Thursday, April 16, 2015

Late March/early April update.

Having arrived home in late March the usual period of "catch up" occurred, either with administrative or domestic tasks. On this occasion it was further complicated by my losing my water supply! In the end it proved to have been caused simply by the pump sticking as opposed to anything more complicated.

Time has been spent sorting out what will be a trip out to America in May followed immediately by a period down in Norfolk. But prior to all this an upcoming trip to the Cairngorms and other parts of the Highlands in mid April  has been demanding my attention. A more leisurely exercise planning a short trip out to Turkey in late June completed the immediate demands of travel arrangements with those in the second half of the year as yet being mulled over.

Various work projects have been "sown up" and the reports are now in the process of being finalised.  Within this time it was great to have one of my daughters, Katherine, stay for a period and have the opportunity for a good chat on a whole variety of subjects. All this has meant a minimum of time being available for informal birding but with odd sessions stolen here and there.

As I write this the weather continues to hold , although the temperatures are not yet lifting. I've had a couple of opportunities to get out on the grass moors local to the house. Curlew and Lapwing are now back and in display and there calls are a feature both in the mornings and throughout the better days. Northern Wheatears, both as migrants or now as residents, are in evidence with hopefully more of the latter to arrive. A single Willow Warbler passing through the garden today was indicative of passage being underway.  Meadow Pipits appear to be in much better numbers than in the past two seasons, although Skylarks are in similar numbers to previously. Chaffinches and Goldfinches appear from time to time and Stonechats have suddenly appeared on the moorland fringes after presumably being on lower ground throughout the winter.  Ravens have gone quiet already, but Chough and Hooded Crow are still obvious in their habits.  Discovering a pair of Barn Owls "in residence" was a nice surprise, but a battle royal between them and a pair of Chough  has seemingly resulted in both sets of birds disappearing elsewhere!   Such is life.

Dumfries and Galloway tour. 22.3.2015

A tour around the lochs and forests of D and G in bright but cold weather was uplifting in many different ways.  Carlingwark Loch produced the first Sand Martins of the year. Early morning saw the site devoid of people and the opportunity to hear what is now an improving wall of sound as birds get into the rhythm of Spring song. It was good to see around 30 Goldeneye on the loch although the hoped for Ring-necked Duck proved impossible to pin down.

On to the Ken-Dee marshes where Grey lag Geese and Canada Geese were present, but very low numbers of duck. Disappointment was cancelled out by excellent views of a Red Kite which are now firmly established in the area. The hoped for Willow Tit here or at the nearby Woodhall Loch proved unrealised. Despite more than enough seemingly suitable habitat this bird is now difficult to find sometimes.

The Galloway Forest has been felled in certain areas and is much changed from previous recollections. Surprisingly very little seemed to be on offer even of common species like Chaffinch or Robin. Over the moor to the area above Gatehouse of Fleet where a further two Red Kites were noted, certainly something that thirty years ago would not have been in any way routine.

One of the more attractive aspects of  "the Solway" is the picturesque, quiet corners you can find that remain undisturbed for periods of time. Here, in the valley bottom, along the approach to the Cairnsmore of Fleet the solitude and sheer majesty of the countryside was impressive. Not big sky landscapes but more intimate, personal snapshots of what the fabric of our countryside can comprise. Whilst I spent quite a time around here I have to say I saw very little and increasingly am concluding that Spring is just late getting underway.!!

Later out on the open hill Fieldfare, Stonecaht, Buzzards, Kestrel and Raven were all noted. Driving down to the Cairnsmore of Fleet Reserve noted that the cottage near the viaduct that we stayed in ( at the time of the Iraq conflict I seem to remember ) has now been renovated. It was certainly quaint and out of the way but is probably better to have received a facelift as opposed to fall into disrepair.

And so that was it. My journey of reminiscence was fulfilled, admittedly not with too many birds, but given the visual richness of the Solway time spent in the area is never squandered.

Solway's splendour. 21.3.2015

Out early in what was calm, cloudy, but bright conditions, with even a hint of improvement in the temperatures. Blue skies, broken cloud  and sunshine later was a real tonic despite the received warmth being a bit on the modest side of things. First stop was Carsethorn although, disappointingly, the tide was way out which rather limited the variety of things on offer. A few Oystercatcher, Dunlin and Teal were found but little else. Calling Greenfinches were a nice bonus given the low populations in recent years and a suggestion perhaps that they were finally increasing.  Southerness Point was something of a repeat and hastened my moving on to the RSPB Reserve at Mersehead.

I'd only ever paid brief visits to the reserve since it was set up and so had resolved to spend some time there. A great place with a fine assortment of passerines present as well as waterfowl. Yellowhammers and Tree Sparrows were in evidence and a single Chiffchaff sang along the approach road.  Wigeon, Pintail, Teal, Shoveler, Shelduck, Gadwall, Mute Swan as well as numbers of Barnacle Geese were present and seen in good light from the hides. A single Merlin sat out on a fence post and gave good views.

A good tour around past areas brought back memories, but little in the way of birds. The countryside does seem to be at low ebb at the moment, but I suspect the populations of Lapwing and other breeding waders of yesteryear are fast becoming a distant memory to many and haven't even been present at all within the more recent experiences of some.

