Dawn Marsh Harrier

Dawn Marsh Harrier

Thursday, 26 February 2015

Bulldozers Vs Bullfinches.

My job as Assistant Manager on a Grounds Maintenance contract in High Wycombe gets me out and about around all the local parks and as I also carry the rather grand title of 'Biodiversity Champion' for the contract, I feel duty bound to keep an eye on all the birds and wildlife in general around said parks. As you can imagine this is a tough ask for me but I crack on with it as I'm a team player.

Adjoining Holmers Farm Rec Ground is a disused BMX track which has long since gone wild and become an oasis for bird life right next to the M40 motorway. During the Spring and Summer months it teems with warblers such as Blackcaps, Whitethroats, Chiffchaffs, Willow Warblers and even regular Garden Warblers. It's a guaranteed Finch-fest as well with good numbers of Chaffinch, Goldfinch, Linnet, Greenfinch, 2 resident pairs of Bullfinch and last winter I noted a pair of Brambling.

One of my staff, Jim Shaw, is a fellow birder and we've often talked about how we could imagine one day finding a rarity on this site. A good Warbler or Shrike species maybe. But a few days ago I got the news that the bulldozers had moved in. The site was to become an overflow car park for the already vast John Lewis car park. For some reason I had to see for myself and managed to pay a visit today. My heart sank as the devastation came in to view. There were no workmen on site, presumably rain stopped play but the results of their labour so far were evident.

Just one corner of trees and bushes remained. Chaffinch, Goldfinch, Blue Tit, Great Tit, Dunnock, Wren ,Blackbird and Robin were all concentrated into this corner. Then I was momentarily pleased and then saddened to see a stunning male Bullfinch alight in one of the yet to be felled small trees and a female flit out of sight.

I could only hope that they can find a new home in time for the imminent nesting season. Be lucky guys.

I suppose getting even more bodies through the doors at John Lewis is more important than Bullfinches........said he lying through his gritted teeth.

Sunday, 22 February 2015

Surfer Dudes Hit the Far East!!!

This Saturday's goal was the long staying Surf Scoter in the Stour Estuary on the Essex/Suffolk coast. I didn't expect to wake up to a sprinkling of snow in Herts but that was never going to stop a pair of intrepid explorers like me and Sharpy.

 The previous day the bird had been showing well around buoy 4 viewed from the end of Wall Lane, Wrabness, so this was our first port of call. Good numbers of common waders such as Dunlin, Grey Plover, Oystercatcher, Redshank, Curlew and Bar Tailed Godwit, greeted us as we arrived on the beach. A thorough scan through the ducks on the water only turned up Wigeon, Goldeneye and Shellduck along with large numbers of Brent Geese.

After an hour or so, a drive further downstream in search of a different vantage point proved unfruitful. We returned to Wrabness in the hope that the now rising tide would have brought a new avian cast to the estuary. There were certainly more ducks on the water now and a displaying pair of Red Breasted Merganser were a welcome year tick but still no sign of our quarry. However, it wasn't long before news broke that the Surf Scoter was lurking around buoys 8 & 9, which unfortunately were on the Suffolk side of the estuary and we were on the Essex side. We could see that there was a point jutting out on our side, which we figured was roughly opposite buoys 8 & 9 but this was going to be a hefty walk, if indeed it was accessible at all. As luck would have it, a friendly couple of locals taking a stroll, informed us that we could drive to this point and gave us directions to the end of Shore Lane in Bradfield. 10 mins later we had the' Surfy' in our scopes. It was quite distant and certainly too much to ask of my 300ml camera lens but as it drifted slightly closer to us we enjoyed decent scope views with it's pale nape patch glowing brightly in the sunshine. 'Mission accomplished.'

With plenty of hours of daylight left we opted to head for RSPB Hockwold Fen ( or Lakenheath as it will always be to me). As we followed the road along the estuary we spotted a birder viewing the water, and realised it was a guy we'd met only a week earlier in Cheshire. The small world of birding eh? We stopped to exchange pleasantries and enjoyed close views of the group of 9 Pintails he was watching.

So onwards to Lakenheath where we spent a largely uneventful but pleasant couple of hours in the winter sun, adding some different species to the day list. As we walked back along the river, a wonderful little ghost in the form of a Barn Owl appeared over the reed beds.

