Monday, 29 April 2013

First Day Back on the Fal Patch! (28th April)

It was my first day back on the Fal local patch after my Easter holidays back in Herts.  I managed to get up relatively early with the intention of visiting Swanpool for some pics to add to my conservation notebook.  In fact, my first stop was Pendennis Point with the hope of locating some divers.  I met John-St Ledger here and after some considerable sea-watching we had only seen a couple flypast auk flocks (most likely Guillemots) with a couple confirmed Guillemots scattered further inshore.  However, once our eye was in the game, I managed to complete a full scan across the bay clocking an impressive total of 17 Great Northern Divers!  At least five were in their stunning summer plumage and were a brilliant sight to behold.  What a shame Dan wasn't with us to enjoy them.  However, no sooner had I left Dan came wandering up the path from Gylly.  I retraced my steps back to the point with him and after a halfhearted scan we only managed to pick out 11 of the 17 divers.  The wind had picked up slightly making it more difficult to pick out the more distant ones and some had moved such a considerable distance that is was likely many may have been different individuals.  Anyway, enough about divers.  2 Wheatear were also at the point.

I walked the coastal footpath to Swanpool where I heard both the singing Reed Warbler and Sedge Warbler.  The Great Crested Grebe was also back on the lake (a scarce bird for the site), 2 Sandwich Terns patrolled the cliffs at Pennance Point and a Comma butterfly was at Swanpool.

A final short sea-watch from Pendennis as the rain and wind picked up only produced flock of 8 Manx Shearwaters.

Wednesday, 24 April 2013

More Patch Work (24th April)

Yet more patch work.  This time a bit of a longer diversion through the arable and pastoral fields behind the RSSKL.  I first checked out the newly found Little Owl haunt and was very pleased to find 2 Little Owls in the same cavity (almost certainly a pair) I am very much hoping they will breed there this year!  I also bumped into my first Brimstone of the year and there were still unusually large numbers of Peacocks about with fewer Small Tortoiseshells.  Other typical species on patch included 2 Lapwing, 2 Red Kites, Swallows and my first patch Whitethroat of the year.  The highlight was definitely the very confiding Lesser Whitethroat in the Blackthorn bushes at Whippendell Bottom.

Tuesday, 23 April 2013

Yet More Local Patching (23rd April)

Another walk around the local patch in the vain hope of some migrants.  It turned out the only migrants I saw were 2 Swallows.  However, despite the lack of birds, there were numerous Peacocks on the wing (it seems there are considerably large numbers this year), 1 Small Tortoiseshell and my first local patch Small White of the year.

Little Patch Surprise (22nd April)

Went for a patch walk with my brother.  First a brief walk behind the RSSKL, then on towards Chipperfield followed by Scatterdells Wood and finally back along Barnes Lane back home.  Not much in total but I was rather surprised to find 2 Little Owls.  One was in the newly found haunt but the other was at a nesting site I thought had been abandoned.  That's very promising news and hopefully a pair will nest and produce another brood of chicks.  Here's hoping!

Sunday, 21 April 2013

Wheatears on Patch Again! (21st April)

Went for a dog walk with Dad and the dog and to my surprise I came across 2 male Wheatear!  These are fairly scarce birds for my patch and despite seeing 3 only last week, the birds I saw today represent the 6th and 7th record on my KL patch!  Not much else to report other than 2 Red Kites.

male Wheatear on the KL patch!

Staines Moor and Res (21st April)

A long overdue first-time visit to Staines Moor in the hope of connecting with yesterdays Gropper.  Unfortunately, yet another dip on the same species in two days.  However, my brother and I did see our first HOBBY of the year, a great treat as it was very approachable and remained perched on an ant hill for at least half an hour!  We also saw our first 2 CUCKOOS of the year (singing from the dead trees in the north east corner of the moor).  Other species of note included my first singing Reed Warbler of the year, 1 Sedge Warbler, as well as plenty of Whitethroats, Chiffchaffs, Willow Warblers and Blackcaps.  A Redshank also flew over near the northern edge and on the walk to Staines Reservoir, we found 2 singing LESSER WHITETHROATS (yet another year tick).

first Hobby of the year

first Cuckoo of the year too

a very out-of-focus Lesser Whitethroat

Staines Reservoir was a little quiet but a couple of birds were of interest including 5 Arctic Terns, 1 sum. plum. Black-necked Grebe and a Black-tailed Godwit feeding on the bank of the S basin.

