Wednesday, 17 January 2018

Jack Snipe, Black-necked Grebe and Smew

Phew what a title, but for me three great birds that deserve equal billing. The product of two days unashamed tick and photograph hunting. Jack Snipe has been top of both our lists for some time, a bird that I have seen before but never had the opportunity to photograph. Martin had been tracking this bird for some weeks and today was the right time to venture up to a most incongruous venue. The Greenwich Peninsular Ecology Park lies adjacent to the Thames and has to be the most unlikely place to find a Jack Snipe. The park is a small wetlands oasis in the middle of huge residential and industrial development. Anyway, we arrived just after opening time and the volunteers made sure that we were in the right hide. 

Scanning the reeds and bank resulted in a blank  and we sat down in preparation for a long wait. Presently one of the wardens arrived and asked "Have you seen it yet?" - three birders stared back and shook their heads. He then opened a side window, thrust out a finger and indicated the position of the subject. Now, I have pretty good eyesight for my age  yet I couldn't discern anything that looked remotely like a snipe, until I put my bins up and the best camouflaged bird that I have ever seen sprang into vision - binoculars down and yet again I could see nothing. Bear in mind that the bird was probably no more than fifteen feet from the end of my nose.

A queue formed and we took turns to record the bird in various poses, mostly of a sleeping and bobbing nature. Unfortunately at no time did the bird emerge from cover, even the close attention of a Water Rail failed to flush it to a more open location.

Some idea of how the reserve is located.

A "bijou" hide

Next tick was the easiest, the Black-necked Grebe at Sevenoaks Wildlife Reserve, information gleaned at the visitor centre was spot on and we found the bird without effort. A tad distant but recorded for posterity.

The Smew were a result of the previous day's trip to Dungeness,  a venue we visit regularly to get the year list off to a good start. Targets for the day included the long staying Long-eared Owl by the dipping pond, unfortunately a no show, probably due to the very keen westerly winds that were chilling anything that ventured forth. At Scott hide we located the Smew but they didn't hang around long, being spooked by other wildfowl and decamping to the lake in front of Christmas Dell hide, where they remained at a fair distance.

On the way home we gave Horse Bones Farm, Scotney Pits and Pett Level the once over but failed to find any of the reported highlights. I think the westerly which was gathering sufficient strength to deter all but the keenest birder had something to do with it.

Final venue was Horse Eye Level at dusk, looking for any unusual raptor or perhaps even an owl. Sadly nothing save a perched Kestrel and a pair of squabbling Buzzards, one very pale juvenile had us puzzled for a while. The record shots of which were taken in appalling light.

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