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Monday 31 March 2014

Barking Creek and Sewage works

March 30th

Of late I have not had the time to walk the Creek and Outfall, now retired from Construction and seem to be busier than ever so a trip on Sunday was very welcome. I always try and coincide visits with a rising tide, it pushes birds up towards you at the Outfall and even with the sun against I can usually get to the side of them. Today however was not an ideal tide and everything stayed rather distant.

This visit was all about migrants, I hoped to pick some up, the Outfall gave up about 11 Redshank, a single Curlew, around 30 Gadwall and Teal numbers look like they are decreasing rapidly, only about 200 present.
Unusually no Oystercatchers were present, it is usually a hot spot for them, from here I decided on a walk down the Creek. Chiffchaff were heard straight away as were Blackcap, bird of the morning however went to my first singing Willow Warbler of the year, always a good sign of spring.
3 calling Cetti’s Warblers showed how well this species is spreading, once a rare bird in our neck of the woods, its normal now to walk round the Valley and easily hear 20+.

After this I headed into the Sewage works, with the slightly warmer weather coming now the aroma is just starting to kick in, first time this year, it wouldn’t be the same place without it.

How many of these will get past the chap above.

En route I checked the Gull colony, paired up already, they gave notice of what is to come with immediate flight in my direction calling as soon as I stuck my head over the sea wall. When they have young it’s even better, you get the full on dive bombing even at 80 metres away.

The Gull colony - warming up with a few dummy runs at me.

Predominately Lesser Black Backed - will we again get Great Black Backed?

Back to the Sewage works, at least 8 Grey Wagtails were seen before I found my first migrant on the tanks, a Wheatear, very welcome but unfortunately it proved to be the only one, I was hoping for a Sand Martin but not to be.

A good visit.

Tuesday 25 March 2014

Barking Bay

On Monday I popped into the Bay after Paul had 21 Wheatears on the site, as you know large scale development is about to take place, another East London Brownfield site gone.
From Twitter and past posts you will know that they have levelled much of the site with all bush/trees being removed.
They have left a green sward around the perimeter of the site and middle ditch remains alongside some exterior habitat.

One of the reason that I have not visited of late is that seeing everything levelled puts you on a bit of a downer, it is depressing and sad seeing it all going.

However I did visit and I must admit it was good seeing all those Wheatears, the now short grass habitat obviously to there liking, I recorded 14 birds only covering 50% of the site.
Along with these I had my first Little Ringed Plover of the year, 3 Common Sandpipers, Rock Pipit,3 Curlew and 100+ Shelduck on the mud.

Wheatears on what remains of the trees

The habitat is shades of what it once was but good to see it still attracting birds.

Wednesday 19 March 2014

Hoo Peninsula - Hen Harrier at last

March 16th

This was to be our last survey of the winter, hopes were high given the Common Scoters at Cliffe, with wall to wall sunshine, an early Osprey or Wheatear along the sea wall was a distinct possibility.

 Being a high tide survey, sunshine and the time of year we weren’t expecting any movement on the river but one thing was noticeable was that Wildfowl have reduced, normal 4 figure flocks of Wigeon had evaporated and were down to 3 figures.

As before on the transect Skylark and Lapwing were everywhere, the reducing flooded areas making the perfect territory for male Lapwings to display, as I said before I am going to miss this place and its birds.
Watching the sky eventually paid off with 2 Common Buzzard, one landed on the sea wall and the other went over to Essex, following this a 2nd summer male Marsh Harrier gave good views.

I at last connected with the Ringtail Hen Harrier seen rather distantly going over to Essex west of me, clearly a Ringtail, distant views but I was not complaining.
There then followed a Tiercel Peregrine seen on the sea wall before I got onto another Marsh Harrier, again going ‘over the wall’.
The Hen Harrier was spotted for a 2nd time, this time closer views, given their rarity most certainly the same bird even if it was back in Kent.

Record shots of the Hen Harrier

A fitting bird to end the surveys, hopefully they will go again next year, it’s a magical landscape and I will miss the wildness of it.

And to think that someone wants to stick an Airport on it, Prat.

Monday 17 March 2014

Cliffe RSPB

March 16th - Common Scoters

Every now and then you get a surreal moment in birding; Sunday at Cliffe was definitely up there.As is our habit, myself and Paul before the Hoo surveys bird a local area to see what’s around.

On Sunday whilst viewing the Radar Pools we picked up 2 drake Common Scoters, a very nice start to the morning, they were out amongst the islands so we digiscoped a few record shots.

As were standing there they started to move towards us, I tucked in tighter to the bushes next to Paul out of the sun and both of us with exemplary field craft never moved a muscle, Paul even pulled down his bobble hat covering his high forehead to reduce the glare. For myself, with rather a large nose, I kept my profile head on, nothing was left to chance, still they came on.
The cameras were working overtime, they eventually came in to about 20 feet, when they dived we changed settings and then became statues when they surfaced.

