Tuesday, 30 December 2008

Willow Tit (Poecile montanus) - Combe Wood, Berks. 30th Dec 2008

I have seen Willow Tit on previous occasions at Combe Wood and it seems to be one of a few reliable locations where they can be seen in Berkshire. They tend to favour a number of areas around the top of the hill near Combe Wood or in the wood itself and previous bird races have successfully found this species along with it's close relative the Marsh Tit. On this years TABCG Berkshire Bird Race myself and team member Cathy McEwan had heard one calling but with Roy Rose failing to hear it unfortunately it couldn't be counted for the day.

Having tried a number of locations closer to home where I have seen Willow Tit on previous years without any success I decided to head to Combe Wood for a final attempt before the year ended. After parking the car just off Church Lane I started the steep ascent up the public footpath towards Combe Wood, I remember thinking to myself that this location would be better served earlier in the day when we take part in the Berks bird race next year, it's a killer late in the day especially when you've been on the go since midnight.

At the top of the hill a covey of 9 Red-legged Partridges were seen running along the side of the fields near Summerton's Down and on the other side of the path 5 Stock Doves flew over Wadsmere Down. Continuing along the path to Combe Wood a Nuthatch could be heard calling and I soon came across a party of 14 Long-tailed Tits flitting their way through the wood. I walked slowly down the path attempting my Marsh Tit "pitchoo" call hoping that something might reply, I've had plenty of practice with the Marsh Tits in our garden and with good success I hasten to add. It didn't take long before I heard a Marsh Tit reply and answering it's call I waited for it's reply, it didn't call but instead appeared in a tree just off the path and sat checking me over giving me a nice view, as it flitted back in to the woods another bird called further down the path but this time it was the harsh calls of the Willow Tit which was perched in the trees at the edge of the path. I watched as it made it's way through the trees and at one point could hear another calling nearby, it stayed in view for a good 5 minutes before I lost sight of it in the woods.

Added To My year List.

228. Willow Tit

Monday, 29 December 2008

RSPB Church Wood - Bucks 29th Dec 2008

I decided to head over to RSPB Church Wood today hoping to catch up with another species that I had failed to see so far this year. Lesser-spotted Woodpeckers aren't the easiest birds to see and having dipped on a number of occasions earlier in the year I decided to try again.

After parking the car I walked along the path to the reserve, it was rather chilly and I was certainly pleased I'd brought my hat and gloves and making my way to the bench next to the wardens hut I prepared myself for a long wait. I stood quietly listening for any bird calls and watched as a Robin came flying down to where I was standing, it was so tame I wondered if visitors to the reserve had been feeding it from their packed lunches, unfortunately it wasn't going to get anything off me as I didn't have anything to give it. It seemed quite content digging around under the leaves so I sat down and watched it, about 5 minutes passed and I was kicking myself for not bringing my camera when a small flock of birds flew across the tree tops. They continued over the clearing and landed in the tops of some Alder trees not more than 20ft away which gave me a good chance of standing up without scaring them. When I managed to get the scope on them I could see that it was a flock of Lesser Redpoll, hanging upside down they busily stripped the seeds from branches and within a couple of minutes more birds arrived to join them. The wood was empty and I stood alone watching these Finches going about their business, their metallic contact calls could be heard clearly and brought the silence of the wood to life. My little Robin friend looked a bit peeved that the Redpolls were now attracting my gaze and he slowly hopped towards me tilting his head every so often to check the woodland floor for food, I didn't have the heart to tell him the ground was frozen and he could be waiting sometime!.

The Redpolls continued to feed in the trees above me and I managed to count 25+ before they took to the air, they circled the tree tops forming a tight group and disappeared from view further in to the wood. I was know feeling a bit cold and decided to have a walk around the areas that the Lesser-spotted Woodpeckers have been reported from, with the trees having shed their leaves it makes it slightly easier to find this tree canopy hugging Woodpecker so saying goodbye to the Robin I headed off down the path. At the bottom of the main track a small pond often draws birds in to drink and stopping to watch a Wren do exactly this I heard the Lesser Redpolls approaching again, over they went dropping back in to the trees by the wardens hut. I then spotted another small flock of birds flying in to the trees by the pond and was soon watching a flock of 15 or so Siskin feeding in the alders, I could hear more but just couldn't see them and waited to see if they would show themselves. I'd been in the wood for about 3 hours now and my feet were starting to get numb, I was just starting to dream of my car heater when all of a sudden I heard a faint rapid and feeble drumming sound coming from along the lower main path leading back to the entrance, I grabbed my scope and walked quickly along the path stopping at where I believed the sound to be coming from. I waited for about 10 minutes with not a bird in sight and was about to give up when I spotted a family walking through the woods with their dogs, they were obviously being quite loud as they walked through the wood and approaching the centre of the woodland they flushed a small bird from the trees, it called with a sharp and short "kick" alarm call and then proceeded to fly through the woods with a deep undulating flight, I managed to see this tiny bird immediately and spotted the red head and white horizontal barring across it's back and wings but it didn't stop and flew off in the direction of the wardens hut. It was a brief view of a male Lesser-spotted Woodpecker and sadly that was the best it was going to get as by now frostbite seemed to be setting in and I was just too cold to go and look for it. I retreated to the warmth of the my car and headed for home.

