Sunday, 30 December 2012

Back in Notts

Arriving back in Notts mid afternoon, I had just enough time for a quick trip out. I decided to head to Spalford Pit at Girton, which actually appears to be my only option north of Newark at the moment - the amount of water in the floodplain of the Trent is incredible, and there appears to be very little access to most of my sites - certainly the main Girton pit complex is entirely underwater, and Collingham/Mons Pool appears to be also. Spalford Pit (which is now a huge expanse of water) is only accessible by virtue of the fact that it is viewable from the floodbank. Anyway, with a bit of scanning in fading light I picked out the Ferruginous Duck (which had been reported again a couple of days ago) in amongst the Tufties.

Meadow Lane at Girton Pits - North Pit to the right. Definately no access...
Spalford Pit - the road to nowhere

Friday, 28 December 2012

Birding in public

At lunchtime yesterday we celebrated my grandma's 99th birthday by going to a restaurant in Ipswich which overlooks the marina. I spied a bird on the water which looked like a Shag, but it was too far away to confirm without my bins, so I went back there this afternoon. After a false alarm with a Cormorant (and following some surreptitious use of binoculars in a busy public place...), I found the Shag swimming around and feeding near the UK Border Agency cruiser.

Thursday, 27 December 2012

Slavs in the rain

It was pretty foul out this morning, and I could only just manage to make out 4 Slavonian Grebes on the Stour from Lower Holbrook - much further away and they would've been unidentifiable. Pretty wet, I headed to Alton Water, where the Great Northern Diver was off the sailing club, but there was no sign of the Great White Egret on a drive-by at Lemon's Hill Bridge.

I see from the bird news services that back in Notts, the Ferruginous Duck has been seen again on Spalford Pit at Girton (although reported as a drake?) - nice the know that it's still there.

Wednesday, 26 December 2012

Diver duo

Today dawned bright and clear, so I decided to do the walk I did on the 24th, but in reverse, starting at Shotley Marina and walk up the Orwell to the Clamp. It was high tide and I didn't see much to begin with, but upon drawing level with Levington Marina I found a Guillemot, which refused to have its photo taken - it was constantly diving and would move quite large distances underwater making tracking it difficult.

Fortunately I didn't quite exhaust my camera battery (which was running very low...), as a bit further on I came across not one, but two Great Northern Divers. I managed a few hand held shots of the closest with the tiny bit of power I had left before my camera died, and then phone-scoped the two birds in the same shot. I was a bit gutted as the closest bird really was ridiculously close - maybe 40 metres at its nearest, and the light was fantastic! I think might have to order a spare battery as a backup...

One of the two Great Northern Divers on the Orwell
Two Great Northern Divers on the Orwell (phone-scoped)
Finally tearing myself away from the divers, Hares Creek hosted good numbers of roosting waders (until they were disturbed by a windsurfer), including several hundred Curlew, a flock of Avocet, a few Bar-tailed Godwits, and 15 Red-breasted Mergansers, which were joined by hundreds of Knot and Dunlin as the tide fell. In the field behind, a flock of maybe 150 Brents were all Dark-bellied (with only a handful of young birds) - there seem to be far fewer of these around this year than normal.

The walk back across the fields to Chelmondiston from the Clamp was largely uneventful, except for a party of 10 Lesser Redpoll which flew over.

Monday, 24 December 2012

Another good day in Suffolk

This morning I met up with David Walsh, who taught me at school, for a catch up and a quick spin around Alton Water. We began at the dam and quickly had the Great Northern Diver, and then moved on the Lemon's Hill Bridge where the Great White Egret showed extremely well with a few Little Egrets. Finishing off the morning at Larch Wood, we located the 4 redhead Smew and a redhead Goosander.

Great White Egret at Alton Water from Lemon's Hill Bridge
2 (of 4) redhead Smew at Alton Water from Larch Wood
Goosander at Alton Water from Larch Wood
After lunch, I headed out from home down onto the Orwell Estuary, walking from the Clamp downriver towards Shotley. Off the Clamp, a Long-tailed Duck was no doubt yesterday's bird drifting downriver on the falling tide, but more unexpected was my second Great Northern Diver of the day off Levington Marina.

