Monday, 31 May 2010

Just Walking in the Rain

So Lakenheath on Saturday. Despite the atrocious weather, I managed to add 3 life ticks and a fair few year ticks.

Started with a Stone Curlew at the super secret site not far from Lakenheath. It was much stripier in real life than I had been led to expect from bird books, but very cool. Got a decent scope view before the landowner arrived. Discretion being the better part of valour, we scarpered before he could get out of his car and chase us off the public highway on which we'd stopped.

The rain started properly while we were waling round Lakenheath, and the one bit of shelter was being patrolled by a Hornet so we didn't spend too long there. No flycatchers unfortunately, but we got plenty of Beardies and a very good view of a Great Spot Woodpecker. We braved the rain to head up to the top end of the reserve, and suddenly everything kicked off. The Crane, which had been popping its head up occasionally and taunting the walking party who'd travelled to see it, took off and flew 300 yards right across the front of the watchpoint about 2 minutes after we set up there. Then a Grasshopper Warbler started reeling in the scrub, but there was no time to go look for it because suddenly there was a Bittern in the air. It boomed in flight, and then there were 2 Bitterns. And then 3. By the end of it we had 5 Bitterns in flying about in the same scope view. And 2 Marsh Harriers. It was 5 minutes of tick frenzy.

So Lakenheath delivers again, despite the rain and consequent lack of Butterflies. I don't think I've ever spent a bad day there. So I'll leave you with a picture of 4 Bitterns in the same frame, because that's not something you see every day.

My camera was tucked up safely because of the rain, so by the time I'd got over the shock of seeing all those Bitterns they were too far away for decent photos. This was taken as 4 of them came back towards the watchpoint. It's still pretty damn special.

Monday, 24 May 2010

Non-patch tickery

Very quick, becuase I've imbibed more alcohol that is strictly necessary for a Sunday evening. It's been an odd one.

In birding terms though, I've garnered a life tick! Picked up a Lesser Whitethroat over Ingrebourne Valley. Differentiated on sight due to dark leg colour. I don't run Ingrebourne as a patch but I think next year I might, I certainly get over there more than I do the Chase...

Other interesting stuff involves Damselflies, but I need sleep more than photos right now, so no doubt they'll appear in a couple of days.

As for the non-birdy stuff that made the weekend weird, read about it at Parus's blog, it's been a surreal weekend.

Tuesday, 18 May 2010

Patchy goodness

What a day! A Patch Tick at Tower Bridge and a Year Tick at local non-patch Ingrebourne Valley.

First up, and most importantly, a Lunchtime walk round Tower Bridge gave me a Grey Heron in the St. Katherine Docks. Generally Grey Heron is probably to be expected, and I did fully expect to have one fly over at some point if I watched long enough, but this fellow was just standing on some orange ballast about 8 feet from the people walking past. In my experience Herons tend to get flighty if they so much as sniff a person within a hundred yards. This one was close enough that I could get something on my phone camera that actually resembled the bird! Look!

As Mr Lethbridge has repeatedly observed, patch ticks are the best ticks. This made my day.

Which is why a trip to Ingrebourne this evening with the inimitable Parus was going to need to be something pretty special to top it. And it produced. The plan was to go for Grasshopper Warblers, but the thing about plans over the Ingrebourne - the important thing about plans over the Ingrebourne - is that when Parus and I make them they never work. This is why when we left at 5 in the morning to see Barn Owls waaaaaay back before I even had a blog we got soaking wet and headed home Owlless. It probably also explains why on today's trip we didn't hear a peep of Grasshopper Warbler, but I added both Cuckoo and Barn Owl to my year list.

Gropper remains a life-tick-in-waiting, but any day where you see a Barn Owl is a good day.

Monday, 17 May 2010

Tower Sparrows

Apologies to those followers of my Twitter feed who have already had the news, but this is exciting. For the first time this year, I finally caught sight of a FEMALE House Sparrow on the Tower Bridge patch. This was shortly followed by two separate Male House Sparrows independently picking up lumps of foodstuffs in their bills and flying high up the gatehouse wall with them before disappearing round the far side.

I've been holding my breath for the last few weeks waiting for something like this, and it hasn't disappointed. Evidence of breeding Sparrows in Central London is not to be sniffed at, and as I understand it Tower Bridge is a bit unusual in having such a (relatively) large Spring population. I am rather pleased.

Of course every silver lining has a cloud. No sign of 'my' Tower Kestrel this year, and this is leaving it a bit late even for Kestrels. I think perhaps I'll just have to accept they're not coming back to the same nesting site this time round. Hope they're doing well wherever they've ended up.

