Wednesday, 30 April 2014

a different rattle

Dunc rang me this morning with the news that a wood warbler was singing in a tree along Deacon's Lane, next to the Paradise sports ground. It was easy to locate where the bird was when i arrived ten minutes later, as with yesterday's lesser whitethroat, it's rattling song could be heard from the dense canopy. After a few minutes of wondering how I was going to get a view of this misplaced songster, lost as it was amongst the verdant growth, the bird suddenly flew to a young tree just coming into leaf. the warbler's greenish-yellow throat  mirrored the new leaf shoots, giving the impression that part of the tree had become animate in order to rid itself of the myriad of tiny insects that must fill every crack and crevice. It poked at every bud and became so possessive of its tree that when a goldfinch landed nearby, it sprang forth and chased the finch off in a flurry of green and gold.

misty morning

Tuesday was one of those still days when the wind drops and a lazy mist gradually reveals the dewy morning. while surveying out on the Nene washes I found a disparate collection of migrants caught in the lull. Five wheatears snapped at small flies on the bank while a spotted redshank plucked across the shallow water. A whimbrel preened and then flew tentatively down the wash, and two fieldfare perched atop a bare-limbed ash tree, as if unwilling to accept the new season has started. Closer to home, at the sailing club at Roswell pits, evidence of this new season rattled briefly from another ash tree; a lesser whitethroat greeting the morning with a simple refrain before dashing for cover in hte nearby brambles.

Tuesday, 29 April 2014

Ouse Washes

With mamma away and a bag full of beans needing to release some pent up energy I decided to take a walk along the Ouse Washes. My intention was to see if I could identify the cattle egret and just enjoy being outside. It had rained and there were plenty of puddles (muddy ones!). Of course we were wearing appropriate footwear for splashing in puddles, NOT. It did encourage walking though and not carrying, splash after splash after splash.
We walked down to the most likely hide to see the cattle egret (there were detailed maps on the visitors hut telling us which). Mission accomplished: one tired little cookie. as for the egret, I'm not convinced, you?

Terns Ely Wild Space

 I met Mark Welch on the train one morning and he told me how he, Andrew Balmford and a few others cleaned the tern rafts, eventually ;-) So hey presto, my next walk through the Wild Space and there they were. Two common terns dipping into the water and making a right old racket!


This little gem is significant only in that I volunteered to do a winter thrush survey earlier in the year  and in two squares managed to see a grand total of, wait for it... 0 thrushes. I'm not saying this guy is laughing at me, but I can't help think he might just be. Especially as he has decided the tree outside my window at home, at night, all night is the perfect place for him to sing his little heart out.

Ely Marsh Harriers

A little late, but better late than never...

Having been told there was a male marsh harrier carrying nesting material in Ely Wild Space I decided that I would go and have a look. I combined this with a lovely walk with my 2 year old and wife. We arrived and on cue the male was wheeling around with something obviously in his talons. He promptly landed in the middle of the reed bed, popping up a few minute late, circled around again and landed in a tree!

Well there in the tree was a female and he was stood on her back. Were they mating? Anyway it was time to go, a 2 year olds attention span doesn't stretch to more than a few minutes stood still looking a a small speck in a distant tree! So we went home and I grabbed my camera, gave my wife my best puppy dog eyes and I was soon on my way back.

I ran off a few shots and then just watched the two until he flew off and she landed on "the nest site". A great time with some magnificent birds. I went home and had a look at the photos. Were they mating or not? It looks from the photos that he was bringing her food and passing it to her. You can see here she is now carrying something.

Monday, 28 April 2014


While Duncan was sat idly in the garden admiring his Turtle Dove, I was putting in the graft leading a DoE group from Newmarket to Soham (which, to be fair, is something he does more often than I do).  It's a walk that takes you through a number of different habitats within the Ely 10.  Following the Devil's Dyke from Swaffham Prior to Reach along the chalky bank we started with Yellowhammers ("They look like parrots!") and Skylarks. 

