Thursday 18 June 2009

30 / 31 May 2009 New Forest - Chobham

On 30 May i went raptor watching in the New Forest. Acres down is the known best watchpoint. The morning was perfect, clear sky, sun, light breeze. Should have been perfect for honey buzzard. Surprisingly there were goshawks a-plenty over the forest, a lifer and very welcome, but no honey buzzards. There were several cuckoos, siskin and common buzzard.

Around lunchtime I moved to Bishops Dyke where I hoped to see common redstart, quite a common bird but a lifer for me. I wasn't disappointed. Several redstart appeared at the edge of the forest affording good views.

Redstart, Bishops Dyke, New Forest.

The following evening, 31 May and the last day of the month, I went to Chobham Common for nightjar and woodcock. I wanted to bump up my total for the end of the month. As soon as we got to the main clearing of the common I saw the unmistakable sillouette of two roding woodcock. Great!

We moved on to an area where nightjar have been seen in previous years and sure enough we could hear the familiar churring, followed by close views of two or three nightjar. There was a lull. Lynne reminded me of the trick of waving a white handkerchief to make the nightjar think it was a female. I was sceptical but pulled one out and waved it. As if by magic a nightjar appeared and flew straight towards us and over our heads! Amazing! It worked! That evening my end of May total was 193!

Wednesday 3 June 2009

Bank holiday. Three days of birds. Day 3

As it turned out, having no breakfast at the B&B in Brandon was fortuitous because I'm an early riser and I was able to get to Weeting Heath by 05.50! I know!...., but it was only a few minutes away by car and I wasn't quite the first one there. Someone else had gone to the other hide!

I set up very gingerly and only then opened the flap. Very soon I saw three stone curlews quite a long way off but very active. Magnificent. They are such striking birds with their huge looking eyes. I took many photos from a distance. Heat haze was not a problem at that time of day and visibility was excellent. The birds were quite along way away though.
Stone curlew, Weeting Heath.
At one point a lapwing started to mob one of the curlews. It reacted by fanning its tail and opening its wings. Lovely. Here's the sequence:

In the woods by the car park I saw and heard a willow tit.

I went back to Lakenheath where I saw the common cranes and their chicks but only from a great distance. They were unmistakable. I also got a few more pics of the orioles but not better than the day before.

I went on to to Titchwell. I saw nothing new but I did take some lovely views of some turnstones on the beach.

Turnstone, Titchwell Beach.

I was now on 188, one behind David. I knew that a squacco heron had been seen at Wicken Fen. I had seen a great grey shrike there last year so I knew the reserve. I started driving home and made a slight detour to Wicken. It was early evening. Would it still be there? Would it be a long way in? Wicken Fen is quite a large place. I met someone in the carpark who told me where it was. Still there! He said it was very close to the hide so I decided to take my small lens. I raced to the spot. One returning birdwatcher said: "You should have been here ten minutes ago", and shook his head!! He was only joking. This bird was a lifer and brought me level with David. Sent him a text to grip him off. Notice how small the squacco heron is compared to the coot behind.

Squacco heron, Wicken Fen.

On the M25 I got blocked in the services when the motorway was closed for an hour and a half because some cattle escaped from a lorry which had overturned.

Bank holiday. Three days of birds. Day 2

Sunday 24 May 2009.

On the Sunday, 24 May, I went to Bempton Cliffs RSPB, a sort of poor man's Farne Isles. You don't have to pay for boats, you're not dependent on the weather to see the birds and the bird life is nearly as good. Almost immediately I met Di Stone who had already spent at least a day at the cliffs and knew where all the best spots were. Gannets, guillemots, kittiwakes, razorbills, fulmars and even a few puffins swelled my year list, together with a rock pipit. With Di's help I took close views of most birds there. Thank you, Di. Gannets were soaring close to the cliffs' edge and many of the photos I took were of them.

Gannet soaring off Bempton Cliffs, E Yorkshire

Guillemot, Bempton Cliffs, E Yorkshire

Kittiwake, Bempton Cliffs, E Yorkshire

Razorbill, Bempton Cliffs, E Yorkshire

After about five and a half hours I left and moved down the road to Flamborough Head. I stayed for an hour before driving back down to Brandon near to Lakenheath and Weeting again. I wasn't happy about the stone curlews and the golden orioles. I got to Weeting at dusk, knowing that the stone curlews were most active at dusk and dawn. I saw nothing but I did stop to observe the spotted flycatchers again, seeing them mate at one point.

