Sunday 14 March 2010

Hawfinch at last in New Forest.

As David Campbell hadn't been able to see the bufflehead in Dorset, which seems to have taken up residence, I went a second time hoping to get some better shots of it. It was nice to see it again but it was still fairly distant for photography but fine for telescopes.

We then went in search of the great grey shrike which had been reported near Burley in the New Forest. We stayed for about an hour but there was no sign of it 'behind' the car park as reported. A brief visit to Acres Down was a mistake as the sun was gone and so had the raptors, apart from a couple of buzzards.

We therefore headed for Blackwater Arboretum hoping to see some hawfinches, which I had seen all too briefly the other day. This time we were in luck with several small groups flying in and sticking around for a couple of minutes, albeit at the very top of the tallest trees. I managed to take several shots in attractive light.

Hawfinches. Female top, male below.

Hawfinch. Female.

As we were leaving a further report of the shrike came in. As it was only ten minutes away we decided to go back again, but a further scan of all the likely bushes failed to reveal the bird. Despite this, we left happy to have seen the bufflehead, and I was very happy with the hawfinches.

Friday 12 March 2010

Bufflehead in Dorset - 8 March 2010

As I had a day off on Monday I went to see the rare American duck that had appeared in Dorset near Langton Herring. That part of the Dorset coast is separated from the sea by the longest shingle bank in Europe, Chesil Beach, which stretches for nearly seventeen miles from Portland to West Bay. The lagoon formed by the shingle bank, the Fleet, is partially tidal and the water is brackish.

Wanting to avoid the rush hour traffic, I left home at 05.30 and arrived at the Fleet at about 0800. I scanned the water but no sign of the bufflehead, as the duck is called. My view of the Fleet wasn't clear as the coast has irregularities that obscure the view. Then the pager bleeped and I read 'no news of the bufflehead'!! Great!

Shortly afterwards the pager bleeped again and confirmed that the bufflehead was present. Judging by the position given I should have been able to see it, but I couldn't.

A few more birdwatchers arrived and we rounded a hill to get a better view of the Fleet. The bufflehead was way off in the distance but easily identifiable by its unique markings. We decided to get closer by going to Langton Herring. Even from there it was fairly distant and this shot is just for the record.


After gleaning some useful information from Jackie as to where I might find hawfinches (thanks, Jackie), I went to Radipole Lake RSPB in Weymouth to see the long-staying hooded merganser, then to Portland Bill for a little seawatching.

Hooded merganser

On the way to Portland I stopped at the top of the hill to admire and photograph the magnificent view of Chesil Beach, the Portland isthmus and Weymouth.

Chesil Beach. At over 16 miles, the longest shingle bank in Europe.

At the Portland Bird Observatory, near the beach I noticed a small flock of rock pipits, which allowed me to get fairly close. There were no black redstarts, however.

Rock pipit.

At Portland Bill I saw some common scoter on the sea, and a couple of gannets.

There was time to go to the New Forest before dark to see if the hawfinches were about. I had some trouble finding the arboretum but when I did get there those waiting said they had seen nothing. A goldcrest entertained us from a nearby conifer.


All the other birds that flew in were greenfinches, chaffinches, goldfinches or siskins. One or two of the birders left to go home as the light faded. Two other birds flew in and I looked through my scope to see a nice pair of hawfinches at last!  In the time it took me to take off my scope and pick up my camera they had gone. Ah, well! At least I'd seen them.

Tuesday 9 March 2010

A couple of days in Norfolk! 2-3 March

With the high tides of the full moon at the start of the month I decided to go to Norfolk for a couple of days. I drove up on Tuesday night after work, getting in at about 21.40 to Dove Cottage B & B at Dersingham where I stayed last year. High tide was at 08.08 so it wasn't too early. I needed to be there an hour before high tide, so I got up at about 06.00! A quick breakfast left for me by Doug and Mo and I set off for the RSPB carpark at Snettisham. It's about 25-30 mins walk to the beach from the car park and I got there at about 07.20. Even so, it appeared that most of the knot had already flown over into the roost as there were almost no large flocks flying over my head. Watching the knot and oystercatchers from the roost hide was nice but not a patch on last year when the birds were constantly up and swarming around because someone had crawled to the bushes just behind them and kept flushing them with the result that I was able to film the huge flocks of knot in the air.

