Tuesday, 30 April 2013

Voice Of the Turtle Absent - so far

On Tuesday we went to a site along the old Hull to Withernsea railway line. There was a very cold wind in the car park, but from here we could see a pair of Marsh Harriers, and a female Sparrowhawk soaring. On the 1st lake there was a healthy population of 23 Tufted Ducks and a pair of Greylag Geese. These were soon joined by another pair. There wasn't as much birdsong round the pools as usual - probably a mixture of cutting winds, lack of green vegetation, and some bird species are still running late. 
Yellow Wagtail [Blue-headed type Female] (c) 2013 Chris Cox

 Yellow Wagtail [male]
Willow Warbler
 Sedge Warbler
A visit to the hill top had the same result - very few birds. Normally there are lots of warblers here, but there were none, there were also no Turtle Doves yet. There were a couple of Long-tailed Tits, a Chaffinch, a few Swallows flew over and plenty of Woodpigeons zipped by. We walked along the North Lake but apart from the ducks & geese, and the massive carp there was very little to see. From the Path of Brian we saw a Whitethroat, a Reed Bunting, and an absolutely stonking almost blood-stained male Linnet. However, the biggest reaction came when a Meadow Pipit performed its parachuting song flight.  
Lesser Whitethroat
 Blackcap [female]
On to the second hill, which was better insulated from the strong winds by the thick hawthorns, and consequently there were more birds to see here. The morning group watched a Kingfisher fishing for a few minutes as they climbed the path on the edge overlooking the south lake. A Great Crested Grebe was also glimpsed a couple of times before the police diving team arrived, and again after they'd gone. In the far corner of the lake we saw a Heron hunkered down on its nest, and it was in this area in the afternoon that a Kingfisher flew around for several minutes before disappearing into a corner. In the sheltered area we saw a Willow Warbler both am & pm, a Lesser Whitethroat in the am, and a pair of Blackcaps in the afternoon. 
Record Shot of Heron on Nest
 Speckled Wood
We had a look near the drain, but this area was receiving the full force of the biting winds. A female Kestrel flew into an Elder bush where she perched for several minutes. A whitethroat called be heard on our first visit, but there weren't many small birds. We carried on to the old railway line where the morning session had great views of a Whitethroat. Along here in the afternoon Joan spotted a female Yellow Wagtail among the lambs. Goldfinches flew along the hedges, and there were Sand Martins heading north from across the fields.  
 Police Diving Team
In the pavilion area we saw a Buzzard heading east, and at lunch time Steve saw a Kingfisher zipping towards a probable nest site. In the afternoon we saw a confiding recently-arrived Sedge Warbler, another Whitethroat, and on the return journey Jenny spotted a bright male Yellow Wagtail at the top of a bare tree, and we marked where it landed - rough grassland at the rear of the site. Sure enough when we checked this out we were able to find a pair in some long grass. The site recorder has never seen this species here before, so our records could be the first for this venue.

Tinuviel, that is Nightingale in the Language of Old

I awoke at 4.30 on Monday, and by 6.45 I was on the road to our destination in deepest Lincolnshire even though we weren't due to meet until 10 am. Any journey on the A15 always feels interminable, but I arrived at 8 am precisely. I went looking for the Nightingales and found one almost straight away. He was a very obliging individual singing from a prominent song post at the top of a Hawthorn bush, where he would sing a few phrases, have a good preen sing some more, and then fly a short distance to another song post, where he would repeat the procedure with a bit of foraging on the ground in between his bouts of song. While he was singing a pair of Treecreepers tried to divert my attention, but I steadfastly watched the virtusoso singing performance instead. Then I spotted a second bird carrying leaves, which she carried as she flew down towards the ground, and she repeated this a few times.
Singing Male Nightingale
I did a complete circuit of Coot Lake, noting other sites of singing males, and although I saw a couple of individuals, none was as clear as the first bird. In all I heard at least 6 singing birds, although 9 have been reported. On this recce I heard and saw my first Garden Warblers and Lesser Whitethroats of the year. Also present were Blackcaps, Willow Warblers, Chiffchaffs, and all the usual resident species. 
Singing Male Nightingale
I returned to the car park to rendezvous with the attendees of this one off special event. At 10 we set off for the point where I had the best view of the Nightingale, although we stopped off first for an attempt to see a Garden Warbler, and a dead cert view of a particularly yellow Willow Warbler. We didn't have long to wait at the Nightingale site. The male flew out of a Hawthorn bush, sang a few phrases and then landed just above a bramble patch where he had a scratch & then a really good preen. Even those who were slowest with their binoculars managed prolonged views. Usually these birds are almost totally concealed, or partially concealed by vegetation, but we all had a clear uninterrupted view of this bird. 
Male Nightingale

