Sunday 20 January 2013

Superb Snowy Slav

Despite the wintry weather this weekend, I’ve been out most of both days, and seen quite a bit without going far from home. As you’d expect, there’s plenty of birds on the move in the hard weather – Lapwing, Golden Plover and other waders are popping up in unusual places; and at last, there are decent numbers of Fieldfare in the berry bushes.

Yesterday at Rainham, a while looking at the tip produced a couple of Caspian Gulls: an adult and a lovely well-marked second winter. (The fact that I use the word “lovely” probably means there’s absolutely no hope for me… though I still intend to avoid making tip-watching a particularly regular pastime!) Along the foreshore, I saw at least three Jack Snipe (there were at least seven today, I’m told), 40-odd Common Snipe and a Ruff, while down at Thurrock Thameside, a pair of Peregrines showed well on a foray out over the river. A couple of Black-tailed Godwits from a 500+ flock here were colour-ringed, but the light was too poor to make these out properly. A job for another day…

Today I kicked off at the Chingford reservoirs: the Girling was practically invisible in sleet and general murkiness, but KGV was a bit more interesting, featuring single Dunlin and Green Sandpiper, 15 Lapwings on the concrete banks and a Goosander amongst the regular Goldeneye and Aythya flocks.

The undoubted highlight, though, was a stunning Slavonian Grebe on a small pool at Littlebrook, near Dartford – thanks for yesterday’s tip-off, Andy! When I arrived, it had just eaten three small fish, and was having a bit of a rest under some overhanging branches. But after I passed the time chatting about a forthcoming trip to sunnier climes (Morocco) with Mick, Richard, and John, it slid out into open water, and sailed right past us before heading up to the other end of the pool to fish.


The ‘keeper’ rate was even lower than normal today, with the falling snow regularly throwing the autofocus off track, and you couldn’t exactly describe the light as brilliant either! But with a bit of patience, I got a few reasonable shots, the best of which are shown here. (For some really good ones, keep an eye on Mick Southcott’s website – I expect he’ll have nailed it, as usual!)


It’s certainly the best views I’ve ever had of Slav Grebe, though – hopefully it’ll hang around so I can go back on a brighter day… if we ever get one of those!

Friday 18 January 2013

The last few weeks…

… have been something of a rollercoaster ride, unfortunately including the last-minute cancellation of a week’s holiday on Islay for the New Year. But I’ve still been out on the patch a few times and seen some pretty good birds. (WHAT? A patch, I hear you say? Simple – the one generously allocated to me by Jono just before Christmas. I rather like it!)

Since I’ve got a bit of unexpected free time right now, here’s a quick whizz through where I’ve been and what I’ve seen, giving me the chance to sort out the photos I’ve taken along the way.

After the wonderful Hornemann’s at Aldeburgh, the notebook is empty for a couple of weeks before a quick drop-in at Queen Mother Res on 22nd December, en route from Loughton to Norfolk via Tamworth. Arriving in the rain, plenty of people seemed to be ill-equipped for the weather (denim jeans? When it’s pouring down? In December? And they say twitchers are idiots?!) and disinclined to go any distance and actually look for the bird (disconsolate random twitcher: “hmmph, must’ve gone”. Me: “not a chance – it’ll be here somewhere.”). I happily sploshed round to the other side and was nearly halfway round when some guys just in front started waving me over, having found it just feet away. Cracking views, and though I managed a bit of video on my phone, I’ve got no pics due to the camera staying dry in the car. Some well-informed folk reckon that Buffy will become a fairly regular autumn visitor in the UK before too long, and looking at the recent run of records, it wouldn’t be totally surprising.

Pre-Christmas birding was based in East Norfolk, with an afternoon out on Haddiscoe Island near St Olaves a particular highlight. With no other birders anywhere to be seen, Dad and I had stunning views of a Rough-legged Buzzard both perched and in flight, a pale Common Buzzard for comparison, a pair of Peregrine, numerous Marsh Harriers including a locally wing tagged bird, and brief, distant views of a self found Great White Egret. Excellent winter birding! I also popped in to see the returning American Wigeon at Bawburgh, diverting slightly from aChristmas present delivery route to Norwich.

Back home alone for New Year, I was out early on the first of 2013 with Prof W, heading for Dungeness pre-dawn. A shiny new notebook acquired some nice stuff on page one, including an early morning Merlin and a Crane on Walland Marsh, one of the first birds seen in the half light. Small groups of Bewick’s Swans and Tree Sparrows were good value, too. Down at Dungeness itself, the Glaucous Gull was predictably loafing near the fishing boats, and a flotilla of Smew were on the New Diggings. The highlight, though, was the ridiculous frequency of Great White Egret sightings… they just seemed to be everywhere! Conveniently, they all got together just before we left, with a group of 5 lined up on one side of the entrance track, and two more singletons concurrently on the other. Just one short of the UK record, I believe…

Moving up the coast, we popped in to Dover for some filthy county ticks for the Prof. Purple Sand and Shag were duly located, with a supporting cast of Razorbills and a Red-breasted Merganser, and the Black-throated Diver briefly appeared right next to us… nice!


A couple of pre-roost Hawfinch perching up in conifers, and (finally) a decent wader selection on the Swale completed a cracking day – the first time I’ve cracked 100+ species on January 1st.

The following Saturday, a flying visit to NW Norfolk featured charming flocks of Twite and Snow Buntings, a rather bizarre group of Grey Partridges on a barn roof, Greenshank and Spotted Redshank, three Barn Owls and at least six Hen Harriers coming in to roost. Pretty good stuff again.

Closer to home the next day, a splash of colour in Wanstead!


What a bird!!! Most escaped cagebirds do very little for me, but I’ve been wanting to see this White-cheeked Turaco for ages. It only appears rather irregularly, but when it does, there’s no problem getting close enough for photos! Unfortunately the light was pretty awful, and the above were all taken at ISO 1250. Still put an enormous grin on my face, though…

And finally (almost up to date now), I had a little jaunt around the west side of London last weekend with Nick C. Yet another Great White Egret (something of a theme in this post) showed pretty well after dawn along the picturesque Chess river valley at Chenies, along with plenty of their smaller congeners.


Continuing around the M25, we popped in to admire both Buff-bellied Pipits (now outside the reservoir), and then on to look for the re-identified Phyllosc at Moor Green Lakes. After it had been missing for a while, I did manage to relocate the Pallas’s Warbler… but irritatingly after hearing the familiar call a few times from cover on the far side of the river, the bird itself remained invisible. Several people asked what the call is like, so here it is…

… always reminds me of an old-school quiz show buzzer: “boiiinnnngggg!”. (Can’t remember which quiz, though – any offers?)

Concluding that day, we finished up at Staines Moor, with one or two Short-eared Owls and a Barn Owl (notable within the London area), a Water Pipit, and the usual noisy parakeets.

This weekend, with the forecast of more snow to fall, I might have to check some bits of the patch closer to home! Might find at least one of the following…