A celebration of birding, generally within a 10 mile radius of Ely Cathedral, Cambridgeshire, UK.
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I figured the Ouse Washes would be well covered with a new generation of Cambs birders trying to connect with the first Cambs Black-winged Pratincole since 1982 so I decided on Saturday evening to pop down to Burwell - my other regular Ely 10 birding spot. Although it will never hold quite the same appeal as the washes it still gives some quality birding. Plenty of exposed mud now - a good mix of waders with 14 Green Sand, 3 Common Sand, 4 Dunlin, 4 LRP, 2 Greenshank, 2 Blackwit and a "wisp" of snipe including a single flock of 21 flying around the car park area as well as triple figure Lapwings. No rarities but a lovely evening ended with a good number of Yellow Wags flying around the fields and tarmac track and a cracking fly by male Marsh harrier.
More magical monotony on a very late season nocturnal safari out on the Summerlands - this time a Corncrake rasping its head off. Not the most melodic but a little bit of night music that's added to the purple patch on the Washes. The bird was very loud so the phone got a recording that at the least confirms the identity of the aptly named Crex crex.
There are some really exciting new developments at Kingfisher's Bridge, Cambridgeshire's least well known nature reserve. They've put some HD cameras into the batcave, though I don't know when it will start feeding and where to. They've had Brown Long Eared and Natterers in the past, though obviously what we're really hoping for is Bruce Wayne. They've also build two new hides. The first one looks south from the top of the "mountain" over the Cam washes, and might reasonably be expected to give good views of blackwits, redshank, snipe and other waders over the winter months. The second is to the west of the mere which will give much closer quarters sights of waders and waterbirds than you currently get from the existing mere hides, which really need a scope if you're going to pick all the multifarious ducks apart.. There's new signage and new map-age, yet the paths are less trodden and the hides less well frequented every time I go. For those like me who find the drive out to the Ouse washes a bit too time consuming to be done regularly, K's B is shaping up to be a convincing, if smaller scale, alternative. You couldn't ask for a nicer patch.
Today turned up the usual Cambs cohort of marsh harrier, little egret, grey heron, canada and greylag geese and assorted ducks. There were plenty of common terns wheeling around and one or two much smaller, greyer backed terns amongst them, possibly a pair of black terns? In addition there were either several or one very mobile green woodpecker popping up all over the place and a lovely cloud of sand martins over the great cliff (their name not mine). there were also half a dozen wild ponies and two little girls giving themselves repeated shocks from the electric fence and laughing their heads off.
It would have been too much to hope for that the Pratincole would hang around the Washes for a week and show itself to all comers but that is exactly what it did yesterday. Brendan will have been mighty chuffed that he re-found the bird on Friday evening, having also found an adult Temminck's Stint at Stockdales. From mid-afternoon on Saturday the Black-winged Pratincole settled itself down within the Lapwing flock close to the railway allowing more birders to catch up with it than during the previous brief shows.
The decision to take bikes was a good one and the journey to the northern end of the reserve was relatively swift. The BWP was hunkered down and very difficult to see within the sward but with a zoom some reasonable views were to be had. We were treated, after an hour or so, to a great 3 minutes of flight action as the Plover flock took to the air and the Pratincole wheeled around and showed it plain dark underwing and mastery of flight. The bird settled again showing a little better and following another fly around settled out of view and prompted us to have a return journey taking in each of the hides.
Other notable birds included 15 Garganey including many very contrasty and smart birds. A Spotted Redshank flew South and Greenshank, Ruff, Green Sandpiper and Dunlin were other waders clearly on the move. The adult Temminck's Stint showed well, if a little distantly, from Stockdales Hide in the company of 3 Little Ringed Plover.
I had a really enjoyable birding session with great birds and good company. I played around with a slightly psychedelic ultra-dynamic mode on the little snappy camera. Not to everyone's taste but I like the way it makes the Fen sing.
are enigmatic birds that really get the birding pulse racing. So when the
Black-winged variety turned up at Cley, Norfolk on Tuesday 15th July
I decided my chance to finally connect with this bird had come. I had planned
to leave the office at 4pm which would get me there before 6pm and with enough
daylight to enjoy the bird and perhaps grab a photo or two. My boss and the
bird had other ideas. A 4pm meeting was called lasting 1 hour. I was already
behind schedule but checking my birdguide app along the trip showed the bird
still present so I felt pretty relaxed I would tick the Prat after all it had
been on the scrapes all afternoon and looked settled.
at Cley I passed several birders coming the other way all with the news I
wanted to hear. Bird still showing in front of the hides with lapwing. Great!
On arrival at the hide you can guess what happened next. Birders outside the
hide looking south with Bins and Scopes made my heart sink. The bird had flown
2 minutes ago I was told. I had a choice - sit it out till dusk and hope the
bird returned or go for the Great Knot
an hour away at Breydon. I decided that although the BWP was not as rare in
British terms as the Knot the latter just didn’t hold the same appeal as the
Pratincole. Whilst I waited I collected some good birds, Wood Sands, Green
Sands, Spoonbills and a 1CY Little Gull but no Pratincole. I left cursing my
luck. Wednesday the bird had appeared at Stiffkey and by Thursday the bird had
flown west from there.
