Tuesday, 26 February 2013

Saturday 23rd February 2013 - The Clayheads leave Somerset and head to Gloucestershire

We had spent a little bit longer than planned at Steart Point, but we still had plenty of time for our final destination of the day - Slimbridge. Following our successful military style operation to get all three of us in, we headed straight to the Holden Tower. Here the bulk of the remaining White-fronted Geese were feeding (224) plus the Bewick's Swans (294). Among the geese were the three Tundra Bean Geese, all showing quite well. CJW spotted a Peregrine in the distance and to complete today's selection of geese, a single Egyptian Goose was present. From the other hides overlooking this area, I counted a whopping 194 Pintail.

One Tundra Bean with the White-fronts

Resting Bewick's

A fine Egyptian Goose

The Tundra Bean Goose again

Next stop was the Zeiss hide, but we had to check the pens as we walked past them.

A Bewick's Swan at Rushy Pen - probably named Charlie or something like that

I know what you are thinking - why has he put a photo of Westport in the blog. Honestly, it is Slimbridge

There was only one bird seen from the Zeiss hide (there was a claim of two distant Dunlin made by CJW). It was one of those amazing birding moments as we watched a Bittern perform in the reed bed literally yards in front of us. At one stage it even came out and perched on the grass in front of us. All the long lens boys had left the hide, and us small lens boys had the bird to ourselves. A fine end to a day where we witnessed not only good birds, but incredible views as well. A day to remember and certainly not a day to be missed.

The Zeiss Bittern

CJW managed this shot with his Canon F500 lens (£2500 worth of equipment!). Only joking - it was taken with his phone!

Monday, 25 February 2013

Saturday 23rd February 2013 - The Clayheads visit Somerset

Following last Saturday's successful trip to North Wales, we fancied another trip out this weekend, as Staffordshire was still struggling to wake from its winter slumber and spring hadn't quite decided whether to appear or not. (Basically there wasn't much in Staffs to see). 

A Pied-billed Grebe had been found in Somerset last weekend, and with other bits and bobs on offer it was an obvious choice. We picked CJW up and set off at 04:30hrs, arriving at Ham Wall RSPB just over three hours later. We'd only briefly visited this reserve before when we had been trying to find Shapwick Heath NNR. We were very impressed by the quality of birds on the reserve, and it reminded me of some of the lakes we visited in Hungary.

The first pool we walked past, there were three Great White Egrets - two adults and a probable immature bird, plus many Gadwall, Shoveler and Teal. Several Cetti's Warblers were singing as we walked along the path and a Marsh Harrier flew over the reedbed.

Great White Egret at Ham Wall RSPB

 I was lucky to see a Bittern fly out from another pool and fly a short distance. We finally reached the second viewing area and soon were watching the Pied-billed Grebe - asleep in a clump of floating vegetation. It did eventually wake up and swam across the pool, giving good but distant views.

Pied-billed Grebe at Ham Wall RSPB

It's always good to get a day off to a flying start, and our visit to Ham Wall certainly was. Next stop was at Steart Point where the wintering Temminck's Stint had reappeared in recent days.

Steart Point was a strange area (my first visit). It looked just like one of those newly reclaimed former industrial sites. There wasn't much there just a few farms, but all the flat open area was either being drained or flood prevention measures being put in. There were huge dykes and most fields were full of pipes and ditches. But to protect what? It was just open fields. As we drove to the end car park, we passed several marshy areas, seeing a few Little Egrets and then a Barn Owl perched on a fence post. There was a car right behind me, but I pulled in at the next lay by and started to walk back. Incredibly, the Barn Owl carried on perching on the posts, slowly getting closer and closer to us. Twice it flopped down onto the bank and appeared to be digging out its prey. Incredible prolonged views.

Barn Owl on Steart Point

We eventually found the right path towards Stockland Reach, and we knew that the bird frequented the area in front of the two red pumps. Surely these would be easy enough to find. We walked out towards the estuary; a large grey muddy estuary with only a few waders on it. There were mainly Redshank plus a single Grey Plover. We decided to check the diggings on the inland side, and found the two red "small portable" pumps. Here, again a few Redshank, plus another solitary wader. As it came closer, we realised we had found the Temminck's Stint. It fed actively for a bit, then flew off, flying several over several fields before appearing to land. It wasn't a case of sifting through 1000's of waders to find the Temmincks; more a case of locating the single bird in a huge desolate area. (Sorry if I've caused any offence to Steart Point lovers, but the area was one of the most unpicturesque places I've been to).

The unusual overwintering Temminck's Stint

The beautiful scrape on Steart Point, Somerset

Monday 18th February 2013 - The return of after work birding

I've been having the pleasure of starting work early recently, enabling me to also finish work earlier as well. With the nights getting lighter, after work trips have suddenly become possible. GJM and MPR found an immature drake Long-tailed Duck during Monday morning, and it was still present in Tad Bay when we arrived mid afternoon. Unfortunately, it was preening and sleeping on the far side, and so it was not the best of views.
First picture with my new camera - a stunning start! Long-tailed Duck at Blithfield

We then popped over to Copmere where a redhead Smew had been found the previous day. It was showing fairly well as we stood on the jetty. We also found a drake Scaup - a bird that slept for virtually all the time we were there.

