Friday, 29 March 2013

Waxwings at Mayesbrook Park

A good bright sunny morning, so I took our dog to Mayesbrook Park in the hope that yesterdays drake Goosander may still be there, It wasn't, but I was lucky enough to find 10 Waxwings in the tops of the tall trees which run along the boundary with the railway line. Even with the camera on it's maximum 42x zoom they were still only record shots of a good local sighting.

With some cropping the two birds become a little more obvious.

And with further cropping the upper bird stands out.

Thursday, 28 March 2013

Blast From The Past - 1990 Alpine Accentor

A magical few days during late May - early June 1990 had birders scrambling from one end of the country to the other, plus a visit to Lundy Island inbetween.

On the 27th May three megas were found; an Alpine Accentor on the Isle of Wight, White-throated Robin on Skokholm and an Ancient Murrelet on Lundy. These were a first for the Western Palearctic, a second for Britain and a blocker for the previous twelve years and not in that order. All of this and there was still, a Pallas's Sandgrouse on Shetland, and another first for the Western Palearctic still to arrive on June 6; a Tree Swallow on Scillies!

We were actually on the ferry across to the Isle of Wight when news broke of the Ancient Murrelet on Lundy. Yes, we all had the headless chicken syndrome for a while, but it eventually dawned on us that no matter what, we couldn't make Lundy today. The ferry across to IOW was busy, there was a major pilgrimage across the Solent taking place, this was the first British record for twelve years! 

This cracking little cousin of the Dunnock stayed until June 6, and was much admired by many visitors. A confiding bird that was also well photographed.

Wednesday, 27 March 2013

Hoorah! The sun is out, I took opportunity of this rare occurrence to walk the dog along Canvey seafront. We walked from the coastguards lookout/cafe to the point. Yesterday 20+ Little Gulls had been present off the point, but no sign this morning. I counted seven Mediterranean Gulls during the walk.
Mediterranean Gull
We were two hours away from high tide, and there were numerous flocks of waders moving west as their feeding areas disappeared beneath the surf. Flocks included Redshank, Curlew, Turnstone, Dunlin and Grey Plover.


As well as the waders there were groups of Brent Geese also moving west. The Black-headed Gull below was feeding close to the seawall.

Black-headed Gull

Black-headed Gull

Monday, 25 March 2013

Third Time Lucky, And The Glauc Is Bagged!

At the third attempt I managed to connect with the adult Glaucous Gull at West Canvey Marsh. It showed very well from the roadside hide but not quite close enough for decent images of an absolute stonking bird.
adult Glaucous Gull

adult Glaucous Gull

adult Glaucous Gull
adult Glaucous Gull
adult Glaucous Gull

adult Glaucous Gull

A couple of Black-tailed Godwits one of which is moulting into it's summer finery.
Black-tailed Godwits

Mediterranean Gulls

Sunday, 24 March 2013

A cold day in south Essex

This morning I was back at West Canvey Marsh, hoping that yesterdays adult Glaucous Gull might reappear, it didn't! I got quite excited for one brief moment when I thought I had found it, but alas it was the leucistic Herring Gull which as been seen recently on Pitsea landfill site. Rubbish cropped image below!

Leucistic Herring Gull

The Grey Heron below showed a little better. Also seen was an adult male Marsh Harrier hunting the ditches in the back fields and causing the 500 odd wigeon to panic.

 The afternoon I walked around part of Bowers Marsh in a mind numbingly cold easterly, hoping that maybe the Glaucous Gull maybe over there, it wasn't! A male Wheatear was a nice find as was a female Goldeneye and 20 Golden Plover. Counted around 50 Snipe and slightly fewer Meadow Pipits both good counts locally.

Saturday, 23 March 2013

Dippy Dip Dip

This afternoon I dashed across to West Canvey Marsh, for the superbly found adult Glaucous Gull. The white winger was showing well opposite the road hide. Note I said 'was', it had cleared off by the time I got there. Still I sat for two plus hours in a biting north-easterly and most of the time a snow blizzard, such joy! You can see a couple of images of the Glaucous Gull HERE

This Little Egret stopped briefly in front of the hide and warmed me slightly.
Little Egret

Thursday, 21 March 2013

Risborough revisited

It was good to see the female Blackcap was still present and feeding on the fat balls and even better to see she has now been joined by a male.
male Blackcap
The Red Kites as always were ever present with a maximum 14 seen at any one time. Still haven't mastered getting the flight shots sharp!

Blackbirds were collecting nesting material, well she was, mister Blackbird was having to chase off two other males!

Collared Dove and Wood Pigeon were regular visitors to the feeders.

