Saturday, 22 December 2012

teutonic nights and days

A brief visit to Hamburg to see my mum gave me the chance to do some birding for the second time in my home country and for the first time in winter and should therefore have offered me some continental winter delights. Unfortunately, the weather didn't play along and the birds I saw on my journey to Birmingham Airport were almost better than everything I saw in Germany. But that was ok because it was supposed to be a family holiday and not a birding holiday.
Nonetheless, here is a quick account of my days in flat northern Germany. As I left on Sunday, 7 waxwing sat in a tree in Mach wishing me a farewell and from the train just after Caersws I had two groups of whooper swans (a total of 15), goosander on the river and a couple of sparrowhawk later on. The first day in Hamburg we had a shopping day in the city centre but also took the chance to have a wonder around the Botanical Gardens ("Planten un Blomen" for our Low German speakers). Highlights were a common gull, a flock of siskin feeding high up in an alder tree and a great spotted woodpecker.

On the second day we decided to go to a family and childhood favorite, the Duvenstedter Brook Nature Reserve; a 785 ha area comprising of wetlands, bogs, marshy grassland and wet woodland that is famous for its breeding cranes but which unfortunately tend to leave at the end of Nov / beginning of Dec. It rained heavily all day and notable birds were only numerous flocks of goldcrest, a hunting ringtail hen harrier and two sparrowhawk, the second of which came very close when (unsuccessfully) chasing after a marsh tit.
Then on Wednesday we ventured further afield to a lake near Kiel which is supposed to be good for overwintering wildfowl. But as it had been very cold recently in Germany, the big lake was still mostly frozen over with some wildfowl gathering in the open pools. Nonetheless, as it was a dry (but dull) day we decided to do the 5.5 hour trek around it. In the beginning one of the very pale buzzards (same bird on photo) that are found particularly in Northern Germany caught me out and it took me ages to figure out what it is.

About half way around we encountered a great white egret feeding with grey herons and towards the end some fairly tame goldeneye gave a photo opportunity at last, whilst the "pshh, pshh, pshh" sound of the willow tit accompanied us all the way around.

Whilst I was away Dave had an intriguing encounter with a male sparrowhawk which grabbed a stunned blue tit that had flown into the window of the patio and then munched it away in the ash tree. And today I had the delight to finally see a treecreeper from the kitchen window making up his way on his usual tree.

Saturday, 15 December 2012

Knot a lot.......

This morning we popped down to Ynyslas hoping that the high tide (5.4m) and strong southwesterly winds would push exciting birds into the estuary. How wrong were we, unless you consider cormorants and herring gulls exciting. Nonetheless a few bits and pieces made it worthwhile; just the scenery alone with the violent crashing waves and strange muted light made the journey memorable. Best of all on the bird front was a hunting merlin which was probably just as disappointed as we were in the lack of potential prey items. Despite our best effforts we couldn't turn the cormorants and shags into divers although the usual rafts of common scoter were as pleasant as always. A pair of feeding chough and three grey plover (one of which appeared to be ringed) and a knot at least gave me a photographic opportunity and these waders are always a good sight to see.

At least three stonechat were feeding on the tideline near the visitor centre. The lack of birds posing for photos reduced me to taking arty photos of Dave scanning the estuary! On the way home we spotted a flock of about 50 siskin feeding on an alder tree near the Clettwr.
All in all we made the most out of a brief window of opportunity between all rain yesterday and heavy down pours today from midday onwards.

Thursday, 13 December 2012

Oh what a Circus!

After two weeks of inactivity on the blog front, theres no stopping us now. Another crisp, clear day had Steffi up out early to try and get some dipper shots on the Dulas, whilst I stayed tucked up cosy in a big warm bed. She managed good views of the local pair, and was pleased to hear the males liquid trilling song, before the cold forced her to come back home. After breakfast we decided to head up to the impressive broadwater at Tywyn and see what we could find. First thing we saw was the pictured buzzard, watching intently as the chap from the environment agency was busy clearing the built up sludge from the fieldside ditches.

Plenty of lapwing and golden plover kept us entertained on the walk to the water, along with some showy stonechats, song thrush, red kite and wren.