The Orwell looking upriver towards the Clamp
Long-tailed Duck on the Orwell off the Clamp
Great Northern Diver on the Orwell off Levington Marina
Other nice birds included at least 8 Red-breasted Mergansers, several Bar-wits, 2 Med Gulls, a flock of Avocet, and two groups of Dark-bellied Brents on the marshes. Having found 2 Black Brants here in the past I scanned through hopefully for any birds with snowy white flanks, but not today... Beaten by the rapidly fading light I curtailed my walk at Crane's Hill.

Looking towards Felixstowe Docks from Crane's Hill

Sunday, 23 December 2012

Back in Suffolk

I've come back to the family home in Suffolk for the Christmas break. I set off a bit later than planned (not that I was doing any last minute, panic buying of presents or anything), so I only had an hour out birding when I arrived. I headed for Stoke Sailing Club, on the River Orwell, and bagged a quality trio of Long-tailed Duck, Velvet Scoter, and Slavonian Grebe; the latter is a regular winter visitor to this area nowadays, but normally on the Stour, or at Alton Water - I can't remember seeing one on the Orwell before. Unfortunately it was too far away to digiscope, but I got record shots of the other two.

Velvet Scoter on the Orwell
Long-tailed Duck on the Orwell

Saturday, 22 December 2012

A wet morning at Girton

I had a look for tuesday's Fudge Duck this morning on the Spalford Pit at Girton, but couldn't find it. However, water levels were up and most of the duck were huddled round the banks, many obscured from view, so it may well still be present. In any event, I wouldn't have been been able to get any better pictures (which was my aim), as the overcast conditions and heavy rain were not exactly conducive to long-range digiscoping of distant wildfowl...

I couldn't find anything else of note around the rest of Girton Pits, so had a look at the Trent, which was extremely high - just a few inches off overtopping the flood banks. The holmes opposite were already largely underwater, with a big flock of Golden Plover and Lapwing on one of the drier patches.

The Trent at Girton looking west, with the flooded North Holme behind
Nearby, at Collingham the 'Lake' held flotillas of Wigeon, Teal and Tufted Ducks, and amongst them were 3 Pintail (a duck and two drakes). By now I was fairly drenched, so gave up and went home to wrap some Christmas presents instead...

Tuesday, 18 December 2012

Fudge Duck

Feeling bad about missing my WeBS count on sunday because I was off twitching, I decided to head up to Girton Pits and do it this morning (better late than never). Most of my time there passed uneventfully, although there were good numbers of Lapwing and Golden Plover, and a handful of Dunlin, in the sheep fields.

I rounded things off with a look at the Spalford Pit, flushing most of the duck out from the southern edge into the middle of the pit as I arrived - which was accidental, but did make counting them easier. Halfway through, I noticed an interesting duck; fairly small, with a long bill, peaked crown and clean, sharply demarcated white undertail coverts. I finished my count and then fetched my camera, by which time, unfortunately, the bird had swum further away and gone to sleep.

Pretty sure it was a Ferruginous Duck, I called Carl for a second opinion, who arrived a short time later. We spent at least an hour watching the bird, to confirm the ID, getting periodic views of it with its head up and in flight briefly (when it showed a nice white belly patch and white wing bar), before it swam to shore to sleep some more. During this time, I got a some record shots (heavily cropped and awful even by my standards), which hopefully show most of the salient features... but it was quite distant and against the light for most of the time (usual excuses). I'm still not sure if it is a 1st winter or a female, but there was nothing we noted to suggest it was a hybrid. One thing we couldn't see was if it was sporting any bling...

Ferruginous Duck at Girton Pits
Whilst waiting for the Fudge Duck to do something at one point, Carl scanned the flooded field to the north and picked out a Ruff amongst the Lapwing, and a Willow Tit called nearby - this species still hangs on in the Trent Valley.

Sunday, 16 December 2012

Buff belly

Carl contacted me last night, proposing a trip to Berkshire to see the Buff-bellied Pipit. I didn't need too much convincing, so we headed off early, arriving at Queen Mother Reservoir just after 10. Just prior to our arrival, the news was that the bird had flown off east, but as we walked along the south bank it was refound just in front of us.

