Tuesday, 15 June 2010

Marmora's Warbler (Sylvia sarda)-Blorenge, Gwent & Iberian Chiffchaff (Phylloscopus ibericus)-Wentwood Forest, Gwent. 13/06/2010

Iberian Chiffchaff-Phylloscopus ibericus

After a disappointing start to the World Cup for England there's nothing better than a good old twitch to lift the spirits and a Warbler double header in Wales would do just that. The destination, first Blorenge, Gwent to see only the 5th Marmora's Warbler for Britain and then off to see the long staying Iberian Chiffchaff at Wentwood Forest, Gwent.

I awoke Sunday morning at 6:45am feeling rather groggy but couldn't determine whether it was due to the alcoholic refreshment I had consumed during the England-USA game or just the result or Robert Greens unfortunate error which was continually flashing before my eyes over and over. I figured it would be a bit of both and pressed snooze on the alarm. It went off a couple of times before I thought better of it and turned it off completely finally waking about 8:45am all the better for it, with the missus in tow we set off for Wales.


I arrived at Blorenge as mid-day approached and after finding a place in the car park wandered down the road to the dozen or so birders viewing the area, of course by the time I had finally found a spot to park the Marmora's Warbler had been on show, sung well and now had disappeared and gone silent. Typical I thought but I'm sure it's happened to us all on one or more occasion, I wasn't too downbeat as there was still plenty to hear and see whilst I waited and searched for the Marmora's.

The heather and ferns that covered the hillside were busy with bird activity, plenty of Meadow Pipits on show and often down to a few feet as they perched on the tops of the vegetation, Tree Pipits sang continuously whilst I was there and as soon as one finished singing and returned to it's perch another started. In the distance a Cuckoo could be heard calling every now and then as well a distant Willow Warbler, a couple of Swallows flew through as did 2 Swifts. A male Whinchat appeared and disappeared in front of us only giving me the briefest of views but eventually it did return later and showed very well, a rather tatty male Wheatear also put in a very brief appearance as it searched for food along the roadside bank before flying over the road and down the hillside.

Tree Pipit

I had now been here for 3 hours and there was still no sight or sound from the Marmora's Warbler, birders had come and gone, passers-by had stopped to ask what we were looking at and the weather had changed so many times that I didn't know what season it was. The clouds were slowly rolling across the hillsides towards us, the few blue patches of sky were no more and the wind started picking up. It actually managed to blow over 3 tripods whilst I was there and I'm sure that's got to be some kind of record, I don't ever recall seeing 3 go over on any twitch I've been to.

Meadow Pipit

I'd met a very nice gentleman from Wiltshire who had seen the bird on previous occasions and had returned to see it again today, we had been chatting and trying hard to find the Marmora's to no avail and as 3pm approached I finally cracked. I was dying to point Percy at the porcelain if you no what I mean and as they clouds were getting more ominous I decided that it had beaten me and I would have to come back another time, that and the fact that my other-half was sat in the car and although she had a book with her and is very tolerant I was probably pushing it, I also hadn't told her that we would be going to see the Iberian Chiffchaff on the way home!

I took one last scan across the habitat before packing up my scope, there was still no sight or sound from the Marmora's Warbler so I said my goodbyes. I was sure I would get home and read on Birdguides that the bird was seen just after I left and all I could think about was when I could get back to try again. I wandered back to the car and popped my scope in to the boot, just as I was shutting the boot I noticed a bird fly past from the hillside in front of the car park and over the road. I then heard the Marmora's song and then nearby birder located it, I rushed over and immediately got it in view as it sat in the vegetation singing. It stayed here for no more than 45 seconds before it flew back across the road and in to a small tree on the roadside, it sang again briefly before dropping down out of sight. That's probably the closest I've come to not seeing a bird, in fact I don't think you can cut it much finer. I wished I could have had some longer views and had a chance to get some photos but I was certainly delighted to have finally seen it and if it remains I will probably return to Blorenge.

Meadow Pipit

So after all the excitement I left Blorenge slightly relieved and headed towards Wentwood Forest, Gwent in search of the Iberian Chiffchaff. On arrival at the Cadira Beeches car park a Wood Warbler could be heard singing from the opposite side of the main road, just as I was about to go in search of the Iberian Chiffchaff I met another birder who was returning to see it, this made life much easier as he led me straight to the area where the bird frequents and as we approached the area the Iberian Chiffchaff could be heard singing.

Edging our way along the path we soon came to a copse of small trees and could hear the Chiffchaff in a young Silver Birch in front of us, all of a sudden the bird appeared towards the top of the tree before flitting out of sight on the far side of the tree where it stayed for a few minutes continually singing and giving brief views through the foliage. Every now and again it would make its way through the tree canopy and in to view snatching a few flies as it went, after a few minutes of getting quick views here and there it perched in full view and began to sing giving us amazing views. Incredibly it stayed still long enough for me to grab a few photos before flying to a nearby oak tree where it began singing while flitting round the tree.

