Thursday 30 April 2009

More Hundrum Patch Stuff?..... Not Bloomin' Likely!!

After yesterday's scintillating day on patch I decided to pop to Plymouth this morning to see the Woodchat Shrike, which has been there for a few days now. Call me bonkers but I'd much rather see one of these than a Collard Flycatcher any day. It would be only my second ever Shrike too. Bun hadn't seen a Woodchat Shrike before either, so came along on what would be his third twitch of the week!! The bird was in Ford Park Cemetery, which is huge. When we got there, there was a man dressed in day-glow safety gear, strimming.

You can just about see the guy strimming on here, although he's half hidden by a bush. Almost as soon as we arrived in the cemetery we could here a Cuckoo calling, our second of the week! It was somewhere in the big trees in the background of this photo, but we couldn't see it, as usual.

We thought the disturbance would put paid to our chances of seeing the Shrike, but on the contrary, it was hanging around near the man and grabbing the insects stirred up by the strimming. It was a super little bird, real 'value for money' and almost always in sight, posing on one or another of the gravestones and monuments. I took a couple of snaps and some video footage of it, like so:

Not one of my better photos but it shows the beginnings of the bird's little' larder' on the arm of this cross. I don't know what the little pale object is but the black one is a Bumblebee, which we saw the bird catch some distance away and bring here.

A bostin' little bird in a typical pose, or two.

Turn the sound up on this video and in the second snippet you'll hear the Cuckoo calling.

When we first arrived at the cemetery we were walking around and along the rows of gravestones eagerly scanning for any sign of the bird. This brought to my mind a famous scene from the film 'The Good, The Bad and The Ugly' . The scene where Tuco (Eli Wallah) runs round and round the Sand Hill Cemetery frantically looking for the grave marked 'Arch Stanton' to the soundtrack called 'The Ecstasy of Gold' by Ennio Morriconi. I have a copy of this soundtrack so couldn't help making this little tribute video. Hence, I bring to you...

'The Ecstasy of Woodchat Shrike'

This afternoon I again tried for, and this time actually saw the Whitford Lesser Whitethroat, and got this photo too. I told you to watch this space! Shame it was raining though.

Wednesday 29 April 2009

Humdrum Patch Stuff

I missed out on the twitching today because of work, so had to make do with some of the yawn inducing stuff available on patch. The Lesser Whitethroat which has been showing brilliantly and singing at Whitford wouldn't accommodate me this morning. I'm not giving up though. I'll get him, watch this space! All I have been able to photograph today was another obliging Orange Tip in Shute Woods and a scruffy looking, moulting female Roe Deer. Also this afternoon I caught one of the winter plumaged Bar-tailed Godwits off gaurd on the near bank of the estuary. See! It's all happening ON PATCH!

Tuesday 28 April 2009

An Offer I Couldn't Refuse

At 14:10 yesterday afternoon I was pleasantly shaken out of my state of apathy by a call from Steve asking me if I'd like to join him and Bun on a little outing to Somerset, to see Ferruginous Duck, a potential lifer for Bun and me (it was a drake too)! And after the Fudge Duck we would go and try for the Nightingales near to Taunton. You'll already know if you've read Steve's blog, that we were successful on both counts, with a couple of bonuses to boot! :-)
Here are a few pictures to relate the evening's events;.

The 'North End' of Wimbleball Lake

The Ferruginous Duck was with a couple of Tufted Ducks in the distance just below the line of trees which reach the water's edge on the far bank. This is the view from on the trackway along the side of the north end. We wanted to get a closer view, like you do, and seeing as the track appeared to veer off away from the lake we scrambled down the steep bank and walked along the water's edge, easy right!? We got into all sorts of difficulties which I will illustrate with the help of a map, like so:

It gets bigger if you can't read it, (you have to click on it though, it can't tell you can't read it)

The red dotted line shows our attempted route.
1) Our eventual best vantage point.
2) Here we all got wet squelching our way through a bog.
3) You can't see it but here we crossed a ravine (well it felt like one)
4) Bun and I didn't even get this far, but Steve nimbly scampered up this rocky crag before heading back. I would have liked to have got a photo of this but was ever so slightly inconvenienced negotiating the ravine.
5) This is the fantastic vantage point we'd have been in, IF we had stayed on the track (indicated by the blue dotted line which I just added coz I could) How stupid were we!!???
6) Where the duck was.

Anyway here's a photo of the duck in question. It's quite distant so I've added a subtle clue as to it's exact whereabouts!

Can you see it? No, OK here's a detailed close up then....

Whoa!! Stunning.

Here's a shot of a defeated Steve heading back through the bog.