Moving on to the moody Adventurers' Fen we got a Grey Heron, a male Marsh Harrier, some Avocet and a number of Canada and Greylag Geese. Further on there were Coal Tits, Long Tailed Tits and Goldfinch.

Once out of the fen and into the hedgerows between Wicken and Soham we saw loads of skylarks, seven or eight of them, and got a good view of a Willow Warbler.  The hedgerows were full of singing Robins and at least one Wood Warbler.  The kids weren't especially impressed with the Marsh Harrier, which surprised me, but were really taken with a low altitude flyover of Greylags.  They were also quite into the skylarks. Trying to get them interested in a Wood Warbler they couldn't see was a lost cause.  I don't know, kids these days...

Turtley Purrfect

The weekend garden Olympics were cheered on and cheered up by the return of a (our??) Turtle Dove to the bottom of the garden.  With lovely light he let a bit of mid-distance digi-scoping happen.  He spent all afternoon and evening  purring from the wires and was adding soft drones to todays early morning chorus which now includes Whitethroat, Lesser Whitethroat, Blackcap, Garden Warbler, Chiffchaff and Yellowhammer - most of which use the garden as some point within their current territorial singing circuit. 
The Turtle Doves return is made more remarkable considering the gauntlet these gorgeous doves run when moving through the Mediterranean.  Chris Packham has been making a self-funded documentary to highlight the issues and has got it onto the front page of BBC website, for today at least.
 The Massacre in Malta documentary feeds can be seen here in sequence

Friday, 25 April 2014

Something something Darkside ...

A wave of migrants have pushed through during the week.  Grasshopper Warblers have been widely reported and Wicken Fen in particular has hosted lots of reelers.  A nocturnal safari around the Fen and Washes in the next week could readily pick up whipping Spotted Crakes, booming Bittern, roding Woodcock, reeling Grasshopper Warblers, serenading Nightingales and any number of vocal flyover waders.  The first warm and still night we get I'll be out.

Monday, 21 April 2014

Baikal bonus

The little one was chomping at the bit to see the Baikal Teal within the Ely10 so by the afternoon I relented and we pottered down the Washes on a family safari. It was distant but the striking head pattern was visible even at long range. 

Further down at Welney a couple of Great White Egrets have been in residence but were not visible in the brief time I had in the hide.  From the cafĂ©, where I did have a much longer time to watch birds coming and going on Lady Fen, a lone Whimbrel, Little Ringed Plover and a very smart White Wagtail were the highlights. 

Hitting the ground running

Ben an I had just touched down at Stansted, following a bleary eyed 4am start in Fes, when news of  a Red-rumped Swallow at Cam Washes (found by Jonathan and David Heath) winged it's way to the mobile.  As it was virtually on the way home it would have been rude not to pop in and have a look at this enigmatic hirundine. We had feasted our eyes on small flocks of Red-rumped Swallows in Morocco  just days before.  Some had been at breeding sites but others were undoubtedly migrants, most memorably, northerly moving birds within spitting distance, and at eye level, across small fields one evening along the Atlantic coastal plain.  Very different to the proposition of a bird hawking over the verdant washlands of Cambridgeshire.

After a short walk up river we were able to watch the increasing numbers of Martins and Swallows at a closer range.  A short while later the Red-rumped Swallow was located at mid-distance hawking over the southern end of the Washes.  Although it was tempting to stay and hope for closer views eight days of solid birding had preceded and home truly beckoned.  Shortly after leaving Upware a second Red-rumped Swallow was found - amazebobs.

Other birds around the E10 over the week have included CattleEgret, Glossy Ibis, Spotted Crake, Green-winged Teal and the Baikal Teal on the Ouse Washes and a couple of Ring Ouzels around too. With a month more of migration to come it looks like this spring has every chance of  providing lots more opportunities to experience some exciting birds and birding.

