Tuesday, 30 July 2013

Garden Tick followed by a Patch Tick (30th July)

Instead of braving the rain today I set the scope up and pointed it at the garden feeders.  The usual garden birds were hanging around when I came to the gradual realisation that one of the tits was infact a MARSH TIT!  This was an incredible record for this neck of my local patch as I have never seen or heard Marsh Tit in and around Kings Langley Woods despite birding it for 4-5 years!  The closest population that I know of is approximately a mile away as the tit flies so the chances of one straying this far is not short of remarkable in terms of the standard of KL Woods!  A while later, as the rain persisted, I realised a second bird must be visiting as it had a wider bib and cleaner plumage.  This was confirmed when eventually both birds arrived at the feeder simultaneously, brilliant!  I'm very hopeful a breeding population will settle in KL Woods as the conditions are promising and after a long absence it would be great to have a bird in serious decline breeding close to home again, here's hoping!

Marsh Tit garden tick!

pointed tail feather ends suggest this may be a 1st year bird dispersing

The afternoon dog walk was my responsibility so I decided to head in the direction of Scatterdells Woods instead of the farmland behind the RSSKL for change of scenery.  Gulls are on the slight increase with 22 Black-headed Gulls and 3 Lesser Black-backed Gulls on the playing field of the KL School.  2 Whitethroats, 3 Skylarks and 1 Yellowhammer completed the bird scene but by far the highlight was another patch first in Scatterdells Wood.

I'd forgotten about my target species that I was hoping to find here but after working my way through the overgrown footpath, I suddenly stumbled on exactly what I was looking for, a female SILVER-WASHED FRITILLARY!!  A welcome patch first for myself and a stunning show of too.  She landed a couple inches from my leg and too frightened to spook her I reached for my phone hoping to get a quick picture.  Unfortunately, she flew but after a short disappearance I was treated to more prolonged views and a great opportunity to photograph her.

female Silver-washed Fritillary

And more patch butterflies (29th July)

Butterflies were really out in force today despite the earlier light shower.  Some intermitent sunshine brought out 23+ Large Whites, 12+ Small Whites, 20+ Gatekeepers, 11 Peacocks, 2 Essex Skippers, 2 Commas, 2 Small Tortoiseshells a blue sp. and plenty of Meadow Browns.

A family of 7 Pied Wagtails (including 6 recently fledged juveniles) were feeding around Langley Lodge Farm but other than that it was typically quiet.

Patching continues as usual... (28th July)

Back to the usual scene of the patch again with 1 Red Kite and 2 Yellowhammers being the bird highlights.  I admit, rather unimpressive but none the less it's worth the effort as a couple more butterflies were on the wing today as the weather was sunny and breezy.  1 skipper species, 1 Gatekeeper, 1 Small Tortoiseshell, 3 Comma, 6 Large Whites, 3 Small Whites along with numerous Meadow Browns.

Saturday, 27 July 2013

Patch GANNET!!! (27th July)

Back from our holiday in Somerset and the first thing on the menu was a trip round the usual KL patch.  Almost instantly after leaving the house a light shower of rain started but it subsided leaving a layer of grey cloud.

I took the normal route around the patch encountering the usual species, 2 Yellowhammers, being the only birds of note.  Butterflies still persisted despite the prospect of poor weather and included 4 Peacocks, 2 Gatekeepers, 1 Large White, 1 Small White and a Small Tortoiseshell resting on some dung.

Walking back through the pastoral fields I was stunned to see a bird fitting the proportions of a gannet fly west over the far end of the field!  Raising my bins, the words "F*****G HELL!!!" came out my mouth as a NORTHERN GANNET entered my bins!!!  I could barely believe it so grabbed my camera and fired of a couple record shots as proof.  Very chuffed with myself as it represents my first in Herts not to mention the local patch!

local mega-Gannet!!!

It flew steadily westwards parallel to Chipperfield Road before disappearing in the direction of Chipperfield.  Following some torrential downpour later this evening there's a good chance it may be grounded at one of the nearby lakes or res's.  Let's wait and see...

Thanks Lee for correcting me on the aging of the bird.  We believe it to be a 1st summer (2nd CY) bird.

Ham Wall, again... (26th July)

Yet another failed attempt at connecting with the Ham Wall Little Bitterns.  However, my brother and I did see 2 GREAT WHITE EGRETS (belonging to the local population).

Great White Egret

The usual array of wetland species were also on show including 2 Kingfishers, 2 Snipe, 19 Black-tailed Godwits, 1 Dunlin, 2 Green Sandpipers and a male Ruff moulting out of its summer plumage.  A Water Rail was also squealing in the reedbed and 3 Marsh Harriers also showed well.  We also heard Bearded Tit and Cetti's Warbler.