1 of the 5 Arctic Terns at Staines Res

Stockers (20th April)

An afternoon birding trip with my brother to Stockers Lake and Croxley Common Moor with a glimmer of hope for yesterdays surprising sightings.  It looked as if Redstart, Wood Warbler, Gropper and Pied Fly would all be a possibility as they were all seen the day before but the combination of good weather and plenty of disturbance meant we didn't connect with any of the above species.  Sadly, it seemed as if they had all moved on with.  Stockers Farm was probably the only place worth checking as it had 2 Egyptian Geese1 Common Sandpiper and a Little Owl which merited a little attention.

A couple butterflies on the wing too including numerous Peacocks and my first Small White of the year!

Little Owl, Stockers Farm

Friday, 19 April 2013

Success in Target Birding! (19th April)

It's amazing how many things conspire against you when out on a birding trip.  Today started later than expected as my alarm clock failed to work. The journey to Tring by bike wasn't much better as the headwind meant I could only progress at a fairly slow rate and to top it off, a very frustrating puncture set me back at least another hour!

The initial set back wasn't a total disaster as I had a while to scan the fields at Nettleden Road.  The stubble field below Highpark Wood had 3 Hares and 3 Red Kites were in the general area.

I eventually arrived at Ivinghoe were negative news of Ring Ouzels did dampen my spirits a little more.  However, after only a minute or so of scanning I was very pleased to locate a female RING OUZEL!  A brilliant bird which I enjoyed watching for some time feeding on the slope below the beacon.  6 Wheatear (including 4 males) were also around the lower part of the slope "chacking" around me in their usual disgruntled way.

female Ring Ouzel below the Beacon

I heard news of the Arctic Terns at Startop's End Res, so I made a bee line there, skipping out College and Pitstone as I had previously planned.  On arrival at Marsworth and Startop's, I was greeted to the sight of about 20 terns, mostly in flight and gliding around the northern side of Startop's.  It took time to get confident separating the Arctics from the Commons but after a while watching them I managed to see at least 3 ARCTIC TERNS in one "bin-full" (there could have been up to 6 birds).  Another year tick for the day as well as a good education as they performed well, gliding around the Res's and perching on the barley bales.  Other species of note at the Res's included my first SEDGE WARBLER of the year (a singing individual in the far north eastern corner of Marsworth), 2 Kingfishers, 3 Redshank flying over, a burst of song from the Cetti's Warbler, a Whitethroat in sub-song by the canal, 2 Grey Wagtails and 4 Red Crested Pochard (2 drakes and 2 females).  A long search for the reported Blue-headed Wagtail failed but I did locate 12 Yellow Wagtails and 3 WHITE WAGTAILS in the horse field before retracing my steps to College Lake.

Arctic Tern on the barley bales

College Lake was typically quiet but 3 Shelduck (2 males, 1 female), 4 Snipe and 7+ Redshank were of note.  Despite reports of Cuckoo I didn't manage to hear or see any throughout the day.

I decided to have another stab at the wagtail and met up with some of the hardcore local patchers at Startop's again.  Thankfully, while chatting to Roy, the BLUE-HEADED or CHANNEL WAGTAIL suddenly appeared on the causeway in front of me!  We were treated to some excellent views as it moved along the bank before it went to perch in the hedgerow.  As with many subspecies, there was a little dispute over it's real origin so we jokingly decided to settle on wagtail!

Blue-headed or Channel Wagtail? (ID still undetermined)

Pochard×Tufted Duck hybrid on Startop's End Res

"The Wagtail" did in fact draw most of our attention but I also manged to fit in a brief detour in to Wilstone Reservoir.  As expected, there were very few birds (as well as birders) but the 100's of Sand Martins were a treat to see.  A couple Swallows and the odd House Martin were also mingled in but our highlight at Wilstone emerged as we were leaving the car park, a hunting Barn Owl!  As always, it guaranteed a nice round off to the day, followed by a final brief visit to Startop's for a last peak at the Arctic Terns before heading for home.

sunset over Startop's End Reservoir

Woodland at Dusk (18th April)

I was keen for a bit of crepuscular birding (between c.8:20pm-9:45pm) in the hope of finding a roding Woodcock at Chipperfield Wood but unfortunately no luck.  I was sat on the forest floor overlooking the clearing at the center of the wood and not surprisingly a Fox ran past.  It soon popped out again and began walking down the path towards me, still unaware of my presence.  I decided to let it know I was only a couple meters away by making a "pish" noise and rather surprisingly it froze before it began jogging purposefully towards me!  A little taken aback, I was glad it soon realised I was person and it bolted once again for the bushes.

