Sunday, 22 April 2018

Bluebells and Warblers

I went for a walk around Aston End and along the river Beane this morning. As with the last couple of days, it was blue skies, sunshine and hot, but with a southerly breeze. We had a bit of rain overnight but it remained fairly dry underfoot, and the river, while flowing has dropped in level quite a bit since my last visit at the start of the month. I have no doubt it will be dry in the summer (its usually dry by now so its better than usual).
Warblers were conspicuous with lots of singing birds-two Chiffchaffs, at least seven Blackcaps, a Whitethroat and two Lesser Whitethroat. There were around six or more Yellowhammers, 17+Skylarks, 5+Buzzards, a pair of Sparrowhawks, a pair of Kestrels and three singing Greenfinches. Butterflies were out in force, Small Tortoiseshells were everywhere as were Green Veined Whites, and there were two Speckled Woods, two Brimstones and a male Orange Tip.
The usual wooded bank was looking good, with a lovely show of Bluebells. They seem to be almost at their peak at the moment, obviously the warmth over the last few days has really brought them on.

Saturday, 21 April 2018

Amwell and Butterflies.

Its been rather hot lately peaking in the high 20's yesterday-not the ideal time to be working in the garden, but it had to be done. Had my first Small White and Holly Blue for the year so things are picking up. Spent  bit of time looking around the pond, but no sign of any damselflies, though it is currently heaving with tadpoles and there are also a few Pond Skaters.
Woke up this morning to hear a Willow Warbler singing in the oak tree outside-not a common bird where I live now unfortunately. It was very warm and sunny even early on, but fortunately not as bad as yesterday and it turned out to be a pleasant morning. I went to Amwell for several hours.
William was there of course, they had had a fly through Little Ringed Plover and a couple of Med Gulls (which have been popping in and out erratically for a few days). Apart from one or two Lapwings, the only waders were the Oystercatchers-now back to a pair. Lots of Black Headed Gulls of course, dominating the rafts and the bare spots on the islands. Not holding out much hope for the Common Terns when they arrive.
I went for a rather long walk, visiting all the hides for a change. Several Chiffchaffs still singing, there are quite a lot of Sedge Warblers in, and I located four Reed Warblers, and one Whitethroat. Three Cetti's Warblers and several pairs of Blackcaps rounded off the warblers. There is supposed to be a Lesser Whitethroat in, and earlier in the week a Grasshopper Warbler was present for a few hours.
No hirundines, only singles of Red Kite and Buzzard which was disappointing considering the conditions, but I did pick up another Treecreeper. The herons and egrets are pretty active with several nests on the go, and there are still a few Shoveller and Teal present.
Butterflies were the highlight today. Had a couple of Speckled Woods, two male Orange Tips, maybe a dozen Green Veined Whites and singles of Peacock and Small Tortoiseshell. The trees are looking fantastic, with a lot of cherries/plums in flower and the maples and willows are peaking.

Sunday, 15 April 2018

Ashwell Dung Heaps

I finally managed to get up to Ashwell today. It hasn't been all that great this year-one or two Wheatear, a few Yellow and White Wagtails and and an odd Rock or Water Pipit (no-one seems sure and as far as I know its not been photographed).
Unfortunately I was expecting sunshine, but what I got was overcast and misty conditions with a cold southerly wind. Most of the old heaps have gone-there is nothing left of the one between Ashwell and Newnham, and the one east of Ashwell near the dairy farm is now grassed over, leaving one big one on the road further north. Its not very pleasant either, thanks to the rain there are an awful lot of brown puddles on the road and my car doesn't look particularly nice (out smell) at the moment.
Over the course of about 45 minutes, I had at least three singing Corn Buntings, a pair of Linnets, a pair of Reed Buntings, lots of Skylarks, one Buzzard and one male Yellow Wagtail. Two other cars loads were present-Aubrey and his wife and another non-local who I haven't met before.