At broadwater itself a little grebe and 3 male goldeneye, looking resplendent in the sunshine, gave us something to look at other than herring and bh gulls. Whilst setting up the scope to check out the goldeneye, a cracking ringtail hen harrier drifted up over the gorse and preceeded to lazily flap its way along the hedgerow, finally drifting out of sight east of the lagoon.

We continued along the waters edge towards the beach, adding dunlin, curlew, wigeon, teal, ringed plover, redshank, snipe, shelduck, grey heron and mute swans to the list. We headed back towards Tywyn along the deserted beach, where the only new addition to the day was oystercatcher and cormorant. Other sightings during the day included kestrel and chough.
Back home an impressive flock of 50 plus redwings were going back and forth from the ash tree to the flood field up until dusk fell, much to the consternation of the local mistle thrush who doesnt seem to like any intruders in the vicinity of his berry rich holly tree.

Wednesday, 12 December 2012

winter loons

Just to catch up: In the last couple of weeks life has got in the way of birding and blogging. But we managed a few interesting sightings. About ten days ago we had two groups of whooper swans in the fields next to the main road between Caersws and Newtown. On the same day we also had the last opportunity to enjoy our local waxwings as they have now eaten all the berries in town and moved on.

Sightings have included a ring-tailed hen harrier from the Mach to Aber train on the 11th at 8.30am hunting over the estuary, three yellowhammers in their regular area, a new bird for the garden list in the shape of five fly-by lapwings, also in the garden we had a pair of bullfinches (not very common in the garden) and a mammal tick when an inquisitive mole popped its head up at the base of the bird feeder one morning.

Today we finally had another day out and went to the Ynyslas Turn carpark to do some diver spotting. It was not successful at first with only two flying red-throated divers but we also saw a close-in group of scoter, a couple of great crested grebes and on the beach sanderling, ringed plover and oystercatcher. I couldn't resist the opportunity to lie down on the wet mudflats for a photographic session as the beautiful winter light was showing off the sanderlings really well.

Determined to get our diver fix, we went south to a place named Wallog and bingo! A group of 40 to 50 red-throats all milling about at the end of the spit. Despite our efforts we could not turn any of them into black-throats. Lovely to see such a big group but not ideal for photos. On the way down to the beach we flushed a handsome woodcock which flew away from us down the path. To finish off the day nicely we stopped at Cors Fochno in the hope of spotting a hen harrier but no such luck for us. But instead we got a hunting peregrine and a male stonechat showing off its colours in the golden evening light.

Wednesday, 28 November 2012

no longer sincere

This week its all been about the mighty waxwing. Knowing there are lots in the country, we've been keeping an eye on a couple of areas that hold berry trees, and on Sunday this paid off with 2 feeding by the Bryn-y-gog estate. By Monday, this had increased to 22, mainly feeding in the other fruit rich area by the library. On Tuesday this had increased again to 52, and by mid morning today, we had 62, back in the original trees by the estate. By now, word had got around and a couple of local ringers turned up and we attempted to catch a few with a mobile mist net! Drawing puzzled glances from passing motorists, 3 were bagged, colour ringed and released unharmed back into the wild. Steffi was beside herself with joy, as she had never seen a good sized flock before, and even more so when she got to put the ring on one.

On a more personal note, we also managed to add waxwing to our garden list when one obliging individual fed on a hawthorn bush down by the river in front of the house.
We also learnt a few new tips, like how to tell male and female apart - blackish throat ends cleanly on a male, diffused on a female - and how to tell one of this years youngsters from an adult (only in the hand!).
As for the cryptic title to this post, any latin scholars amongst you will know that the word sincere comes from the ancient Roman practice of passing off cheap sculptures as quality items by covering any marks or pits with wax, forcing craftsmen to advertise their decent sculptures as being "without wax" - sin cere.

Saturday, 17 November 2012

Purple Reign

A morning shift in the library gave us the chance to catch up with the regular Aberystwyth winter visitors purple sandpiper and black redstart. Of the former we found two - one on the rocks by the wooden jetty and one on castle rocks. Of the latter we had a female being chased by a rock pipit around the sheltered side of the Old College. Also noteworthy were two brent geese flying north, 9 ringed plover and ca. 20 turnstone on castle rocks.

