Monday, 30 March 2009

Pink Wipit

Had a wander round the woodland at Swiss Gardens at lunchtime. Bumped in to Lol, who was having the same luck as I. A nice day to be out, but pretty quiet on the bird front. Calling Nuthatches, Treecreepers, Redwings were all around, but no Lesser Spots, which we were both hoping for.

The evening was spent with Paul again. We trotted over to Octagon Farm - a salubrious location, between an abattoir and a sewage works! Lots of birds were picking their way through the hard standing - 25+ Meadow Pipits (a big increase on recent days), c.30 Pied Wags, 1 White Wag, and 2 Little Ringed Plovers. Not bad. We also had a look over on the pools and immediately found the summer plumaged Water Pipit that's been knocking around. It's plumage has got even smarter in the last week with the flaring supercillium, pink breast and blue/grey mantle shining in the dull evening light.

On our way back home we also dropped in on the resident Tundra Bean Geese, still in their favoured field near Old Warden. They should soon be off. But we've been saying that for the last month...

Sunday, 29 March 2009

Rafts of laughter

Wine and beer curtailed my anticipated early morning stomp around Pegsdon Hills. I eventually got to the bottom of the hill at around 09:30…no, make that 10:30 as I almost forgot the clocks went forward an hour!

Apart from a trickle, no, make that a dribble, of Meadow Pipits over north, very few birds were moving. One or two Siskins were passing south and there was plenty of Buzzard activity - up to ten in a quick scan. A single, then a group of three Red Kites were also gliding around the slopes. The only other bird of note was a female Wheatear in the arable plot - one of the two that have been there for the last few days. Where are the Rouzels?

The afternoon was spent at Broom getting the tern raft spick and span ready for their arrival next week. A lot of fun was had with Mark, Ed, and Matt, and by the end of the afternoon we had a re-born tern raft floating in the middle of the lake. Let's just hope it doesn't get taken over by those pirate gulls and they leave the terns in peace this year.

By early evening, Mr Hackett had turned up for a cup of tea, fresh from Stockport. The Bramblings and Goldfinches in my garden gave him a warm welcome. A Swallow also glided overhead, only my third this year. The day ended with a Sunday evening curry at the local Indian!

Saturday, 28 March 2009

Cold and showery

Quite a miserable day, with a cold wind and rough showers.

The plan was to stay out and do the Stewartby roost, but my windscreen wipers decided to pack up mid-way through the afternoon. Arse.

Gypsy Lane East - another or the same White Wag was showing well, but again numbers of pipits and wagtails had dropped off significantly with only one or two of each. Seven or so Sand Martins were around the new cliffs in the quarry.

A look again at Octagon Farm produced very few wagtails indeed - only 20 or so. There was a nice Little Ringed Plover on the hard-standing though.

Stewartby Lake and Brogborough were quiet before I was forced to retire for the afternoon with windscreen wiper failure...

Friday, 27 March 2009

Wags galore

Went out in the afternoon with DOM. He'd been out since early-doors, while I was holded up in doors. Anyway, this is how we got on...

Willington GPs:
Snipe, 7
Jack Snipe, 1

Octagon Farm:
White Wagtail, 4+ with c.70 Pieds (a massive increase in wags over night)
Swallow, 1 through north west
Water Pipit, 2 (the pink one, and a winter one Darren saw)

Quest Pit:
Swallow, 2

Stewartby Lake:
White Wagtail, 1 with half a dozen Pieds on the sailing club lawn

Thursday, 26 March 2009

A trickle

Had a good thrash around today, but with mixed results.

Gypsy Lane, Broom GP:
18+ Sand Martins

Brogborough Lake:
10 Goldeneye still

Octagon Farm pools:
1 Water Pipit - a/the pink one
1 Snipe

Willington GP:
1 White Wagtail (finally found one, with only three Pied Wags)
256 Barnacle Geese
1 Green Sandpiper

Roxton Lake:
25 Barnacle Geese
2 Oycs

Did several other sites, but the above is the pick of the bunch. Got soaked at Roxton, so headed home to sit it out.

later on in the day, after a heavy rain shower:
Gypsy Lane East Pits, Broom, late pm:
A brown Merlin
c.20 Meadow Pipits (most the grey jobbies you get at this time of year)
c.20 Pied Wags
2 Green Sands
2 Sand Martins

Wednesday, 25 March 2009

Stuff around the house day

Today was a do stuff around the house day. Unintentionally of course, but as I was late getting up and the weather wasn't terribly nice, I decided to stay at home. Well, for the most part anyway.

