Tuesday, 26 May 2015

Red-backed Shrike, Fairlop Waters

What better news to receive than a male Red-backed Shrike on your doorstep - well virtually, just a twenty minute drive away at Fairlop Waters. With plans already made for the bank holiday Monday, I'd have to sit on news and wait until the end of the day before I got the chance to see this one.

But after the birds initial discovery in the morning, reports suggested it had quickly moved on with no sign of the bird for several hours. This all changed when Paul Hawkins goes and posts a teasingly good photo of the bird on Twitter, having successfully located the bird again. Fairlop Water is not an area I know particularly well and after a little bit of confusion as to where the birds exact location was, and then a further 30 minute search in that scrubby area, I eventually found the bird sat up on a heavily thorned thicket.

Although extremely mobile, I enjoyed good views of this very smart male bird late into the evening - a cracking way to finish off the long bank holiday weekend.

Male, Fairlop Waters, London


Sunday, 24 May 2015

Hare-brained idea

It's 5am and I'm back at Rainham Marsh - not sure why I needed to be there quite that early, the night before it seemed like a good idea. The sound of a Cuckoo calling and Grasshopper Warbler reeling are abruptly interrupted by the exploding song of a Cetti's Warbler as I follow the footpath at the west end of the marsh.

My many previous attempts at photographing Cetti's Warbler have all typically ended in failure, with a trash bin full of deleted photographs of birds partially obscured by dense cover. So for once, it was good to get a clean shot of a bird briefly out in the open - and that's about as good as the morning got. Aveley Bay was waderless, there were a few Common Terns milling about mid river and scoping the reserve from the sea wall didn't result in much either, apart from what looks like a good breeding season for both Redshank and Lapwing.

Rainham, Marsh, RSPB

Rainham, Marsh, RSPB

There was one other bonus for being out at this time in the morning, and this was having great views of a Brown Hare as it fed along the grassy edge of the roadside verge - I've seen them previously at Rainham but never as close as this.

Rainham, Marsh, RSPB

Wednesday, 20 May 2015

Last Oenanthe this spring

With spring migration virtually over - Wanstead already has that feel of mid-summer about it. I've turned my attention to a couple of other local sites I like to keep my eye on.

Firstly Rainham Marsh, I'm a big fan of the reserve and it's a great place to catch up with our usual marsh habitat summer migrants; Hobby, Cuckoo, Reed, Sedge and Grasshopper Warbler, but I always feel it should attract a bit more, and on many occasions I've left the reserve feeling a bit disappointed. Having spoken with Howard Vaughan it's also been a poor spring for passage waders, the water levels have looked good but the birds just haven't arrived, and the ones that have, didn't stay very long - lets hope the reserve can have a change in fortunes this autumn.

The other place is KGV reservoir, as a permit holder I enjoy access to this site. This is another place which should be a real magnet for birds, but again I feel it under performs, this differs from Rainham as it suffers from being under watched - on the odd occasion I do visit, I rarely see another soul. There are a few regulars which cover the area but with two expansive areas of water to check, along with scrubby pockets of habitat which run alongside the river also worth a look, it's no surprise that stuff gets missed - I recently circumnavigated just the south basin and timed my walk at around 90 minutes, which goes to show the size of the area.

Being at the peak of Red-necked Phalarope passage I was checking and hoping one had dropped in at the reservoir - sadly not this time, and the only bird of note was a female Northern Wheatear - I thought I'd seen the last of these locally this spring, so I had no complaints about seeing just one more.

Female, KGV Reservoir, London

Sunday, 17 May 2015

Super Dad

The blogpost title is not a reference to myself but a very special male Great Tit.

It was great to discover that a pair of Great Tits were using one of our garden nest boxes, this was a garden first and the whole family were keen to see how they progressed. The proximity of the nest box on the back of the house, also meant restricted games of football and cricket in the garden, but as I explained to my two children, this would only be for a couple of weeks - but to them I bet it felt like a lifetime.

