Wednesday, 25 March 2015

Golden afternoon

There was a stillness to the Settling Beds this afternoon. Gone are the big flocks of winter waterfowl, and the reedbed has not yet awoken to the rhythms of the Sedge and Reed Warblers. In hte distance a pair of Grebes greet each other like statues, and their calls echo across the calm water.
A gentle gold and terracotta pattern is reflected along the margin, and suddenly these colours are captured in the form of a stranger. A female Goldeneye has arrived and feeds in the shallow water, its' progress mapped by a flurry of tiny bubbles as it dives for crustaceans. It will soon be on some Northern loch or flow, but for now it seems to fit here.

Tuesday, 24 March 2015

spring takes over.

This morning I walked up to Roswell Pits in bright spring sunshine. There were twelve Redwings in the paddock at Thistle Corner, sharp in the cool air, but as I walked on, the Spring feeling rose. A Chiffchaff sung from the first block of trees I passed, and two more were singing near the top of Springhead Lane. Bullfinches flew past and Dunnocks seemed to spring from every bush. Down by the sewage farm both Siberian chiffchaffs flitted about, one in an extreme state of tail moult. The herons were not particularly active, but on the wet meadow a dozen snipe poked around and twenty five Teal snoozed among the tussocks.

Sunday, 22 March 2015

Scandinavian Play Date

For the second weekend on the trot I have been with the family to Jumppin Jacks, a children's play barn on an industrial estate beside the Mildenhall airbase and purveyors of off the shelf birthday parties for toddlers whose parents do not have quite enough time but do have just enough spare cash.  I know this as our daughter's last two birthdays have been held here.  I'm actually fond of the place and would recommend it.  However, prosaic family business aside, just along the road and not a sneeze or two out of the Ely10 a lone Waxwing has taken up residence around the edge of a children's play park.  This was great as I could have a look for the bird and amuse the child in one fell swoop.  Needless to say great bird showing really well at times, so couldn't find my camera...ha ha use the phone...out of juice, fortunately my wife is less complacent about keeping contact with others and was good enough to lend me hers on which I took the following pics.  Always stunning to watch, I have so many excitable memories of Waxwings over the years that each time I see one I'm filled with childlike glee and when I hear the twinkling bell like trills it's just like Christmas.  I'm hopeful a small seed may have been set today, as my 4 year old looked down the scope to see a frame filling Waxwing and took a sharp little breath in, held it and exhaled a glorious "WOW".

Saturday, 21 March 2015

Four Balls Good

A week shy of a year ago a female type Ring-necked Duck took up a short residency on the receding floodwater at Four Balls Farm, nice synchronicity that a drake was found just a little to the north a few days ago.  Poor visibility and mist meant that I couldn't get out to have a look for it until Thursday afternoon.  I drew a blank on my first look, although there were thousands of wildfowl concentrated on the few stretches of open water.  An hour or so at Welney to combine a child friendly ice cream stop with a little look across the Fen And Wash produced great views of a Water Rail by the feeders and a Great White Egret from the Obsevatory.  Nice.

A Great White Egret at quite some distance

Stopping at Four Balls on the way home did result in distant views of the Ring-necked Duck amongst a cluster of Tuftie's but slowly a real spectacle evolved.  The thousands of assembled wildfowl began to get very flighty and Marsh Harriers were definitely working the flocks looking for injured or weaker birds, a scan through  revealed 6 Harriers but the panic that then ensued suggested a different threat had found their congregation. On cue a big female Peregrine carved the skies above repeatedly putting all the duck up, frothing the water in wing pummelled panic while leaping to the air en mass and filling the wash with noise.  Also disturbed from their roost Little Egrets created a horizontal snow flurry of white, the highest count an impressive 130 birds.  With all the wildfowl swirling around in the foreground and the blizzard of Egrets as a backdrop the image was getting abstract and Pollockesque.  What more to add to this incredible scene and cacophony?  Wild Swans and dancing Cranes no less. Perfection.

I was able to see the Ring-necked Duck again today but a huge and undoubted highlight was a pair of Ravens that thudded southwards over Stuntney just after midday and indulging in a few switches and mini tumbles on the way.  Epic.

Sunday, 15 March 2015


Ely10Birding was a year old yesterday and there's been plenty to write about.  Firstly a roll call of rare and scarce birds seen in the Ely10 over the past year, here goes......

Great White Egret, Glossy Ibis, Cattle Egret, Slavonian Grebe, Red-throated Diver, Little Tern, Temminck's Stint, Crane, Black-winged Pratincole, Baikal Teal, Pectoral Sandpiper, Green-winged Teal, Ring-necked Duck, Wood Warbler, Quail, Taiga Bean Goose, Black Redstart, Tundra Bean Goose, Red-rumped Swallow, Great Grey Shrike, Little Auk, Barred Warbler, Savi's Warbler, Siberian Chiffchaff, Richard's Pipit, Snow Bunting, Spoonbill, Rough-legged Buzzard, Spotted Crake, Corncrake, American Wigeon, Iceland Gull, Glacous Gull and Black-winged Stilt.

Not bad eh ?? 

