Monday, 27 May 2013

The Next Generation

Another couple of days with glorious sunshine had us out walking in the Strata Florida area on Saturday. Although common sightings these days we were nonetheless delighted by good views of male and female redstart, pied flycatcher, garden warbler, wheatear and tree pipit. Whinchat were numerous on the walk and filled our ears with an astonishing variety of songs we have not heard before. At some point we were even fooled into thinking there might be a much sought after ring ouzel lurking in a gulley. But as it turned out it was "just another" whinchat showing off his repertoir.


We also heard the yaffling of green woodpecker but despite patient and thorough scanning of the trees in question we could not locate them and they remained unseen. A brief visit to Cors Caron (after getting lunch from the Spar in Tregaron in the form of a couple of potato dogs - a "delicatesse" which I have not had since my year as an au-pair in the States and Dave had never tasted, and will never taste again) did not reveal much apart from a few large red damselflies and singing skylark and sedge warbler.

Good news from the local river! The grey wagtails have fledged two chicks so far (yesterday afternoon) but I believe that more chicks remain in the nest as the parents often flew past the chicks with a beak full of flies ignoring their hungry calls. The chicks were not bothered by my presence or that of splashing dogs in the river so that I could sit back, relax and watch them getting fed by the parents and attempting to catch flies of their own. The dippers have also fledged two chicks; these, however are of a very shy nature. It is incredible how well the mottled coloration allows the chicks to blend in perfectly into their environment of slate grey and green vegetation touched by ever-moving dappled sunshine. Whilst watching the youngster I also had three kingfisher fly by, one of which I believe was a juvenile one as it only flew short distances, making frequent stops on overhanging branches. And we've got a new species for the local river: A pair of spotted flycatcher have taken up residence! But so far they have not been very obliging when it comes to having their photo taken.



Tuesday, 21 May 2013

Visit to an old patch (yet another one)

11 years after leaving the tiny Suffolk village of Blaxhall, I returned there this weekend to catch up with some friends, do some birding and show Steffi round my old haunts. The forecast wasnt promising, but as it turned out, apart from a drizzly Friday evening, we got lucky and enjoyed some dry, warm weather, with Sunday in particular turning out to be a proper mid-May scorcher. After our arrival, and setting up the tent and eating, and before heading out to the Ship Inn to meet up with my former neighbours, we took a brief soggy stroll up the common, my ex local patch. A singing male yellowhammer brightened the gloom, soon followed by a pair of woodlarks - a first for Steffi, and something I'd promised her that we would see (always a bad move with birds, but thankfully this time it all turned out well).

Saturday dawned dry and bright, and a full day at Minsmere and Dunwich was eagerly anticipated. We werent disappointed. Within minutes of arriving we picked up a preening stone curlew in the field next to the north wall, and the trip list continued to grow throughout the day. For Steffi, this included a lifer in the shape of (several) showy dartford warblers on the heath at Dunwich, and for us both, a 2CY caspian gull on the south scrape. Great views of hobby, bittern, cuckoo, water rail, marsh harrrier, lesser whitethroat and avocets were highlights amongst the expected reed and sedge warblers, common sandpipers, sandwich and common terns, green woodpecker etc and best of all was watching a pair of bearded tits going back and forth with beakfuls of food to a presumed nest site. We also had a nightingale singing in the scrub near the visitor centre but could not get a glimpse of the secretive songster.



That evening back at Blaxhall we tried the common again - previously a great site for nightjar, but all was quiet despite it being still and mild. Again, a singing nightingale kept us company without actually showing itself to us, and a pair of tawnys were making a right old racket.
On Sunday we awoke to blue skies and rising temperatures, so headed off to Lakenheath. Primary target, of course, was golden oriole, but reports of an adult male red footed falcon also had us keen to get there as early as possible. We pulled into the car park an hour before the visitor centre opened and trudged off down the track to the area where we had the orioles on our previous visit. No luck this time, so we took another path where we could see a small gathering of folk and within seconds had clapped our eyes on a gorgeous red footed falcon, sat 15 metres above us. Words cannot do justice to describe just how elegantly graceful and beautiful these falcons are - so heres some of Steffis pics.


After an hour of watching this beauty hunting with the numerous hobbies, we tried again for the oriole, and this time spent an age honing in on a singing male, which just flat out refused to show itself, much to our frustration. A fly by crane provided some form of compensation, as did the the very vocal and showy cuckoo. A lone, and probably confused, whooper swan amongst the mutes was an unexpected end to the day.
On the Monday, before heading home, we popped down to Landguard obs to say hello to Steffis former colleague from her Gib Point days, and had cracking views of a dozen little terns to round off the weekend nicely.

Wednesday, 8 May 2013

Spot the dot

What an afternoon! But first let me report on yesterday's events. On a stroll down to our local river I was relieved to see that the pied flycatcher pair was still around despite plenty of noise from bank holiday visitors. As I scanned the shingle banks I spotted a common sandpiper just beyond a pied and grey wagtail. I quickly made my way around the back of it and approached it with my belly-crawl technique. Turned out a pair of them were present and enjoyed a preen together. Afterwards I walked to a spot on the river where Dave and I had seen a kingfisher a few times recently. I hunkered myself down in the shadow of a few big boulders on the river bank and waited. Not soon after I was rewarded by the appearance of a kingfisher in what seems to be the usual spot but unfortunately it was soon spooked by one of the grazing horses. We will certainly keep an eye on this area from now.


