Tuesday, 30 December 2014

green wing among lots of green wings

While not being the most interesting bird to twitch, the prospect of seeing a Green-winged Teal up at Welney today was enough to spur me on despite my Christmas head cold. I've not seen this species before, and had no urge to travel too far or go out of my way to do so- its just a Teal with the white in the wrong place after all.
I arrived not long after a swan feed, so instinct told me that it would probably not be at the main hide, but I stopped for a brief look as there were lots of Teal at the edge of the ice about 100 metres out, and more and more were swinging in from up the wash in little groups. I should have scanned once and then moved on to the Lyle hide where I thought it was more likely to be, but when you're looking for a piece of hay in a haystack, and you can't see all of the hay because some of it's hidden behind other bits of hay- and straw for that matter- and clumps of dead sedges, low banks of mud, 500 godwits, all sorts of other ducks and swans- hang on that one's got a ring, let me just make a note of that, lovely Pintail courtship going on over there, pochard beginning to crowd in front of the hide, that Wigeon hasn't moved for a while- think I'll just do a quick sketch...........
An hour and a half later I dragged myself off up the path to get this teal. I soon realised that there were far more Teal massed between the Lyle and Nelson Lyle hides, as well as no end of Wigeon and good numbers of Pintail. So did a Marsh Harrier. As I scanned the flock, groups of about 100 at a time rose and flew as the Harrier chivvied them- thankfully each time they came down not too far away, but each time the flock reorganised I had to start scanning again. Finally it was there- distant but in great light that made the vertical white stripe stand out brilliantly. Camera on, record shot taken, bird lost behind reeds. I moved up to the Lyle hide thinking that although the light would be in behind the birds, I should at least be closer to them. Almost immediately I refound the greenwinger, much closer than I had hoped for, and with the Sun behind  a gathering cloud bank the light was good enough to see the bird well. It was soon lost to view, all the Teal busily swimming about like whirligigs, never staying in one place and I was again getting distracted by more Pintail display, and trying to take mental photographs of the whole frozen scene.

Friday, 26 December 2014

christmas goose

Christmas day at Welney, and the Whitefronts and Pinks were gathered in front of the main hide providing a private view to a lucky few. One Pinkfoot was missing from the group seen first out on the fen a few weeks ago- but we feasted on beef wellington when we got back to Gary and Lou's.

Tuesday, 23 December 2014

the time of year to remember those less fortunate than better birds.

With all the philosophical birding and the experiential birding, the frustration of not finding the bird-ing and the coming across some unusual  bird-ing, it's easy to forget the everyday birding- the ugly birding, the "that's a plastic" bird-ing, no seriously, it is plastic and I don't mean it's an escape-birding. The "that used to be a rarity but now they're everywhere" birding- hopefully the I didn't really appreciate that bird-ing until I looked more closely.what would jesus do? only joking, well, it is  christmas. 

Monday, 22 December 2014

Old Jack

Yesterday Ben and I had a look through some Jackdaw and Rook in the fields between Welney and Littleport .  We found a Jackdaw with a pale collar and noticeably contrasting grey neck and ear coverts that used to be considered good candidates for "Nordic" Jackdaws, those breeding in southern Scandanavia and eastwards with increasingly obvious pale collars and grey diffused chests and cheeks.  We had quite a conversation about this bird and the changing culture in identifying (or not) these eastern Jackdaws.  It seems that conventional wisdom, perhaps after some very non-committal articles in the magazines, says it is not safe to use these clinal variations in suggesting the origin of Jackdaws with white neck markings etc. 

In 2012, in Soham, I regularly observed a pale collared Jackdaw that wintered but remained into May and appeared paired with an un-collared western Jackdaw.  So my own experience does support the idea that you can't be very confident about these birds.  However, to brighten up a dull day, I do keep looking through winter corvids and do see quite a lot of these Jackdaws with neck collars.  The "Nordic" Jackdaws, monedula, intergrade to the east with "Russian" Jackdaw, soemmerringii, which typically show darker bellies and throats. 

The old paper from Dutch Birding 2003 is here


Below is some footage, from my Stuntney garden back in 2010, of what I still like to think is an Jackdaw from the east.  Keep your eyes peeled they're a good bit of winter fun.

Sunday, 21 December 2014

Jack in the green

I seem to only do early morning starts these days and it was still dark this winter solstice when travelling to the Washes.  A brief look at Chain Corner as the light lifted revealed hordes of gulls winging their way from roost, westwards and low across the water.  We parked up on Sutton Industrial Park and walked out across the old airfield which is now rough, boggy wasteland.  We had walked a while before we started to see anything that resembled our target species.  A Woodcock flushed at distance and single Snipe were also flushed.  Exploring further more, Snipe went up and then from close to our feet a Jack Snipe sprung forth and gave us some good flight views.  What followed was a great deal of foot staring and moments of amazement as we searched for, and found, more Jack Snipe.  One spot yielded 3 in close proximity and again flushed from right under our feet despite our intense scanning within a metre or so of our boot tips.  In total we saw at least 6 Jack Snipe, a minimum 10 Snipe and the Woodcock.  Overhead a Peregrine passed over and with the Snipe fest complete we thoroughly enjoyed our squelching search.