When i got home I spent some time setting up a table top studio as my Arum Creticum (Kew Form) is looking quite nice at the moment.

Saturday, 14 April 2018

American Bittern in Suffolk

Way back in 2010, Colin and I drove overnight down to Cornwall for an American Bittern that had been found near Zennor. There have only been 38 records, 9 since 1950 and only a couple of those have been seen by more than a few observers so it was well received during it's stay. I didn't really think I'd see another one again, and I wouldn't have expected it to be a spring bird in East Anglia. However, following a Twitter post last weekend of a birder proudly sharing his first Bittern images from Carlton Marshes near Lowestoft, all hell broke loose and a large crowd descended on Sunday and subsequent days. The weather was pretty awful over this period, but a few managed to get decent images even if it involved waits of six hours or more.
There wasn't much else around today, so Colin and I went this morning. I left Stevenage in lovely sunshine (the first for a week or more) but the further east we drove the duller and cooler it became. However it want too bad, and I got my first Peacock of the year in the parking field-my only butterfly of the day though.
Heard a few Chiffchaffs on the long walk to the big crowd, with a couple of Blackcaps, Cetti's warblers and my first sedge Warbler. The crowd was split into two parts, with a few birders scattered around on the higher banks of the river and we joined the northern group. The first good bird appeared behind us-a Barn Owl. Unfortunately I was hand holding  my manual focus 500mm lens and 2x converter at the time but managed to get a few shots of it perched, but missed the best as it hunted the ditches near us.

An odd song from a lone Willow in front of us attracted attention-a fine male Ring Ouzel. I didn't manage to get any sharp images though. Shortly after, a male Wheatear was found on the grazing marsh, and not long after that a single Whimbrel was located. It didn't stay long and flew off after about 15 minutes.
Some time around 11 a big shout out alerted us to the American Bittern in flight. It was a long way off-rather more distant than the Cornish bird was, but in bins the views were superb, with the wing details showing very well. I tried to get the camera on it but only managed to get a couple of blurred images of it flying away from us as it dropped into the reeds to our south.
Having realised that William and a few others were nearby we went to join them, then we all walked down to the southern crowd where the Bittern had been seen to drop down in the corner of an open area. We spent a good hour here, watching displaying Marsh Harriers and hoping it would show but it never did. I did get a glimpse of an ordinary Bittern in flight-again a long way off. Around mid-day we decided to make our move as lunch was calling and it had got a bit colder. However approaching the northern crowd we could see that they were getting agitated. Turned out the American Bittern had been seen walking in front of the reeds and we just missed it. This was quite a way from where it landed, but five minutes later it was relocated crossing one of the clear areas and headed for the Ouzel bush.

I had frantically put my 2x converter back on (having removed it earlier) but didn't have time to set the camera set up, and these ended up badly under exposed, but I have been able to recover the data, though the dynamic range is reduced and the noise is a bit higher than I would have liked.
I was hoping it would re-appear the other side of the bush but it didn't. Perhaps the Chinese Water Deer (one of many seen today) made it a bit nervous.

About the only birds we missed were one or two Yellow Wagtails-one in the afternoon was a blue headed one, so it was a pretty decent morning out, with some good birds and a great crowd.

