News and Pictures - Hants, Glamorgan, Glocs, Dorset - to 30th April 2011
1st April. No April Fools jokes here as I managed to squeeze in another birding jaunt after my barren winter. The fact that we're still down in Hampshire on holiday helps hugely and after a nice break in Barcelona with all sorts of local birding delights seen there (without the lens) I was keen to get out again. The weather promised to be good later on so I waited in until the light improved and by the time the sun poked out from behind the thick clouds, it was mid afternoon. I headed down to Keyhaven again and had a rough plan, after discovering the tide to be way out, to find some Spotshanks. It was comparatively quiet birdwise, and even on reaching the Fishtail, I'd only seen a silhouetted Peregrine as a bird of note. I ended up chatting to a few passing birders who mentioned that a Water Pipit had been seen around the Fishtail although it was mobile. I had a look for a while but it didn't show so I moved on still deciding what to do. On reaching the sea, I saw my first Red-Breasted Mergansers of the year out at sea but not before spotting two Little Ringed Plovers on the far side of the Fishtail. They took to the skies, calling repeatedly as they flew, almost as in some display flight with extended wingbeats. A graceful little wader at most times, one nice observation was as they landed it seemed one fluid motion in their transition from fast flight to their darting running movements. After seeing the distant Mergansers, and a single Swallow come straight off the sea and bomb northwards, I thought to myself, virtually everything else I've seen has been "miles away". I decided to chance my arm with the Water Pipit. I headed back inland to hopefully find a Wheatear but again nothing other than a Cetti singing. Back to the Fishtail and I met up again with a birder watching the LRP's that I'd told him about. We both watched them for a while before having a look for the Water Pipit. Moving to the westward end of the Fishtail, we scanned and waited and fortunately after no more than five minutes I noticed a pipit flying across the water and landing on the wire near the coastal path. It was straight into the sun but we could both make out a pale supercilium and the jizz looked good for the species. After getting a little closer and getting the sun out of our line of sight we could see the features more clearly and sure enough it was a pinky chested Water Pipit in all its glory! I fired off some record shots and we both looked at it through the scope before carefully getting to a viewpoint with the sun at our backs. It stayed put for a few minutes before flying off out of view but in that time I managed to get a few decent images. As we chatted about it, a Ruff and a Redshank flew towards us and landed close to where the Water Pipit had been. Again great views of the Ruff (and Redshank!) as they both started to feed. After a few minutes they both flew off together again but I'd decided to stay put and hope that the Water Pipit would put in another appearance. Again I was lucky that my perseverance paid off as after just over half an hour of waiting, I caught sight of the Water Pipit on the other side of the lagoon so tried to find the best cover I could. It was busy feeding and seemingly not wanting to come closer so whilst watching it I took a few other shots of Redshank & Oystercatcher and also a Meadow Pipit which came to investigate me. I noticed the bird stop feeding and kept down, hoping no cyclists or passers by would approach and after a few minutes wait, both the Ruff and Water Pipit flew back over to the near side of the lagoon! Double whammy! The Water Pipit landed on the wire but distantly and soon dropped down to feed so I focused on the Ruff and had lovely views as it began to feed fairly close in. The vegetation was partially obscuring the bird but it was great watching it as close quarters. I managed to catch sight of the Water Pipit again thanks to a jogger moving the bird back to the wires and edged closer. I then managed to get some very nice views of the bird as it sat on the wires and fenceposts in the evening light. The light was quite contrasty so exposure was difficult but I was pleased with the overall results, especially for only my second Water Pipit. It was also nice to have an almost fully summer plumaged bird contrasting with the full winter plumaged bird from last year. The bird eventually flew over my head and towards Keyhaven lagoon where I lost it to view and as time was marching on, I headed back to the car, again having another shot of Mute Swan and Black-Headed Gulls at the car park before heading back.
