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Middlebere and Arne RSPB, Dorset, 29 September 2017

Five of us departed at 7am, we took a cross country route through some pretty awful weather that had been forecast, it was due to clear by mid morning which thankfully it did. The most notable ‘car birding’ species on the way was a Red Kite perched on a fencepost adjacent to the road. We arrived at Middlebere raring to go at 1045am and walked down the lane toward the hide.

The hedges and fields were buzzing with birds, plenty of Chiffchaffs were zipping about in the foliage with a few Goldcrest  among the tit flocks. Large parties of Goldfinch and Linnet were harvesting food from the dandelions, perhaps a last juicy meal before the dry seeds of winter dominate their diet. A Marsh Harrier hunted over the reedy areas with a couple of Kestrels for good measure.

At the hide we had missed the Osprey, it had caught a fish and was no doubt hidden away in a tree enjoying it’s meal, the programme to establish a population in Poole Harbour through releases is very encouraging.

We settled in at the hide, a call out of “alright Martin” led to an old birding/football playing friend Simon, he also joined us (WWT, Birds Russia) on the Spoon-billed Sandpiper expedition to Chukotka, Far Eastern Siberia in 2011 where we shared some amazing moments birding in the ice and snow and dodging Bears etc. A catch up and exchange of local bird information in the hide followed as Simon is also a wader enthusiast. As it happens the hide contained a variety of friendly, helpful  and informative birders with a sound knowledge of Poole Harbour making for a pleasant visit.

Out on the Middlebere ‘lake’ (actually a shallow estuary channel) we scanned the mudlfats and creeks with the autumnal heathland backdrop (of Arne RSPB). The birdy carrot that was dangled came in the form of a juvenile Stilt Sandpiper which had been seen earlier but was not present now. This stray had been seen at Lodmoor, Weymouth and Lytchett Pools proving how mobile it can be.

No sign of it but no matter as the creek was full of waders, Black-tailed Godwits, a couple of juvenile Ruff, flocks of Redshank and Avocets, 2 Dunlin, 3-4 Spotted Redshank, 8 Knot, Grey Plover and Curlew were all seen well. Plenty of Little Egrets and Grey Heron were also seen and a lone sleepy Spoonbill.

After a spell in the hide we decided to relocate. The walk back produced a bathing Dunnock with Chiffchaff for company, half a dozen Stonechat were fly-catching from the scrub and a couple of skulking Dartford Warbler were heard and briefly seen.

A short drive away was Arne RSPB where we had lunch in the car. A variety of routes were on offer but we chose the Coombe Heath trail as it offered views of the Middlebere channel. First stop was at a small pond to see the magnificent Raft Spiders, they looked superb on the dark water. Checking the gorse carefully revealed 100s of spiders and webs. Colin is going to do some research and hopefully report back on some of the species we encountered, I certainly wouldn’t want to be an insect trying negotiate my way through that silken ‘minefield’.

Raft Spider

Raft Spider, Arne RSPB, MJMcGill

Back up on the heath looking down into the channel gave us more views of the waders, many had moved up with the tide. A panic saw godwits and Avocet flocks flying up stream with no other species for company but returned with the Stilt Sandpiper as they headed downstream. We eventually relocated the godwit flock that contained 8 Knot and I picked up the Stilt Sandpiper on the shore.

Whilst talking everyone in onto the bird it walked in among the godwits and was hidden, we couldn’t see it at all, forty minutes checking the waders at our three favoured locations followed, it couldn’t be seen and I was the only one who had seen it, was I making it up!

One last look through the godwits on the dropping tide and there it was, out in the open, feeding with the Knot and finally giving everyone a decent view with favourable light. A little bit of relief for me to prove I wasn’t seeing things, this smaller North American wader was easily lost among its larger companions and was probably asleep during the earlier search. It was also great to watch five Little Egrets form a feeding co-op, all walking in a line to push the fish ahead in the channels.

