Tuesday, 29 January 2013

Blast From The Past - 1989 Common Nighthawk

Common Nighthawk on Tresco, Isles Of Scilly - September 1989
Four of us hired a car and drove down overnight to Penzance, where we managed to get on the first chopper flight across to St Mary's. On arriving at the quay we found that the first scheduled boat across to Tresco wasn't for another hour and a half. Bob, one of my fellow birders had the gift of the gab, and managed for a small fee to blag us a lift on the mail boat which was about to leave for Tresco. The next seven hours seemed like a lifetime, as we along with around six other birders searched for the nighthawk. To be honest we had pretty much resigned ourselves to dipping, when our CB Radio crackled into life. The bird had been found hurrah! Infact it had almost been trodden on, so confident was it of it's camoflauge in the heather. The next hour was absolutely magical, we had crippling views of this rare vagrant from across the Atlantic. At one point it even flew around briefly before settling back down close-by. We drank a few pints of Tinners that night to celebrate and travelled back home the following day. Just over a week later I was back on Scillies for my annual two-week holiday and the photos published here went down a storm in the Porthcressa.

I had a mini claim to fame, as it was believed that I had, up to that point, taken the first photographs of a Common Nighthawk in flight on this side of the Atlantic Ocean and they were published in BB, see below. Some years later I learnt that the late David Hunt (Scilly Birdman) had taken flight shots of a previous Scillies record, oh well, at least I was in good company!

Extract below taken from British Birds magazine.
Scilly, Tresco, juvenile, 16th-22nd September (A. Vittery, W.H. Wagstaff et al.) (Brit. Birds 83: plates 257, 258 &268).

The second record for Tresco, and just one day earlier than the first there (in 1927!). There are still only four records for mainland Britain and Ireland.

A Days Birding in South-East Essex

After being laid low for a week with a flu type virus, it was great to feel well enough to get back out in the field, and what a challenging day I had planned!

Not an early start as I dropped my youngest off at college first, 10am what sort of a time is that to start working, students never had it so good, lol.

I arrived at Shoebury East Beach at around 11am, and I was hoping for a Shag, excuse the pun! One had had been seen regularly during the last week feeding and sat on the boon, could I find it, could I hell. The tide was coming in quickly and already waders were forming a high tide roost on the MOD side of the fence, Sanderlings, Turnstones, Dunlins, Redshank, Oystercatchers and Ringed Plovers all showed well. Some of the Sanderlings came close enough to photograph.

Next I travelled the short distance to Friars Park in the hope of connecting with the Mandarin Ducks, which have been present here for a while. First impressions of the park, were, hang on to your wallet, to say it looked rough was an under statement, and this is from someone who lives in Barking & Dagenham. There were a couple of likely lads with a dog that wouldn't look out of place in Oliver!, Bullseye, you know what I mean, but they didn't bother me, thankfully. For an hour I scrutinized, just about every piece of the well vegetated Islands, loads of Mallards and a vocal Great Spotted Woodpecker, but no sign of any Mandarins, another Dip! I headed back to my car, when on the lake nearest to Exeter Close, where I had parked, I spotted three drakes in open water. They realised I had stopped to grab some photos and soon headed back to the island and disappeared. I have not as yet ever visited Connaught Water, a strong-hold for Mandarin in Essex, so these were the first I have seen in the county!

I left Friars Park and headed to Paglesham Lagoon. I said I had set a challenging day. I parked in Stambridge Road, from here it is about a forty minute walk past Hampton Barns to the lagoon. Good to see the herd of thirty or so Mute Swans were still feeding in the field near the barns, still no wild swans in with them. After walking around the lagoon and on to the seawall, the tide was well in and only a few Redshank and Curlews could be seen. I headed to the east side of the lagoon and positioned my self below the bank out of the wind, where I had a clear view of the small wood. Egrets use this wood to roost in overnight and a Great White Egret has been seen flying in just before dusk to join the roost of Little Egrets. I was watching from 3.30pm, well before dusk, I know it has been a dull overcast afternoon that has continually threatened to rain, but already I could see there was an egret in the roost, frustratingly I could not see enough of it to tell if it was little or great! A second bird flew up briefly, I guess to change position, this was a little, so already there were at least two birds in the roost, was I too late!

I'd been watching for 15 minutes, during which no birds came in, I poured a coffee from my flask and bugger me an egret flew across the ploughed field heading to the roost. I dropped the coffee and got on the bird it was a little. It was another 10 minutes before two more little egrets arrived together and then at 4.22pm I picked up two egrets coming in over the seawall. The size difference was obvious it was the great white with a little and like the others that entered the roost, they dropped straight out of sight. I stayed a little longer and enjoyed a cup of coffee, it was getting very gloomy now and I packed my stuff together and moved to the top of the bank to leave. I was well sheltered, the wind had become quite strong and it took me an hour to get back to the car as I battled against it!