My temperamental lawnmower was only occasionally playing up today, meaning I could get to work on most of the lawn. Only a small corner was left to do by mid afternoon. As soon as I came in doors, finches descended on my feeders. I still have over twenty Goldfinches at the niger, and at least ten Bramblings today. Chaffinches have dropped right off, to just a handful, and Greenfinches have done the same.

My claustrophobia had reached its peak by about 4pm, so I headed up to Pegsdon for a brisk walk round the hill. I was keen to see Paul's Wheatears, on the arable experiment. I found one of the two hunkered down to keep out of the wind. There were more Meadow Pipits than I'd seen for a while up there, with perhaps 70 dotted around the site. Up to five Buzzards enjoyed the windy conditions around Deacon Hill, and two Grey Partridges scolded me as I walked past.
A nice walk to blow away the cobwebs of being in doors for most of the day.

Tuesday, 24 March 2009

Dartford dip and a monster falcon

A view over the paddocks at Blows Downs

After dipping the Dartford this morning I had a look around the southern badlands. Most surprising bird of all was a striking, and very large, pale falcon over the south end of Dunstable. It was possibly a Gyr x Saker Hybrid (too pale for a Saker, and too creamy for a Gyr). It was certainly a monster bird, and presumably the same as reported by Tony Donnely as a Gyr on Blows Downs last week?

presumably a first year male Blackbird at Blows

Also several Ravens and plenty of Red Kites around the downs. It was great to sit in the car park at Bison Hill and have Raven, Red Kite and Buzzard all float past at eye level.

Buzzard over Dunstable, taken with my DSLR

Not a lot else to report from yesterday - 740 LBB Gulls at Stewartby mid-afternoon was a good count.

Later in the evening, the Beds contingent (Andy Grimsey and I), even with the help of the Bucks recorder, got a right good pasting in the Absurd Bird Quiz run by Si and Rob in MK. That lot from Tring won, again!

Monday, 23 March 2009

Bonus Brambling blog shots

Here are some shots taken in my garden over the last couple of weeks. Some are taken with a borrowed Canon 500mm IS f.4 lens, but most are taken with my trusty 300mm. They are absolutely superb birds to have in your garden.

Bean Goose birding break

Woke up with some very stiff joins today - all that tomfoolery on the island yesterday doesn't 'arf make my back ache! No birding before work.

Ended up at home briefly at lunchtime. Saw at least five Bramblings in the willow tree. On my way back in to work found c.70 Golden Plovers near Beeston.

In an effort to not have a completely wasted birding day, I went to look for the Bean Geese in the evening. Eventually all four flew in, presumably from Southill Lake, at around 6pm. The two juvs now look very like their parents.

Sunday, 22 March 2009

Lesser spot joy

Despite the forecast of a dull day, Sunday dawned bright and still. There was only one thing for it - to try for Lesser Spot again.

This time it I headed for Palmers Wood. I joined the Sunday God worshippers in the car park, and headed for the wood across the fields. It was full of bird song - Nuthatches, Treecreepers, Marsh Tits, Song Thrushes, mewing Buzzards, and even the odd Woodpecker too. A fantastic atmosphere, but I was struggling find my chosen quarry. After 45 mins of listening and looking I had to head home, and get ready for the Broom work party.

As I was just about to leave the wood I heard a tapping. Now, every time I've heard a tapping before it's been a Great Spot, so why should this time be any different? I got a little closer. A short burst of drumming had my ears prick up instantly! It was only about one second long, but that was enough to make me look a bit harder. I caught a movement on an old gnarled trunk about 50 meters away - a glorious male Lesser Spot! It's red crest was gleaming in the sunshine. I could feel a huge smile on my face. I watched it work up and down an old Oak, looking inside a few old holes, before slipping in to the wood a little further. It worked its way through some much thinner trees lower down, bobbing its head as it went before going even dipper in and finally loosing it. Excellent stuff.

