Sunday 26 February 2012

When in doubt… always go out!

My wife is very good at recognising the symptoms: indecision, increasing irritability, and if left untreated for long enough, bruising caused by a thump to the head with a frying pan. If the weather is ‘birdable’ at the weekend but I’m still indoors, then I’m probably going to be very grumpy. Fortunately, after years of experience, Suzanne knows this and is frequently kind enough to apply the necessary medicine, with gentle words like “Will you just b*gger off out, for God’s sake?” It was something like that today…

My original plans had featured small woodpeckers in a much-blogged London setting – but I put paid to these by ignoring the early alarm and getting another three hours sleep. But then what to do? Could try woodpeckers regardless (no, too many patch birders dogwalkers); could go to north Kent (no, bridge would be hideous at this late hour); could go out Southend way (no, pier closed, less photo opps); could stay in bed even longer (no, that would be outrageously lazy) etc, etc, etc. After some (blunt) words of wisdom from my better half, I leaped out of bed, got in the car and went up to the Suffolk coast.


And it was great! For the first time this year, every single one of my many birding jackets could be left in the car – it felt pretty warm when I arrived at Alton Water, around 14 degrees. The birds on show here still had a decidedly wintery feel, though, featuring Red-necked and Slavonian Grebes and a pair of Goosander. The first of these was quite showy initially but was always drifting further away, and I gather others have seen it closer still.


Continuing north, I had a quick look at Sizewell to see if any Black Redstarts felt inclined to burst into song yet (nope), though the Kittiwake colony was in full swing on the rigs offshore, making quite a noise. Just up the road, a smart male Dartford Warbler on Westleton Heath was typically handsome and charismatic, but the long walk up to Dingle Marshes only resulted in three Snow Buntings, no Twite. (I learned later that they’ve moved to Southwold).

The remainder of the afternoon was spent at Minsmere. I’d intended to have a quick look from Bittern Hide, and then head round to East to check out the gull roost… but got a bit distracted when this guy flew straight at the hide for a moment or two and landed right in front of us:


Oh well, another photo of Mallards ruined, I just had to make the best of a bad job for the next hour or so!


The Bittern paraded around and across the pool in front of the hide as the temperature and light gradually dropped away, with just a very small audience of appreciative photographers and wowed visitors. In fact it was still there when the light had almost completely gone and I left! By way of backdrop, Marsh Harriers gave regular fly-pasts, a drake Smew flew in from Island Mere, Bearded Tits pinged, Cetti’s exploded occasionally, and the Great White Egret briefly deigned to show its lanky neck above the reeds in the distance. Oh, and I saw another two Bitterns – one dropping into the reeds in front, and another continuing on west towards Island Mere. Great stuff!


Sunday 19 February 2012

Yellowthroat in Gwent

Once again, no surprise where I’ve been this weekend. After studying the weather forecast, I bailed out of a planned trip on Saturday (sorry guys!) though it would ultimately have been successful, and subsequently made plans to try today with the Monkey and my Dad. After getting a last minute brownie-point extension, Shaun also joined us to complete the carload.

We arrived just after 8 to find the bird already showing pretty well on and off under blue skies and bright sunshine. It worked its way gradually and methodically up the hedgeline towards a crowd perhaps 150 strong, feeding in the long grass and bramble scrub on the very edge of the pasture – never in view for more than a few seconds, but generally pretty easy to keep tabs on. Lots of tail-flicking to expose the mega-bright undertail coverts, and the occasional charismatic ‘bounce’ from tussock to tussock. Awesome! It eventually got within about 20m of us (and closer still to some well-placed folk at the end of the line), but photos are still no more than record shots for such a small bird. Not complaining though!


After about 90 minutes of sitting in the sunshine, great views and the occasional slightly disturbing “ooh” and “aaaaah” from Shaun when the bird showed particularly well, we decided that it wasn’t going to get any better (and that Shaun might need some new trousers), and made a move onwards. First up, a tip-off for Dipper was spot on – returning from Rhiwderyn towards the M4, where the A468 kinks right at a roundabout, go straight on on Caerphilly Road towards Forge Mews (a dead-end). Viewing upstream here found a Dipper showing pretty well immediately.

Next stop for us, and numerous other Yellowthroat fanciers, was Cosmeston Lakes, where the adult drake Lesser Scaup showed pretty well. Excellent scope views, and a few pics too…


… though a Whooper Swan (ringed black-on-orange Y59) was much much more confiding amongst Mutes! Thanks to the power of Google, I can tell you that it was ringed in Worcestershire in January 2011 and is believed to have originated in Iceland.


Final stop of the day was a particularly foul-smelling and litter-strewn Cardiff Bay, where we couldn’t find either of the recent Bonaparte’s Gulls. With many of the small gulls remaining out of view on the sewage works tanks for >99% of the time, we really couldn’t muster much enthusiasm to stay, and headed home early afternoon to avoid the usual M4 / M25 Sunday night jams and let Dad get back up to Norfolk in decent time.

A cracking day, with a stunning bird that will live long in the memory!

“I jumped across for you
Oh what a thing to do
‘cause you were all yellow”

[though, on reflection, that would be a Yellow Warbler, wouldn’t it?]

Sunday 12 February 2012

Canary Islands trip report

Due to our boiler packing up over the weekend, I’ve been stuck indoors more than usual this weekend, waiting for an engineer to visit – so finished off the trip report from our visit to the Canaries over Christmas.

Click on the Blue Tit for a PDF doc, and feel free to contact me (via email, or a comment on this post) if you want any more details.