2nd April. A frustrating yet enjoyable few hours birding, this time at various locations throughout the New Forest. My main target as many times before was that most elusive of woodpeckers, the Lesser Spotted. I drove (very slowly and with dozens of stops) from Emery Down towards Bolderwood, stopping virtually every hundred yards and listening for any signs of drumming or calls. At my fourth stop I was convinced I heard one but it turned out to be singing Nuthatches. At my sixth stop I was fairly convinced I heard one again but couldn't relocate the call. I was beginning to get my familiar LSW chase feeling and at yet another stop I was easily distracted by a familiar song. An early Tree Pipit was singing from atop a tree with perfect habitat all around. The view was into the light but its rich tones were a pleasure to enjoy. I listened for a few minutes before the bird took flight across the opening and out of view. It would have been nice to get a shot but I did exceptionally well with Tree Pipits the previous year! I carried on westwards until the forest thinned to open moorland, so turned the car around and headed down the Bolderwood Arboretum Ornamental drive. By this time it was more like a cruise with dozens of vehicles, cyclists and ramblers using the road. It wasn't conducive to LSW cruising, especially being so narrow so I parked at one of the few off roads and went walking. I didn't end up going far as I was immediately on to a Redstart singing. I soon managed to pick it up and was then alerted to another bird also singing. The two splendid males tussled frequently and although high up, gave views of flashes of colour as they sped round the treetops after each other. They were too distant and too high to photograph and I had yet to take a meaningful shot so a fairly obliging Treecreeper was a welcome. Two birds were busy feeding together and gave some good views even if the light was mediocre at best. Similarly a nestbuilding Wren was predictable in its behaviour and I managed a few shots as it dashed in and out of cover. It was now early afternoon and my LSW hunt had obviously bombed yet again so I decided to try and find a Wood Lark. I went to my (fairly) reliable spot and was disappointed to find that the location didn't produce the hoped for sights and sounds. After walking a mile to another known area I finally caught sight of one as it flew from the ground to a pine tree. Once in the tree it started singing its magical song and I lapped up the performance. Such a rich sound and always a pleasure to hear but very hard to pick out once on the ground, certainly for me with my colour blindness. I only managed a single shot of the Wood Lark before the bird flew back to the trees before being distracted by what I thought was a Swift calling. Eventually I located the sound and was surprised to see it coming from a Stonechat. It was certainly a song that I'd never heard before with the first few notes being very much like the screaming call of a Common Swift. I spoke to my father who looked up online about the songs of Stonechat and we could only assume that it was a different subspecies of Stonechat. It was a very smart male with more obvious than usual white flashes on the wing. It was associating with a female Stonechat which was much more approachable than the male but even after watching the bird for over half an hour, I couldn't make it into anything more than a normal Stonechat. All the while I'd been following the pair of Stonechats I'd heard the odd call and song from the Wood Larks but once I decided to have another look for them they vanished! Obviously things were trying to tell me something so I headed back to the car and back home. Not the best photo day but very nice to pick up some quality early migrants.
3rd April. Miffed yet again by my previous days efforts and with only an outside chance of a female Red-Flanked Bluetail at Durlston to tempt me elsewhere, (which of course stayed because of me not visiting!) I headed back into the New Forest, armed with some more location research, determined to finally rid myself of the Lesser Spotted millstone! I headed back to Emery Down but to a slightly different area but at dawn this time. It was cloudy and chilly at 4°C but I set off deep into the woods to listen out for any signs. The sun was scheduled to rise as I got out of the car but I wouldn’t have known it. My first “stop” moment was due to an unfamiliar song. I immediately knew it was a Firecrest singing but as the light was so dismal, the song was high and distant, and I wanted to get to my “spot”, I decided to press on, storing the location for later. I walked 10-15 minutes or so to where I thought was the right area and after 5 minutes waiting and listening I heard drumming. It sounded like it was at a faster frequency than a Great Spotted and remained consistent throughout. This sounded promising! Eventually I glimpsed way up in the canopy a small woodpecker roughly where the drumming had been coming from. It soon shot off out of sight but I knew I was in the right area. After 10 minutes of listening to further drumming, I knew I was listening to 2 Lesser Spotted Woodpeckers drumming and giving the occasional song call. Eventually one came into view, looking almost 75° up from horizontal it was a real challenge to get a shot but I finally managed to get some passable shots considering the conditions, and how fantastic it was to finally watch one after so many failed attempts. The size was slightly larger than I’d imagined but by no means big! The bird I watched always remained at the very top or very near to it and as such it’s easy to see how these birds go unnoticed, especially given that an hour after dawn the drumming and calling stopped completely. The only drumming I heard after that was of a Great Spotted which seemed to have a slower frequency which slowed throughout its drumming. There was a short period when I could hear both birds simultaneously which allowed me to compare and learn the Lesser Spotted drumming sound. After an hour or so of searching again for the now silent Lesser Spots and only getting one brief glimpse I decided to give my sore neck a rest (it’s hard looking above you all the time!) and check out the Firecrest location. I headed back but soon stopped when I found another singing Firecrest in a Rhododendron tree together with a Blackcap. Neither bird wanted to show itself and after 15 minutes trying to get a clear view I gave up and headed back to the original spot. This time I had more luck as the original Firecrest had competition with another and they were both actively singing and showing although with the poor light it was a real challenge to get decent shots. I could really have done with a tripod as a I missed a few nice poses but even so encountering these special birds is always a pleasure. After a snapping a small group of Fallow Deer, I pushed my luck and headed down towards Lymmington and hoped to catch up with a small group of Common Scoter that had been loafing just off shore the previous evening. This was always going to be a long shot and other than a shot of a Blue Tit, all I managed to get was muddy! I crossed a field, trying to get a good view of the shore, noticed the grass change a little and ploughed on – and down almost to my knees! A hidden river had managed to claim a hapless victim! Needless to say once back at the car, that was it for the day and arriving back my son soon started commenting on how dirty Daddy was! Never mind James, I managed finally to catch up with my Lesser Spotted Woodpecker!
