Monday, 29 April 2013

Fingringhoe Wick

14th April 2013

It's a long time since I visited Fingringhoe Wick. We normally go there during the winter to see the waders on the estuary and birds of prey over the saltmarsh, but today Stuart and I decided to pay a visit in the hope of early spring migrants. As we drove through Fingringhoe village I could see a couple of starling-like birds sitting on the wires and a cursory glance revealed that they were indeed Waxwings. Not a bad start to the day.

The Wick itself was very quiet with very few migrants in just yet, although we did manage to stand and listen to a Nightingale just 10 yards away but, typically, totally hidden from view. The estuary at high tide was also uncharacteristically quiet with hardly any waders at all. As we were about to leave, a glance over the wall by the car park revealed a Red-legged Partridge strutting up the field.

Now back to Abberton before heading home and just as well that we did because, since earlier in the day when we stopped here for breakfast, a couple of stunning Yellow Wagtails had appeared and were busy feeding by the waters edge. That'll do nicely!!

Saturday, 27 April 2013

.....and now on to the Meadow Hide

10th April 2013

Most people I know who have visited The Lodge comment on how quiet it is on the birding front with little being seen. However, I knew from the website when I was researching my visit that Crossbills had been photographed coming down the drink in front of the one and only hide, the Meadow Hide. This was clearly too good to be missed so I set off.

The hide is set on the edge of the woods not far from The Lodge itself and overlooks two ponds set in a meadow. There are feeders to bring in the birds, but the main attraction is photographing birds that come down to the pools to drink. With feeders around and seed thrown out on the ground it was not too surprising to see a number of Grey Squirrels. These were generally lazing around either stretching.........


                              ...............or having a scratch

There was also a doe Muntjac under the trees wondering what all the fuss was about.

But then the birds started to arrive. First up was a Lesser Redpoll and, having had their fill on the niger seed, came down for a drink. So much better against a natural background rather than hanging on a feeder. This was a female.

Then came the big guns. Great Spotted Woodpeckers are normally very difficult to photograph at close range except when on feeders. The advantage here, however, was that there were a couple of branches strategically placed for the woodpeckers to land on before venturing on to the food. The male is the one with the red spot on the back of his head.

But the bird of the day must be the Nuthatch which was obviously building a nest nearby and was busily collecting mud and moss from the edge of the nearest pool.

And they said that The Lodge was quiet? What a great day, but I am afraid that the Crossbills will have to wait for next time.

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Thursday, 25 April 2013

About time I went back to The Lodge.

10th April 2013

I was at Amwell when Steve Lane mentioned that he had just been photographing a flock of Bramblings at close quarters under the feeders at The Lodge in Bedfordshire, the headquarters of the RSPB. That was good enough for me so on the next bright and sunny day I set off. I have been to the Lodge once before, but that was some 50 years ago and for some reason I don't remember much about it.

I pulled into the car park and could immediately see the feeders just 20 yards away. I positioned myself about 8 yards from the feeders and waited for the birds to return. This wasn't very long and I was soon snapping away. There were several Redpolls and Siskins on the feeders but I don't like taking photos with ironmongery in them and , in any case, my quarry for the day was Bramblings.

Fortunately, most of the five Bramblings present were males just coming into their black and orange summer plumage. The usual confusion species is the Chaffinch. However, apart from the difference in colouration, in the Chaffinch the breast is coloured right down to the legs whereas for the Brambling only the upper breast is orange and the lower breast is white with a clear dividing line. Also the Brambling has a white rump as shown on the last photo.

Tuesday, 23 April 2013

Rainham With Rosemary

2nd April 2013

Another visit to Rainham but this time with cousin Rosemary, and as before we diverted to Ferry Lane to see what was on the shore-line. The tide was out revealing acres of mud, much to the enjoyment of the local Shelducks. This cracking drake with the red knob above the bill was looking resplendent in his full breeding plumage.

A scan along the rocks of the sea defences soon revealed one of the female Black Redstarts, displaying amazing camouflage against the rocks.

Then on to the reserve itself. Still quiet with high water levels and no migrants and, as before, no sign of the the usually resident peregrines. Just a lone female Kestrel hovering over the Aveley Pools which then took a well earned rest on one of the pillars by the railway.