Hopefully the next year can live up to the last, if I could put in requests then I'd happily take another singing Bluethroat and River Warbler, Great Reed Warbler or a longer staying Savi's are all possible and would be awesome.  Montagu's Harrier has been almost annual and a lingering bird would be a treat but another Pallid wouldn't be out of the question.  Lesser Scaup and Ferruginous Duck are both on the cards and given an autumnal North Westerly gale Skuas and Gannet should pass over but will any of us connect with them?  A roosting migrant Nightjar or a way laid Red-backed Shrike in a Blackthorn blossomed hedgerow are high on the wish list.  Whatever the highlights over the next year, all will be against a backdrop of great birding spectacles and moments along the Washes and out on the Fen.

I'm hoping I can get a second chance to relive two of my favourite Ely10 birding moments, which took place within feet of one another but years apart. During the Ely Wildpace Bird Race last year a swirl of feeding hirundines, at eye level, along the low shrubs and treeline on the edge of pocket park was truly magical and should be possible to experience again given the right conditions.  At the same spot years earlier, during a breeding bird survey, a Firecrest sang his heart out and presented himself within a few feet.  I have found 2 others in Ely10, both drawing attention through their song and another one of those in the next few weeks would make my spring.


Friday, 6 March 2015

those chiffchaffs

 The two interesting Chiffchaffs recently at Ely sewage farm gave me a chance to really get to grips with the vagueries of racial identification of this enigmatic little warbler. One of the birds had slightly worn tips to the wing and tail feathers, while the other one was a much fresher bird, but other than slight differences to the boldness of the primary tip coloration, to all intents and purposes they were identical. When seen with the naked eye it was impossible to tell them apart, and even with a scope it was hard to discern any difference as they flitted through the branches of the railwayside bushes.

           light effects perception.........

My first prolonged view was in dull light,-the worn individual-and this picture on the left is what I was confronted with.However, most of the time I watched the birds in bright light,(above right) and both gave a distinctly different impression. The green tones in the wing were much more obvious- both the primaries and secondaries showed a fresh green edge, and the greater coverts too were green-fringed. Some of the median coverts near the wing bend also showed a green suffusion. Note, however, that the main upperpart coloration remained  greyish-brown, with no green except for a slight olive wash to the rump. The underparts were tinged buff, most strongly on the cheeks and upper flanks, and this stood out more in bright light. In overcast conditions, and when seen against the light, the underparts lost this colour and became more or less white. In fact from a distance in all conditions, the underparts looked white, and the upperparts pale raw umber- all intricasies of tint gone.
Below is a comparison between the tristis types, and one of the  collybita types that were to be seen in the same locality. While superficially similar, notice the shorter and less contrasting supercilium, darker cheeks, and overall greener tint to the upperparts. Yellow appears in the underparts as short streaks, while the overall "buffiness" is more extensive. In some of the photos I took of one of these more "local" birds, the primary projection looked a touch shorter, and the tristis types seemed to show slightly looser and "shaggier" plumage. 


Good points for tristis are the lack of yellow in the face and underparts ( except the underwing coverts), and the lack of green in the mantle and crown, except for a touch of olive on the rump. The tobacco stained ear-coverts, dark bill and legs seemed to fit the bill too, as well as the less tangible features described above, but what was needed was vocal evidence........

chiff chiff chewy chewy chiff chewy chewy chewy...... is this tristis song? Ive never heard it before in the flesh, but from listening to xeno canto recordings, I can't help thinking that the tentative snatches caught on my terrible video sound like a tristis in pre-season practise.( don't expect a bird to magically appear in focus by the way- it won't)

Sunday, 1 March 2015

German bite

These days its not that unusual to see Buzzards around, but even so, they are usually glimpsed as silhouettes through car windows or distant specks out over the fen. I couldn't resist the chance to see one up close, it was an injured bird and I took the chance to have a look before it got taken to the vets. I must admit, I expected it to be more subdued, given its state of health- a fracture of the humerus- but sketching it proved difficult as it's alert eyes followed my every move. wherever I stood, it turned towards me- no chance to draw it's profile, which to my mind is always the most aesthetically pleasing angle of these raptors.So as not to over-stress the bird I didn't spend too long drawing it, just one quick sketch before Lou fed it some chopped up chick. It's always a good sign when a wild bird eats when captive, injured or not, so I was very pleased to see mouthful after mouthful gulped down.
In fact to prove how fit it was , the young scamp jumped up and wedged itself between the cage and the wall, whereupon I found out exactly how strong and sharp it's talons were. As it tried to grab hold of something to steady itself, I reached forward to extricate it from its predicament- after all, earlier on I had been able to pick it up using the correct methods, something I have never had the chance to do before, and I was pleased with how easy it had been, and how naturally the technique of confidently grabbing hold of it's legs around the "knees" had come to me. It wasn't so much of an angry strike, more an attempt to hold on to something solid. I found out exactly how distinctly un-solid my hand was as four claws punctured the skin with worrying ease. Not really a savage attack, but it was enough to make me glad it was just a Buzzard I was dealing with, not a Goshawk. A Goshawk would have had my whole arm off.