Wednesday, 31 March 2010

Dungeness (or Why Getting Up At 05:30 On A Sunday Morning Is Sometimes Justified)

I was talked into getting up at stupid o' clock and driving the hour and a half to Dungeness on Sunday by the usual suspect, which I'm quite grateful for. Sunday at Dunge was FUN.

It's been a few weeks since I was able to get out and birdwatch properly what with the terrible weather, a hectic weekend of choral activity and a general unwillingness to get out of bed extra-early to make time, so the year list hasn't really been progressing and the blog has oft wondered way off topic. Sunday has been a pleasant shot in the arm and has got me all enthused about birds in faraway places again. Guided by the excellent Howard, we spent the best part of the day moving about between the carpark by the lighthouse, the ARC pits and the RSPB reserve itself. Each one held at least one life tick. I love trips like that.

So, keeping it short and to the point, the year list has flown from 70ish up to a whopping 107 in the course of one trip to the coast. Picked up my first migrants of the year with a singing Chiffchaff, Swallows, singing Sedge Warbler in the ARC carpark and 3 Wheatear by the lighthouse.

Best of all were a whole 6 life ticks, only one of which was a bit dodgy. Usually when I see a bird for the first time I get pathetic skulky views so it was a refreshing change to have these lifers throwing themselves in front of me. In reverse order of awesomeness:
  • Caspian Gull (yes they're not common but, even having seen one, I still don't really believe they exist)
  • Slavonian Grebe (3 of those)
  • Tree Sparrow (cute and fluffy, and only this far down because of the quality of the other birds on offer)
  • 2 Black Redstart (one female perched in full view on a dog kennel, the other a beautifully marked male but slightly less confiding)
  • 1 Firecrest (amazing, so much greener than I expected)
  • 3 Penduline Tits (just. wow.)
I could go on and on, but just giving out a list of the 57 odd bird species I saw would be dull and pointless. Dungeness was brilliant, the birds were brilliant, and I'll be making the effort to get back there.

The rest of the story will be told as a kind of photo montage.

Caspian apparently. I have a Caspian blind-spot.

Breakfast. Most welcome after an early start and a longish drive. I give it 7/10.

Dipped the Rainham Slav a couple of times, and then it turned up dead, so I was glad to get this one.

You experienced naturalists out there may have noticed that this one isn't a bird. It is, however, still a life tick.
Again, I've dipped these at Rainham more times than I can remember. Don't be fooled by the photo, the views were excellent.

And finally, a new addition to the 'Evil Passer' series of photos. This was one mean looking Bunting.

Friday, 26 March 2010

Slowly slowly catchy er... wagtail

Yes, this week I have added 2 birds to the Tower Bridge year list, and one of those was the always worthy Grey Wagtail. It was one of those 'played-for-and-got' type finds which are always so satisfying. I saw the huge amounts of exposed foreshore and thought 'Right, I'm having you'.

It took a bit of exploring down to the small park area East of the Bridge, somewhere I never usually go, but it's where large amounts of foreshore sits relatively undisturbed by tourists and I just had a feeling I'd see them there. Score. It's taken a few months but I'm now on 29 species for the year on this site - for the purposes of comparison I ended last year on 30 and kept 30 as this year's target. I think that may need to be revised upward.

In absence of a real Wagtail picture, here is an artists impression of the event:

I did feel a bit bad when a guy turned up 3 seconds after I'd scared them off by showing my face over the railing and stood in exactly the same spot, staring hard at the wall where, until 3 seconds earlier, the Wagtails had been sitting. I didn't have the heart to ask him what he was looking for, but I know I'm far from the only patch watcher in this area and I was well outside my usual boundaries.

Still, there's not much I won't do for a patch tick on this site. He'll get over it.

Wednesday, 24 March 2010

My non-local patch in pictures

My girlfriend of 4 years lives about 2 hours drive from me, in a little flat in a little village in Hampshire. While there are many disadvantages to this arrangement, one of the big advantages is the Liss Riverside Railway Walk. I may have mentioned it before. For those new to this humble blog, it is a walk along the riverside which used to be an old military railway and is now a nature reserve. It is a very nice forested area with old railway paraphernalia strewn liberally around the main path. Now this isn't really very local to me at all, but I still end up visiting it much more often than the park just over the road. On Monday I worked from the girlfriend's flat, and spent my lunchtime wandering round the reserve with the Wide Angle lens on. Here is a short patch tour.

The first thing to note is that, while you will of course see birds, what you'll mainly do is HEAR birds. Hence these photographs will feature no birds at all. If I'd had the telephoto on me you'd probably have got a Robin, but it was wide angle all the way. I picked up Chaffinch, Greenfinch, Great Tit, Blue Tit, Robins, Wrens, Blackbirds and Wood Pigeons on Monday, and if I knew my birdsong a bit better I've no doubt there would have been Coal Tits and similar. This forest is full to the brim with small birds flitting about in treetops.

The other nice thing about this walk is that there is a small footpath that runs fromt he girlfriend's flat all the way to the train station, so when the weather is reasonable you can avoid roads all the way into town. On the way there's a big field where the Swallows and Martins like to hawk in summer, and generally butterflies everywhere a bit later in the year. The path itself is well designed and maintained, and takes you past a conifer plantation which looked very festive in the snow. I particularly like the tunnel effect on the below stretch.

