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Grousing in Denbighshire, 6-7 April 2017

Who’s hiding in the heather ?

Red Grouse and heather

A= Red Grouse

Having decided that a trip to N Wales could be of interest to an Anser group I began making some plans. A date was selected and after some adjustment to the original plans most of met at 2.30pm, with another along the way, this allowed time to reach the hotel and do a bit of birding before dark.

We stopped off just E of Telford along the way to listen out for an Iberian Chiffchaff, our visit was brief and the lost migrant was not in the mood to sing despite Willow Warbler and Common Chiffchaff singing away. Sparrowhawk, Buzzard and Kestrel all soared or displayed over the wooded site, Little Grebe trilled from the pond but best of all was an incubating Mistle Thrush on the nest. This was spotted by Ruth who proved rather alert, calling out birds during the trip.

We left in the sunshine but some cloud was rolling in as we reached our final birding destination for the day. The western slopes of Cyrn-y-Brain gave us a few birds as the sun set, it was quite chilly though. What was probably a Red Grouse was seen in flight by some, there were plenty of Meadow Pipits and a couple of pairs of Stonechat in the heather and gorse. Best bird was a Goshawk that arrived from some distance away and flew along the hillside giving us glimpses as it went through.

A comfortable night with a pub meal at the Hand Hotel rounded off the night before bed as we had an early start. Up well before the lark in the dark and we had assembled to make our way to the Black Grouse lek site, this being the main focus of the trip. Passing below the Eglwseg mountain a Tawny Owl flew across the car and landed in a tree to give us all views albeit in silhouette.

Up on the moor it was only just getting light, we could hear the display calls of the Blackcock, taking great care we birded using the car as a mobile hide. A lek of seven males came into view but we heard more. Moving further up the mountain we settled on another lek where up to 17 birds gathered. This species is very interesting to watch and also listen to when displaying and battling for dominance. This wonderful experience is essential for all birders as long as it doesn’t disturb the birds.

It was zero degrees so a frost had formed but we were so lucky to have a sunny dawn, the birds looked superb. Everyone had decent views so we moved on to a spot where we could scope them from distance and look over the area. A Curlew bubbled in the distance.

Red Grouse were also calling and displaying among the heather but some also flew up and glided down. Male Red Grouse pursued each other through the heather with their combs blazing. Meadow Pipits were numerous and we had closer views of Black Grouse near our watch point. It was simply superb but we had a date with our breakfast. Taking in the lek once again we tore ourselves away to a decent full ‘Welsh’ and a hot drink or two. The breakfast room looked over the River Dee and up to the Castell Dinas ruins which was a bonus. Ruth saw Grey Wagtails and two Mandarin on the river.

After recharging with a good meal we headed back out to carry on birding up on the moor. The grouse still performed, both species giving us great views. Scanning from a watch point a female Hen Harrier came through giving us all excellent views as it hunted over the heather. A selfish but typical Ring Ouzel dropped in from high and disappeared into a valley without letting anyone else see it.

Hen Harrier

Hen Harrier

We carried on stopping and scanning from the car to the Eclusham mountain seeing more Grouse. Another good vantage point and grassier area near the farms gave us five ouzel imposter Blackbirds, three smart Wheatear and a selection of other birds. Ruth called out a raptor that whizzed through, it was a male Merlin hunting pipits but the view was brief.

Wheatear

Wheatear

Fortunately we had another encounter with the male Merlin as he had isolated a Meadow Pipit, the small passerine was looping and stalling to prevent capture by the raptor. It’s a technique often used by pipits and larks, the outcome wasn’t known but it was a close and spectacular encounter.

Moving down to the woods and valley we stopped to watch a Goshawk soaring before it dropped into the woods. A Redpoll was flying about calling. A few more stops were made in the warm sunshine with a near predicted Peregrine on the cliffs (the sixth raptor species of the trip) and pairs of Buzzards above Eglwseg. Willow Warblers, Chiffchaff and Green Woodpecker were seen and heard with alternative views to the ruins of Castell Dinas. A Wheatear bathed in a puddle next to the car with another on the slope nearby. This ended a brilliant morning, just about perfect birding.