Phone-scoped image of the Stilt Sandpiper among the godwits

Stilt Sandpiper, Arne RSPB

A pleasant walk back to the car park offered another hide and seek Dartford Warbler, mostly hide,  at least the Green Woodpecker showed well in the same area earlier. Another short drive away and we checked some pools at a local boat year (that allowed temporary access) for a Red-necked Phalarope that had been present recently (at one stage it also had a Grey Phalarope for company). A few Canada and Greylag Geese were seen as well as Kingfisher and Reed Buntings, the highlight was a flock of 11 ‘Jackdaw bothered’ juvenile Ruff on the water meadows. See pics below.

Ruff juvs 2

Ruff juvs

That was it for the day, over 50 species seen, I was glad of a decent drive home and we were back by 7.40pm.

Thanks to Barbara, Anne, Colin and Ruth for joining me.

Martin

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Martin

at 12:28 pm

News for September to November 2017

Thank you for checking back with Anser Birding. 

Migration season is upon us!

Curlew Sadnpiper with Ringed Plover, Severn, MJMcGill

Residential trips

Contact via email- Martin@Anserbirding.com or text/call 07733 363905.

Please note that a reply to email or text may not be until the evening or following day or so. I am in full time employment for WWT so will endeavour to reply to  you after getting home. May I  politely remind you that during my working hours at WWT  I’m obliged to keep the two roles professionally separate as I’m very busy at Slimbridge, it may not be possible to discuss Anser related matters. I do hope you understand as I wouldn’t wish to offend anyone while I’m rushing about. In anticipation, I thank you for your consideration and look forward to hearing from you after the ‘working day’ or weekends (Friday/Saturday for me). Whilst on the trips I can of course give you my full attention and will be totally alert to spotting plenty of birds and planning bird filled daily itineraries.

Martin

Next day/half day trip date

With migration in full swing there we’ll go to wherever the birds are,  could be a coastal county. Nothing on the cards in the next week or so but you never know.

Keep an eye out for the tweets @AnserNews

Typical Birding day/half days include some of the following Gloucestershire birding venues

These meetings usually fall on Fridays or Saturdays. Pricing and a selection of destinations follow

Forest of Dean-A variety of birds occur with Great spotted and Green Woodpeckers, Lesser Spotted (extremely elusive), Crossbill, Hawfinch (can be shy), Goshawk, Mandarin, Willow Tit (scarce), Marsh Tit, Coal Tit, Nuthatch, Treecreeper, Redpoll, Siskin, Jay, Goosander and Dipper are all possible. In summer Nightjar and Woodcock can be seen and heard on nocturnal forays in good weather.

Half day trips in December 2017 and January 2018.

WWT Slimbridge where I work has plenty of events on offer year round. I usually cover the Sunday events. See website for latest sightings here http://www.wwt.org.uk/wetland-centres/slimbridge/wildlife/latest-sightings/

Upper Severn Estuary Includes migration of waders, wildfowl and passerines. Habitat, seasonal wetlands, intertidal estuary and freshwater pools and lakes.

Sharpness A good spot for ‘seawatching’ should we have gales or for watching visible migration. Black Redstarts (in winter), Peregrine and often Common Sandpiper or commoner waders.

Cotswolds Downland birds- Buzzard, Red Kite, Stonechat, Meadow Pipit, Grey Partridge (scarce) and Red legged Partridge (most, if not all are released birds) Corn Bunting, Yellowhammer, Marsh Tit, Linnet, Golden Plover (in winter), Lapwing and more. Habitat-upland hills, heath and some areas farmed with wildlife in mind.

Rarity reaction
If anything special arrives nearby (or futher afield) a half or full day of quality birding can be built around the target bird or birds. This type of trip can be organised at late notice with a very early start. If this is of interest then keep a close eye on what birds are around, twitter feed and here on the news page.

Pricing and how to book a place

Prices based on a minimum of four participants- £20-25.00  for a half day (5 hours) and £40-50.00 for a full day (10 hours).

It is best to text or call 07733 363 905 to confirm a place or if you have any queries, alternatively send an email to Martin@anserbirding.com . See below (near bottom of page) for the typical meeting point details if not meeting at the destination.

Do you use Twitter?
Anser Birding events are now on @AnserNews

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General news

Watching Waterbirds with Kate Humble and me

The book I had been working on with Kate Humble, Think Publishing and A and C Black (now Bloomsbury) over the last couple of years is available in WWT shops, online, Amazon and all good book stores. It is intended as a bridge guide to introduce common wetland birds to those new to the hobby and also features the Great Waterbird Challenge for you to try out.

