Wednesday, 28 August 2013

Fowlmere Again for that Elusive Turtle

8th August 2013

Third time lucky. Last year I managed to connect with Turtle Dove on my first Spring visit to Fowlmere, although birds have been present albeit a little elusive, I failed to see or hear a single bird in two visits. So, bearing in mind the time of the year, this was my last chance.

I decided to go clockwise around the reserve this time which takes you through the reed bed via the boardwalk and on to the southern path which eventually leads to the Reed Bed Hide. As I was passing the dragonfly ponds there was little in the way of dragonflies or damselflies, but I had that eerie feeling that something was watching me. And there it was. Just a few feet out in the water, just under the surface, was a six-inch long Pike. There was no obvious signs of other fish in the water for it to feed on so one can only assume it was living off dragonfly larvae.

A little further along the path I diverted up a track through the reeds, attracted by a number of butterflies nectaring on Hemp Agrimony. As I stood there waiting for something to settle close by I was drawn to a small bird moving around stealthily in the reeds. A young Sedge Warbler was searching for food and had obviously never seen a human before as it continued to search without a care in the world.

The rest of the southern border was fairly quiet and I started my approach to the Reed Bed Hide. Half way up the path a family of Long-tailed Tits were calling away in the trees around me and eventually one showed itself for a photo.

Once inside the hide the first bird to catch the eye was a Heron which uncharacteristically was sitting on a fence. The usual flock of Grey Lag Geese were also there, often dashing round chasing, bathing and preening. This particular individual seemed to be practising for conducting the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra.The proceedings were then temporarily halted while an Otter scrambled over the bank and into the ditch in front of the hide. This was my first ever Otter sighting in the wild, but unfortunately it was hidden initially in the reeds but when it approached open water, dived out of view.

But, by way of compensation, a Kingfisher flew in and started to fish from a branch some 40 yards away. A little too far for decent shots but OK for a record of the day.

But then came that magic moment. As I walked down the steps of the hide I could hear in the distance the gentle purring of a Turtle Dove. The problem with Turtle Dove's purring is that, whilst it is relatively easy to determine the direction from which it is coming, it is very difficult to assess distance. So there was nothing for it but to head off in that direction in search of the bird. The purring gradually got closer and I eventually saw the bird sitting in a dead tree, but still a long way off. I therefore crept along the ditch for 50 yards which allowed me to get this shot, still distant but a photo nevertheless. Third time lucky!!

Monday, 26 August 2013

Flutter-bys and Horse Stingers

8th August 2013

Off to Fowlmere today to see if there were any young birds hoping to have their photograph taken. As I walked down through the wood and across the boardwalk, the site was buzzing, not only with birds but also insects. Now, as I have said before, I don't normally bother with insects as my fixed 400mm lens is not really up to it, but the temptations today were just far too great.

The old name for butterflies was flutter-bys, as that was exactly what they did. There were dozens of Peacocks around, by far the most I have seen for many years. Most of these superb insects were nectaring on Hemp Agrimony and always allow you to get quite close, although with my fixed 400mm lens, I was limited to12 feet. Anyway, this one came out quite well.

My next attempt was a second-brood Brimstone which settled on some Lesser Burdock. Just as I was focusing and about ready to take the shot, a second insect flew in and took up a mirror position, just like a couple of book-ends. I suspect I will never be able to repeat that shot.

The old  name for dragonflies was horse stingers which came about from the incorrect perception that the dragonflies were swarming around the horses and the horses were kicking and stamping as if they were being bitten by the dragonflies. In reality, it might have been that the dragonflies were helping the horses by eating the parasitic insects which were the ones actually biting the horses. The first horse stinger that I came across today was a male Banded Demoiselle. To my mind these electric insects look far too exotic to be an English species, and more suitable to a jungle or a private collection in a "dragonfly house". As it happens, they are very common but are more easily seen by flowing water.

