April 30, 2006

Ynys Môn

... that's Anglesey to non-Welsh speakers.

A good start today before we even reached the island. Stopped at a likely-looking spot in the Ogwen valley near Bethesda, and found a singing male Redstart (Brit-tick for Darren) and a couple of scrapping Peregrines just by the road.

Having to learn songs as I go along - just don't hear things like Pied Fly or Redstart anywhere near often enough to get used to them. But I think I've got them sussed now. It helps that I realise I don't know something pretty quickly... (if that makes sense).

The first planned stop was Fedw Fawr, in the north-eastern corner, for Black Guillemot. Finding it was easier said than done. No signposts and lots of very narrow roads meant it took a very long time indeed to reach the spot, as we didn't have the right OS map.

However, once we were there, the Black Guillemots performed rather nicely on the sea. There was a lot of chasing and calling as they went about their courtship. Shag, Peregrine, Raven, Fulmar and Rock Pipit also seen here.

Next, on to RSPB South Stack on the westernmost part of the island. We dropped into Holyhead to grab something for lunch, which was a bit of a mistake. Wandering in search of a Co-op or similar, a crying teenage girl nearly bumped into me. I'm a kind person so I asked 'Are you OK?'

As she walked past me I noticed:
  • she had lost one of her shoes
  • she was seriously out of breath
  • her T-shirt had a big shop label still attached to the back

Hmmmm. Let's get out of here...

It was a bit more civilised at South Stack, with Choughs diving over the cliff-edge, Razorbills and Guillemots on the cliffs and Stonechats perching on the gorse.

Had to do a quick bit of twitching before we left Anglesey. American Golden Plover at Cemlyn. A scattered flock of 138 Goldies to pick through in the murk made it not-very-straightforward... bumped into LGR Evans ('Britain's top twitcher') who had just seen it as we were arriving and there it was on the beach.

A tad underwhelming, if you ask me...

Species added today:
142. Redstart
143. Black Guillemot
144. Chough
145. Razorbill
146. Sandwich Tern
[American Golden Plover]

April 29, 2006

Mountain birds

An early start today. Woke up at 4am to leave for our date with some lekking Black Grouse. Hard work, but ultimately worth it.

At 5.15 we met with a group of other would-be grouse watchers and walked up through the dark, dark forest to the 'purpose-built hide' [an old shipping container with slots cut in it and clad with tongue-and-groove], overlooking some dark, dark moorland. It was a bit foggy.

I was starting to wonder whether the grouse would remain invisible all morning when they finally emerged through the gloom.

The wind wasn't in the right direction for us to be able to hear their weird, weird sounds, but with the aid of a scope you could see them nicely. Lots of macho posturing, strutting, dancing, kung-fu fighting and jumping in the air above the grasses.

Wheatear displaying, Horseshoe Pass

After refuelling at the excellent Coed Llandegla cafe, we departed to the Horseshoe Pass. We'd been told the slate quarry was a good place to see Ring Ouzels. We failed on that count but found some very nice Wheatears, a spectacular fly-through Peregrine and singing Rock Pipits.

Pied Flycatcher hole-prospecting, Coed Hafod

Back in the Conwy valley, took a wander around Coed Hafod, an oakwood that I'd been to before. Didn't see anything on that occasion, but it's beautiful and looked promising.

Within a few minutes we were watching a male Pied Flycatcher serenading a female and trying to entice her into his love nest (see above). Then the first of several Wood Warblers started singing...

Ended the day in the bar of the Castle Hotel, sampling the wares of the Conwy Brewery (Bragdy Conwy). It's always important to sample local delicacies.

Species added today:
140. Black Grouse
141. Pied Flycatcher

April 28, 2006

Croeso i Gymru

Roosting waders: Black-tailed Godwits, Knot and Spotted Redshank

Took a slight diversion to the shores of the Dee to visit RSPB Inner Marsh Farm. A very pleasant, secluded location. Walking down the hill, we heard our first Sedge Warbler of the year in the reedbed and were surrounded by Whitethroat song from the hedges.

Once at the lagoons, we were greeted by more than a thousand Black-tailed Godwits interspersed with Knot, Dunlin, a few Spotted Redshank and a handful of Bar-tailed Godwits.
A large immature Peregrine came through, scattering all the waders but only making a very half-hearted attempt to catch any of them - another year-tick as Darren hadn't seen one previously.