If you have bought it already, thank you very much, we do hope you enjoy using it. Link to bookshop.

https://www.wwt.org.uk/shop/shop/books/natural-history-books/watching-waterbirds-with-kate-humble-and-martin-mcgill/

Martin J McGill

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Whitminster Meeting Point

Directions for events if you meet at Whitminster…. leave Junction 13 of M5 and head to A38 Roundabout. On the A38 take exit for GLOUCESTER, WHITMINSTER heading North. Second exit if coming from A38 South or 3rd exit from A419. Head up the hill and take first left (after the Garden Centre) turning left at the village hall  (opposite is the Old Forge Pub which is on the east side of the A38, School Lane is on the West side).

There is a layby (4+ cars) just past Whitminster School on the right. To reach here continue down school lane and straight over the mini roundabout, the layby is immediately after the school where the village ends. Alternative parking can be found nearby, we can direct you.

Link to map to search for Holbury Crescent http://maps.google.co.uk/maps?hl=en&tab=wl

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BBC Tide Timetable for the West (note you can search anywhere in Britain from this link)

http://www.bbc.co.uk/weather/coast/tides/west.shtml

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Martin

at 9:32 am

Norfolk and the Suffolk Brecks, 17-19 May 2017

Broads, beaches and birds

An early meet and start to make our way through the traffic and heavy rain allowed us to reach our first natural birding stop of the day. The rain had eased but not the anticipation, this was more of a twitch as not a single one of us wanted to miss an opportunity to study a ‘trip’ of breeding plumaged Dotterel that had once again this year gathered on the fields near Choseley Drying barns, now a regular stopover.

We first spotted them as a Marsh Harrier flew over and flushed the party of eight, the birds flew about before disappearing into dead ground out of view. Patience and scanning was rewarded, Dot re-found the birds at the far end of the field so we all moved to a better spot near the road to watch them feed. The Dotterel looked marvellous, females being the brightest and in neatest plumages as this species has a role reversal, the males undertake incubating and tending the young.

Dotterel Dotterel 2

What a great start, one of the reasons this trip was timed on these dates and hard to top despite some great days to follow  it turned out to be the highlight of the trip for all. We also noted Whitethroat and Yellowhammer along the hedgerows before a loo and brew stop at Titchwell RSPB.

The rain still fell but we walked out to the superb fresh marsh to see what could be found, a Bittern boomed, up to five Marsh Harrier could be seen over the reeds. Cetti’ Warbler blasted out song and a pair of Bearded Tits gave us rainfall forgetting views atop the reeds. Reed Buntings also ignored the wet stuff and sang on. The hide offered shelter and more good birds.

Bearded Tit 2 Bearded Tit

Two male Ruff in breeding plumage, small numbers of Dunlin, Sanderling, Ringed Plover with a Turnstone, Barwit and Redshank and larger flocks of Black-tailed Godwit and breeding Avocets. The Black-headed Gull/Common Tern colony also had a few Mediterranean Gulls hanging about. Red crested and Common Pochard were in the deeper water and a brood of bold or foolhardy Shoveler ventured from the reeds. Back on the seawall we saw a breeding plumage Grey Plover and Little Egrets on the salt marsh. A wander about the car park and wood was productive for birdsong but it was as we were leaving that a Lesser Whitethroat and Common Whitethroat sang,  the former showing well as we were in the car.

Moving on our next stop was at Cley next the Sea at the NOA watch point to search out an Iberian Chiffchaff, this subtle bird gave itself up immediately but was initially silent, it did decide to sing for us to confirm id. Singing Blackcap, Reed Warbler and Common Chiffchaff were also present. A short drive away was the Cley and Salthouse NWT reserve so we scanned over the marshes from the car park seeing a variety of typical wetland species before heading back to Hunstanton to check in and settle down for the night or have a drink and meal before retiring.

We all woke to a sunny and warm day, no rain. After a 0730 breakfast we loaded up and drove down to the Broads. First stop was at Potter Heigham for food supplies and soon after a long walk in the sunshine. We passed singing Whitethroats, Chiffchaffs and Willow Warblers along the hedges, woodland and broadland path.

