Tuesday, 27 January 2015

Gulls galore

I didn't get out birding once over the weekend, aside from a 5 minute scan of the settling beds so seeing a rare gap in the work diary I rattled through my inbox and managed to get to Witcham Gravel last night to take in the gull roost.  There was a grand cacophony of wild swan music drifting from both sides of the Washes and a very manageable congregation of gulls was forming, the large gulls could be seen well with a twist of zoom but the small gulls remained a passed over challenge.  Head moult in the Herring Gulls was evident and adult Yellow-legged Gulls no longer as striking with their smartness, indeed with some challenging light I didn't confidently identify more than 5 adults.  Very early in the year I had counted 22 when the blue grey mantles, clean square heads and 45 degree back ends had stood out against the streaky headed, pale grey backed argenteus Herring Gulls.  I was particularly looking out for the young Glacous Gull that has been seen here with some frequency and perhaps more regularly at Cottenham Long Drove.  On my third or fourth trawl through the pack I picked up a very nice 2nd Calendar year Caspian Gull which looked very similar to this bird, but not quite as progressed in moult, that I filmed at Cottenham a couple of years ago.

The Glacous Gull may have sneaked in as the gloaming descended but neither I or David Hopkins, who watches this roost with conviction and had joined me on the bank, picked it up.  As the swans started to fly in off the fields to roost a couple of small grey geese were with them and dropped in quite close, the light had gone and nothing but size and shape could be discerned.

To keep the gull theme going Helen Calver, who lives next door to David, sent me some photos today that she took of an Iceland Gull near Witcham back in October 2013.

Sunday, 25 January 2015

Red Kites and Stonechat

I received some lovely photo's today from Helen Calver here's her mail and pics.

Just found your site and thought you might be interested in these pictures I took of a couple of birds I saw recently.
The first is a Stonechat which I saw at Mepal Long Hwy along the River Delph on 18/01/2015 and the other was a pair of Kites swooping over the farmers field next to where I live in Witcham, Ely, seen yesterday 24/01/2015


Friday, 16 January 2015

Swans count.

Long old day counting swans- I'm sure I can still hear them in the distance. Starting at dawn at Welney I was lucky enough to be a part of the team that recorded the roosting Whoopers and Bewicks before they flew out onto the fen to feed. It was a shame to have to concentrate on the survey work rather than just stand and take it all in as wigeon and Teal called all around me and 1000 swans bugled in the half light of a golden dawn, drifting around the shallow ponds of Lady Fen. As it got lighter they were off, family party after family party in a steady trickle that grew until suddenly there were none left, and the long task of tracking them down on the beet fields around Southery and Prickwillow could begin.
We spent the daylight hours driving down the bumpy droves, coming across herds of two or three hundred at a time, sometimes in out of the way wheat fields, sometimes surprisingly close to the road. One flock was brave enough to remain on a black field covered in beet tops while the farmer slowly dragged his plough through the sodden peat soil, the swans slowly squeezed into a tighter and tighter huddle.
There were other highlights too- Fieldfare everywhere, and Barn owls and Buzzards. A distant Red Kite flew in from the east, but best bird of the day was a superb male Hen Harrier that rowed across between our car and the swans that we were in the middle of counting. It had a tracking device strapped to it's back, so, someone, somewhere knows exactly where it's been, and hopefully where it's going for some time to come.

Wednesday, 14 January 2015

Fair Garden -FieldFare

I've been trying to get a decent shot at the Fieldfares this winter, and this week finally one bird took to perching in the crab apple tree in my garden, in view from an upstairs window, during a brief splash of sunlight.
Numbers seem to have peaked now that the fallen cooking apples have been eaten- over the Christmas period there were over a dozen fighting the frost amongst twenty five Blackbirds and a rather annoying pair of Muntjac. Now, just the one bird has been coming in, and as happens every year around this time, attention has turned to the bitter cherry crabs.
In the hedge the Redwings remain hidden from view, at least four birds visible from time to time, and Reed Buntings have started to arrive- three males yesterday and a couple of females have also visited briefly. They do like birdseed scattered on the bird table, although as they get more confident they start to vie for control of the feeders- battling with the Gold and Chaffinches. 
With a bit of luck I should get a visit from Bramblings, Siskin and Redpolls as the winter wanes and they start moving north again.

