Monday 28 January 2008

Oostvaardersplassen - morning tour

For anyone attempting to understand a cryptic 'Shropshire Birds' statement - I had certainly headed east (over the coast that is) for the weekend - my alpine plant activities, at this time of year taking precedence (and explaining why this blog may become a little quiet!). I had been asked to go and give a couple of lectures to the Dutch Alpine Garden Society which took up most of the Saturday, staying for a couple of nights in Lisse. After the second night in the company of Eric Breed and family (I really felt I had become one of them), I was pleasantly and very pleased to discover that he shared an interest in birds!! Despite an evening of fantastic red wine, Dutch lager tasting and various spirits served at -20'C (which don't freeze due to the alcohol content!!!) we were up at daybreak... and no hangover.... (well only a tiny one). I hadn't taken my 500mm lens so it was strictly record shots all the way - many out of the car window whilst moving..... The Oostvaardersplassen wetland reserve was our destination and the local 'flying barn doors' - White-tailed Eagle. First, a wake up call with a pair of White Storks which had settled down in the area. We had spotted them the previous evening on a rooftop and now they were waiting for any free handouts - but not in the mood for photography, so I had to settle for some distant shots on the local 'meadow'.

A brief call at a large freshwater lake saw a spectacular gathering of a few thousand Wigeon. Gadwall, Tufted Duck and a very occasional Scaup were also seen. As we neared our destination, the birds became more interesting - there were plenty of Smew and isolated small groups of Whooper Swans. Once into reedbed Country, we were immediately rewarded with a Marsh harrier, then several Common Buzzards and Kestrels which were also plentiful. But no Eagle! "The Eagle is next", Eric kept announcing. It was never to be however, despite a few expectant moments when everything took to the air in alarm. A surprise Goshawk flying over the car was an unexpected bonus. The highlight had to be Great White Egret......

We saw five of these in total but this is such a large reserve, they were generally very distant. Plenty of Geese including Greater White-Fronts kept us amused until finally it was time to head fo Schiphol and the flight home.

The lectures had gone well, there was talk of a return visit.... Having listened to tales of Bluethroat singing within 10 metres, Shrike, Ospreys and of course the Eagles - I know where I will be going if I do, let's hope it can be scheduled for later in the year......

Saturday 19 January 2008

Chasin' the Slav

Whether the Norfolk effect is still taking effect, apart from the chance of a decent Gull, I didn't fancy taking on a birdless Shropshire. So, following a 9.30 call at a Gull-less Priorslee, the 'chase' was on to Chasewater and hopefully the Male Smew plus Slavonian Grebe - a pic or two???

Fly Bay is quite productive at present and I was onto the Smew in seconds but unfortunately so was a helicopter - hovering overhead and flushing everything in sight!

After hurling abuse (rather pointlessly) skywards, I suddenly realised it was the boys in blue carrying out their duties......

.....and after a short while the Smew flew back in - no nearer though and now hiding in the waterside braches - occasionally sneaking out to open water.

Still no sign of the Slav however and I walked back to the sailing club, just about to call it a day when..... Around the corner and into view.....What a stunner and so confiding, shocking light but there were quite a few keepers!

You can have too much of a good thing and with hopes of a white winger, I headed back down the M54 to Priorslee. Still no Gulls to speak of - the weekend effect holding strong. There was however one instantly noticeable large Gull with gleaming white head and even without bins in the pouring rain, I thought 'Yellow-legged'. Andy arrived and we spent the best part of an hour waiting and hoping for something better.... Gull watching is never easy and with nothing else to look at, we nearly turned the YL into a Caspian (with that black beady eye, tantalising glimpses of large mirror on p10) but those yellow legs when flying off were a bit of a giveaway! Have a look and see.....

Thursday 17 January 2008

Venus Pool & Priorslee quickie

A couple of very brief lunch time sessions this week..... VP yielded the usual common suspects with a decent shot of a male Greenfinch. Really nice male Siskins about too, this one caught posing from every angle....