As the evening progressed, a pair of Tawny Owls began calling to each other.  I was even treated view of one of the individuals gliding elegantly across the clearing, a welcome year tick!

Thursday, 18 April 2013

Same Ol' Patch (18th April)

Yet another walk into the arable fields behind the RSSKL.  Not a lot unsurprisingly other than 2 Red Kites, a Kestrel, kindly approaching close enough for a pic.  As a last idea, I decided to check the two dead ash trees a little of course from my usual route in the hope of refinding one of the local Little Owls as 2 of the previously occupied local nesting sites seem to have been abandoned!  To my relief I was lucky to connect with a single roosting Little Owl in a hollow of one of the trees.

male Kestrel

Little Owl

Local Patching (17th April)

Wandering around the fields behind the RSSKL, I saw 3 Red Kites, 1 flyover Siskin and finally a couple hirundines, including 1 Swallow and 3 Sand Martins.  In fact, the martins were a patch first for myself bringing the total to a mere 88 species.

Tuesday, 16 April 2013

Tyttenhanger Revisited (16th April)

Yet another visit to Tyttenhanger.  Off course there was barely a chance in the world of relocating the Hoopoe but I promised myself to pay it another proper visit before I go back to Falmouth.  I arrived shortly before midday and took a long walk around the gravel pits, Willows Farm, Garden Wood and even made it to Colney Heath.  2 Oysetercatchers and my first COMMON SANDPIPER of the year were at the fishing pits whilst the main gravel pit produced another year tick, 3 WHITETHROATS.  The Tree Sparrow hedge was empty so I made my way on to Willows Farm were several Red-legged Partridges were running around the farmland.  The highlight however was a grey/brown partridge that flew across the path and landed in the neighboring arable field.  Despite only pocking its head out it was clearly a GREY PARTRIDGE, a very welcome year tick as well as a Herts one too!

 Grey Partridge at Willows Farm

 Wheatear at Tyttenhanger Farm (showing some characteristics that might belong to Greenland Wheatear.  The buff/orange chest was quite distinguishable) - opinions welcome

Common Sandpiper at the main fishing pit

Other species of note included the usual Red Kites, Buzzards and another male Wheatear near Warren Farm (a big decrease from yesterdays double figures).  The bright sunshine also encouraged a lot more butterflies out including many more Peacocks, Small Tortoiseshells and my first Red Admiral of the year.  Yesterdays Muntjac was also still in the same field.

Fields Behind the RSSKL (16th April)

A short walk with my dog around the typically barren farmland.  However, today was different!  I was scanning across the fields at the A41 footbridge and suddenly set eyes on a stunning male Wheatear!  In fact, after a little more scanning I discovered a total of 3 male Wheatears scuttling about the field together.

I'm extremely pleased with this record as they represent the 3rd, 4th and 5th I've ever seen on my KL local patch!  Just goes to show how dire the situation is on a relatively unproductive patch!

Stockers then Tyttenhanger (15th April)

Out on my bike again.  This time I got up pretty early to fit in a couple of sites around the lower Colne Valley pits.  My first stop was Croxley Common Moor in the hope of locating a singing Gropper but alas there was no sign.  In fact none have been recorded here last year so my chances were slim already.  My first singing WILLOW WARBLERS of the year were in subsong and  they seemed to pave the way as I heard them singing almost everywhere.  A couple of butterflies had also emerged by this time including more Peacocks and Small Tortoiseshells.  Other species of not included numerous Chiffchaffs (although surprisingly these seemed less abundant than the Willow Warblers!).

Next, on to Stockers where I caught a glimpse of the resident Cetti's Warbler at the causeway and 4 drake Red Crested Pochard on Bury Lake.  Not a lot at Stockers unfortunately but several Blackcaps did burst into song.