I had warned the participants that many bird books dismiss the Nightingale as relatively drab, but they marvelled at its rusty tail, its warm brown back, we were even close enough to see the pale eye-ring which surrounded the large dark eye. This male moved to another area of its territory, and while he was singing the female was spotted again with a leaf in her bill. We watched as she flew with it to the base of an elder bush, and a few minutes later she repeated her actions, so we may have inadvertently discovered her nest site. When the male had stopped singing we moved further along the path. And only a few yards away another Nightingale could be heard. Maggie, Eric,  and a couple of others could see him, and as we stood trying to locate the singer we saw Blackcaps, a Chiffchaff, and a male Great Spotted Woodpecker flew into the oak tree we were standing under. 

 Male Nightingale
We heard another singing male as we approached a bench overlooking the lake. This one's song seemed to be emanating from bushes on the very edge of the opposite bank, but we couldn't spot the bird. We were on the return leg when a Lesser Whitethroat rattled from some thick vegetation. Although we gained some brief views we weren't able to obtain decent prolonged views of this bird. The strong winds probably didn't help many hedgerow birds singing from the front or top of the hedges. We had been lucky with the first Nightingale, which sang from an area, which seemed sheltered from the wind.  
Female Nightingale
 Record Shot of Garden Warbler
 Garden Warbler
 Great Spotted Woodpecker (c) 2013 Maggie Bruce
 Willow Warbler (c) 2013 Maggie Bruce

When we reached Coot Lake again it wasn't long before we heard an incredibly loud Nightingale. At times this one made a particularly loud call which it repeated so rapidly that it sounded like a CD, which had got stuck. This bird could just be discerned by some of the participants as it sang from the middle of a Blackthorn just coming into flower. Near here was another mainly hidden Garden Warbler, although Eric & one other got a decent view before it scuttled into cover. As we approached the bridge I could hear the calls of some Bullfinches, and when we looked towards some blossom near a private area, we could glimpse a female Bullfinch.  However, it looked quite unusual and seemed almost as grey underneath, as it was above.  Could it have been a female Northern Bullfinch?

 Wren (c) 2013 Maggie Bruce
 Aberrant Female Bullfinch (c) 2013 Maggie Bruce
 Peacock (c) 2013 Maggie Bruce
 Female Tawny Mining Bee (Andrena fulva) 
[ID by Barry Warrington]
 We then tried across the railway line where we saw a pair of Common Whitethroats, a bee-fly, a Kestrel, heard a another Lesser Whitethroat. However, the best sighting here was a pair of Jays spotted by Eric. One bold individual continued probing the ground even though he had an audience of 14, and 2 photographers edging closer and closer. In twitter parlance we failed to 'nail' a Garden Warbler, but the superb views of the Nightingales and the other summer migrants ensured everyone went home happy until they got on the A15 again!
 [Blue] Turkey Tails

