Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Birdin' in the Docks and the Bay (with apologies to Otis Redding)

I left my home in Whitchurch
Headed for the Cardiff Bay. 'Cos I've had nothing to bird for
And look like nothing's gonna come my way.
So I'm just gonna sit in the docks and the Bay
Watchin' the tide (fail to) roll away
Ooh, I'm sitting in the docks and the Bay wasting time.

Black Redstart was our target bird today, down around Cardiff Bay Barrage/Penarth Head. We dipped. Still, Geth and I had a decent few hours' birding - starting in Hamadryad Park and then walking all the way over to Penarth Head, before walking back and jumping in the car to have a look at the Bay from Prospect Place.

The River Taff at Hamadryad had plenty of Coot, fewer Mute Swans than of late, a sprinkling of Little Grebes and Tufted Duck and 3 Pochard. At Cardiff Bay Wetland Reserve we added 10 Teal, some G C Grebes, Reed Bunting, Water Rail, Gadwall, Kestrel and it was great to hear 2 Cetti's Warblers.

There was nothing much on the Barrage itself but things picked up at Prospect Place where we picked up 9 Lesser Redpoll and, pick of the bunch, a Slavonian Grebe - most probably the one that's been hanging around Atlantic Wharf recently. It spent most of its time asleep, but it finally woke up and allowed me to take this 'image' of it.

Monday, February 21, 2011

In the Pink

It's half term, the current Mrs Jenkins-Jones and beloved daughter are away for a few days leaving us boys at home - let's get some birding in! Well, that was the plan for Gethin and me but a). I didn't fancy a trip to Chipping Norton, b). I didn't fancy a trip to a landfill site near Rainham, c). there's nowt else about and d). the weather is awful. Luckily, the Pink-footed Geese appeared to be still hanging around Kenfig NNR - so that's where we headed off to yesterday.

No sooner had we arrived in the car park than the Pink-feet flew over our heads down towards the Pool. It's strange that, after witnessing the breathtaking spectacle of thousands of Pink-feet in Norfolk less than a month ago, I was equally as chuffed to see just 14 of these geese here in my adopted home county - such is their scarcity in Glamorgan.

It was nice to bump into Martin Bell in the car park. He'd just returned from a birding trip to The Gambia with Rob Gaze, Phil Hill, Mike Hogan and Martin Bevan. A cracking week's birding by all accounts. To read their trip report click here.

When we arrived at the Pool the geese were right in the middle of the water. Nevertheless, I still got this 'stonking' photo of some of them . . . .

It was good to see good numbers of the more usual wildfowl on the water: Gadwall, Shoveler, Tufted Duck, Pochard, Goldeneye etc. We had to work hard though to find just one pair of Mallard. Sadly, there were no fly-by Bitterns.

A quick yomp down to Sker Point/Kenfig Sands didn't yield as much as we'd hoped for. Only a lone Purple Sandpiper and 4 Turnstone at the very far end of Sker Point, and around a dozen Curlew and some Oycs on the beach. Newton Beach, our next stop, only added one new wader - a Grey Plover. The Ogmore Estuary was similarly quiet and we dipped again on the local Little Owls. Roll on the Spring.

Still, it's not all bad. Geth and I are having a night in tonight with some take-away pizzas, a beer or two for me, full control of the TV remote control and some birding DVDs we received for Christmas. Don't you love it when 'the cat's away'?

Friday, February 11, 2011

R.I.P. the Dipmobile

It is with great sadness that we have to announce the break up of a wonderful relationship here in Birders in Boxers - Wayne's 'Dipmobile' is no longer with us. Gone into the hands of a non-birder who will never ever rev it up at the crack of dawn to travel hundreds of miles for a spectacular dip.

The one and only - the original 'Dipmobile'

A faithful friend, Wayne's trusty steed never let us down. (It's a shame the same can't be said for the birds we chased in it). Many a happy hour was spent in its comfy seats on our way to twitch the latest mega. Many more unhappy hours were spent in it on our way home from dipping on the latest mega.