Monday, 21 January 2013

Ingrebourne Hill

Ingrebourne Hill - This former gravel extraction site has been landfilled and landscaped and managed by The Forestry Commision. Its main feature is the hill that gives it its name, from the top of which there are good views across London and the Thames to the South Downs and where a mountain bike course has been constructed.

Pretty quite bird wise, the unfrozen part of  the small lake held mainly Coots with a few Moorhen and 1 Little Grebe. Thrushes were the commonest birds across the hill with Fieldfares being in the majority. They were continually moving and getting close to one perched was almost impossible, managed to fire off one shot which is below.

Sunday, 20 January 2013

A snowy dog walk at Mayesbrook Park

Both Coco and Chloe enjoyed the snowy conditions at Mayesbrook Park this morning.

Wednesday, 16 January 2013

Abberton Reservoir

Spent the day with Clive & David at Abberton Reservoir. Freezing fog while driving there cleared to a fine sunny day on arrival. Stopped first at Layer Breton causeway. Soon found Egyptian Goose, of eight birds found one was very obliging.

There were a number of Goldeneyes visible from the causeway including a few fine drakes.

Eventually we managed to find four Smew, three cracking males and a redhead, they stayed together and the glorious sunshine had the drakes feeling amorous, courting the female and throwing their head back in display. 

One or two Lapwings were feeding at the waters edge, while a Grey Heron posed at the edge of the small reedbed.

The Essex Wildlife Trust's new visitor centre is excellent and I can highly recommend the homemade cake & coffee! Walking around the reserve today, the trails were frozen and in places very icy. Between the Roy King and Tony Soper hides a few Golden Plover could be picked out in flight amongst the Lapwing flock, but disppeared on the ground in the vegetation. Lots of Meadow Pipits and a few Chaffinches feeding in front of the hides. We also saw a pair of Stonechats and a female Marsh Harrier flew across the reservoir.

We finished an excellent day back on the causeway, where a Buzzard was perched in a nearby tree and seven Snipe circled once overhead. A day that produced 50+ species of which seven were new birds for my Essex year list which now stands at 103.

Monday, 14 January 2013

Stone Barges, Rainham

Took Coco for a walk along the river this morning, starting and finishing at the stone barges, Rainham. One of the first birds I saw, well I actually heard it first was a Grey Wagtail. It flew over and landed out of sight in Tilda Rice's compound. A year-tick and my 92nd species seen in Essex this year. The next was three Skylarks on the newly capped grassy area of the adjacent landfill site. My third and final one here was Water Pipit. A well marked bird feeding with pied wagtails in front of the stone barges.

Feeding time as another lorry load of landfill arrives, there must be a Caspian in there somewhere!

Just to prove I was walking the dog, here is Coco.

A view looking west, taken just before the end of our walk, it had become very grey and was about to start snowing.

Arrived back home, had a cup of tea and then got a tweet saying there was a Firecrest and Siskins at Dagenham Chase. They were seen on the Havering side of The Rom Valley, near the steps from the kissing gate entrance on Bancroft Chase road. After an hour and a half of searching, first in heavy snowfall and finally in pouring rain I found the Firecrest, a cracking little male and 95th for my Essex Year list.

Sunday, 13 January 2013

Southend Pier

Spent the day on the pier, high tide was 13.30 today. Arrived at the pier end around 11 am, good numbers of Guillemots present, some feeding very close to the pier.

There were also a few Kittiwakes both adults and first-winters.

Also good numbers of Mediterranean Gulls

Also, a few seals feeding close to the pier

And plenty of these actually on the pier.

Quite a good number of visitors walked the pier.

I caught the train!

A Throstle Tunes Up!

I suffer from the winter blues from time to time, but yesterday I again heard a sound that showed that spring is not too far away.

I love seeing our winter wildlife - particularly those birds that come here as refugees from the northern winter - and am a big fan of frosty mornings, but winter just doesn’t seem to be winter anymore. Gloomy skies, strong winds and wet weather seem to be the norm and crisp, cold days with snow and frost a rarity. Although, keep your whooly hat and gloves handy, as they are predicting a cold snap this week!

I first heard my promise of spring last week at Gunners Park and yesterday I heard it again while I was walking past our local park. It certainly lifted my spirits and put a spring in my step for the rest of the day.

I wasn’t sure at first if my ears were deceiving me and it wasn’t the finest performance I’ve ever heard by any means, but there was no mistaking the unmistakable piping notes of a Song Thrush warming up its vocal chords.