Back in August of 2005 I was extremely lucky to find a male Lesser-spotted Woodpecker clinging to a dead tree branch on my local patch. I was attempting to digiscope Spotted Flycatchers at Aston near Hambleden Lock on the Berks/Bucks border when a passing dog walker allowed his dog to run straight in to the bushes flushing everything in sight, trying to resist the urge to throw both the dog and his owner in to the nearby backwater I glanced skywards and noticed a small bird clinging to the side of a dead tree trunk. With the blue sky behind this small bird it was difficult at first to see exactly what it was and it wasn't until I viewed it through my binoculars did I realise it was a male Lesser-spotted Woodpecker. It remained motionless on the tree giving me time to grab my scope and camera and snap off a few shots. It must have stayed in view for at least 10 minutes and at one point was joined in the tree by a Chaffinch giving a good size comparison. Despite searching most evenings throughout the summer of 2005 I saw it only once again in late August and have had no luck on any of my return visits. Earlier in December 2008 I had returned to Hambleden Lock and Aston hoping that I might have a spot of luck and find it again but sadly was unsuccessful.

Added To My Year List.

227. Lesser-spotted Woodpecker

Lesser-spotted Woodpecker (Aston, Berks 30/08/2005)

Saturday, 27 December 2008

The Christmas Devon Diaries 24th-27th December 2008.

As Christmas approached my girlfriend and I were asked by my aunt and uncle whether we would like to spend Christmas down in Devon at a converted barn they had rented for Christmas week, we jumped at the chance and by the time we had put the phone down I was already packing my bags. South Pool is only a short distance away from Prawle Point, when I say short I mean 3 or 4 miles at the most. I had hoped to stop in Gosport to see the regular over wintering Ring-billed Gull and make our way along the coast stopping at Radipole to see the Hooded Merganser and then head on to Devon. Well you know what they say about best laid plans and after leaving home at 2pm my plans went out the window. We arrived at South Pool and pulled up at the barn at 6:30pm and after being greeted by my aunt we started to unpack the car. The first bird was soon added to the holiday with a Tawny Owl calling from nearby.

Dec 23rd 2008

Tuesday morning soon came round and after spending the previous evening playing Wii I was nursing a few aches and strains. It was a brisk clear morning with no wind so although it was chilly it was still pleasant. The garden at the barn hosted many of the common species of garden birds including Blue & Great Tit, Robin, Goldfinch, Chaffinch & Greenfinch and an occasional male Bullfinch. A pair of Blackbirds and a lone Redwing that spent the week feeding on a number of berry bushes around the garden, it was also a pleasing sight to see a small group of House Sparrows that could often be seen and heard in the perimeter hedgerows. Wood Pigeon, Starling, Carrion Crow, Jackdaw and Rooks were all common sightings as they passed overhead commuting from one field to another as were Black-headed and Herring Gull. From the living room window of the barn I could see the South Pool creek, this is a channel of water that starts from the English channel and dissects Bolt Head and Prawle point and makes it's way inland past Salcombe and on towards Kingsbridge. Once I had set up my scope I had great views across the low tide mud flats, an obvious white blob sat the water pools turned out to be an Little egret and I was pleased to see a number of waders feeding in the mud. As breakfast was being cooked I headed out to the wood shed to stock up on logs for the evening fire, after filling the wood basket I headed back to the barn hearing a familiar "kronking" sound coming across hills, I put the basket down and looked across the hills seeing nothing but passing wood pigeons and by the time I had grabbed my binoculars from inside the calls had stopped.

South Pool Creek

After breakfast I wandered 200 yards down the road to the creek, approaching the creek both Herring and Black-headed Gulls were present in two small groups of about 5 or 6 each but soon departed as I approached. I soon spotted 2 little Egrets that were stalking prey in the now shallow areas of the water as the tide receded, they seemed very territorial often raising the heads skywards, dancing round each other and often showing their plumes, it was something I would expect to see from a displaying pair during courtship.