These magnificent, enigmatic creatures never fail to get my pulse racing. For a delightful 10 mins or so we watched as it quartered the reeds, occasionally halting, twisting and dropping like stone, wings folded overhead and talons extending towards an unsuspecting prey. Fantastic!!! Excuse me getting all whimsical but I love these things.

We walked on towards the car park agreeing what a perfect end to the day the Barny had been, but the day had one more surprise in store as a Great White Egret came gliding over the lake and in to roost.

As we left the sun went down on yet another thoroughly enjoyable day in the field and I was off home to drink white wine and dream about Barn Owls. Perfect.

Sunday, 15 February 2015

A Dash Down to Ashdown for Little Bunting.

After a 15 hour birding trip yesterday, today I thought I'd .....you guessed it, go birding. While the mad wife's sunning herself in Sri Lanka I might as well make the most of it. Picked Sharpy up at Maple Cross and headed for Old Lodge NR in the Ashdown Forest Sussex. For 2.5 hours, we, along with a number of other birders, scoured the area we believed the Little Bunting had been hanging out. The glorious sound of singing Woodlarks already made the trip worthwhile for me, but with only a few false alarms from Reed Buntings, hunger and fatigue were beginning to set in. I even resorted to photographing a Robin (yes even a Raptor fanatic can appreciate our charismatic National Bird).

 However I soon got my second wind when a very decent chap appeared, having just hot footed a good quarter of a mile to inform us that he and his pal had located the Little Bunting. Like a line of Soldier Ants we followed him with a rejuvenated spring in our steps. When we arrived at the spot the decent chap's pal (no reason to think he wasn't a decent chap too) informed us that the Bunting flock had all dropped into the Juncus Rushes out of site but definitely hadn't gone anywhere. It was probably another hour before we got our reward, but get our reward we did. After the hours we'd put in for this bird, fellow Herts birder Jeff Bailley turned up, said hello, put his eye to his scope and calmly proclaimed "Here it is. It's in the tree." Well done Jeff. Just work on your punctuality mate and you can save us all some time.

Excuse the lousy quality of the pics below but better than nothing - ish.

A Wirral of Laughs

Saturday morning I met up with Sharpy at 6am and we set off for The Wirral in Cheshire. Our main quarry was the Laughing Gull that had been performing for the crowds on the pontoon at New Brighton. On our arrival the gull was obligingly sat on the pontoon and the life tick was straight in the bag for both of us.

It was one of those occasions when we got our timing right as it wasn't long before it got up, had a quick fly around the mariner and then disappeared out of sight.

After a scan through the waders on the beach (Purple Sandpiper the most noteworthy) the Laughing Gull reappeared on the railings at the far end of the mariner.

It didn't linger long and soon departed over the buildings and out of sight again. We'd had a tip off about a wintering pair of Snow Buntings about a mile up the road so a-bunting hunting we did go. Sharp-eye Sharpy was soon on to them scurrying around on the sand. As we were relocating to a better vantage point for the cameras, a do-gooder dog went bounding over to them, presumably warning them that we were about to photograph them without their permission, as they immediately took off down the beach and far away.

Not to worry. We had an appointment with a Long Eared Owl at Burton Mere. 40 mins drive and a fairly lengthy but pleasant walk and we were greeted by a friendly RSPB Warden. Although the owl was only yards away, it's cryptic camouflage made it tricky to pick out amidst the branches but with a point in the right direction from the Warden we soon got our eye in. Weird, wonderful and well worth it.

Whilst I'm on W alliterations, a Wondrous Wintering Waxwing in Wigan was next on the agenda. This one kept us waiting but when it finally put in an appearance it gave us a cracking show.

So all said and done, a superb day's birding in the North West. Left home grinning like a Cheshire Cat and came home Laughing like a Cheshire Gull.

Monday, 9 February 2015


An after work trip to Ledburn this evening. My mission to get a creative, artistic shot of the Great Grey Shrike. The sunset was illuminating it's breast with a fiery glow as it perched on a wire. I figured that if I could get an angle where a power cable appeared to be running through it's eyes it would give an impression that this glow was electrically charged.

Alright! okay! I'm talking crap. Its just a really rubbish photo. The best in fact only view I got before it disappeared into the distance and the light abandoned me.