Ferruginous Duck was a great bird to see and my first ever 'wild one'. We also saw a singing Redstart and heard a Cuckoo, which was amazingly my first for at least 10 years, probably more. I still haven't actually SEEN one yet.

I went to see the Nightingales last year and they were enchanting then, so I was very keen to hear them again. There were a couple less singing than last year but they were still superb, even though we didn't even catch a glimpse of one.

Prime Nightingale Habbo, the scopes proved superfluous though!

I took some video footage mainly to record the sound, which worked very well I think. But you can also see Steve demonstrating firstly, the fine art of 'Nightingale stalking' (notice him stealthily creeping behind a bush in the first half of the video.) Then he has a go at the ancient and lost skill of 'Nightingale charming'. The pictures are dim due to poor light but you can see him beckoning to them as he crawls along the ground!

How to see Nightingales

Today I popped over to Blackbury Camp with Rex, hoping that the Redstarts might be back. There wasn't any sign today and it was 'packed to the rafters' with visitors of the human kind. They were there to see the Bluebells, which were simply stunning even though they wont be at their peak for another week I reckon. Here's a photo of Rex, who's back 'on form' I'm happy to say, amidst some of them.

Life in the old dog yet! :-)

Sunday 26 April 2009

Apathy, Adrenalin and A Mutant

Another three birding free days for me, which I'm sad to say is mostly due to apathy on my part. I just can't seem to get up any enthusiasm at the moment. This has been compounded by Rex's illness, because I haven't been taking him for a walk, which often gets me out in the field and seeing stuff even when I don't particularly feel like birding. On Friday evening I heard about the Marsh Harrier on Colyford Marsh at around 7.30 PM, I was out of work by eight and had plenty of daylight left to at least go to the Farm Gate for a look. All I did was stick a scope up in the bedroom window and quickly scan over Axmouth and Colyford Marshes. I gave it a whole minute or two.

The last two mornings have been ideal weather for seawatching, but I haven't done any of that either. Apathy gain? Well only partly this time because anxiety also had a role to play. Good seawatching conditions usually equal strong winds which also (in my case at least) equal scope accidents!! Seeing as I'm using a borrowed scope at the moment I just can't take it out in anything approaching a strong wind without feeling a bit uneasy, so best not chance it I thought, especially as my own scope is at this very moment is winging its way back to me and is due to arrive tomorrow. It's in the capable hands of everybody's favourite courier, you know the one that rhymes with 'city link'. I'm not holding my breath!

I haven't received any texts regarding seawatching goodies so am hopeful I haven't missed something too good, not that I'd have probably cared much if I had, which is sad really. I'm sure I'll feel differently when I set eyes on my first Pom of the year. :-) Talking of texts, I haven't been able to reply to any I've received lately because my phone's keypad is faulty, so I can't type anything intelligible with it. I've put my sim card in an old phone which I found lying around the house this evening though. It'll suffice while I get my other fixed.

Rex was well enough to go out for a walk today and at first I tried Morganhayes Wood but couldn't find anywhere to park, every gateway was full of cars, cars belonging to people too tight ( OK I shouldn't judge them) or too impoverished to pay to take their car into the Axe Vale Point to Point, which was in progress at Stafford Cross just down the road from the woods. I always keep well away from anything horsey these days, least I become too tempted! It's six years now since I sat on a horse and I miss it terribly. I could go to a riding stables for a ride anytime but one just wouldn't be enough! I'd be hooked. I miss the adrenalin rush too, I'm sure there can be adrenalin associated with birding, quite a lot I suspect on finding a mega, or even a nice rare bird, I can't speak from experience on that score though. I must admit that in my three years of birding so far I haven't experienced a real adrenalin surge, although I'll admit a few trickles have occurred. But horse riding, that's adrenalin on tap! There's nothing like a flat out gallop cross country - used to do it for me every time! Also riding a horse after it's been out grazing on the first of the spring grass and become 'turbo charged' it's scary but FUN!!

'Those were the days'
Rosie and me enjoying a nice fast canter in Autumn 2000. I last rode Rosie on 23rd January 2003. I retired her due to her suffering from a type of cancer common in grey horses, she lived happily at grass until February 2008.

I kid myself that I can't ride anymore due to my arthritic neck but if money was no object, I'd buy another horse tomorrow!

Anyway enough moaning and reminiscing, I'll tell you about my walk with Rex this afternoon. Instead of Morganhayes we went to one of the green lanes above Axmouth. The sun had come out and it was really quite pleasant. The best birds seen were a pair of Bullfinches and a singing male Whitethroat. There were quite a few Orange Tip butterflies on the wing too and AMAZINGLY a couple of them landed for more than a millisecond allowing me to take a photo or two, one of which is the very first I've ever got of the wings fully open.

