Monday, 19 March 2018

A Good Day's Birding in 2013 - bugging me.

2013 was the year I started getting into nature a bit more than ever before, having been to India and Kerala in the same winter. 
So in that summer we went to East Anglia during the summer holidays. The weather was mostly great, with very little rain and some good birds. There were 2 days that I remember most fondly. One was visiting Minsmere, where I found my first Stone-curlew and saw my first Avocets, as well as seeing Bitterns and more. The other day, which was just as good, was going on a boat trip in Hickling Broad NWT. While I saw Swallowtail caterpillars and lucked out with an Elephant Hawkmoth caterpillar too, the birds were even better with numerous wader species seen including displaying Ruff - as well as my first Great White Egret. After the boat trip we went for a walk along the public paths, looking for Otters and butterflies, until we reached a hide called the Bittern Hide. Though we saw no Bitterns, a bird that we saw has been haunting me for around 6 months, since the Spotted Crake at Morden. 
While a Water Rail was scuttling around on the other side 15m away, from in front of the hide I noticed a tiny bird dart across, like the Water Rail, into the reeds to the right of the hide just 5m. I alerted the only other birder - who hadn't seen it - who said it was probably just another Water Rail or Moorhen, promptly leaving the hide. At the time I knew little about birds, so the only thing I thought it could be was one of the 2 birds he'd said. However, I wanted to see which one - getting a picture of a Water Rail would've been great anyhow. I waited for 5 mins with nothing seen. Then I saw the bird sheltering by a log, then it darted across, stopping for 5 seconds near the reeds, then going back in and not returning. I had captured 3 pictures, all of which were pretty bad, but was enough to show what appeared to be a Water Rail - except a smaller, short-billed version. The birders were gone - when I reached the entrance the only remaining naturalist was the person who had taken us on the boat trip, who was a naturalist but best with mammals and invertebrates not so much with birds - I remember her saying she wasn't sure, as it looked like a weird Water Rail. She suggested a juvenile Water Rail, which to me seemed logical. So I left happy. 
November 2017 saw me looking for the pictures, as I was almost certain (90% is high for me) that I'd find a picture of a Crake sp. I spent an evening finding a folder saying 'Hickling Broad 2013' on Dropbox, clicking it, and finding it empty. My dad emptied it last June, saving only the 'good pictures' which is fair enough, in a different folder.
Like Ed's Thorncombe posts last year about 'ones that got away' (ie birds seen too breifly etc so left unidentified) I seem to have one too. Ah well...

On Saturday I reached a target I set in my review of 2017 - a Common Snipe flying West this morning extremely fast was just what I was hoping for, and was the 52nd garden bird - I accidentally double counted Great Spotted Woodpecker last year - so the Skylark was the 51st. Gulls have been high in number being blown about, and Fieldfare are flying S. Today, whilst driving past the old patch Beddington Park, 2 Little Egret were fishing in the usual places, and a Buzzard was circling high over the Farmlands. A Grey Wagtail was also at Carshalton Ponds.
I'm pleased that Morden Hall had a Jack Snipe today - I've been keeping an eye out for a long time for them, and the fact one was found by someone today means that the marsh/reedbeds is working.
I'll say it again for the umpteenth time just for the sake of it: I know I'm going to regret it if I miss the Horned Lark. I feel like it must happen in the next 2 weeks... 

Sunday, 18 March 2018

Little Woodcote - a bit of an Owler! 18th March 2018

That title might be misleading - it's deliberate. Having kindly been given specific directions to try and find the Little Owls (and barnies) along Telegraph Track and the Woodcote fields by Ian, I had a walk there this afternoon before the snow arrived. It was bloody freezing, but I had a couple of hours along the path. I found the trees and field, but due to the cold and snow - not something I predicted last week - no owls were around. Along the way I noted 4 Greenfinch, a single Mipit, 2 Fieldfare, a Redwing and plenty of smaller birds including probably the first genuine migrant of the year - a calling Chiffchaff in the wood. 
I spent nearly half an hour looking around the tree from the path, and other trees, but wisely the owls were sheltering. 
I decided to head back, as snow was forecast for half an hours time. 
While heading back, I noticed a smallish bird scuttling along the path, in a pass-by, about 30m ahead of me. My instinct was actually right - without binoculars. However, it was a very wary bird and every step I took caused it to run down the path - I stopped quite quickly, and watched it running down. I kept my distance from it, and stayed around 50m throughout. Eventually it was flushed by a dog - what else - and flew over someone's house and into a field some way off. Seeing a Red-legged Partridge close to home was a pleasant surprise, and though not unusual quite a nice bird to see - the last encounter was with 8 in Suffolk in 2013, along the side of a road. 
The wind had picked up, so I then headed home.
Then the last bit of action occurred near Wallington Girls school - while listening out for anything a gull started flying across the field - though distant it looked like a Med Gull - similar to the one I saw a fortnight ago at Beddington. It was a long way away, and the snow told me to go home. I tried to get a picture, but it came out awfully. Anyway I'm not going to say that it was a successful walk, but not a waste of time.
Meanwhile I had a dream about the Horned Lark last night. Need to find a way there, and by the looks of it my parents aren't taking me. Sigh. 

Red-legged Partridge

Red-legged Partridge

On a mission!

Sunday, 11 March 2018

Morden Hall Park Urban Rangers, 11th March 2018

Today's session was another good one, and we completed a mini BioBlitz of the paddock, since it was a year since the group began working in it. We started on the small pond in one of the corners, and after some fishing other than tons of mayfly larvae a few water boatmen, some snails and worms were recorded along with a few other bits and pieces. We were again being filmed as part of a video being made (see previous post 25/2) about the ranger group. 