Northward Ho! 20.3.2015

Realised that the Travelodge I'd chosen is not the best when you're intending to visit the RSPB Leighton Moss Reserve. A frustrating loop northwards and then south got me to the reserve  where I finally got my breakfast.  Visited various ones of the hides and admired the high viewing tower which they're building. It seems the water levels are to be drawn down to expose more mud, encourage the extension of the reedbeds and, thereby, help to improve the numbers and conditions for Bitterns. So a couple of years of increased waders perhaps?  It was always slightly frustrating in the past whilst I was with RSPB to receive letters of complaint when initiatives of this sort were undertaken.  In order to support bird communities within given locations it is sometimes necessary to carry out what seems to be pretty drastic management tasks in order to improve or maintain circumstances. Not everyone sees it that way with the interruption to viewing opportunities being considered a higher priority by some.  Sadly, in this island of ours, we haven't the vast expanses of habitat available elsewhere and we have to try and retain the highest quality of habitat possible within the patchwork quilt of areas we call our "reserves".

There was little of any real note at the main reserve other than an odd Marsh Harrier so I went down to the part of the reserve that abuts the salt-marsh on the edge of Morecambe Bay. The tide was high and waders were gathered together in tight packed groups. Lots of Redshank and Black-tailed Godwit were in evidence and a Kingfisher flashed past at one point.

With time pressing I commenced my journey northwards and eventually reached Dumfries.  I'd expected to see rather more geese about but I came across no flocks. I reminded myself that it was approaching the end of March where, as happens on Islay, presumably the birds gather together at particular favourite haunts prior to their departure. And so I arrived on the Solway Firth, an area where , in previous times, I'd visited during many successive winters. It's gone through a lot of changes with many of the wetter patches of marsh randomly scattered around now having disappeared. However, the landscape carries variety and excessive charm and is always a joy to be within.

Transition days 18.3.2015 and 19.3..2015

The morning of the 18th saw me travelling west again, but this time away from Norfolk altogether.  I stopped at various places en route but had nothing new or exciting.  I had my lunch parked up at the Wolferton Triangle but was not blessed with any views of Golden Pheasant, although I suspect 1300  hours is "the" worst time to even try!  Good views of  a young Fox wandering about on the road was some compensation.  Moved on to the Long Sutton area to overnight and sort a few things out in advance of the next phase of my travels.

I left Sutton Bridge early on the 19th and went straight through to South Yorks.  I had a good trawl around past favourite sites around Broomhead and Langsett gaining good views of Red Grouse in the process. Wandering around the woodland areas produced an array of the commoner species ( Treecreeper, Great Spotted Woodpecker, several Mistle Thrush ) but no crossbills. Things seemed to be so "behindhand" and , although the weather was fine, there was still an edge to the temperature and Spring still seemed a long way away.

Called in to see Matthew and Rose early evening before travelling north to reach Burton Services somewhat later than intended.

A bit of a washout initially! 17.3.2015

An early visit to Cley produced very little so, after breakfast, I set off westwards with the intention of visiting Holkham NNR.  Called in to Wells for a bank at which point it started raining......and continued raining! Undeterred I parked up and set off exploring Wells Woods.  Dank, depressing and seemingly devoid of birds would not have been overstating anything. Odd Blue and Coal Tit and a few Jays were about all that was on offer. The adjacent wet marshes held Wigeon, Mallard, Grey lag Geese, Egyptian Geese and both Moorhen and Tufted Duck were present in areas with deeper water.

Grey Heron, 2 Buzzards, a Kestrel and a Barn Owl out hunting at 1115 hours kept up the interest until 2 Spoonbill were found and, shortly after, Grey Partridge.  Nothing is ever squandered if you're persistent! But the conditions were unrelenting so I returned to the car. Carried on westwards and had a stake out for the Rough-legged Buzzard but to no avail. Similarly little was seen at Thornham and, with the day advancing, hopes were somewhat depressed to say the least.

I moved on to Titchwell where shelter was available in the hides.  Almost on cue as I arrived the rain abated and things began to look brighter.  A Chiffchaff in the car park followed very quickly by good views of one of the brightest Firecrests I've seen in a long time. Things were improving !  Remained for the rest of the afternoon, in fact almost to dark. Besides Pintail, Teal, Mallard, Shelduck and Brent Geese,  5Red-crested Pochard males  were welcome. Some rather fine Grey Plover and Black-tailed Godwit were present and at least three Common Snipe provided exceptional views. BHG , Herring Gull and a handful of LBBG were gathered on the islands off the Parrinder Hide but yielded nothing more exciting. Watched the raptor roost forming with several Marsh Harrier and a male and female Hen Harrier arriving to spend the night in the reedbeds. All in all the day had redeemed itself after a questionable beginning.

Wednesday, April 8, 2015

Mixed habitats all round! 16.3.2015.

Went directly out eastwards to Weybourne and parked in the official car park at the coast.  Walked eastwards along the cliff past the cottages and out beyond based on the instructions based on field types, bales and such like!!  Several small groups of birders were strung out along the coast scanning what would amount to a rather large area. As such  "the quarry" couldn't be present in each of the locations being scrutinized so I opted to start at the first group and check what had been seen.  For once my luck was in as the Lapland Buntings which had been present over the past few days had been seen in the field opposite within the last few minutes. Not just that but the young Iceland Gull had been in the area too. As it was that was the first to "fall" as amidst several other gulls in a tilled field beyond the most immediate one the Iceland Gull stood out prominently. After gaining a good view of that a good scan of the closest field showed at least four, possibly six, Lapland Buntings to be present. One showed an appreciable amount of darkening around the head which gave a distinct background for its eyestripe.  Not bad for the first few hours of the day!  What the remaining birders strung out to the east had actually been looking at I should never know as I realised my parking fee was running out and that I'd have to get back to the car,which I managed just as a Council employee arrived.

