Dawn Marsh Harrier

Dawn Marsh Harrier

Sunday, 26 April 2015

Grouse Misconduct & Godwit Gallivant.

Sat 25th April - 01.30am, alarm goes off. 02.00am emerge from pit. 02.50am arrive at Sharpy's. 03.00am pick Dave up in Bedmond and head for the M1. The plan being to arrive at Worlds End in North Wales soon after day break to witness the spectacle of lekking Black Grouse. We arrived at the track that would lead us to the moor in good time and decided to pull over and get our optics out of the boot, so if the Black Grouse were lekking anywhere close to the track, we could view from the car without disturbing them. A small stream was trickling past where we stopped so more out of hope than expectation we checked for Dipper and immediately found one feeding directly in front of us. Good start. As we drove up through the woods we had windows open to listen for singing migrants. A call of "Pied Flycatcher" from Dave had Sharpy hitting the brakes. The bird continued to sing but seemed to be out of view behind a Farm House. It was important to get to the moor before the Black Grouse's early morning testosterone fueled cabaret was over, then we'd be free to bird the area at a leisurely pace, so we pressed on. As we rounded a sharp bend close to the moor, Dave's owl-like hearing picked out another Pied Fly amidst the dawn chorus. This one was closer but still not immediately obvious to the eye so another one to check out later. Suddenly the woodland ended abruptly and the moor opened up in front of us. A few hundred yards in and there they were. 29 male Black Grouse, tails fanned and wattles blood red in the early morning light as they posed and postured like models on the catwalk.

Sporadic outbreaks of violence seemed to be more bluster than menace with no actual wounds to lick.

Then, as if a referee had blown the final whistle, hostilities and performances ceased and they all flew off together.

Isn't nature brilliant!!!

 A wander further up the moor brought a pair of Whinchat, a reeling Grasshopper Warbler (heard only) a couple of Wheatear and a pair of Red Grouse.

Back in the car and looking for a spot for a 3 point turn to head back for the Pied Flys when the day took an unexpected twist. Dave's pager started 'Mega Alerting' with the news of a Hudsonian Godwit at Ashcott. A debate that lasted several seconds ensued and we were Somerset bound. 3.5 hours later we were soaking up a life tick all round. In amongst a flock of Black Tailed Godwits was a noticeably darker bird blissfully sleeping. Eureka!!!

As the assembly of several hundred birders waited for it to rouse from it's slumber we were kept entertained by the native avian fauna of this outstanding RSPB reserve. 2 common cranes were cruising high overhead.

A Wood Sandpiper and a Greenshank were probing the mud.

Wood Sandpiper


A Great White Egret flew across and a bittern took flight to relocate itself in the reed bed. A male Marsh Harrier was skydancing for his intended and my first hobby of the year drifted over us. 

Eventually the Hudsonian Godwit was bothered into waking by preening Black Tails inadvertently prodding it with their lengthy bills. It reluctantly had a stretch and wandered several meters to a more peaceful spot and duly went straight back to sleep.  I suppose a Trans-Atlantic flight under your own steam is quite a good excuse for being tired.

There was still yet another treat in store as a singing Wood Warbler occasionally revealed itself near the car park.

 I arrived home still buzzing 16 hours and 584 miles later. Hats off to Sharpy for a marathon driving session despite the distraction of an ear infection.

What a memorable day!!!

Monday, 6 April 2015

So, Stockers Power Depleted 2 ....

......You've got to work it out this time.

A thoroughly enjoyable Easter weekend on my local patch in South Herts. Saturday kicked off with my 5th attempt to nail the Lesser Spotted Woodpecker at Stockers. I set up camp opposite the island that hosts it's favoured drumming tree. My first Sand Martin of the year was a nice start and it was soon joined by a few others and eventually a good number. After a good chinwag with Gordon Cox I refocused my attention on the Pecker Tree. A Great Spot flew in, followed by a minor commotion. As I raised my bins a smaller bird rose vertically out of the tree in a Skylark like fashion before dropping back into the treetop. This bird looked promising so I tried to get my bins on it. The Great Spot flew out and away and moments later I got my reward as the Lesser Spot flew out and towards the Lock House. Either it had been there all along or more likely it had sneaked in unnoticed while I was chatting to Gordon. 'Must pay attention' as my school reports invariably said. Anyway, a brief encounter and no photo opportunity but at last I'd broken my duck.

Sharpy joined me a while later and we opted to do a circuit of the lake. We were both stopped dead in our tracks by the melancholy tones of Willow Warbler song. We soon got on the bird hopping happily around in a lakeside bush. This was an unexpected surprise as not only was it an early arriver but not a common bird round here at the best of times. As we continued on our way a swallow flew overhead. 4th year tick of the morning and within walking distance of home. Who needs twitching?

I got a phone call from Geoff Lapworth to let me know that he and Tony Hulls had just had fantastic views of a male Lesser Spotted Woodpecker at the Withey Beds about a mile and half from where we were. The Stockers bird or another one? The latter I hope but we can only speculate at this stage.

