Thursday, 5 March 2020

Birthday at LWC Barnes - 1st February 2020

  Whenever I'd celebrated my birthday in the past, though I hadn't really done much for a few years, I'd always turned to a group of school friends to go to the cinema or bowling etc. Now, having found a really good group of people from the wildlife community, outside of school, I thought meeting up at a London site may be a nice way to spend my first day as a 17yo. So on the 1st February, I met James McCulloch and Sian Mercer (who was so dedicated that she'd come down from Shropshire for the day!) at Clapham Junction station, from where we headed over to WWT Barnes to meet Kabir Kaul, Sam Levy and Megan McCleverty. 

    After getting Sam and James tickets, we waited as a group in the observatory of the wetland centre for Megan to arrive. Once she had, we started our slow stroll along the East Route; the first notable bird seen was a Peregrine distantly circling around Charing Cross Hospital, before we moved on towards the WWF Hide. There was no sign of a Bittern, but there were plenty of ducks such as Gadwall and Teal out on the main lake, as well as around 200 gulls. Our first look through these produced an adult Yellow-legged Gull; the group then took flight, returning a few minutes later with a few dozen more gulls. At this point, we got a massive piece of luck. A birder further down in the hide watched an adult Iceland Gull, a bird that had been spending the last few weeks in the area, land on the main gull island about 50 metres away on the main luck. He kindly pointed it out to us, and for the following 10 to 15 minutes we got some pretty good views of the bird out in the open. I managed to get a video of it as it swam about in the flock. Eventually, after settling down on the edge of the island, the gulls once again took flight. There are some pictures of the Iceland below with some useful ID of this stunning 'white-winger.' It was more or less the dream start, with it being a new bird for all of us.


3rd winter Herring Gull


an odd female Wigeon

   We then carried on to the Peacock Tower, where we were stopped multiple times by Cetti's Warblers and multiple ducks. From the Tower itself, we got about looking for Water Pipits, other waders and a Bittern. After failing with all of these for a while, we got lucky with a distant flyby from a Water Pipit at the back of the grazing marsh, whilst a second bird decided to head over to the main lake. Admittedly, the views were woeful and it was a tad disappointing that these were Sian's first 'Wapit' views, but it was still a very nice bird to see. Our main mission of finding a Jack Snipe, a bird that James still has somehow not seen (although I haven't seen one for several years either,) was not successful, although we did come across around 5 Snipe during our scanning. With a backing soundtrack of calling Eurasian Teal and whistling Wigeon (which have the best wintry bird call in my opinion,) it was time well spent in the hide. Just as we were about to leave, a call from the Wildside Hide had us all watch the adult Iceland Gull again as it left the Wildside Hide island and flew over the houses towards the Thames. Urban birding at its best...


Spot the white winger


Birthday lifer! 


ad Iceland Gull


Nicely shows why it's called a 'white-winger.' Quite a big bird, all white wings, pink legs, fairly long wings (primary projection passes tail as shown in other pics,) etc.


ad Iceland Gull wings


little flight


Iceland Gull



Iceland Gull
Iceland Gull



Iceland Gull


Iceland Gull


Picture
Sam's awesome Iceland Gull image - I'd have been thrilled with this...

   Our walk back to the cafe for lunch was not without further stops at the Wader Scrape Hide (from where we saw nothing except tears of laughter as I opened some of my presents...) and the WWF Hide, where James happily took a break from the birding to marvel the brownies Megan had brought as a snack. Less proudly, I think it may have been the first time I'd been shushed whilst birding since I was 8! Our lunch was as fun as I expected it to be, and after plenty of hilarious moments we decided to move on to the other side of the reserve. With such strong winds, there was no chance that a Bittern would make an appearance, although 7 Mandarin Ducks and plenty of other ducks such as Gadwall showed nicely. We carried on to the Wildside Hide with time pushing us on, where a female Goldeneye was showing distantly on the Reservoir Lagoon (near the Thames.) In between constant dives, it's intense golden eye (funnily enough) really did stand out. Of course at this point, being me, I realised I'd left my bins (!!!) at the Headley Hide in the excitement of the day, leaving me to be ridiculed (deservedly...)


