Saturday, March 31, 2007

The Birdin' Ryder Cup : U.S.A 3 - Europe 1,Sun 25.March 2007

With Dan on family duties and Tim deciding to stay at home following his bird/rail travels during the midweek myself and Wayne decided to go twitching in Somerset and Devon, a late phone call to Geri made up a three and we set off from Cardiff at 08.00 with Wayne at the helm.
Our first port of call was to be Knighton in Somerset where an obliging Hoopoe had spent most of the previous week,this would be a U.K "tick" for me having disappointingly dipped on one at Tredegar Park,Newport about 5 years ago and being away on holiday when the Cefn Cribbwr bird turned up in 2005.
We duly arrived at about 09.10 thanks to Birdguides excellent directions and were greeted by about another 15 birders all looking for what was appearing to be pretty elusive bird despite it being seen regularly every day previously.
It had been seen briefly about 1/2 mile from it's favourite haunt at the rear of the farm buildings and people set off in various directions in search,we walked to the brow of the track,the highest point,and scanned the surrounding fields but to no avail.
After about 1 1/4 hours we were starting to get a little despondent(as you do when on a tight schedule) as we really thought the bird would be very easy to find when I decided to relieve my aching bladder behind the hay barns and possibly add a Hoopoe to my p**s list.
Feeling much relieved I scanned the fields at the rear of the barns and through the bins spied what I first thought may be a Little Owl on top of a fence post about 250m away,hurridly putting up the scope the Little Owl magicly turned into the Hoopoe.
A quick phone call soon had the rest of the crowd on the bird and although distant a good view was had by all and we even got a flight view as the bird was disturbed by a dog walker and it flew to it's regular patch at the rear of the farm.
With a U.K "tick" under my belt and feeling pretty pleased with myself for finding the bird we set off in search of our next target species which was the 2nd W Laughing Gull at Countess Wier in Exeter.
This was to prove much easier as the bird was on a flood at the side of the roundabout on the main road as you turn left to Dawlish and a few birders were already on the bird.
A convenient lay-by soon saw us parked up quickly and Geri soon picked up the gull which with it's dark grey mantle stood out like a sore thumb.
It really looked dark compared with the accompanying Black Headed and Common Gulls.
With another bird in the bag and being so near to the turn off from the main road we headed along the back lanes to the fields above Exminster village in search of Cirl Bunting and Woodlark.
A walk across the stubble field soon had Geri picking out a male Cirl Bunting in the hedgerow which was quickly joined by another male and a couple of females,there were also good numbers of House Sparrows,Chaffinches,Linnets and Reed Buntings.
We walked back to the car across the field searching for Woodlark as we went but were unlucky on this occasion and notched up our first "dip" of the day.
Next stop was Exminster marshes for a Green Winged Teal which we were particularly anxious to get as this was a "lifer" for Wayne and only a 3rd for myself after previous birds at Starcross on the Exe and at Penclacwydd.
We scanned every visible pool from the canal towpath but each Teal we picked out had the horizontal bar and not the vertical bar we were looking for.
Wayne suggested we go back to the car and return along the track to view a pool closer to the track that was not very visible from the canal,this we did and as soon as we got out of the car Geri picked out the bird,we had driven past it and spent the best part of 3/4 hr seaching the marsh in vain !!
It was a nightmare to try and digi-scope as it was into the sun and the bird kept moving behind small reedy tussocks whilst continuosly feeding so apologies for the crap photo.
With another target bird in the bag we headed for Otterton nr Budleigh Salterton where a Cattle Egret had been hanging out for several months.
We found the location and despite a thorough search of the fields we chalked up our second "dip"of the day.
We did however enjoy a pleasant walk along the river bank adjacent the fields where the bird had been frequently seen and Wayne picked up on a Mink on the riverbank which hadn't noticed us,I quickly got my scope up but just as I took a photo the bl**dy animal turned it's head !!
It was by now early evening and so we set off to our last location which was to be a detour to Cheddar Reservoir on our way home.
Lesser Scaup with a supporting cast of Greater Scaup and Great Northern Diver had been reported from there and not long after arriving in the gathering gloom we were soon on the Lesser Scaup which was associating with a small group of Tufted Ducks.
The GN Diver was soon picked out but the Scaup were proving far more elusive.
A large gull roost was assembling and in the gathering gloom Geri picked out a 1st W Iceland Gull which despite the darkness stood out like a beacon because of it's white plumage.
We kept scanning as gulls were coming in thick and fast and about 20 mins later yours truly picked out a 1st W Glaucous Gull which was quickly confirmed by our illustrious County Recorder.
The light was now failing fast and since arriving digi-scoping was very difficult,all the target species were very distant and with darkness closing in my camera was setting itself to 800 and 1600 ISO so apologies once again for the quality of the pics.
That said the day had turned into one of my best ever,3 "Yanks",1"Med",2 high Arctic and a very localized scarcity,a U.K first for me,a lifer for Wayne and several "year ticks" for Geri to boot,not a bad day for a bit of "fairly local" twitching !!