There was a nice variety of wildflowers along the hedgerows and I was looking for an interesting one to photograph when I spotted this Bluebell, not an ordinary Bluebell but a spectacular mutant.

Mutant Bluebell, below each flower it has also grown a new leaf.
Take a closer look...

How weird is that!? I've certainly not seen it before. It would be interesting to dig it up and see if it would propagate more of the same. It's illegal to dig 'em up though so I wont. I'll try and remember to look for some in the same spot next year instead.

Thursday 23 April 2009

The Week So Far...Good and Bad.

I haven't really done any birding this week yet, I haven't even taken a scope out as far as I can remember (which isn't far). Talking of scopes, I've just heard from Nikon that they've fixed mine at long last, so I should hopefully have it back quite soon.

On Monday my son George was keen to see an Adder so we went to Beer Head where a couple of obliging individuals showed well. A male in The Dell was well out in the open so much so that I almost trod on him! We also saw this lovely orangy coloured 'tiddler' secreted within the base of a hedge.

I've also been walking Rex on Axe Cliff every day, where there has been a noticeable amount of Wall Brown butterflies on the wing, with a total count of five on Tuesday. Here's one of them:

I've seen a few interesting plants too, and as a consequence discovered a fantastic website, where you are able to fill in a questionnaire to identify any plants whose ID eludes you. Find it HERE it's superb. The plant whose ID eluded me was a Sedge, now, trying to identify a sedge is no mean feat because there are around 100 species in the UK and they can look very, very alike. The questionnaire worked well though and the Sedge was revealed to be Spring Sedge. It caught my eye because the flowers were very striking ( well, for a sedge) and looked like little yellow bottle brushes. Here they are....

... Yes, I know, yawn, you really had to be there!

This curious little pink flower belongs to the Bilberry plant, I stumbled upon a whole swathe of these in a local wood. I suppose the Pheasants or some other bird will eat any berries before they're ripe enough to pick this autumn. I'll keep an eye on them and see what happens.

There was also a lovely display of these little beauties, another small flower which is exquisite close up, Wood-sorrel.

There are swathes and swathes of these up on Axe Cliff, the dinky flower of Wild Strawberry, compete with morning dew.

I see this fellow on every visit to Axe Cliff, he arrived over a week ago. No sign of a female yet but he's already got stuck in with the nest-building.

Wheatear on a very big post ( a telegraph pole)

This bird was seen today and is the only migrant I've seen up here all week except the odd Willow Warbler in the scrub and a few Swallows coming in off. Having said this I didn't linger too long today as Rex was clearly feeling unwell. Unfortunately he's remained unwell all day and so I'm taking him to the vets first thing in the morning, he's hardly been awake at all this evening. I'm very concerned that it looks like renal failure, hope the vets can help him. No, I'm sure they can. I'm going to stay up with him tonight in case he gets any worse. Poor old man, age has caught up with him I'm afraid.... :(

Sunday 19 April 2009

Some More Gorgeous Males

A text from Gav this morning caused me to (like yesterday) abandon my second cup of tea of the morning and rush out to see a stunning male. This time it was a Redstart, I only had a couple of brief views in harsh light but I mustn't moan because that would be ungrateful, and I am very grateful when I see such a lovely bird. Always! Look at Gav's blog for photo (or four!) of it.

Looks like a beautiful sunny warm morning on Axe Cliff- It was FREEZING though, even worse than Beer Head yesterday I reckon.

Later in the day another text from Gav had me popping down to Colyford Common to look at a Yellow Wagtail, a stunning summer plumaged male (obviously). I can't recall ever seeing a spring bird on the ground before. They really are very yellow indeed! We had good scope views but unfortunately the bird remained too distant to digiscope. You may have guessed that this didn't stop us both having a stab at it, with interestingly ambiguous results, on my part at least.

Yellow Wagtail!?


Yet another gorgeous male today was this Roebuck, which I photographed from in the car. He's looking a bit scruffy not having his summer coat on yet.

I also stumbled upon these two very contrasting plants on my travels today:

Giant Horsetails - look like something from another planet! Amazingly Horsetails virtually identical to those found today are found in the fossil record as long ago as the Carboniferous Period (c.300Ma) Whatever, they ain't very attractive.

These Cowslips are though, very much so. They are genuine wild ones too.
(i.e. on chalk grassland NOT a motorway verge)

Saturday 18 April 2009

Simply Gorgeous! .