f Goldeneye coot-watching


Spot the Snipe - a nice pic by James using my camera


Common Gull


Tufted Duck

   Before we headed back to retrieve my bins, we got treated with some close views of a pair of Pintail that swam out in front of us, as well as a showy female Green Woodpecker (all black moustache-stripe show it's a female rather than a male which would have red) feeding on the ground. A final group of around 15 Snipe out hidden in the reeds, avoiding the blustery conditions, saw us out as we headed back towards the Wildside Hide. Once Sian had refound my bins, we made a dash for the Dulverton Hide in the hope that a Bittern may be found, without success. At this point, after a cheeky (terrible) group selfie by Sam, Megan sadly had to leave. However we carried on back to the Peacock Tower for around half an hour in the hope we may get lucky with something else. Other than the Wigeon and a few Stock Doves, there was very little on show.


f Green Woodpecker


f Green Woodpecker


f Green Woodie


m Pintail


pair Pintail


pair Pintail

    By 16:00, we had to leave as Sian had a train to catch to get back to Shropshire. It was without doubt the best birthday I'd ever had; in a time where I've been struggling at school or with my own hobbies, such as my stubborn ankle injury, I couldn't have asked for a better day to step back from work and enjoy birding with some of the best friends I've got. For me, birdwatching has become less about seeing/ticking a bird, but more about the social element as well. Thanks so much to all of them for coming and making the day as great as it was, and I look forward to heading out again soon when spring arrives properly :)


Birding towards late afternoon


Birthday Birding with these 5 legends!


Grazing Marsh - very high water levels


The best birthday party yet :)
Please have a look at and follow everyone on Twitter here.

 (@sianmercer): https://twitter.com/sianmercer?s=09
(@FinchleyBirder): https://twitter.com/FinchleyBirder?s=09
(@stonechat_42): https://twitter.com/stonechat_42?s=09
(@Kaulofthewilduk): https://twitter.com/Kaulofthewilduk?s=09
(@My_Wild_Life): https://twitter.com/My_Wild_Life?s=09

Sunday, 23 February 2020

Double birding day in Surrey - 27th October 2019

   With the autumn coming to a close, and most winter migrants already in the country, I managed to convince my dad to take me to Leith Hill for a Surrey Bird Club migration watch. I was surprised and very pleased he was willing to come along, despite it being a 06:30 meet..!

    After arriving armed with flasks of tea and multiple layers, though not nearly enough considering my feet froze, I met Matt Phelps (tower watcher and patch birder at RSPB Pulborough Brooks in Sussex,) Steve Chastell and a handful of other surrey birders in the car park. Our walk in the near dark to the tower was to the backing sound of Siskin and Bullfinch in the woodland, as well as Redwing and a few Fieldfare. Unfortunately, the National Trust shop had been robbed overnight meaning it was a much less relaxed migration watch than we'd hoped...
    Despite this, we'd barely settled at the tower before the first 2 'wheezing' Brambling of the day had flown over (the easiest way to describe a Brambling's call.) It was slow-going at times, with fewer Woodpigeon than hoped for (numbers barely reached the hundreds.) However, 2 Hawfinch spotted by Wes (who I'd been correctly told was one of Surrey's best birders) livened things up, even if I got onto them very late as they headed strongly west. 
A further 3 Brambling flew through over the course of the next 3 hours, accompanying several hundred Chaffinch. A single Skylark also flew NW towards London, while one of my personal highlights was a group of around 10 Lesser Redpoll that flew directly overhead calling. 
Eventually, I called my dad (who had taken refuge in a nearby pub) to come and pick me up. 

Nonetheless, it was a very well spent morning watching various species move across the highest point in the south-east. I think migration is a slightly underappreciated spectacle - to realise how far some birds travel every year, against endless obstacles, weighing not much more than a 50p coin, is really quite unbelievable and to me one of the true wonders of the natural world. If more people, even more birders, took an interest in things such as migration, I think the number of species seen/heard during the autumn would increase significantly...

Image
Leith Hill View
   After getting home at around 11:30, my family and I were feeling restless at home with it being such a crisp, autumnal day. Eventually, with up to 3 Black Redstart being seen little more than a kilometre up the road at Little Woodcote, we walked/cycled up around dusk. It took quite a bit of searching and just as I began to get frustrated, I bumped into Derek Coleman (who'd led a few public walks at Beddington Farmlands in previous years,) where we realised we were looking at the wrong fields. So sure enough, when we walked back up 'Telegraph Track' to a certain house the female Black Redstart flew into view in the fading light. It was definitely the best views I'd managed so far  of the species, and so although it was quite dark I was still very chuffed. Then out the corner of my eye I watched the male momentarily shoot up to the top of a building further down! 
We spent a good 15-20 minutes watching the female zipping around in the field, until it got dark. 4 Meadow Pipit, 8 Linnet, 5 alba Wagtail, 2 Skylark and 2 Goldcrest were also noted during this time, making it a very successful day's birding in Surrey :)

