Monday, 30 January 2012

Not the best of name for a painting

For my As art project at school I worked towards completing this painting of a Greylag Goose using acrylic paint, wire and tissue paper and despite my insisting it being called "Resting Greylag" it was finally named "Preening Mallard", it was even hung up in the Mall Galleries in London in the Student 2011 art exhibition with the wrong title! grrr. PS why is that every non birder thinks every bird is either a Mallard or a Sparrow?

Even so, thanks very much to my art teachers for helping me get the place in the Gallery!!!  

Greylag stretching

Sunday, 29 January 2012

Big Garden Birdwatch Results (29th January)

I never reaslised how hectic recording garden birds can be, although birds were in their usual numbers in the back garden checking every single one every few seconds was a particular challange as well as tring to right up a list of flyover birds for a different purpose.

Big Garden Birdwatch results (not including flyovers):

3 Blue Tits
1, 1 Chaffinches
6 Woodpigeons
4,4 Greenfinches
3,3 Blackbirds
1 Mistle Thrush
1 Coal Tit
1 Starling
2 Robins
3,2 Bullfinches
1 Great Tit
14 Redwing
3 Magpie
1 Carrion Crow
1 Fieldfare
3 Goldfinches
1 Dunnock
2 Long-tailed Tits
1 Song Thrush
1 Black-headed Gull


6 Greenfinches (presumably the same flock of birds recorded earlier)
1 Goldfinch
3 Fieldfare
1 Common Gull
1 Black-headed Gull
2 Feral Pigeons


2 Redwing
1 Goldfinch
1 Pied Wagtail

The first bird of the Day (29th January)

I had just stood up in my bed when I noticed this Woodpigeon on the top of the garage very close to my window, luckily I had just enough time to take a good shot of the bird before it walked off.


Twitching the Red-breasted Goose at Old Hall Marshes + the best birding experience in my life (28th January)

I decided the day before I left to make the trip to the RSPB reserve at Old Hall Marshes to twitch the long-staying Red-breasted Goose.  The trip to the reserve involved taking the train into London before cycling between Euston and Liverpool street and then making a second train trip out of London (past the construction site of the Olympic Stadium) to Kelvedon, the closest train station 9 miles from the reserve.  The rest of the trip took another hour worth of cycling but the cost and effort was definitely worth it.


As soon as I pulled into the reserve car park the familiar soon of hundreds of Brent Geese honking as they came in to land was immediately obvious.  I rushed to the scene just in time to see 500+ dark-bellied Brent Geese recently alighted in the improved pastures about 1/4 mile NE of Old Hall Marsh Farm.  Despite scanning the flock thoroughly the Red-breasted Goose still remained elusive until smaller flocks gradually trickled in and amongst them I glimpsed the characteristic Red breast of my first ever RED-BREASTED GOOSE (a 1st. winter) (a life tick).  It alighted near the center of the already present flock of dark-bellied Brent Geese and showed amazingly.  I decided to follow the footpath further around the reserve to obtain a better view and from the sea wall it showed very well allowing me to take some record digi-scope shots.

 My first view of the 1st. win. RED-BREASTED GOOSE

 try and find the bird!

This was a brilliant start to the day as I still had plenty of time to take the long route around the reserves perimeter.  I also had the pleasure of meeting Alan, a university lecturer from the Open University of London, we decide to make the round trip together and managed to clock up dozens of interesting birds.  Just east of the Brent Geese a flock of 100+ Wigeon were also feeding in the improved fields and dozens of Redshank were present feeding in the Salcott Channel.  Further east, 100's of Dunlin were feeding in the muddy margins of the channel along with a large number of Teal.  2 juvenile Peregrines were also a nice surprise as the alighted on the wooden posts in the center of the channel as was the impressive sight of 8 RED-BREASTED MERGANSER (4, 4) (a year tick) as well as 3 Goldeneye (1, 2) (a year tick).  We were accompanied by the almost constant sight of Skylarks taking off from the sea wall grass slopes and closer to Quarters Spit I found a 1st. win. MERLIN perched on a wooden post along the edge of the wall.  It soon took flight and made a wide circuit around the marsh, pelting low over the water in the classic Merlin flight pattern followed by the impressive sight of 1-2 SHORT-EARED OWLS come over the marsh.  Marsh Harriers were also on view for most of the time, juveniles being the most frequent and from the end of the peninsula we noted a small flock of Grey Plover, Great Black-backed Gulls, Herring Gulls and Black-headed Gulls followed by a brief view of a Grey Seal poking its head above the water with prey in its mouth.  As I was walking along the sea wall another or possibly the same SHORT-EARED OWL erupted from the grassy bank only 2 meters from were I was stood before heading of over the marsh a little out to sea and then returning down Salcott Channel.  Better still Alan picked up on 3 win. RED-THROATED DIVERS (a year tick) shortly before they took flight and headed out to sea.  In addition to the previous record of 8 Red-breasted Mergansers an additional 13 RED-BREASTED MERGANSERS were noted in the North and Virley Channel and 6 Eiders (1♂, 5♀) (a year tick) were sat on the end of the Great Cob Island sand bank.

