Tuesday, 29 January 2013

Back to Normal

On Tuesday we were able to stick with the original plan & visit Tophill Low. One of the best birds was seen on the approach road when Len in the car in front had a close encounter with a female Merlin, which headed across the road and disappeared into the farmland.

First 3 Kestrel pics (c) 2013 Chris Cox

 All remaining pics (c) 2013 Maggie Bruce
The same Kestrel seen in the am?
When we actually started there were single Treecreepers, Goldcrests and a drumming Great Spotted Woodpecker near the visitor centre, so all augured well. This was increased by a good sighting of a first-year male Kingfisher on South Lagoon. 

There were a pair of Pintail on SME, plus a Goldeneye, some Shoveler and plenty of Teal. A Barn Owl flew not very close to the hide before taking a look in at us and then moving off higher and with more speed. In the other hide we saw 4 drake Goldeneye with one female, plus a slightly larger flock of Tufted duck. We could also hear 2 distinct Water Rails from here, and Claude may have caught sight of one of them flying from the left bank into the central Reedbed island. 
There were plenty of Wigeon on the 'O' reservoir, and David got a glimpse of the a Great Crested Grebe. Unfortunately, the water level was very low, so we couldn't see what else was sheltering in the lee of the reservoir wall.  
Goldeneye (left), Tufted Duck (right)
 Goldeneye (female right)
At Watton Borrow pits there were 2 Redshanks, 3 Juvenile Cormorants and a few Gadwall. However, the best bird here was a female Smew (sometimes called a Redhead when it can't be differentiated from 1st-winter drakes). Not everyone could find this tiny duck easily, but later she hauled herself out on the the bank to preen herself, and this is when her white underparts could be studied. Someone also spotted a Barn Owl roosting at the bank just to the left of the island. On the return journey we saw yet another one of these flying around South Lagoon. This is probably a legacy of the aftermath of the snowy weather when the owls found hunting for food very difficult. 
Redhead Smew
 Redhead Smew behind Tufted Ducks
 Wigeon (front)
On 'D' reservoir there were literally hundreds of ducks - the highlight being another 6 Pintail. The total tally we saw was therefore 8, most I've seen in any one day at this site!

On the return to the visitor centre Richard, the warden, had located a Woodcock, so those who hadn't already gone home, or were visiting other parts of the reserve, were able to get decency view of it after staring at bits of vegetation for over half an hour. Unfortunately, before the afternoon group arrived it was frightened off by a prowling cat - at a site where all domestic pets were supposed to be banned.  In the afternoon the best photo opportunity came from a very confiding and extremely colourful male Kestrel.

Sunday, 27 January 2013

Final Park Visit

Thursday was the only day last week when the planned venue was able to go ahead at the original venue selected 6 months ago.  Every other day a last minute change had to be substituted because of the prevailing weather conditions.  This was our final visit to the park.  4 Shoveler were still present, but didn't come close enough in the poor light, for decent photos to be taken.  
All pics (c) 2013 Richard Whateley
Goosander [drake]
 Goosanders [female right]
 Goosander [female]
 Goosanders [female right]
 Drake Goosander
 Tufted Ducks [drake right]
 Carrion Crow
 Black-headed Gulls [first-winter left, adult right]
 Feral Pigeon ['Chequered' type]

Thursday, 24 January 2013

Splashes of Colour Among the Grey

On Wednesday we were supposed to be on the coast, but a strong easterly wind was forecast, so we abandoned the seashore for an inland location. We normally travel in a clockwise direction, but we went anti-clockwise instead to make the most of the birds in the hedgerows. We had great views of Fieldfare and Redwing, probably the best the Weds groups have seen for some time. However, the highlight was a very pink male Lesser Redpoll Brian spotted feasting on dropped seeds at the base of a small tree. In the afternoon David C spotted a very bright male Siskin, and this was surrounded by a gang of silent females with a couple of extra males. 

 Fieldfare (c) 2013 Aileen Urquhart 
 Collared Dove (c) 2013 Aileen Urquhart 
At lunch time some of watched a very gingery little vole dashing out from cover to take a little food and cache it in its lair.  It was much more popular than the other much larger rodent, seen by both groups.  A photo of the latter appears at the very rear of this post.
 Bank/Field Vole?
Greylags (c) 2013 Aileen Urquhart 
The hedgerows had been stripped since last week, but a laughing Green Woodpecker enlivened rather a grey day. We were to glimpse it again on at least 2 more occasions through the morning, and the afternoon repeated the sightings. As we walked, I heard the distinctive mournful cry of a Golden Plover in flight. It circled several times before alighting in a field with a few scattered Lapwings, and dozens of Greylag Geese. A Grey Partridge was heard calling, but on inspection we were only able to spot their Red-legged cousins. 

 Goldeneye (c) 2013 Aileen Urquhart 
One surprise was a female Goldeneye on a raft. We were able to obtain great views of the white markings on her wings. I can't remember when we last saw this species hauled out of the water. She was with Shelducks, but when they spotted us approaching the Shelducks took to the water, but this unusually bold Goldeneye stood her ground. In the afternoon the Shelduck were braver and remained on the raft with the Goldeneye.