f Black Redstart

m Black Redstart

f Black Redstart

f Black Redstart

Jay

Sunday, 16 February 2020

Kenley Common/Aerodrome - 22nd October 2019

   With my sister spending the day at one of her school-friends' houses, my parents and I decided to enjoy the fresh, late-autumn sunshine with a local walk. We began at Kenley Aerodrome, a site close to Caterham in Surrey. As I quite enjoy a bit of history, especially about war and conflict, I found it fascinating as to how important the site was during both world wars (more about it here.) However, I think sites such as this, where human infrastructure has become unused and abandoned, are some of the best places to find wildlife, as so often nature finds a way of adapting and returning to the environment. 
   Our walk started off nicely with a female Bullfinch by the car, as well as several Pheasant on the airfield. There was a group using the aircraft for a display that morning, and they were joined in the air by 2 Common Buzzard and a Red Kite, all of which were very vocal and actively hunting. There's something about raptors that regardless of the number of times you see them, they are always so cool to watch with their aerial manoeuvres using the wind to their advantage. My personal highlight however was a group of 32+ Meadow Pipit we came across at the border between the Common and Aerodrome. It was the closest I'd seen them before and watching them on the deck wasn't something you get to do everyday...

Meadow Pipits

Meadow Pipit

Meadow Pipit

Meadow Pipit

Meadow Pipit

Meadow Pipit

Mipit portrait

Red Kite

Red Kite


   As we carried on walking around the Aerodrome, several Linnet flew over from Kenley Common, as did a single Reed Bunting. Just as I began reading about an area that had stored a number of planes, with several bomb shelters nearby, this stunning little Stonechat hopped up onto the overgrown banks above me. It really did prove that regardless of what happens in our world, the natural world will try and bounce back, using the resources available to survive. 

Stonechat

Stonechat

Sunday, 2 February 2020

Kent birding with Shaun Ferguson - 14th September 2019

   After school had restarted on the 4th September, a week in to my A Levels and it felt like I hadn't been out birdwatching in years. So I was unsurprising thrilled when Shaun Ferguson offered me a lift to go to Kent for a day's birding, with the main aim of twitching a mobile American Golden Plover on the Isle of Sheppey.

   Shaun kindly picked me up at around 05:30am, we reached Sheppey shortly after first light, and so headed towards the raptor viewpoint. Regardless of the American Golden Plover, I was sure that I'd have an awesome day as the weather was promising and it was my first trip to Sheppey (even if there weren't any owls...) As we drove towards the viewpoint, dozens of Red-legged Partridge were collecting in groups alongside the road, while our first Wheatear of the day (the first time I'd seen a male) appeared to have woken up on a fence post. Fortunately, the light was unbelievable and a photographer's dream, so watching Brown Hare and the Partridge glowing in the golden light was the dream start to the day. A brief stop for a few Buzzard and Marsh Harrier was interrupted by 3 Green and 1 Common Sandpiper, while Western Yellow Wagtails were constantly calling overhead.
From the chillingly cold raptor viewpoint, we had double figures of Marsh Harrier as they dispersed from roost, while a handful of Chiffchaff were calling in the bushes.

Dawn over Sheppey with Linnet flying through

Sheppey Dawn

Brown Hare at dawn

Brown Hare at Dawn

my first male Wheatear

Red-legged Partridge

Red-legged Partridge

Red-legged Partridge

   By 07:30, we decided to start to drive towards the fields of Shellness where the American Golden Plover had been spending much of its time mixed in with several groups of European Golden Plovers. When we reached the first field, there was already one birder pulling up and so we decided to cautiously get out of the car to have a look. We had several calls of 'Is this it' before deciding none of them were the bird we were looking for; eventually, Shaun picked out a really sound candidate (ID description of bird below.) However, despite taking pictures and videos and being pretty sure that it was the AGP, we then managed to almost talk ourselves out of it, as pictures of its first sighting a fortnight before at Oare Marshes showed a very different appearance, with much more black on the stomach etc. So we decided to drive down to another field further down where we'd seen a few more Golden Plovers fly down.

