29 August 2005

Rutland without Birdfair

Two weeks ago I visited Rutland Water during Birdfair, a three-day long festival of birding which attracts around 20,000 visitors to this magnificent reservoir each year. It is a great event, but with one possible downside - no one gets much birding done! So today I was back to make amends. It was certainly quieter, although with it being a Bank Holiday Monday, it was by no means empty. However, the real difference was the birds.

First up, the Ospreys for which Rutland is renowned. No sign of their 'homegrown' birds, the pair which have raised three young here this year. Instead I was treated to wonderful views of one of the youngsters that have been translocated here from Scotland this year. An excellent lifer, and long overdue.

Second were the Curlew Sandpipers. These were at the far side of the reservoir, feeding with Ruff and Dunlin, the latter making for a tricky half-hour of identification. However, eventually I was able to confirm to myself which were Dunlin and which Curlew Sands - the elongated and more curved bills, longer legs and bodies, and perhaps most notably of all, their pale cream supercillums (stripes above the eyes). These are amazing birds, having so recently bred in a short summer on the very edge of the Siberian arctic. The adults have gone through to Africa already, and here were the juveniles following on. And for me, that made two lifers in a day!

There were other good birds around too - a Greenshank, a Black-tailed Godwit, several Green Sandpiper and perhaps a dozen Snipe for example. All signs that return passage (autumn migration) is well underway, and contributors to a great day's birding.

28 August 2005

Black Terns in Essex

I visited Abberton Reservoir in Essex today for the first time - my in-laws live over that way so it was about time I got out a bit and explored that fine county.

Abberton is splendid, a huge water just south of Colchester, boasting a first class visitor centre and a track record of rare birds.

When I arrived I found a group of twitchers looking for a White-Winged Tern. Sadly they had no luck, but I was much easier to please - the flock of 20 or so Black Terns that were clearly on display represented a lifer for me!

18 August 2005

An early Sunday morning

You really can't beat a proper early morning. With the sun just coming up and few other people around it is the most serene of times.

After a full day's DIY on Saturday (just about the polar opposite of serene in my book) I headed off on this particular Sunday morning to two favoured local reserves. First up was Draycote Reservoir, where although it was a little cold, I was delighted to walk straight into 7 or 8 Yellow Wagtails, lovely birds which I rarely find anywhere but here. The last were in April, dropping in on their migration north, and now here were the fruits of that long journey - mostly juvenile birds on their way south for the first time. This bird is becoming increasingly hard to find, so it is always nice to find young uns.

Other birds at Draycote included an Oystercatcher, 4 Common Sandpipers (again returning south), a Swift (there are none left in my village now so sightings are becoming sporadic, Swifts being early returners to their African wintering grounds), a Sparrowhawk (great views as it flew in low over my head) and a Hobby (rubbish views of its tail disappearing over some trees).

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I then moved on to Brandon Marsh where, finally, I found the female Common Scoter that had been there for a week or so - a lifer for me!

Alongside this bird there was a Kingfisher, another Common Sandpiper, Green and Great Spotted Woodpecker, a pair of Lesser Black-Backed Gulls with their huge chick, and the last two Common Terns, their chick now old enough to fly but still reluctant. I would guess the three of them will be heading south again within a fortnight if not a week.

Autumn is well and truly upon us.

9 August 2005

An evening for photography

After the disappointment of a quiet patch walk on Saturday I took refuge at Brandon Marsh, a local reserve near Coventry where something of interest is almost guaranteed. I was not disappointed.

Of a recently recorded Common Scoter there was no sight, but I was soon enjoying watching the Lapwing (more than 270 in all), a Common Tern pair feeding a plump little chick, plenty of Grey Heron, assorted wildfowl, Coot and Moorhen (most with chicks), juvenile Willow Warbler and Chiffchaff feeding in the willow scrub, and best of all, two Green Sandpiper down on the Newlands scrape.

With good light and my new digiscoping gear to hand, this was an evening for photography. First up were the terns, adult and juvenile.

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Then I turned by attention to the Green Sandpipers, lovely little birds with brilliant white underparts and rumps, and a distinctive bobbing action as they walk.

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And finally, to set the seal on a lovely evening, a Kingfisher flew into a nearby perch to pose for me. The light had faded a little by then, but I was still able to take my best-ever pictures of this fabulous little ball of colour.

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8 August 2005

Over the garden

Another night of flying ants. The sun came out, and with the blue skies so did the ants. That of course meant open season for the birds - first House Martins (perhaps 20 or more), then Swallows (fewer, no more than 6), Black-headed Gulls (a large flock of a dozen or more) and finally a few Starlings getting in on the act (sadly it seems the Swifts have pretty much left the village already).

Some are better adapted to flycatching than others, but all were determined not to miss out on this annual harvest.

7 August 2005

And all was quiet

I've always said that no matter how quiet the birding, there is always something magical that makes it worthwhile.

Today was the exception to prove that rule.

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A three-hour walk around Leam Valley, Welches Meadow and Newbold Comyn turned up just about nothing. Highlights? I wish. Perhaps three Grey Heron on the scrape, and having the time and opportunity to take my first decent pictures of a Wood Pigeon (one of the most common birds in this part of the world, so I've never bothered before).

Still, bring on autumn passage.