Monday 31 March 2008

Shropshire - out and about

Back to base in Shropshire and with hopes of early migrants, I had an early start at Venus Pool. There was plenty of variety on the water, a Chiffchaff singing but nothing of real note. The high point was when a couple of Curlews made their way from the 'stump island' to the near grassy bank, about 40m left of the hide - a golden opportunity for a flight shot!!

Longnor was en-route to Titterstone Clee with a single Dipper sat on the stones waiting for me! A great opportunity to capture just about every angle you might want see.......

I knew it was too early to have any real chance of Ring Ouzel but you never know? There were quite a few birds to be seen however: Stonechat, Meadow Pipit and Wheatear in good numbers! I estimated approximately a dozen in the quarry and just as many elsewhere! They were quite flighty though, difficult to assess numbers. Males were certainly predominant but there were females too, some bearing colour rings.

Buzzards and a pair of Ravens displaying above plus a Peregrine flying through......

The final destination was Bury Ditches and yet another Peregrine was seen just the other side of Aston on Clun. Closely followed by a Red Kite approx 1/2 mile past Clunton on the way to the ditches (not a chance of stopping for either bird though).
A melodic welcome to Bury Ditches with both Yellowhammer and Song Thrush singing next in the car park, contrasting with the raucous tones of the large flock of Fieldfare (plenty of Thrushes still here) in the adjacent fields. The rain came so I opted not to walk up to the fort.

A great end to a fantastic month of birding - will be a hard act to follow!

Saturday 29 March 2008

Forest of Dean - Hawfinch trio

With an alpine plant show beckoning in Exeter on the Saturday,I had planned an overnight stop, so there was the chance of a bird or two as I travelled down on the Friday? As ever, the route planned to take in birds rather than direct travel and I found myself heading for the Forest of Dean; Brierley to be precise and a long awaited bird encounter - Hawfinch! OK, some might regard this in lifetime terms a bit of a 'tarts tick' but as the chance of finding one within Shropshire is pretty remote and I'd only ever gone looking for them once before (at dusk!!) - that's my excuse! They are normally not birds you 'chance upon' - whatever, this tick was long overdue and certainly not one to be guaranteed. The omens weren't good either, horizontal torrential rain for most of the journey and then would you believe as I parked the car - the rain stopped and the sun came out!! (Lucky Jim indeed). I'd done my homework - take the track opposite the garage in the village and park near the turning circle, the birds can be anywhere off the track near here.....

For Hawfinch - take the track opposite this garage.....


I'd walked the track, quietly watched/listened in some of the leaf strewn glades, all to no avail for about 30 minutes. Then, a loud series of 'tics' caught my attention - not having encountered Hawfinch before, I wasn't tuned in to their call - I am now!! Looking high in the canopy, there was the unmistakable silhouette (wow - that bill!) of three birds. They flew off but I could see where they landed - again high up but I found a sort of clear view through the branches to at least grab a record shot. OK, no close ups of magazine quality but there were three of them and at this precise moment - they were mine! For anyone thinking of going, Hawfinch aren't absolutely guaranteed but they are seen with regularity at this site. I found them approx 60 metres walking up the track from the garage on the right hand side but they are obviously flighty and could be found anywhere in this general area!


After a couple of impromptu stops elsewhere in the forest, picking up a few other woodland species, my attention turned back to the journey South. I was after a 'Great White', no not of the 'Jaws' variety although it's bill is pretty impressive, this was hopefully the Meare Heath Great White Egret..........

Meare Heath - Great White Egret

The journey south continued, just as I was crossing the Severn, Andy Latham phoned to confirm it had already been seen that day so, the hunt was on! If you go to Meare Heath, take directions, it can be a bugger to find. The area is a sort of 'Whixall Moss with reedbeds' - a fantastic habitat nevertheless! After driving past it once, I found the car park and headed up the track to the pools. Birders returning confirmed I was hopefully not going to be disappointed, and I wasn't! The Egret was out in the open, about 100m or more distant but this is one big bird - not to be missed!!


The Giraffe of the bird world?

Of course, without a reference feature, it is difficult to guage size so, enter a very obliging Little Egret which had a habit of following the big guy around and apart from a brief squabble, provided the perfect foil for showing just how majestic and 'Great', this Egret truly is!!


Sadly, my luck with birds and the weather then took a downward turn! Andy phoned (Hmm, do I need a pager?) to say the Franklin's Gull was back at Chew Valley Reservoir! Like a fool, I ended up heading back up the road and fortunately the comfort and shelter of Moreton hide. After an hour of watching the wind blown surf with a couple of local birders, there were only three Little Gulls (one adult!) to show for our efforts. Mind you, I don't know when I've seen so many hirundines, mostly Sand Martins but with the odd swallow and a first House Martin for the year thrown in!! With weather like this, bet they wished they'd stayed where they were..... What an end to the week, just three sessions, eleven year ticks, four of them lifers - brilliant stuff! Oh and I'm not going back for that Franklin's - ever!

Thursday 27 March 2008

Hampshire - another lifer?

The forecast for Hampshire wasn't good - a band of rain crossing during the morning. With light drizzle falling I decided to head from my overnight stay at Romsey to the coast, Gosport to be precise, hoping for my second lifer Gull - wait for it - my bogey Gull - Ring-billed!!

