Tuesday, November 30, 2004

Waxwing bananas

Oh Lordy, despite the dreadful, colour-robbing light, Weedon has gone crazy for Waxwing photos (30.11.04)...

Digiscoped: Nikon Coolpix 880 + Kowa TSN-821 + 32xW LER


It was lunchtime (30.11.04) and the message came that birdfinder par excellence Kevin DuRose had once again come up with the goods. This time, it was Waxwings (part of the massive, early national invasion), three of them and at Asda in the centre of Peterborough. The light was awful, but here are some shots of these wonderful birds.

Digiscoped with camera: Nikon Coolpix 880; scope: Kowa TSN-821 + 32xW LER

Sunday, November 21, 2004

Frozen morning at Prior's Fen

It was Saturday (20.11.04), so where else was I but Prior's Fen. There had been a certain amount of frost overnight and the ground was solid. The first decent action was a Whooper Swan among the Mutes at Stonebridge Corner, which obligingly hung around. It was a rather light-weight individual with rather Bewick's-like shape, but lots of yellow in the bill – sort of hovering on the borders betwen these species...

In the ditch along the footpath, two Kingfishers were making a strange, high-pitched, rattling trill and engaged in a bit of beak to beak fighting on the ice (which sadly went unphotgraphed).
Waders present included five Redshanks and a flock of five Dunlin, including one bird still in summer plumage. It had a badly bent right leg, so was probably channeling its energy into healing and survival rather than moulting. I flushed about 12 Snipe and a single Jack Snipe, which are always great to see.
On Friday, the nearby Nene Washes had hosted 65 Short-eared Owls and more than 30 Stonechats, so it was little surprise that one of the latter was at Prior's Fen – though I am not sure whether I have seen one there before.

All in all a pleasant, freezing morning.

Thursday, November 18, 2004

Last Great Action Hero

Great Northern Diver, Crowland, Lincs, 17.11.04. Take a look at the 'split nostril' in this photo. I'm not sure why divers go in for this, but if anyone else knows, please leave a comment.
I could hardly sleep on Tuesday night. Just as I was leaving the office an e-mail came in reporting a Great Northern Diver on the River Welland at Crowland, Lincs (ie. well within the PBC area and a chance for a PBC tick). I hastily arranged with Bogbumper for her to pick me up at dawn to be at the bridge over the raging Welland at first light. Then, I just couldn't sleep - I suffer from 'loonacy', I'm mad for divers!
But I needn't have worried. When we arrived before sunrise on Wednesday (17.11.04), the juvenile Great Northern was still there, regularly fishing and generally acting confident and bold. A pair of Great Crested Grebes weren't too fond of it. One of them dived under the diver and attacked it from below, causing it to flap and paddle across the river. That was as flamboyant as it got, as far as action was concerned, though.
Incidentally, the grebes went a bit further downstream for a while and engaged in a bit of early 'penguin-dance' courtship.
Here are some of the various poses the diver indulged in at lunchtime when we returned for seconds. For larger, more classical portraits, check out Weedon
It engaged in a spot of preening...

Riding the high waves of the mighty Welland...

and searching for fish: it's 'Loon-Nessy'!...

Looking at us...

Or just looking good, like only a cool loon can...

Hurrah for Weedonian PBC tick number 206. This GND was the second of its species in the PBC area this year. In the first winter period a confiding bird took up residence at Baston & Langtoft pits. Unfortunately it stayed on private pits, so very few local birders got to see it (but we can all enjoy the current beaut). A Red-throated Diver was reported from Ferry Meadows at the start of the year. Last year, two divers were on the Nene near the Dog-in-a-Doublet (near Whittlesey and the Nene Washes): a long-staying Black-throated and aone-day Red-throated Diver with an over-elongate bill.

Tuesday, November 16, 2004

Turnstone, another Bearded Tit...

As I stated in my previous post (see below, probably), last weekend (13-14.11.04) was another busy birding time. On Saturday morning, I had my usual early morning visit to Prior's Fen. The freezing conditions seemed to promise some goodies. However, things were not exactly kicking as I reached the 'best' pit. There were a few scaredy-cat Redshanks there and a couple of Dunlin huddled together under a bank resting.