News then came in of a Hoopoe at Tyttenhanger so after a lift from Ian we found ourselves scanning the field north of the main gravel pit.  Unfortunately, the bird had flown but we did have a little compensation with the sight of c.20 Wheatear (mostly males) scuttling around the field and 2 YELLOW WAGTAILS (also males), a year tick for myself.  I didn't pay much attention to the gravel pit but a couple Sand Martins and Swallows made themselves obvious by hawking over it and a Muntjac deer was feeding in a neighbouring field.

Sunday, 14 April 2013

Ivinghoe (14th April)

It's been a long time since I've visited Ivinghoe so it was nice to be back and with sunshine on my side it turned out to a nice afternoon.  Too bad the birds didn't play ball.  Despite considerable effort on behalf of my brother and I we couldn't find any Ring Ouzels at Incombe Hole or the Ivinghoe Hills.  Unfortunately, as it was a sunny Sunday afternoon, there was considerable disturbance by the large number of people out on the hills and as a result no migrants whatsoever had decided to stay.  As consolation, I did see my first singing CORN BUNTING of the year, a couple Red Kites flew about and there was a very showy Marsh Tit at Steps Hill.

Ivinghoe Hills

Saturday, 13 April 2013

A Good Port of Call (13th April)

Portland with sh4rpy and Paul!  Apologies once again for the terrible puns in the title.

 the English Channel battering the limestone cliffs at Portland Bill

We set of early from Herts and arrived at the bill in overcast conditions.  Initially, our hopes were set on a day that would show some improvement in the weather but the rain (as usual) spelled our doom!  A short sea-watch produced the commoner expected species including plenty of Razorbills, Guillemots, Gannets, Shags and the odd Fulmar but nothing particularly outstanding.  Looking back, this was probably the most enjoyable part of the day as we weren't being drenched!

The good times didn't last long and as we made our way round the eastern side of the Isle, the rain began.  Before heading back to the car we clocked in 1 Whimbrel, several grounded migrant Wheatear, Rock Pipits, singing Skylarks and the occasional Pied Wagtail.  In fact the incessant continuation of horizontally falling rain made viewing worse but we soldiered on, only to see a few more Wheatear at Top Fields.  Unfortunately, the hoped for Redstart did not appear but we were treated to good views of some commoner summer migrants including some recently arrived Chiffchaffs and 3 Swallows hawking and flycatching over a small patch of fresh water.  A traipse around the Obs gardens didn't produce the Long-eared Owl we were hoping for so we aborted Portland and headed to Radipole for Iceland Gull and Garganey.

From the visitor center,  the number of hirundines was steadily increasing and included Sand Martins, Swallows and numerous HOUSE MARTINS (my first of the year).  After about half a miles walk to the opposite end of the reserve, we were treated with our first good bird of the day (and about time too!) 2 GARGANEY (a stunning pair) that appeared in a vegetated corner of open water.  Fortunately, they lifted our spirits sufficiently to continue our search for the Iceland Gull that had been reported on-and-off in the car park.  Another dip unfortunately but we did see the escape Hooded Merganser and enjoyed good company whilst scanning through a small flock of gulls that had assembled in front of us.

Once again, many thanks sh4rpy for the lift to Portland and back!

(Ot)moor Dipping (12th April)

A stupid pun I know but at least it's the truth.  Unfortunately, despite investing considerable effort my brother and I both dipped on the Fudge Duck that had been present for the past couple weeks at Otmoor.  None the less, our hopes were still high despite the fact it had not been reported for the past two days.  We also failed to see Garganey, our second target species.  It became difficult scavenging a result as the weather deteriorated and the heavy rain began.  As a result, we only managed to see a roosting Barn Owl, a Bittern shortly in flight, 1 Raven and the 6 WHITE-FRONTED GEESE that had arrived the day before.

 roosting Barn Owl

one of the many Red Kites

Rather incredibly, we also counted a total of at least 21 Red Kites on the car journey to the reserve despite showers and heavy cloud cover! 