Butterflies were also numerous on the wing and included Peacocks, Large Whites and Gatekeepers.

Before leaving for Ham Wall I had a wander around the local area and was surprised to hear a male Tawny Owl give a single "hooooo ho-ho-ho" call at 12:54.  A male Broad-bodied Chaser was also by the pond and the group of Small Whites and Green-veined Whites were feeding on the muddy edges of the neighbouring pond.

Anger and Death! (25th July)

A rather depressing 500th post!

We'd originally planned another attempt at twitching the Little Bitterns at Ham Wall but after the prospect of rain we decided to abort this idea and head for Chew Valley Lake instead.  The majority of birds were rather distant so the scope came with us whilst Ephraim's camera stayed in the car.

We found a 3rd or 4th CY Yellow-legged Gull fairly quickly along with 1 Common Sandpiper and 3 Goldeneye (exceptionally early birds and all females).

Yellow-legged Gull

Not much else to report until we crossed the dam at the far northern end of the lake where my brother and I came across an injured adult Black-headed Gull (clearly the result of a collision with a passing car).  It's depressing to see any bird in distress but as it was clearly a human induced injury anger seems to just well up inside!

There was little we could do to help it but leaving it wasn't an option so we called the parents to bring the car over so that we might be able to bring it to a local rehabilitation center.  However, as the Reno drove into the car park we had our second shock of the day.  The window had been smashed and much to the sadness of my brother his expensive camera equipment had all been stolen!  About £2000 worth of Nikon and Sigma gear to be precise!!!

I still couldn't bare to leave the gull so I carried it over to the car but only minutes after picking it up of the side of the road it died...

a bird in the hand can't go to waste

wing moult

growing P 6, 5, 4 and 3

old outer primaries

moulting the outer greater coverts

head transition summer-winter

Ham Wall (24th July)

Got up early with Ephraim today to pay a visit to Ham Wall in the hope of seeing the breeding Little Bitterns that have settled down on the reserve.  Unfortunately, no luck but we did encounter 1 Hobby, 4 Green Sandpipers, 1 Ruff and had a brief view of a Bearded Tit from the 2nd viewing platform.  A Cetti's Warbler was also relatively showy whilst we waited at the watchpoint.

Lots of dragonflies, damselfies and butterflies on the wing too.  My highlights being good views of Brown Hawkers, Large Whites, Small Tortoiseshells, Red Admirals and a Comma.

I had a second attempt at locating Tawnys that evening again this time with Ephraim.  Unfortunately, we didn't see any but did hear a total of 3 Tawny Owls calling (2 males and a female).

Brean Downs (23rd July)

For the second part of our holiday with my parents, we headed for Somerset, near Kilmersdon.  Despite driving down on the 20th and going out each day since arriving there was little to report.  A day trip to Brean with mum and Theo was a little more fun.  The coastal grassland had an abundance of Meadow Browns, Marbled Whites, Small Whites, Peacocks and Small Pearl-bordered Fritillaries.  Three moth species were on the wing too, Silver Y, lots of Six-spotted Burnet and 2 prob. Tiger moths flew past (perhaps disturbed from the grass by the nearby cows).

Back at the house, 2 Tawny Owls calling to each other and holding territory encouraged me to go out and investigate.  I was lucky enough to find one that showed well calling regularly in full view!  A male Roe Deer was also in the nearby corn field and 2 Hares were on the lawn round the side of the house where we're staying.

Trip Back (20th July)

It was our last day in Wales so I decided to head of early to Dolgellau to get a final chance at connecting with the local Hawfinches.  Unfortunately, I only managed to hear but not see a couple Hawfinches in the usual line of trees by the EuroSpar car park.

Ephraim and I cycled the rest of the route back from Dolgellau to Barmouth, passing the estuary where we counted a total of 5 Common Sandpipers.  From the beach at Barmouth we had brilliant views of thousands of Manx Sherawaters passing the pier, some passing the beach only a few hundred meters offshore.  Even better were the huge numbers with flocks of several hundred in a continuous string shearing past!

Once on the train back we were prepared for passing the Ospreys again (as we had done on the way up).  There was a c.20 second window in which to see the nest and hopefully the adults.  Thankfully, we were fortunate enough to see both adult Ospreys attending the nest and showing well, despite us being on a moving train!

Osprey pair

Hawfinches (19th July)

It was our penultimate day in Wales and we'd only made one brief visit to the sea.  First up, however, was a nearby walk around some typical moorland/mountainous grassland.  The usual species were encountered including Lesser Redpoll, Siskin, a female Redstart as well as Stonechats.

