Thursday, 26 January 2012

Cattle's Captivity

Those who arrived early this morning were rewarded with a Cattle Egret sheltering in a reedy ditch in the fenced-off compound surrounding the work buildings of a water treatment plant. It gave good views for about 25 minutes before flying over some trees towards a neighbouring farm. This bird was a UK lifer for all morning participants who saw it.

In all we saw over 40 species; morning highlights being: a male Peregrine, a pair of Redhead Smew, several Lesser Redpolls, Siskins, a pair of Mistle Thrush, an Egyptian Goose, a Treecreeper, and a flyover Grey Wagtail. A Merlin was reported at North Lagoon by a couple of guests in the same place where a Kestrel was seen in the afternoon.

The afternoon started with better light on the Redpolls, but no sign of the Cattle Egret. We went on to see the Egyptian Goose standing up to a pair of trespassing Greylags before it flew off north. The Egyptian Goose was a brand new bird for Thursday afternoon sessions. Again, we saw plenty of birds but the best were those near the Visitor Centre. The Redpolls were in the best light yet, including one pinkish male, and a couple of male Bullfinches. However, the climax was provided by the Cattle Egret, which had returned. It stayed just long enough for everyone to get a good look at it before it again flew in the same direction it had at 9.30 am. It's not often these days we get two new birds on a session, but today was one of those red letter days!

Cattle Egret - A Lifer for Almost All
Egyptian Goose Standing Ground with Greylags
Egyptian Goose Leaving WBP
Record Shot of Redhead Smew
Record Shot of a Pair of Redhead Smew
Lesser Redpoll
Roe Deer
Yesterday, we went to an urban park & saw most of the usual suspects. The 4 Lesser Redpolls in one car park were new, as was a Fox leaving by the main gates at 9.40 am. The rest of the birds were pretty much as expected with just the Great Spotted Woodpecker, Great Crested Grebe & Kingfisher letting the groups down.

Ring-necked parakeet (c) 2012 Aileen Urquhart
Long-tailed Tit
Goosanders (c) 2012 Aileen Urquhart
Coots - 'True Love'
Black-headed Gull [adult]
Black-headed Gull [1st winter] (c) 2012 Aileen Urquhart
Herring Gull

Monday, 23 January 2012

Pleasure & Pain

On Friday we went to an urban site. The morning was enlivened by a public address system, which sprang into life to chastise a particular dog walker who wasn't using plastic bags in a public park, but was hiding his dog's waste under some shrubbery. The 3 gull species were differentiated & immature plumage was compared with that of adults. The 2 geese species were contrasted and a hybrid between the 2 pointed out. A Kingfisher was spotted, but the Great Crested Grebe present the previous week had gone - probably driven off by freezing conditions for 3 days between our visits. There were about 30 Goosanders, but only a smattering of Pochard compared with the numbers encountered a decade ago. A perched Sparrowhawk was eventually seen by every am participant, whilst a different one flew behind an island after lunch. The Ring-necked Parakeet attended by the Yellow Morph was seen by both groups. It is now thought that both of these birds are escapees, but not from the park we visited, which contains several plumage variations of Ring-necked Parakeets with its cages.

On Thursday we went to a brand new location for every participant. Unfortunately, we went in very strong winds and many small passerines were invisible, as they hunkered down out of the wind. At least 2 different Marsh Harriers were seen and a pair of Kestrels, but no other raptors. The soundscape was punctuated with the bubbling call of the Curlew both morning and afternoon. Other birds seen included Redshank, Golden Plover, Lapwing, Reed Bunting, Shoveler, Teal, Shelduck, & Greylag Geese.

In the afternoon the most memorable encounter was less pleasant: a Fox caught in a wire fence. One of the participants was a former midwife & is well acquainted with dogs & after about 5 minutes she was able to free the poor creature. Unfortunately, we don't know how long it had been struggling there, and its back legs appeared very weak as it slowly made its way through the reedbed.
Ring-necked Parakeet
Trapped Fox

Thursday, 19 January 2012

Seen by a Minority

I had just turned off the main road & had started on the long winding road to the reserve when I saw 2 bright white shapes on the right-hand side. I came to a shuddering halt in a lay-by, but these had black bills, so were clearly Little Egrets, and not the Cattle Egret which had been reported from the same general area. It would have been too good to be true to have seen the Cattle Egret so easily.