Bathing Wheatear

Wheatear, male bathing, Eglwseg

We called in a Llangollen and then began our journey home across country, it may have been prudent to keep up to date with news as a Night Heron was showing at the Venus Pool but even without this bird we had done rather well.

A great trip and thanks to everyone who joined me.

Martin J McGill

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at 7:48 pm

South Devon, 24 March 2017

A cold and grey day dawned, all six of us were not put off in the slightest.

Our first stop of the day was at Powderham Church where the first bird of the day award went to two Cattle Egrets. This winter, especially late winter/early spring has seen an influx of this species involving record numbers in the SW. Our egret du0 had a couple of Little Egret and a flock of sheep for company. Walking down t0 the railway bridge we used the height advantage to scan the Exe at low tide. Flocks and small parties of Dark-bellied Brent Goose, Shelduck, Dunlin, Curlew, Bar-tailed Godwit, Grey Plover, Redshank, Pintail, Wigeon, Teal, Red-breasted Merganser, Great Crested Grebe, Little Egret, Cormorants and various gull species were on show.

Next stop was nearby at Powderham park where c15 Sand Martin fed over the pools, Shelduck and other common wildfowl were also roosting or perhaps sheltering from the cold NE wind. We made a couple of stops at Cockwood/Starcross to scan the estuary. Highlights included 3 Greenshank, a drake Goosander, 2 Shag, 2 Slavonian Grebe and Turnstones among the wader flocks.

Moving on to Dawlish Warren we had a short lunch stop and then scanned the sea from the seawall. A party of 3 and 6 Common Scoter, 2 Great Crested Grebe, a few Shag, two flyby Fulmar, Guillemot and a Red-throated Diver were noted albeit distantly. The six scoter flew in closer which gave us a better view. Parties of Meadow Pipit and an alba wagtail flew in off the sea. Turnstones did a tightrope walk act along the groynes.

A short drive beyond Teignmouth and we were able to park and then scan the clifftop fields at Labrador Bay RSPB, we located a flock of 25+ Cirl Bunting as they fed close to the hedgerow. It was great to watch them and listen to the contact calls. A nervous flock of Linnets proved why when Sparrowhawk went through. A few Chiffchaff were also grubbing about in the fields and hedgerows for insects, no doubt newly arrived. From the lower path we enjoyed listening to singing Cirl Buntings and watching a pair of Kestrel below us. Attention was drawn to the sea, a party of six Long-tailed Duck, 111 Common Scoter also harboured two larger and darker 2cy Velvet Scoters. A few Gannets streamed by and  Peregrine had a look at us before it cruised along the cliffs.

Back up at the car park we saw a Sparrowhawk over sea before it headed inland. A group decision was to reject plans to look for the Humpback Whale that was resident in Start Bay the preceding month. It had got itself tangled in crab pot ropes a couple of days before and needed a rescue party to cut if free. It wasn’t seen the day before so we stuck with the birding.

Our last stop of the day was at Bowling Green Marsh RSPB which also had c30 Sand Martin as well as 4 Little Grebe, Teal, Wigeon, Mallard, Shoveler, Black-tailed Godwit flock, Redshanks, a Green Sandpiper, Sparrowhawk and calling Cetti’s Warbler. At the Clyst viewing platform we had a large flock of Redshank but it was clear many of the wader species had departed for the summer, especially the Avocets, we saw none!

To top the day off the group saw their first two Swallow of 2017 in sunshine as I was off collecting the car.

Thank you to all who joined me, it was a very good day out. Some images of the day follow.

Martin

Cirl Buntings at Labrador Bay RSPB

Cirl Bunting, Devon, MJMcGill 2 Cirl Bunting, Devon, MJMcGill, 4 Cirl Bunting, female, MJMcGILL Cirl Buntings, Devon, MJMcGill

Long-tailed Ducks in Labrador Bay

Long-tailed Duck, Labrador Bay, MJMcGill LTDUCKS 4 LTDUCKS, 3 LTDucks 2

LTDucks

Velvet Scoters (1s male and female, top two) with Common Scoter

Velvet and Common Scoter, Labrador Bay Velvet and Common Scoter

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at 5:20 pm

Forest of Dean, 4 March 2017

Another late winter ‘FoD’ visit saw nine of us meeting up (many thanks to Keith for giving Jeanne a lift). It was a fine chorus that greeted us, numerous Song Thrush, Robin and a variety of tits singing and calling. Coal Tits and Nuthatches were seen down to ‘our level’ thanks to some seed. A Mistle Thrush was busy collecting moss from the upper branches of an oak, something insulating to add to its nest.