Heading across the Fen and along the Washes we saw Bullfinch and hedgerows and fields full of winter thrushes, a Corn Bunting rattled and wild Swans were clustered in favoured fields.  Marsh Harrier were making the most of the breeze and at least 7 were seen during the morning. At Welney we saw another Peregrine at the waters edge on Lady Fen and several Buzzards, including the pale bird.  Golden Plover shimmered in the dark fields and were joined by a few Ruff and Dunlin.  On the reserve there were birds everywhere, a real spectacle.  A Snow Goose fed busily with the Greylags and a carpet of Godwit covered the nearest island on arrival. 

Returning to Lady Fen a Little Egret showed well and drew both Ben and I into a photo frenzy as the light got better and the bird's character changed with every movement.  We had another drive out to look for the Rough-legged Buzzard and probably found it but gliding towards us it dropped below the bank of a small reservoir, didn't appear the other side and despite our best efforts could not be relocated. On the way back along Queen Adelaide Way the Garganey was still on the Beet Pits and a Merlin sat out in the freshly ploughed black soils.  Home then for Tea and medals.

Saturday, 20 December 2014

It's a kind of magic

The Wicken harrier roost is a real treat.  It can be easy to forget that every evening during the winter these fantastic raptors congregate over the reedy fen stretching away from the visitor centre towards Upware and the fens beyond.  The past few years have seen Marsh Harriers ruling the roost and Hen Harriers regular but scarcer with 4-6 birds being a good show.  The past two evenings I've managed to leave work earlier and position myself in a chilly vigil through the gloaming.  Yesterday was very windy, conditions that tend to keep the Harriers airborne and this proved to be the case 3 stunning grey males followed each patrolling the phragmites. A further four ringtails were up and down creating a spectacle to savour.  I needed little encouragement to return in brighter skies this evening.  I saw 2 males and 3 ringtails, some of which were frequenting the closest stretches of fen and I was able to drink in the birds as they cruised and twisted against the golden sunset.  There's something of the Nightjar about their flight which I think I can pick out in the dodgy video below, or is it simply a trick of the fading light.  I can't recommend heartily enough finding the time to visit Wicken to experience this roost, I've said before there is magic woven through the place.

For mouth-watering footage of a beautiful male Montagu's Harrier at Wicken a couple of years ago check this You Tube clip out. 
I'm also very fond of the birding interaction with Will's valiant attempts to diplomatically assert the identity of this sublime bird which falls on deaf ears until a dramatic U-turn where the less observant observer blames the video quality for the clumsy identification.  A lovely snippet of birding culture rarely captured.  I'm sure we've all been there, in my case, at least, in both sets of shoes.

Tuesday, 16 December 2014

Welney stirs.

Another fine sunny day at Welney, and Godwits are much in evidence. I didn't try and count them, but there must have been six or seven hundred bunched on the grassy bars in front of the main hide. A Marsh Harrier did its' best to disrupt things, and every now and then all the waders and ducks flew up and rearranged themselves, agitated as the harrier flew above the roost. 
Away from the action, half hidden by a bank of dead reed stems was a white goose. A little smaller than the Greylags it was loafing with, it's black primaries were hard to see at first, but after a while it woke and refreshed itself with a stretch and a quick beat of wings. It was a Snow Goose. Maybe not a wild one, but who knows? Provenance being everything, especially when it comes to wildfowl, it would have been nice if it had arrived with a flock of Pinkfeet rather than loitering with the local little-better-than-farmyard 'Lags, but at least it wasn't tapping on the hide window waiting to be fed from the hand!
Definitely on the wild side was the Peregrine on Lady Fen. I presumed it to be the same bird as yesterday, a big beast with an aura that kept all other birdlife out of it's range even as it languished, soaking up the winter warmth on a small lump of something out on the soft field. I got to my van and drove round to get a closer look, and while I sketched it, another peregrine flew over my head and skimmed over the ploughed fields, putting up three great clouds of plovers and peewits.

Monday, 15 December 2014

gold field, distant hunters.

There was a sizeable flock of Golden Plovers near the road north of the Welney reserve today, which offered a pleasant distraction as I scanned the area for signs of the Roughleg. I eventually saw the buzzard perched in a distant Alder hedge- too distant for any worthwhile photograph, but just enough detail was discernable through the scope to allow me to jot down a few pencil sketches. The buzzard flew out across the fen towards the line of pylons and landed in one of the fields, and was lost to view behind a block of maize. I tried to get a better view by driving up one of the small droves nearby, but could not relocate it. I did however come across a peregrine, white breast standing out against the black soil.

Sunday, 14 December 2014

goodnight, sunset

This evening echoed the morning glory of the sunrise, but after an initial splash of boldness, the sunset eased into a mixture of soft eggshell, peach and lilac. The ducks were uneasy again, slewing away from the shelter of the reeds as the harriers dipped and swirled overhead, then chugging back towards the point. they slowly became dark shapes as the light drifted away in the breeze, with drake Shovelers the last to disappear, their flanks absorbing the last of the red spectrum and their breasts cold white. A Water Rail squealed once the darkness had obscured all.

good morning, sunrise

If yesterday's dawn was designed to accentuate the waterscape, reflecting it's horizons and highlighting it's forms, this morning the sky decided to put all it's energy into one big- if short-lived show, taking centre stage and dominating through bold colour and intricate structure. In the language of Masterchef, it was taking things to the next level, and I could eat the whole plate-full.