While I was photographing these beauties (see below or click on Weedon) something flushed the mass of geese, gulls and Golden Plovers to the south. I continued snapping, and then a little rattling trill caught my attention, I looked up and a Turnstone was bombing through with a handful of Redshanks. Unfortunately this scarce wader (in these parts, especially in autumn) was stopping for no one.
There was nothing special in the Golden Plover flock of more than 2,000 birds, but I felt they needed a bit of digiscoping treatment all the same.

Later that day, my friend Kevin Du Rose found 10 Short-eared Owls roosting at the site – probably displaced from their usual home by a Pheasant shoot at Eldernell (a couple of miles further east).
The next day, I returned to Prior's. The only reportable action there (on an even colder, clear, beautiful morning) was a Bearded Tit in the same reed fringe as the previous weekend. This bird had the pale undertail coverts and general appearance of an adult female, however (last weekend's bird had dark undertail coverts and was a first-winter male). Interestingly, there were four Bearded Tits further north in the PBC area at Baston Fen (Lincs) that day. Perhaps the cold snap produced some movement?

My only other birding action of the weekend took me up to see and digiscope the Long-tailed Duck (as shown in the pix below and of course at: Weedon). If you look carefully at the photos, you can see it has white scapular feathers and a hint of black bands in the bill. Hence, I reckon it's a first-winter male. It is yet to grow a decent tail, though...

Sunday, November 14, 2004

Long-tailed Duck and Dunlins

I have had a busy birding weekend, once more. But more of that later. Without further ado, here are the best photos I took this weekend – the Long-tailed Duck at Deeping Lakes, Lincs (14.11.04, feeding in the Gulley area (quite near the hide), with very little fear, and a couple of resting Dunlin at Prior's Fen (13.11.04).
For larger versions of the duck shots click here: Weedon

Long-tailed Duck, Deeping Lakes, Lincs (14.11.04)

Dunlins, Prior's Fen, Cambs, (13.11.04)

Monday, November 08, 2004

Long-tailed Duck, Bearded Tit...

'Remember, remember the fifth of November,
With Welland Bank Pit's Long-tailed Duck'

Thus, William Bowell Pit the Younger, continued his 2004 bird-finding fest, with this scarce inland treat. See his Welland Wanderer site and that of the Toadsnatcher for photos of this bird (number 205 for my PBC area list). A national Waxwing invasion is in full swing, and the first birds of the autumn around these parts were reported by the cathedral (a singleton) and up at Market Deeping (a dozen).
The next day (Saturday, 6.11.04) I took my usual early morning stroll around Prior's Fen. the birds were very 'spooky' and clearly not settled after the annual bonfire and fireworks display right in the middle of the pit complex! However, there were 1,000 or so Golden Plover in a field to check through. I found one that was seemingly smaller and greyer than the others, and was fumbling for my phone and trying to get a better view when the whole lot buggered off and I couldn't refind the potential goody...
However, as I was watching it, a Bearded Tit started calling behind me (doing a lot of ticking calls, somewhere between a Robin and a Wren in quality; plus the odd 'ping'), so after the Goldies left I had a quick look to refind it. It had the head of a female, a black streak on the back and a dark eye. But the undertail coverts were black. So, I reckon it was a first-winter male. It seemed to like hanging out with a Reed Bunting (but in the reeds there are not many other friends to make...).
Next day at dawn, I was back on site to check the Golden Plovers. But in the horrible fog, they were either flying over or just not there.
The most interesting finding of my morning was a pair of Bar-tailed Godwits which passed low over with some Lapwings. These are unusual around these parts in autumn, and it seems there were a few of them across other inland sites on Sunday. A couple of Curlews were reported from our area, perhaps part of the same phenomenon.
A magnificent seven drake Goldeneyes were hanging together, like so many samurai.

Saturday's Bearded Tit was once more calling away, this time on the east pit (before it had been on the middle pit). My first PBC Bearded Tits were a family group in the exact same reeds, as found by Steve 'Toadsnatcher' Dudley in October 2001.
It was typically well-hidden, so I satisfied my digiscoping urges with photos of a Reed Bunting scoffing reeds...