There were about 100 avocet which flew off at one point only to return a few minutes later, perhaps because the water hadn't receded enough for them. A single Mediterranean gull flew in to join a headless one-legged greylag goose on the island!

Mediterranean gull.

Whilst in the roost hide I also saw the world's first four-winged shelduck. Amazing!!

Four-winged shelduck?

After the roost I headed back to the beach chalets where two shorelarks had been reported. I found a couple of birdwatchers looking for them. Soon they were discovered and I managed some pictures before they flew off. They are so well camouflaged in the stones of the beach that they are very difficult to see.


I headed off to Titchwell for a spot of lunch and hoped to see a brambling as they usually have one each year. This year there was none! I did, however, get good views of a water rail in the ditch near the visitors' centre. I met someone who had spent a few hours on the beach seawatching who told me he'd seen very little on the sea so I didn't bother to walk all the way to the beach in the biting wind.

Water rail.

I walked back to the car and on the way scanned the undergrowth with my binoculars to see if there were any woodcock. After a few minutes I was amazed and excited to see some rusty coloured feathers. Closer inspection revealed that it was indeed a woodcock deep in the undergrowth. I positoned my camera to get the best shot possible but the vegetation around it is clearly visible.


I was also approached by a cute wren looking for insects in the bark of a local tree.


I knew there was a snow goose at Holm next the sea and I went to look for it. I met a guy from Norfolk who gave me afew tips for where to see birds and he told me the goose was best seen from Thornham. It didn't take long before I was looking at a domestic goose only through my telescope, but not before I had flushed a couple of grey partridges which flew a short distance away. I was able to take photos as close as I had ever been to these shyest of partridges. Also of note was a merlin hunting low over the marsh.

Grey partridge

Domestic goose - Bahh!

It was getting dark now so I headed for Dove Cottage. 

The following morning, Thursday, I was up fairly early and set off for Titchwell again. I had decided not to stay a third night in Norfolk as I had to go to Bristol for Friday afternoon. The truth is I was caught doing 36 mph in a 30 mph area and I had to attend a speed awareness course on Friday afternoon! It would take four and a half hours to get there from Norfolk so I decided to go to Slimbridge near Bristol on Thursday night and spend Friday morning at the Wetlands Centre.

At Titchwell I got even better views of the water rail than yesterday and also saw the flock of twite which had been reported. The pager that Lynne got me for Christmas was coming into its own! Also that morning I saw three spotted redshank on the marsh.

After lunch I started down to Lynford Arboretum where the local birder had told me there was a good chance of seeing hawfinch. I found the spot with some difficulty but then met up with two others from Kent who had also come looking for hawfinch. We watched for an hour and a half and were rewarded with some crossbills, also a nice find.

Crossbill, female

After an hour and a half the sun had shifted to the other side so I decided to go the other side of the trees. In the time I was away, two hawfinches came but I didn't see them!! Aaagghh! After a quick stop at a certain location to see if the stone curlews had arrived yet (they hadn't) I set off for Slimbridge to stay the night at a B & B only 800m from the gates of the WWT itself.

There were a lot of works going on in reshaping some of the scrapes. I headed for the Zeiss Hide in the furthest corner and after some hard scanning of several hundred teal I finally made out the green-winged teal (the American version of our teal) by its white, vertical flank stripe. Our European teal has a horizontal white stripe.

Can you spot the green-winged teal? This photo is cropped to make it easier.

I had a light lunch at the canteen before heading off for my course. This was very informative and interesting and it really did make me aware of the dangers of speeding. I'm reformed and I have been driving much more carefully since.