On to Kelling Heath again in bright sunlight but with the wind still retaining a cutting edge.  Meeting up with some people who had been at Weybourne we all commenced to walk around areas of the heath on both sides of the road. It couldn't be said that birdlife was prolific but a couple of Linnets sang, the odd Woodpigeon was in evidence and a couple of Long tailed Tit  were seen. Then a Dartford Warbler called, was seen to cross to another patch of gorse followed by a female, indulged in a display flight and then sang atop some gorse yet again. Tremendous!!  Later, a local showed us several Adders basking in a sheltered dell and , then, on the way back, I discovered that my new-found colleagues had known a good friend of mine who hailed from Ashford in Kent  ( Geoff Rivers ). Unbelievably the father within the trio had remembered me from the funeral, who I'd sat next to and that we'd been introduced by a mutual contact, Richard Bailey. Within this maelstrom of recollection I both rudely and stupidly forgot to ask their names ( for which I apologise ). If you ever get to reading this please drop me a comment with your details!

On to Salthouse with little that was new being discovered other than a nice "White Wagtail".  I decided to opt for somewhere a little sheltered and so drove through to Holkham Hall grounds. Mid afternoon was hardly the best time to visit the area but it was quiet and pleasant, more sheltered although the birds were few.

The Fallow Deer were all basking in a sheltered spot at the edge of the woodland until this one suddenly emerged from behind a nearby tree. I continued through the woodlands to the lake's edge and had views of several Egyptian Geese. Some were paired and various skirmishes erupted whilst I was there. I returned slowly back through the woodland. A couple of Mistle Thrush were in song, and Nuthatch and Goldcrest were heard.


Always a tranquil place to be within, today produced precious little in many respects, but was no less enjoyable for all that. I suspect that, from time to time, I simply like being within the "embrace" of mature deciduous woodland given its virtual absence at home and today certainly produced the goods.

By now it was late afternoon so I parked up at Stiffkey and resolved to count the Little Egrets that appeared to move past there eastwards into roost. Between 1600 hours and 1830 hours I had 57  fly past to their roost somewhere east of Stiffkey itself. This number , coupled with any birds flying in from the east, and those associated with other roosts along the coast give some indication of what the population must now be!!

North Norfolk coast again. 15.3.2015.

A slow traverse of the north coast calling in at all the celebrated spots en route! The wind had dropped to some extent but it was still cold.

At Brancaster Staithe harbour a few duck (Shelduck and Teal ) and waders were in evidence; Oystercatcher, Turnstone, Dunlin,  Redshank, Curlew and Black-tailed Godwit.

On to Choseley Barns, but as a celebrated site to look for finches and buntings, the value appears to be a thing of the past as the boundary hedgerow which provided cover has been grubbed out and the site generally"sanitized".  Apparently there had been some disagreements arising with the above being the consequent effect. I moved down the road a little and parked overlooking a long hedge and a wide expanse of agricultural land. Woodpigeon, Curlew, Red-legged Partridge, Pheasant and Skylarks were present and a finch flock eventually appeared. Of the 30+ birds involved most were Yellowhammers with the rest being Chaffinches.

Moved on to Thornham Harbour but, despite a patient wait, nothing was around. Rather disappointing so I went through to Hunstaton to get a few personal "errands" sorted out. By now it was mid-afternoon so I called in at Titchwell on the way back eastwards.  Cetti's Warbler calling as was a Water Rail, some nice Grey Plover on view and a Bullfinch was all that was noteworthy. Not a terribly inspiring day in the end!.

North Norfolk coast. 14.3.2015.

A cold easterly F5/6 wind would have answered the autumn dreams of many!!   Blustery , but with good visibility the conditions lasted throughout the day.

A good look at the NWT Cley reserve produced little of real interest so I moved further along the coast and did some seawatching.  Despite the seeming favourable wind very little was on the move. Several parties of Gannet moved east together with a Red throated Diver, but overall things were quiet. I moved on to Kelling Heath and had an enjoyable wander around in what was now quite warm conditions in sheltered spots. A couple of Woodlark were seen, and a period of song heard, before an "intruder" caused all birds to move off. Otherwise the area appeared almost devoid of birds.

The remainder of the day was spent at various locations around Cley simply indulging in routine birding. No surprises emerged but it had been a satisfying day nonetheless.

A traverse of Norfolk. 13.3.2015.

Out early to the RSPB Lakenheath Reserve arriving before other visitors! Always a favourite, this reserve has its own particular kind of magic.  Slowly walked through the reserve to the farthest observation point overlooking the vast reedbed. Things were rather quiet at first, but a Barn Owl hunting in full sunlight, 5 Jays noisily fleeing for cover and an accompaniment from the occasional song of a Cetti's Warbler enhanced the day. A Great Spotted Woodpecker drummed loudly nearby and the air was filled with the calls from several pairs of Grey lag Geese. At least six Marsh Harriers floated around above the reedbed with one male in display. Two separate pairs of Common Cranes flew in and settled into different areas, a Bearded Tit showed several times and a head on view of a Bittern transferring across to a different section all occurred within minutes. Birdwatching at its best.  A Water Rail squealing nearby sharpened the senses, Curlew "bubbled" away in the background and Shoveler, Teal and Gadwall all showed well. Stationed on the  embankment overlooking the large lagoon I managed to see one of three Great White Egrets present in a pool at the back. By now it was late morning and breakfast/lunchtime called.

