Wednesday, 21 October 2015


A lot of birding is about being in the right place at the right time with an element of luck thrown in.

The arable fields at Emmett's farm along with various stretches of set-aside and game cover strips has always looked to me to offer my best chance of getting species such as Merlin, harriers and owls.  Indeed I was fortunate enough to bump into a male Hen Harrier here just two weeks ago.  For the previous three days, I had made a special effort to walk around this area - I had even taken my daughter for a walk around in the last hour of light on Sunday specifically checking for owls, but with no luck.  Yesterday, I had spent about an hour up to midday here.  I had found a Stonechat, but everything else was as expected.  A farmer was spraying all his brassica crops, so anything lurking within these fields would have been flushed - in fact a Snipe was - a little unexpected.

Move on five hours and Dave C arrives to see the Stonechat, which is still in the same hedge line, but he then chances upon the very bird I had been hoping to see, a Short-eared Owl.  He had it flying over the crop field for a brief time before it disappeared from view over the brow of the hill and was unable to relocate it.  A great find.  However, I was now tied up with family duties, so thought that this was going to be another one that got away.  Due to the late hour that Dave had found the bird, I thought there was a good chance it would still be there, especially as the habitat looks good and fortunately I had a small window of opportunity just as the light was dropping.  I arrived on site at 6:15pm with my son in tow and walked up the track towards the open barn.  Within 5 minutes I was looking at a Short-eared Owl flying over the rough set-aside just to the north of this - get in!  I watched it for two minutes before it flew over the hedge at the top of the hill and out of sight.  Despite watching until almost dark, it didn't reappear.  There are lots of fields here, so it could have been ranging over a wide area.

So thanks to Dave for turning up this patch tick - wish I'd found it though!

Tuesday, 20 October 2015

On patch and off patch

October 20th - I was out today and yesterday morning, both days being fairly similar.  Signs of vismig, with small numbers of Skylarks and Meadow Pipits going over along with 1s and 2s of Siskin and Lesser Redpoll.  I haven't seen too many Redwing yet - maybe I'm not out early enough, but I had a sizeable flock of about 75 Fieldfare go over NW yesterday, my first real numbers of these this autumn.  On the passerine front around the lake edges, there are still a handful of Chiffchaffs, plenty of Goldcrests and the odd Treecreeper amongst the Long-tailed Tit flocks.  A Coal Tit seems to be fairly regular around the edge of the STW.

I had a Yellowhammer fly over Emmetts yesterday and there are many more Skylarks and Mipits on the fields along with a flock of about 30 Linnets and single Lesser Redpoll.  There are 2 or 3 Chiffchaffs here too - they often fly into the game cover to feed.

Wildfowl on the lake is as expected with reasonable numbers of Wigeon, Shoveler and Teal, a flock of 200+ Tufted Duck that move between here and Randall's Lake to the west, just into double figures of Pochard and a handful of Gadwall.  The Greylags have taken over the spit along with plenty of Canadas and Egyptians - hopefully they will pull in one of their rarer cousins soon.  10-20 Snipe are still feeding on the base of the spit.

Of more interest was a female type Goldeneye that I watched fly in this morning at about 10:30am.  These are not regular birds here and usually turn up as single day migrants or from cold weather movements in the winter.

It started feeding as soon as it arrived and spent most of its time under water, so other record shots looked like this!

Two vocal Water Rail on the west side, one showing itself, were my first of the autumn here.

I also found another Stonechat at the top of Emmett's fields near Bloom Wood.  I didn't have my scope with me so had to settle for a digibinned record shot.

The other slightly annoying thing happened yesterday morning.  I was standing on the southern bank when a loud, single pipit call rang out over my head.  It sounded just like a Rock or Water Pipit, but when I looked up I could only see what looked like 4 Meadow Pipits.  Whether it was these birds, one of them, or another unseen bird that made the call, I don't know, but it was a very brief look before they flew off never to be seen again, so possibly one that got away.