Friday, 15 March 2013

Wat Tyler Country Park

Spent most of today in the park, of which just over two hours was spent looking over RSPB Vange Wick from a vantage point near Wat Tyler marina. Unfortunately, I was unable to find the first-winter Glaucous Gull which had been seen recently. The wind was strong and blowing straight at me, which made viewing difficult, at least that is my excuse for not being able to pick it out from the hundreds of gulls present!

Decamped to the scrape hide to warm up with a flask of coffee and within five minutes the Bittern flew across in front of the hide and landed in the reeds just left of center  Five minutes later it flew again across the Veolia access road to the reedbed beyond. Last year I spent six hours sat in the hide before seeing the Bittern in flight, this time I never even had time to get my camera out!

The Little Grebe below, ventured into the cleared area of reeds in front of the hide, but I could not get it clear of reed stems.
Little Grebe

Little Grebe
I had a great day, catching up with some of the RSPB's South Essex team while drinking coffee and eating doughnuts!

Also managed brief views of a male Bullfinch, a species which has become difficult to find, a Ruff and 14 returning Avocets on the scrape.

Thursday, 14 March 2013

Bumbarrels – My Favourite

Yes, you read correctly.

‘Bumbarrel’ is an old name for my favourite bird. The reason they’re called bumbarrel, is for the shape of their nest. It’s almost spherical, with a little hole at the front, and made from a special weave of moss, lichen, spiders’ webs and feathers.
I had a magical hour at RSPB Dungeness in Kent. Early March 2009, it was mid morning, I was on one of my favourite nature reserves, there was hardly another soul about….it was bliss.

It was so peaceful, I could hear a distant fox bark, a chaffinch was calling ‘pink pink’ close-by. Then even closer I heard the distinctive, quiet buzzing call of a long-tailed tit. Being early March, most of the trees and shrubs were in bud and I had wonderfully clear views as it flitted about the bushes beside the path. The views were so good, that I soon realised it wasn’t seeking food, but gathering nesting material, and there were two of them, a pair!

One, not sure if it was the male or female as both sexes look alike, was carrying a small white feather. I stood and watched them for about 10 minutes, as they continually disappeared away from view, although not too far away as I could still hear them, before returning with more nesting material. Each time they returned to the same spot, I moved my viewing position slightly, I did this slowly and quietly as they were just feet away from me, and then I saw it, a half-completed nest. It blended in beautifully, and although it was right beside the path in clear view, you could easily have walked past without seeing it. Another couple of weeks time it would disappear from view completely as the gorse bush greened and blossomed.

I had my camera in my bag, I was concerned that I was so close, that any movements I made could alarm them. So, I went into stealth mode, well not really, each time they flitted off in search of material, I would use their approximately three minute absence to get my camera ready, it took them to go off searching about three times before I was ready. I’m not a wildlife photogrpher, more an opportunist happy snapper, so in my bag, the camera was buried beneath my sandwiches, flask, notebook, anyway now I’m ready.

Now this next bit, may sound terrible, but anyone that knows me, will know I enthusiastically enjoy sharing wildlife with other people, infact it was part of my job to do that. So there I was ready and waiting for them to return, camera in hand, when I saw in the distance, someone walking the path towards me. I moved away, extricated my flask from my bag and poured a coffee. As they approached I smiled and said ‘hello’, their response was standard ‘morning, much about?’ I answered ‘there was a firecrest earlier, in bushes behind the main hide’. I wasn’t lying, as I had met two birders earlier who were looking for it, I spent 10 minutes with them looking, but it was like looking for the proverbial needle in a haystack, so I wished them well and moved on. He said ‘ thanks very much’ and shot off. I finished my coffee and moved slowly back in to position.

They were still building, and would often after adding material, sit in the nest, wriggle about, shaping it for a perfect fit. As well as feathers, moss and lichen, they used a lot of spider’s web. It most be frustrating to the local spider population, who had probably been up all night, spinning their intricate web, only for the bumbarrels to collect it. Silk is an absolute key element in their nestbuilding. It doesn’t just help to bind the structure together and make it weather proof, it gives the whole structure flexibility. Long-tailed tits, will often lay ten or more eggs, and that flexibility allows the nest to expand as the chicks grow, an amazing feat of engineering and one of the reasons that they are my favourite bird. Plus the fact that they look like delicate pink fluffballs on a stick.

This magical moment happened just over four years ago, but it still seems as though it was yesterday. My only regret, is that I never made more of an effort to return a few weeks later to see how they got on. I like to think they completed that nest, it disappeared from view as the gorse grew and they raised a healthy family. Nature really is amazing!

Tuesday, 12 March 2013

RSPB Rainham Marshes

Spent a few hours at Rainham Marshes today, bitterly cold northerly wind but I did manage 52 species. Highlights included a pair of Bullfinches and the ice had pushed a few Wigeon and Pintail close to the hide.
drake Wigeon
drake Pintail
Pintail pair