Again I had no B&B arranged. I went to Brandon and asked at the pub. I was told that the owner of the bowling alley let rooms. One was available at £42 inc breakfast. A bit steep (Bridlington was £23) but I had little choice. A little later the receptionist told me that, as it was a bank holiday next day, they couldn't offer me breakfast so I could have the room only for £35. I wasn't disappointed about this as I'll explain in my next post.......

Monday 1 June 2009

Bank holiday. Three days of birds. Day 1

The situation was serious! David Campbell was on 189 for the year and I was on only 177. This could not continue! Lynne had given me the OK for this weekend which promised to be ideal in tems of weather and David was away on a school trip to Italy so there was a chance for me to catch up.

I decided on a slow journey to Bempton Cliffs in East Yorkshire, via various places where good birds had been reported. I prepared my flask on Saturday morning and set off early for Lee Valley to see the long-staying Savi's warbler. Like most warblers this one was also very drab. I saw it briefly and heard it sing twice (a long mechanical song slightly lower than a grasshopper warbler). On my way back to the car I managed some reasonable pictures of a garden warbler who was singing away.

Garden warbler, Lee Valley

Happy with the Savi's, I moved on to Lakenheath RSPB in Suffolk. There were several grasshopper warblers near the visitor centre - a lifer - but I was really hoping to see the golden orioles. I went the wrong way round the path so ended up walking further than needed, but I eventually came to the group of twenty or so with their scopes trained on the orioles' nest. It was quite high up so, again, pictures not great, but I was happy to have seen them.

Golden oriole on nest, Lakenheath RSPB.

Golden oriole on nest and flying, Lakenheath RSPB.

After a very long walk back to the centre and a well-earned coffee, I was then off to Weeting Heath (Norfolk Wildlife Trust) to see the stone curlews. It was late morning by now and the heat haze was severe. The hide was packed. Stone curlews are very elusive and well camouflaged. If they sit still they are invisible. I saw what I was sure was a stone curlew but it could have been a pile of earth!!

Back at the carpark, I learned that there were spotted flycatchers in the woods. I found them and managed good views of another lifer. "Spotted flycatcher, a lifer??" said a kindly Yorkshireman I met. "They're garden birds for us". I told him my garden birds are the ring-necked parakeets which now come every day to our feeders!

Spotted flycatcher, Weeting Heath NWT.

I thought there was just enough time to go to Cley for the Collared pratincole which had been there for a few days. When I got there it hadn;t been seen since that morning. I couldn't afford to hang about. I had to get to Bridlington and I didn't even have a B&B for the night. The satnav said 4 hours and it was after 5.00 already!

While I drove, Lynne rang round all the B&Bs in Bridlington but they were all full. Well it was the bank holiday! Lynne said all the B&Bs seemed to be in one street. I decided to go there. I got there at 21.20. I pulled into Marshall Avenue and the first B&B I saw, Harmony Guest House, had a sign up 'Vacancies'. I thought to myself that it might be the worst B&B and that's why it has rooms free. Nothing could be further from the truth. Margaret and Ian were lovely. The room was basic but clean. They had just a single free.

Margaret gave me a parking permit, came with me to show me where to park and then helped me carry my heavy gear back to the house. She gave me breakfast at 7.00 on the Sunday, made a flask for me and helped me carry my gear back to the car. I couldn't have wished for more. Well done and thank you Margaret. Anyone wanting a room should try Harmony - 01262 603867.

The following morning I set off for Bempton. . . . .

10 May 2009. Black-winged pratincole.

While I was at Elmleigh today, David told me about the black-winged pratincole at Reculver, a very rare vagrant to this country. As I wasn't too far away I wandered down and met the throng of at least 100 birdwatchers waiting for a glimpse.

It was last seen over a field of rape. I didn't have much idea what it looked like. Someone saw it two or three fields away and I may have seen it in the sense that I saw a tiny dot in my scope.

Later, I saw what I thought was the bird and started calling out where it was. I lost it for a few seconds and the bird I then picked up on turned out to be a crow. How embarassing in front of all those experts!!

About half an hour later the pratincole came back and settled on one of the banks of the oyster farm. It stayed there for at least half an hour so everyone had time to move round to it and have a good look. It was about 100m away and there was a lot of heat haze so the picture is not good. As I left, it flew off and turned up the next day at Grove Ferry. I was glad to have seen it.

Black-winged pratincole, Reculver.