I went off to the Lakenheath Military Airfield viewing area to enjoy both brunch and whatever activity was in store. A few fighter aircraft  (F 15's ? ) returned from practice flights and then came the surprise.  Amidst noise, vibration and palpable tumult a Lockheed C-5 Galaxy came into view.  These are the largest cargo planes the USA Airforce operates and they are huge.  A big bird indeed, but one that slowly and gently moved to its allotted bay.

Moving north into central Norfolk I parked up at a well known raptor vantage  point. For the first couple of hours things were rather slow , although several Buzzards, Kestrel, a Red Kite and a couple of Sparrowhawk put in an appearance.  Paul Stancliffe also arrived and we had  a good catch up session exchanging information, aka "gossip", before things suddenly improved. Both a male and female Goshawk came into view. The male spent most of the time circling around, but the female plied back and forth over a stretch of woodland and gave tremendous views.  Time and again the white undertail feathers flashed in the sunlight , even at mid distance, and added to the spectacle. All too soon it was over and not a suspicion of the excitement remained!!

Continuing on I spent the last part of the afternoon at Stiffkey overlooking the saltmarsh. Little Egrets, Curlew and Brent Geese were in evidence, a female Marsh Harrier flew east,  as did a male Hen Harrier, previous to last light which heralded my need to move on to my base at Cley for the next few days, the Three Swallows Public House.

Thursday, March 12, 2015

A day in Breckland.

An absolutely gorgeous day, although a little cold and with a blustery wind throughout the afternoon. Off and out and first to arrive at Lynford Arboretum. The amount of birdsong was impressive and really confirmed that Spring must now be here, whether or not there's the occasional set-back of short duration. A sighting of the first lambs on the journey helped to confirm matters !

As ever the walk down towards the lake held a succession of bird sightings. A walk around the whole paddock didn't produce anything that even suggested Hawfinch, so I retraced my steps and , suddenly, had a brief but not very satisfying view of two birds on top of one of the tangled Hornbeams. That appeared to be "it", so I struck off and explored a few areas that I'd not visited before. There are lots of such areas at Lynford and the place grows on me the more I visit. I was looking for Lesser Spotted Woodpecker which used to be recorded here , but I had no success. All the usual woodland species were around, including some particularly good views of Marsh Tit.  I also had great views of Grey Wagtail along the stream that runs into the lake.  So I gradually wended my way back to the car and breakfast and , as the Sat Nav says indulged in a period of   " Recalculating".  I went back to the feeders at the main entrance area and amidst Nuthatch, Chaffinch , odd Brambling and titmice there it was......a single Hawfinch feeding amidst the throng on the ground.  Tremendous views for quite a period and a definite testimony to disciplined " hanging on in"!.

Given it was now approaching lunchtime I next went on to near Grimes Graves, attracted by the idea of seeing the wintering Great Grey Shrike. But where to start as the directions were a bit vague and imprecise?  As there had been mention of the Ministry of Defence I pinpointed a suitable area only to find it was a firing range with all the accompanying warnings etc. Thankfully I gleaned from a local lady dog walker that there was actually a public footpath across the area ( it could only happen in England! ) and you only had to keep out if the red flag was flying. So hoping that I hadn't missed this most essential of indicators I found the access ( which, in itself, required expert local knowledge as to its location, it was so obscure ) and set off along what proved to be a really attractive route. The open area of grass heath with the odd gorse and birch/conifer dotted around was great and well worth a visit later in the year.  After about a kilometre I suddenly saw the bird fly and then had prolonged views of it hunting, perched and in flight. Tremendous!

I finally moved on to the Santon Downham area.  Lesser Spotted Woodpecker again figured on the agenda, but was never realised.  I was told later that the birds were thought to have moved into an area closer towards Brandon!!  Whilst there was a good variety of common species, numbers weren't high and birding was quite hard work in some senses, producing nothing of particular note!

I've always been fascinated by the Breckland area but confess to knowing precious little about it!  Santon Downham is located within a meander of the River Little Ouse and was the village where HM Forestry Commission set up its administrative headquarters following the planting of tens of thousands of trees which, collectively, form Thetford Forest. On the outskirts of the village lies the Church of St. Mary the Virgin. I don't believe this is in active use any longer and is looked after by a Trust.

It's an attractive small church which nestles within the forest itself.  The north and south doorways to the Nave are dated as 12th Century so the building has seen many, many changes throughout its presence.

  It's a sobering thought to contemplate the landscape that surrounded the church when first it was built and the various jobs that its congregation held and even how many people lived in the area. And what were the local commercial activities that produced sufficient wealth to allow its benefactor to initiate its construction? Apparently the adjacent heathland caused problems at times in that wind blown sand engulfed parts of nearby villages with part of the problem being the instability brought about by the presence of large Rabbit warrens. What with the watery wastes of the Fens to the west and clearly large barren areas hereabouts the bird communities of that period must have been dramatically different to today. Something to ponder and research.........