Over the next hour and a half the bird showed exceptionally well, performing down to just a few feet for a very appreciative audience, as it fed along the edge of the water's edge. It seemed completely unfazed by the constant rattle of camera shutters. I myself took 1026 photos of it; here are a few of the better ones...

Buff-bellied Pipit at Queen Mother Reservoir, Berkshire

What a little stunner! And here's an idea of how close it was...

Buff-bellied Pipit (centre of pic - 1.5 metres away!)
Buff-bellied Pipit (in front of white plastic tub) and crowd

Saturday, 15 December 2012

A glimpse of the future

I had my first visit to Collingham Pits since the floods a few weeks ago, and saw what the Main Pit and Ferry Lane Farm Pit may look like in a few years time once quarrying has been completed; the water levels were incredibly high, with the two pits joined together - and clearly the water had been almost 2 metres higher judging from the tide line around the top of the bank. There were decent numbers of duck on the 'lake' - several hundred each of Wigeon, Teal and Tufted Duck, smaller numbers of Mallard and Gadwall, and 23 Goldeneye, 5 Shoveler, 2 Pintail (male and female) and a redhead Goosander.

Main Pit and Ferry Lane Farm Pit
Elsewhere at Collingham, Wharf Cottage Pit and Triangle Pit were also a single waterbody, with more wildfowl including a drake Pintail. The Silt Lagoon looked like it always does, and held single Redshank and Little Egret. Mons Pool didn't hold much at all, but a Curlew flew over and there was a herd of 45 Mute Swans in one of the fields to the east.

I finish my trip at Girton, first having a look at Smithy Marsh; this was still looking good and was covered birds when I first arrived, including at least 500 Golden Plover and a couple of hundred Lapwing. These were then all flushed off, and initially I couldn't work out why - but then spied not one, but two Peregrines sat in the field. As they were clearly preventing anything coming back again, I had a quick look at the Sailing Lake (in advance of doing my WeBS count there tomorrow), and picked out a Pink-footed Goose from amongst the Greylags and Canadas.

Peregrine on Smithy Marsh
Pink-footed Goose (with Greylags and Canadas) at Girton Pits

Thursday, 13 December 2012

Bearded Twits

The Bearded Twits - myself, Carl Cornish, Jason Reece and Sandra Denham - were the winning team in last night's Notts Birdwatchers Christmas quiz, fighting off opposition that included a team from Leicester who came second. With just half a point between us by the penultimate round, our score of 86 out of 100 in the ID round finally saw us finish ten points clear. It was very satisfying to reclaim the trophy after a two year gap...

After getting home late, I had a late start this morning, which got me 2 Waxwings flying over my garden whilst I was feeding my chickens - nice!

Sunday, 9 December 2012

Floods of birds

I wasted yesterday morning at Cotham Landfill - there were exactly zero gulls on the landfill itself, and I realised there weren't going to be when the bulldozer started receiveing a power-wash. This site always used to receive waste on a saturday morning, but it appears perhaps it doesn't anymore - I need a weekday visit...

Today was a bit more productive; nothing unusual in terms of species, but there were some big flocks of birds around Girton Pits, taking advantage of the standing water left from the floods (still extensive in places); Smithy Marsh, one of the holmes just south of Girton Pits, looked absolutely superb (almost like a piece of East Anglian coastal grazing marsh), with shallow pools and around 800 Golden Plover, with c.3-400 Lapwing and at least 30 Dunlin amongst them, plus a very fine Peregrine on the deck. And everywhere I looked there seemed to be parties of Lapwing, Goldies or ducks in flight. All that was missing from the scene were some wild geese/swans!

Smithy Marsh
At the other end of the site, there were several hundred more Golden Plover and Lapwing on the sheep fields around some more standing water, whilst on the Pits themselves, the Sailing Lake held most of the action. Water levels were very high, and there was a huge raft of wildfowl, probably numbering around 1500 birds; I counted 600 Wigeon but was saved the job of counting the Teal when the whole lot took flight (in response to a boat setting sail), but there were probably a similar number of these too, plus a single drake Pintail, decent numbers of Tufties and a few Pochard and Goldeneye. On the east side of the lake, "The Breach" had lived up to its name as it has been completely broken through by the flood waters, making the track impassable.