8th April. With it being that time of year again, and after reading positive reports of multiple sightings I decided to head to Cleeve Hill above Cheltenham to hopefully improve on my lousy Ring Ouzel shots. The weather looked great with a clear sunny morning getting better and better as I neared. I parked adjacent to the golf course and trekked over towards the Washpool. It took me a while to find it but after passing the enclosed cattle grazing area I soon had my bearings. The early morning air was alive with bird song, most notably Willow Warblers which were singing from numerous trees and also typical birds of the habitat in Skylark, Meadow Pipit, Linnets & pleasingly Yellowhammers. I scoured the valley as I ascended it looking and listening for any sight of sound of Ring Ouzels but every Blackbird remained a Blackbird and an overflying Mistle Thrush remained just that. As always my focus changed slightly after approaching an hours searching and with a few fairly showy Willow Warblers in nice morning sun I managed to add a few shots. Also as I wandered through the various paths, I encountered a cracking male Yellowhammer sitting atop a gorse bush. It always remained “rear on” even as I moved to get the sun more at my back but it was a lovely view of a wonderful bird. I headed towards the masts and back towards the cattle enclosure only noting a Fox scamper in and out of cover with still no sight of any Ouzels. I had another hour and so decided to do the loop again. I descended down to the Washpool, this time finding a Blackcap singing away thick in cover and a Grey Wagtail flying overhead. I walked up the valley again and heard the call of a Red-Legged Partridge chukking away somewhere out of view below me and also a pair of Yellowhammers mating but still no sign of any special thrushes. As I reached the top of the valley for the second time I saw a few birders obviously doing the same as me, we eventually all came together and shared our news of no sightings, which after 8 birds seen over the past two days was pretty disappointing but is always the chance you take with birding the morning after a clear night. I decided to head back to the car and work and was stopped first by a green-keeper and then the local dog walkers enquiring what I was looking for. Their curiosity satisfied I carried on, stopping briefly to photograph a Peacock butterfly, and then almost back at the car I was stopped 100 yards short by what turned out to be my most approachable gamebird ever! A Red-Legged Partridge was singing away on a grassy hill and it allowed me to within no more than 12 feet as it carried on calling. The light was very glary by this point but even so it was a great opportunity to get some close ups of what can often be a very jumpy species.
15th April. Not much to report other that I drove to Cosmeston Lakes first thing to follow up on a sighting the previous evening of a drake Garganey. It wasn’t there at first light on either lake and other than hearing several Reed Warblers and seeing a few Tufted Ducks that was it! I was in work at the normal time too. Dip number 2!
17th April. Now this had been bugging me! For over a week, West Gower had played host to a Woodchat shrike for the second year in a row. Work and family commitments had stopped me getting down but we had planned to stay down with my father this weekend and after arriving the night before I learned the bird had still been seen that day. The night was worryingly clear and I woke early to a blanket of fog. Regardless, I was anticipating finally seeing my first UK Woodchat Shrike, especially after seeing one in Barcelona a few weeks ago whilst on holiday (without the camera gear). I arrived at Llangennith after emerging from the fog into a brightening pre-dawn sky and eventually found my way from the caravan car park to its favoured spot. Immediately I arrived, the fog decided to pour down off Rhossilli downs and cover the dunes with damp grey cloud. Great. I carried on looking for the Shrike regardless but only managed to hear Cetti, Sedge, Willow and a single Grasshopper Warbler. A few jumpy Wheatear toyed with me as did several Whitethroats and everything that moved couldn’t be made into a Shrike no matter how optimistic I was. With the fog still not budging it was evident that the Shrike was unlikely to still be there so I cursed my luck and tried to find the Gropper. It had stopped singing for a while but eventually I managed to catch up with it and got a quick shot through some reeds before it skulked back into cover. I couldn’t see the Cetti’s Warbler at all even though it had been singing consistently and the only other photos taken were as I left as a Skylark flew towards me and I got some flight shots. I had to get back to the family and was pretty miffed after seeing everyone’s reports over the past week, especially hearing how well the Shrike had been showing. Will this be another of my bogey birds? Who knows but let’s hope Dip number 3 stops the dipping sequence.