Monday, 5 January 2015

bittern-up for the books

I was pleased to read that Brendan had seen the Bittern at the settling beds, as I hadn't seen it since before Christmas and was unsure if it was still about. As the light improved this afternoon I decided to have a look at the ducks down there, and was rewarded with some close up views of Shoveler. All of a sudden, the trilling calls of the Teal alerted me to something going on, and I looked up to see a large stocky bird heading towards me, low over the water. It took a second or two to process what was going on, and a couple more to get my camera pointing in the right direction as the bird landed at the reed edge and lumbered out of sight.....

With nothing really to watch, only the hint of an eye peeping through the reed stems, I went back to the wildfowl. It is interesting to note that there are still birds moulting out of juvenile or eclipse plumage, and while some look tatty, I rather like the black crescents that stand out on some of the white breasts, and the subtle buff and umber tones that blend into the new rufous flank feathering.

A clamour from the far end of the pit announced the geese as they took off and circled before dropping onto the nearby field. I could hear the diminuative Canada amongst the raucous Greylag commotion and managed to get a few shots of it despite being constrained in the front seat of the van. As Dunc has mentioned, this bird has been a local at the Maltings for a good few years, but its sudden appearance at the settling beds just goes to show how birds can show up in unexpected places and move around apparently randomly.

grillers in the mist

Yesterday was not a day to go out and take in the sprawling vista of the fens. Visibility was poor to say the least, but there is something magical about mist, especially over the water, and a short trip down to the settling beds provided a tantalising view of wildfowl as they emerged from the nothing as grey shapes, with all  their bright colour turned to tones of pale and dark. The Teal were again scattered as the odd Harrier quartered the reedbed, and Shoveler phutted up and down the channel filtering the surface. after a while the Shoveler started doing something quite unexpected. One after another, they suddenly dived, appearing again after a few seconds, and repeating the behaviour as they slowly worked their way towards me. They did not appear to be simply grooming themselves- I reckon they were feeding, possibly on small invertebrates. Whatever they were doing, it looked odd, and really showed these normally fairly placid surface-skimmers in a new light.


Sunday, 4 January 2015

Buzzards, Bittern and Beans

Despite the appalling weather and forecast for rain most of the day I decided to venture out to the washes to look for Bean Geese and who knows maybe a rare duck or a Glossy Ibis or the like.  My birding started whilst driving uo the Queen Adelaide road and a very pale buzzard caught my eye perched up on a fence post. I pulled the car over and grabbed the bins I could see an extremely pale headed bird which got my hopes up it was a rough-leg. The bird soon flew away from me and I was able to see a pale tail base but not right for a rough-leg - too diffuse a band with white bleeding into brown but certainly a bird that could catch out the unsuspecting. Closer inspection through the scope revealed other details not right - no feathered legs and no dark marked belly. I fired off a few digiscoped images just for the record.
Common Buzzard (Buteo buteo)

I carried on further down the road and stopped at the beet pits. As I was just about to get out of the car a Bittern took flight and landed a few feet away from me. Great maybe an opportunity for a photo. That thought quickly disappeared. The cryptic nature of the bird meant I couldn't even see it again let alone photograph it. Time to move on to the east side of the washes. Very difficult conditions and driving rain meant I had to abandon my plan of walking from Four Balls farm northwards, a Marsh harrier the only noteworthy bird seen in the 10 mins or so I battled the conditions. Back to the car and a change of clothes as the weather worsened. I decided the only thing to do was drive around the fens looking for Swans and Geese. Several whooper flocks were found but no geese amongst them. A drive down a track near pymoor took me to quaker farm. here there was some crop in the field which was attracting finches. Periodically these would fly up to the overhead telegraph wires allowing some scoping from the car. Amongst the Chaffinches i was very please to see a smart tree Sparrow- my first in Cambs for quite sometime. I saw it or another bird several times over the course of a 30 minute period along with Reed Bunts and Greenfinches.Worth checking the flock the next time I'm out that way for Brambling or let's be more adventurous a Little Bunting - we can but dream! I moved on toward the RSPB reserve at Manea with the hope the rain would ease. En route i came across a field full of geese and swans. Only Greylags but the Swans were Bewick's around 130 or so. Always nice to see. Again a few digiscoped pictures of the nearest group before moving off to the reserve. Finally the rain had stopped!

Not too much going on from the couple of hides I looked out from.Another Buzzard, A Kingfisher and the usual duck sp with half a dozen Pintail being the pick. It was time to leave to pick up the wife from work. On driving out of the reserve heading toward me from the west were 7 geese. I quickly pulled over and grabbed the bins. Tundra beans! Always nice geese to see and a great way to end the day.