Also this week Dave had a brief view of cetti's warbler (his second sighting this year in Britain while I still had none) at Ynys-hir whilst reed cutting and I had two woodcock. One I flushed on Frongoch farm whilst putting together a conservation audit for an assignment and the other one flew by on Llanbadarn campus. Brambling still frequent the garden occasionally.

Sunday, 11 November 2012


Today we decided to go on one of our local walks into the upland hills above the golf course. Despite sunny and warmish weather it was fairly quiet on the bird front but a few highlights made the muddy trek worthwhile. Close to home on the Dulas we had 4 dipper and a grey wagtail. Further along, the steep ascent into the hills was sweetened by the sight and sound of two bullfinches. Unfortunately, all the berry trees in the area had already been stripped of berry and didn't produce any winter thrushes. Further along on the small lake we spotted two goldeneye who have hopefully taken up residence for the winter and a feeding flock with tits, goldcrest, treecreeper and two very handsome redpoll. The star of the walk was a beautiful bright golden yellowhammer just as we reached Mach again. A woman in her garden started talking to us and told us that they feed about 30 yellowhammer in the garden and that they breed somewhere just behind the house. We will definitely go back for our "little bit of bread and no cheese" in the spring.

Notable on the garden front on Friday was a treecreeper that Dave spotted casually making its way up on the sycamore just outside the kitchen window.

Monday, 5 November 2012

A field day

Good news on the brambling front, as 3 returned to the garden yesterday, with one being seen today - and no sign of my nemesis, the black cat. Also, yesterday saw the garden list increase by one, with an impressive flock of fieldfare, c250, in the trees along the railway line and in the flood field along with c300 starling. They didnt stay around for long before heading off south in one huge mass. Whilst watching them a male bullfinch appeared, only the 2nd sighting we've had in the garden.

On a stroll down the Dulas before breakfast Steffi managed to get some shots of her favourite species, the dipper - one of at least 5 we saw in a very small stretch of the river; thats 5 individuals, not 5 sightings, as at one stage we had all of them in view at the same time. Also putting on a good show was a vocal grey wagtail, which dropped onto the gravel bank where Steffi was sat.

Today, I added a mammalian tick in the form of a superb adult fox heading across the fields - so much more proper 'fox' looking than the rather scrawny ones you see in the towns and cities.

Saturday, 3 November 2012

Get Shorty!

The numbers of brambling frequenting the garden this week reached a peak of 6 on Wednesday, but has tailed off to zero today - maybe the unwelcome black cat I flushed out from under the conifer bush on Friday may have something to do with their moving on? A bonus on Thursday was a male blackcap in the hawthorn, and a small number of redwings, though still no fieldfare.

Today we decided to make the most of the sunny morning as rain was forecast for lunchtime onwards, and headed out to Ynyslas. We stopped by the railway crossing and walked along the Leri, almost immediately flushing a short eared owl off the tideline, which drifted across the river to sit on a post, giving us a baleful glare. A lot of teal, wigeon and shelduck in the estuary, but apart from oystercatchers nothing on the wader front. At Ynyslas point Steffi crawled around on her belly to get some shots of golden plover looking resplendent in the sunshine, whilst I picked up on a raft of 15 scoter out on the very choppy sea. Apart from a large flock of greenfinch feeding on the tideline, there was very little else to get excited about until 2 chough passed overhead. Other sightings included 3 skylark, 2 reed bunting, 3 little egret, red kite and 1 redshank.

Saturday, 27 October 2012


Yesterday's sunshine took us to Llanrhystud on a walk along the coastline south to the lime kilns. Snow buntings had been seen there a couple of times this week so we were hoping to get a glimpse of them but unfortunately dipped out. The walk was still very enjoyable - despite a cold, harsh wind - with good views of plenty of chough, oystercatcher, redshank, rock and meadow pipit, a med gull and a flock of about 40 wigeon out at sea. Towards the end a grey seal popped its head up close in to shore.