Little Egret

I didn't really expect to see much so close to the village of south pool and after finding a good spot to view across the mudflats I soon found a Common Sandpiper hastily making its way along the edge of mudflats only stopping when it found something to feed on. It soon scurried past a Oystercatcher which then joined it in the race across the mud and seaweed. 2 Redshank called noisily to each other from opposites side of the creek before joining each other on one of the small seaweed and mudflat islands that were visible in the creek. I continued along the public footpath which curved around the edge of the creek until I came to another good viewing spot, from here I could see into a small bay hidden by the houses on the opposite bank. a lone Greenshank was sat preening on the edge of a seaweed bank and despite the 2 Redshank getting nervous and taking flight the greenshank remained, it gave me great views of the delicate scaly patterns to the feathering as it stood and preened. As I watched the Greenshank a flock of 25+ Meadow Pipits few over and dropped down in to nearby fields. I reached the end of the public footpath and turned round to walk back along the edge of the creek, as I reached the road at South Pool village a Grey Wagtail flew down to the waters edge and bobbed its way along in front of me.


Ever since I knew we were coming to South Pool I have been reading up about the best bird sites in the area and was delighted to read in Lee Evans "Finding Birds in Britain" that Prawle Point was one of the few areas in Britain that the Cirl Bunting could be found. With Prawle Point only being 3 miles away it was an obvious first choice to visit. After negotiating the incredibly narrow lanes we arrived at the NT car park at Prawle point and were given great views of a male Bullfinch perched in the bush directly in front of the car. Leaving the car park we followed the footpath south to the coastal path and arriving at the sea I was surprised how calm it looked and the lack of wind, although the clouds were grey and the weather was brisk it was remarkably calm. We looked out to sea spotting a lone fishing trawler slowly drifting west followed closely by a large flock of Gulls, too distant to identify. Looking closer to shore a single Shag bobbed up and down on the waves and we watched as it started to feed, diving up out of the water before disappearing beneath waves. A few Cormorant passed by out a sea with the occasional sighting of Gannet as they flew westward. We continued along the coastal path heading east and passing a sheep grazing pen I spotted a flock of birds dropping down in to the grass, a closer view identified them as Meadow Pipit and a quick count totalled 50 before they flew up and off to an adjacent field. We must have walked another 100yards when I noticed a bird sat in the top of the footpath hedgerow in font of us, a fine male stonechat which sat calmly as we approached him giving really good views. Looking out from the coastal path to the rocky outcrops that jut around the coastline 2 Little Egrets were a surprising find, I never really expected to see them at this location and always associated them with lakes, gravel pits etc. They searched the rock pools for food along with Oystercatcher, Redshank and two small waders that disappeared from sight which I believe to be Turnstones. Between Prawle Point and Langerstone Point a Great Northern Diver was fishing out at sea along with Cormorant and Great Crested Grebe.

Cirl Bunting

Further along the path I could see another bird perched up on the hedgerow but because of the cloudy skies it made it difficult to identify by sight alone, I grabbed my binoculars and just as I focused in the bird dropped out of sight. We made our way towards where we had seen the bird and suddenly a flock of birds took flight from the stubble fields next to the path, I could hear Meadow Pipit calling as the birds dispersed across the fields and hedgerows but there was also another call I didn't recognise and I adjusted my hearing to try and filter out all other ambient sounds. The call was coming from a nearby bramble/gorse thicket, a number of "brown jobs" were hidden deep in the gorse and thickets and even looking through the telescope it was still impossible to tell what they were, I had my suspicions but until I could get a better view I wasn't going to get excited. I waited patiently until slowly the birds regained composure and made their way in to view. I was now watching my first ever Cirl Buntings, a female which looked rather worn and drab and two males that although in winter plumage both clearly showed the black throat and eye stripe. It was soon evident that there was a group of about 15 or so birds together, both Yellowhammer and Cirl Bunting were sat in a stretch of about 12ft of gorse and bramble thickets and were quite shy remaining in the bushes until a male Cirl Bunting flew straight towards us and perched in the hedgerow next to the path, he remained there casually looking around until he spotted us and flew back to the rest of the group.

Cirl Bunting Video

We headed back along the coastal path hearing Raven near the car park and made our way back to South Pool. Later that evening I hooked my laptop up to the internet and learnt that a Snowy Owl was present at Zennor in Cornwall, having never seen one and the fact that I was in neighbouring Devon it seemed a very worthwhile trip. With the following day being Christmas Eve I hoped that the roads would be quieter allowing a fairly reasonable journey and the fact that I couldn't wait till after Christmas was a deciding factor.