Tollesbury Fleet

Joyce's Head Fleet

On our way back along the South side of the Peninsula, 3+ Little Egrets were of note as was the sight of a possible WATER PIPIT on the edge of the concrete sea wall.  There were also an impressive number of Dunlin and Grey Plovers resting on the exposed marsh (waiting for the next low tide).  We also found a single Hare washing itself and 3 win. SPOTTED REDSHANKS (a year tick) in the Irongate Lagoon.  Another birder also kindly notified us of a immature colour ringed SPOONBILL (a year tick) which we later found sieving the marshy waters for invertebrates.  It was an impressive bird and thoroughly white, a little bedraggled and the lower mandible appeared translucent red at times when the light shone through.

immature Spoonbill

 light shining through the translucent red upper and lower mandible

Also in the Irongate Lagoon we heard a CETTI'S WARBLER calling from deep within the reads and a small group of BEARDED TITS were also calling, but unfortunately didn't show themselves.
Other birds of note around the reserve included a Green Woodpecker climbing the pole of an owl nest box and dozens of Reed Buntings on the improved marshes, 1 Linnet, 1 Stonechat approaching summer plumage, 64+ Black-tailed Godwit and dozens of Curlew (the later two amongst the Brent Geese).  Ducks included Shoveler, Tufted Duck, Mallard, Wigeon, Teal and Pochard mainly found in the Irongate Lagoon.  After departing with Alan I decided to go back to the huge flock of Brent Geese in the improved fields that had just arrived north of Old Hall Creek.  I was once again glad to re-find the Red-breasted Goose amongst the masses and took a few last digi-scope shots.

Red-breasted Goose

 had its head down for much of the time as it was feeding almost continuously, it was also less active than the Brent Geese and tended to remain in a small area instead of noisily running around and squabbling.

Next, I decided to retrace my steps back along the sea wall to the headland at Tollesbury Fleet.  It was here that I picked up on a BARN OWL perched near Pennyhole Fleet, I tried to take some digi-scope shots but it soon took flight and began quartering the fields, after less than a minute of watching it made a beeline for where I was standing, still making occasional swoops into the grass but it soon diverted its attention to me, standing on the top of the sea wall.  It was clear that it had noticed me and deliberately began flying towards me, it then approached even closer as it flew at head height up the sea wall and made an amazingly close bank less than two feet from my head, whilst I stood in shock and awe!  It glared into my eyes with its dark iris as its silent wing beats almost scrapped my face I was certain this was a moment I shall never forget!
Nothing could have topped such an amazing sight but as I was still in high spirits I stopped to search the reedbeds once again for the Bearded Tits with another local observer.  Fortunately, our efforts paid off as 3 BEARDED TITS (a life tick) came into view (not including 2 other birds calling from within the reeds) as they fed on the tops of the reed heads, what a way to end the day!