Out on the field we had good views of the flocks of Redwings along with the common thrushes. With a little patience and quiet stalking a couple of Hawfinch were located, unfortunately these birds were very secretive and refused to show for us. Great spotted Woodpecker was also noted.

We relocated to take in a walk up to Crabtree Hill, our first birds were a pair of Crossbill atop the larches, we had reasonable scope views before these birds dropped in to feed out of view. Goldcrest were singing in the firs and many pairs or small parties of Siskin were mobile as they flew over or stuck to the canopy. A trio of Redpoll stopped for a short time in the top of the trees but flew away before we could ‘scope’ them. The finches were not going to make it easy for us!

At the trig point we scanned the heath, our target bird was present as we watched the wintering Great Grey Shrike from a safe distance, this is a popular bird, I must thank everyone for accepting scope views only, we had left it the whole heath to hunt in peace. A Reed Buntings was also skulking in the gorse and grass before flying off over us. A distant Goshawk soared over the valley along with a Buzzard. Four Lapwing flew down the valley in the distance.

We wandered back to take in a refreshment and comfort stop in Parkend. A take out coffee and cake was followed by a walk through the woods and a search of the stream. The brook was in spate after heavy rain the day before, we couldn’t locate any Dippers but a Treecreeper gave us good views. Back at the car a flock of 6 Hawfinch flew over us and landed  in the canopy, one or two showed through the branches until they all flew back over us and away.

Moving on to New Fancy View a female Goshawk flew across the road just after leaving the village but only for the driver (me), at the viewpoint it was rather busy with people so we went for another woodland walk with a few common species noted (a party of Raven the pick of the bunch) before we dropped in at the Cannop Valley. Grey Wagtails were about the ponds and a Cormorant came in.

Out in a nearby clearing we picked up a Sparrowhawk and another Crossbill flew up the valley. Back to the car for a short drive to the upper pond where we located Mandarins on the flood puddles in the woods and a Marsh Tit was added to the list. The weather was closing in with a heavy shower so we all decided to head home and take in Walmore Common on the way.

The ditches held a few Wigeon and Teal with Grey Heron and a pair of Mute Swans but the wintering Whooper Swans had probably moved on. We had run over on time getting back to Whitminster by 3pm, this concluded the extended half day out.

Thank you to all who joined me

Martin

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at 9:03 pm

Poole Harbour and Purbeck

4 February 2017

Weather forecasts didn’t look good for much of the week but with 24hrs to go the storm fronts had whipped through the English Channel and opened up the possibility of a good day ahead. Seven of us met up, some at Whitminster. We departed with a Blackbird, Song Thrush and Robin dawn chorus at 0700am. We met up with others on the way south down the M5.

A singing roadside Corn Bunting forced a reactive and brief layby stop on the Wiltshire/Dorset chalk downland. Although we could only hear the bird we soon spotted a pair of Stonechat, a Red Kite and Roe Deer and a few released Red-legged Partridges before moving on.

Out first stop was to take on the flooded lane and fields to visit RSPB Lytchett Fields which is situated on the north shore of Poole Harbour. The viewing area over the first pool held two Water Pipits, a few Teal and we heard a calling Water Rail. A female Marsh Harrier hunted over the reed bed shore of Lytchett Bay and distant Avocet, Curlew, Wigeon and Shelduck could be seen on the mud.

Moving on to the viewing areas overlooking the newly excavated pools we noted a Green Sandpiper in a ditch (JV) saw a Dartford Warbler in the gorse. At the viewpoint a bonus male Green-winged Teal was among the Teal flock. The Lapwings had a single Black-tailed Godwit for company. A Stonechat and a Long-tailed Tit flock were appreciated.