From the beach at Barmouth, I walked along the pebble beach northwards.  My first juvenile Herring Gulls of the year were nice to see and a regular flow of Manx Shearwaters were passing offshore.  My first migrants of the day were a couple Sand Martins that passed me on the beach.

An unlikely birding spot on the way back, EuroSpar car park!  However, whilst waiting for my parents to come back with the shopping I scanned the tree line in front of the car park.  I was rewarded with great views of no fewer than 5 Hawfinches!  First up were two that flew across in line with the trees, stopping regularly followed by a single that flew low overhead affording excellent views and finally two more following the same route as the first ones.  Fortunately, I managed to catch up with two of them perched high in the trees near the library.

usual excuses for poor quality record shot but they're still Hawfinches

one up top, one down low

a crappy flight shot

No Grouse (17th July)

My brother and I spent the day searching a nearby moorland for Red Grouse.  However, despite scouring the place for most of the afternoon we didn't encounter any.  There were still plenty of signs of them and the moorland was even managed to their liking with mown sections of heather, creating new growth for them to feed on.  We also found two dried up puddles with relatively fresh footprints belonging to Red Grouse.

Red Grouse footprint

A little more exciting were our first 3 WHINCHATS of the year, accompanied by three juvenile birds (which we presumed to be their offspring) see discussion on Bird Forum on the link to the ID of the fledglings http://www.birdforum.net/showthread.php?t=262258.

the juv. chat that's been creating all the confusion

in stark contrast to an obvious male Whinchat

Also about were plenty of Meadow Pipits, 1 Wheatear and 2 Emperor Dragonflies at the end of our walk across the moors.

Woodies (16th July)

Yet another late morning start with the family.  This time, we crammed ourselves, including Theo, into the Mini and drove a couple miles down the road to visit the nearby ruins of Cymer Abbey near Dolgellau.  I was hoping to locate some Hawfinches here but on arriving it was clearly not the right habitat so I resorted to wandering along the river bank were I was fortune enough to stumble on a family of 3 WOOD WARBLERS, a welcome year tick!

Wood Warbler

Moving on, my brother and I located 2 SPOTTED FLYCATCHERS (also an overdue year tick for the both of us) and on reaching the outskirts of the town we came across a juvenile Magpie sat in the middle of the road.  As we encouraged it onto the roadside verge, the characteristic loud "tskk" call of Hawfinches came overhead.  Unfortunately, I picked them up rather late and I only caught a brief glimpse so it's best to pass them off as 2 probable Hawfinches.

juv. Magpie

Glasgwm (15th July)

Dad and I set of around midday to climb the nearby mountain of Glasgwm (774 MASL).  In all honesty, I wasn't expecting to see a great deal of birds so decided on leaving the scope.  As it happens, it wasn't such a bad idea after all as I only encountered 4 Ravens, a Buzzard and a couple Golden-ringed Dragonflies.  The numerous Small Pearl-bordered Fritillaries were far more exciting (not least as they were a new lifer!).  Unfortunately, they were extremely flighty and I only managed one quick photo of a single that landed briefly for a couple seconds.

Small Pearl-bordered Fritillary

Golden-ringed Dragonfly

Monday, 15 July 2013

Redstart Update (14th July)

I spent almost the whole day enjoying the Redtstarts as they are nesting in the building directly opposite our house!  Here's the male!

stunning male Redstart

a bit confused about the order of the tail moult?!

and the female

4 chicks were clearly visible from the entrance hole and my prediction was they'd fledged in the next day or two.  I was 3/4 correct!  In fact, I was watching them at precisely 20:04 that evening when I saw the male arrive and entice one of the chicks out of the crack in the wall so that I witnessed it take its very first flight from the nest!  It was a brilliant sight as the chick shot across the yard from the nest hole, heading straight for the stone wall before making its way to the nearby hedgerow.  Here's a video of the brave chick only seconds after leaving the nest!

fledgling Redstart, only seconds after leaving the nest

The remaining 3 chicks were less adventurous and decided to overnight in the safety of the nest but it was good to see both adults continue to feed all the chicks (including the newly fledged individual) despite being separated.

This was also my second consecutive night out searching for roding Woodcock.  Sadly nothing to report other than an on-slaughter of midges and a couple calling Tawny Owls.

Summer Hols in...Wales! (13th July)

It was my parents idea to spend our summer holidays in Wales, and although my brother protested against the idea, we ended up having no option but to go along with the plan.  We had hoped for a more exotic birding location but it seemed we had to content ourselves with woodland species.