Monday, 29 April 2013

Night of the Living Dead

On Friday evening we went to our premier woodland,  not to find summer migrants this time, but to try and find the wader of the woods. We did a complete circuit first where we encountered a Marsh Tit, and heard Chiffchaffs, Blackcaps and Willow Warblers. The weather wasn't brilliant with a cool wind and threatening lowering clouds. As dusk approached we stood on the Heath and watched the skies, but it was at that moment that the heavens opened and first hail and then rain started to hammer down on us, and especially on Chris's unprotected head! 
All pictures (c) 2013 Maggie Bruce
Evening Sunlight
 The Entrance Dunes
 A Green Corridor
 Wood Sorrel
 Hail in the Furrows
I had started to change into my waterproof leggings, when I heard a few strange clicks and then a bird headed into the wood from the west. I assumed it was a Woodcock but I hadn't seen the bill against the sky. We kept looking and some minutes later a more distant bird was seen doing the same thing. This time we didn't hear any accompanying sounds. Finally, a few minutes later I heard some more clicking and 2 birds flew again from the west. Everyone was ready this time & their extremely long bills could be seen against the darkling sky. I had expected to hear the frog-like calls the male Woodcocks make when performing their roding flights.  However, these did nothing more than click.  Perhaps they were travelling some other location to perform their roding, or were these winter visitors on their way back to the east coast before flying across the North Sea? 
Listening for a Marsh Tit?
We waited for a few more minutes, but as the crepuscular evening began to be overtaken by the night I thought it prudent to head back for the cars while we could just about see where we we putting our feet. As we carefully made our way could see an striking yellow sunset, more reminiscent of winter than the doorstep of summer! 
Night Must Fall
 Winter is Coming!
Re: The title of this blog.  I'd been active since 5am, so by 9pm I may not have been at my best!

Sunday, 28 April 2013

One in the Eye for Wordsworth

That over-rated miserable ornithologist without a decent pair of binoculars, who relied for his best poems on the recollections of his sister said:
O BLITHE New-comer! I have heard,
I hear thee and rejoice.
O Cuckoo! Shall I call thee Bird,
Or but a wandering Voice?

Well, Friday morning's group actually saw a Cuckoo fly east past them before they actually heard one this year.  Unfortunately, it was so quick there was no time for pictures.

Cuckoo - flying past a few years ago

Blackcap [female]
On Friday we walked along the edge of a lonely canal despite the threat of scattered showers. We got away with it in the morning, and in the afternoon there were just a few flecks of sleet, and then a few drops of rain. Shortly after entering the gate we had a Blackcap, swiftly followed by a Treecreeper and an elusive Willow Warbler. Shortly afterwards we heard the first of nearly 20 Sedge Warblers. These were very hard to see well, but we did see 3 fairly clearly by the end of the morning. A Reed Bunting was perched in the open but it was making its 'seep' call, rather than its monotonous song. Quite early on we had some people's closest ever view of a Chiffchaff - it was almost within touching distance.
 Reed Bunting
A little further down we heard the 1st of at least 3 Yellowhammers, but it wasn't until we had been walking for an hour before we had a really good view of a Willow Warbler, and there was a 2nd Chiffchaff nearby.
A long way down the canal I spotted a Cuckoo heading east. Later, we could hear what was presumably a different bird in the far west. Over the whole length of the canal I heard 2 short bursts from a Reed Warbler, but we never even saw either of those. By the end of the morning there were quite a few Peacock and Small Tortoiseshell butterflies on the wing, and a single White, possibly a Green-veined White. Rather disappointingly we didn't manage to see a single Grass Snake. 
Sedge Warbler
 Willow Warbler
 Small Tortoiseshell

On the way back we saw at least 3 Bullfinches, but we didn't get great views. m the forenoon the main difference were the good views of a pair of Blackcaps, especially the female.

Thursday, 25 April 2013

In Neeker Breeker Country

On Thursday we should have been at an exposed location near the coast, but because of the unsettled forecast we went somewhere with plenty of hides instead. There was the sounds of the noisy chattering of Tree Sparrows from the car park onwards. On the way to the visitor we heard and had brief views of our first 2013 Thursday Sedge Warblers. 