Bearded Tits

Monday, 23 January 2012

Cassiobury Park (23rd January)

Went for a usual afternoon walk through the park between 14:00 and 15:00 during one of my free periods but still noted a moderate range of species.  4 Ring-necked Parakeets were seen in total with several more heard whilst 1 Herring Gull flew SE over the football pitch and 29+ Black-headed Gulls.  Closer to the nature reserve, at the bottom of the park, 1 Green Woodpecker and 1 Great Spotted Woodpecker were heard calling and a Nuthatch flew past.  One of the highlights was the sight of a Kingfisher perched on the ground before tacking the more usual stance of perching on the end of a branch over the Gade River.  Inside the nature reserve a very approachable Goldcrest was flitting through the brambles whilst 6+ Redwing flew overhead.  1 Great Spotted Woodpecker and 3-4 Jays were of note near the hide and 1 Siskin and 1-2 Bullfinches were heard.

Ashridge Estate (22nd January)

Unfortunately I was unaware of the Little Auk that had turned up at College Lake so instead I was in the car of to Ashridge for a walk with my family and Theo (our dog).  1 Red Kite circled over the A41 near Berkhampstead and several Thrush sp. were in the hedgerows lining the bypass.  Sadly, the dead body of a Badger was lying next to the road along the B4506 (most  likely hit by a car the night before as it looked freshly dead) and 70+ Fallow Deer were also grassing in the surrounding fields.


Very little was seen on the walk, partly due to us arriving at the wrong time of day and clearly the wrong time of year, not to mention taking the route through the center of the wood were the fewest birds could be seen and the numerous other dog walkers disturbing the wildlife.  In total only 2 Great Spotted Woodpeckers were heard, 1 Goldcrest, 1 Redwing were seen and a single Buzzard and Siskin were heard.  By late afternoon nothing was around except for a Muntjac Deer that crossed the Monument path.

Saturday, 21 January 2012

The Tring Reservoir's (20th January)

I’m very smug with myself after convincing two of my teachers to cancel their lessons due to there being a maths exam yesterday.  Fortunately, I don't do maths so instead of having to go to school, I had the day of which I spent by cycling to Tring.  I only had a few hours sleep before getting up and making the trip by bike to fit in all the places I planned to visit, but it was certainly worth the effort.


My first unexpected stop as I came across a flock of 100+ Black-headed Gulls in their post gull assembly.  I only had about 10 minutes scanning through the Gulls, in hope of a Med Gull when someone wondered through the middle of the flock and they took flight before heading into a neighbouring field out of sight.  The only birds I could note in time were a few Common Gulls and a small flock of Starling.


Several flocks of Redwing were already flying about by the time I arrived outside Tring followed by Fieldfare and a calling Buzzard.  Also of note were 1+calling Siskin and 2 Red Kites and 2 Meadow Pipits over Northfield Road.


I decided to make my first visit to Aldbury Nowers, which I had never visited before, despite making regular trips to Tring.  Dozens of Redwing were feeding on the footpath floor when I entered the avenue of trees followed by more Meadow Pipit calls coming from the surrounding farmland.  8 Bullfinches was a nice surprise, on the chalk downland, just inside the reserve including 4 males.  My main aim was to find a Woodcock feeding on the forest floor, however the strong winds from the W and mild temperatures did not make it a promising opportunity.  Instead I continued the walk towards Pitstone Reservoir.  From the chalk downland 1 Buzzard, a ♀ Kestrel, 1 Goldcrest, 1 Song Thrush, 1 Nuthatch (a year tick), 1-2 calling Great Spotted Woodpeckers (only heard), 1 Green Woodpecker and 2-3 more calling Bullfinches were also of note.  Overlooking the reservoir was rather more difficult then I had anticipated due to strong westerly wind (2/3), 100+ Black-headed Gulls were around the water’s edge with several Common Gulls and 2 Lesser-Black-backed Gulls (a year tick) as well as 4 Tufted Ducks (a year tick).


A lot of bad-mouthing of the place has been going around recently including complaints about the number of birds visiting the reserve due to the water level, so I decided to check the area out for myself to see if anything had changed.  In comparison to my previous visit more wildfowl were about including Gadwall (a year tick), Wigeon (a year tick), dozens of Lapwing, 1 Buzzard, and a single Snipe (a year tick) feeding on the marsh edge, unusually it was bobbing slightly between feeding behaviour, something I hadn't seen before.  A summer plumaged possible "SINENSIS" SUB-SPECIES of CORMORANT on the north lake island was also a nice sight.  Numbers of Wildfowl and Lapwing seem to be on the increase and the European race Cormorant proved to me that the reserves potential for an unusual winter migrant might be back on the rise.