I stopped to listen for a while, enjoying an ever increasing variety in the song as it tried out different phrases, finished 'tuning up' and picked up the tempo.  It's encouraging to know that spring is on it's way, but it gives me far more hope for the wonderful song thrush. As a kid growing up, I can clearly remember song thrushes in our garden. Not one occasionally, but, two or three daily, and at the end of our garden was an anvil; a largish rock that the thrushes used to break open the shells of snails. To see them doing this wasn't a unique expereince but a regular occurence. I do hope these local songsters, stay and become local breeders!

Song Thrush, Cambridge, 2nd April 2011 © Graham Eliff

Monday, 7 January 2013

Barking Bay

Yesterday morning I spent a couple of hours walking our dog around the bay. It was a grey day, and the early morning fog never really disappeared. I add two species to my Essex year-list, Linnet two 60+ flocks and a Cetti's Warbler around the eastern most reedbed.

The tide was well out, and the shelduck images below show how far away the birds can be at low tide. I stood in the same position and gradually zoomed out.

Four Shelduck
A little further away
Can still see them, just!
Can you see them now?

Saturday, 5 January 2013

A Day Birding In South East Essex

Yesterday I started at Gunners Park, Shoeburyness at 9 am and soon found both the Long-tailed Duck and Common Scoter on the lagoon. Some cracking images by local birder Steve can be found HERE. The tide was a long way out, but a family group of Dark-bellied Brent Geese were close-by, two adults with four juveniles. A good selection of waders could be seen, all distant though. At least three Song Thrushes were already testing their vocal cords, which was good to hear. The park is diminishing as new housing developments continue at pace, and you know I enjoy walking my little dog Coco. Well here is like dog walking mecca, way too many really, and after the third different dog coming over to check me out and trying to leave it's muddy paw prints on my coat, I decided enough was enough and moved on to Paglesham Lagoon.

I parked in the lay-by on Stamford Road and walked down past Hampton Barns. I followed the track to the seawall and walked the seawall along the River Roach to Paglesham Lagoon. Lots of waders were seen along the Roach including two Bar-tailed Godwits on the near shoreline, while out in mid channel were four Red-breasted Mergansers. Two male Yellowhammers along with a female Reed Bunting showed well on top of the scrub. On the lagoon were 20+ Goldeneye including some fine males, and 11 Pintail, the drakes looking superb as the sun eventually appeared. A large mixed group 200+ of Pochard and Tufted Duck, I went through this group four or five times before eventually finding the first-winter drake Scaup, which has been present since the turn of the year and probably longer. With the lagoon being quite remote, I hadn't expected to meet anyone. But, I walked and chatted a while with a chap, who told me he would be fifty on his next birthday which coincidently is the day after mine. Each year he records the bird species he sees on his walks and I was only too pleased to help him add to his list. There was also one dog walker with well behaved dogs and bizzarely a team of huskies pulling a sled. Chatting to the guy on the sled (this is his business, he provides sled rides), he said that today was 10 degrees C and is almost on the limit for his huskies any warmer and he can't run them, random I know, but interesting. This was my first visit here and by the end of it, I know why, I was knackered, not sure how far I had walked but it was quite a yomp!

Finished the day at Wallasea Wetlands. After all the walking at Paglesham, decided to sit on the seawall near the car park, and although it was now past 3 pm, eat my sandwiches and fruit cake all washed down with frothy coffee and wait for the show, lovely. Corn Buntings, damn near tripping over them here, fantastic to see the cover crop working so well. It was also really good to have a chat with Chris Tyas, not seen him for quite sometime. A Short-eared Owl was hunting the hibernaculum field and showed extremely well, as dusk started a second Short-eared appeared, along with a Kestrel. I could see a few birders in the distance at the white gate. They had a male and a rintail Hen Harrier, which I managed to miss. But, I finished the day with a Barn Owl hunting the field right beside the car park. A fantastic end to a fantastic day.

Wednesday, 2 January 2013

Stone Barges, Rainham

Quick visit to the stone barges at Rainham. I had hopped to add both Rock and Water Pipit, didn't find either, but Yellow Legged Gull and a Ruff were a nice compensation.

There are a number of abandoned concrete barges near the Tilda rice premises. The barges played their part in history. They originally formed part of the mulberry harbours built to support the DD landings at Normandy in 1944. In 1953 they were used to shore up river defences following the great floods of 1953. Now they provide excellent nesting and roosting sites for birds. Access to the riverside car park is off Coldharbour Lane.

Tuesday, 1 January 2013

New Year's Day

Went over to Costcos at Lakeside Shopping Centre, no, not for shopping, but hoping to see Waxwings. There was a flock of 50+, possibly around 70, no chance for any photos while I was there as the whole flock was pretty flighty. View local birder Shaun's excellent images HERE

Then, spent a couple of hours at Belhus Country Park, it was quite muddy, not surprising considering the amount of rainfall we have had recently. Today was bright, sunny & dry and the park was heaving with walkers, dog walkers and families making the most of the fine weather. Managed to see 42 bird species today.