Where would it turn up next? My hunch was that it could
well turn up in Cambs and what better place than the Ouse Washes. I manged to
finish work early on Friday and headed to the Washes not expecting to see the
BWP but with that hope you always set out with that maybe this time you will
stumble across a rarity. I spent until dusk at the reserve walking from the car
park north to past the railway bridge including an hour spent at a particularly
attractive looking pool just south of the rail bridge. A lovely evening with
Garganey, Spotshank and plenty of Ruff and Blackwits but not the hoped for BWP.
Ah well that was always a long shot wasn’t it.
arrived and I knew Ade Cooper usually does the washes so I decide I would at
least get some Pratincole action in Suffolk and try and collect the Collared
Pratincole that was residing in front of the east hide. 4pm just arriving at
the hide and a message on my phone. Ade Cooper had just found a BWP on the pool
south of the rail bridge. Gob smacked! Gutted I hadn’t been fortunate enough to
connect the evening before but in a way pleased my instinct of the bird turning
up there had been correct and if anybody else apart from me should find the
bird then I was pleased it was Ade who puts plenty of effort into the reserve.
I decide to
collect the Collared Prat having travelled the 85 miles or so from my home to
get there. By 4.30 I had seen the bird well on the scrape and was on my way to
Cambs to hopefully finally see the BWP. I was 2 hours away but I was hopeful. I
kept in touch with Ade. 4.30pm preening looks settled, 5pm still there 17.34
the text I didn’t want. Bird had flown NW across the fields. I’d missed the
bird again. I decided that walking the 4 KM to the bridge was not the best
option but instead to check somewhere N of the washes reserve. Welney seemed
the obvious choice. Duncan and Ben had had the same thought. After collecting
the obligatory Glossy ibis I left them to head to March Farmers, the next most
obvious place. Whilst there Mike Weedon turned up with the same thought. But alas
still no BWP. Compensation was in the form of a Wood Sand, 3 Cranes flying
overhead and a singing Corncrake and capped off with a couple of beautiful Barn Owls hunting the washes.
arrived. Maybe the bird would be a bird of habit and come back to its pool at
the south of the railway at the washes. I arrived at the pool where Rob Palmer
was waiting. Rob was on site Saturday but had left as Ade had headed back North
to check the Lapwing flock that had dropped on the pool whilst they were in
Cadbury hide. Rob also had some unfinished business. We both were amazed that
no other birders were present. We waited patiently for 1.5hrs seeing Garganey,
LRP, Ruff and Godwits but no BWP. It was 3.30pm I decided to walk 500M or so N
of the bridge to check the pools there. After 15 mins or so of checking the
lapwing flock with no sight or sound of the BWP I became aware of Rob screaming
my name and waving his arms. It could only mean one thing! I started to run as
fast as I could. The humidity and heat and general lack of fitness didn’t help
and by the time I arrived with Rob for him to confirm the news that the bird was
indeed back on the pool, picked up by the other birder who had turned up Hugh
I was sweating like a pig in a thunderstorm (an old saying from my
Grandmother I have no reason to believe pigs do sweat in thunderstorms!) I
then quickly and carefully made my way onto the bank erected scope and bang
there the bird was on the pool standing on a spit of mud with lapwing!
Brilliant finally I had caught up with the bird and it was all the more special
for the runaround it had given me! I had little time to take in these emotions
however as literally 10 seconds after watching the bird through the scope the Lapwings got up followed by the Prat. However the show was not over and it
spent the next few minutes hawking above with hirundines and finally coming
right over our heads on the bank before going N toward Welney.
Phew I had come
close to missing the bird again. Missing the bird and being on site would have
been a very bitter pill to swallow but the nomadic nordmanii had finally given
itself up to me. So the weekend had finished with 2 Pratincole sp in the UK. Magic!
I have accumulated the information
posted on Cambirds about the sightings of the Black Winged Pratincole on the
Ouse Washes. Tremendous stuff.
19th July - Discovery
More than happy
to find the Black W Pratincole up the washes today!! I had already checked all
along the wash in the morning but decided as it was only 14.00 to bike back
north again,While chatting with Rob Palmer near Cadbury we saw a large flock of
Lapwing coming in from the north and dropping on the wash I thought just
maybe.....amazed when counting the Laps to see the Pratincole in the middle of
them preening showing off its black underwing which was handy as their trickier
than people think..I watched the bird for 1hour 35 when it flew nnw across
arable with half the Lapwing flock at 17.20
south of the rail bridge on the rspb side is clearly just for resting
,washing and preening and not a feeding area to the bird so may well be back
again at some point after feeding elsewhere...hope it does.