22nd April. With a whole load of holidays and bank holidays coming up and some decent sightings reported around the country, my highest priority was to hopefully catch up with a bird seen for several days on the outskirts of Bournemouth. Good Friday arrived and after the previous night’s chaotic traffic had dissipated to nothing with the early morning cross country drive quite pleasant. I arrived at Stour LNR and parked up as the only car in the car park, geared up and headed to the river. I walked the 10 minutes or so down river until I found the island in the river where the Night Heron had been frequenting. I scanned the whole island and its thick vegetation but couldn’t see any sign of it at all. After 10 minutes or so I decided to check further down the river and still came up with nothing other than singing Reed Warblers, Whitethroats and several Kingfishers bombing up and down the river. A distant Cuckoo was nice to hear but I was really anxious to see the heron so I headed back to the spot and this time, right out in the open, there it was! The Night Heron was perched atop a small fallen tree showing its bright yellow legs and red eye clearly. The light was still poor and unfortunately after only a minute the bird flew from its perfect perch to the far side of the river, partially obscured by reeds and grasses where it remained for around an hour! I decided to let it move on, hopefully to a better viewpoint whilst investigating the passerines I’d discovered earlier. All of the Reed Warblers wanted to sing from deep within the reeds and only a Whitethroat allowed me a photo opportunity. In the meantime a few other birders had turned up and eventually we all assembled around the island viewpoint, waiting for the bird which was now mostly obscured from view on the island to make a full appearance. I was relieved that I’d got those early shots but now in improving light, wanted to get a few more images. After another hour or so of waiting and having been entertained by a Grey Heron and watching several Med Gulls flying overhead we got our chance. Two women riding horses on the far bank approached and I readied myself! I was wise to as the Night Heron flew up, did a few circles and then landed in one of the trees on the far bank in full view. This allowed me to get some flight shots and also observe the colouration of the bird especially that amazing red eye! A short while later the horses appeared again at a gallop and again we all got some more flight views. The bird then happily perched up in the trees for the best part of an hour allowing the newly arriving birders wonderful views. I wanted one more flight and duly got it as the bird flew down to feed once more. I managed to keep the focus locked as it glided down to the river before landing out of view again. Happy, I said my goodbyes and headed back to the car. Driving down I’d passed the entrance to Blashford Lakes and so thought it rude not to drop in on the way back. I only went to the Tern hide from where I got some lovely views of Lapwing, Great-crested Grebe and Little Ringed Plover along with my first Common Terns of the year and a Mallard mum with her small downy chicks in tow. After a nice chat and some good birds I headed off this time with a quick stop off in Somerset at Shapwick Heath. I’d hoped to see a few Hobbies and with a dozen reported the previous day I was a little disappointed to hear none had been sighted when I arrived. Still I had a distant view of the Lesser Yellowlegs along with a few flight views of Bittern. Photo opportunities were at a premium with scopes the order of the day so I turned to butterflies and eventually managed to snap a male Orange Tip and a Brimstone. The clouds started to roll over and with the temperature high for mid-April, rumbles of Thunder signified my home time.
24th April. One of the easier to get species on my missing list had been a tick waiting to happen and the morning of Easter Sunday was hopefully going to be the day. I headed the 20 minutes or so into the Forest of Dean and into the wood at Brierly. I thought I’d seen Willow Tit there before but wasn’t sure on the id so hopefully going back at a time when the birds are singing was going to clinch it for me. Within 5 minutes of getting out the car I was at the hotspot and after a few minutes listening I was on to what sounded like a good contact call. Sure enough after a few minutes the bird started singing and once I laid eyes and camera on the bird, I could see its thicker neck and non-glossy black cap, the usual field features for distinguishing it from its similar Marsh Tit relative. The bird was holding a territory in a shaded area and it looked like the early morning sunlight would filter in to it in an hour or so. With some reasonable record shots of it on the card I decided to investigate further afield and was pleased to hear two Tree Pipits singing (which eventually had an almighty aerial tussle) along with numerous Chiffchaff, Blackcap, Willow Warbler and a single Garden Warbler. One of the Willow Warblers was faithful to one tree and I managed to get some lovely shots as it sang and fed no less than 20 feet away, its song a near constant blanket of rich sound, mixed in with the more distant warbling Blackcaps. I tried to photograph the remaining Tree Pipit but it was faithful to the very tops of two tall pines and what was worse was that the early morning sun was giving way to lowering cloud cover. I headed back to the Willow Tit spot and eventually managed to pick up a few more shots but not in the light I’d hoped for. Still it was great to finally catch up with one and get rid of one annoying little blot on the website! Tawny Owl – your days are numbered, surely!