Thursday, March 29, 2007

Reedling reward

Thanks to a text from Wayne, I was able to pop back to Cardiff Bay 48 hours after my previous visit, in much worse weather than on Tuesday (indeed, I sat in the car for 10 mins whilst a hail shower passed). Soon I was able to wander out to the reedbed, where I joined John Wilson. He informed me that at least 1 of the 4 Bearded Tits reported earlier was still around, and sure enough, within a few minutes, a cracking male was working his way along the base of the reeds. We watched him work his way along, and as usual, he disappeared from time to time into the reeds. At least one more was calling, though not seen. A scan of the Bay revealed many Sand Martins and possibly some distant Swallows. John had seen Little Gulls again, but with another heavy shower beginning, I headed back to the car.

Tuesday, March 27, 2007

Cardiff Bay...and no trains

A glorious Tuesday afternoon and a driving lesson finishing late afternoon in Grangetown gave me the perfect opportunity to pop to the boardwalk overlooking Cardiff Bay. I soon found at least 2, possibly 3 Little Gulls. Unfortunately, they were quite distant and silhouetted, with the the sun low and hazy. There was at least 1 adult and 1 immature present. Closer were a few Teal, looking very smart. I expect they'll be off very soon....

Monday, March 26, 2007

Trains and a Hoopoe

On my way to the West Somerset Railway on 24th March, I called into the hamlet of Knighton to see a Hoopoe that had been present for a few days. It was difficult to see in long grass behind some farm buildings. Photos were awkward because of a high hedge..... Coed-y-Bedw Cliff was there, also on his way to the Railway, so we were both chuffed!

Monday, March 19, 2007

Trains and an owl

Saturday 10th was the Severn Valley Railway gala, and Gill and her mother enjoyed this more than I expected! Red Legged Partridges were the birding highlight.
Saturday 17th saw me drive to Llangollen for another railway do.
The line runs close to the River Dee, and I was not particularly surprised to find 2 pairs of Dippers, Kingfisher and Grey Wagtails. I travelled to the Midlands in the evening, and on Sunday I took my mother to see a Tawny Owl in a nearby wood. This picture was digibinned, as I didn't take the scope. It had been reported several times on a thread in Bird Forum. Marsh Tits were also present.

Sunday, March 18, 2007

Choughin' hard work!!

With everybody seemingly lying low and recovering from our season saving glorious win over the English I gave myself two choices,a visit on my own to WWT Penclacwydd where I would be nice and snug in the hide or give Lily my Westie a good walk and try and catch up with the Choughs at Ogmore-By-Sea in gale force conditions.

Not having seen the Choughs this year yet and with a year tick in mind (I'm not listing though!) I arrived at Ogmore in hurricane like conditions and sat in the car for the first 10 minutes whilst a heavy squall cleared through.

Setting off from the car park myself and Lily walked half way to Southerndown stopping to chat with some ramblers on the way one of which was enthralled by my Swarowski ELs wishing that he'd bought a pair instead of the Leicas he had invested in!! (takes all sorts)

The weather was horrendous and I was just thinking to myself that Penclac may have been the better option when 3 Choughs flew past in a westerly direction landing about 150m away,we made an about turn in hot pursuit.

They were extremely flighty not settling for long and any thoughts of getting some good photos were rapidly disappearing.

It seemed that as soon as I got close enough to attempt a photo they would take flight again and fly back past me to where we had just walked from,back and fore we went for some 10 minutes and cutting my losses I managed a couple of record shots from about 150m away,in the conditions it was all I could do to stand up let alone take photos!!

Having got a couple of snaps we beat a hasty reteat to the sanctuary of the jeep and headed for Portobello on the way home.

Arriving I spyed a couple of Little Egrets on the far bank of the river and taking some shelter from the wall of the house managed a couple of record shots.

There was little of interest about other than the usual gulls,a couple of Redshanks,a group of about 15 Curlew and a rather odd looking goose in company with a pair of Canadas,it looked like some sort of hybrid of feral Bar Headed Goose and I took a couple of record pics in the hope that someone can shed some light on it's parentage.

There was no respite from the wind and after a brief and fruitless visit to the Watermill (didn't even get out of the car!) we headed for home,maybe a visit to Penclac would have ensured more birds but at least I got a year tick and the dog got a good walk.

Next time I try to photograph Choughs I'll ensure I pick a much calmer day!!.......