Lesser Spots have obviously declined, but they seem to have evened off in recent years. Many of the sites that had them five years ago, appear to still do. I wonder if they are just a naturally thinly spread species, whose retiring nature make them that bit harder to find anyway? Certainly the months of March and April are the peak time to find yourself one. The 'pee-pee-pee' call always brings a smile to my face.

By late morning I was on a small boat heading for 'cock's Island. We needed to clear the vegetation for the coming breeding season and the return of the terns and gulls. This island is Bedfordshire's largest Tern colony, and our only Black-headed Gull colony. However the future for it looks bleak, as the lake is about to be turned in to a fishing/boating Mecca, which will no doubt expel these birds. This could be our last year to enjoy the spectacle so we chopped, dug, and made pretty, as much as we could. Hopefully the birds will appreciate our hard work later in the spring. 2 LRP's flew over a few times, as if to than us. Or perhaps that was wishful thinking?

Some hours later, a short quirt around Gypsy Lane East found five Green Sands, 2 Shelduck, and about ten Pied Wags (still no Whites with them). Six Redshanks were on the opposite side of the road, at Gypsy Lane West. Pipits are still very thin on the ground - perhaps we won't get any Rock Pipits again this spring?

Saturday, 21 March 2009

Spring sunshine

Had a nice day bimbling around Beds with Carrie. First stop was the Old Warden raptor watch point. Two Ravens were in full tumbling and cronking display high overhead. These birds have massive territories with the same pair being responsible for sightings over quite a few square kilometres. One or two Sparrowhawks also up and a top count of 15 Buzzards.

The local pair of Peregrines were looking settled again, with the female sat in the box as we passed.

At Octagon Farm pools (the site of a proposed gypsy camp, we've just been told) a Water Pipit popped up and down again, before heading high towards Bedford Sewage Works. However no sooner had I lost sight of this bird, another came in from the east and dropped down by the same pool. This one had a lovely pink flush so was definitely a second bird. Several Sand Martins over, still seemingly few and far between still.

After some lunch, it was in to the brick pits. Coronation was first. The pit itself was far too full of water to hold much of interest, but 6 Buzzards kept us very entertained as they chased one another. One bird caught our eye. It was VERY similarly in plumage to a Rough-legged Buzzard from the underside. Unfortunately it was clearly not a Rough-leg, but it's one of those individuals that could fool the unwary if it was seen drifting high over them.

A quick sneaky peak at Quest revealed it looking nice for the spring. 5 Redshank, 2 Ringed Plovers, c.200 LBB Gulls, 1 ad Yellow-legged Gull, and c.30 Herring Gulls were all basking on the mud. No sign of the Ruff that was seen there a few days ago.
Desperate for an ice-cream, we moved to MVCP. Two Magnums later, we walked round the Pillinge hoping for the Wheatear and Cetti's. We found neither, and also missed Martin Green, who was sat in one of the hides we walked past.

As I couldn't go and play at the Stewartby gull roost (Carrie hates gulls) we ended the afternoon at Castle Mills. I bumped in to Nigel Willits and we walked round the south side of the pit. After the recent floods, and the ensuing massive water pumps that have been installed, this pit currently looks ace. However, it's wader attraction has peaked far too early in the season and it will soon be too dry again. Despite this, its got plenty of early season birds in it. The pick of the bunch was the Ruff. Nice pale orange legs and some gaudy spangling on its mantle it looked a smart bird next to the 15+ Redshanks that were also there. 2 LRP's and 2 RP's were also knocking around, along with 4+ Green Sands. A nice end to the day.

Friday, 20 March 2009

Anything moving? No.

16 Brambling in my gardens this morning, more than there's been for a while. Still also five Corn Buntings in the fields behind too.

Spent half and hour up on the Pinnacle before work, just to see if anything was moving. It was exceptionally quiet. Three Redpolls flew over, and dropped down in to gardens in Sandy, and a lone male Pied Wag was feeding on the plateau with me. A Mistle Thrush was giving it some welly from the trees behind too. Still quite a few winter lingerers in the woods, with Redwings sipping up from the ground, and Siskins singing in the birches.

No change at Broom this lunchtime. If anything, it's quieter than yesterday. A single Meadow Pipit, and single Pied Wag both passed over, hardly the pipit and wagtail deluge I was hoping for. My search for a Beds Rockit continues...