Golden Plover flock

first looks at the American Golden Plover

female Wheatear

female Wheatear

   Once we'd scrambled our way on to a steep bank, with rubbish dumped at the base in the car park, and admiring a female Wheatear down below us, the whole group of Goldies were suddenly spooked from the field we had been previously been looking in. Luckily, they flew straight towards us. In a scramble of trying to see if it was hidden in the flock of a hundred or so birds, I rattled off as many shots as possible on the wrong settings, and it was a relief to hear Shaun say he could definitely see the bird, which I quickly got on to. This was confirmed soon after by the incoming stream of birders arriving on site, and so we were really pleased to have got such good views of it in flight. Unfortunately, the fields were opposite a popular nudists beach, making an already awkward job of carrying binoculars, telescopes and cameras all the more difficult! By the time we left around 80 minutes later, we had enjoyed views of various other birds (with Yellow Wagtails being the soundtrack of the day) while many more birders arrived to see the bird showing distantly and intermittently. Here are some pictures showing the ID between the American and European Golden Plovers.

Spot the AGP

Spot the AGP

Spot the AGP

AGP with European Golden Plover - bird at the bottom

American Golden Plover

American Golden Plover - ID features in these pictures. Slightly smaller size with a dusky-coloured underwing (European has a white underwing;) the American Golden also has a much more extensive supercilium (the white band over the eye,) with an overall darker plumage. Though not obvious in this, the legs project beyond the tail, unlike the European Golden Plovers.


   Our departure from Shellness was in good spirits and so we decided to have a look at Elmley NNR. Barely a bird was seen along the track, with the exception of several migrating Meadow Pipit, Yellow Wagtail, Marsh Harrier and Buzzard. Of course, while the winter brings 5sp of owl, 10sp of raptor and lots of wildfowl to the site, the autumn brings much less, and so we left a tad disappointed...

Common Buzzard

Common Buzzard

Common Buzzard

   Since it was only around 09:30am, and the day was turning out to be very warm and dry, we headed down the coast to Oare Marshes, my favourite nature reserve in the South-East. One of the first birds seen a mere few metres from the packed car park was a showy female Wheatear. Wheatears, alongside Swifts, are my favourite birds, so having this confiding bird show so well in front of us on the coastal path was a joy to see. As usual, having waders such as Redshank and Black-tailed Godwits whizz past us was a privilege to experience along the river, from where we also noted Ruff and several Reed Bunting , as well as hundreds of darter dragonflies on the wing. A brief stop for a Clouded Yellow butterfly resulted in Shaun finding a male Whinchat behind the hide, which was another very good bird to see. The heat haze made the ID much harder than it should've been especially as it was peak Stonechat migration season, but eventually we confirmed it and moved on.

female-type Wheatear

f Wheatear head shot

f Wheatear portrait

f Wheatear

f Wheatear - as you can see this is my new cover photo for the blog :)

f Wheatear

f Wheatear

f Reed Bunting

f Reed Bunting

record shot of a m Whinchat

   A brief stay in the hide for a spot of early lunch/escape from the heat didn't stop the quality of birding. While scanning through the Dunlin I spotted a juv Curlew Sandpiper near the road, a bird that had been seen there for several days in a row. We also saw several Ruff tucked away outside the main flocks of waders, which was mostly made up of several thousand Lapwing, Golden Plover, Black-tailed Godwit, Avocet and Redshank.

Oare Marshes

waders at Oare

waders at Oare


Ruff

   As we headed back round to the road, failing to catch sight of the Turtle Doves (I'd love to see one again before it's too late...) we had a Hobby pursuing dragonflies, while a few Marsh Harrier were joined by a Peregrine as they hunted over the West Flood. The highlights from the road included a smart Greenshank, several dozen Ringed Plover and the juvenile Curlew Sandpiper, which showed extremely well very close in. Typically, after such a good morning, my brain had switched off and I'd got the wrong camera fixed on - by the time I realised this it was too late...

juv Curlew Sandpiper

juv Curlew Sandpiper

juv Curlew Sand

Greenshank top right
Redshank left
Ruff bottom right

juv Curlew Sand and 2 Dunlin

juv Curlew Sand and Dunlin

juv Curlew Sand and Dunlin

take-off

   By this point, as Shaun needed to get back, we headed back towards the car and began the journey home, which included a lot of food and drink, something we both forget about whilst birding!
I then spent the evening sat in the garden reading a book for my English Literature A Level, only to hear Meadow Pipits streaming over in the stunning late-summer sunset. It was another epic day out and all down to Shaun for offering me a lift; I'm so grateful to him and the other birders who have offered me similar opportunities, and I know I would never have such opportunities without them.

Marsh Harrier
Starlings at Oare
juvenile Hobby

Ruff

Ruff