Prawle Point

Snowy Owl-Zennor, Cornwall. Dec 24th 2008

Leaving South Pool at 9:30am we headed out towards the A379 and then along the A38 towards Cornwall. We arrived at the moors near Zennor and pulled up to ask a birder if we were in the right spot, I soon realised that he was from the Oxford area and that I had met him when watching the Cattle Egret in Dorchester-on-Thames back in November. We searched for a space to park the car park and made our way across a small footpath that lead across the moors, a pair of Ravens called noisily as they tumbled across the hillside and shortly after a male Stonechat flew across the path in front of us. We walked for what seemed ages due to the tight tracks and muddy conditions finally reaching the viewing spot, a small number of birders were watching the Snowy Owl which was sat on a rock and partly obscured by the surrounding vegetation, It stood out remarkably well even though the bird was fairly distant, a large white blob in what can only be described as a desolate heather and gorse landscape. 2 ravens flew over and were presumably the 2 birds we had seen earlier and later an extremely pale Buzzard circled overhead. The Owl meanwhile still sat quietly occasionally preening and having the odd quick snooze, often turning it's head to scan the moors around it before returning to snooze. With most records confined to the most northern parts of Scotland this juvenile female has attracted bird watchers from all over the country due to the fact it could well be a once in a lifetime experience. Having been blown way off course amazingly this Owl landed on a transatlantic cargo ship off the Cornwall coast before flying to St Marys, Isle of Scillies. There it remained until flying eastwards towards the Cornish mainland where it remains on the moors near Zennor.

I was disappointed not to be able to get any reasonable photos but to see this fantastic bird on Christmas Eve will live in the memory forever. My late father always told me about the bird he went to see in Suffolk 2001 and what a fantastic bird they are, I couldn't agree more. Snowy Owl sightings in England are very rare with only a few records on the mainland since 1990-91, they are slighter smaller than the eagle owl and their white plumage helps to camouflage them on their favoured habitats which are usually cold and snow covered tundra and grasslands in the Arctic circle. Their diet includes a varied selection of foods which includes Lemmings, Mice, Voles, Rabbits and Hares but because of their agility in flight they can also catch Ducks, Geese and even Ptarmigan in midair. Adult males have a pure white appearance where females have a distinct dark barring across their chest, body and wings. Many people would probably recognise "Hedwig" the magical owl from the Harry Potter films which is a Snowy Owl and seeing one in the wild is certainly a magical experience.

Snowy Owl Video
Dec 25th 2008

Christmas Day started rather eventfully, other than the obvious delivery from father Christmas overnight I had 2 great early morning sightings. I headed off downstairs with the log basket and made my way outside to the woodshed on my early morning, the temperature had dropped and it was certainly cold, the air was fresh and crisp and my breath lingered long in the air. The Redwing was still sat in the garden eyeing up the berries that a male Blackbird was devouring as quickly as he could, a small flock of goldfinches were chattering noisily amongst themselves from the top of a neighbouring tree and the chirping of House Sparrows could be heard coming from a Beech hedge in the garden. After loading the log basket I made my way back to the barn, suddenly hearing a bird of prey calling I dropped the basket and looked skyward, before I'd even had chance to take a quick panoramic 360 degree look a Peregrine flew straight overhead clutching a Wood Pigeon in it's claws, by it's size I could tell it was a female and it looked like it was in top condition, no doubt feeding on many of the Wood Pigeons that inhabit the Devon countryside. I watched as it flew over me chased by a dozen or so Jackdaws until it disappeared amongst the backdrop of distant hills. I bent down to pick up the log basket only to hear a "Kronking" sound from above, looking above me I watched as a pair of 'Ravens tumbled across through the sky playfully interacting with each other. This was obviously the pair I had seen nearby on previous days but unlike earlier sightings they were now overhead and what almost felt like touching distance.

Before we tucked into the Christmas dinner we decided that a family walk would be a good start to events and after suggesting Prawle Point we headed off. We arrived at Prawle point and headed off along the coastal path, it wasn't long before a male Stonechat was seen perched on the gorse adjacent to the path, it remained perched until we approached and then only flew a few feet along the pathway to another suitable perching point in the gorse. As the rest of the family continued along the path I took the opportunity to wander down to the rocky outcrop on the edge of the shoreline. Apart from the obvious Herring, Lesser B-B & Great B-B Gulls were Oystercatchers and a single Redshank. I scanned the rocks intensely and picked up on 3 small birds that were flitting from one rock to another, after eventually coming to rest I could identify them as Rock Pipits and had some really good views of them as they strutted around the outcrop. At sea 3 male and 2 female Eider slowly drifted west but relocating them became difficult as they disappeared behind braking waves, both Gannet and Shag were seen passing west and a lone Shag remained feeding just offshore. Continuing along the coastal path the calls of Curlew could be heard and within seconds 2 flew west towards the rock outcrop and then out of sight behind rocks on the shoreline. I moved down to the edge of the rocks to get a better view finding the 2 Curlews sat on the edge of the rocks preening their wing feathers with a single Redshank sleeping nearby, my views were partly obscured by rocks but I could just make out the rear end of a wader next to the redshank. I carefully and stealthily inched my way to a better viewing point and scanned round the rocks, there sitting next to the sleeping redshank were 2 Purple Sandpipers, they sat motionless facing in to the wind coming in from the sea until an Oystercatcher walking round the rocks saw me and started calling loudly. After everything took flight I made my way back along the coastal path spotting a Peregrine cruising over the hill tops as I went, most of the nearby Gulls soon took flight and ushered the Peregrine inland and out of sight.