Other sightings today - a few very smart looking adult Herring Gulls, a Blue/Great Tit (too far and fast to be sure which) and a solitary Coot, along with the usual Lessers and Starlings. There might have been more, but I really did spend an inordinate amount of time watching those Sparrows. Still grinning :-)

Saturday, 15 May 2010

At last

First bird ever to grace the Window Feeder this morning, and fortunately I was there to see it. I take back every bad word I have ever uttered about Starlings.

Fortunately for you lucky readers I also had time to very slowly reach for my phone, activate the camera, switch the camera off by mistake, reactivate the camera, forget where the video setting was, find the video setting, realise the camera was already set to video after all, depress the shutter release and just capture the bird's arse as it promptly turned around flew off.

Hopefully this means the floodgates are now open and my window will be filled with Siskins, Bullfinches, Marsh Tits and other such dross. Or a Sparrow. A Sparrow would be nice. Anyway, enough prevarication. Video!

Thursday, 13 May 2010

One more for the Tower

Yes I crossed the river and bagged that lovely singing Reed Warbler next to City Hall, despite interference from a woman chasing it up and down the hedge and a dogwalker with his dog off the lead. I even saw it distantly a few times, though not well enough to see any salient features. Not to worry, I got a very good earful of song and am confident about the ID. That's 32 for the Tower Bridge patch this year, and the first bird I've had to go sarf' of the the river for. Exciting.

Also saw the first Black Headed gull on patch since they all went coastwards. It was clearly young with brownish wing feathers and a terminal tail band, but didn't look like one of this year's hatchlings. Hopefully it won't be long before they're all back and I can get back to some proper patch birdwatching i.e. Med sifting.

Still loads of singing House Sparrows about, but strangely still no females on patch. I see dozens round Hornchurch way. Distinctly odd.

Monday, 3 May 2010

In which Rainham lives up to its name

I think April has struck a month or so late.

Being British, I'll open this post with some talk about the weather. It's been random. I was sitting at the computer at about 10 this morning watching the sun outside and thinking 'I quite fancy doing Ingrebourne valley and trying to step on some Woodcocks'. Within 5 minutes the whole sky was clouded over, the wind was gusting at gale force speeds and there were hailstones bouncing off the window. 10 minutes later we were back to blue skies and sunshine again. Crazy.

So I compromised on Rainham. It has birds, it has tea (and bacon sandwiches), and it has some hides to scuttle into. I actually managed to get right round without being rained on thanks to watching the rainclouds and timing my dashes between shelters.

It also had Swifts. Lots of Swifts. I know it's a bad idea, but I couldn't resist a few attempts at Swift photography. And you know what? They really didn't turn out too badly.

This is as good as Swift photography gets ladies and gentlemen.

There was a supporting cast of Hirundines. While the wind and rain was battering everything the Swallows and Martins were almost stationary trying to fly into it, so I got some of the best views I've yet had of these birds in flight. I'm sure I caught a glipse of a white arse or two, but mostly the Martin population at Rainham seems to consist of Sand Martins. The Cordite store had a singing Blackcap which, unusually, put in an appearance and, joy of joys, was joined by a female! I've never seen a female Blackcap before, so that was a half-tick of sorts, and it sat still long enough for some decent scoping. Chiffchaffs were loud, and there were a couple of Cetti's tucked away somewhere just off the boardwalk near the cordite.

There were usual wildfowl on the lakes (Mallards, Coots, Gadwall, Shelduck etc.) and a couple of displaying Lapwing over the main pools. Mostly my time on the northern boardwalk was spent trying to ID small brown shapes flitting over the path from one reedbed to another. I know I saw a couple of Whitethroats, and I suspect I was listening to a lot of Reed Warblers though I'm buggered if I can hear a difference between them and Sedges. Needs practice. Good day out on the reserve though, and I really needed the walk after a very inactive weekend.

I finished up with a 10 minute riverwatch on the seawall and picked up a Whimbrel flying over the river and onto the reserve. No photos of this one because the clouds were looming, and the camera was safely tucked away. So have a Bee.

Sunday, 2 May 2010

Rain rain go away

Plans for an exciting bank holiday weekend's birding on a coastline somewhere have been scuppered somewhat by the rain. I'm still considering spending an afternoon tucked up in Rainham visitor's centre drinking tea and watching the river, but seeing as that will involve getting showered and dressed it won't be happening very soon.

Good news is I just had my first garden Swift (and inciedntally, my first Swift of the year) :-) It was flying over low while insect catching, and was generally awesome. I might just sit here and stare out of the window all day.