Monday, March 12, 2007

A Day Trip to Cornwall

With a few lifers on offer, Kevin, Tim and I made an early start and managed a smooth journey south, which saw us watching target number 1, the white-billed diver, before 9:00am. It was easy to find, loafing around just a few metres in front of its adoring audience. This was a huge bird. It had a huge neck, powerful bill, and big fat body. This should come as no surprise given the number of crabs it ate while we watched it. A lifer for all three of us.

As we arrived we bumped into Martin and Mike who’d endured a frustrating evening and early morning staking out the nearby gyrfalcon. An unruly crowd had no doubt put the mockers on anyone seeing the bird that morning. We decided to team up and spent the rest of the day together.

We moved on to get the long-staying spotted sandpiper just up the road. Another lifer for Kevin! Sure enough this bird too, was performing well for the crowds. It was only a few hundred yards from where I saw it last October. A Mediterranean gull was also added the list but there was no sign of the recent Franklin’s gull.

Next stop was Penzance with the outside chance of another Pacific diver. Very windy conditions made seawatching difficult, but we did tick a number of great northern divers and a few purple sandpipers on the rocks at Jubilee Pool. We moved on to Newlyn to check the harbour. Zero gulls were present and no divers either.

We decided to move on and attempt some more birds in the county. Next stop was Stithian’s Reservoir. Again we battled against the wind before Hawkeye Bevan picked out the summer-plumaged red-necked grebe. A fantastic bird, and my first in this plumage.

Newquay was next stop for the dusky warbler, residing in a pleasant estate along the estuary. More Glamorgan birders were present in the form of Cliff, the Coed-y-Bedw Man. The bird hadn’t been seen for four hours, and the wind was surely making it keep low. We made a rather half-hearted attempt at finding it, but with the time drawing on we decided to move on and attempt another lifer for me, American wigeon.

Dinham Flats is a tricky place to find. We eventually found a place to park, and follow a footpath down to the river. We were met however, with low tide and barely a bird in site. What we could see was miles away, and there certainly weren’t any wigeons around. We gave up, but did hear the first chiffchaff of the year.

With our thoughts turning to home, we decided to head back north. A knackered Mike and Martin headed straight back, but Kevin, Tim and I made a brief stop at Exminster. No cirl buntings were around, but we did manage to flush a couple of wood larks.

We missed a few, but we saw some great birds. Another great day’s birding!

Sunday, March 11, 2007

Return for the Great Grey Shrike

Although disappointed that I couldn't make the Cornwall twitch for the Gyr Falcon and White Billed Diver because of Teresa's recent spell in hospital I was pleased to get out locally for a morning and myself and Colin Gittins headed for Perthcelyn to try and refind the Great Grey Shrike.
We were a little apprehensive as it had been refound recently by Glyn Roberts but in a different location to where it had been seen previously although apparently not a great distance away.
We need not have worried as within 2-3 minutes of arriving we both picked up the bird perched at the top of a pine directly below the quarry area it has frequented.

It proceded to perform beautifully hunting and eating bees and flitted from tree top to tree top without coming particularly close.

I'd been dying to try out my new Fuji Finepix F30 digi-camera with my scope that I'd bought the previous weekend and so both myself and Colin reeled off shot after shot in the hope of picking up a couple of "half-tidy" pics.

Digi-scoping wasn't easy as the bird never came really close so a high magnification was always necessary and what with a keen breeze things were a little tricky.

We kept firing away until the shrike decided to have a go at a Siskin that flew directly over quite close to it and it settled once again on a tree but this time quite some distance away.

We decided we had seen enough and with Siskin,Redpoll,Raven and Kestrel in the bag and time on our hands we headed for Cardiff Bay to pick up the adult winter Little Gull and hopefully a Black Redstart and possibly a newly arrived Wheatear.

A scan of the "lake" soon picked out the adult winter Little Gull and we also picked out a 1st winter and a pair of Goosanders in the distance.

A walk along the barrage failed to turn up anything more than Rock Pipits and Pied Wagtails but we headed for home quite pleased with our morning's birding.

It's not that often that you get your best ever views of a hunting Great Grey Shrike !!

Friday, March 09, 2007

Slimbridge Sprint

A free afternoon saw me head for the WWT headquarters again. Mild and sunny, but with a cool breeze....
From the Holden Tower, I immediately picked out a Peregrine feeding way out on the Dumbles. Closer in was one of my target birds, a very pale Glaucous Gull that has been in the area for a while.
All the White Fronted Geese had left overnight, but several Bewick Swans lingered.
On a small island on the pool in front of the Tower, the unseasonable Temminck's Stint was easy to find, as it was the only wader amongst Wigeon ! Only my 3rd one, and the first for about 7 years.
From the John (?) Kirk hide, the female Ring Necked Duck showed well, I'd only seen males before.
A brief, but productive visit, and worth getting snarled up on the M4 around Newport in the rush hour on my way home!