I have to say a great start to the morning, they did eventually see us and drifted back out towards the middle, hopefully local birders caught up with them, an unusual time of year to see them and even more unusual to get views like this.

Thursday 13 March 2014

The Valley, Hoo and Rainham RSPB

On Sunday we were bound for the Hoo Peninsula, March was to be the final surveys for the winter for myself and Paul, this and the last one on March 16th completing the winter period excursions.
I must admit to the Hoo surveys being particularly enjoyable, if it does all finish in this winter period the landscape,birds and habitat will be sorely missed.

However, prior to the survey starting news had arrived of the arrival of a small flock of 5 birds seen in the Valley on Stillwell Lake, we got there at dawn on Sunday and glad to say 3 were still present.
The Valley being my local patch, Red Crested Pochard is a rarish visitor up there with Egyptian Geese, we just don’t seem to attract them, never mind though as the colourful Pochard moved the Year list onto 66.

A stunning day greeted us and pleased to say that the flooding is subsiding, the time of year and the sunshine had obviously affected Lapwing and Skylark, they were simply everywhere displaying and calling.

It was to be a pretty quite survey in terms of species seen, occasional Marsh Harriers, these no doubt are now on their breeding grounds, as were others, for the first time Peregrine and Merlin were absent.
This was also reflected in numbers of waders and wildfowl present at low tide, numbers of all species were down, I suspect many have started to move on.

Pick of the bunch were 9 Pintail seen on the river and later in flight, always a pleasure to see.


A pair of Common Buzzards completed the survey up high.

Rainham RSPB
On Wednesday taking advantage of the good weather, I popped into the Reserve with 2 birds on my mind, Garganey and perhaps a Red Kite given the clear skies and sunshine.
Walking my usual route down the foreshore surprisingly gave up 4 year ticks, a flushed Pheasant, Black Tailed Godwit (4) and Ringed Plover in Aveley Bay and a Great Crested Grebe on the river.
The Blackwits have been very thin on the ground in the 2nd winter period which is unheard of in the Inner Thames, the milder weather it seems have moved them on.

Entering the Reserve gave up plenty of wildfowl but not the hoped for Garganey, a count of 16 Pintail was of note along with several Snipe 2 Curlew and a Dunlin.

The woodland produced the final tick of the morning with a single Blackcap giving sub song bringing the list up to 86.
A long way to go to reach my highest year list total of 160 for the Reserve, hard to see where there all going to come from but looking forward to the challenge now that I have a little more time on my hands.

Monday 10 March 2014

Scotland - Day 3

March 2nd

The 3rd and final day was always going to be tough to match the previous days, both in terms of birds and weather, the previous evening we had decided to bird the north coast on the edge of the Moray Firth. This made a lot more sense as we would eventually end up a lot closer to Inverness Airport; this also gave us a crack at the King Eider.

We had originally planned for the Black Duck and the West Coast, this would mean a lot more driving 2 hours + each way so the easier option was taken + the rigours of the previous day’s mountaineering meant that the younger chaps needed a rest.

Mountain Hare seen on the previous day

First however was another visit to Loch Garten, again Crested Tit and Red Squirrel were targeted so we got there nice and early and waited patiently.
Red Squirrel was seen almost immediately but we had to wait a while before we saw Crested Tit, not one but 2 appeared, diving in to the feeder they were even quicker than the many Coal Tits present and proved a challenge for us all. They were going from light to dark areas in the forest, lightning quick, I got a couple of photos, not great but ok.


After a short while they disappeared, we followed suit and headed for the car, about an hour + later we had arrived at Lossiemouth using the A96,the plan from now was to work our way back west towards Inverness.

En route we picked up Common Buzzard and many Oystercatchers, a large flock of Greylag Geese in a field also produced around 10 Pinkfeet Geese, surprisingly apart from some Dark Bellied Brent’s the only wild Geese seen on the day.

After visiting Lower Largo a number of years ago which provided a stunning amount of birds including all 3 Divers, 3 of the rarer Grebes, 3 Scoters including Surf and hordes of Goldeneye, Eider and Long Tailed Duck, hopes were high for Lossiemouth.
On arrival it was clear that the numbers were just not present, or perhaps we were expecting too much, hard to say.
After about 30 minutes we came up with Red Breasted Merganser, Red and Black Throated Diver, 30 Eider, around 8 Long Tailed Ducks, 10 Common Scoter, Razorbill, 2 Fulmar and a Shag. A good mixture of birds seen so can’t complain, the drake Long Tailed Ducks are simply stunning, that is one bird I would love to be able to photograph closely.