Next stop of was at Marsworth Reservoir which hosted 22 Shoveler (16♂, 6♀), 1 Snipe resting in the reeds and 9 Great Crested Grebes, but unfortunately no sign of the wintering jack Snipe.


The main aim was to find the long-staying Snow Bunting to add it to my year list.  1 Grey Wagtail and 3+ Pied Wagtails were of note before I found the 1st. win.♂ SNOW BUNTING (a year tick) feeding voraciously near the middle of the NW bank of the Reservoir.  Other birds of note included a flock of Lapwing and further year ticks included, surprisingly, Pochard and Coot.

1st-win. Snow Bunting, coming to feed only 3-4 meters from where I was standing

Mute Swans

Lapwing over Startop's End Reservoir


I decided to squeeze in a short visit to Wilstone Reservoir, despite the fading light but was only able to connect with the juv. Dark-bellied BRENT GOOSE amongst a flock of Greylag Geese (a year tick) and Canada Geese (a year tick).  Unfortunately the Water Pipit didn't show along the E bank of the reservoir but I didn't have enough time to thoroughly check.  The water level here seems to have recovered significantly since my last visit and is now several inches deep at the end of the jetty.  All the same the extensive marsh area on the south side did host 100's Teal (a year tick) as well as Wigeon, Coot and Tufted Duck.  A sad sight of 2 carcasses of a Swan sp. had washed up on the south east side (maybe the result from the ill-looking Whopper Swan that was noted at the reservoirs earlier last year).  On the brighter side, a large flock of Lapwing were on the central bund and a good number of Black-headed Gulls had congregated on the mud at the North West corner of the reservoir.

the long-staying juv. Brent Goose


 coming in to land to feed

 the long-staying juv. Brent Goose amongst Canada Geese

spot the Brent

Sunday, 15 January 2012

Isle of Sheppey with the Hemel RSPB group (14th January)

The usual start of the year trip to the Isle of Sheppey was, as always, extremely productive with a variety of waders, raptors and owls around the Isle.  We met as a group just outside Hemel before making the trip, by shared transport.

PS. I have also decided to type BIRDS OF PARTICULAR INTEREST in capitals as well as in different colours whilst the majority of birds will be typed in greenRARITIES and MEGAS will be writen in bold red.  Probable and possible records, birds I have missed, escapes and feral birds will not be highlighted in colour.


The usual count of 3 Buzzards and 4 Kestrels was a usual average, however the low light and cold temperatures (only -4°C) ment very few raptors had decided to start hunting.


Our first stop on the Isle was the Raptor watch point on the southern side of the Isle.  As we drove slowly to the small mound, that represented the closest to a hill in miles around we saw 3 Stonechats (1pair and a single ad.♂).  From the car we also saw flocks of Lapwing to the west of Capel Hill.  Other birds of note, just west of the raptor watch point included 3 Red-legged Partridge, 1 Reed Bunting and a single flyover Green Sandpiper and the first juv. Marsh Harrier of the day.  From the watch point I picked up on a large flock  of White-fronted Geese (numbers were difficult to tell as a large proportion were out of sight behind a mound in the field, but they were certainly over 100), as they were feeding east of the watch point in the Leysdown Marshes area.  The birding gradually improved through the course of the morning, and as temperatures rose and the ground frost melted 3 individual Marsh Harrier were seen (2, 1).  A single Kestrel was on a pile of newly dug earth near Capel Fleet and 2 Buzzards were of note (creating a little bit of excitement whenever one was seen due to the prospect of being one of the recent 2 Rough-legged Buzzards that had last been seen in the area two days prior to our visit).  The group and I were soon treated to a distant view of a SHORT-EARED OWL, perched on the edge of a field south of the raptor watch point, but even better the shout went up when a HEN HARRIER was found almost out of view behind a mound close to the spot were the Short-eared Owl had been found.  Fortunately, for the ID it took flight after a few minutes and headed east towards Eastchurch Marshes, showing its white rump (ringtail) very clearly.  One of the local birders was also kind enough to point out a 1st year MERLIN in the field north of the watch point and provided great views as it sat and preened on the ground.