Monday, 9 April 2018

Common Scoters in Herts

I had Sunday planned out-I was going to go up to the Ashwell area to search the dung heaps and fields for Wheatears, Wagtails and so on, and then go on to the Coombe Road/Therfield area hoping to find a Ring Ousel or two. The weekend weather looked reasonable for migrants to come in as we saw on Saturday at Amwell, but as it turned out it was sea birds that made the local news.
Early news from Tyttenhanger of a drake Common Scoter changed my plans, being a county tick (the largely inaccessible wintering bird seen occasionally at Hilfield Park was only occasionally reported so I never tried for it). The constant drizzle and murk when I arrived wasn't all that pleasant but at least it was warm. Parking as usual by the model railway club I made I way to the gate by the conveyer belt, picking up a pair of Tree Sparrows (I failed to see any here last year for some reason).
A scan of the main pit and the Common Scoter stood out although a long way off, but it slowly made its way towards my position and eventually the yellow bill could be seen in the bins through the murk. As the Hilfield bird has turned into a drake over winter I assumed it was the same bird gradually making it's way north, but I soon discovered that there had been an influx into the home counties with five birds at Stanstead Abbots, a few further down the Lea Valley on the reservoirs,  several birds at College Lake, and more in the Paxton area for example. Additionally Kittiwakes were reported at various sites, and Barry had an Arctic Skua at Amwell at 9 am.
A small flock of Swallows were feeding over the water-14 were eventually counted by the time I left with more seen later, their were several Greater Black Backed Gulls, a few Lapwings and a Redshank, plus the regular wildfowl, grebes and Herons. A circuit along the river and up the woods to the screen failed to find anything of note and it wasn't until I got to the very muddy track by the farm that I found another pair of Tree Sparrows in the usual spot near the feeders and two familiar faces scoping the pit from the high point. They pointed out the two Little Ringed Plovers-very difficult at this distance in my bins and hard to pick out on the grey muddy edges. More Lapwing were visible and eventually a pair of Oystercatchers flew in. The Scoter was still on view of course but a long way off.
I didn't have enough time left in the morning to try and get to Ashwell, and with the weather deteriorating I made my way home. Had there been anything at Norton Green I would have called in, but nothing new had been reported unfortunately, but one Common Tern was later reported at Fairlands.

Saturday, 7 April 2018

Little Gulls at Amwell

A very enjoyable morning at Amwell today, with a spring-like feel to it. Certainly a lot lot better than Easter last week.
I arrived a bit later than usual, having dropped Mum off at the supermarket, but luckily the two Little Gulls reported earlier were still present, flying around among the hard of Black Headed Gulls. Unfortunately they remained a long way off, and with the rather overcast conditions, I never really got any good shots of either birds, and the best were of the less well marked ones.

A pair of Goldeneye and a few Teal remain from winter, but the best duck was a very brief view of a drake Mandarin that has been seen occasionally recently, flying south behind the main island. Very few waders, as there isn't much in the way of muddy edges or islands yet, just a couple of Lapwings and a lone Oystercatcher.
There were a few hirundines today, with four Swallows and later another with three Sand Martins. At least 9 singing Chiffchaffs, six Blackcaps and a single Willow Warbler up at the Tumbling Bay lock added to the spring feel.
On the walkway bridge over the river, I found a pair of Bullfinch and a Treecreeper posed nicely as well.

Lots of raptors up in the warm air as well. At least six Red Kites, six or more Buzzards and a regular Sparrowhawk flushing the gulls on a regular basis.
Butterflies were limited to three Brimstones.

Friday, 6 April 2018

Norton Green and my first Butterflies

I had a bit of time, so paid a very quick visit to Norton Green before work this morning, spending around twenty minutes or so in the southern section. The main purpose was to try and find a Wheatear, or perhaps a Ring Ousel, but I failed.
The weather wasn't exactly in my favour, with a cold southerly wind and a lot of the birds were sticking close to cover. Large areas of he old landfill site were a bit damp as well with large shallow pools particularly on the eastern side. I didn't really enjoy the visit and was glad to get back to the car.
I was lucky to see two Redpolls fly over-there has been a decent sized flock here this winter, and wasn't sure if any remained. Two Grey Partridges were the first this year. Three Mallards were a bit unusual, no doubt attracted by the standing water, but more expected were the two pairs of Yellowhammers, and several singing Skylarks.

Working in the garden in the rather nice warm sunshine yesterday afternoon, I had my first butterfly of the year with a Small Tortoiseshell. It or another appears this afternoon and I also had my first Bee-flies in the garden today as well. Seven Spot Ladybirds were also out in force, so its finally starting to feel a bit like spring now.