Incidentally, I'm now about to be in that part of Norfolk where cyber facilities are somewhat questionable at times. My next entry may miraculously be on time or in a few days time.........

Wednesday, March 11, 2015

Fenland focus !

It's many years since I visited the Nene Washes, east of Peterborough, so I was really looking forward to this visit.  It's not the easiest place to find but, if you've a SatNav, then simply pop in the following post code reference and any confusion is totally dispelled........PE7 2DD.

There appears to be no general access to or trails around this RSPB reserve other than along a flood bank on the boundary, but much of the site can be viewed from the car park. Sadly it was somewhat dry today , but when the site is fulfilling its washland role then the transformation must be enormous both in terms of its appearance and the numbers and variety of birds present.  A list on the reserve noticeboard of the birds present in mid February was mouth-wateringly good!!!  Ducks abound but accompanied by a wide variety of other species. In future I shall ensure a future visit falls within January or February. As it was I had a few duck and geese but also a pair of Common Cranes that were the highlight of the visit. A close second though was a diminutive Long-tailed Tit, its bill full of nesting material, which sat on the superstructure of a bridge across a drainage dyke nearby and scolded me with deliberate intent !!!  The nearest bushes were a distance away but, nonetheless, the bird made no pretence of what it thought of my presence or what I should do. I retired, admonished, to the car and breakfast.  It must be said that it's not just the winter communities this reserve is famed for. It is the most notable site in England for breeding Black-tailed Godwit and also for the reintroduction scheme (in England ) for Corncrake.  I found this intriguing, comparing the physical attributes on site to those where Corncrakes occur on Islay  ( not a nettle bed or Flag Iris in sight here ! ) and would like to come back in mid summer to view the situation.  So a site to visit as opportunity allows.

On then to a site I've visited without success in the past......the Yaxley area.  Part of the Great Fen project, the area is typical central fenland with an impressive birch woodland  to boot. Nice views of a Great-spotted Woodpecker as I arrived augured well, or so I thought.  A Rough-legged Buzzard had been reported from this area in recent times so I set about my quest!!  Visiting and scrutinizing various areas for at least an hour produced nothing but a Red Kite and a Kestrel . And then I found a Common Buzzard "worming " on an area of rough ground, and then another and a Kestrel too. One of the CB's, and then a Carrion Crow, flew towards a bird I'd not seen previously, and there it was, the Rough-legged Buzzard !!   Quite good views were finally obtained, although not in the form that I'd perhaps first expected.

I then moved into what I always personally consider to be "central Fenland" and looked at the area around Welney. Some good views were obtained of Bewick's Swans and a few Whooper Swan, but little else despite scouring a whole series of areas. Much of the Fens is now showing Spring crops coming through and what areas remain are generally being prepared for cultivation. As I travelled towards my selected overnight base near Mildenhall, a female Marsh Harrier drifted across the road and provided an apt completion to a good Fenland day!!

Tuesday, March 10, 2015

Travelling south, flying high and moving far !

A traverse almost the length of Lincolnshire today to visit Frampton Marsh, an RSPB reserve on The Wash. But my mid-morning arrival followed an eye level encounter with the RAF's  Red Arrow  Aerobatic team over Scampton airfield culminating in an awe inspiring climb and "turn over" . Wow!   All the more impressive as the nine man team only went out on their first practice this year on the 3rd March. That's only a week ago  ( I had more driving lessons than that!).   See more details at RAF Red Arrows team .

And more was to come. As I passed RAF Waddington there was an AWACs plane in all its glory  ( you know the one with kind of a large mushroom radar tracking device on its upper fuselage ). Officially designated as NATO's E-3A component it supplies an integrated multi-national flying unit providing rapid deployability, airborne surveillance, command, control and communications for NATO operations ( my description of course! ).

So, following all the diversions I arrived at Frampton Marsh and spent the rest of the day there. I've only been a few times but enjoy the place more and more. Today there was plenty to see with ducks and geese all over the reserve.

Dark-bellied Brent Geese were in several parts of the reserve but with groups flying to the Wash throughout. Pintail, Shoveler, Wigeon, Teal, Shelduck, Gadwall, Mallard, Pochard and Tufted Duck were all in evidence. Waders too were represented by Dunlin, Redshank, Curlew, Black-tailed Godwit, Ruff , Lapwing, Golden Plover and Avocet , an absolute plethora of birdlife. In one of the hides is a very interesting display about waders and their migrations.

As can be seen the mileages covered are mind blowing and truly global

Much more was on offer with Little Egret, Whooper Swan ( ca 40/45 ) , a very high overflying skein NE of Pink-footed Geese, besides Yellowhammers and Tree Sparrows in the hedgerows. A good place and a good day. Well worth a visit as I guess this is a reserve that has something throughout the whole year.

As I left and travelled through the very intensive agricultural countryside my eye was caught by the following.

There was no accompanying place to stop nearby and no other explanatory material. I found it both fascinating and frustrating as I guess the intention would be missed or ignored by the vast majority of people passing to and fro to the reserve which I felt was a great shame.  No great shakes, maybe, but  an effort by the Parish Council to celebrate something of interest and relevance within their area.  Well done anyway!!