Our next stop off point was down Harty Ferry Lane were we parked up and did a short scan of the scene from the car park before going down to the edge of the Swale to survey the Waders and Geese down on the expanse of mud.  An accurate count of Wildfowl and Wader numbers was difficult to conduct due to the masses of birds that were present and would have taken several hours to build an accurate picture up of the exact numbers.  However, The highlight was the sight of 100's of Black-tailed Godwits take to the air followed by dozens of Bar-tailed Godwits.  Other wader species included 44+ Knot with several Redshank amongst them as well as occasional Turnstone and 2 Grey Plover near the river edge.  1 Great Black-backed Gull was also of note as were 2 Dunlin, amongst the large number of Godwits and Curlew.  To the east of the jetty a BARN OWL began to quarter the fields and we were lucky enough to see it come closer, and stay in clear view for several minutes as it gradually made its way towards us, before heading back west again towards the Swale NNR.  The next highlight for me was a juv.  HEN HARRIER that I found as it dived over the brow of the hill to the west of the path putting up a large flock of Woodpigeons in the process, a great give away.  Further birds of note included 3 Marsh Harriers (2♀, 1♂) and a possible flock of 4 RED-BREASTED MERGANSER.  The final spectacle was the amazing sight of 100's of Brent Geese take off from the estuary mouth and head north into the Isle in a long trailing line.

 hundreds of Brent Geese taking of from the marshes to head inland


Peacock, strutting around one of the barns

some of the 44 Knot with 1 Dunlin amongst their ranks


The weather was improving throughout the day and the frost had long since disappeared  as the cloud cover 0/3 and wind 0/3 helped the temperature to climb.  Back at the car park we decided to take a walk down to Harty Marshes that overlooked the vast expanse of mud at the Swale estuary.  1 Marsh Harrier was of note and as I scanned the 100's of Brent Geese and White-fronted Geese further north of the path a flock of woodpigeons took flight.  As always superstitions were boosted over the prospect of an additional and possibly new raptor to the day list, as expected it only took about half a minute for an adult Peregrine to bolt into view at the end of the line of Woodpigeons, the second time Woodpigeons have given away the presence of a raptor today!  The Swale estuary was extremely impressive with thousands of Waders wading through the shallows.  The numbers were massive with 100's of Godwits, Curlew, Dunlin, Shelduck etc and no fewer than 17 AVOCET were amongst their masses.  Unfortunately the time we had to survey the numbers was limited so a thorough search would not be possible. Instead, we resorted to marveling at the beauty of the popular Avocets).  Other birds of note around the reserve farmland included a single BARN OWL (possibly the same bird as the one seen at Harty Ferry Lane), 2 Reed Bunting, 2+ Stock Dove and 14 Meadow Pipits and 2 Peacocks (obviously from escaped origins resting in the barn in the small hamlet).


On our return we made a final stop at the raptor watch point were we clocked in another 2 Green Sandpiper, 2 Reed Buntings, 4 Red-legged Partridges and a further (self-found) SHORT-EARED OWL.  Unfortunately, we were informed by the 30+ people that 2 Great White Egrets had dropped into the Capel Fleet.  However, the view over the fleet was very restricted and they both decided to remain well hidden.  With the addition of our group, we totaled over 40 people all standing very cramped at the top of the raptor watch-point that only occupied a small area of several square meters, it must have looked comical from a distance.


Our final stop for the day was along Shellness road were dozens of Turnstones and Sanderling were frantically feeding along the narrow sand/shingle stretch of beach followed by c.97 Curlew.  The light was fading more quickly now and the rest of the members of the group were eager to return home so it was a race against time to find as much as possible out to see before rushing back to the car and home again.  In fact, the rush did bring out a few birds including a pos. SLAVONIAN GREBE, 1 Diver sp., 1 Sawbill sp. and a raft of 20+ probable COMMON SCOTERS.  A great finish to the day, definitely one of the best RSPB trips I'v been on.



89 of the near 100 Curlew flying south

more Sanderling

more Turnstone pics


(all photos taken by Ephraim Perfect)