Iberian Chiffchaff-Phylloscopus ibericus

It would be easy to overlook this bird without hearing it call and in contrasting light the bird looked very different, when it was in the open the yellow tones to the top of the throat/breast, flanks and vent were evident, the white belly and green hue to the upperparts as well. The supercilium is generally quite bold and in good light the yellow tones can be seen towards the front of it but in dappled shade the bird looked much darker and the yellow tones were less obvious.

Iberian Chiffchaff-Phylloscopus ibericus

Iberian Chiffchaff Song

It was very active whilst I was there, continually searching for food, singing and even the odd preen here and there. Elsewhere in the wood both Garden and Willow Warbler could be heard singing and nearby a Common Whitethroat's scolding call could be heard. The weather then took a turn for the worse and the rain started to gently fall, I decided to make a hasty retreat and said farewell and thank you to the Frampton birder making it back to the car just in time, it then proceeded to chuck it down most of the way home.

So the day could have been a lot worse, I could have dipped on both but instead managed to see 2 Lifers. I fluked the Marmora's and got amazing views of the Iberian Chiffchaff, I pulled that one right out of the bag, now if only England could do the same!

Monday, 14 June 2010

Red-footed Falcons (Falco vespertinus) - Wilstone Reservoir, Herts. 29/05/2010

Wilstone Reservoir

I decided to take a visit to see the adult male Red-footed Falcon which had been found on the 26th May at Wilstone Reservoir in Hertfordshire, I had read Lee Evans detailed blog on the bird after he had seen it and also seen Alan Stewart's brilliant photos of the bird eating a vole. The bird looked to good to miss and as I have only seen female and juvenile birds till now I had to go and have a look at this fantastic looking male bird.

It was a beautiful day, nice and warm with a few clouds against a blue sky. I arrived at Wilstone Reservoir and met a small group of birders at the top of the steps, it was obvious they were watching the Red-footed Falcon so I made my way over to them. I asked politely if the bird was still showing and was shocked to find out that a birder from Wiltshire, Nigel Pleass had spotted a second bird amongst the group of Hobbies and adult male Red Foot, this second bird was a 1st summer male and blended in incredibly well with the Hobbies making it difficult to find when lost to view. They continued back and forth hawking insects along the cemetery end of the reservoir often going out of sight behind the trees only to return moments later, this continued all afternoon with both Red Foots being particularly active.

Mute Swan

I eventually made the decision to walk down to the jetty where the views were very good, both Red-footed Falcons continued to fed often drifting over the reservoir towards where everybody was standing only to turn at the last moment and head back towards the tree line on the bank. The skies were filled with Swift that weren't particularly evident by eyesight alone, you could see good numbers but that multiplied when looking through binoculars, an evening count estimated numbers at 2,200 birds. Whilst watching the Red-footed Falcons a Curlew flew in from the direction of cemetery corner, dropping low over the reservoir it couldn't make it's mind up where to land and eventually headed towards the car park and was lost to sight due to the glare from the sun.

Back at home both Rook and Carrion Crow are already taking their young in to the fields and we seem to be finding a few strays that need a little help from time to time, I don't like to interfere with mother nature but when the odds are stacked against you I don't think it hurts once in awhile. The fact that the Buzzards are sat in the trees watching them, Red Kites are circling overhead, there's a pair of rather large Hawks that reside very close and huge numbers of Deer around all the time doesn't come in to it, okay it does so I picked him up and moved him, he repaid me by sh**ting on me, that's the thanks you get!

Thursday, 10 June 2010

Lakenheath & Weeting Heath, East Anglia 21/05/2010.


My first visit to Lakenheath was back in 2005 when I was desperate to see Golden Oriole at this site, this was before the visitor centre and toilets had been built and much of the reserve habitat was still being improved. I recall the day itself was very hot with great views of Marsh Harrier, Hobby and Cuckoo and eventually a few good glimpses of male Golden Orioles flying through the popular plantations, the views were brief but hearing it's fluty call more than made up for it not showing particularly well. My everlasting memory from the day would be despite the fact that the Golden Oriole is a bright yellow and jet black bird they can be a bugger to see.