Things were progressing well, the eggs hatched and we could hear the calls of the noisy young inside the box. But shortly after, I noticed the female bird had sadly disappeared, most likely predated by a local Sparrowhawk or by one of the many cats which frequent the neighbourhood. With up to eight hungry mouths to feed, the inevitable happened and those noisy calls became a lot quieter as the days past and dad struggled to feed the whole brood on his own. But this Great Tit never gave up and persevered, continuing to feed the remaining birds, probably just three of four of the more advanced or strongest birds. He tirelessly went back and forth, spiders seemed to be a favourite food source and I would often seen him covered in cobwebs. I did my best to aid him by keeping the sunflower hearts topped up in the bird feeder, just to make sure he had a ready available high-energy food source nearby.

Adult, Male, Nesting

Adult, Male, Nesting

Adult, Male, Nesting

Knowing the young were due to fledge any day soon I kept an eye on the nest box and each morning I would listen out for their calls through the back window, but this morning when I checked I could see three young Great Tits bouncing around on the lawn - I could also see a bloody cat in the garden! Banging on the window to scare off the cat, I could see it eyeing up one of the young birds, I quickly unlocked the back door and dashed out there, only to find the cat had scarpered and there was only two juveniles left - my heart sunk, the hard work of this brave single parent was almost wiped out in a flash.

Juvenile, Fledged

Juvenile, Fledged

I spent the next hour sat in the garden watching and protecting - from a distance, the remaining two birds, as dad continued to feed them both. Thankfully no cats returned, although I had to scare off an inquisitive Magpie.

Juvenile, Fledged

Juvenile, Fledged

Juvenile, Fledged

Juvenile, Fledged

Juvenile, Fledged

The photo below was the last one I took before the pair scrambled up the fence and took a brief shaky flight into my neighbours garden, I could still hear them calling but they were now out of sight. There is a large Elm tree just a couple of doors down and the birds seemed to be heading for the safety of that.

I'd like to think that these two birds would have survived to adulthood and will fledge young of their own one day, but given what perils are out there, their chances are only slim. I also hope super dad can find another partner soon as it's still early enough in the season for another brood - that's if he can find the energy.

Juvenile, Fledged



Monday, 4 May 2015

Hudwit games

A couple of little games coming up...

Game 1 - Can you guess what all these people are looking at?

  • A. The Royal baby
  • B. Canal Boats
  • C. An American shorebird

Meare Heath, Somerse

If you answered C - An American shorebird, then you are correct - well done.


Game 2 - Can you spot the American shorebird in the photo below?

Meare Heath, Somerset

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Here's the answer.

Meare Heath, Somerset

Did you guess right, if so - well done. No prizes unfortunately but how much fun was that? Almost as much fun as twitching this American shorebird.

To be fair, as twitches go it was all perfectly executed. Pick up was arranged for 7.30am once we'd received confirmation that the Hudsonian Godwit was back at Meare Heath, then a little over 3 hours in the car - with thankfully no hold ups for traffic, our assembled team (Bradders, Jono, Monkey, Crofty and yours truly) were on site and watching the bird - all be it a sleeping bird, apart from a bit of preening and a couple of wings flaps, exposing those beautifully dark underwings. Excitement levels were briefly raised when the bird decided to go on a walkabout from the back of the flock to a prime 2nd row position, but that was about as exciting as it got - not the performance and views I had hoped for but still, good enough scope views were had. We also saw BitternGarganeyHobbyMarsh Harrier and a couple of Great White Egrets in the hour or so we were on site.

A quick lunchtime pit stop in a local inn for a refreshing west country pint and a bite to eat - the choice of the breakfast baguette (sausage, egg and bacon) clearly won that lunch battle, then onto Greylake RSPB for the Green-winged Teal which was on view as soon as we walked into the hide. Hitting the road again and we were back at our original pick up point by 5pm - if twitching was always this straight forward, I could be persuaded to go on a few more.