Having drunk the falcon in we stalked down the path alongside the ditch. Having convinced ourselves that the harrier must have slipped off unseen, we were royally jolted when he bustled off some five feet from us, completely hidden despite us scanning the vegetation every few steps .  We agreed that, for both of us, it was our closest encounter with Circus aeruginosus.

Another lucky encounter

birding in the fens often throws up surprises, and a trip to littleport with Dunc yesterday proved the rule creditably. while picking up some concrete slabs for Dunc's new pergola, we drove along Queen Adelaide Way and noticed a falcon ahead of us, head into the wind almost holding its position above the road. my initial thoughts were that it must be a kestrel, surely, but as we pulled onto the concrete pad at the southern end of the settling beds, that subconcious voice in our heads became more vocal, - this was a big bird without the long tail and slender form that you would expect from a kestrel, and as it banked and caught the sun, it's dark chocolate back and blackish mask revealed it's true identity. it was a beautiful young peregrine, living up to it's wandering name, and as we watched it, it dropped down towards a male Marsh harrier that was flying low across the black fen. the harrier baulked as the falcon tilted at it, not quite committing to a full-on attack but making a couple of lunges that hinted at a speed and power the harrier did not possess. the harrier sought sanctuary in the nearest ditch, and the peregrine, satisfied that his point had been made,settled on a clod of soil in the middle of the field. these unexpected happenings just go to show you how transient the birdlife in our region can be, and they should remind us there's life going on across those seemingly empty fields and in the cloudless sky.

Sunday, 23 March 2014

Lucking in on Glossy Ibis

Returned yesterday to look for the Slavonian Grebe again.  Owen and Monica Marks had seen it on Friday and gave me some good advice on where to look for it.  A pied winter plumage bird, it was diving frequently and after a couple of reasonable views I lost the bird and couldn't refind it.  I pottered down to Welney where the flashes on Lady Fen looked fantastic for spring wader passage 60 or so Dunlin, a Common Sandpiper, 20 Ruff and 18 Curlew accompanied 3 swimming Avocet.  Whooper Swans were flocking up on the roadside fields.

Today Ben and I made a quick visit whilst moving some paving  slabs about for my patio project.  Looking at the swans we were fortunate to be called up on to the bank by Brandon Doe who had just found 2 Glossy Ibis.  They were distant and disappearing frequently but a great pair of birds to luck in on.  Further up the Washes we were unable to find yesterdays grebe but enjoyed lots of wildfowl and Godwit action.

Tuesday, 18 March 2014

Slav dash

There was a Slavonian Grebe reported on the Ouse Washes down towards the bridge from Stevens Hide this morning.  I had a look after work from the Pymoor side to no avail.  The wind was chopping up the water something rotten and the light was just wrong and shimmering across the waves.  Once the sun had dropped into the grey it was possible to see a bit of detail on birds out on the water but I gave up after a short while with a bit of encouragement from a understandably impatient toddler.

Sunday, 16 March 2014

Washes spring into action

Lovely fresh, bright and breezy this afternoon on the Washes.  The drake American Wigeon was feeding happily on the lovely looking flood north of Earith.  Couple of shots for the record.  There was at least 1 vocal Med Gull over the Washes and 27 Little Egret.

This Little Egret was fishing constantly in the shallows.  The 2 fields close to the village are often full of herons and egrets and one memorable spring evening many moons ago Cattle Egret, Little Egret  and Night Heron fed in one scopes view here.


Saw close of play for the day at Witcham Gravel, varied gull watching.  Some near and some far I really focused on looking for ghosts.  David Hopkins got me onto the Glaucous Gull at quite close range, although it quickly relocated to join the raft of gulls further out.  A Green Sandpiper giggled maniacally and Grey Partridge, Curlew, Oystercatcher and a Curlew all added their timbre to the night air as a full moon rose over the Fen.  Here be Magic.

Friday, 14 March 2014

Hot News

Hot News .......Hot News.......  A drake American Wigeon on the Ouse Washes from the Earith bank accessed from Earith Industrial Park (Mark Eaton) and 1 Glaucous  Gull and 2 Iceland Gull in the roost at Witcham Gravel (David Hopkins) - tasty treats for an afternoon out in Ely 10 this weekend.
I grew up wishing life were like a Hilary Burn plate.

Peach Melba Sky

An inaugural post - my first ever on any blog.  I chose to live in Ely because of the fantastic opportunities to experience the seasons and all the birds they bring within an active migration flyway.  There are always great experiences to be had out on these plains and a fenland safari is a treat indeed.  I had a little stroll down Roswell Pits on tuesday in a snatched half hour after work and before the nursery run.  Kingfishers were very vocal, presumably on territory.  Blackcap and Chiffchaff were a singing and streams of gulls were heading to the Washes roosts.  Out on the fen beyond the beet pits there were 3 Whoopers Swans and a few more Mute Swans.  The dropping sun set the sky awash and slipped toward the horizon amidst a beautiful soft peach melba glow.