Saturday, 31 December 2016

Bohemian Rhapsody

Making my way to look for Waxwings I found Waxwings, although the flock of 20 or so just outside of Wetherby moved as quickly as they arrived.  A slightly more confiding bunch of 25 in Burley in Wharfedale were exceptionally flighty but were in great light.  Hopefully more Waxwings to come, but within the Ely10, in the next month or so.

Increased checking of Starling like birds in trees also led me to enjoy the iridescence that the Starlings are now showing.  Not quite the avian vermin that they have been passed off as in the not so distant past.

Happy New Year and Great Birding for 2017

Wishing I Was Skinny


After it had held out for a month or so I'd been wishing that the Eastern Black Redstart would hang out at Skinningrove on the Cleveland coast long enough to be incorporated into the increasingly traditional Poyser/Witheringate Boxing Day trip out to the Yorkshire Coast.  Boxing Day dawn frosty and crisp, freshly laundered blue skies.  A splinter group headed out early, headed to a supermarket carpark in Thirsk so must have been looking for Waxwings, and drew a blank. Arriving at Skinningrove  I was taken with the place immediately, an understated village would be genereous, but a wooded valley ran down to a broadening valley floor where the river met the sea.  Big cliffs threatened to the South and in the carpark a nice bit of knowing stencil art endeared me further.  A brief walk through an old railway cutting led to an almost secret sweep of sandy beach beneath less imposing cliffs, it reminded me of a favourite beach, Bethell's,  from our time living in New Zealand.  The icy blast raging across the sands was not so reminiscent but there was shelter amongst the boulders where the cracking Eastern Black Redstart quickly showed itself. 
Initially appearing at a little distance it became clear that with a little patience this little cracker would make it's way to you so I made as one with the rocks and waited.

There's nothing better than a great looking bird being as confiding and I enjoyed a great quarter of an hour before the cold got the better of the kids and we beat a retreat to Fish and Chips, a walk on the beach and a pint in Whitby.


Sunday, 25 December 2016

christmas presence.

The sea.
a sheet,
edge frayed.
cut by the razor clammed
shingle sand.

Seaduck spatter
raft of slick, oily paddling
diving, mussling on the drift.

They spread,
then fly,
then skid on the broken sapphire surface,
head up,
tail up,
chest up,
wing flap, 
passions rising on the ebb tide.

Sitting back in the water, the males nibble at their breasts then jerk their heads upwards, initiating the chase.
For now it's tentative, a chance for the younger birds to join and learn.
In an instant a harried female lunges forward and is airborne, followed by three or four males, fleeting up and down the reach before landing unceremoniously with a spray of icy water.
The males now parade against each other, each one trying to force his rivals away from the female.                                                

Before long the Old Squaws are swept away by the streaming Blackduck- white and chocolate highlights in the dark shoals.
Every now and then, bold white wingbars stand out, Velvet among Common Scoter, their heads flashing pale thumb prints on cheek and ear. The flocks are made up of mostly female and young birds, the odd young male stands out with the first glossy black feathers emergent.
Further along the coast at Holkham, a lone scoter sits just offshore. It is close enough to see the ragged buffy fringes on its chest and flanks. This unfortunate bird is injured, and struggles to move its wing. resigned to its fate, it buries its bill among its dark mantle feathers, and stares blankly as the shrill voices of the geese echo across the Gap.

The geese are heading inland to feed. Beet fields, recently harvested, come alive with the muddy-footed, busy-necked gleaners.
Bickering, chatting, shouting- pinks. And within this great throng a black and white and red breasted goose- alone in the crowd. quietly it steps through the arguments, its dazzling coat belying its modesty.

Friday, 23 December 2016

One Day Like This a Year Would See Me Right

Well it was dark when I even contemplated throwing the curtains wide this morning, I picked Ben up at 6am and we took ourselves off to the coast for the morning.  Through the gloaming we walked out on to the marsh at Titchwell.  Marsh Harriers were leaving their roost and at one point there were 18 airborne together, most heading Northwards.  Starlings, densely packed emerged from their roost beneath the harriers and as if to prove my point from the last post a Chiff-chaff calling from the willows was joined by a zesty Yellow-browed Warbler in a vocal welcome to the new day.
Heading across the saltmarsh waders were vocal and silhouetted against the silver brine, Spotted Redshank, Grey Plover, Bar and Black-tailed Godwit all Arctic breeders enjoying our mild winter climes.
Today though it was the sea that was to deliver the main event and as the sun broke the cloud line a treat played out on the lulling swell before us.  Across the mid distance rafts of Common Scoter were strung out from North to South, Velvet Scoter were evident in numbers, peppered throughout the flocks and, as our senses became accustomed to the feeding zones of the accumulated seafowl, a closer congregation of Long-tailed Duck became evident and within these Red-breasted Merganser, Goldeneye and the odd Scaup stood out.  This was the extravaganza I had envisaged moons ago when reading about the North Norfolk Coast in winter, until now I assumed a long forgotten memory, but the feeding must be good of here at the moment as at least 60 Oldsquaw and similar numbers of Velvet Scoter delivered great views and an unforgettable melee of seaduck.



After a while the beach filled up a little with birders enjoying the spectacle, the light was lovely and the birds were brilliant.
 Although there were at least 3 Scaup off Titchwell, this one turned up yesterday at Welney
After a couple of hours we moved back towards the marsh.  A look through the birds on the Fresh marsh revealed a Golden Plover enthusiastically moulting into summer finery, a good match to the Black-tailed Godwit at Welney yesterday that had done the same.