In all honesty, I can't complain as I was looking forward to studying some of the commoner species such as Pied Flys, Wood Warblers and Redstarts.  However, there was an added complication.  The Reno we had originally planned on taking had broken down so my brother and I had to make the long journey by train whilst my parents and Theo had the luxury of cramming themselves in the Mini.

Cut a long story short, we arrived in Birmingham, changed, and continued westwards, passing the Dovey estuary.  Thanks to the slow speed of the train and a well positioned station, we pulled up right next to the nest of an Osprey!  More specifically, the ones they'd been following on Springwatch this year!  We suspect it was Monty, the female they had been giving updates on as part of the Dyfi Osprey Project as it was hunkered do with only the head protruding above the rim of the nest (I expect she was still incubating or brooding).

Once we arrived in Barmouth, we still had a long bike ride ahead of us to reach our accommodation.  A half way stop at Dolgellau with the hope of Hawfinches was certainly exhausting as we both wondered around the church yards tired and sweating carrying bags of equipment with no luck.  We met up with Dad here and sat ourselves down next to the river in the shade and enjoyed a Dipper feeding in the stream and a couple Grey Wagtails.  A loud "tskk tskk" flight call soon had me spin around and sure enough 2 HAWFINCHES flew directly overhead, just bellow tree height!!!  This was certainly a treat to have self-found Hawfinches, particularly after all the days of prior research I'd gone through.

I managed the last section of the route by myself on the bike, passing a singing Garden Warbler and my first male REDSTART of the year.  Once at the house, my brother had already located a Redstart nest which we enjoyed watching for the rest of the afternoon.

Thursday, 11 July 2013

Chiltern Hills (10th July)

Since the weather was clear and sunny, I cycled to the Ivinghoe Hills for a bit of butterflying (or whatever you care to call it).  I arrived late morning/early afternoon and headed for Pitstone Hill with my first target species in mind.  I was glad to hear at least one singing Quail near the footpath running through the corn field and there may well have been two individuals!  However, since they were close together I couldn't be certain it was the same individual following me around (although I find this unlikely).  It/they kept singing regularly for the duration I was there (1-2pm) but refused to show.

Pitstone Hill

Corn Bunting

It was nice to encounter some ex-common farmland species, including a total of 5-6 Corn Buntings, 3-4 at Pitstone, 1 at Incombe and single at Beacon Hill.  Several Yellowhammers were dotted around the area and a Garden Warbler appeared along the edge of the woodland at Steps Hill foraging with a tit flock.  Raptors included the usual Buzzard, Kestrel and Red Kites but I had my eye on the ground most of the time, looking for butterflies, so I may well have missed several fly-overs.

The Dark Green Fritillaries certainly made it difficult for me to get photos as they were almost permanently in-flight.  However, persistence paid off and I eventually locate some perched individuals.  There were a number of freshly emerged fritillaries on the south facing slope at Incombe Hole but I only encountered a single individual whilst at the beacon.  Other species included Small TortoiseshellsRinglets, Meadow BrownsCommon BluesMarbled Whites and a Speckled Wood.  Scouring the hillside also rewarded me with 2 Chimney Sweepers, an uncommon moth in the south and a specialty on chalk downland.  Large numbers of Pyramidal Orchid and Fragrant Orchids were also in flower!

Dark Green Fritillary

Chimney Sweeper

Fragrant Orchid

Next, a second stab at the Quails but this time, despite trying at an ideal time from late afternoon to early evening, I couldn't locate any singing birds!

At the onset of darkness, I tried one final site in Ashridge for roding Woodcock.  Yet another dip (the third time so far at this site for this species!)  Only a Fox showed itself for my troubles and on my return at 11:30pm a Tawny Owl started calling at Tring station.

Recent Patching (8th-9th July)

Two subsequent patch visits following the same route and time of day (6pm ish).  As a result, the outcomes were rather similar.  All the same 14 Small Tortoiseshells on the 8th were superseded by 21 Small Tortoiseshells on the 9th (exceptionally good numbers this year!) whilst 4 Red Kites on the 8th exceeded the single Red Kite I saw on the 9th.  Meadow Browns were large in number on both days with no noticeable change but a single Marbled White had emerged by the 9th.

Monday, 8 July 2013

Helford (7th July)

It was our last day in Cornwall and with the continuing warm weather I went down to Helford.  Nothing special other than an ad. Mediterranean Gull and a couple butterfly species, including dozens if not 100's of Meadow Browns, with smaller numbers of Common Blues, Speckled Wood and a Red Admiral.

