Saturday, 18 February 2017

The Brecks - 13 February 2017

Monday 13 February 2017.

After an early awakening at 04:30, we arrived at RSPB Lakenheath Fen just before 07:30. 7 Roe Deer were immediately on show from the entrance track, with another 3 frolicking in the woods near the start of the reserve trail.

We made our way to Joist Fen viewpoint in the hope of seeing some Cranes. A Great White Egret dropped in, and after a while 2 Crane put in an appearance, followed by another 3. They put on a superb aerial display when another 4 took to the air, with a total of 9 Cranes on show at the same time - spectacular!

Another Great White dropped in, shortly before the aforementioned bird took to the air again and headed across the river. A male Kingfisher also showed in the reedbed here, with a minimum of 5 Marsh Harriers quartering Joist Fen.

Kingfisher - phonescoped

Content with our views here, we headed west along the Little Ouse and after a relatively short walk caught up with 3 GWEs giving obscured views across the river, bringing the morning total to 4. Little else of note was discovered on the walk back to the car park, with 2 drake Pintail present on the flash across the Little Ouse. After 3 hours on site, we headed to the next destination of Santon Downham, where we had reasonable views of the target species for the site - Brambling, with Coal Tit and Nuthatch also present around the car park.

Brambling - Santon Downham

Eristalis tenax - Santon Downham

We arrived at the final destination of Lynford Arboretum at 2pm. A slow walk to the Hawfinch roost site produced a couple of Bullfinch and good numbers of Brambling and Siskin.


Bullfinch - phonescoped

Brambling - Lynford

Shortly after arrival Hawfinch started dropping in which was a great spectacle to watch, albeit at distance.


Hawfinch coming into roost

Hawfinch coming into roost

Hawfinch - phonescoped

Hawfinch - phonescoped

With small groups of between 1 and 7 Hawfinch steadily streaming in, this was a good opportunity to practice my in-flight photography ready for the spring and autumn vismig, with some poor record shots obtained! 1-2 Crossbill as well as quite a few Brambling also flew over, with circa 30ish Hawfinch in the roost by the time we departed this area at 15:50.

Hawfinch - a bit distant for the 150-500mm
Hawfinch - the more you look the more you see!
Brambling flyovers


Hawfinch conifers

There are certainly some impressive Hawfinch numbers at Lynford at the moment with peak counts of around 70 recently - are they continental birds or have they originated from elsewhere in Britain? Your guess is as good as mine. A quick look at Lynford gravel pits produced 2 Goosander (adult and 1w drake), a drake Goldeneye with a small group of Tufties and a single Kingfisher.

Drake Goosander

Drake Goosander

We left at dusk and began the journey home after a successful day, thanks Howard for arranging it.
The Brecks are a really nice area in general and I'm sure I'll be back soon...

Happy birding,

Friday, 17 February 2017

Banana bill...

After being gripped off all week by photos and updates on the Lincolnshire White-billed Diver, early on the morning of the Sunday 29th January I was heading to the village of Kirkstead near Woodhall Spa to see this weirdly wonderful bird. The White-billed Diver or Yellow-billed Loon species which usually resides in pelagic deep waters but this individual had managed to find its way to a canal 20 miles inland in Lincolnshire. A mega odd record.

What makes this record even more strange is that the only other live WBD record for Lincolnshire was of an individual on the same stretch of the River Witham in 1996, 21 years ago, which unfortunately eat a fishing hook and succumbed. This bird looked in better condition however, and it was great to get another chance to see a confiding individual of this species up close after not being able to go for the 2013 bird at Brixham (although I still need Brunnich's Guillemot which was present in Dorset at the same time in 2013)...

Arriving on site and after a bit of a trek we had awesome views of this marvellous bird flaunting its bright white bill and regularly diving. After a bit of gongoozling here we walked back, and it was nice to catch up with a couple of birding friends here too. I also noted 9 Goosander on site; 3 on the canal south of Kirkstead and 6 which flew south along the canal between Kirksead and Stixwould (near to where the diver was showing).

Leaving here around 11am, we headed to nearby Kirby on Bain gravel pits (thanks Moysie for the directions) where a drake Ring-necked Duck and 1w Glaucous Gull were instantly on show (but on different pits). Combined with the general appearance and the rounded shape of the tail feathers, I think the Ring-necked Duck can be conclusively aged as an adult.