I was particularly pleased to find this next insect, a male Emerald Damselfly. I don't know what their status is in Cambridgeshire, but in Herts they are quite scarce. They are, however, easy to identify due to the way they hold their wings. Damselflies hold their wings along their body whereas dragonflies hold their wings perpendicular to their body. However, for some reason, Emeralds hold their wings at 45 degrees.

Next up was a male Ruddy Darter enjoying the warmth of the sunny stone path. The main confusion species is the Common Darter which is more orangey-red and has brown legs. The Ruddy Darter is more crimson and has jet-black legs.

I was particularly pleased with the last one, a female Brown Hawker egg-laying, as this species rarely settles, and when they do often fly away from the water, so are difficult to find.

Thursday, 22 August 2013

A Spotty Spotted Flycatcher

5th August 2013

Having dipped miserably on my last two attempts to photograph Spotted Flycatchers I thought I would try my luck with the fairly mobile family party that had been seen at Amwell over the last couple of days. When I arrived at the viewpoint Tony Pickford said that he had been watching them just 10 minutes ago about 100 yards along the towpath, but when I got there there was no sign.

One of their favourite places was just across the river from here so I crossed to the other side and, sure enough, there they were with one even feeding on the ground. Unfortunately, the light was in my eyes so I had to get round them before I could start clicking away. They were fairly flighty and although visible were often obscured, but eventually one came out into the open against a lovely pale green background. The spots on the back indicate that this particularly spotty Spotted Flycatcher is one of the young ones.

Sunday, 18 August 2013

LARGE Brown Jobs (LBJs)

3rd August 2013

We are all familiar with LBJs (Little Brown Jobs), which are the curse of newcomers to birding. Even the more experienced birders find them frustrating at times. But what is not always recognised is that some of the LARGE Brown Jobs can be equally problematical. Andy Johnson and I were still at Abberton when I started to use the scope to sift through the dabbling duck feeding in the muddy margins.Apart from the usual suspects there were a few Teal starting to return from their breeding grounds, although at this time of the year they are all in their brown eclipse plumage.

I studied the face pattern of each one carefully and eventually found what I was looking for, a Garganey. Garganey in eclipse are virtually identical to Teal but lack the cream horizontal bar above the tail and have a rather indistinct facial pattern which looks like a double eye-stripe. The third in-flight photo shows the brown belly and the lack of grey on the lesser and median coverts which was sufficient to allow plumage expert Alan Harris to age and sex this bird as a juvenile female. What a good start.

We then went on to Fingringhoe in the hope of photographing some passerines flitting around in the bushes, but all was quiet. So instead we moved on to the Geedon Bay hide to have a look over the estuary. The tide was not only a fair way out but was still going out, so all the waders were very distant. Most appeared to be Redshank with a few Oystercatcher, but at that point something disturbed a flock of Curlew from the saltmarsh and they flew to the edge of the channel. Except one, that is, which landed on the mud about 50 yards away.

A quick look through the bins was enough to arouse my suspicions, but it took enlarging a few shots of the bird to confirm that this was indeed a Whimbrel. Whimbrel are slightly smaller than Curlew but that is very subjective, especially when looking at single birds. They also have a much shorter bill, which can also be tricky, but the most reliable differentiator is the creamy stripe down the centre of the crown. The flight call is also very different but not much use when they are on the ground.

So there we have it. Two Large Brown Jobs, both bigger than 10 inches long, and both easily over-looked.

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Wednesday, 14 August 2013

Abberton Aliens

3rd August 2013

Another trip to Abberton, this time late summer with Andy Johnson, hoping to find some early migrants. Actually very quiet on the banks of Layer Breton causeway, although there were the usual Common Terns to keep you occupied.

But what is amazing about this place is the number of ducks and geese around that shouldn't be here. I have heard it said that Abberton is often referred to as the Annexe of Colchester Zoo, with some people even suggesting that there are more of their ducks and geese here than inside the zoo. But I digress.