Heading back along the coastal path towards Prawle Point and the car park we stopped next to the grazing pens, many of which have stubble in them. A female Cirl Bunting appeared perched in the gorse shortly followed by a male to end off a nice walk along the coastal path.

Before Christmas dinner started I took the opportunity to have a quick look around the South Pool creek, the tide was higher than the first time I had visited and other than a Little Egret and a calling Kingfisher it was very quiet. I decided to walk along the edge of the creek and back along a public footpath finding a Goldcrest flitting through ivy on a tree branch, continuing along the path it wasn't long before I heard the resident Ravens calling again and watched as they passed overhead with both Jackdaw and Crow in hot pursuit. I managed a short video clip as they departed over the hill and out of sight.

Dec 26th 2008

Boxing day greeted us with an even colder day, the sun did it's best to show itself from time to time and a walk along the beach at Torcross was windswept to say the least. There were few birds to be seen except Gannet, Cormorant and a few Gulls.


We left Devon Saturday lunchtime and I hoped that I would be able to head towards Radipole and see the Hooded Merganser, As we approached the M5 near Exeter the traffic started to build and tuning in to the local radio soon revealed that an accident on the M5 had closed one lane of the motorway and that the traffic build had caused mass congestion, I mulled over the root and thought about taking the A30 and then the A35 towards Dorchester and then down to Radipole, as we crawled along the M5 my diversion plans soon ended as the next traffic report informed us of major congestion on the A30 after an accident. Unfortunately there was no time for the stop at Radipole and we continued on to the M4 and headed homewards. A fantastic week with some truly fantastic birds which culminated with me seeing two lifers in Cirl Bunting and Snowy Owl.

Added To My Year List.
222. Cirl Bunting (Prawle Point, Devon)*
223. Snowy Owl (Zennor, Cornwall)*
224. Eider (Prawle Point, Devon)
225. Purple Sandpiper (Prawle Point, Devon)
226. Merlin (South Pool, Devon)

Added To My Life List

309. Cirl Bunting
310. Snowy Owl

Saturday, 20 December 2008

Local Sightings - Winter 2008

Throughout November and December the garden remained busy with bird activity, the regular Marsh Tit could be seen regularly visiting the bird feeders and on the odd occasion could be seen with what is presumably it's mate, it's not often that both can be seen in the garden together due to their rapid entry, collection and exit of the garden before they return again to do the same. On the odd occasion one can be seen sitting in a small hedgerow outside the cottage window either eating or preening but very rarely are they seen together, I'm pleased that I now know for sure that there is a pair present in the area.

Marsh Tit

As well as the usual tit's and finches we have been lucky enough to watch regular visits from Bullfinches, in Autumn we watched them from the living room windows as they fed on Honeysuckle berries and as the temperature has dropped we have been seeing them feeding on sunflower hearts from the bird feeders. In 2007 we witnessed a party of 6 birds visiting the garden and so far this year(2008) we have seen up to 5 birds in the garden. They seem to be doing quite well in this area maybe due to the hedgerows and orchards that a in the area, beautiful bird to see and they certainly brighten the dull winter days.


A Grey Heron was an unusual and added bonus for my garden list in mid-December, there are no large expanses of water in this area so I can only think that it was heading to somebody's pond as it headed south west over the garden. A pair of Pied Wagtails have returned as they do most winters often being seen on the roof tops. At least 6 Blackbirds are in the area defending their own small areas of hedgerow along Shogmoor Lane and despite only a small amount of Redwings being present the Blackbirds seem to have a monotony on most of the food rich environments. The local corvids are certainly on the look out for any free meals going and as soon as I've thrown out any left overs they are descending in to the garden, the record for a torn up sliced loaf of bread stands at 4 minutes 27 seconds mainly taken by Jackdaw and Magpie, the Crows and Rooks seem to get out numbered by the Jackdaws and the Magpies simply take advantage by grabbing as much as they can before retreating to a safe place to eat what they have taken. Both Little and Tawny Owl are present most days around the garden with the Little Owls already seemingly spending a lot of time together as a pair. Tawny Owls on the other hand can be heard calling at night obviously declaring their territory and a few occasions have been seen perched in the trees around the garden.

I presume that the local Kestrel population in the area has done quite well this year as I very rarely see less than 2 or 3 perched on telegraph poles and the surrounding country roads. A number of birds seem to favour certain posts and can almost be guaranteed to be seen, there is a good population of voles and mice around which will hopefully sustain their diet.

No signs of Redpoll, Brambling or Siskin in the area yet.

Monday, 15 December 2008

Long-tailed Duck (Clangula hyemalis) - Dorchester-on-Thames

A late afternoon visit to Dorchester-on-Thames gave me a chance to see my first year sighting of Long-tailed Duck,

The pit contained good numbers of Wildfowl which included Great Crested Grebe, Cormorant, Grey Heron, Pochard, Wigeon, Shoveler, Common Teal, Gadwall, Mallard and Tufted Duck. A large gathering of 150+ Black-headed Gulls were also present.