My early morning alarm call was a text from Ian M telling of a Pied Flycatcher on Beer Head. I wasn't in too much of a hurry to get up there though so leisurely made myself a cup of tea, and generally loafed around a bit. Twenty minutes later another text from Steve (which I'm really pleased he bothered to send) was enthusing about a 'CMF' (if you don't know what that stands for, please don't ask; look in Bill Oddie's 'Little Black Bird Book') I nearly choked on my tea as I realised that that meant, it must be a MALE!! I'd never seen a male Pied Fly before (a visit to Yarrner Woods just hasn't reached the top of my 'things to do' list yet) so I quickly threw on some clothes and rushed up there. I had made a bad choice of clothing, because once there I felt frozen in the bitter northeasterly wind. My mind was soon taken off this little inconvenience when I set eyes on the bird. What a little stunner! Gorgeous, and showing so well too. I wished I'd taken a scope along to try for a photo, I had got my S3 with me but it sulks and refuses to play when the weather's anything but sunny. I firmly insisted that it at least made some kind effort. It didn't try very hard I'm afraid, also the fierce wind prevented me from holding it still, hence much naffness ensued:

Almost all my efforts were as bad as this, however, I did manage to salvage something from one of them with some very drastic sharpening, just don't look too closely! You can see what a little beaut he was though!


Later I went over to Beer Cemetery Fields, where Bun had seen the patch's first Whinchat of the year. This was a lovely male too and this time I'd taken my scope. Here he is:

A nice 'complete with habbo ' shot.

A bit closer.

I've also seen two flyover Yellow Wagtails today and and whilst walking with Rex along the River Coly north of Colyton, I counted at least ten Sand Martins back at their usual nesting site, which was nice.

Twittering: The new gadget at the side of my blog shows my Twitter posts. I can make them from the computer or via text message when out and about. Great for if I haven't time to blog properly. So if you find it all quite on here, check out my twitterings. Well, if you like! :-)

Thursday 16 April 2009

Parfum de Rongeur Mort

I got up early this morning for my first whole hours worth of scintillating seawatching this spring. Gav was already at The Yacht Club when I got there, his notebook already crammed full with a plethora of quality seabirds. OK, he'd actually seen a few Gannets. It was generally pretty slow going despite a good moderate southeasterly breeze. There was however a small purple patch where I saw my first Manx Shearwaters this year, three of them, if you read (or have read) Steve's Blog you'll see that he saw FORTY THREE Manxies, and we were watching for more or less the same time, at more of less the same time, looking at the same patch of sea but it must be said NOT in the same place. I think a trip to the opticians is on the cards for one of us! Also a massive highlight my first Skuas of the year two superb Bonxies. First of many I hope, I just love 'em. The thought of seeing a a Skua or two ( especially a Pom or LTS) always keeps me watching for that extra few minutes/hours! There was a diver too, it definitely wasn't a Red-throated Diver and didn't look like a Great Northern Diver to me either but I couldn't get any positive ID features to clinch it as a Black-throated Diver, nor could Gav, and seeing as neither of us has a yearlist on the go we weren't at all adverse to calling it an unidentified diver sp..

A while later I took Rex for his walk along the lower reaches of the River Coly where the only birds of note were a couple of Sand Martins. I neglected to keep a close enough eye on him and I turned around to see him ecstatically rolling on the ground, rubbing his back on a putrefying rat corpse! This kind of thing has happened before, making the trip home in the car almost unbearable, only in non riverside locations though; Rex knew what was coming next...

"What?! What have I done? I think I smell GREAT!! It's my favourite 'Parfum de Rongeur Mort'. It's very classy!"

On these occasions Rex always somehow just happens to take an impromptu swimming lesson, why wait until he gets home to give him a bath.

Whoops! Sorry Rex, my foot slipped.

"Sorry Mum, It wont happen again" ("until next time, tee he!")

On the way home I stopped at the estuary to take a look at the fantastic new arrival Steve had spotted; It was so stunning I just had to take a photo, you know, the kind of photo that would really do it justice, or not :-)

Et Voila!

Wednesday 15 April 2009

Groppers Galore!

Well yesterday there were! Well, perhaps not galore, five to be exact (galore makes a good alliterative title though). I only heard four of them, two of the three which were on Beer Head early morning and two more on Axe Cliff a little later. The sun was out on Axe Cliff by the time I got there but Beer Head remained locked beneath low cloud virtually all day.