A very close friend of mine has a son who has taken a bit of an interest in birding and of course soon found the Golden Oriole page in his bird guide, taking an immediate liking to this species he has been asking me to take him to see one since last autumn and I promised as soon as they returned this summer we'd take a visit to Lakenheath. Each time I visited them he asked me if they were there yet and when we would be going, that then followed by him telling me he'd seen them on their bird feeders so I guess you can say he was rather enthusiastic. Despite him continually asking throughout October, November, December, January and February I managed to quell his excitement until the Orioles arrived and then arranged the trip to Lakenheath and then on to Weeting Heath.

Sedge Warbler

Reed Warbler

We seemed to have picked the warmest day of the year so far and left with clear blue skies beckoning us towards the fens. We arrived at Lakenheath in very good time and an already busy reserve car park, after parking up we made our way to the visitor centre to have a quick look around and check the sightings board. We left the visitor centre and were soon greeted by the chattering calls of Sedge & Reed Warbler along with a few Reed Bunting from the reeds next to the path, this continued along the path right up to New Fen viewpoint and we had some exceptional views as the birds actively sang amongst the reeds. I really love this time of year when the once cold quiet winter reed beds suddenly come to life with bird song and activity, most of all from the warbler species that sing almost constantly and flit between the reed stems. Hobbies swift-like in their flight hawk overhead and the final part to the birders quintessential English summer, the Cuckoo. We hadn't gone 500yrds and there was so much going on around us it was difficult to know where to look at times, we came to a halt to watch a very vocal Sedge Warbler clinging to the top of the reeds right next to the path, it didn't seemed bothered by us and continued to chatter away right up to the point where I got my camera out and then it dropped in to the reeds. I waited for a few minutes and managed to get a few photos as others appeared and disappeared around me but I wasn't so lucky with the Reed warblers which were skulking low down in the reeds, I was tempted to go back towards the visitor centre and try where they were showing much better but there was no way my little birding buddy was going to let me steer him away from the Orioles.

New Fen viewpoint

We continued along the path towards New Fen viewpoint now hearing and seeing the odd Common Whitethroat around the scrub next to the railway track, a Cuckoo then flew over giving us great views which my friends were certainly pleased with, the clear blue skies really gave us great views and with 2 possibly 3 calling I hoped we might get better views of one perched up at some point. We continued passed the New Fen viewpoint and on towards Trial Wood with the calls of a male Cuckoo coming from the wood next to us, it was so close but obscured by the tree canopy so we decided to see if we could get a closer view by taking the footpath south towards the Railway track. We hadn't gone far when the unmistakable fluty calls of a Golden Oriole came from the same wood, we stopped in our tracks and listened scanning the trees whilst waiting for it's next call which it did at regular intervals but it was impossible to find. We edged our way along the path listening to both Golden Oriole and Cuckoo as we went, still no luck seeing either and after a couple of minutes the Oriole stopped calling. The Cuckoo or should I now say Cuckoo's flew in to the trees above us, firstly a male which perched in the tree tops above us quickly followed by a Rufous coloured female which was soon partly obscured in the trees, then from nowhere another male flew in to join the others. The males began calling to the female to which she replied with her bubbling chuckle, this continued for a few minutes allowing me time to get a few photos before they flew off one by one towards the last popular plantation. We were all very pleased at such good views and I actually managed to get a few good photos which was added bonus, fantastic birds and to see 3 together was a great moment.


We followed the path along to the third plantation where right on cue a male golden oriole began to call, waiting patiently with a small group of people we scanned the poplars. The male showed briefly a couple of times as it flew between the popular stands but certainly not great views, it continued to sing on and off for over an hour and in which time Hants & Berks birder Andy Johnson had turned up. After waiting for the Oriole to appear and discussing the berks bird race that we had both taken part in a week before it was time for us to head off, I said goodbye to Andy and back towards the visitor centre we heeded with a fly over Hobby passing us near New Fen. The calls of Common whitethroat, Sedge and Reed Warbler still going ten to the dozen and yet another Cuckoo sighting overhead. I was certainly impressed at how the reserve has matured, the visitor centre is very nice and of course the staff are very friendly. Big thumbs up from me for RSPB Lakenheath and although we didn't get to see the Orioles up close the visit was well worth it.

After leaving Lakenheath we headed for nearby Weeting Heath with the hope of seeing Stone Curlew, although having visited before I did have my doubts as the heat would certainly give off a certain amount of heat haze and unless the birds were in close it would be difficult to get good views. From the west hide a Stone Curlew was spotted far off in the distance, more of a shimmering blur than anything recognisable but eventually as the temperature cooled and the bird moved it became more evident. We left the hide meeting a group of people watching another Stone curlew on the far side of the road, again shrouded in heat haze but this time more distinguishable than the last view. The day was very rewarding especially with the close views of Cuckoo at Lakenheath, I never tire of watching these fascinating birds and lets hope the current decline can be overturned, just imagine an English summer without the iconic call of the Cuckoo!!!