After viewing the Drayton road pit for sometime I still hadn't located the Long-tailed Duck, I was beginning to think that it had left and decided to take one more view of the pit from another viewpoint. I found a suitable gap and again scanned from one end of the pit to the other without any success, suddenly I was alerted to a few Black-headed Gulls squabbling amongst themselves and closer inspection showed that they were actually hassling the juvenile Long-tailed Duck. It was continually diving for fairly long periods and being hassled by the Gulls each time it returned to the waters surface, this continued for over 10 minutes with the Long-tailed Duck doing it's best to avoid detection by surfacing further away from where it dived.

Added To My Year List.

221. Long-tailed Duck

Thursday, 11 December 2008

American Wigeon (Anas americana) - Lower Farm GP's, Berks. 22nd November 2008.

I arrived at Lower farm at 3:30pm and met a departing Lee Evans, who let me know the American Wigeon was present on the Lower Farm pit. It had been flushed earlier in the day by a dog walker and had relocated to the Trout Pools behind Lower Farm. Later in the afternoon it returned to Lower Farm

Entering the hide I was greeted with a familiar face, Berkshire Bird Photographer Jerry O'Brien (
www.birdsofberkshire.co.uk) set up with his camera. The American Wigeon had disappeared behind one of the Willow tree islands on the far bank(from the hide) and we managed to have a quick chat about birds and photos. Eventually the American Wigeon reappeared on the far bank and began to swim around the waters edge. It remained on the far side of the water giving decent but distant views, the white/cream crown and dark face patch were both very visible. It was too dark and too distant to even try digiscoping the Wigeon but Jerry managed to capture a few shots that can be seen here

Other birds of interest present were Little Egret and Yellow-legged Gull.

Another fantastic find by local birder Ken Moore.

Added To My Year List

220. American Wigeon

Added To My Life List

308. American Wigeon

Thursday, 4 December 2008

The Falklands and South Georgia by Dickie Duckett FRPS


The Falklands and South Georgia by Dickie Duckett FRPS
27th January 2009, 8pm - 10pm £2 Entry

Dickie Duckett, a local photographer and winner of several coveted international prizes for his wildlife images was most recently elected a Fellow of the Royal Photographic Society. He will be giving an illustrated talk of his latest trip to the South Atlantic in Oct/ Nov 2007. This promises to be a highly informative evening providing a first-hand insight in to one of the few outposts of true unspoilt wilderness. The Henley Photographic Club would like to invite all those with an interest in photography and everyone with a passion for the natural world to this event.

Henley Photographic Club
Tuesdays from Sept to May
8:00pm - 10:00pm
Waterman’s Road
For more information phone
Tuc on 0781 0600 572

Sunday, 23 November 2008

Rough-legged Buzzard (Buteo lagopus) - Reed, Herts & Waxwing (Bombycilla garrulus) - The Lodge, Sandy, Beds. 19th November 2008.


Having never seen Rough-legged Buzzard before I was excited to hear of one being found in Hertfordshire. I Read the reports about it on Lee Evans's UK400 Club Rare Bird Alert blog(http://uk400clubrarebirdalert.blogspot.com/) and contacted Roy Rose. We soon planned a trip up to see it and I informed Roy that a small Waxwing flock was present at "The Lodge" RSPB reserve in Bedfordshire and we agreed to go and see them as well. We would also try and hopefully stop off at Port Meadow and Farmoor Reservoir in Oxfordshire on the way home.

We arrived north of Reed Village, Herts. and soon found ourselves at Hatchpen Farm, after spotting 2 Red Kites drifting over the fields we parked in the lay-by at the entrance to the farm. We walked up the road to a small gathering of people who were viewing the fields towards the A10 who informed us the Rough-legged Buzzard had drifted over the fields to the west side of the A10 and then had dropped down out of sight, we were directed to a church spire in the distance and told that it was last seen in that area. Everybody scanned the fields and suddenly somebody cried "it's up", a brief view was given before the bird dropped down out of sight but within seconds it appeared drifting slowly over the fields again. It flew across the fields gaining height as it went which gave good views of both the under and upperwings, the white tail and broad tail band clear to see as well as the dark belly, a very clean and fresh looking juvenile/sub adult bird. We all watched it as it continued to drift over the fields before briefly hovering and then dropping out of sight, it remained out of sight for 20 or so minutes before showing briefly again as it drifted along a brow of a hill on the west side of the A10 and again it dropped down out of sight. We waited for another 30 minutes without any further sightings and decided to head off to Sandy to find the Waxwings. By the time we left we had seen 5 birds of prey which included of Red Kite, Rough-legged buzzard, Common Buzzard, Kestrel and a Sparrowhawk which was circling over the lay-by.