After a rather convoluted journey which took us through Flintshire and Denbighshire, we finally finished up in Conwy - county first, then the walled town where we I'd booked four nights in the Youth Hostel. Cosy, basic and squeaky of bunkbed - but comfortable enough - it would be ideal for anyone who loves sauna-style wood panelling...

Headed out up the Conwy valley and ended up going along a single-track road to
Llyn Crafnant, for no real reason other than it looked like it might be interesting. Over the rush of water downstream from the lake, there was a trilling which turned out to be a Wood Warbler - the first of our Welsh target birds.

Species added today:
137. Sedge Warbler
138. Peregrine
139. Wood Warbler

April 27, 2006

Cheshire smells of silage

We paused in Cheshire on the way to north Wales to facilitate a meeting with Tom McKinney.

To mark this momentous occasion, we visited Sandbach Flashes. There were lots of Black-tailed Godwits feeding (which was nice) and a few other bits and pieces: Buzzard, Tree Sparrow, Kingfisher...

After that, Tom guided us to a nearby pub, The Green Fox in Elworth. Except it wasn't really called The Green Fox - it's just that the sign had faded and the fox had ended up a greenish colour. It's just the Fox Inn. It was gloriously sunny so we sat outside at a picnic table for lunch and pored over the road atlas, gathering extra gen for forthcoming trips.

Species added today:
136. Swift

April 23, 2006

Bedford Ps again

Darren has fallen for Bedford Purlieus so we went back again this morning. I think it makes all the difference when the sun's out, but when we arrived, it was grey and overcast.

We had a pleasant stroll around and managed to bag a year-tick in the form of Cuckoo (my first for the year; D heard one at The Lodge the other day). Unfortunately no Garden Warblers in action or anything else more exotic.

A flock of Lesser Redpolls feeding high up in big birch trees were interesting - they largely 'disappear' from this area during the breeding season.

Last week's interesting weedy field produced the same flock of mostly Linnets plus Goldfinches, Chaffinches and Yellowhammers. No Wheatear or Golden Plover this time.

When the sun did eventually emerge, there were Small Tortoiseshell, Peacock and Post-It note-yellow Brimstone butterflies on the wing. The Wood Ants were pretty impressive, too.

A selection of photos can be seen here.

To finish, we saw two Red Kite soaring together in the blue sky.

Species added today:
135. Cuckoo

April 16, 2006

Into the uplands

For some reason, I have a soft spot for Bedford Purlieus NNR, despite having seen rather little there (with the exception of a drumming Lesser Spotted Woodpecker one morning in 2002).

It was for this reason that I suggested we visit this morning. There are also some nice pastures nearby which look good for Ring Ouzel or perhaps Wheatear, so why not?

To be honest, the time we spent in the wood itself was pretty uneventful. Lots of nice wildflowers out, though, especially Primroses, and plenty of Blackcaps and Chiffchaffs in song. A grotty-looking field to the east of the reserve proved slightly more interesting, however.

Darren picked up a distant Hobby to the south, which was a year tick and one of the first to be seen locally. Nice work. Prolonged scanning of the field produced a selection of Yellowhammers, Linnets, Goldfinches and Fieldfares. Common birds, but good ones. Finally, Darren found a male Wheatear with some Pied Wagtails (no Whites here). A nice bird to find, I always think.

With Buzzards soaring high above the wood, it was a good morning, and we rewarded ourselves with lunch at the Black Horse in Nassington, which is highly recommended.

Species added today:
130. Hobby

April 13, 2006

He doesn't want to talk about it

Received a slightly garbled message from Darren, mid-morning, about one of his colleagues having seen a Firecrest.

Lunchtime found me at the correct location with MAW, and by a stroke of luck (or perhaps skill), we managed to see the elusive, flame-feathered beast - for about three seconds. For most of that time I was looking at its backside but did manage to get a glimpse of white supercilium.

But where was Darren, you may ask? He'd made the schoolboy error of going to the building society at lunch, instead of searching for the Firecrest. To compound matters, his mobile was out of range, too, so the first he got to hear about it was when he saw Mark and me enjoying lunch in the canteen. He wasn't very happy.

You have to learn from these sorts of mistakes.

Not to worry, I said, one of Mark's mates has found a Hoopoe at Fowlmere - we can go and see that after work. It was understandable that Darren wanted to spend time after work looking for the Firecrest, but unfortunately it was an hour wasted.