We saw 37 species yesterday morning, which is 3 more than last week. Unfortunately, we endured really dark conditions so the early morning Redpoll was quite hard to see. However, when people did see it they were knocked-out to discover it was one of the one in ten males, which sport the very pink breast. Many of the marshes were devoid of birds, which seemed to be caused by a mixture of lingering ice sheets & industrial tree clearing. However at the furthest southern point we saw 2 redhead Smew, about 6 Goldeneye, plenty of Wigeon & a good sprinkling of other wildfowl, but surprisingly few geese.

We walked the whole length of the main reserve without seeing much apart from a pair of Mistle Thrushes, but there were masses of birds on the largest reservoir - these were really well lit by now & were fairly close to the hide. New birds here included a pair of sleeping Great Crested Grebes.

The afternoon group initially wanted to look for the Cattle Egret at the north end of the site, but it was flushed by a noisy tractor just before we were due to start & its location was unknown, so we reluctantly did a rerun of the morning. There were now more Lesser Redpolls in much better light with a few Siskins, but everything else was very similar.

Meanwhile 3 enterprising morning participants had started from the car park on a 2 mile hike & were rewarded with good views. I still have never seen a Cattle Egret!

Cattle Egret (c) 2012 Tony Robinson

Tuesday, 17 January 2012

Red Sky at Night, Barn Owl's Delight

The morning started well when we saw a male Hen Harrier on the way to the location. At the venue itself we saw at least 2 Peregrines harassing Curlew, Dunlin, Redshank, Knot, Golden & Grey Plovers, Lapwings & various duck species. There was a field containing 15 Roe Deer which came fairly close to the road. There were at least 2 Marsh Harriers, but possibly another one present.

The afternoon session was less successful, but was redeemed by a Little Owl perched on some hay bales. On the way back I drove through Stone Creek & was rewarded with close views of a Barn Owl against a delicate pink sky.
Barn Owl
Little Owl
Barn Owl Box with Immingham behind

Monday, 16 January 2012

First Full Week of Classes

Last week was the first full week of wildlife classes. The Friday sessions had to be changed because the Derwent hadn't broken its banks, so there was no flooding & very few birds to see - not enough to keep everyone interested for a 2-hour class anyway! The standby venue paid dividends immediately with a Green Woodpecker delighting the am session, plus a Stoat chasing Rabbits. In all we probably saw 3 different hunting individuals. Meanwhile a Tues am attendee managed to photograph a Stoat with what looks like a Water Vole in its jaws at the same location while the Fri am session were moving round the reserve.

Stoat with Water Vole (c) 2012 David Tasker
On Thursday we visited an urban location and saw at least 21 Goosanders, but the biggest surprise was a Ring-necked Parakeet. Apparently, it's been seen since early last year, but it was the first time I knew about it. It seems to hang around the aviary area, attracted by the members of the parrot family imprisoned there, but at the same time driving the prisoners wild! New class members were impressed with the Goosanders, but also with the close views of Pochard, Tufted Duck, Mistle Thrushes, Black-headed and Common Gulls, which just aren't available elsewhere.
Ring-necked Parakeet (c) 2012 Margaret Richardson
Tufted Duck [drake]
Tufted Duck [female]
Great Crested Grebe
Mistle Thrush
Black-headed Gull [moulting into its summer hood]
Black-headed Gulls in non-breeding plumage
Common Gull
Hybrid Canada x Greylag Goose
The Wednesday group had a session on the Humber estuary. This can be a bleak place, but luckily the wind was kinder to us than normal. There were many Golden Plover in the air, but the tide was well out, so the birds on the mudflat were all quite distant. Some Roe Deer were feeding on the saltmarsh, but the raptors were noticeable by their absence. The afternoon session was saved by a Short-eared Owl, which gave several good aerial views after it had been flushed by a dog-walker on the flood-bank.
Cormorant (c) 2012 Aileen Urquhart
Lapwings (c) 2012 Aileen Urquhart
The Tuesday session went to one of the premier winter reserves in the area. The morning session went south & saw over 30 species included 2 Redhead Smew & plenty of wildlfowl. The pm session voted to head north in case they encountered Short-eared Owls. We missed a Kingfisher by 10 minutes, but the owls refused to appear. The female Great-Spotted Woodpecker seen with in the final 10 minutes salvaged the afternoon. Overall, not a classic week, but at least things should only improve from this moment on....

Grey Wagtail