Pressing on we next headed for Hopeman Harbour, a relatively short hop down the coast, we had been told of a pair of Long Tailed Ducks that were actually in the Harbour and were giving crippling views. Not to be I‘m afraid as we arrived, I expect they had come in only when the outside sea was rough beyond the harbour walls, nonetheless we soon located 4-5 Purple Sandpipers which kept the cameras busy.
Also present at roost were 10 Redshank and 28 Turnstone + a single Rock Pipit.

Next port of call was Nairn, this was the site of the King Eider, as yet we had still not picked up any White Wingers, one of the birds we had been looking out for. We did come across a Pig Farm, I can’t recall where which was alive with the larger Gulls but no Iceland’s or Glaucous were seen unfortunately. A Goosander was seen in town.

We spent a good while searching Nairn for the King Eider up at the Golf Course but as with the White Wingers no luck. Red Breasted Mergansers were seen along with Goldeneye, Eider, Black Throated Diver, around 40 Dark Bellied Brent Geese and Common Scoter.

Time was now marching on, the Airport called, we had seen some good birds, mostly distant but how can you complain when you’re up here?

I totted up a species list and we arrived at 82, even adding Whooper Swan on the way to the Airport, arrived back to Luton Airport to torrential rain, Sod’s Law.

3 days of intense birding in spectacular surroundings, climbed a Mountain, burnt 600 calories doing it, nearly saw all the Scottish specialities so what more can you ask for, Mull is calling.

Wednesday 5 March 2014

Scotland - Day 2

March 1st

Today we were due to be picked up by Marcus at 8.30am but the previous night a plan had been hatched over a beer or 2 to see if we could catch up with Black Grouse, a dawn watch was called for and then back for breakfast and Marcus.

Again we were lucky, arriving we could soon hear them from the road but unfortunately too far over to be seen, pushed for time and on the point of leaving we bumped into 2 birders, they very kindly pointed out a male sitting in a tree. A good distance away but nonetheless we all saw it so mission accomplished.

Every now and then you get a day birding that you will never forget, today was destined to be such a day, it’s when it all comes together, birds, good photos and weather.
We were picked up by Marcus our guide from E birders – see I have said it before, you can’t beat local knowledge, he was very good company and a wealth of local info as we arrived at the Cairngorms Ski Centre.

I won’t beat about the bush, it wasn’t easy, at my age,56, climbing mountains, even gradual ones was not for the feint hearted, Marcus’s knowledge of where to walk safely was paramount. Snow covered underground streams in particular were a hazard, sometimes with just a small hole showing and the stream 5 or 6 feet below in the deep snow.

The 4 man expedition - Mart, myself, Paul and Shaun

Worth it for the view alone - Loch Mulloch in the distance

The dark line in the centre of the photo is the path where we climbed from

Ski lift on out right with a distant car park below

By the end of the visit, we had covered 4 ½ miles, every step was worth it, we all got to see Ptarmigan and even better got some great photos, this was my 3rd visit for this bird so I was over the moon.

We were again very lucky, the Ptarmigan although high to us were low down for them, this was due to deep snow covering food at the higher levels. Marcus mentioned that on one trip a group he was leading covered 11 miles looking for them.
At the end of the expedition we had seen 2 or 3 flocks of Ptarmigan favouring the same mountain top, probably totalling around 60 birds, if I remember correctly it was called Windy Ridge.

Other species seen were at least 3 Raven, around a dozen Red Grouse, a Mountain Hare and 1 or 2 Snow Buntings. The Red Grouse were often with the Ptarmigan sharing the same habitat, I always thought that they didn’t co exist in the same area, you never stop learning.
All in all we were up there about 5 hours, the trek back downhill I thought would be easier but must say it worked your calf’s well, it was good exercise and although knackered I thoroughly enjoyed it.

I now have calf’s like a bodybuilder, it could be the spur I need to lose a bit of weight and get fit.

Tough birds living up here

After this arriving back at Marcus’s 4x4 we headed off to another site, Findhorn Valley, this time we were after Golden Eagle, it was sunny and hopes were high, we were all thinking that after the Ptarmigan it would be hard to match the morning, but match it we did with 2, possibly 3 Golden Eagles.
All in all we had about 5 sightings of them which definitely related to 2 separate birds but the feeling was that there were possibly 3 given how quick another would appear in an area a good distance away after one had just been seen going in a different direction.
The views although distant for camera work proved excellent through bin’s with one bird in particular providing pretty good views, this included hovering on the side of the hill with its legs hanging down.

Record shots of Golden Eagle - extensive white on the under wing probably made this one a 1st Winter

Sub adult with less white marking on the under wing

We ended up having a really good afternoon, Golden Eagle is a Scottish speciality but we also added 11 Common Buzzards, 9 Ravens, Peregrine, Kestrel and 6 Dippers.

Quite a day and one I won’t forget in a long time.