Thursday, 11 April 2013

Down to the Canal (10th April)

A short walk down to the canal with my brother where we spent some time looking over the small fishing lakes.  At least 3 Chiffchaffs in song with many more in the overhanging willows by the Gade River.  We also saw our first 4 SWALLOWS of the year hawking over the water at the fisheries.  It's always nice to see the summer migrants return!  Not much else of note other than a Buzzard, 2 Red Kites, 1 Sparrowhawk and 2 Grey Wagtails.

Tuesday, 9 April 2013

Cassiobury Park (9th April)

Back on my old stomping grounds for two hours in the late afternoon between 4-6pm as I happened to get a lift to Watford.  Whilst I was wandering around the park, my brother was in fact watching 2 Peregrines over the town, they would have been a welcome park first for me.

Anyway, species of note included 5 Chiffchaffs (4 of which were singing), Ring-necked Parakeets, 2 Grey Wagtails, 6 Stock Doves, a pair of Bullfinches, 1 female Reed Bunting and a Little Egret on the stream by the reserve.  The NR was a little more productive and since it is now largely underwater it had managed to attract a drake Teal, and my first 3 SAND MARTINS of the year hawking over the wet NR.  Further on, 1 male Blackcap was seen from the small hide as well as a Siskin and 2 flyover redpoll sp. near the eastern end of the park (most likely Lessers).

Sunday, 7 April 2013

Something New (6th April)

An afternoons birding trip down to the New Forest with Sharpy, Paul, Ephraim and myself in search of Goshawks.

We arrived at a well known site in the New Forest overlooking a large expanse of mixed woodland and began scanning through the heat haze for any sign of our target species.  Half an hour passed with no sighting, other than a couple of Buzzards and a Sparrowhawk when Sharpy pointed out a raptor species behind the watchpoint circling in the distance.  After considerable scrutiny we were soon satisfied to call it our first GOSHAWK of the day!  It got considerably better after this as we soon picked out a further 1-2 Goshawks performing well over the  top of the canopy.  Another single bird then started flying up and high towards us but the final grand finale of two stunning birds taking the thermals upwards and directly towards us showing closer than all the other previous birds was a great way to end our stay at watchpoint!  In total, we managed clock up to 5 individuals!  We decided to take a short excursion through the nearby woodland before heading back to the car park, on the way logging Marsh TitBullfinch, Siskin, Meadow Pipit and a singing Stonechat to the Hampshire day list.

Goshawk at the New Forest!

Our next stop was Pennington Marsh where we hoped to connect with the long-staying Green-winged Teal.

 looking south across Pennington Marsh towards the Needles on the Isle of Wight

We were running short of time so made our way directly to the pool at which it was last seen.  The short walk there produced our first and only Chiffchaff of the day and a Cetti's Warbler zipped across the path after bursting into a brief flurry of song.  The first pool produced a single Spotted Redshank and Snipe but following a considerable amount of scanning back and forth through the Teal, I eventually set eyes on the drake GREEN-WINGED TEAL.  I called the others over and we all had great views of the bird feeding.  In fact, the only catch was that it was incessantly feeding without raising its head at all so we had to content ourselves with a permanently submerged bill and the top part of its head.

 drake Green-winged Teal, accompanied by Eurasian Teal

Spotted Redshank attempting to swallow a fish

A little further on, we found a second Spotted Redshank.  This one was attempting to swallow a fish and did succeed in the end, although this took at least a minute or two to complete.  The usual commoner waders were also widespread and numerous including Grey Plovers, Black-tailed Godwits, Turnstones, Dunlin, Curlew and Redshanks.

Black-tailed Godwit coming into summer plumage

2 ad. Mediterranean Gulls also flew overhead and back near the car park a birder kindly called me over to show us some new arrival, these turned out to be 3 SPOONBILLS (all adults) and 2 RUFF in the marsh neighbouring the car park.

one of the Ruffs

three adult Spoonbill

Many thanks again to Sharpy for driving and a good days birding!

Stockers (6th April)

A brief wander around Batchworth, Bury, Stockers and Inns Lake before joining Sharpy and Paul down to the south coast.  We only had about two hours to spare so only managed a couple of species.  My brother and I found 2 drake Red Crested Pochard, a couple calling Siskin, 2 Ring-necked Parakeets and a couple Chiffchaffs around the periphery of the lakes.  A short wait at the causeway rewarded us with a brief burst of song from the resident Cetti's Warbler and a short detour to Stockers Farm (still flooded and looking like a good potential site for spring waders) produced 2 Oystercatchers which flew in shortly after we arrived as well as a couple displaying Lapwing.  A short wait in the car park at Maple Cross produced a low flyover Red Kite, 1 Buzzard and a Green Woodpecker flew in.