Thursday, 10 April 2014

Spring springing on the washes

I had a lovely quiet couple of hours at the washes this afternoon.  Most of the big flocks have gone, including the Godwits I was hoping to catch.  As it was, I got one on it's own, in beautiful red breeding plumage.  Don't know who it's going to breed with.

More successful, romantically speaking,  were the displaying Great Crested Grebes and the Ruffs, one of which was puffing itself up with some enthusiasm to protect its Reeves from skinnier onlookers.

There were plenty of Redshank looking especially red-shanked, Avocet and  Oyster Catchers, as well as upwards of twenty Little Egret. The couple of Grey Heron looked a bit lost and bemused amongst them. The Spoonbill wasn't obvious, but there were a lot of white, heron-ish birds out there, beyond the range of the scope (at least beyond the range of my scope).

Duck-wise, there were hundreds of Wigeon and Gadwall, many Pochard and Teal, quite a lot of Shoveler, Mallard and  Tufted and just one rogue female Ruddy Duck, an increasingly rare survivor of the eradication programme.

The recently spotted Baikal Teal and Pectoral Sandpiper were lying low.

I digi-scoped a shot of an Avocet but it's so rubbish it could pass for a Tamworth Pig, so I'm not going to post it.

Wednesday, 9 April 2014

Washes keep delivering


The Washes have drained and drained over the week.  On Sunday 5th April a dawn raid at Sutton Gault and up to Chain Corner did not reveal the hoped for Baikal Teal.  This bird has, to it's credit, started to move north-east from Fen Drayton.  I'm not sure whether a shift of less than 10 miles constitutes a migrational trend though? 

Garganey were not so much evident as hard worked for and Ben and I found 3 in an hour or so search. When we got up to Four Balls Farm to look for the Ring-necked Duck near enough the first bird seen was an adult (or near as damn it) Spoonbill, that flew south and alighted for a short spell, allowing a blurry record shot at 1/4 mile.  Later we saw it flying up the Wash towards the RSPB reserve from Pymoor. There were also single Sand and House Martin moving west.

 Spoonbill - at some considerable distance

Today an afternoons safari took in some great skydancing Harriers near Ely, wild swans on the Washes, an American vagrant, a cage jumper, a declining breeder and some up for it colonists.

Ring-necked Duck fm - also some way away
 Ruddy Shelduck

 Feisty Avocet pairing and Ruddy Shelduck heckles
Having had a little look at the earlier migrants arriving in East Anglia, I'm very fortunate to be heading south now for 10 days birding in Morocco.  It's always a compromise leaving the Ely10 during the migration season but I hope that there's some Redstart, Ring Ouzel, Osprey and who knows what else around to enjoy on my return. 

Monday, 7 April 2014

It's great round here

It's day one of the Easter holidays, mum's back at work after the weekend and it's drizzling.  We've already watched the Smurfs and the kids won't consider another DVD without popcorn.  They will, however, consider snatching, bickering and crying.

So we put wellies and raincoats on and go to Kingfisher Bridge.  They love the wild horse and the noisy geese.  I teach Laura to check if an electric fence is or or not with a piece of grass.  A big Grey Heron chases a Little Egret over the reed beds right in front of us and a rabbit crosses our path. 

We climb the 'mountain' and go into the hide. Scanning across the reeds I get a Bittern, almost immediately, right off to the far left, skulking in the edge of a reed patch with neck and head held vertically.   The camouflage is very effective and if it were stood amongst the reeds I'd have no chance, but it's just at the very edge.  I watch it for two or three minutes while Laura fills in the hide record and Alice falls off the bench. 

Outside a big, male Marsh Harrier generously flies right over us on the track back to the car.  Grey Heron, Little Egret, Bittern, Marsh Harrier; for some people three of those four would be significant ticks.  We were only there forty minutes. You do get some good birding round here.