29th April I fancied a day of fairly local birding and had high hopes of finding something nice to share with all those birds I’ve been fortunate enough to see courtesy of others so it was a day in Gloucestershire and a few favourite sites. I headed first to Highnam woods to hopefully hear the wonderful sound the woods are famous for. On arriving, again it seemed the gods were against me as immediately I set foot out of the car the clouds rolled over and the cold breeze became a bit unconformtable, especially given I was wearing shorts (with gloves – nice look!). Anyway, I soon heard what I was after with a great Nightingale giving it about 70%. It certainly wasn’t up to the performance I heard a few years back at the same spot but still fantastic to hear. With all the warm spring weather, the leaves were well advanced and seeing it, let alone photographing was going to be difficult. Alas, the bird stayed in its copse and the only glimpse I had was a fleeting one in its darkened concert hall. I wandered around the reserve, hearing Garden Warbler and Blackcap singing away beside each other but all photo opportunities were poor ones and I eventually left after a few hours with no shots taken at all! From here I decided to head down to Frampton-on-Severn which can often turn up some niceties. I wandered down to the Sailing Lake and could only see around fifty or so Hirundines hawking low over the water. At least the sun was coming out now and I walked over to the other lake where the Barnacle Goose flock was present along with many Canada & Greylag Geese. I do like Barnacle Geese and finally had something to photograph, having not managed to locate the calling Stock Dove. I walked along the lakeside and noticed a few Mistle Thrushes gathering food which allowed for some reasonable pictures although the marching Greylag Goose family was more entertaining! I’d hoped to see a Tern or two on the lakes but other than a family of Coots and several Gadwall there was nothing exciting to report. I then wandered back to the car and headed over to Slimbridge where I tried again to connect with Garganey. Fortunately this time there were Garganey present, two drakes in fact although they always kept their distance, both at the Lathbury hide and also on South Lake. I watched them for well over two hours only getting slightly better shots than I had, wishing they’d come closer or the laws of physics would change my optics into a super powerful zoom! Ultimately my best photograph from Slimbridge came at the Lathbury hide of a Rook. The light on it was perfect and its iridescence made the bird appear almost totally blue! With time marching on it was time to head back although I still managed a quick stop of at Brierley to hopefully catch the Willow Tits again this time in better light. One out of two as the light was good but not a sight or sound of the birds! To top that off I managed to get my legs eaten by biting bugs which itched for a week! Never mind, it was a nice relaxed day even if I didn’t find anything stunning. At least I tried!
30th April. After finding out news of an unusual sighting in an even more unusual location, I had a fairly sleepless night hoping the bird would still remain until daybreak. The location in question was a lamppost just north of the Aberdulais roundabout on the Heads of the Valley road. The bird was a White Stork, several of which had been roving around the U.K. over the past week but a local bird appearing whilst I was not in work was far too tempting. I drove there in under an hour, arriving 20 minutes before dawn to hopefully find the bird but on first scan with bins I couldn’t see anything, the light from the street lights hindering my ability to check out any potential perch. I drove round scanning a few more lampposts and encountered a few more birders doing the same thing. After 10 minutes I noticed a big lump on a lamppost and quickly parked up. There it was, perched on an illuminated lamppost so I quickly setup the tripod and gauged what little light there was. It was 5:30, 6 minutes before dawn on a slightly cloudy morning so I wasn’t really surprised to see 1/6 second exposures at 800ISO! I was the first to set up and quickly fired off some shots, within a minute or so, all five of us were watching it as it’s lamppost quickly became a magnet for half a dozen or so Jackdaws. I don’t know if they agitated the Stork or not but less than a minute later, the White Stork was off. Grah! We set off trying to find where it had got to and one of the group managed to locate it over the river by the driving range before it again flew off up river. We split up again trying to find it. I drove up the eastern side of the river as far a Clyne not seeing a thing before driving slowly back down the A465 to its original location. No sign. I then drove back up the other side again scouring for any sighting but couldn’t see a thing. When I reached Clyne again I decided to have a quick check for Dipper as I hadn’t seen one in ages and immediately saw one in the gloom along with a pair of Common Sandpipers. Thinking I could spend ages trying to find the Stork again I decided on heading back, if only I’d gone ½ mile across the road to the canal, I’d have found it again but that’s life! Still at least I managed to catch up with it even if the same bird more than likely followed my drive home with another sighting of White Stork later that evening in Chepstow!