We made our way from Reed to The RSPB headquarters at Sandy, Bedfordshire in search of the Waxwings, arriving at the Lodge Roy and I checked the trees at the gatehouse with no luck and headed off down the gateway trail path listening out for the "trilling" calls of the Waxwing, seeing and hearing nothing we returned along the path to the gatehouse where we once again scanned the trees. It was at this point when a gentlemen from the offices at the Lodge who was on his lunch hour took us to another location nearby where the Waxwings had been visiting, sadly there was no sign of them and we wandered back to the gatehouse for one last check around the reserve entrance. The fields around the Lodge hosted a few Stock Doves, good numbers of Goldfinch and a lone Siskin in the Lodge garden. There was still no sign of any Waxwings and after having a look in the RSPB shop we wandered back to the car where we met somebody getting out of his car with a camera, he asked us if we had seen the Waxwings and we told him we had been looking for them for but hadn't seen them. Roy and I decided to get in the car and drive along Potton Road to see if we could locate them, we had already seen a number of berry bushes that had been striped of a few berries along the road and felt that perhaps we might be able to have a quick look. As we headed to the car a very friendly couple approached us and asked if we were looking for the Waxwings, they then told us that they were sat in a large Oak tree about 500yrds along Potton Road, we thanked them and headed off to the car. Driving along Potton Road we soon saw them perched in the Oak tree next to the road, finding a place to park we viewed from distance and counted 10 perched in the tree. Walking along Potton road we came to the Oak tree with the waxwings perched above, their "trilling" calls could now be heard clearly above the constant drone of passing vehicles. They preened methodically and continually for sometime before flying down to the berry bushes on the roadside opposite us, the traffic didn't help and although 2 or 3 would stay feeding when cars passed but the large lorries soon flushed them and back to the Oak tree they returned. This continued for the next 30 minutes with the birds coming down to feed in groups of 4 or 5 staying until another vehicle flushed them back to the tree, finally the whole group came down to feed and after 5 minutes of devouring berries they took to the air and headed off back towards the Lodge reserve.

Waxwing Video

Leaving Sandy we headed south towards Oxford with the hope of visiting both Port Meadow and Farmoor Reservoir, time really wasn't on our side and due to traffic congestion approaching Oxford we soon realised that it would be a very tight squeeze to get to both locations before the sun went down. We finally arrived at Port Meadow with the sun starting to fade and a walk along from the public car park found us viewing the floods, neither of us had been to Port Meadow before and it was impressive to see both good numbers of birds and a good variety of species in close proximity to the City itself. Waders included a flock of 100 or so Golden Plover, 2 Redshank feeding along the waters edge with Ruff, Black-tailed Godwit and Dunlin. As dusk approached the Gull roost started to swell with both Black-headed and Herring Gulls making an appearance, we headed off in the hope of getting to Farmoor but were soon stuck in traffic as the sun set, there was no way we would get there and decided instead to head for home.(The Port Meadow blog run by Adam Hartley can be found here www.surfbirds.com/blog/PortMeadowBirding )

As we neared my home I mentioned to Roy that many of the local herds of Deer could be crossing the country lanes and to be careful, they have a tendency to walk straight out in front of you just when you least expect it, as we turned the next corner we came face to face with a herd of Fallow Deer crossing the lane in front of us. Great views as they passed a metre in front of the car and we couldn't have timed it better.

Added To My Year List.

217. Rough-legged Buzzard
218. Waxwing
219. Ruff

Added To My Life List.

307. Rough-legged Buzzard

Sunday, 9 November 2008

Cattle Egret (Bubulcus ibis) - Day's Lock, Dorchester-on-Thames, Oxon & Great Northern Diver (Gavia immer) Farmoor Reservoir, Oxon. 9th Novembr 2008.

Despite seeing Cattle Egret at East Lavant, West Sussex earlier in the year I couldn't resist heading over to Days Lock, Dorchester-on-Thames today to see the recently arrived individual, it meant that I could then head to Farmoor Reservoir to see the Great Northern Diver that has been present for a few days and hopefully head to Calvert in Buckinghamshire to see Jack Snipe, I need to catch up on a few species that I should have seen by now and today was a good opportunity to do so.

Having been to Days Lock before I knew where to go and after parking the car I headed off over the River Thames and towards the scrape. By now it had started to rain and as I arrived at a small gap in the bushes my hopes of digiscoping the Egret diminished, I viewed out across the fields and zooming in on the cattle that were grazing in the field I soon spotted the Cattle Egret feeding beneath them, it soon was lost to sight behind some of the cattle that were now sitting down in the field. I viewed the rest of the scrape whilst waiting for the Egret to reappear, 100+ Greylag and 10 Canada Geese were present in the field, a single Egyptian Goose, 9 Cormorant, Wigeon & Teal present on the pools and good numbers of Lapwing dotted around the fields and pools.