While last time the paddock was bustling with birds, as expected things were back to normal and other than yaffling Green Woodpeckers only common species were seen - no Black Redstart or Mipit. We moved onto the 'bug hotel' and the bits of cardboard and metal put down beside it. Beneath one was a caterpillar which immediately rolled up - would appreciate ID help, along with quite a few slugs and snails and some bugs. The other yielded several Millipedes and centipedes, as well as lots of minuscule white bugs. Meanwhile the bug hotel was oddly bugless - I have a theory...

The first butterfly of the year was also recorded - a Small Tortoiseshell - the earliest I've seen one. Afterwards, we set off to get a few tools, to return to find a toad looking quite calm. We then continued working on the mounds of grass that were still building up along the Wildflower meadow, and while correcting them counting and recording every animal that we saw. Before the end of the session another Caterpillar was found, as were a few other spiders. We packed up, cleaned the tools, finished the trademark biscuits, recorded the last few bits and pieces, and finished the session. 
caterpillar sp.

Caterpillar species...

I went for a quick walk, deciding to cover the other side of the site a bit more, though I whizzed around the reedbeds. While my phone was pinging with alerts of a Spoonbill, I was hoping it might head south. A white bird flew onto the marsh and then into a sheltered area - Little Egret. A Water Rail was calling from Grid Reference TQ260689. For all those looking to find one of the rails generally it's best to listen out for them, either calling and maybe even singing, and try and get to a location looking downwards - I've only had fleeting glances so far. The pair of Kestrels were mating and displaying from the boardwalk, and a few Redwing were flying over. I then moved on to the Rose Garden pond, and while a fortnight ago had near 80 Black-headed Gulls, only 2 were there today. I carried on and 3 Teal, 1 Chiffchaff and 2 Grey Wagtails were the only other things to be seen. I left soon after, meaning I didn't get time to try and find the Kingfisher. Not a bad session. Hoping to head up to Staines at some point - hopefully!

m Kestrel

Grey Wagtail

Saturday, 10 March 2018


This blog post is mostly about gulls - so if you are in the section of naturalists that dislike them and have no interest in them, please leave this page now!

Gulls are what I like to call 'marmite birds.' You either like them or don't really care at all. Rarely do you get the ones in the middle. (ironic that Dante's Little Gull involved a marmite sandwich!)
It took me a little while to get into them, but since I started birding properly a few years ago I have found I'm in the like section, and would happily look through the thousands at Beddington for a couple of hours, seeing which species are around and trying to identify the Caspians, Icelands, Glaucous', Herrings, Meds, Commons, LBBs, GBBs, Meds and Black-headed Gulls. Although not lucky in the sense that I live in Surrey, one of the county's that gets the fewest rarities, I'm lucky enough to see the 'common' species in a very different way. Every Kingfisher is exciting - even seeing a Meadow Pipit nearby gives me a sense of achievement, while for a birder in Norfolk a day out with a Mipit being a highlight is likely to be quite a disappointment! 
So at school I'm slightly lucky as I normally get just under 1000 gulls on the playing fields in the morning, after roosting overnight. By 12 they are gone. 
It does offer a decent opportunity for practising my ID skills. The majority consist of the expected Herring and Black-headed, with 1cy and immature Herrings making up 40%, adults around 15% and Black-headed Gulls near 40%. There are also another 30 or so Common Gulls which prefer to roost on the buildings, and a few weeks ago a fine 1cy Common was eating scraps of chicken in the playground. There are also often up to 50 LBBs, mostly adults, which spend most of their time sleeping, as well as sometimes nearly 10 GBBs which have a whole section to themselves, bullying any other gulls which venture into the area. And sometimes I get a rarity - my skills are raw and are nothing to the Beddington birders, so I miss a lot too. I am about 75% sure that there is an adult Yellow-legged Gull sometimes with the LBB crew - I saw a 1cy at one point in November or so, which flew straight over. But this bird is quite a regular. (With binoculars not strictly allowed it's not easy to tell!) I'm hoping I get a good view soon.
This is all a cover up of how much I want to see some of the rarer gulls - Caspian's and Iceland's are at the top of the list, as they aren't exactly rare. However the one that has caught my eye is none other than the Ross's Gull down in Dorset. This individual has been there for nearly 3 weeks, in the area around Ferry Bridge and RSPB Lodmoor/Radipole, and the tiny gull has created quite a stir, with many hundred flocking down to see it. Obviously due to school I can only dream of seeing it, and I have to continue to remain patient - tough though it is. 

I'm also being frustrated by another 2-4 birds that are making me feel excited. The headline for the week has been the discovery of an awesome adult female Snowy Owl on the Norfolk Coast on Scolt head Island, with hundreds twitching it today. Hopefully, permitting there are no idiots chasing it, many more also find it. Elsewhere I continue to see dozens of pictures of the American Horned Lark at Staines. Though it may not be one of the American subspecies, I haven't even seen the British Shorelark, so it would be great if I could go - any birders going up at the weekend from around Croydon next week onwards a lift would be awesome! Meanwhile London birding is looking good for the next few weeks - Sand martins have just started arriving, and the Walthomstowe Serin is causing a chase - just while the Little Bunting shows off. I predict that something good will turn up at some point, another real rarity for London, like an Alpine Swift blown off course or perhaps a lost american Wader like Spotted Sandpiper or Long-billed Dowitcher. 

Who knows - may good birding continue...

(apologies for stupidly long post - camera-less posts are tiring!)