Drake Scaup and redhead Smew at Copmere

And finally onto Friday's excitement. Dave Scattergood had found a drake Hooded Merganser on the River Trent at Newton Solney. There was no more information on the bird other than its location, and as it wasn't too far away, we thought it was worth the gamble and so we headed over to east Staffs. When we arrived there were a few birders present. A brief chat confirmed two things - no one had seen the duck, and most didn't even know where to look. I confirmed they were in the right place, and we all started to spread out to hunt the duck. Another birder appeared and told us that the Hoodie had last been seen swimming up the River Dove. I wandered over to view the mouth of the Dove, and the other birders wandered off. Within moments, I'd spotted the fine drake Hooded Merganser feeding and swimming upstream. I quickly rang GAS (sat in the warmth of the car) and he banged on the window of the only car left parked by the river. We all watched it for 30mins before it swam upstream again and didn't return. Birders then started arriving, but they had to wait until 17:00hrs before it re-appeared. A marvellous bird, feeding in perfect habitat that unfortunately by the following day had managed to have its wing clipped!

The drake Hooded Merganser before it went too close to a lawnmower while flapping its wings

Monday, 18 February 2013

Saturday 16th February 2013 - North Wales

Having trawled the gravel pits of Staffordshire for the last six weeks, we decided to head out of the county today. The weather was fine and we decided to head to the North Wales coast. As per usual, we had a few target birds to go for.  

We started off at Westport, waiting for CJW to wake up as he was on a late shift the previous evening. Fortunately, he decided against his usual 17hr sleep, and we were heading off by 09:15hrs.

First stop was at Llanbedr-y-Cennin and we didn't have to wait too long before CJW spotted a Hawfinch flying back in and perch in full view for us at the top of one of the trees. The scope was set up and I took my camera out of my pocket and .......nothing. It was showing a lens error. Never had a problem with this cam before but after just over three years and heaven knows how many photo's I've took, it was an ex-camera. Another incident happened here as well. CJW and GAS were stood in the road, and I was slightly higher up on the path. CJW noticed I was looking thru my bins and he wondered what I was looking at. He looked, and watched a Red Kite glide over the trees giving good views. However, I was scanning the tree tops for Hawfinches, and somehow missed the Kite. It took me ages to persuade them I hadn't seen it. Usually its the other way round and I have to prove I've seen something. I dipped on this occasion, but it gave the other two something to chuckle about all day.  

Hawfinch by Phil Jones. Who needs photo's!

First bird in the bag, and so onto the next stop at Llanfairfechan. We only planned a brief scan here from the promenade, but the sea was like a mill pond and there was quite a few birds to look at. On the shore were small groups of Knot and Turnstone, and on the sea, at least ten Red-throated Divers, 50+ Great Crested Grebes (never seen so many off here before. It was just like Tad Bay in the summer), six Slavonian Grebes, a few Guillemots, a drake Goldeneye, a few Scoter and Shag. All very pleasant.  

Our main target here was the FIRECREST at the sewage works. I thought I knew where the sewage works was, but when we walked to the area where I thought it was, there was no sign - no sewage works! Fortunately I managed to get a signal on my phone, and we were soon heading off in the car to the correct location. We did find the sewage works and there was a birder already looking for the FIRECREST. He hadn't seen it yet, but we had received a message saying it was still present. We were soon joined by quite a few birders, but despite quite a few Goldcrest and Treecreeper, none of us could find the FIRECREST. Then a birder turned up who we had been speaking to at Llanbedr-y-Cennin. He walked up and found the Firecrest straight away. The views were good if a little bit brief.

Good drawings aren't they! Firecrest by PJ

We were on a roll, and next stop was Llandulas. We decided to give the SURF SCOTER another attempt. Again the sea was flat, so we drove onto the beach instead of the higher Llysfaen Station Road. The Scoter flocks were showing fairly well, and we managed to pick out seven Velvet Scoter, 20+ Red-throated Divers, 3+ Red-breasted Mergansers. I then found two Scaup on the edge of the flock. I was trying to show CJW the Scaup when I spotted a Scoter which appeared to have white on the back of its head. CJW tried to find it, I had the scope back but we just couldn't find the bird again. In fact, I couldn't even find the Scaup again! What a bobbing, flapping nightmare it is at Llandulas.  