I then headed along the footpath that runs alongside the scrape to get a closer view of the Cattle Egret and as I did so the rain stopped and the sun finally came out, as I made my way along the path I noticed the cattle herd and Egret heading across the field towards where I was walking to. Three people were watching the Cattle Egret from the footpath and within a few minutes of my arrival the bird was in full view just in front of us. I quickly got my camera out and took a few photos, the sun was shining and the bird was showing incredibly well, much better than my views of the bird at East Lavant that disappeared behind a hedge just as I got my camera out!

Cattle Egret

The Cattle Egret is a rare annual vagrant to the UK usually being seen in spring and summer, most sightings are along the south and east coasts. Over the last few years the Cattle Egret has increased it's range dramatically on a global scale, both it's population and range has increased noticeably in Europe. It had often been predicted that they would turn up on our shores at some point and join their close relative the Little Egret which also now breeds in the UK. Last winter they invaded, when dozens of Cattle Egrets touched down in south-west England, mainly in Devon and Cornwall. This year at least 2 pairs bred in Somerset and it is believed to be the first recorded breeding in the United Kingdom for this species. With the Little Egret now a common sight in many parts of the UK and an established breeder surely the Cattle Egret will follow in their footsteps.

I left Days Lock with the sun still shining and headed off to Farmoor Reservoir. I arrived at Farmoor just as it started raining again and made my way from the car park to view the F2 reservoir, the wind and rain picked up and viewing the basin became almost impossible, searching for the Great Northern Diver was going to be difficult in these conditions and with a number of windsurfers making the best of the weather on F2 I thought the Diver would have moved to the F1 reservoir and headed off towards the causeway. As I crossed the causeway the wind was so strong it buffeted me sideways and getting to the wooden huts in the centre of the causeway I climbed down off the causeway to escape the wind and rain, I huddled up against the side of the hut and scanned the F1 reservoir with very little being visible, a few Tufted Ducks, Coots, Great Crested Grebe and Cormorant. I was now in the centre of the reservoir and deciding to brave the weather I headed across the causeway towards the Pinkhill Reserve, the wind and rain didn't let up and I was now soaked to the skin and I think it was at this point that I realised that there was no point in heading back to the car as I couldn't get any wetter than I already was, anyway there was a Diver to find and I was going to find it whatever the weather. As I approached the western end of the causeway I met a birder who told me the Diver was on the southern end of the F2 reservoir, he was looking for the Water Pipit and I told him where I had seen it a few weekends ago. We said our goodbyes and I headed off south along the west side of the F2 reservoir. God was I soaked and each step I took expelled large puddles of water from my very unsuitable footwear, I love my "Vans" trainers and have the knowledge that I'm not following trends as I owned a number of pairs back in the 80's when I was a BMX dude, however they really aren't suitable for birding and after today's soaking they might not be suitable for wearing any longer either.

Reaching the south-east corner I finally found the Great Northern Diver some 50ft away from the edge of the basin, I watched it as it fed in the vicinity of the southern most point of the reservoir often diving for long periods. There was no way I could even attempt a photo of this bird with the weather so bad so I decided to film it each time it surfaced after diving for food, I tried to estimate it's surface point as I walked north along the east side of the F2 reservoir, unsuccessfully I have to add as it always surfaced just in front of me. It certainly made the walk back to the car more bearable in soaking wet clothes and I left it still fishing near the water tower on the F2 reservoir. It was great to see despite the weather and it means that I have managed to see all the common Divers in one year for the first time.

Great Northern Diver

I left Farmoor and made my way home as there was no way I could make it to Cavert, with the heater going full blast I slowly dried out and by the time I got back to Watlington I was starting to warm up. As I drove up Watlington Hill towards Christmas Common I noticed in the distance a pair of eyes shining in my car headlights, I slowed down and watched as an adult Muntjac stood in the middle of the road. The Muntjac remained in the road and seemed obvious to all around, I dipped my lights so not to blind it and it moved to the opposite side of the road where it stood looking back across the road. I suddenly got a shock as a tiny baby Muntjac appeared on the verge and walked in to the road, it remained in the middle of the road for at least a minute with it's parent stood on the drivers side verge, it really looked like a small piglet as it stood in the car headlights with the exception of being brown with white spots, slowly it crossed the road and joined it's parent. There are lots of Muntjac in the Chilterns but I have never seen a young Muntjac and was surprised to learn that they breed throughout the year. Good day despite the weather.

Added To My Year List.

215. Great Northern Diver

Both videos can be watched in high quality on my YouTube channel here, simply select the video clip and then click on "watch in high quality" under the video player screen.

Thursday, 30 October 2008

American Green Heron (Butorides virescens) - West Hythe, Kent. 28th Oct 2008.

More photos and a short video of the American Green Heron at West Hythe, Kent. The video can be watched in high quality on my YouTube channel here, simply select the video clip and then click on "watch in high quality" under the video player screen.

American Green Heron Video