Thursday, November 04, 2004

The Weedon gallery

Please note, that I have another website for you to peruse. It is a gallery of photos, to show

a. more arty photos,
b. some larger versions of pix on this here site, and
c. some previously unseen gems from the Weedonian archive.

Have a look at: Weedon

Tuesday, November 02, 2004

Birthday weekend birding

I follow the philosophy of not working on my birthday. So, I had a couple of days off and inevitably engaged in a spot of birding. On Thursday (28.10.04), I had a sunny morning to Prior's Fen, where I was greeted by a Barn Owl in the first light of day. The first-winter drake Scaup from the previous weekend was still hanging out (growing new grey back feathers by the day).

A group of five Bewick's Swans came onto the Scaup pit to add atmosphere.

Bewick's Swans have individually-variable bills showing a great range. This particular individual had a very small amount of yellow, giving it an almost Whistling Swan appearance.

Perhaps the highlight of the morning was a pair of frisky Brown Hares, indulging in a bit of 'boxing' and what-have-you, which didn't notice me until they were only about 15 feet away.
Another hare trotted across the fields on the south side of the 'Middle Pit' which were packed with several hundred Golden Plovers as well as the hundreds of Lapwings and assorted gulls.

In the afternoon, I went to check out the back of King's Dyke nature reserve, to listen for Bearded Tits in the reedbed. I heard none, but flushed a single Jack Snipe, and enjoyed the hundreds of Redwings in to gorge on the hawthorn haws.
I moved to Eldernell to watch for raptors. There were at least six Short-eared Owls (distantly), the odd Marsh Harrier, loads of Kestrels and one or two Peregrines going about. A Merlin also whizzed by late-on, plus a Grey Wagtail.

On Friday (29.10.04), my friend Tom Bailey took me down to Woodwalton Fen and Eldernell (and back to WWF for my lost scope eyepiece...) for a tad more birding. At Eldernell we awatched a strange 'Peregrine' bathing – with a cream crown and odd-coloured plumage. There were a few Short-eared Owls around again and the odd Buzzard and Marsh Harrier. The bird-feeders were alive with Tree Sparrows - at least ten present.
So to Saturday, where the Bog and I met Mark Ward at his family's static caravan at Snettisham, Norfolk. Vis-mig was already in good progress, with Bramblings over before we left the 'van-park.
Our first port of call was Holkham where we dodged the great flocks of Pink-footed Geese to hit the trees to look for warblers.

We found the odd Long-tailed Tit flock (a good start for rare Phylloscs) but they were only associating with the billions of Goldcrests and the odd Chiffchaff, plus Coal, Blue and Great Tits (though I did find a Firecrest on the way back). At least the Long-tails gave me a chance to try my new second-hand Coolpix 880 for a spot of digiscoping.

The dunes at the end of west of the pines produced a few more migrants, with Brambling dropping in and a few Rock Pipits going over. The best idea, though, was to watch the calm sea. We picked up a few auks and Red-throated Divers - and a Black-throated flew in and three Velvet Scoters went by. A few Bonxies past as did an Arctic/Pom Skua which wasted little time taking a thrush or lark from low over the waves and eating it, with wings out (like a Sparrowhawk mantling its prey) on the water. Inshore, we found a couple of Black-necked Grebes, scarce in these parts.
And so to twitch the Lesser Yellowlegs at Stiffkey.

At the site, we watched a couple of Ring Ouzels...

...And a casual glance at the pool behind us on the bank brought at least seven scattered Scaup (it never fails to amaze me how unobservant 'birders' are in Norfolk, especially when twitchin a specific bird).
The Bog started digiscoping a Redshank on a post. So I copied her. Ha.

On Sunday (31.10.04), my one bit of birdwatching was dash to Prior's once more to twitch a couple of Little Stints for the old annual PBC list. Three Whoopers were sharing the pit with the Scaup and the stints. All in all a fine long weekend of wildlife-watching.

Monday, November 01, 2004

Another rare treat

I went to north Norfolk on Saturday (30.10.04) with top Norfolk birder Mark Ward and the Bogbumper (ta for the lifts, folks). More on this later. Meantime here are a couple of Lesser Yellowlegs snaps from Stiffkey.