For those that are into their vegetation there are lots of green flowery things, however I don't know what any of them are called so I'm going to put up a picture of some Holly.

I don't currently keep a list for this site, as the visits tend to be fairly sporadic. The walk is extremely pleasant though, and if you like steam railways (which my girlfriend does), full of interesting bits of railway history dotted about. I'll leave you with some of those to finish off. If you're ever in Liss and fancy flexing your birdsong muscles, give it a go.

Thursday, 18 March 2010

My week wot I just had

Here is a photo montage of my mostly non-birdy week. It will give some of the many reasons why I have been crap and seen no birds.

Dead rat in a drum cupboard at the rehearsal studio.

Stupid American school band scaring away all my passer.

They were just giving these away. Loads of them. Free. Unbelievable. I've been 'tender' most of today...

The closest I'll ever get to one of these at Tower Bridge.

Choir concerts all weekend - I'll be either stuck in rehearsals or driving between here and the Woman's so nothing of note will happen there. 2 more weeks of likely birdlessness to go. Ah well.

Right, off to the pub to play some music.

Friday, 12 March 2010

Stunned Pigeon

This sorry little saga has already been played out on the Birdforum message boards and will be related word for word, so apologies to this of you who saw it there already, but it's the most interesting bird-related thing to happen to me for about a week.

Post 1:

Had a young Wood pigeon fly into next door's upstairs window this morning. I took a look over the fence and it was sat on the ground. Within 10/15 minutes it had gathered its wings and seemed to be sitting quite happily recovering its senses.

I've been keeping half an eye on it and a couple of hours later it's still there. Although it seems to have shuffled into a corner it's shown no sign of moving any significant distance.

Picture should be attached. Looks like its stripped away some of the feathers round the base of the bill (at least, I presume it's the crash that caused this) but I can't see any other signs of injury.

No one's currently in next door but thet have youngish kids who'll be getting back around 4. We get on well so me climbing over the fence to fetch the thing won't cause too much excitement, but I don't want to go handle it unnecessarily.

Any thoughts? My usual policy would be to let it lie until its well enough to move, but its wedged itself right in under the back door where if it doesn't get brained by the door opening, someone's quite likely to tread on it by mistake.

If anyone wants to tell me my ID skills are rubbish and it's actually a young Stock Dove they are most welcome to do so, as that would be a garden tick.

Post 2:

Ah well, after about 3/4 hours of pigeon inactivity I ended up hopping the fence and trying to get a closer look. It didn't like me coming near it and ran away, limping and slightly trailing a wing. I feared the worst and tried to get a box over it but it didn't like that either, so I ended up chasing it round the corner of next door's garden for 5 minutes. It tried to take flight a couple of times during the chase and managed it on the third attempt - by the time it was up it seemed to be flying strongly.

It's either exercised out whatever was wrong, or come down in one of the cat-infested gardens over the back. Given that it was sat there for 3 hours I'm not too hopeful, but there was no way it was getting in that box.

Still, at least I got some exercise. Climbing that fence is about the most athletic thing I've done in years...

I've no doubt it's a fox's dinner by now, but I did what I could.

In other, non-bird, news, it is probably best when playing Dwarf Fortress to build your flood defences BEFORE curiously chanelling out a path from the raging whitewater river to the nearest hillside to see if you can flood the whole lower portion of the map. I now have a horrible feeling you can.

Where A is the breach in the river, B is the entrance to the Dwarf mine and C is the slowly progressing flood defence. This could be bad.

Will they finish the wall in time? Will my Dwarves be consigned to a watery mass grave? Will anyone apart from Parus even know what the hell I'm talking about, much less care? Not likely.

Monday, 1 March 2010

Ingrebourne fun 25/02

Continuing the theme of desperate catchup, here is a quick post about last Thursday's trip to Ingrebourne Valley with the usual birdwatching company. I won't even attempt to list all species, as the count over a bacon sandwich in Rainham cafe afterwards reached a minimum 50 with a few to spare. Having already seen the White Fronts and Red Crested Pochard the previous week, the highlights for me were stunning views of my 2nd ever Bullfinch (and first in Essex), tripping over a Woodcock about 50 metres from the car and the biggest flock of Fieldfare I've ever seen - well over a hundred. Picking up 13 Snipe feeding on one of the fields was also rather cool, while some of my favourite birds - Skylarks - were in full song and, because we flushed them about 20 metres from the car, relatively low in the air.

Ingrebourne itself was a bit difficult to navigate with a lot of the usual paths cut off by floodwater, but we managed. I've been over there a few times now and should go more often. It's a great bit of patch and only about 15/20 minutes drive from me. It also doesn't require a scope and is remote yet civilised enough that carrying the camera round my neck doesn't feel like wearing a big 'mug me' sign.

Skylark doing climbing and singing [I can't do proper captions since reading Thing's blog. I even find myself saying it in real life now. He has much to answer for.]

My first Green Woodpecker of the year, with some Fieldfares

Of course, it wouldn't be an Essex patch if it was all nice and fluffy.

We thought we'd finish off by going to the Optimist for some food but the wait was about half an hour so we went to Rainham instead where we ate the aforementioned bacon sandwiches and drank cups of tea and were too wussy to go out in the rain and look for Pendulines. They wouldn't have showed anyway. They didn't need to. This was a good day's birding without them.