After the efficiency of the M27, the road through Fareham and Gosport goes on (slowly) for ever but I followed my nose and more by luck than judgement ended up at Walpole Park. (It had also stopped raining and the sun came out!) The landlocked lagoon and nearby tidal creek here, have been producing the goods (Gulls that is) over the winter......

A local guy feeding the swans and attracting a number of Black-headed Gulls, noting my bins and lens commented: "You here for the American Gull?" He then told me it had a habit of disappearing for days but sometimes turned up late morning? It was 10.00 by now so I gave the nearby creek a try....

You can always guarantee, when looking for a Ring-billed Gull - there will always be lots of Common Gulls around. You will do your best not to be fooled but eventually you start to be sucked into the 'is it or isn't it' game, especially amongst the immatures. I decided that the real deal wasn't present and apart from a small flock of Brent Geese, nothing else of note.

Back to the lagoon, where I was instantly greeted by the sight of a stunning adult Med Gull, in awesome summer plumage, sat on the water. How cute is this - a long awaited chance to record full adult Summer plumage in the photo library!! But still no Ring-billed......

Another stroll back to the car, a cup of coffee and by now with clouds rolling in at Midday, perhaps my last chance. So, back to the lagoon and there, standing out like a beacon in the middle of the water, was - wait for it - the most utterly gorgeous, Ring-billed Gull, once again in full adult Summer plumage!!! You beauty - the next hour was spent using up a couple of 2Gb cards to record the moment. Did I perchance, get a tad carried away with excitement here?

Flight shots......

plus the obligatory close up!

I even tried to get both key Gulls in the same frame. Just couldn't get them both in the same focal plane, drat!

A Little Egret was poised fishing on the causeway as I made my way back to the car - brought me back down to earth from Gull heaven. There is nothing quite like going for a bird, getting that sinking feeling you've dipped big time and then finally savouring success (makes up for all those disappointing moments!)

I remembered the next mission - Cattle Egret!

Back up the M27 and across via Ringwood, I called in (sort of unofficially) scoping through the wire fence the main pool (adjacent to the A383) near Ibsley. Plenty of ducks here: Wigeon, Tufted, Shoveler, Teal and on the far bank, a cracking male Garganey.

Then, the short journey to Harbridge, the field opposite North End farm was full of Mute Swans, including the Black Swan mentioned in dispatches but NO Cattle Egret.(Sigh) here we go again.....

After a bit of a wander about, I thought to myself - 'if the Egret wasn't in with the Swans, where was the most likely location' - answer 'try the field full of cattle behind the farm'!!

Yep, right first time - only problem it was another distance job... So I resorted to the classic ploy of featuring bits of cows, I think it works?

As to what Cattle Egrets eat? well I saw several large worms being devoured, even caught one disappearing down the hatch! Maybe the vibration from the weight of the cattle brings worms up to the surface........

Wednesday 26 March 2008

Somerset - taking a long cut!

In these days of route planners and internet mapping, I'll bet that if you planned to travel from Shropshire to Hampshire, one County that wouldn't feature on your route would be Somerset!

Well, I was Hampshire bound with a talk to the local Alpine Garden Society group and with overnight hospitality planned, there was the chance of a little birding both ways! Somerset was given a go on the way down as two American Gulls (both potential lifers) had been recently reported to tempt me. It should be noted that the RAC route planner wouldn't normally send you this way and certainly doesn't include birds in the itinery!

First stop was Cheddar reservoir and access from the main South West shore car park. The best way I can describe this site is - well, picture a circular concrete bowl at least half a mile across sunk into the ground!! There weren't too many birds present but there were three year ticks waiting.....

How about the lifer 1st Winter Bonaparte's Gull, in with a flock of Black-heads and one of the first birds picked out! The sad news is the Gull flock were quite a way out and looking into the sun there was not a chance of a picture! Having got my eye in recently with a 1st Winter Little Gull, this bird was larger but still smaller than the Black heads and with much less black on the outer primaries than the Little un. It shared the very mobile habit however, rarely resting on the water unlike it's companions. Looking into the light, you got a real translucent effect to the wings.

Red-necked Grebe was a year tick, yet another Great Northern Diver on the far side and a small flock of Diving Ducks - I drove over to have a look!

I hate it when a session remains 'photoless' and despite views of the reservoir, I had nothing other than washed out attempts at the Red-necked Grebe! The South East shore changed all that - the group of Diving ducks turned out to be a group of Tufties including 6 Scaup, 3 males/females!! Another year tick too!

Just as in the Colemere flock - I just love these females - little stunners (particularly like the one caught up in the spray!)

Destination number two was Chew Valley lake, taking in the scenic Cheddar Gorge on the way and then, what was to turn into a lost cause - searching for the Franklin's Gull. Mind you, there were quite a few locals on the case too, suffering too - all sighing as to how unpredictable and mobile this particular Gull is! I gave it another hour or so from the two road viewing stations. A 1st Winter Little Gull was the only decent gull of note. Saw good numbers of wildfowl: Pintail, Teal, Tufted, Pochard, Shelduck and Shoveler. There was even a Cetti's off the causeway (heard but not seen!!) and not too many waders about but a Common Sandpiper was the first of the year!

Part two of this trip to Hampshire (the long way) will follow tommorow......