GWT 1

gwt 2

GWT 3

Keen to catch the tide our next stop was at Upton CP, the park grounds had plenty of singing and calling passerines including Nuthatches. After a hot drink and snack we made our way to the shore of Holes Bay where the waders were roosting. A large flock of Avocet could wait it out in deeper water with the ducks however large numbers of busy Dunlin and Black-tailed Godwit were pushed in closer, a strange leucistic godwit sported a white head and shoulders which stood out.

Smaller numbers of Redshank and Curlew were also seen in the saltmarsh as well as Pintail, Gadwall and Shelduck, a few Little Grebe were also spotted. It actually felt warm in the strong sunshine in this sheltered part of the park.

Our next port of call was the chain ferry at Sandbanks, the ‘voyage’ didn’t last long but it was nice to be out in the sunshine. I saw two Black-necked Grebe, one in the channel and the other in Shell Bay. A quick unload of the ferry meant we had to gather everyone up at the toll, soon after we stopped at a good spot for Dartford Warblers.

A short walk from the car and we were soon watching two of these tiny long tailed warblers as they posed on the gorse and heather. Well done CC for being alert. A Sika Deer ran across the path as we walked to a better spot to scan Poole Harbour. Goldeneye, Red-breasted Mergansers, Great Crested Grebe, Brent Geese, Grey Plover and Knot were all seen.

Another short drive away was the Studland Middle Beach, a calm sea gave up at least six Black-necked Grebe, three Great Crested Grebe, two Great Northern Divers, a few distant auks (probably Guillemot) and 11 Common Scoter (inc 2 adult drakes). Two Mediterranean Gull circled offshore.

Moving on to the Arne moors we spent the rest of the day scanning from the high ground of Slepe Heath looking over Hartland Moor to Corfe Castle and back across the reeds of the Wareham Channel to Swineham Point. Our patient efforts gave us Marsh Harrier,Green Woodpecker (on call), flyover Meadow Pipits, Linnet and Great spotted Woodpecker and Greenfinch. Another Dartford Warbler from the scrub. The Grey Herons began heading off to roost which was a handy signal for us. We didn’t get to see our final target bird of the day, no Hen Harriers appeared, it was still a good day full of birds in a lovely part of Dorset.

Thank you to everyone who joined me for the day out.

Martin

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at 1:25 pm

North Norfolk 7-9 December 2016

Dark-bellied Brent Geese near Burnham Overy

Dark-bellied Brents, Norfolk, MJMcGill

7 December 2016

We all assembled early in the morning, all of us ready and raring to go birding in North Norfolk once again. A stop or two to take in a brew and a rest stop along the way was welcome,  we did pass a few birds along the way, pick of the bunch would have been the Whooper Swan flock. The first birding stop was at Burnham Overy, a walk down the hill from the coast road to link up with the seawall path. This route took us past flocks of Pink-footed, Greylag and Dark-bellied Brent Geese, among them a few Barnacle Geese grazed. Marsh Harriers hunted over the marshes between here and Holkham NNR, these raptors were often responsible for putting up the flocks of Lapwing and Golden Plover.

Reaching the seawall we passed flocks of busy Dunlin as well as Redshank and Grey Plover. At the dunes we headed along the beach looking for an autumnal leftover, a long-staying Issabelline Wheatear. Fortunately a flock of 20 Snow Bunting dropped in and gave us great views as they moved up and down the beach and fed on the strandline. A good search of the beach and adjacent dunes did not reveal the target bird, it was getting very breezy so we headed back enjoying the open, wild scenery and birds.

At the guest house we received a warm welcome with tea and cake. After a wash and change what followed was a team effort putting up the Christmas tree! I couldn’t claim to have helped out but it was up and ready for decorating in no time, a first for an Anser trip. Our hosts may have meant it as a jovial comment but at least it saved them a job. A good meal followed in one of the local Dersingham pubs and we were all ready for an early night.

8 December 2016

Breakfast was leisurely and was enlivened by the skeins of Pink-footed Geese heading from the Wash inland for the day. We made our way across country toward Docking, North Creake and Burnham Market to look for flocks and connected with a few groups here and there. It wasn’t long before we were at the Lady Anne’s Drive where we saw Wigeon and Snipe in the fields and were soon heading out to the beach, BW was last to set off and noted a Grey Partridge in the field next to the drive.