This was the third drake RND I'd seen in the past six weeks (after birds at Pitlochry and Dungeness) however I can't tire of watching them. On the opposite pit the Glauc was bossing it amongst a flock of Herrings but a quick scan through them revealed nothing else of interest. A 1w female Scaup also made an appearance on the same pit as the drake Ringo.

A successful day out and many thanks to David D-L for the lift.

Happy birding,

Pine Bunting in Kent

Friday 27 January.

After photographing a Waxwing at Rainham Marshes in the morning, I was picked up and we headed southeast to Murston, near Sittingbourne, in Kent to twitch a male Pine Bunting that was found a few days previously. After hearing of other having spent multiple hours across days dipping this bird, we braced ourselves for the long haul, and after the soul-destroying wait of 15 minutes had ticked Pine Bunting (new for me, as Paul and Neil had seen a male previously). After this brief view and a further wait of 90 minutes the bunting was showing again in the mixed flock of Yellowhammers, Reed Buntings, and Chaffinches. Good but distant views were obtained of this very distinctive bird.
My first lifer of 2017, and although views were distant in poor light I can't complain when it's a male Pine Bunting! This allowed me to get some absolutely top-quality phonescoped photos which I personally think are worthy of wildlife photographer of the year. The stunning detail can be seen below.

Many thanks to Paul and Neil for the lift and for use of the scope for photos!

Happy birding,

Waxwing at Rainham

Friday 27th January.

I spent a little while in the morning photographing our resident first-winter male Waxwing at Rainham, which performed well daily for a total of 13 days by the visitor centre. Oddly it wasn't joined by any other birds and moved off overnight along with most of the thrushes after a change in the weather.

The main feature which indicates it as a first-winter (2cy) bird are the pale lines on the primary tips which form an unbroken 'line' along the wing (on an adult there would be hooks on each primary tip forming 'V's), combined with the general duller appearance. Although it does display some early adult features (darker primaries and advanced head), the primary tips are enough to conclusively age it as a 1w. Features which indicate it as a male include the number of waxy tips (juvenile males generally have between 4-8 with juvenile females having between 0-6 (Svensson, 1992)), neat and sharp throat patch (with females having more of a diffuse border between their throat patch and breast), and depth of the yellow tail band (which wouldn't be as thick on a female).

It wasn't just the Waxwing enjoying Howard's juicy fruit; Blackbirds, Starlings and Fieldfares were utilising the food source too!

After a successful early atfernoon Pine Bunting twitch in Kent (more on that in a separate post), we briefly twitched c.15 Waxwings from the car while driving through Lakeside on the way home.

Happy birding,

Masked Wagtail, Choughs, and an Eastern Black Redstart

11 December 2016.

A rather early start on a Sunday morning, I met Paul and John at 4am for a twitch, this time Pembrokeshire's star performer of the season - the wintering Masked Wagtail (Motacilla alba personata) at Camrose. Surprisingly this bird hasn't been seen since around Christmas so I'm glad we went for it when we did! After around 5 hours on the road we were at Camrose and were soon watching this stunning wagtail.

After some great views of this first for Britain, we headed to Martin's Haven to see some Chough and were successful quickly after arrival, with a group of seven showing well by the car park.

After a while searching but failing to find a Lapland Bunting (however a Merlin was nice to see) we received the news of an Eastern Black Redstart in a Gloucestershire churchyard. This wasn't a major issue for Paul as he had seen one earlier in the week on the way back from Shetland, however myself and John had never seen one. We had two options - ignore it and go home as planned without diverting, or attempt to get there knowing that we would arrive around dusk...
After 3 1/2 hours of ploughing across the county from the SW tip of Wales, we found ourselves in the grounds of Tewkesbury Abbey as it started to get dark. The bird was not instantly on show, with people saying it hadn't been seen for about 40 minutes having been performing practically constantly throughout the afternoon. We walked around the abbey grounds, and waited for 10 minutes. And another 10 minutes... And another 10 minutes... The sun had now set and we weren't hopeful. It was practically dark when, at 16:14, I noticed some movement on the abbey roof, a bird that was obviously orange had just flicked into view. It then came into view properly and after checking that I wasn't stringing a Robin, everyone got onto the Eastern Black Redstart as it ascended the abbey tower and disappeared over the top (never to be seen again)... We were all now majorly relieved, the risk had payed off - the joys of twitching!

A great day, many thanks to Paul and John for the lift.

Happy birding,