The sheep fields
The Sailing Lake with wildfowl in flight
The aptly named "Breach"
I wish I'd had a bit more time to spend out, but I didn't; I heard from John Ellis in the afternoon that he'd had a small party of grounded Pink-footed Geese on floods at Meering/Besthorpe NWT North, and some big numbers of Wigeon and Teal, plus 9 Pintail, on the Main Pit at Collingham - where water levels sound very high!

Wednesday, 5 December 2012

Hawfinch at Rufford

With some time to kill before a meeting today at Rufford Abbey Country Park, I wondered down from the Mill end through the Wilderness, seeing a few bits and pieces,including Marsh Tit, Nuthatch and Treecreeper. Upon reaching the lime tree avenue next to the main car park, the first bird I looked at was... a Hawfinch! There was possibly also a second bird present. Very nice, and the first I'm aware of that has been seen at the site this winter. 

Unfortunately I didn't have time to look for Lesser Spotted Woodpeckers, but my walk back to the Mill produced a Kingfisher on the lake, plus 8 Goosander (with 14 when I had another look later on), with several Siskin and Lesser Redpolls buzzing around in the alders. I'm always impressed with what a productive site this is in the winter, even if you only have a short time to spend there.

Sunday, 2 December 2012

Scrub bashing

Most of today was spent doing some scrub clearance at a site near Kilvington Lakes called Flawborough Footpath, to benefit the population of Grizzled Skippers that is present there. The day had been organised by Notts Biodversity Action Group, and although we could've done with a few more volunteers it was a great to be out and it's always satisfying to look back and see how much has been cleared - but I'm going to feel it tomorrow. Not much birdwise though - flyover Snipe and Grey Wagtail were the highlights, plus lots of Fieldfares.

Scrub clearance at Flawborough Footpath
 By the time we'd finish there wasn't much light left, so I decided to have a quick look at Hawton Works Grassland. Another Snipe was the only bird of note, and there was no sign of any Short-eared Owls. I did, however, see the large ploughed area that Carl told me about last weekend - this area, which was previously rough grassland, has had green waste tipped on it and looks awful, littered with plastic and lumps of wood and concrete  No doubt it will regenerate into nothing more than nettles and brambles.

What used to be part of Hawton Works Grassland
The same area in January
Not far away, I then had a look in the hedge where the Long-eared Owls roosted last winter, and came across five, which was very pleasing (and the most I've seen here). A nice way to round of the weekend.

Saturday, 1 December 2012

Gulls come good

I'd been looking forward to my trip out this morning to look for gulls at Cotham Landfill, and I'd lined up access with a local farmer (who I play hockey with) to the fields to the east of the landfill site where the gulls have been loafing recently. However, they weren't there when I arrived - typical! One group was sat in the field immediately east of the landfill next to the road, but it's impossible to stop here safely, and access on foot would have disturbed them. There were some more in a field to the south, but they were largely obscured. Not a good start.

Viewing the landfill from the Sustrans cyclepath with runs past the site initially didn't look much more promising - there simply weren't many gulls. Fortunately, a bulldozer fired up for 10 minutes and spread some rubbish around, which suddenly brought the gulls in. Although for much of the time the majority were out of site behind a ridge (and there weren't huge numbers), they eventually co-operated and I was able to pick out a juvenile Glaucous Gull which suddenly made my efforts worthwhile. I'd left my digiscoping adaptor in the car, so the pictures I took were handheld and are particularly bad, but you get the idea...

Juvenile Glaucous Gull at Cotham Landfill
I couldn't find anything else unusual amongst the Herring and Great Black-backed Gulls, not even a Yellow-leg, but did have a single Waxwing land in the hedge next to me briefly (before it flew off north) and there were 7 Siskin and 3 Lesser Redpoll in the alders on the restored landfill to the west, plus lots of Redwing and Fieldfare in the area.