At the far end of the lake a pair of Red Crested Pochards seemed to be getting amorous, with the male repeatedly diving and coming up with offerings of decayed pond weed to sweep his partner off her feet. Continuing round, we ran into Geoff L and Tony H viewing from the 'pulpit'. I owe a debt of gratitude to these 2 fine gentlemen, as 5 years ago they found me wandering in a confused, bemused and borderline despondent state around Croxley Common Moor. I had a tiny pair of field glasses and not a clue how to sort a Reed Bunting from a Reed Warbler. They took pity on me and subsequently taught me the ropes. I now wander about only slightly confused, rarely bemused and never despondent. Thanks chaps. From the pulpit they were viewing an ever increasing assembly of Hirundines. What a great time of year as we say bugger off to the winter and welcome in the spring.


Sunday dawned fine and sunny. I had limited time again but the prospect of "fantastic views" of a Lesser Spotted Woodpecker at the Withey Beds was more than I could resist. Sharpy was already in situ and primed for action when I arrived. He pointed out a pair of Treecreepers that had kept him amused, taking nesting materials into a tree hole. I'd brought the luck with me as fairly soon after my arrival our quarry came bouncing through the sky and straight into the tree in front of us. It wasted no time and immediately set about some high speed headbanging.

We must have had about 10 minutes of unadulterated joy before it departed overhead. There was still time for a visit to Woodoaks Farm before I needed to be home so we headed for the gate. We were about to leave when we were distracted by the blood curdling squeals of a Water Rail coming from a pool near the road. Another scarce resident locally. As we had a quick and typically unsuccessful scan for it, Geoff L arrived on the scene and promptly berated us for our appalling parking. Sorry Geoff.

At Woodoaks we were hoping the resident Little Owl might be roosting out in the sunshine. Unfortunately all hopes of this went out the window when we arrived at the same time as a falconer with a Gyr x Saker called Alan. Apparently the thriving pigeon population on the farm are carrying a disease which is affecting the cows milk via the droppings on the grass, so Lee and the beautiful Alan have been drafted in to persuade said pigeons that this farm isn't the best place to live.

It was interesting to chat with Lee and and he kindly let us get up close and personal with the magnificent bird.

An enjoyable encounter but I hope this activity doesn't drive away the very welcome birds on the farm such as the little owl.


An early morning sortie to Croxley Common Moor before the hoards of dog walkers descended upon it. A most pleasant hour spent here. A crisp frost on the ground and the low morning sun giving an eerie ambiance to the mist rolling along the surface of the river. The only sounds being birdsong and the ripple of water. Perfect.  Other highlights here being my first Blackcaps of the year and a Lesser Spotted Lapworth showing well. But a voice in my head was urging me towards the Withey Beds half a mile up the road. I'd had a superb encounter with the Lesser Spotted Woodpecker the previous day but I hadn't had my fill. I wanted to spend some more time with this little gem before the foliage envelops the trees and he stops revealing his presence with his percussion skills. I parked far more sensibly in the layby having learned my lesson yesterday and as I did so Tony Hulls pulled in and parked considerately himself. We flushed a Snipe as we made our way along the boardwalk towards the pecker tree. But yesterdays ability to lure the Lesser Spot from the shadows had deserted me. Tony left me after maybe an hour and still no sign. The Treecreepers were still busy nest building and a Kestrel came to investigate me.

I'd probably been there approaching 2 hours just enjoying the sunshine and the peace and tranquility of this little oasis when my hopes turned to fruition. In a repeat performance to yesterday's, the star of the show flew into the same tree and seemed to follow the same 'set list' drumming it's way round the various dead branches in the same order.

They say small things please small minds so this is 'Small Minded Frosty' signing off til next time.

Friday, 3 April 2015

A Good Friday in Oxon

A sortie into Oxfordshire with Sharpy this morning. The target birds were fowl, which was lucky as the weather was pretty foul itself for the first part of the morning. It gradually improved to slightly miserable as the day progressed. But the rain was water off a ducks back when we arrived at Kiddlington to find an unusually showy drake Garganey on the lake west of Stratfield Brake Sports Ground. It was almost hyperactive as it swam purposefully back and forth, occasionally calling and throwing its head back in Goldeneyeesque fashion. It appeared to be so pumped with testosterone that it was oblivious to our presence, giving the best and closest views I've ever had of this usually skulking species.

There was little else noteworthy on the water apart from a pair of Gadwell and a pair of Teal.

Last weekend's trip to Farmoor for the Red Necked Grebe was a bit underwhelming with the bird being so distant, so it seemed logical to have another bash as we were in the area. Good logic as it turned out as despite the lousy light the bird was merrily scoffing quite close to the bank in the South West corner of F2.

 Interestingly, the main thing it was scoffing was the copious flies and midges on the surface of the water but it was Good Friday after all so fish was always going to be on the menu.

As we neared the car park heading back, I was amused as always by a seasonal outbreak of coot violence.

So the weather was mostly foul and the birds were mostly fowl but a 'Good Friday' it was.