Common Blue

unIDed orchid species

Falmouth Patching (6th July)

With only an hour or so of light left, I decided to spend the remainder of Saturday evening down on the Falmouth patch.  Several dozen Herring Gulls flew east past Swanpool Point towards the roost, unfortunately too dark to safely ID anything else.  Shorty after sunset, the noise of millions of limpets rasping, scraping and crawling over the rocks became overwhelming, something I've never heard before as I don't often find myself sitting in the middle of a rocky beach approaching midnight!  On the walk back, I found yet another calling Tawny Owl chick, the third site I've found this year to have successfully breeding Tawnys!

Cornwall, but only briefly (6th July)

A quick nip down to Cornwall this weekend to move my stuff into my new house and after cleaning the entire place the weekend was free for birding!

Together with my Mum, we headed for the north coast and took the coastal footpath up to St Agnes Head.  Once again butterflies outnumbered birds and I was particularly pleased when I bumped into at least 5+ GREEN HAIRSTREAKS along the footpath, a totally unexpected lifer!

Green Hairstreak!

A Peregrine also shot past along the cliff line followed by 3 Ravens.  The calm weather was obviously not appropriate for sea-watching but a couple Kittiwakes lingering offshore along with some diving Razorbills was a promising sight following their recent local decline due to the oil spill earlier this year.

Butterfly Snaps (4th July)

Nothing unusual on patch (as always) so resorted to photographing a couple butterflies.  Species on the wing included 3 Small Tortoiseshell, 4 Speckled Wood, 3 Meadow Brown and one Large Skipper.  Due to the warm weather, 4 Red Kites had also started thermalling along with 1 Buzzard.

Small Tortoiseshell

Large Skipper

Thursday, 4 July 2013

Bridled Tern!!! (3rd July)

A long trip up north with Sh4rpy and Dave to the Farne Islands for a tern!  We left in the early hours of the morning, arriving around 8am ish.  We had about an hour on the quay waiting for the boat to finally take us across but in the mean time we contented ourselves with some nice views of Eiders, Rock Pipits and the usual array of distant auks.

overlooking the Farne Islands from Seahouses 

As we finally approached the islands on board St Cuthbert II, the overwhelming smell, sound and sight of the immense sea-bird colony swamped our senses, almost enough for me to forget about our main objective.  However, once landing on the jetty, along with at least another 50 odd others, our search began for the tern.  It had clearly gone fishing as there was no sign for over two hours as the numerous Puffins, Guillemots, Razorbills and Arctic Terns entertained us.  Other species included 3 Knot, the odd Turnstone and a Grey Seal hauled itself out on the small beach next to the jetty.  Suddenly, at 11:20 the shout went up from Dave (on the other side of the jetty), "I'VE GOT IT!"  A mad rush to arms as everyone grabbed their closest gear (me being no exception) and thankfully I got straight on the bird!  An absolutely stunning adult BRIDLED TERN, what a mega!!!

Bridled Tern, WOW!!!

Initial views were rather brief and I only got a couple seconds of it in flight before it flew around the other side of the island.  Thankfully, (particularly for Sh4rpy's sake) the bird reappeared behind us in its favoured spot and came to perch in amongst the other terns.  To our immense relief we finally enjoyed good views of the bird, only 20 mins before we had to board the boat and return to the mainland!

goodbye mega

Going back to the events leading up to it's find that afternoon, Dave and Sh4rpy were scanning the sea north of the island watching a skua sp. when Dave suddenly came across the tern as it flew towards the island.  Sh4rpy first mistoke the "I've got it!" shout as he thought Dave was referring to the skua and the couple seconds it took him to realise what the excitement was about (as well having to focus his bins) cost him the bird!!!  Me, on the other hand, standing on the other end of the jetty got on the bird quit quickly as I correctly assumed Dave's shouts were referring to the tern.  A very tense and nerve racking 10 minutes followed as it went out of view.  After all, the car trip back would have been nothing short of a nightmare had Sh4rpy gone back empty handed!  Whilst he blamed me for laughing at his misfortune, (I must stress I was in fact searching desperately for it as we only had another 20 mins left on the island) it returned behind us!  Thankfully, it was a massive relief when all of us finally got treated to excellent views of the Bridled Tern once it came in to land following its circuit of the island.

Sorry Sh4rpy for having to explain that, I just don't want to forget the expression on your face after it flew out of view!!!  Only joking, but thanks once again for all the driving, it was much appreciated!


mostly Arctic but a couple Common Terns as well

female Eider


sea-bird city!

"bridled" Guillemot, one of two birds that I saw on the island

Good bye Farnes!