R.I.P. Dipmobile - we'll miss you. But hang on . . . what's this?

Yes, Wayne has upgraded to an MPV Ford Galaxy. A 7 seater motor no less, and two of the seats can be folded down to make room for our 'scopes, tripods, flasks and sarnies - not forgetting Jeff's cameras and long lenses. More legroom for the boys on those long journeys. We'll probably continue dipping, but at least now we can dip in comfort.

"The Dipmobile is Dead - Long Live the Dipmobile!"

Wednesday, February 09, 2011

Norfolk 2011 - Birding, Boozing and Bloody Cold!

Somehow managing to squeeze all our luggage, 'scopes, tripods and Tunnock's caramel wafers into the boot of the car, Kev (driver), Wayne (navigator), Geri (entertainment) and I (erm, making up the numbers) left Cardiff for our annual Norfolk jolly on Saturday, Jan 29th.

'Plan A' was to call in first at Buckenham Marshes/Cantley to bag the Lesser White-fronted Goose. Unfortunately, the goose must have got wind of our plans and promptly naffed off a couple of days before we arrived. Never mind, this area is always a great place to start a trip to Norfolk.

The wilderness of Buckenham Marshes

We called in at Strumpshaw Fen on the way and picked up Marsh Tit and Brambling on the reserve centre feeders. At Buckenham there were shedloads of Eurasian Wigeon on the marshes and, on the River Yare, a Red-necked Grebe. We walked along the river, each of us getting taller with each step as the clay stuck to our boots, and soon enough we were watching around 60 Taiga Bean Geese. My best ever views of them - even though it took me five minutes longer than everybody else to get them in my 'scope.

Bean and Greylag Geese

By the time we got back to the car Geri, Wayne and I were covered in clay. Kev on the other hand was spotless. That's what 30 years in the Royal Navy teaches you.

No time to hang around. Our next stop was the Horsey area to go curb-crawling for some leggy beauties - Cranes. Three pairs of sharp eyes, and mine, were not enough to find any 'on the deck', but we did pick up our first Hen Harrier of the trip which was flying alongside a Marsh Harrier; hundreds of Golden Plover and the first of many Barn Owls. On to Stubb Mill, we were greeted by other birders who were waiting for the Cranes to come in to roost. One birder 'greeted' us by telling us to get out of his way. Seeing as we were not in his way, the trip almost began with Kevin putting him 'on the deck'. As tempers cooled we enjoyed watching a kamikaze Peregrine causing panic as it nose-dived a 'flock' of c.35 Marsh Harriers; a male Merlin and finally, 3 Common Cranes.

Within an hour we arrived at our digs for the trip - The Kings Arms at Blakeney - where we were given a warm welcome (and a free round of drinks) by landlord, and Welshman in exile, Nick Davies. Within no time we were tucking into some excellent food and beer in the company of fellow Glamorgan birders Alan Rosney, Mike Wheeler and Gareth Jenkins who were staying nearby.

Day 2 began with a trip to the East Bank at Cley. The long-staying American Wigeon was found without too much trouble before we added Spoonbill, Ruff, Knot, Redshank, Grey Plover, Dunlin, Curlew, Black and Bar-tailed Godwit on Arnold's Marsh. Moving on to the beach 3 Shorelark were picking their way along the shingle. We didn't expect to see much during a brief sea-watch because, for once, there wasn't a great deal of wind. But, nonetheless we did manage to find a few Red-throated Divers and Slavonian Grebes.

Seawatching at Cley - can you ID Glamorgan birders from behind?

Despite the calm, sunny, conditions we dipped on Bearded Tits in the reeds and headed off for Weybourne where we were soon looking at some Lapland Buntings. Once we managed to get Geri back in the car (is there anywhere you can take him where he doesn't bump into somebody he knows?), we tanked east up the A149 to Holme. Within no time at all we'd found our target bird - Long-tailed Duck - and had also added Snow Bunting and Sanderling to our trip list. Everything was going smoothly . . . too smoothly. It was about time something didn't go to plan.

