Thursday 25 January 2018

American Horned Lark

Prior to Christmas we made a trip to Staines Reservoir to see the American Horned Lark, the weather at the time was none too clever and we did eventually see the bird, at a range of 200+ yards. Of course no photographs, which meant a return visit but the bird disappeared before we could arrange a visit. However, this week the bird returned to its favoured place on the concrete bank of the reservoir and, judging from the photographs on Twitter, was somewhat closer.

This time the walk across the long causeway between the two sections of reservoir was made in pleasant sunshine. The greeting as we joined the assembled birders was much the same as always. "Flew off 15 minutes ago - not been seen since". Patience was rewarded a few minutes later as the bird flew back to a position just below where we were stood. Unfortunately the prevailing light conditions were not optimal - who cares? At least this time we got some reasonable record shots and I have the feeling that we could have stayed all day for no improvement.


Next venue was a new one for me, Stocker's Lake LNR at Rickmansworth Aquadrome. Target species here were the recently reported Red Crested Pochards and after Martin gleaned advice from another birder we were on our way, unfortunately on the wrong side of the lake. No problem, we retraced our steps and Martin soon found three birds skulking under cover of some sunken trees. Fortunately a passing  birder informed us that he had seen others and that these were out in the open. Well they were, just as we arrived at the spot they left the water and promptly went to sleep.

The walk back to the car park gave us another couple of year ticks but not decent  photographs. Ring-necked Parakeet and Siskins were high up in the bankside trees.

On the way home we called into Capel churchyard,  looking for the reported Hawfinches, nothing present. Oddly enough just before we entered the village I had spotted a small flock of ten or twelve birds high up in a tree. Stupidly we ignored them, confident that we would soon be snapping away in the churchyard. Never look a gift horse etc.

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.

Wednesday 10 January 2018

Red-necked Grebe

With the weather set fair and some cracking images of the Church Norton Red-necked Grebe being posted by Dorian, we just had to give it a visit. But, after some deliberation, we decided to give the Warblington Cattle Egret the once over first. At this time of year we prioritise those birds that we are unlikely to see again during the year. When we arrived at Warblington the sun was up but the temperature was distinctly cold. Locating the bird took us a while but Martin finally spotted it in with a small herd of cows and several Little Egrets.

With the bird duly recorded we set off for Church Norton, a short detour to the Nore Stream to see if the regular Greenshank was in residence, sadly not, the friendly Spotted Redshank was home but we declined to stay as the number of dog walkers at this venue has reached epidemic proportions.

Arriving at Church Norton we met Dick and Sue who were on their way to see the Red-necked Grebe. Andrew House gave us the good news/bad news lowdown on the bird. "it's here but has moved a fair distance offshore". Not deterred we set off at a good clip for the spit. Sure enough the bird was a fair way off but its constant squabbling with a Great Crested Grebe  gave the possibility that it would be driven closer into camera range. And so it transpired, the bird came close enough to be recorded in the pleasant sunlight, until it slowly drifted off to the north and when we left was no more than a black speck.

Next up was a visit to the North Wall where we had a pleasant meeting with Trevor, a fly by Kingfisher, a ridiculously close GCG and an idiot in an aeroplane. Surely it cannot be right, nor legal, to fly a plane through a nature reserve at the extremely low altitude of 25 feet. A report to the RSPB visitor centre brought the expected response - nothing. Up to now the the CAA haven't bothered to respond to my report either, so it would seem that no one but the observing birders cared a jot.

A bit close for the 500mm

Wednesday 3 January 2018


The day dawned with an almost clear blue sky, a total contrast to the torrential downpours of New Year's Day. With weather like this I just had to go out. So I kicked off at the gull roost at Goring, all the usual suspects in attendance, Great Black-backed, Herring, Common, Black-headed and a lone Mediterranean Gull. Just single specimens of Grey Plover and Ringed Plover, I guessed that most of the waders were still on the beach as high tide was a couple of hours away The dog walkers were becoming more numerous and the birds were being shifted between the two rear fields, I was  just about to relocate to the beach when a Fieldfare, which had been feeding on Hawthorn berries, alighted in the field. 

So it was duly recorded and I was positioning the car/hide for a "berry in the beak" shot when my phone rang. It was Martin  - as the weather was so good he was thinking about going for the Black Guillemot at Sovereign Harbour as it may be the only chance for the species this year. So I picked him up and we set off for Eastbourne. However, with recent reports of Mergansers and a Goosander at Widewater we decide to call in and have a brief look. Unfortunately no one was at home, not surprising as the gale force wind was ripping along the length of the pool. Not an entirely wasted trip for as we left we spotted the resident pair of Stonechats to give us a year tick.

At Sovereign Harbour the wind had increased noticeably but the waters of the inner and outer parts of the harbour were relatively calm. The rough seas meant that a fair few Cormorants were about, obviously feeding well but some were being picked off by the marauding Great Black-backed Gulls, picking up an easy meal. With no sign of the Black Guillemot we decided to give the outer harbour the once over, nothing here save a trio of Great Crested Grebes, one which obligingly posed for us. 

A left turn at the end of the quay allowed to us to do a complete circumnavigation of the inner harbour, where we learned from a birder that the bird was feeding in the canal section. We nearly missed it as it was doing a lot of diving but finally it came ridiculously frame-fillingly close. A few records as we had comprehensively recorded this very bird before Christmas.

I said it was close!

Next up was a grand tour of Horse Eye Level which gave very little, several Mute Swans, sundry corvids and a large flock of very handsome Fieldfares. At this time of the year the optimism gauge reads extremely high so we made a second visit to Widewater. Nice to meet up with Paul who was getting some shots of the long staying and obliging Knot but no sign of the Goosander. A flyby Kingfisher at least made the journey worthwhile.