Thursday, 19 March 2009

Dull day

Fog bound this morning, so went straight in to work. Had a Lesser Redpoll (quite a pale, worn individual) on the office feeders a few times during the morning.

At lunchtime I went to Broom GP again, but nothing doing. It's a lot of effort for meagre rewards at the moment.

The evening was spent at Stewartby Lake for the gull roost. Damn quiet here too. Three Yellow-legged Gulls were amongst the throng of Lesser Black-backs, and we (Keith and I) couldn't even find a Med Gull in the Black-heads. Bloomin' cold too.

Wednesday, 18 March 2009

White-winged nightmare

As this bird has caused a wake of confusion wherever it's been seen, I thought I'd post my images of it. Here it is in the Stewartby Lake roost, Beds, 10th March 2009. Thoughts range from Kumlien's, to some sort of weird hybrid Herring Gull x white-winged gull. What do you think...

Singing Brambo

Woke up to a singing Brambling in my garden!

Before work, went to have a look for Lesser Spots at a near-by wood without success. Two Chiffchaffs, and a Marsh Tit were some consolation.

Lunchtime was another zoom round Broom (I like that phrase!) 2 Oycs, 5 Redshank, and another singing Chiffchaff were the best bits.

After work, I ended up looking at the new workings at Broom - Gypsy Lane East. Three Sand Martins flitting over the excavations were my first this year. A smattering of Pied Wags and two Meadow Pipits were the first signs of the pipit and wagtail passage of early spring. A Grey Partridge was also calling on the far side.

Tuesday, 17 March 2009

Laurel and Hardy

Good job no one reads this stuff! My idea about identifying carbo Cormorants goes completely out the window after a good read. However, I managed to photograph most of the Cormorants on the raft that day and what do you know, I've got them both in the same shot:

So Stan (the skinny one, siniensis) is on the right, and Oliver (the fat one, carbo) is on the left. Note the thicker set head of Oliver, with a more angular gular, and white face patch being nice and wide at the bottom. There, told you it was easy...


A rude awakening by a Bashford this morning. He was doing his early morning WeBS round at Great Barford lake and found an Avocet, the first of the year. I drove over there and saw it from the road just before 8. No camera, so popped back to the car to get it and move in to a better position. When I got back, it had gone. Never mind. Gave RIB a call, who was now at Roxton, just up the valley, and let him know it had flown the coup. A few mins later he called back - he'd got it again at Roxton! He's got the nickname Goldenballs - wonder why? You can find two shots of it here.

Another beautiful early spring morning, with jangling Corn Buntings and tumbling Lapwings. What a wonderful time of year.

At lunchtime I had a zoom round Broom. A Dunlin was the highlight, along with three Shelducks. There are now plenty of Black-headed Gulls all over 'cocks Island again after the winter lull.

After work it was Meadow Lanes turn. A Little Ringed Plover (my first this year) proved to be the only real interest, along with 2 Oycs, 5 Redshank, 5 Snipe, a Green Sand, and a Common Sand. On my way back to the car two Little Egrets flew over to roost at Priory CP.

Monday, 16 March 2009

A quiet Monday

Had a quick look at Gypsy Lane West pits before work, but very quiet. Lunchtime was spent on the Pinnacle with Darren. A few Buzzards floating around, and a couple of Kestrels drifting around rather high. A Sparrowhawk high over Sandy was the first here for a while.

Back at the Lodge the Siskins are still visiting my office feeders, and I heard a single Redpoll fly over early afternoon. A lovely day, but one I'd rather not be stuck in the office on.

After work, did the Stewartby gull roost. Excellent conditions but the roost was small. Keith "Med Gull" Owen found a nice adult with a smidge of white on the forehead, and there were perhaps four Yellow-legs amongst the migrating Lesser Black-backs. No white-winged wonders.

Sunday, 15 March 2009


After a late start, Carrie and I headed up to the Brecks for the day. Our first stop was Mayday Farm to look for Goshawks.

I haven't been to the site for over ten years, so much of the habitat has changed and was almost unrecognisable. Not really knowing where to look for Gos, I decided to follow two birders who were storming down the main drag - they were obviously heading somewhere! Eventually they stopped at a clearing, where another group of birders had gathered and hadn't seen anything for an hour. This was the spot.