And so it did, when we assembled with a gang of other birders at Thornham to wait for the Northern Harrier. We waited and waited as dusk began to fall and the temperature dropped like a stone. Finding a small covey of Grey Partridges didn't do much to lift our spirits - especially since we'd been well and truly gripped off by Alan, Mike and Gareth in the pub the night before, all of whom had cracking views of the harrier during the day. And then finally, it appeared. Or did it? A ringtail harrier was flying a couple of miles west of us in the direction of Titchwell. Completely untickable. Should we make a dash over to Titchwell? Surely we'd have better views of it over there? We hummed and haahed and dithered, and when we finally got to Titchwell we were informed that the Harrier had flown over the path five minutes before we arrived. *@!&#{*!. Watching Marsh Harriers and 3 Bitterns coming into roost was not much consolation. Neither was watching half a dozen Woodcock leaving for their night's feeding either.

Day 3 saw us heading west again. A quick stop at Burnham Overy and our luck was back in when we immediately got on to 2 Rough-legged Buzzards who performed beautifully.

RLB - Jeff Slocombe eat your heart out!

Calling in briefly at Choseley it was great to see some Corn Buntings and Yellowhammers still clinging on in the area and, on our drive back to the main road, a lone Waxwing sat up on the top of a tree. Further west we arrived at Flitcham Abbey Farm where it was nice to see the return of some good numbers of Tree Sparrow. From the hide the local Little Owl obliged us as usual. But, despite another patient bout of curb-crawling around Wolferton Triangle the local Golden Pheasants were less obliging.

Next stop Titchwell and its brand new Star Ship Enterprise (Parrinder) Hide - "It's a hide Jim, but not as we know it!"

The new Parrinder Hide at Titchwell

Hardly your traditional hide but it offered welcome shelter from the cold as we watched Spotted Redshank, Avocet (a lone bird and our only one of the trip), Twite and Skylark amongst other commoner wildfowl and waders. There was a huge flock of gulls on the freshwater scrape - and amongst them were a couple of Med Gulls. Oh, and I almost forgot to mention - on our way out to the hide Wayne found the Northern Harrier again! It performed beautifully, really showing off its orangey underparts in the sunshine and, even to my untrained eye, having a subtley different jizz to a Hen Harrier.

We left the warmth of the hide for another quick seawatch. There were hundreds of Common Scoter offshore but we couldn't turn any of them into a Velvet. We did however find a few more R-t Divers, some Eider and a couple of R-B Mergansers.

Next on the agenda - a dodgy (?) goose at Burnham Deepdale. But, before we got to that one we found another. Wayne (he deserves a medal - he was on fire on this trip), picked out a lone Barnacle Goose in a field amongst hundreds of Pink-footed Geese - while travelling at 60mph in the car! On arrival at Burnham Deepdale Wayne (again!) found our target bird about a mile away amongst thousands of Pink-feet - a Ross's Goose. But, before we could get our 'scopes on to it the whole flock - c.10,000 birds took off. *@#!. But no, hang on, they were heading our way! Before long we didn't need our 'scopes as the Ross's Goose circled directly above us. The whole flock landed in a field nearby before shortly being spooked and taking off in one huge mass. The sound they made was breathtaking - like a large train approaching. Wayne, captured some of it on his phone.

Spot the Ross's Goose. (Who needs a long lens?!)

To cap a perfect day, as daylight almost completely disappeared, we just about managed to make out two Smew on Wells Boating Lake in the gloom.

A trip to celebrate - and celebrate we did - until 3am accompanied by our host Nick and a certain amount of Nelson's Revenge, Port and Cherry Brandies!

And that was it - Norfolk 2011. On our way home we called in at Welney where we got Whooper Swan, another Long-tailed Duck and another duck whose name can't be mentioned cos it's got a price on its head. The Trip List of 136 was our highest ever winter trip list total in Norfolk - and we never managed to get to Holkham Hall to look for woodland birds. We'll do it all over again next year.