First up was a Red-crested Pochard close to the concrete slope which was clearly in moult. However, the pinky-orange tip to the bill says that this is an adult female, although it is not clear whether the pins showing on the wing are natural moult or growing out after being clipped.

Among the flocks of Canada and Greylag Geese was a single Barnacle Goose. Their clean black and white plumage has always been a favourite of mine, but they don't normally venture further south than the Solway Firth, and never at this time of year. So yet another alien.

As I said in a recent post, the stronghold for Egyptian Geese is Norfolk but there always a few at Abberton. This one, with its brown eye patch and collar and shocking pink legs was having a stretch, showing the large white panels on the wings.

Moving further along we came to a pair of Red-breasted Geese, unfortunately with both fast asleep. But the thing about Abberton is that many families bring their children along to throw bread for the ducks, so the rustle of paper was enough to wake them up for a quick shot.

But the award for the day must go to the stunning pair of Ruddy Shelduck, which were drawing the most attention despite their "escape" status. The larger bird on the left with the whiter head is the male.

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Saturday, 10 August 2013

The Tewinbury Little Grebes

2nd August 2013

I went down to Tewinbury to see how the water levels were doing but they are still quite high, despite the sluice being slightly opened. Therefore, no sign of the anticipated Grey Wagtails and Green Sandpipers, but there were two pairs of Little Grebe feeding young.

I have dozens of photographs of these exquisite little birds, but can never resist taking a few more especially when the young ones are about. Luckily today they were fairly mobile and did occasionally come over in front of the hide, allowing some great opportunities. Note the stripey signal toothpaste heads of the young ones.

This young one had soon had enough of being fed and hauled itself out on to a log for a rest. Quite unusual to see them on land.

Tuesday, 6 August 2013

Rye Meads in the Heat

26th July 2013

Another hot day so best to sit in a quiet cool hide at Rye Meads. Well, that was the first mistake as the hide was like a sauna despite all the windows being open. Even the birds looked lethargic although the Green Sandpipers were busy feeding along the algae-lined water's edge. There have been up to 10 here over the last couple of days, but just two today.

There were plenty of young gulls and terns around showing that, despite being dominated by the Black-headed Gulls earlier on in the season, the tern rafts had been successful. This young Black-headed Gull has been ringed in the nest, probably on one of the rafts, but could have flown in from elsewhere. The Common Tern chick isn't ringed, which is a bit of a surprise.

I was just about to start heading back when I heard some rustling just below me. I peered gingerly out of the window and there, just a few feet way was a Greenfinch feeding on the Brambles. It was so close that I had to retreat to the back of the hide to get into position so that I could both focus on it and not scare it. Very unusual to get so close to a Greenfinch without it being on a feeder.

Friday, 2 August 2013

Snettisham Beach

12th July 2013

We continued up through the lagoons and eventually arrived at the beach. At this time of year there are not the wheeling thousands of waders over the Wash and to make matters worse, the tide was out with mud stretching from Norfolk right across to Lincolnshire. There was, however, a few bits of interest. On the tide wrack a family party of Linnets were searching for seeds and I was able to get a shot before they flew off further along the beach.

Next was another surprise, a female Red-legged Partridge and her brood, also feeding on the beach. They too were incredibly confiding and made no attempt to move further way even as I approached to within 10 yards.

Scanning along the beach I could see an Oystercatcher sitting on a nest. This is quite late in the season, so perhaps a second attempt after the first clutch failed, as they are single-brooded. As we slowly approached, she stood up and tidied around the nest and moved down towards the mud. There were 2 eggs in the nest, which suggests that this was a relatively new nest as they normally have three eggs. We continued past and she kept an eye on us to ensure that the danger had passed before returning to her eggs.

Finally, just as we were about to turn round and head back to the car, I caught a movement out of the corner of my eye. There on the tide wrack were two adult Ringed Plovers and a well-grown chick. Just look at how well camouflaged they are, whether on tide wrack or a stony beach.

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