Now on to today. Yesterday dotterel were reported from Ynyslas but due to work commitments we could not go for them until this afternoon. Dave picked me up from the Borth train station and we meant to park by the railway crossing but due to road works our usual spot was taken and we had to park by the golf course and walk quite a bit. What a chore! Or so we thought. As we walked we kept scanning the fields and at the end spotted a yellow wagtail feeding distantly amongst the sheep in a muddy bit. A year tick! Approaching our target area we got another unexpected bonus in the form of a distantly calling cuckoo. First scans of the prominent field didn't reveal anything until we saw a bird with a dark belly moving around in the far distance. Turned out three dotterel - two female and one male - were still present. The birds slowly moved closer to us so we sat down in the sunshine and enjoyed the scene. On the way back to the car we got lots of wheatear in the fields which must have been brought out by the warm sun. One very inquisitive female allowed me this photo opportunity. A lifer, two year ticks and a nice photo opportunity. I'll never moan about walking again.


Another nice addition to the day and my yearlist is the return of the male yellowhammer just now as I was uploading today's photos. Up until now both male and female have only made appearances when I was away and ever since we went to Pembrokeshire for a couple of days we have not seen them at all.

Monday, 6 May 2013

Reeling in the ears

Early mornings do pay off!!! On his way to a survey site Dave dropped me off near my old local patch Pendinas, a local nature reserve on a steep hillside consisting of scrub, brambles, hawthorns, willows and gorse. As I walked along the cycle path towards the reserve I came across singing blackcap (seem to be everywhere at the moment) and numerous whitethroat. As I approached Pendinas the sedge warblers became more and more abundant when I heard the distant reeeling of a grasshopper warbler on the hillside. Not having any illusions about being able to track down the bird I carried on to see if the world's tamest sedge warbler was back in his tree - and he was, singing away and not bothered by anyone approaching. All of a sudden that distant reeling became louder and was not so far anymore. I went back, entered Pendinas through the gate and soon approached the brambles from which the reeling came. And there it was, a little brown bird walking clumsily through the scrub with its beak wide open. And to make things even better it came out and continued its singing in the open. At first I was so excited about these amazing views, that I couldn't even think about taking photos. But then I calmed downed, managed to compose myself and got plenty of shots. I enjoyed the spectacle a little while longer before moving on. Also noteworthy from this site were a pair of stonechat, chiffchaff, willow warbler, linnet, a male wheatear and a common sandpiper down by the river. When I met up with Dave I took him to the gropper spot, where we had three reeling individuals.



Moving onto Borth, through the grim bank holiday traffic, we parked at our usual spot and walked down the Leri. The reedbeds were full to bursting point with singing sedge and reed warblers, as well as resplendent male reed buntings, whilst swallows and martins swirled about above our heads. Once again we were treated to the sound of 2 groppers reeling here. Most exciting of all was coming across this sunbasking adder on the footpath, who showed no fear at our eye level inspection of him.
To cap the day off nicely, 2 common sands were on the river, whilst a couple of wheatear and a cracking whinchat saw us heading home happy and slightly suntanned.


Saturday, 4 May 2013

Our Halcyon River

Spring presented itself at its finest for at least a few days this week. The sun was not just shining but it also filled the air with plenty of warmth allowing us to venture out without our jackets. On Tuesday we walked around the sessile oak woodlands by Devil's Bridge, followed by a visit to the Hafod Estate - a combination of an active conifer plantation, broadleaved woodlands and open landscaped gardens originally designed in the 19th century.
Both places were filled with singing and displaying migrants typical for these habitats in mid-Wales: Pied flycatcher, redstart, tree pipit, willow warbler and chiffchaff. But the star of the show was a delightful male wood warbler near Devil's Bridge, singing its little heart out and quivering all over throughout the last tunes of his song.

As great as it is to get these birds out in the field, its even better to be able to see them close to home. On my regular check-ups on the dippers a few days ago I discovered a singing male redstart in the open oak woodland by the river Dulas. Although I have not spotted a female, I hope there is one around - with a few nestboxes in the area they will hopefully decide to stay. This was topped by a pair of pied flycatchers Dave spotted yesterday just beyond the metal bridge crossing the Dulas when we wandered down to the Dyfi. Apart from ubiquitous sand martins and swallows flying up and down the river not much else braved the wind.
So today when I popped down to see the dippers again I got in the following order: a pied flycatcher pair, the dipper pair (they seem to be on eggs now, the presumed female appeared briefly today to stretch her legs) , a white wagtail, a cracking male grey wagtail, a fly-by kingfisher and a male redstart. Not too shabby for a lunch time stroll just beyond our cabin. I will definitely visit our local migrants regularly over the next few weeks as they delight me so much. I just hope I won't forget there is an exam waiting for me at the end of the month....



Noteworthy from the garden is an ever-increasing number of redpoll. Our highest count of birds present at the same time is now 14. Where were they all winter...?? And as I am writing this post, Dave spotted garden tick number 81 in the shape of two linnets feeding in the field.