Out on the salt marsh between the dunes and woodland belt we searched for our target bird, 19 Shore Lark flew in toward us and landed nearby, the flock scuttled across the sand gleaning seeds as they went.  It is always a treat to spend time with these charming birds and there was no hurry to leave them. It has been a brilliant winter for this species in the UK.

Shore Larks

Shore Lark, Holkham, MJMcGill

Shore Larks in flight, MJMcGill

Shore Lark, Holkham Bay, MJMcGill

Eventually we walked the short distance to the beach to make full use of the high tide to scan for birds. Out on the sea we logged Great Crested Grebes, a fly by Great Northern Diver as well as a few Red-throated Diver. A flock of c25 Velvet Scoter were fairly close in, a larger flock of Common Scoter with 15+ Velvet Scoter were further out with 4 Long-tailed Duck. Heading back through the Holkham Gap we took time to scan the mobile 400 strong Linnet flock, four Twite showed themselves to us when the flock settled on the beach.

Moving on quickly we wanted to catch the high tide period at Titchwell RSPB beach so we didn’t stop to take in many of the birds on the way. KL spotted a Kingfisher as it fished unconcerned by our presence from WW2 pill box. Reaching the beach as soon as we could was a good strategy, we enjoyed a great hour or so going through the birds that drifted past, many were close in. A few Red-throated Divers and a Black-throated Diver were seen well plus Great Crested Grebes and a hide and seek Guillemot. The birding was great, at least 25 immature/female Velvet Scoter were joined by 45+ busy Long-tailed Duck including some brilliant adult males. An adult male Common Scoter with two females, a few Red-breasted Mergansers, c 20 Goldeneyes and c8 Eiders also bobbed about in the waves, further out a flock of scoter were mostly Common but also contained more Velvets. Quite a show and among the best ‘sea-ducking’ for many years.

Wandering back we were able to enjoy the many freshwater dabbling ducks, Little Grebes, Grey Plover, Bar and Black-tailed Godwits, Dunlin, Avocets and  Shelduck. Once again KL alerted the group saying she had seen a raptor with a white rump and suspected a harrier. A short wait and it appeared again, we watched a female Hen Harrier as it hunted the dunes and saltmarsh before flying high to the east. More Marsh Harriers were seen over the reed bed on the return walk.

With a bit of light to spare we tried our luck at Thornham Harbour and at Holme next the Sea for a dusk Barn Owl but it was just too windy and was now getting dark, time to head for our accommodation in Dersingham. The evening destination was a ‘Pub of the Year’ in Snettisham for a meal and a drink to celebrate a good day.

9 December 2016

Another morning and another Pink-footed Goose fly-by breakfast, replete we loaded up the car with our gear for a drive inland searching for geese inland, when able to stop and scan safely we settled on a large flock of Pink-footed and Greylag Geese, although no other species were seen we could at least appreciate the birds in full view and without causing them to take flight.

We decided as a group to try our luck back at Burnham Overy Dunes again, another good birding walk this time from the harbour to Gun Hill followed, a thorough search delivered Stonechats and a few thrushes but it wasn’t until we nearly gave up when NS found the Issabelline Wheatear feeding between the saltmarsh and dunes. We spent a good while enjoying it, taking in the features until everyone was satisfied. This is still a very scarce bird in the UK and unusual to see one in the month of December.

Issabelline Wheatear at Gun Hill

Issabelline Wheatear, Gun Hill, 9 Dec 16 MJMcGill

Issabelline Wheatear, Gun Hill, 9 December 16, MJMcGill

Issabelline Wheatear, Gun Hill, MJMcGill

As it was our travel day back home we discussed various birding possibilities but we could only manage a short stop at Choseley Drying Barns. A Rough-legged Buzzard had been reported, we could only find a very white Common Buzzard in the location where the RLB was last seen so it may have been a case of mistaken identity. It was busy at the barns with farm machinery so this concluded our birding for this trip other than seeing dozens of Egyptian Geese near a roadside pond.

Thank you to everyone who joined me on another successful visit.

Martin

 

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at 6:31 pm
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