Wednesday, 3 April 2013

Staines (3rd April)

My brother and I took the offer up from my sister who kindly brought us via Staines Reservoir on her way to Osterley Park.  I was hoping to connect with the recent Red-throated Diver but chances of this happening were rather slim due to the fact it had moved to King George VI Reservoir and would be out of sight.  Compensation in the form of a rather distant female Long-tailed Duck on the south basin and a nice summer plumage Black-necked Grebe (equally distant).  Other than that, it was fairly quiet but our first LITTLE RINGED PLOVER of the year was a welcome sight.  I also saw my first 2 Stock Doves in months, 3 Redshanks on the periphery of the reservoir and a single Shelduck.  By late afternoon we decided to walk up and down the road between the two reservoirs hoping to connect with some early migrants.  No summer migrants yet unfortunately, but a rather surprise attack from 2 Carrion Crows as they pounced on a flock of unsuspecting Fieldfare and Starlings hoping for a kill.  Unsurprisingly, they were unsuccessful.

Long-tailed Duck on the S basin

 sum. plum. Black-necked Grebe on the S basin

Back on the causeway, I picked up on a flock of 4 wader species in flight.  Unfortunately, I only managed a short view through my bins so wasn't able to get a conclusive ID but given their plain grey appearance, white tail and rump and occasional flashes of black from their armpits, my best bet would be probable Grey Plover.

Also about were 2 Red Foxes resting on the edge of the reservoir a single Chiffchaff on the causeway and plenty of Goldeneyes on the open water.

Red Fox on the N basin

N basin at Staines Reservoir

Back in Herts (for a second time in the past week) (2nd April)

I went to pick up our dog after we got back from Germany and took the opportunity to walk him through Chipperfield Woods and back over the farmland to Kings Langley.  A typically quiet scene with only a Siskin of note in the woodland.  The farmland was only marginally more productive 2 Red Kites, 2 Buzzards, 1 male Sparrowhawk, 8 Meadow Pipits and a Lapwing flying north along the A41.  A couple singing Skylarks were also in a few fields and another Siskin flew over the A road.

No Fooling! (1st April)

Woke up at 6am with my brother to have a final stab at our target species for the trip, Black Woodpecker.  This time we had a trick up our sleeve and by 7:30am we were stood on the doorstep of our cousins house (using their free wifi) downloading Black Woodpecker calls.  The plan worked as soon as we walked into the woodland and after only a couple seconds of playing the recording a magnificent BLACK WOODPECKER came bounding directly over our heads!  We could barely believe our luck that a simple recording made the task of connecting with it so easy!  After a couple minutes we were soon enjoying good views of 2 Black Woodpeckers flying around the woodland calling and performing amazingly.  Unfortunately views of them perched were rather distant and obscured so I have no record shots, instead I can show you a pic of my brother with a grin so big that it can only mean a new lifer for both of us!

Ephraim with new addition to life list, Black Woodpecker!

The woodpecker somewhere in there

We were lucky enough to hear several more Black Woodpeckers throughout the rest of the afternoon distributed around the woodland, although it was possible some may have been the same individuals.

Other birds of note included the usual Marsh Tits, Yellowhammers and a Great Spotted Woodpecker.

Much of the rest of the day was taken up with our car trip back home to Herts but birding from the car wasn't all as bad as expected.  I saw at least 8 Buzzards, 1 Red Kite, 1 Sparrowhawk and 6+ Lapwing from the car as we sped through miles and miles of French farmland.  Also of note were 6 Roe Deer, 2 Brent Geese feeding in an arable field closer to the coast and 1 Hare.

We had an hour to spare before boarding the boat which we decided to spend on the beach at Calais.  Conditions for birding were sever with very strong winds and sand being blown into our eyes.  Still managed to find 3 Purple Sandpipers and 1 Ringed Plover among the numerous Turnstones and Sanderling.  Also saw my first Common Tern of the year.