It really was a morning that was going to keep delivering and a Yellow-legged Gull posed pristine against a line of Avocet and a Water Pipit strutted out on Thornham Pool.  We went a looking for the Yellow-brow we had heard earlier and found single Redpoll and Brambling and several collybita Chiffchaff and then a pallid, white and buff Chiff that looked every inch a trisitis.  To our chagrin and to be honest a continuing disbelief, we were told that this bird had been recorded and it's call found to be collybita.  We watched the bird for quite some time and although we didn't hear it call felt that if this wasn't a Siberian Chiffchaff then there was no hope in hell of ever identifying them on plumage alone.
Although it wasn't late I was on limited time so we headed inland to look for geese.  A few days before a Red-breasted Goose had briefly joined the Pink-feet at Docking where a Todd's Canada Goose, Bean Geese and White-fronts had also been joining them.  We were definitely in luck as soon as we stopped to look at the first field of geese we were told the Red-breasted Goose had been re-located just down the road.  We twitched.  As it turned out this beautiful harlequin of a goose was also in company of 1,000 Pinks, the potentially wildish Canada, White-fronted Geese and at least a lone Tundra Bean.  It was just a mega morning of winter birding and one I'll remember for many years to come.  I enjoyed and drank in every minute and returned home for lunch, Tea and Medals by 1pm.




Thursday, 22 December 2016

Walk Like an Egyptian

A Sunday afternoon at the in-laws allowed an hour to have a look for the Yellow-browed Warbler wintering in some willow clumps on a small island in the ornamental lake on Wanstead Flats nearby.  With 25 football matches going on and surrounded by roads this was not a quiet and enigmatic experience but watching the Spryte flitting about so unobtrusively in such a small bit of habitat it suggests to me that hundreds must be doing the same, unfound and unseen, hidden away in thickets and tangles, across the land.  To add to the slight surrealism of the scenes a couple of Egyptian Geese harassed me for food and Ring-necked Parakeets were raucous overhead on their way to roost. 

I tried to grab an hour or two last weekend, which I spent unsuccessfully searching for a Great Grey Shrike that has been at Kingfishers Bridge, the mist didn't help on Saturday and on Sunday afternoon I decided to use my time to look at the harrier roost at Wicken.

2 ghostly male Hen Harriers came into roost and a single Marsh Harrier too, Barn Owl quartered and a murmeration of maybe 8 - 10,000 Starlings formed over the reedbed.  By far the scarcest visitor though was found at the visitor centre.

Sunday, 27 November 2016

On The Shore

My girls treated me to a stopover in Brancaster, on the Norfolk coast which allowed an early morning on the beach at Salthouse where a few Shore Larks have taken up residence and an Arctic Redpoll was a possibility.  After a bit of searching the Shore Larks popped up onto the ridge in front of me and then  settled around a muddy pool.

A Stonechat popped up briefly close by and Turnstone are as confiding here as anywhere I know.  A Snow Bunting rippled over and offshore a constant movement of Red-throated Diver were accompanied by Eider, Common and Velvet Scoter.
 The giggle of Pink-footed Geese accompanied throughout the day and one flock near Burnham Market held a little posse of Tundra Bean Geese, which didn't hang around for very long before flying over the hedgerow and out of view.  A Barn Owl was more obliging and allowed close approach on it's roadside vigil. 
A brief pop in at Denver Sluice in the hope of a seabird that may have drifted upriver did reap dividends as a couple of drake Goosander were joined by a Shag, still a bird I've not seen in the Ely10 with Denver being a 3 or 4 miles outside the 10.

Saturday, 26 November 2016

Willow's Song

After Phragmites, the Common Reed, Willow is the plant matter synonymous with the Fen.  Across the Ely wet meadows stunted stands of mature Willow give this piece of land a dream like quality, a remnant of forgotten and sodden history, to all intents and purposes lost now to the dyke and plough.  Walking down the tow path of the Great Ouse, into the yet to be burnt off mist, the silhouette of the Ibis stood proud by the gnarled and twisted trunk of a stunted willow.  It flew to the waters edge and fed voraciously and as the sun rose higher it's feathers shimmered with oily greens and hints of rouge.  I was joined by David and Sallie who said some lovely things about the blog and we enjoyed close and prolonged views of our lingering visitor as it fed and ingratiated amongst the Canada Geese and Moorhens.  We arranged to meet at the Country Park to look for the Siberian Chiffchaff.
I'd only looked at a couple of birds at the edge of the Sewage Work before finding the tristis bouncing around in a patch of young tree growth dominated by a large Willow.  I'm pleased that I'd heard it calling well last week, as it gave a little added confidence in the identification, to my eye though this is a classic brown and buff Siberian Chiffchaff and it did show well today.  I had been hoping I'd see the bird again and hoped I'd get the chance to get some photo's today the bird put on quite a show allowing close scrutiny and opportunities to get some reasonable record shots which folk can analyse and make their own decisions as to the credentials of the bird.   Apart from cropping and a little sharpening I have not messed around with these pics at all as it's all about colour hues with these enigmatic little phylloscs.  The bird showed well for some 10 minutes and allowed David and Sallie to enjoy it's subtlety too.  I may be missing more recent advances in identifying tristis but this article is a very good overview of the key features, challenges and pitfalls of identifying trickier Chiffs.