From the dizzy heights of Lincolnshire's airspace, to transglobal migratory highways, all brought down to earth by the depiction of our understanding of time zones and the UK's role in that sphere. Not bad for a county often sidelined into simply being an agricultural "factory".

Monday, March 9, 2015

Ever southward and a couple of bonuses.

Another early start and a convoy type progression southwards amidst traffic.  The weather forecast wasn't too great so I resolved to be flexible and cram as much as I could into the morning.

The evolved road systems in the Castleford / Normanton area are not as simple as I remember them, nor is the plethora of developed "Industrial Estates". Eventually I did locate the area of choice ( Loscoe Lake ), located virtually opposite the new(?) Police Headquarters. From a distance it appears simply as a water filled depression in a field, but it seems it's developed an attraction for birds.  It's difficult to oversee the whole of it so some mild trespassing was necessary to view the entire body of water. But worth it when the flock of grazing Wigeon was located within which was an adult American Wigeon. Probably the best views I've had and worth the effort. Other birds on site were Lapwing, Grey Heron, Tufted Dick, Mallard and Canada Goose plus numbers of BH Gulls. Success was followed by a late celebratory "mobile breakfast" at the Captains Table, another good find!

On to the RSPB Fairburn Reserve after successfully negotiating the centre of Castleford and choosing the correct exit route. Things started well with a good selection of birds ( Pintail, Shoveler, Little Egret, Goldeneye ) but then went swiftly downhill with quite heavy rain developing. After attempting to wait out the predicted eastward moving frontal system I called it a day and moved eastwards myself.  With the weather still not improving exploring North Cave Wetlands wasn't at all productive so I finally decided to delay things until the morning!!

The journey south begins! 8th March, 2015.

Yesterday ( 7th ) was a complete write off with high winds and rain. It provided a good opportunity to catch up with a load of admin work and have a good read!

This morning saw an early departure with the first port of call being Musselburgh on the southern side of the Firth of Forth.  The intention at hand was to try and see the Surf Scoter which has been in the area, and last year too, but encountering two birders prior to 0800 hours already leaving the site amidst mutterings of things being hopeless in this wind didn't augur well. In addition to this the tide was well out. Yep, you have it, the Surf Scoter wasn't in evidence, although scoters could be seen offshore but at distance. A nice selection of duck fed at the mouth of the river, a few waders were around and a Skylark sang so there was plenty to enjoy.

Moving off southwards a breakfast stop had singing Song Thrush, Robin, Great Tit and Dunnock alongside the car  which, at the end of winter, is always uplifting. Less so was to see several dead Badgers alongside the A1 out to Berwick on Tweed.  Moving on I decided to see if it was feasible to pay a quick visit on to Holy Island. Sadly there was only an hour before it was advised a crossing of the causeway was inadvisable, so the idea had to be shelved.

A few waders were around ( Oystercatcher, Curlew and Redshank ) and a group of 26/27 Whooper Swans rested close to the onshore boundary with the mainland. I parked up for a period but didn't add anything to what I'd seen previously, the expanse of habitat surrounding the island being quiet.

I moved on to Budle Bay where Mallard , Teal and Shelduck fed and numbers of gulls rested, including two LBBG. My journey then took me through one of Northumberland's finest towns, Warkworth. As you cross the River Coquet in the valley bottom and then drive upwards through the streets of Warkworth, witnessing both impressive historical architecture and the sheer atmosphere, you then reach the castle, located within the loop of the river and presiding over the old, original part of town. The first documented records for Warkworth Castle are in 1157 so there is much to explore and enjoy including mediaeval weekends or similar.

And so onwards to Amble. The Sunday Market near the harbour was in full swing, the harbour itself full of Eider, but try as I might I couldn't find a favoured fish and chip shop!!  And then, slightly further into town, I discovered Harbour Fish and Chips, whose product now figure within the top three ever sampled!!!  Tremendous.  I even found the carpark further down the coast where, after savouring my late lunch, I could then walk over the coastal dunes and view Coquet Island offshore.

Unfortunately a party of people was ashore but few birds were around anyway.  Later the area will be a hive of activity as auks and terns ply incessantly to and fro their feeding areas, including small numbes of the rare Roseate Tern.  Landing on the island is not allowed during the breeding season but trips around the island can be arranged from Amble.  The sea today was somewhat tranquil in marked contrast to the "voyage" Matthew and I had a couple of years ago  ( best to have your fish and chips on your return! ). A nice consolation was a party of four Sanderling on the beach nearby.

Continuing on I then visited Hauxley Reserve but found it both busy and on the point of closing for a year for renovation, the building of a new centre following the previous one being gutted by fire and the incorporation of upgraded trails. The intended opening is in April 2016.

With the day moving on I took the decision to seek out the reported large flock of Pink-footed Geese near Widdrington that contained a Ross's Goose. The reported number had been 3000 but I could only find around 800 which sadly didn't include the vagrant!  Still, it was enjoyable going through them........ And that was it with only a journey left to Washington Services to overnight!

Saturday, March 7, 2015

Rambles around the Neuk of Fife. 6.3.2015.