I also can't resist giving a brief account of a day trip to North Norfolk last Friday 16th.  There had been a mouth watering list of good birds turning up here over the week, so I decided it was too good to miss.  Centred on the Holkham Pines/Wells Wood area but travelling as far east as Beeston Regis, by the end of the day I had had two Red-flanked Bluetails, two Isabelline Shrikes, a Hume's Yellow-browed Warbler, a Pallas's Warbler, a Blyth's Reed Warbler and an Olive -backed Pipit.  There were plenty of other common migrants too, including a couple of Firecrests, a fly over Short-eared Owl, Bramblings and plenty of other birds.  A fantastic day out and one that will be hard to beat in terms of quality of birds seen - slightly better than on patch!!

I hardly took any record shots, as there are so many proper ones on the internet, but I did take a couple.  They are both pretty poor as it was a dull day, but shown here for posterity:

The very confiding OBP at Muckleburgh Hill - too close for digiscoping - shame I couldn't get it sharp

The Beeston Regis Izzy Shrike

Tuesday, 13 October 2015

And some more.....

13th October - another lovely sunny morning, but the NE breeze was even stronger today and felt bitter at times.

I had a quick look around the lake, but it all looked as normal.  No sign of yesterday's Pintail, numbers of Wigeon, Shoveler and Teal still creeping up and 14 Snipe feeding around the base of the reeds on the spit.  I had my first Great Black-backed Gulls of the autumn, with two adult birds present.  Common Gulls are also beginning to increase - 14 this morning on the spit and several flying north presumably to feed on the field that is being ploughed at Emmett's.  Goldcrests are everywhere, tzitting away, I also had another or the same Coal Tit in with a tit flock on the west bank - quite vocal too.  Just a few Chiffchaffs around now and no other warblers.  A Lesser Redpoll was disturbed from willow herb on the south bank and a few Siskins still going over, mostly singles.  A lone Little Egret flew over the railway and on towards Cock Marsh.  I also had my first Redwings of the autumn, with a flock of about 25 birds flying west.

I took a look at Emmett's, where there are small numbers of Meadow Pipits, Skylarks and Linnets along with a gazillion Pheasants waiting to be shot (lovely sport!).  A couple of Raven flew over low north, cronking as they went and then distantly to the north, a flock of about 50 Golden Plover were wheeling about.  Following a fairly poor first winter period, I am just now picking off the birds that I would have expected to get then, Golden Plover being another one.  These birds are presumably part of a larger flock that I have been watching just up the road but off patch.  They have been building up for a couple of weeks now and I counted 280 last weekend.  They seem to do this every year in October, but then seem to disperse to other sites.

Monday, 12 October 2015

Some new arrivals

12th October - a lovely sunny day, although the NE breeze was a bit cutting.  I was very happy with the two year ticks that arrived on patch today.  The first of these was a flock of three Pintail that flew in from the west whilst I was watching from the southern bank.  They pitched down on the east side of  the lake and then made their way to the mouth of the works bay where they began up ending with a few Canada Geese.  I always find it a bit odd when different duck turn up and seemingly ignore the numbers of other duck present, especially Teal, Wigeon and Shoveler at the moment, and go and do their own thing.  I managed a distant record shot shortly after they had pitched down:

Pintail are about annual, with the odd bird or two turning up from autumn and through the winter.  However, we have been a bit spoilt in recent winters, as the wet conditions have made the patch more to their liking and flocks into double figures have stayed around for some time - not last winter though - these three being the first of the year.

The next year tick was one that I alluded to recently and thought might bypass me this year.  Well it wasn't to be, as I found a nice Stonechat fly catching in the sun along the path by the athletics track.  In fact, it was within a few yards of where the gropper was last month.  It had found a hawthorn to its liking and kept coming back to the same perch.

Front view
Back view
A bit further along this path, there are always Green Woodpeckers clinging to the wooden fence posts of a fence that runs into a weedy field.  Today I decided to snap a record of a female bird.

Tuesday, 6 October 2015

Grey Ghost!