Plus the obligatory flock of long tailed tits passing through......

Priorslee was fairly quiet, (no joy for the Glaucous) but this fine adult Yellow-legged Gull made it worth the look. A rather menacing Great black-backed Gull had created a large exclusion zone.....

Sunday 13 January 2008

Monkmoor - Ring-necked sleepyhead

Post Norfolk blues - hadn't been anywhere near a bird all week and the weekend was fully booked for other things until.....

A return of the Ring-necked Duck to Monkmoor, a kind offer from Geoff Holmes to open Fort Knox and a late start for Jim's Uni taxi service conspired to get me out for an hour after a decent bird!

Same bird, same attitude - asleep or just lazing there - pretending to be asleep. Than a bit of a stretch, preen and yawn.....

and circuit around the island - some wideawake views (in the gloom)! I haven't got a key, so pics in decent light are unlikely - fill your boots Paul!

No light, no shutter speed, this one's for Jase - is it art or just a plain crap picture??

Monday 7 January 2008

Norfolk Day 3 - Cley White-crowned finale

The day started at Salthouse again - attempts to capture Snow Buntings in flight. Forget about a long lens, these were close enought to be taken with the standard kit lens......

A stop at Cley where a brief visit saw three Marsh Harriers in action: male, female and a juvenile.

The weekend was ending with a 'quiet' Sunday, or so I thought and I was making my way along the coast (at Thornham actually) when news broke of a White-crowned Sparrow at Cley. Now, having been in the area all morning, this was quite frustrating/stressful but really fantastic news. I only had 20 miles or so to go......

With all the Sunday drivers wondering what the fuss was, I was back at Cley in 30 mins (quite an achievement I can tell you). I got parked and made my way to the site and crowd which was for such a mega - relatively small. Just as well, as there was only a limited amount of space to view up the drive where it occasionally ventured out (from the right hand side) to feed. A bird of this standing could have caused quite a bit of mayhem but this was an amazingly good natured gathering! I met at least a couple of birding friends and made others during the scrum!

Given the location and shooting through a gate, I'm more than happy with these record shots. I was just so relieved to see it through the bins initially, for once I wouldn't have minded not getting a shot of it!

An adult and a real stonker - just about as good a bird you could wish to see - I'd probably say that about any mega though....

Hope everyone got it!!

Even this female House Sparrow looked good in such illustrious company!! There was also a Brambling too.

Sunday 6 January 2008

Norfolk Day 2 - Lapping it up

First, a blatant plug for my 'homely' B&B in Sheringham - 'Pentland Lodge' where mine hosts Janette and Jeff find nothing too much trouble and conjured up this amazing breakfast to fuel any birder throught the day! If you want contact details, let me know and tell them where the recommendation came from!

My first port of call was Salthouse and a bit of photography involving those most delightful of subjects - Snow and (hopefully) Lapland Buntings! I could tell be the line of birders that they were already obliging. After a couple of full 2Gb cards and frozen fingers, I decided to call it a day.

Here's a few examples of just how obliging they were!!

And the Lapland Buntings - 3 were seen

Plus a Dunlin briefly...

Cley reserve was amazingly quiet with virtually no waders but four Marsh Harriers were busy working the reed beds.

I always seem to bump into Pete Simpson in Norfolk (Blue Sky Birds) and he tipped me off regarding a pair of very obliging Shag in Wells harbour. They really were good subjects and I got some nice 'bathing' action shots. Always makes an interesting conversation piece when you casually mention to someone that you've just had a Shag in the harbour - well it was a nice session!

The afternoon fizzled out with no good finds and the elusive, distant Smew at Holkham Hall had to be scoped - no Lesser Spots to oblige either.

A second call at Cley visitor centre for the Water Pipits again drew blank but at least the pools were now occupied, large flocks of Wigeon, Pintail, Golden Plover, Avocet (25) etc. but nothing earth shattering.

There was no sunset either, the Wyndham Arms did have a nice rump steak to offer though! Now, I wonder what might turn up tomorrow........