Every time ( at least it seems the case ) I come to this area it's cold, showery and there's a stiff SW wind blowing that does little as far as wave conditions are concerned out in the Firth of Forth. And so it was today!  However I stationed myself along the shore at Lower Largo and patiently began to work my way through the birds that were dotted around offshore.  Small parties of scoter were everywhere, although the absolute total wouldn't have been great. Both Common and Velvet Scoters were seen easily, both on the sea and in flight.  At one point a flock of Pink-footed Geese flew inland up through the centre of the estuary and a small party of distant passerines looking like Skylark similarly made there way westwards with some difficulty at wave height. Red-breasted Mergansers, Eiders, Long-tailed Duck, Goldeneye,  all eventually revealed themselves to scrutiny but little else of interest.  A single Gannet moved out of the estuary at distance and proved to be the only one seen.  After an appreciable period I decided to move on, but not before I'd spent a little time in central Lower Largo itself.

This is the rather magnificent and well preserved statue of Robinson Crusoe looking out over the Forth from the village. It's part of the property where Alexander Selkirk lived formerly, whose exploits included being a castaway on an island in the Pacific for four years, an area now within the jurisdiction of Chile. This is said to have been the main inspiration for Daniel Defoe's novel , "Robinson Crusoe",  in 1719.  Crusoe was the central, fictional character, that of being  a castaway for 28 years , following a shipwreck,  until rescued ( "delivered" ) by pirates. The fictional island in the book was in the mouth of the Orinoco River, but that on which Selkirk survived has now, in 1966, been called Robinson Crusoe Island.  The story, as we all know, has been the subject of sequels, TV programmes, stage and film productions and is still as popular as ever.

After exploring a couple of tracts of woodland, and actually seeing very little other than a Red Squirrel, I went to Kilconquhar Loch.  This necessitates entrance to a church graveyard and then into a very nice "quiet garden area " which has a seat at the water's edge overlooking a large part of the loch. It's lovely and tranquil and, at present, is surrounded by a nice display of spring flowers. Sadly the weather didn't really support much more than a short stay, but there wasn't a great deal around anyway. Tufted Duck, Red-breasted Mergansers, Mallard, Goldeneye was the main interest together with a couple of Lesser Black-backed Gulls.

And then off the Ruddons Point. The advancing tide, wind backed was coming in apace, and soon filled the previously "empty " bay. The wind was strong and little could be seen on the open sea with ease. Birds were about, but barely in view for any period of time. I systematically went through the Eiders at the edge of the Bay, or further in towards the shore, and, eventually found what I had come for, the female King Eider. I spent a long time doing this in the hope that the bird might come close , but to no avail. I got half reasonable views but nothing like those Matthew and I had when we visited a couple of years ago. Nevertheless a number of the necessary pertinent points were gained on the bird in addition to much more aspects on its jizz.. It's dumpier generally, and compared to Eider its tail is very rarely in evidence. The bill and head shape are distinctive, as is the the bill and head colouration. The ground colour and patterning are also distinctive but were hard fought for. After some prolonged , but sometimes frustrating views, I felt sufficiently convinced I'd seen enough which coincided anyway with the group of eiders it was with moving out into the central bay east of the Point.  Ironically , not a lot of other species were around , although a fly by Peregrine put in an appearance twice and wrought havoc amongst the Mallard and Oystercatcher.

As the weather had deteriorated I went back to Lower Largo in the mistaken belief conditions might be a little less severe. The general numbers of birds was lower and most of them seemed farther offshore and difficult to view. I spent the rest of the afternoon seeing some of what I'd recorded before , but nothing new and so eventually called it a day!!

Commencement of a late winter sojourn. 5.3.2015

Darkness still shrouded the landscape as I set off for the ferry. Gradually the first vestiges of light appeared at which point a lone Woodcock quit its overnight feeding area near Ellister and made its way into the confines of the nearby woodland. Arriving at the ferry terminal in gathering light a Song Thrush belted out its song and provided the evidence we all looked forward to, namely that Spring , however raw , was at least under consideration!

I first of all spent some time at the head of Loch Gilp ( at Lochgilphead would you believe! ) where in recent times Caspian, Mediterranean and Little Gulls had been seen. Such was not to be despite going through the assembled gulls gathered on the shore. A single Bar-tailed Godwit picked its way through their ranks and several Oystercatcher roosted nearby, but of the elusive gulls not a suspicion.

The journey across to Crianlarich can be completed by taking the somewhat lonely route on the single track, lochside road which saw me encounter four other vehicles. Despite numerous stops, birds were in short supply.  The adjacent forestry cast a dank, foreboding atmosphere along the route and little life was in evidence. Certainly the area had had more snow in recent times than experienced on Islay, although little now remained. A few Canada Geese and Grey lag Geese, Mallard and Wigeon were out on the loch and proved to be the main constituents of the observations made.

Hitting the main highway that's where Plan A went somewhat awry. A short stretch of new road, a bypass, threw the Sat Nav into utter confusion. At one point I looked at the screen and saw the depicted vehicle moving stoically through a block of forestry!  I didn't know that happened but it brought a howl of laughter. So I fell back on what I ought to have done anyway and that was follow my own instincts. Following the odd adjustment, more stops for birding, but little of inspiration arising, I finally arrived in Fife. Now I haven't the greatest admiration for Fife's road systems so I reverted to the Sat Nav and eventually arrived at my base, Glenrothes, without further mishap.