The morning was heating up nicely with plenty of Buzzards on the wing, and one or two Sparrowhawks too. After about an hour Carrie picked up another 'Buzzard' while I was on the phone. I got my scope on to it and immediately recognised this as the hefty shape of a female Gos - yes! It circled round for a while with flaring white undertail coverts, before diving down behind some pines. Twenty minutes later another female came up, much further to the west, and moved off behind us. Not such good views as it was against the light, but its distinctive shape was more than enough to give it away. Another ten minutes went by and a male got up and gave excellent views right over head. These birds really are distinctive. They have long wings, often tapered, and remind me very much of the shape of Peregrines wings. The body and head are thickset, very unlike the 'paper thin' shape of a Sparrowhawk. They also have a completely different jizz when compared to Sparrowhawk - they are solid, and rock-steady when flying. When you see one, there's no mistaking it. 'Possible Goshawk'? There is no such thing! It either is, or isn't.

With Gos in the bag, the aim of the day had been met. Everything else was going to be a bonus. 20 Crossbills were nice as they flew over the Gos spot, but were almost ignored in favour of the mega accipiter. We headed back to the car for some celebratory lunch - ham sandwiches never tasted so good!

After a bit of a drive round, not seeing Wood Larks, or Stone Curlews, we ended the day at Lakenheath. After a bit of gulling on the washland the Great Grey Shrike stole our attention. It performed beautifully, but unfortunately the sun had slid under a vail of cloud so no images. Great to watch, as it bounced from tree to ground, and back up to the next tree searching for insects. You could see a nice bit of vermiculation on its breast and flanks, making it a first-winter. A fitting end to the day, so we headed home.

Our roast dinner was interrupted by a call from Mr Palmer - the adult Kumlien's was again in the Stewartby roost. Phew - I thought it was going to be something much rarer! I can relax.

Saturday, 14 March 2009

Black Red and Iceland

I'd promised myself that I'd update my blog more regularly this spring, so here goes.

Saturday was not bad. Started off with a quick look for the Shuttleworth Bean Geese, which have been around the county all winter. They are probably the longest stayers ever in the county. I didn't see them, but I wasn't surprised by this as they only seem to favour the fields here mornings and evenings.

Next stop was a brief look for the local Peregrines. I found the male pretty quickly, but no sign of the lady. They'll soon be getting frisky!

Then popped in to Octagon Farm. This was somewhat a waste of time. The only birds of note were four Little Egrets, and five Snipe. No sign of the Water Pipit. Was going to wander round the Meadow Lane complex of pits until I realised they would still be working them, so headed in to the Marston Vale.

Did my WeBS count on Chimney Corner South. Very uneventful. All the ducks have cleared out now, which left the 62 Coot being the most numerous bird on the water.

Next was Coronation pit. Even though it's pretty full of water, there were plenty of birds on it - mainly big gulls. One of the fields adjacent to the pit also had a few roosting on it too. Lots of Lesser Black-backs, but only a few Herrings and GBB's. Unfortunately something in the nearby farm flushed most of the gulls off the field, with many of them heading off towards Stewartby. So this is where I headed too.

Found plenty of birds on the water, and over the tip, when I got to Stewartby. After a few mins I'd found a lovely juvenile Iceland Gull in the tip corner of the lake. It looked like a different bird to those I'd seen before in the roost, so that makes a third individual Iceland so far this winter in the county. With the tips all closing down in Beds, white-wingers are fast becoming increasingly rare, so finding one is rather pleasing. After a few phone calls to alert interested parties, I watched it for a while, then moved round to the gull watch point where Keith and Roy were. They'd just had a Sand Martin go through, but not a lot else of interest. I left them to it and went round to Marston Vale Country Park.

Plenty of smaller gulls were again on the short grass next to the entrance track, and I went through them just in case there was a Ring-billed sat amongst them. There wasn't, so I had a look at the Pillinge. Two of the seven Cormorants sat on the raft caught my eye. They were drab and seemingly had a different shaped gular patch - carbo? Perhaps. I will have to dig-out Mr Garners book and find out if I'm right.

Walking back to my car I found out about a male Black Redstart at Blows Downs. 25 mins later and I was walking around the paddocks. Eventually we found it bombing about the bottom paddock, flicking its tail furiously. They are stunning birds - one of my favourites. This individual had a few white flecks around the head, but otherwise a spanking male. It was a great end to the day.

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