On the way back, instead of completing the circuit, we went through the turnstile on to the sea wall. The tide was still out so no sign of any pipits, but a movement in the bushes by the upper sea wall caught our eye. It was a Chiffchaff busying itself amongst the brambles, but it did come to the edge once or twice for some photos. Nobody knows whether this is an over-wintering bird or a new arrival.

Monday, 22 April 2013

A Bittern is Lurking

I was at the Amwell viewpoint watching a Bittern sitting in the sun in one of the bays cut into the reeds on the opposite bank. Nothing too unusual there as they often like a spot of sunbathing on the rare occasions that the sun decides to appear. But then it moved slowly back into the reeds heading in the direction of the White Hide. Time for action.

I bid my farewells to the other birders at the viewpoint and scorched round to the White Hide and waited for the Bittern to appear. After a minute or so it was in sight, although fairly well obscured, making its way through the reeds just 15 yards from the window. At times its presence was only given away by the movement and rustling of the reeds.

Most of the time it was hidden, but there was one spot where it had to break cover to move to the other side of a muddy channel.

Friday, 19 April 2013

Time to Reflect on a Jack Snipe

Jack Snipe are normally very wary and skulking. They often remain hidden for most of the day and even when they do emerge, are partially obscured by vegetation. Not so the Amwell Jack.

Certainly it does go missing for long periods of time, but when it does decide to come out it shows well, right out in the open on bare mud. How often have you been able to take a photo of a Jack Snipe with its reflection in the water?

Tuesday, 16 April 2013

Spinoletta or Littoralis? - That is the Question

I was walking along the saltmarsh at Rainham hoping to photograph a Rock Pipit. There were a few pipits flitting around but as soon as they landed in the tall grass they disappeared. Eventually one came out into the open and I was able to get some shots.

Now the problem with bird photography is that you are more intent on framing the subject and getting the focus right than looking at what you are taking. Therefore, it wasn't until I looked at some of the images on the LCD display that I realised something wasn't quite right. For, rather than photographing a drab dull brown pipit with smudgy streaking on the breast, I was looking at a pipit with grey around the head and an apricot flush to the upper breast, far more reminiscent of a Water Pipit Anthus spinoletta.

When I got home and loaded the photos onto the computer I was able to study the photos in more detail. The main concern was the short supercilium or eye stripe, which for a Water Pipit should have been long and conspicuous, and the bird had a prominent eye ring. Something wrong here so there was no alternative than to seek a second opinion, which soon confirmed that I was indeed looking at a Scandinavian Rock Pipit.

The nominate race of Rock Pipit Anthus petrosus is found all round the British coast except from Lincolnshire right round to Dorset, and is fairly sedentary. However, Rock Pipits can be seen during the winter months around the eastern coast but these are the migratory Scandinavian Rock Pipits Anthus petrosus littoralis. During the winter months these birds look identical to the nominate race, but in the Spring the males take on a greyish appearance with an apricot flush on the breast which commonly gets confused with Water Pipits. In Scandinavian Rock Pipits:

a) the supercilium poor and the eye ring is more prominent.

b) the back is streaked (plainer in Water Pipit).

c) the underparts are heavily (and broadly and blurry on flanks) streaked, extending too far onto belly, with a complete gorget necklace more typical of Rock Pipit.

d) the crown and nape do not contrast with the browner back - a Water pipit has a contrasting grey crown and nape.
So there we have it, my first ever spring littoralis.

For better reproduction of my photos, see my photo gallery at


Saturday, 13 April 2013

Commons and Jacks

This winter at Amwell I have been lucky enough to photograph both Common and Jack Snipe at close range, which gives an ideal opportunity to compare the two.

Common Snipe used to breed in Hertfordshire but the last year, certainly at King's Meads, was in 1990. Since then they are fairly common winter visitors. They have a distinctive long bill, a single eye-stripe and a golden stripe down the middle of the crown. When feeding they tend not to bob up and down, but if they do it is only a very gentle movement.

Jack Snipe, on the other hand, breed in north-eastern Europe and Siberia and are scarce winter visitors to the UK. They are smaller than the Common Snipe, have a shorter bill, a double eye-stripe and no golden stripe down the centre of the crown. Also when feeding, they bob up and down by as much as an inch.

For better reproduction of my photos, see my photo gallery at