Beer Head draped in a layer of low cloud,
beneath which there was a very welcome 'layer of Groppers'! :)

I didn't actually see any of the Groppers, so no photos this time. My legendary modesty is allowing me to resist the slight temptation to show you (yet again.. because there's one on this post here) the good shots I got of one last year at Trinity Hill. I also saw my first Whitethroat of the year yesterday, a singing male on Axe Cliff, he was still there this morning (possibly another one, but I doubt it coz there's been nothing much else today). A morning visit to Beer Head with Steve was very unproductive, I'd gone along to witness him walking all the way to the chalets at Branscombe and back. This didn't materialize though due to the wrong weather, wrong type of snow, Saturn being in conjunction with Jupiter or some such excuse! ;-) If it does happen one day you'll see it on here first!! I was already on Axe Cliff with the dog when Ian M texted about another Redstart on Beer Head. I've missed them all so far, so I'm really looking forward to seeing my first one this year, well, more than usual that is. I always look forward to seeing my first Redstart. Always a real treat! I'm easily pleased :-)

Monday 13 April 2009

Galling Glimpse

I was on Axe Cliff again late morning walking the dog, and was sitting on the bench where the path goes down into the undercliff, taking a breather and just enjoying the peace and quiet, sun and the odd Blackcap and Chiffchafff, when something different caught my eye, I didn't see what, I couldn't get my bins up in time before it vanished into some brambles. A few moments later though I glimpsed it again, it appeared on the top of the bramble thicket for a nanosecond and flew low away from me and disappeared into more brambles. It looked to me like a Nightingale!! Plain brown, largish, obvious russet coloured rump and tail. I just didn't see it for long enough (about 3 seconds) to be certain. I watched the brambles where it had vanished for another hour but there was no sign. So I'll just have to 'let that one go'. Very very, annoying! At least I wont have to write another description, I didn't get the last one through and that one was singing! Before I'm admonished or even castigated for not texting, I thought about it, really I did, but I just couldn't be sure on the brief view I got and besides that, the chances of it breaking cover again, if indeed it was one, were negligible.Who wants to spend their bank holiday staring at some brambles which might or might not harbour a bird which might or might not be a Nightingale? Not me, an hour was enough! If anyone would have then I'm very sorry :(

Sunday 12 April 2009

White-throated Sparrow Is a Smart Bird

After my week of lie-ins I was easily able to get up at not much after three this morning ready to be picked up at 4.00AM by Phil and Bun for yet more twitching! This time the bird (a White-throated Sparrow) has been present for around four months already so we were quietly confident. We arrived at just after 6:00 AM and were disappointed to see that on site it was very misty and a bit drizzly at times too. There were already about ten or so birders checking out the bushes around the carpark. After last Monday's twitching disaster I decided to stick nice and close to Bun this time, a tactic which immediately paid off because he soon spotted the bird perched up in a small hawthorn tree. We got really good views and were surprised when it started to sing too! It moved around in some open bushes for a while before retreating deep into a large thicket right next to the car park. It stayed here, often skulking, for the next couple of hours. Fortunately it kept singing on and off, making locating it in the dense vegetation a bit easier. More and more birders kept arriving and getting a good scope view became increasingly difficult due to a spot of congestion. I had been able to get a couple of photos earlier though, when Bun first spotted it, although the half light and mist called for a very high ISO setting, making them suitably dark, blurred and grainy. But hey! They are of a White-Throated Sparrow, so who cares! I also got a very, very wobbly, short video clip but in its defense you can hear the bird singing in it. A fantastic bird! Really enjoyed it. A big thankyou to Phil for putting up with my quality map reading skills, I'll bring my glasses next time! :-)

OK, OK I'll stop waffling. Here are some photos of the days events:

The dozen or so early arrivals, note how dark it still was.

Can you guess where the bird is?

The 'masses' descend


Err.... Wow!!!

On the way home we stopped on Salisbury Plain to look for Stone Curlews, but there's quite a lot of it to cover. Here's a view of a fraction of it.

Salisbury Plain habbo.

Phil disappears over the horizon on his Stone Curlew quest.
We dipped them though.

I was very happy to get my best ever views of Corn Buntings. This is the first photo I've got of one. Something to improve on I think, some sun might have helped.

Passing Stonehenge we got stuck in a jam due to an accident ahead. I took this photo of the hoards of people (there must have been several hundred, they're all the little black specks you can see) who had happily paid to go and walk around the monument at the 'permitted distance' when you can see just as much from the road. Now that you can't get right up to it, what's the point? And they laugh at twitchers! Incidentally, I'm an archaeologist and it does very little for me!

He's a closer view, again from the car, hence free!

Now here's something WELL WORTH LOOKING AT. My little video, turn the sound up to hear the Sparrow singing...Superb!! I like twitching again :-)