It was high tide at 14:40hrs, and this tied in very nicely for the PURPLE SANDPIPERS at Rhos Point. As we walked along the front it was nice to see a few Ringed Plover, Turnstones and a Dunlin - more waders than I saw on my last visit here in December. I stopped to check thru a flock of Turnstone further along when CJW jumped in, stole my thunder and found a solitary Purple Sandpiper. And despite searching, that was the only one we saw! A fine drake Eider was swimming offshore, plus we found a distant Great Northern Diver.
Final drawing from Phil - thanks for bailing me out

Time was running out and we still had two more sites to visit. Luckily, the sun was still out and we headed off to Flint Castle for the TWITE. There were a few birders still on site, but the TWITE flock had been flushed by the Black-headed Gulls being fed. We walked off in the general direction where they flew to, but there was no sign. While we were walking along the front, a rugby match was taking place. In the short time it took us to walk to the end and back, three players had injured themselves and were lying on the edge of the pitch all in various states and conditions. Amazingly, both teams still had 15 players each.

The light was now fading and we had one last place to visit - Parkgate which was directly opposite Flint. We hurtled round and by about 16:20hrs we were parked up. We were soon watching two male Hen Harriers and a Short-eared Owl. We could see quite a few Little Egrets, but the GREAT WHITE EGRET was not so forth coming. We drove down to the other end of Parkgate, but by this time, most of the Little Egrets had flown off to roost. We did managed to add Barn Owl, Merlin and ringtail Hen Harrier to the day list!

Sunday, 10 February 2013

Saturday 9th February 2013

WeBs duck count this weekend, and so for the sixth consecutive weekend, we stayed local. We are due to leave the county soon though.

On Wednesday, I managed to pop down to Gailey to see the adult White-fronted Geese, a useful addition to my Gailey list which now stands at 14 species

The White-fronts at Gailey - showing distantly in a field on a very windy day

On Friday afternoon, we headed to Branston GP's to see if we could relocate the possible BEAN GOOSE. Unfortunately, we couldn't find the Greylag Goose flock, but we did stumble across these two Barnacle Geese.

And so onto Saturday. Same old places visited again. Not a lot doing, but the first sign of spring with my first Oystercatcher of the year.

I also managed to finally catch up with the three Little Egrets today

My pulse slightly increased when I spotted a Scaup like duck among the Tufted Ducks. I then realised it was the same bird as MY had seen in January at Croxall.

A Tufted x Pochard hybrid maybe?

Finally, there is a Slavonian Grebe at Astbury Mere in Congleton at the moment. This is just up the road from Westport, and there has been a transfer of duck between the two sites before. So a message to all those long lens boys currently camped out up there on a daily basis - get closer please, you know you want to!

Slavonian Grebe

Sunday, 3 February 2013

Saturday 2nd February 2012 - Staffordshire again

And so January has finished already. I didn't manage to do the 100 in Staffs before the month was out, but I ended January on a healthy 94 species. I decided there was no need to panic and in fact I've just been patch working all month as per usual. And I'm not bored yet.

The last weekend of January saw us head through the snow to Orgreave to look for SC's BEWICK'S SWAN that he'd found in a flock of Mute Swans. The side roads were just about passable and we soon found the flock. As we were standing by the car scanning through the herd, eniment local birdwatcher and author George Brian drew up along side me, and wished me luck in my search. As I started scanning the nearest birds to me, I realised that one of the Swans wasn't actually a Mute. It was in fact a Merlin, sat amongst the closest group. Poor old George Brian had managed somehow to miss a solitary Merlin sat in the nearest group of swans.  

A Merlin and a Mute Swan at Orgreave

February started far warmer and milder than January, and the first Saturday out we visited Belvide to try and catch up with the BITTERN that had arrived during the week. We left the motorway at the A5 junction, and CJW in the back seat immediately noticed a pale gull flying from Gailey Resv. I circled the roundabout again, and then headed off the A5, pulling up in the first layby. Eventually, the flock of gulls caught up with us again, and there was a juvenile Glaucous Gull (we originally assumed it was the 2w that had roosted at Belvide the night before). I rang Belvide to warn them and sure enough, SN was able to get on to it as it flew past distantly.

We added a few year ticks at Belvide with Brambling and Tree Sparrow on the feeding station, and we had a nice amble up to the Gazebo Bay. We scanned for the BITTERN but there was no sign. We walked back with SN who was convinced it was back in the SE bay. Amazingly, Steve managed to find it again just as we had given up hope of seeing it. Only its head and beak were showing, and only when the reeds blew apart. The bird certainly attracted birders to the reserve, and a crowd of 20+ birdwatchers soon gathered around Steve's scope. I do hope that these birders will continue to birdwatch in Staffs and maybe visit other areas too. As it was, we didn't see another birder for the rest of our afternoon. It was so nice to get away from the crowds! We were standing at the feeding station just looking as you do, when several birdwatchers came up behind asking what we were watching! (What do they think it is - Minsmere!

Who needs a long lens! Stunning photo's of the Belvide Bittern.

We eventually ended up at an extremely muddy Branston GP's at the end of the day. The mud was so deep in parts, we were in danger of getting our hats dirty. Our main aim was to check the gull roost there. Amazingly, it was a roost made up entirely of big gulls, and not a single BHG was seen. There was an impressive count of c80 Great B B Gulls, but no sign of the white-winger that we hoped for.

Above - all in a days birding in Staffs

Water Rail at Branston GP's