Sunday, 6 April 2014

Female Ring-necked Duck sketch

quick colour sketch of the ring-necked duck near pymoor this morning, done from memory when i got back home into the warm and out of the wind. it was quite distant when duncan and i watched it, but its face pattern stood out reassuringly. to be honest i'm on;ly posting this to see if i can.

Some Helpful Links

Anyone with an interest in arcane bird names could worse than looking here, though sadly Cranes were already absent from these shores before the great Victorian bloom of amateur natural historians and so don't feature.

And if you have a Crane in the fridge (which I think most of us do from time to time), you might find this page illuminating.

Saturday, 5 April 2014

The patio keeps delivering

The small patio/pergola I've been building has propagated a birding life of it's own over the past 3 weeks.  First came the 2 Glossy Ibis that Ben and I lucked in on when we picked up the slabs and the close encounters with Peregrine and Marsh Harrier on our way home.  Last weekend I had every intention of getting those slabs down but got completely way laid, between aborted sand buying attempts, by the great birding to be had last Saturday.  Incidentally the Baikal Teal has moved to the Washes at Sutton Gault today and the Ring-necked Duck was at Four balls Farm again.

Today most of the slabs were laid.  My parents, down from Yorkshire, are always great at helping me get things done and their Easter trips over the last 4 years have also had great birds over the garden.  The first year a pair of Peregrine lazed over the house and put on a great display tumbling and play fighting, the year after we were working in the garden and a female Goshawk circled over and south,  a couple of years ago it was the Hen Harrier/Pallid Harrier hybrid that wizzed over and fortunately allowed pursuit across the causeway to the beet pits allowing Ben and Stuart Sharp to enjoy it.

 I did comment this morning that we were due an Osprey but it was pretty quiet all day in the skies.  Before jumping in the shower this evening I had a quick scan out of the back bedroom window that looks across to Kingfishers Bridge in the distance.  2 scans and I'd picked up a big old bird at distance, following it across the skyline it turned to a more horizontal profile - chuffing hell a Crane and another appeared just behind it.  Both birds flew across the horizon heading, I guess, over Little Thetford and onwards NW and lost to view. What a great garden tick.  There must be plenty of alternative names for Crane from the past, in medieval times I believe they were known as Lunch.

Laughing Geese

I caught a momentary glimpse of a Marsh Tit singing from a hawthorn at Witcham Toll yesterday afternoon. I say Marsh Tit, but it could have been a Willow Tit; the terrain suggests it should be, but the two are so alike I've got no chance of ID-ing it correctly from the car.

Francesca Greenoak's patchily informative book All the Birds of the Air points out that the two were regarded as one species until 1897 and that consequently there are no folk names for the Willow Tit, it being just too new to the party to have earned any. The Marsh Tit though has a few, my favourite of which is the East Anglian name Joe Ben.   The others are predictably descriptive - Black-Headed Tit and so on - but I love the folkiness of Joe Ben. There is no attempt at explaining how it came about, which for me just adds to the folky attraction.

As I was on Ely Island Way
I met Joe Ben at Witcham Toll,
Singing to me from the high hawthorne,
I met Joe Ben in the mor-ning.

The best birds of the week though were the two Laughing Geese in the stubble field outside Landbeach and the flock of Pudding Bags outside my office.

Wednesday, 2 April 2014

Green Plover on Skeg Fen

There was a single Lapwing, or Green Plover as they were once called in East Anglia, displaying this morning on the equally romantically named Skeg Fen. Their display is an annual treat for me.  Forget the balletic elegance of the Crested Grebe, the soaring, tumbling aerobatics of the Buzzard or even the Raven's propensity for flying upside down; for sheer madcap buffoonery you can't beat the Lapwing.  It reminds me a bit of a kid playing cops and robbers pretending to have been shot and doing an extended, staggering, drawn out death scene, reeling and bobbing around before eventually hitting the ground only to leap straight back up again. The really lovely thing was that as far as I could see there wasn't even another lapwing nearby watching.