 Green Woodpecker
 Great Black Backed Gull
Tail-less House Sparrow
 Rat (c) 2013 Aileen Urquhart 

Finally, on the walk back to the cars a male Bullfinch was seen been a couple of the participants in the hedge before it flew off in a westerly direction. However, in the last 10 minutes in the afternoon the bird of the day was seen: A male Hen Harrier seen hunting over some bonfire material. The morning tally was 53 species with a couple of extra species added in the afternoon (though some species were only seen before lunch), so I must have seen at least 55 species.

Tuesday, 22 January 2013

Once Bitten

On Tuesday we stayed at a location near main roads, to try and prevent any accidents to my attendees. It's therefore rather ironic that the main danger lay not to most of the students but to their tutor... 
Bullfinch [male]

When we came down the steps there were plenty of Thrushes present, looking for food under the leaf litter, which was completely covered in snow. Most of these were Redwings with a few Song Thrushes, and a single Mistle Thrush. Of course there were Blackbirds about too. These were the best views of Redwings the Tues am group had seen for quite some time.   
Bullfinch [female]

The bird table area was covered in the usual suspects: Great Tits, Blue Tits, Dunnocks, Coal Tits, Chaffinches, but there's no doubt that the star performers were the Bullfinches. At any one time we saw 4 stonking males, and 3 rather more drab females.
We managed to avoid the floodwater, which had actually receded noticeably since yesterday afternoon, and beyond here we saw Treecreepers and a couple of constantly flitting Goldcrests. We didn't see an awful lot after the incident with the dog in the Day-time, but a small flock of Long-tailed Tits were spotted leaving the security of the trees as they flew over the austere, brutal-looking toilet block.
Treecreeper [silhouette]

A Terrier came from behind, clamped itself on my right leg and sunk its teeth into my calf. "That's unusual behaviour" said the male owner, who had just been working the beast up by running like a maniac along with it, as we came towards them. They had passed us when suddenly the drama unfolded.  At no time did the bloke apologise or punish the mutt. The female was more apologetic, but I didn't accede to her request to roll up my waterproof trousers, my fleece-lined trousers, and my thermals. The pain was excrutiating, so the morning session was cut a little short, so I could check on the damage.  The skin was broken in 3 places despite the 3 layers of trousers appearing unharmed. 

In the afternoon we went round the reserve in the opposite direction. An early highlight were 3 very confiding Goldcrests. A group of Long-tailed Tits made an alarm call and one of the Goldcrests froze, and a Sparrowhawk glided overhead. The Bullfinches were harder to see, but we did eventually see 2 males and a female. In bushes nearby we saw several Fieldfare, and some Redwings, but the light was going at this point.

 The offending mutt being cradled by the irresponsible owner
My tetanus jabs aren't upto-date, so if I should disappear off the scene in the next month, please track these lowlifes down & get that cradled cur destroyed

Friday Rerun of Wednesday

Friday was a rerun of Wednesday. The morning group were shown how to increase the chances of spotting Sparrowhawks by listening out for the strange growls of Carrion Crows. Last week there were 30+ Goosanders, on Wednesday we could only locate 12, but today there were only 4 in the morning & only one of each gender in the afternoon. 
All pics (c) 2013 Andy Leonard
Female Goosander
The first surprise in the morning ocurred while we were watching a distant flock of Goldfinches. A fast moving bird was seen flying east along James Reckitt Avenue - it was a Woodcock. The second surprise was that there were 5 Shovelers in the am (3 drakes), but only a pair left in the afternoon. This is a species that isn't seen that often at this urban location.

Female Goosander
Goosander Pair [drake behind]

The afternoon group had to hurry around the site to try & beat the forecast snow showers, which we managed in plenty of time. However, during the latter section we were regaled with the wails of sirens - little did we know that these were the sounds caused by the emergency services responding to a bus ending up in someone's front garden!  

I hope the snow doesn't last much longer, as I'm starting to run out of safe places to take my groups in icy conditions.

Thursday, 17 January 2013

Thursday Rerun of Tuesday

Thursday was a rerun of Tuesday with no extra snow, but several more degrees of frost. In fact every piece of vegetation had a picturesque covering of hoar frost. This wasn't particularly conducive to the birds you expect to see. On Tuesday almost all watering holes were completely clear of frost, whilst today the areas free from ice were few and far between.

 Wigeon [right & 2nd left] (c) 2012 Richard Whateley
4 Redpolls flew east towards the cafe, but there were no Red-legged Partridges or Green Woodpeckers along the lane. However, we did eventually locate the latter probing near some fresh mole hills. The Buzzard was again standing guard over the Rabbit warren, and yet again we failed to see it catch a meal. Another Buzzard flew south towards the Humber, and there were at least 2 male Kestrels present. 2 Goldcrests were probing for food among the hoar frost, and we could only hope that they were able to find enough food to survive the Siberian conditions.
 Chaffinch (c) 2012 Richard Whateley
The maize field came up trumps with Yellowhammer, Reed Bunting, Greenfinch, Bullfinch and several Fieldfare in the general area. 2 Snipe were probing in Black Dyke as their normal feeding areas were totally frozen up. Charms of Goldfinches were on the teazles, but we couldn't see any Linnets or last year's interesting species: Twite.
 Goldfinch (c) 2012 Richard Whateley
 Yellowhammer (c) 2012 Richard Whateley
 Reed Bunting (c) 2012 Richard Whateley
The best bird in the afternoon was a Peregrine, which crossed the maize field steaming in a south-westerly direction.

Record shot of Buzzard (c) 2012 Richard Whateley
 Record Shot of Green Woodpecker