Water Rail - Artistic, or just Blurred?
The first proper sighting was made from the visitor centre when Jean drew our attention to a 'mole' on the bank. This would be amazing in itself, but on checking we were amazed to see great views of a Water Vole. It was chewing on a few grass stems, before checking on several of its burrows, and then eventually it swam across the drain. Then we tried out 1st hide where we saw Gadwall, Shoveler, Little Grebe, while hundreds of Sand Martins and Swallows could be seen feeding just over the reeds. We also saw a Male Marsh Harrier from here.  We were just about to set off from here at lunch time when Pat at reception, spotted our first 2013 Swift.  I think everyone got on to it in time!
Water Vole - enjoying a meal

 Heading Towards the Water
 Taking to the Water
 Leaving a Burrow
 In Mid Stream

Later, we tried Xerox where there was a large group of Black-tailed Godwits, the majority of them being in bright summer plumage. 2 Snipe also came into the open here, and a pair of Avocets flew over on a couple of occasions. There was a single Teal and a pair of Shovelers, but the area was dominated by Black-headed Gulls on the bare island. Marsh Harriers could be seen on the far right, but sightings began to decline.

Collection of Black-tailed Godwits
 Black-tailed Godwits (c) 2013 Richard Whateley
 Black-tailed Godwits (c) 2013 Richard Whateley
 Snipe (c) 2013 Richard Whateley
 Over to Marshland, which was again dominated by Black-headed Gulls, but there was also a pair of Shelducks here, and a pair of Shoveler. A single Snipe was busy stitching very close to the hide. So everyone managed good views of this busy individual. There were 2 pairs of Avocet here too.  Most of the gulls were settled, but a smaller, slighter gull was picking insects gracefully from the waters' surface. It's dark hood came all the way down the back of its neck. It had very dark underwings - it was a Little Gull. I texted the visitor centre, and several photographers came to try & capture its image. Unfortunately, there was no sign of the Little Gull after lunch or any of the Avocets. However, Brian spotted a stunning male Yellow Wagtail, which landed on an island for a few few minutes before it abandoned this area.
Avocet (c) 2013 Richard Whateley
 Avocet (c) 2013 Richard Whateley
 Little Gull
 Scooping an Insect from the Water Surface
 Little Gull
 Little Gull (c) 2013 Richard Whateley
 Marsh Harrier (c) 2013 Richard Whateley
 Marsh Harrier (c) 2013 Richard Whateley
We abandoned the hide and set off to Townend. This was probably the least exciting venue at a first glance, but even here we spotted a Whitethroat moving inland from the river, and we were accompanied by the squealing of a Water Rail. After 30 minutes suddenly a loud ping sounded out, and shortly after 3 orangey Bearded Tits zoomed over the reeds. Unfortunately, not many in the hide were able to spot them before they disappeared into the reeds around the next reedbed. The afternoon crowd were a lot luckier as first a male made a brief appearance, and then 20 minutes later a female came down for a drink, and a short stay halfway up a reed. N however, the highlight here were Water Rails calling from both sides of the hide. Eventually one came out into the open briefly and flew from the right hand reedbed to that on the left. Everyone got to see that. It was Terry's best ever view. A Grasshopper Warbler could be heard reeling in the distance, but t never came close, and was very hard to discern among the ambient sounds. 
Common Toad
 Sedge Warbler
 Record Shot of Female Bearded Tit
 Record Shot of Female Bearded Tit [back view]
 Water Rail
 Water Rail in flight
 Pheasant (c) 2013 Richard Whateley
At Singleton we began to see the Marsh Harriers - again they were nearly all males, but a female did appear briefly too. I thought I heard the reeling of a Grasshopper Warbler on a couple of occasions, but it was difficult to be certain above the noise in the hide. There were plenty of Grey lag Geese to be seen from this hide, plus a few Canada, and 2 Snipe huddled on the bank. Just outside was a frog - quite a bit bigger than yesterday's. After lunch Margaret, not to be outdone by Brian spotted a second Yellow Wagtail.  However, the Bearded Tit and flying Water Rail were definitely the highlights of the afternoon.