October 6th - the lack of recent updates reflects the lack of decent birds.  I have been trying to get the enthusiasm up to write a blog post on the mediocrity of the patch, but now I have a great excuse.....

I spent this morning tramping around and looking yet again for something worth while.  It wasn't as wet as yesterday, but there were some pretty heavy showers to try and evade.  I was seeing the usual crowd - the regular adult Yellow-legged Gull, three Common Gulls, a few fly over Siskins, Skylarks and Meadow Pipits, a slight increase in wildfowl, with 33 Wigeon, 30 Shoveler and about 40 Teal, a handful of Snipe, but that was about it.  Ever the optimist, I keep listening out for the distinctive call of Yellow-browed Warbler, but all I've had so far are numerous Goldcrests and dwindling numbers of Chiffchaff - a Coal Tit on the west bank last week was slightly more unusual for here.

I returned home and decided that after lunch I would try Pump Lane, Emmett's fields and then the west side of Marlow GPs in the hope of turning up a Stonechat - another species that I thought I would have had by now, but could well become a blank year for it.  At least the weather had dried up by the afternoon.  Pump Lane had a small flock of Meadow Pipits and a few very pale grey female Pied Wags trying to look like Whites.  I arrived at Emmett's and decided that I would leave my scope in the boot and just take bins - my expectations were falling fast.  However, things were about to change..........

I had only walked a few hundred yards when a bird of prey lifted off from beyond the game cover about 50 yards ahead of me.  I could see immediately that this was going to be a harrier, however when I lifted my bins up I was amazed to see an adult male Hen Harrier flapping gracefully over the field.  It held a small dark shape in its talons that was indeterminable, presumably either a small bird or a small mammal and also presumably just caught.  I watched it fly low over the field to the west and then it disappeared below the ridge of the field, though it did look like it was coming down again.

I then planned my next move.  I needed to get news out, as a Hen Harrier is a good local bird, an adult male is an extremely good local bird.  I decided to post the record on the county website, as this would inform many people and the record would also be picked up by the bird information services and sent out.  I then had to return to the car to collect my scope.  I intended to walk via the permissive path to the ridge that the bird had disappeared behind and hope that it was still visible.  The walk took some minutes and once at the ridge I could see more fields stretched out between me and the A404 bypass - this is not an area I had looked at before.  I scanned with my bins and almost immediately picked up the harrier again.  This must have been about 20 minutes after my initial sighting, so it looked to be sticking for a bit.  It was flying over a short grass field several hundred yards to the west.  I got it in the scope just to make sure that I wasn't messing up a Pallid or Northern, but no, a beautiful adult male Hen.  After a short while, it descended and landed in the field and remained there for some time - maybe it had devoured its prey item and wanted a rest.  I took some very distant record shots.  It then took off, flew a fair bit closer and then landed in another field.  I took some more record shots.  Flight shots would have been better to show it in its full glory, but I can't do those with my set up unless it is very close.  A couple of magpies landed next to it and scared it into flight, but it just returned to its original field and landed again.

I noticed Pete S and another guy nearby scanning in the wrong direction.  Assuming they were looking for the harrier, I waved my arms to attract their attention and then beckoned them to come up the hill.  Within a few minutes, they had the bird on the deck in their scopes and I had to leave for school pick up.  What a fantastic afternoon that turned out to be!

Edit: it transpires that what must have been the same bird was seen earlier in the day at Staines Moor, where it was watched hunting for 90 minutes before flying off NW at 12:30pm.

Initial view in field digiscoped at about 50x

Luckily it came a bit closer, but still hundreds of yards away

Same shot but cropped

Some other photos that I've taken over the past few weeks but not had a blog post to use them on:

The regular adult YLG

An over exposed 1w YLG

And again...
Quite enjoyed watching a small flock of goldfinches feeding on teazels

Noticed in the photo that this bird is ringed

Juv male Sprawk trying to dry out on the spit after this morning's showers
I've seen a couple of Red Underwings on patch this September. Not an uncommon moth, but one that I don't see too often. This one was digiscoped from 50 yds away on a telegraph pole, so hasn't come out too badly.