Herring Gulls at Calais

sunset over the beach

Tuesday, 2 April 2013

Big Walk (31st March)

Went for a walk with my Dad for the afternoon following our family reunion.  I decided to carry my scope with me, which turned out to be a bit of a mistake as there was very little bird activity going on and we ended up walking several miles!  Our walk took us over farmland and through some mixed woodland, ending in the wooded valleys that are so typical of the area.  It was midday when we left and the temperatures were rising, as a result 2 Buzzards, 3 Red Kites and a Sparrowhawk had taken the opportunity to make the most of the thermals.  The extensive, barren fields did eventually produce 3 White Wagtails, a small flock of Meadow Pipits, singing Skylarks and 4+ Bullfinches.  The highlight came at the end of the walk, just as I had sat myself down on one of the benches overlooking the vast valley.  I had just noticed a distant dark speck on the horizon gliding up the valley and on raising my bins it revealed itself to be a BLACK STORK!  It was only viewable for a couple seconds before it disappeared behind one of the bends in the valley, where I assume it came to roost as we didn't see it again.  Other species of note included Crossbills in the woodland and a nice male Back Redstart in the village.

 woodland south of Pantenburg

wooded river valley west of Pantenburg, a good migratory route for Black Storks

Sangweiher (the local wetland) (30th March)

A bit of a later start today but this time I was out with Ephraim in the direction of Sangweiher, a wetland about 7 miles up the road.  On our rather casual bike ride to the reserve, we bumped into no fewer than 5 Black Redstarts, a singing Willow Tit and a male Wheatear.  On arriving at the reserve, we were a little disappointing at the initial lack of birds as the scrape was full to the brim with water and the lack of last years muddy margins ruined our hopes for early migrant waders.  None the less, we stood around in the watchtower scanning across the small area of wetland (covering only a couple hundred meters squared).  A Willow Tit did draw our attention as it flew out into the open in front of the hide but it didn't start singing until it had disappeared again into the neighbouring hedgerow.  2 Chiffchaffs were the only other species of note before we gave up and headed for the woodland.

pelt, possibly belonging to an owl sp.

Still after my target species (Black Woodpecker), we wondered around the place for some time but despite ideal habitat all we could find were more Marsh Tits, Treecreepers and Nuthatches.  We emerged out of the woodland again at the boggy western side of the reserve and after aborting my search for a yaffling Green Woodpecker-like call, I joined my brother in the wood again.  However, I had just joined him when I turned around to see a pale grey bird hopping into a hedge, it was a GREAT GREY SHRIKE!  We both got brief views of its back end as it dived into the hedge but thankfully we refound the bird on the other side of the hedge as it perched up well in the open, affording some excellent views!

 Great Grey Shrike (at one of the few nesting sites in the county)

Unfortunately, we approached it a little too closely and it flew to the center of the reserve but I was distracted once again when a woodpecker species flew into the lower trunk of a nearby tree.  As it climbed up the trunk, I was astonished to see it was in fact a male GREY-HEADED WOODPECKER, another much sought after target species for both of us, it seemed the day was definitely improving!

male Grey-headed Woodpecker

It didn't stay long but we both got some record shots before we went back to photographing Marsh Tits and checking through the flocks of Yellowhammers, Reed Buntings and Bullfinches.  Not to long after, I picked up the calls of Cranes!  It sounded as if they were coming over the horizon but despite scanning all around there was no sign of any!?  Then suddenly my brother shouted out and sure enough a flock of 73 CRANES were flying directly overhead!  They were still rather high up but began loosing height rapidly and came to land only about a kilometer away in a stubble field just east of the E44, unfortunately just out of sight.

migrating Cranes!

My brother and I decided to stay at the reserve instead of going through the effort of refinding the flock so we made our way back to the watchtower.  A very kind local birder gave us advice on the several good birding locations and species in and around the region, although this wasn't always as easy as one might seem given that my vocabulary of German birds was not that extensive!  None the less, we managed to point out a nice male Sparrowhawk to one another and best of all an adult male HEN HARRIER, that my brother called as it came glided past the hide, only about 20 meters away!


A rather successful ending to the day with a Green Sandpiper, 6 Roe Deer and a Hare to round the day off.