One of our target birds for the day was a long staying Savi’s Warbler and it was singing nearby but sadly didn’t show for us. Looking over the Rush Hills scrape we abandoned birds for the magnificent Swallowtail butterfly that was showing off!

Swallowtail, Hickling Broad, MJMcGill

A brisk walk along the bank watching  plenty of Common Terns and Marsh Harriers were seen plus 2 Buzzard,  3 Hobby, 1-2 reeling Grasshopper Warbler and up to 5 bugling Cranes as they soared over Hickling broad. Another of the days target birds loomed into view, a giant Caspian Tern flew past.

Approaching Potter Heigham marshes we noted two Whimbrel, breeding Lapwing and got more great views of Marsh Harrier. The floods were busy with wetland birds,  a drake Garganey was pick of the ducks. A Black-winged Stilt made a short flight and came in to view briefly and the place was alive with Avocets. This new site warranted more time and exploration as reports of Spoonbills and Little Stints on the far marsh would have been a welcome addition. We retraced our steps at a slower pace seeing another Swallowtail and many other butterfly species including Small Copper, Painted Lady and Brimstone.

Once again the Caspian Tern appeared, this time it flew back and forth giving all good views over Hickling Broad, it was good to see this often difficult to catch up with species, they are well known for being mobile and heading off on long feeding forays. Another wait for the Savi’s Warbler simply proved it was taking a break. The Reed Buntings and Sedge Warblers could still be seen and heard.

Caspian Tern 2 Caspian Tern 3 Caspian Tern

Back at car we made the short drive to a busy broadside cafe for a break and sat out in the sun for a coffee and cake, one attendee also had an ice-cream. Refreshed we headed back toward North Norfolk stopping at Weybourne, Kelling Quags and Salthouse with another short scan from the Cley and Salthouse NWT car park. Plenty of birds seen. We tried our luck with drive-by listening on Salthouse Heath for Nightingale but they were having a rest, nearby at Wiveton bridge we watched a lovely Barn Owl hunting in daylight. A well timed stop for an early-ish evening meal at the Anchor at Morston provided a very good meal and allowed time to get to an evening session with Nightjars.

Barn Owl 1

A short stop to watch a pair of Grey Partridge was a must but we arrived at Wolferton on time to walk out to Dersingham bog. We had over forty fly-pasts of Woodcock with many of them being close encounters, it was raining but it didn’t put us or the Woodcock off. The Nightjars weren’t flying but up to seven churred from the trees, it was still a wonderful experience before ending the birding day, we got back to the hotel late and probably fair to say we were all ready for bed.

Our final day arrived breezy and showery, after loading up we stopped nearby at Hunstanton cliffs, the Fulmars put on quite a show on the strong updrafts, a stalwart Whitethroat sang it’s heart out on the cliff top. We headed along the coast to Thornham Harbour where Curlew, Redshank, Grey Plover, Meadow Pipits and flocks of waders were out on the shore, a Peregrine harassed them briefly. It was nice to see flocks of Brent Geese still around, maybe sensibly they were in no hurry to get to the Arctic circle just yet. Gannets mooched about offshore.

Another stop of Brancaster beach was made hitting home how cold and strong the wind coming in off the North Sea was. A couple of Med Gulls flew over calling, more Dark-bellied Brent Geese were on the saltmarsh and a Great-crested Grebe was the best bird on the sea. It was sensible to leave the exposed coast so we headed toward the Brecks to finish of the day.

First stop was at an undisclosed site, Stone Curlew was nesting, Stonechats on show and Mistle Thrush quite visible. A short drive away was a chance to scan wires and explore the lanes for Turtle Dove without luck, a stop at another heath allowed time for a walk. Stonechats, Yellowhammers and Great -spotted and Green Woodpecker were all heard. Another pair of Stone Curlew was seen at the nest with a pair of Woodlark also giving great views. It was a great end to the birding before leaving for home and a drive back to Gloucestershire.

Stone Curlew, MJMcGill

I’ve had great feedback from everyone who attended, thanks for the pleasing comments, it was a good trip with plenty of excellent birds.

Martin J McGill

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at 3:40 pm

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
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