3 other birders
managed to see the bird,2 staff and a visiting birder from Lincs.
today..16 Garganey,8 Greenshank,5 Green Sand,2 Common Sand,RN Parakeet,7 LRP,1
20th July – Roaming
Pratincole distantly with flock of Lapwing over
Pymoor village as viewed from north of Pymoor towards the direction of Railway
bridge at 19.40
Glad it was seen again, hopefully it will stick in
the area. I took the chance it would turn up again at the same time as
yesterday and it did, almost to the minute. It soon flew off when the Lapwings
rose but went off on its own, high and then fed with the hirundines around Four
Balls Farm for a bit before dropping behind the trees along the railway and we
couldn't pick it up again.
Also along the washes:
Garganey, about 15, mostly near the railway
Spotted Redshank, 1 moulting
LRP (8), Curlew (1), Ruff (about 50), Dunlin (2 adult), Green Sandpiper (1)
Black-tailed Godwit, Oystercatcher, Snipe, Redshank, Greenshank (6)
At 3.50pm today, Ade Cooper found the roaming Black-winged Pratincole amid a congregation of Green Plover at the Ouse Washes. A MEGA.
Right down at the end of the reserve this bird was always going to be a beast to get to and with a handicap of a 6pm finish to a kids party to contend with only a very fortuitous series of coincidence would grant me a any time with this rarity. The Pratincole had departed northerly with the plover before I'd even got the car off the drive. We called in on Lou and Gary see if we could wangle an after hours pass into Welney but unfortunately they were not at home so we did the next best thing and ascended the bank to view the delicious looking Lady Fen.
Five Whooper Swans fed out on the lush flood and a handsome posse of russet Black-tailed Godwit traced rouge across the green and silver marsh. A couple of Ruff and Curlew, a brutish adult female Yellow-legged Gull and at least one smart and youthful Garganey were notable within the eclipse and young duck and waders. A dingy highlight came in the form of the not so Glossy Ibis that has been touring the Washes. With some degree of serendipity, for those that share my whimsical nature, I was chatting with Brendan when Ben picked up the Ibis. I hadn't seen Brendan since he had put Ben and I on to a pair of Ibis that he'd found at Four-balls Farm, back in March. Quite unreasonably I shall expect now to see an Ibis each and every time I meet Brendan in the field. Twice is fortitude and thrice be a trend.
Two wings good, four wings bad. A sound call I admit however Ben crumbled with no pressure when I asked him if he fancied looking for Purple Emperors this afternoon. Having whispered in the ear of a friendly Fermyn Emperor last Sunday we did see His Imperial Majesty in Cambridgeshire today!!!
We started with a Red Kite a mile or two outside the Ely10 alongside the A14 near Kennet. With increasing humidity and warmth during the afternoon we were fortunate to locate 2, less than confiding, Majestics on the wing during our woodland walk and shed-side vigil in Ditton Park Woods. Representing 2 wings an underwhelming of Goldcrest, Coal Tit, Marsh Tit, Chiff-chaff, Blackcap and Song Thrush all hid and sang and squeaked from the under growth. With successful sightings of iris under our belts and in our caps, we could have easily retired for tea and medals. The recce was complete and we headed back Elywards.
On our return to the 10 we had a stroll along the Devils Dyke @ Burwell and enjoyed a proliferation of Chalkhill Blues, Large and Essex Skippers, a single Painted Lady and loads of freshly emerged Gatekeepers amongst the Meadow Browns and Ringlets.
4 wings aren't so bad after all.
ohh... these are beautiful
whichever side you look at them ...
Black on underside of antennae - Essex Skipper I think.
No, stop that! stop that at once- it's not in the Ely10 and it's not even a bird! This insectology is getting out of hand- and it's making us forget that there's still birds out there to look at- and you don't have to leave the Ely 10 to see them, let alone the county. Yes, I know its hot and slow going along the country lanes and arid fields, with only the odd squeak of a juvenile Blue tit and soporific Woodpigeon to remind us that not everything that flies in the lazy summer is a butterfly..... but the wetlands are just starting to transform from wildfowl creche to autumnal migration service station.
A visit to Welney this weekend, with its welcoming and knowledgeable staff, proved to be most rewarding. Even as the last Lapwing chicks still pottered along the muddy edge like dirty cotton-wool puffs, four Green Sandpipers appeared and started poking around the margins, fresh from their flight from scandinavia, and no doubt still with some way to go. In the middle of the pond in front of the main hide a growing group of Black-tailed Godwits fed, loafed and cackled in the sunlight.The last gasp of the spring breeding season is barely over before the breath of wind ushers in a new story of the transience and distant travel of birds that we will call ours for a short while.
Having a new entry for the garden bird list is always something of a red letter day. With a modest garden, set amid terraced houses, our list is correspondingly small, but additions are all the more enthusiastically celebrated, feeling somewhat 'hard won'. This morning a juvenile Great Spotted Woodpecker graced us with its presence, ensuring that Dendrocopos major makes the inventory. A brief visit to the nut feeder before it was disturbed by a Wood Pigeon. A bittersweet moment personally however, as I was off on an early train by the time it arrived, having to share the jubilation by text.
This splendid bird follows hard on the tails of Long-Tailed Tit, several passing through the garden last month. What next? Happily, I have no idea - the uncertainty fueling the anticipation... For now I'd settle for a repeat visit from the woodpecker. As long as I'm there to see it this time...