For today we decided to walk from Dolgellau to Barmouth on the Mawddach Trail along the estuary towards the coast. Overall the walk was absolutely lovely, with stunning scenery cast into a golden light by the beautiful winter sun, although it did lack a bit in bird life. It started off well with good views of dippers on the river. As I was photographing one dipper another one landed nearby causing my bird to burst into song and to flap its wing in some sort of territorial display. On the walk we noted numerous grey heron, curlew, teal, wigeon, pintail (photo), red-breasted merganser and goosander as well as a treecreeper and a red admiral basking in the sunshine on an old tin bath. As we crossed the bridge over to Barmouth (a stunning piece of architecture providing beautiful views all around) we got ringed plover, oystercatcher, redshank and common gull. Unfortunately, we picked the wrong day for visiting the town as a dirt bike race was on so we did not get the chance the explore the sand dunes and the coastline.

Thursday, 25 October 2012

its hammer time....

Good news on the garden front this week, with two new birds for the list, and both a couple of crackers. First up, on Monday, my eye was drawn to a flash of sunflower yellow and peering out the window I was astonished and delighted to see a belting male yellowhammer under the feeders amongst the numerous chaffinch and sparrows - unfortunately Steffi was not around so a) she didnt see it and b) there was no photo of it.
Then today, tick 62 appeared in the shape of a brambling, which originally got my attention when it flew into the kitchen window, then sat composing itself in the ash tree, before dropping down to feed with the chaffinches under the seed feeders - luckily this time Steffi was around to see and photograph it, through the window (so not great quality).

Yesterday we headed off on a circuit of our patch, but things were quiet with only redwing, grey wagtail, teal and 11 snipe of any note, along with some inquisitive cows.
Just observed the local bats (pips) are still active and feeding over the garden. With a good crisp and sunny forecast for the next couple of days in store, we plan a few new walks to make the most of this good weather, so hopefully we can update the blog this weekend with tales of avian joy, and stunning scenic photos to look forward to.

Sunday, 21 October 2012

Tywyn the knot

Such a fantastic warm sunny weekend had us out and about at every opportunity, our new local patch walk on Saturday yielded redwing, mistle thrush (still increasing) song thrush and blackbird gorging themselves on the hawthorns, as well as a large number of teal and 8 snipe on the flood. Back home we had a male sparrowhawk snatch a chaffinch from the bird feeders and land on the balcony for a brief spell, allowing great views of this dynamic hunter.
Other news from home included a new moth for us attracted to the kitchen window, red-line quaker (see photo), as well as two garden 'ticks', redwing and a group of 9 teal.

Sunday took us north into Gwynedd and the broadwater at Tywyn, a large tidal lagoon, fed by the river Dysynni at one end and emptying into Cardigan Bay at the other. We were there around high tide and had good numbers of curlew, lapwing, ringed plover and c400 knot (photo), which took to the skies when a peregrine passed overhead, adding to our raptor list of red kite, sparrowhawk, buzzard and kestrel. 5 skylark and an overhead chough were noted on the walk to the lake. Best of all, a male scaup was out in the middle of the lake consorting with goosander, shelduck and little grebe. A lovely walk round the scenic, wooded, shady, damp Dolgoch falls didnt add many new birds to the day, except for a very obliging treecreeper and this was followed by a brief stroll along Tal-y-llyn lake which was also quiet, with just g c grebe, little grebe and mute swan on show.

Wednesday, 17 October 2012

happy monday

A brief visit to Aberystwyth on Monday to meet Steffi for lunch happily coincided with the appearance of an obliging curlew sandpiper (not as easy to see on the photo as it was through the scope) at Tanybwlch in a flooded field. Good clear views of this handsome wader made our day, at one point posing next to an equally obliging med gull.

Last night a calling tawny owl in trees next to the house kept me entertained during the televised rain washed debacle of the England/Poland non-game, much more fun than listening to the pundits describing different ways of clearing a waterlogged pitch for 2 hours.......

An early start at Ynys-hir for the high tide didnt really produce the goods, but good numbers of barnacle geese, r b mergs, goosander, pintail, little grebe, g c grebe, snipe, curlew, teal, redshank, wigeon and oystercatchers kept us busy.