By the time we got to Fowlmere, the Hoopoe had gone to roost and was barely visible in a thick hedge.

Sometimes, things just don't go your way.

Another post on this topic at bogbumper

Species added today:
128. House Martin
129. Hoopoe

April 05, 2006

Post-work birding

It's that great time of year when you can go birding after work's finished. Tonight we stopped at Grafham Water to see a Blue-headed Wagtail Motacilla flava flava which had been hanging out at the dam all afternoon.

There was a spectacular hatch of flies which was obviously what had drawn the 'Blue-headed' to that area, along with about ten other Yellow Wags, a couple of Grey Wags and some Pieds. Didn't manage to identify any Whites conclusively, though.

The Great Northern Diver that we'd seen before (at Diddington) was visible, too.

Species added today:
125. Blackcap
126. Willow Warbler
127. Yellow Wagtail

April 04, 2006


Species added today:
124. Chiffchaff

April 03, 2006

The Lodge Grapevine

Today, the biggies finally dropped.

Katie had a singing Blackcap from her office window, a first for The Lodge this year, but despite being in exactly the spot she heard it no more than five minutes later, the bird had shut up. Another tick for K which I hadn't seen; to go along with the Tawny Owl and Peregrine she's seen from the grounds recently- not to worry, I'll catch up with them eventually.

Then, during my coffee break later this morning, I was out on The Plateau with colleagues when a raptor caught my attention flying away from us to the north-west: not easy but definitely not the usual Buzzards we see almost every day. This bird did not carry it's wings in a shallow 'V-shape' and when accompanied by a mobbing crow was clearly bigger than a buzzard. When the bird banked in an effort to avoid the crow, all became very clear; structure, underwing pattern and visible necklace confirmed it: Osprey. The third year in succession that I've seen the species in Bedfordshire. A Lodge tick for me but as it drifted off further, I wanted to get Katie and Mark onto the bird.

Mad dash to desk. Katie on voicemail, Mark on voicemail. Wankers!

But they aren't really wankers, they were in a meeting. Still, my two companions got a lifer and it transpired that the bird had been seen earlier by two other colleagues over The Lodge and was seen later in the day at nearby Southill.

This afternoon at around 4:30, Katie phoned. ''Ravens now over the carpark.''

Nice one K- the bird I most wanted to see at The Lodge.

Mad dash out of office back door and upward gazing begins; Buzzard, another Buzzard..........ah......Raven, another Raven............nice.......

At which point three colleagues were standing alongside me. The birds were drifting perilously towards the sun but thankfully, they all got onto the birds as they drifted off high to the west and before retinas were in danger of being singed. The Ravens were accompanied by an amazing six Common Buzzards (all carefully checked).

Clearly some serious raptor passage today......

Even the construction workers who are building on site came over and asked what we had been looking at and seemed genuinely interested. ''Bloody hell, Ravens and Ospreys..nobody told me!''

I'll make sure I give them a shout next time a Lodge mega turns up.

Species added today:
123: Raven

April 02, 2006

We're conservationists, you know

We did lots of conservation work this morning.

It was jolly hard.

Clearing vegetation off two islands in preparation for the coming breeding season isn't exactly glamorous, but it was quite rewarding - or it will be if something decides to nest there.

Together with Mark, Jenny, Andy, Robin and two dogs, we spent the morning at Willington gravel pits (Darren's old local patch), getting the tern islands ready for the returning Common Terns. They're currently en route from west Africa but are expected back anytime now, so by clearing excess vegetation from their nesting islands, we aim to make them feel at home.

Armed with shears, loppers, rakes, various bits of wood and some all-important lifejackets, we got across to the islands in a small, white, plastic dinghy (easier said than done, given the strong cross-winds which made landing in the right place quite hard) and set to work. On the smaller island we cleared off some topsoil which now looks rather nice for waders, too...

Despite it being seriously windy, the sun was out and numerous Skylarks were singing while we worked. Around 20-30 Sand Martins buzzed over the water and there were a few Redshanks and Ringed Plovers lurking around the pits.

On the way out, EagleEyed Oakley-Martin picked out a Wheatear in a field and we then adjourned to The Crown at Northill for a cracking Sunday lunch.

It's a hard life.

Species added today:
121. Sand Martin
122. Wheatear