In keeping with what I've mentioned before, and given that it's the Full Moon , the latest offering by North American Indians for this period was "Full Worm Moon". This was because the ground was beginning to soften and worms begin to appear. Soften, eh, Islay ground tends to be saturated by this time, but different areas different circumstances I guess. I think if I was attributing a name and description to this period I'd call it the Full Snowdrop Moon given the many drifts of snowdrops present in various woodland areas. On a clear night with the moon shining at full brilliance, a series of  rather nice reflective patches must stand out in such woodlands as the light catches the drifts of flowers.

Hen Harrier Roost Survey.

Well, another winter has gone round without my finding any new Hen Harrier roost sites. In fact, I'm not at all sure whether, until quite recently, harriers have been present at the height of winter in the same numbers as we're used to.  The RSPB has a couple of roosts they monitor , but no large numbers are involved. I now know of no others although there must be the odd bird present in odd corners of Islay and, of course, there are some birds on Jura ( I haven't tackled that situation yet ! ). Speaking with the Warden at RSPB Gruinart recently he agreed that the numbers were somewhat lower than previously and this had been reflected in the breeding season returns too. This is something I have been saying for at least a couple of seasons, although it's hardly a surprising situation given the concerted efforts that have gone into their persecution on the mainland in the last couple of decades. Thankfully no such actions appear to occur on Islay but, of course, many of our birds move off the island in winter and are subject to the targeted depredations in their winter quarters or on passage.

The trouble we have on Islay is that, with the island sustaining reasonable numbers of harriers still, visitors see a few birds and conclude the situation is quite normal and healthy. Far from it , even to the extent of reduced numbers of passage birds in autumn in my opinion. But such messages and conclusions take time to establish and that is why it's so important for this monitoring scheme to continue. Should anyone be interested in contributing then contact Anne Cotton ( BTO Stirling office ) or Chris Rollie, ( RSPB, Dumfries and Galloway) as they are the organizers of the survey in Scotland and England respectively. Full instructions   and count dates ( Oct-March ) will be sent direct to you each season.

In the meantime I shall plot and plan and pore over OS maps, as previously, in anticipation of what next winter might bring, although this was perhaps  never the time to try and find new roosts anyway!

Monday, February 23, 2015

Islay visitors come of age!

What's that about not counting chickens until hatched...........  Anyway, after solving a few "technical tussles" I'm now confident enough to believe that, finally, all computer systems are operational and advise that it's business  as usual!!  Thankfully, that was just in time to allow me to put out this particular entry.

To many , the name of Gordon Yates will be as synonymous with Islay as with his native Lancashire. He and his family have been visiting Islay since the 1970's and it came as no surprise when talking with him and his wife, Pauline, yesterday to learn that this is their 101st holiday visit to Islay  ( which equates to about four years "residence" by my calculations ).

I've known Gordon for a long time, in fact since the 1980's and 1990's  whilst I was running the RSPB's NW England Region. Our reasons for contact then were linked to the Merlin population in the Pennines for which we'd both a passionate interest and involvement.  But he was prominent in another context too. Gordon, who was originally in banking, set all that aside to concentrate on photographing, and then making films, about birds and other wildlife. He consistently  produced a new "annual" presentation many of which were associated with Islay.  Many of the RSPB's Members Groups in NW England Region had annual events at which such new material was presented and much the same happened with other groups across Northern England and Southern Scotland too.

Islay's birds, particularly raptors, have been served well over the years and the island's reputation must have benefited immensely from his efforts, both from the point of view of people first enthused by his wonderful "self delivered" commentaries, which encouraged them to pay a visit for themselves, but also the many children whose horizons were extended via his visits to schools. Several  "Islay causes" have also benefited from the proceeds raised at public events held over the years, including the Islay Natural History Trust.

Throughout this time his wife, Pauline, has provided  the necessary support that has made all this possible. In the early years the responsibilities of a young family were seamlessly integrated into the visits and filming activities.  Compressing everything into a two/three week visit given the vagaries of Islay's weather wasn't always the easiest of tasks either!   Later, when most people might have considered easing up she commenced to train guide dogs for the blind. So, after transporting Gordon to some far flung corner of Islay, sealing him into a hide, it was then time to exercise the dogs , all of which always seemed so well behaved! This has led, over the years, to a whole succession of dogs being trained before being allocated for duty. A very familiar couple on Islay who still enjoy their regular visits at all times of year. Given the number of years over which visits have been made the sheer amount of information and recollection they can provide is mind boggling! Following each welcome visit or encounter I invariably end up with various questions I wish I'd asked but had forgotten to raise!

Setting aside details of wildlife records and images, I believe Islay owes their efforts a great vote of thanks for informing a countless number of people elsewhere about the island's birds and animals  and for providing continuing friendship to a large number of residents who always look forward to visits, me included! Over the years the films must have persuaded many people to pay their own visits to the island, generate their own wildlife experiences and make their own circle of friends in the process. Well done.

Here's recognizing your coming of age and thanks from all concerned to you both.

Saturday, February 7, 2015

Up and running......again!

At various points previously I've commented about the weather up here on Islay, sometimes jokingly. Well, the joke's on me this time as I've just had to endure almost a fortnight of being without any computer facilities due to a rather robust little storm which happened early one morning and "fried my facilities" in the process. Not the breakfast I'd anticipated!

Oh the joys of living in a rural idyllic!!!

All necessary replacements have now arrived and I believe have been installed properly and successfully by this ageing cyberchild.   Watch this space. I've taken the opportunity to integrate both a new computer and printer into the scenario so lots of fun in store.