Sunday, 8 February 2015

Bramblings Scuppered by Ramblings

Stayed in native Hertfordshire today with an afternoon foray to Fox Covert in Therfield with Sharpy. We soon found our quarry in the form of a flock of 15+ Brambling. Unfortunately it was a lovely sunny Sunday afternoon meaning that every time we located the flock they were promptly flushed by the many ramblers and their many noisy kids and dogs. Now as much as I applaud parents who get their children away from the X-box to enjoy the countryside, there needs to be some sort of legislation stating that they can't do this anywhere/anytime that I'm out birding. Selfish? Me? I don't know what you mean.

On the way back we briefly stopped off at the Green Gate at Deadmans Hill.
No birds of any real note here, but a small group of Fallow Deer were nice to see.


3 Hour drive to Devon to see Penduline Tits & didn't.

Met up with Sharpy at 06.00 yesterday morning and set off down the M4 for Darts Farm, Devon. We'd both only seen 1 Penduline before so were looking forward to the great views and photos that people had been getting of the popular trio on this site.

On arrival we soon found the small patch of Reed Mace the birds come to feed on, which fueled our enthusiasm for just how good the views were going to be, just as soon as the birds got peckish. An attention seeking Chiffy repeatedly tried to fool us with his best Penduline impressions as we waited.

3 hours later and colder than the coldest man on Planet Cold, we decided we needed to bank something from the trip, and we weren't far from Cirl Bunting country so that was the obvious plan. As we were about to leave site a veritable explosion of Lapwings, Black Tailed Godwits and Starlings off the deck signaled the arrival of a Peregrine followed by a pair of Ravens drifting over,scrapping and cronking in a display that passes for romance in Raven World. Something to warm the cockles at last.

We settled on Broadsands for Cirl Buntings and were immediately rewarded with a fine male sitting up nicely on the hedge around the overflow car park. This was about as good as it got as we could just make out the bulk of the resident population sheltering from the bitter wind in a hedgerow across the field.

We'd been told by local birders that the bay at Broadsands was good for Grebes ie Black Necked and Slavs so next up was a sea-watch. A brief and unfruitful sea-watch as it turned out as the bay looked like a small Tsunami was striking. In a light bulb moment we figured that any self-respecting  seabird in the area would be taking refuge in Brixham Harbour just up the road. And guess what! They weren't. A handful of Shag was scant reward. More out of hope than expectation we agreed to go for anther stab at the day's target birds, the Pendulines. As I was loading my optics into the van, I got a shout from Sharpy. "Where are you? I've got a Glauc in my scope." I quickly got on his scope to nail the year tick before we moved to a closer, more elevated position up the hill to enjoy better views. Nice one Sharpy

We did return to Darts Farm for the last hour of daylight in the vain hope of Penduline Tits but alas, not to be. The birds weren't seen all day.

So, target birds dipped but as always the trip was worth the effort. Cirl Bunting, Glaucous Gull and just a day out birding in the fresh (very fresh) air.

Monday, 2 February 2015

Here goes then!!!

My son's been telling me for years that technology is leaving me behind and I'm losing touch with the world. So having recently embraced Twitter, here I go striding boldly into the 21st Century with my very own blog.

As usual I got out birding this weekend with birding pal Sharpy. We met up at Maple Cross at 07.30 Saturday morning with snow steadily falling around us and both questioned why we hadn't stayed in bed. Agreeing that it was foolhardy to even think about birding in these conditions we duly set off for Bray Gravel Pits to look for a Drake Ring-necked Duck. I was feeling quite cocky as I had seen this bird a couple of days earlier and assured Sharpy I could get him straight on it. WRONG. After scouring the lake for the best part of 2 hours I had to concede that my confidence was misplaced.
Pic below from the the week before.

As we were cursing our luck re the duck, news came through that there were 2 Serins at Gunners Park in Shoeburyness. Time was still on our side and this was a no-brainer as Serin was a much wanted lifer for both of us. We were soon on the M25 heading for Essex. We arrived to be told that the birds hadn't been seen for nearly 2 hours but our luck had changed and within 15 mins we were salivating over cracking views of these stunning little finches.

We spent the next half hour or so enjoying these beauties as they fed around the car park area before they disappeared over the local houses.

As we headed for home feeling very well rewarded for braving the weather, we stopped briefly on Southend seafront where we were entertained by the comical antics of a small flock of Sanderling 

......and a fine looking Med Gull.