Saturday, 3 January 2015

Green-eyed for the Green-winged no more

Over the last year I have missed Green-winged Teal in the Ely10 several times over, today I decided that I would have to put the time in if I were not to miss another.  I presented myself early doors at Welney having enjoyed a diversion of a parliament (??) of Barn Owls hunting from the fence line along the approach road.  There have been as many as 9 birds feeding along this stretch, remarkable scenes.  A quick walk onto the cradge bank will give the answer as to why, there are rodents scurrying all over, quite the infestation and providing the Barn Owls with some very easy pickings.

Finding the needle in a haystack full of needles.......after 2 hours searching through thousands of Teal I was cold but well meditated.  The focus of checking the orientation of Teal flank stripes is very much a mantric approach to birding and I moved to some very relaxed observation after the first hour and when a vertical stripe did finally flicker through the scope I felt well rewarded.  I was very pleased to see the bird at all as it spent most of it's time hunkered beyond identification in vegetation or completely out of view and a heroic downpour had also made this bird particularly difficult to watch.  A good start to the New Year which has left me to reflect upon the year just gone and grasp at those exquisite birding moments and retrieve them as best as memory can, from the near past.

Friday, 2 January 2015

More Goose chasing

So I figured that a flock of Bean Geese on the washes will always end up at Welney so chanced a trip with little one in tow.  Good hunch, as on entering the observatory the first group of Geese in the bins were 11 tidy Tundra Bean Geese.  I love these birds, they are the perfect Goose to my eyes, robustly well proportioned, intricately rich toned and all contrasting with satsuma orange legs and bill detail.  It helps that they are great, resilient migrants and scarce to boot, what's not to love??


A supporting cast of 1,000 Godwit and wall to wall Wigeon, Pochard and Teal just made the bright day brighter.  I couldn't find the Green-winged Teal but hey there's a good reason to enjoy the spectacle again before the weekend is out.

Goose chasing

Returning to the Fen after the Yuletide shenanigans I decided to have a look for the Bean Geese in the Fortrey Hall/Witcham Gravel area.  There were some sizeable Swan flocks, peppered with Canada's and as I was leaving I caught 5 grey geese sneaking into a far field.  Dark necked and grey/blue backed these Pink-footed Geese demanded a closer view.  Through some stalking that the old schoolers would have been proud of  I got close to the Swans and the geese beyond.  Having afforded some enigmatic views of the wild geese, I pondered upon my next move.  The wind howled, the sky was low and leaden and I decided on a safari rather than a stake out to try and relocate the Beans.  There wasn't the large numbers of Swans I was expecting in the fields to the east of the Washes, so my goose chase became pretty futile.  I had a look for the Rough-legged Buzzard around Lady Fen and saw a few Buzzards including the pale bird which several birders unfortunately believed to be the RLB.  On the way home I hoped to see a New Year Garganey on the settling beds, lots of duck on the whipped up water and a good show of Marsh Harrier in the bluster but no southern duck.

My attention was drawn to the geese as, several times, I heard a high pitched call somewhat reminiscent of White-fronted Goose.  The source of this exciteable squeaky yelp was the teeny Cackling Goose that Ben had also seen.  The whole complex of small and large Canada's is looking at a potential double figure species split with hundreds of proposed sub-species, but in old money I think this is the Richardson's Canada Goose that has been knocking around the area for over 10 years now and used to be resident at the Maltings.  I used to divert a walk in town to see this bird back then and certainly seeing it in a less urbanised setting has not taken anything away from the appeal of this little bird.


Thursday, 1 January 2015

last of the christmas goose leftovers?

New Year's Day swept the cold still air away with fierce winds and grey skies. The water at the settling beds was rough and the Harriers- five all told- rode the churning gusts over the reedbed. A raft of Gadwall and Shoveler rode out the hard weather, bobbing up and down as the waves chugged across the back of the exposed channel, three Wigeon tucked into the group with them. All of a sudden a whip of about a hundred Teal lashed across the water, pushed out of the sheltering reeds by the Harriers. They settled again in the lee of the reedbed, and I then became aware of the Greylags. The geese, being larger birds, were more stable in the wind-current, and seemed fairly relaxed- half asleep they drifted down the current then paddled easily back up it. As the flock manouvred, one goose stood out from the rest. i could see it was a Canada, but it appeared smaller than the greys. It swam behind some reeds, but soon emerged and revealed it's very different structure. Short thick neck, square head, small white neck collar. I reckon it's a Richardson's, and like the Snow Goose at Welney, as plastic as they come. One of these days someone's going to put a tag on one in North America, and follow it across the Atlantic to some Home County duck pond, but until that happens, this pretty little bird will just have to be appreciated for it's looks not it's provenance.