Wednesday, 24 April 2013

A Reserve First!

Not a new bird, but a new reserve for me this weekend; RSPB Minsmere in Suffolk. It was a glorious weekend and I can whole-heartedly recommend a visit! As the weather was spring-like, so were the birds, with Blackcap, Willow Warbler and Chiffchaff and Sedge Warbler all present and in full voice. Some rather more unusual spring sounds were heard in the form of squealing Water Rails, a singing Nightingale and booming Bitterns, the latter of which seemed to be present all day and with the boom capable of travelling over 5 km audible wherever you are on the reserve. Not only were the Bitterns noisy, they were also visible, and I was awarded cracking views on two occasions; one evening was spent watching an individual hunting for around 20 minutes, never further than 30 metres away!

Eurasian Bittern, Botaurus stellaris

Eurasian Bittern, Botaurus stellaris

Continuing further with the spring theme, Bumblebees were out in force and these Great Crested Grebes were beginning their elaborate mating ritual.

Bumblebee, Bombus spp.

Great Crested Grebes courting, Podiceps cristatus

There were also plenty of passing migrants around with Arctic Tern, this sub-adult plumage Little Gull, two Spoonbill and a Ferruginous Duck all present on the Saturday.

A pair of Spoonbill, Platalea leucorodia

Little Gull, Hydrocoloeus minutus, with Black-headed Gull, Chroicocephalus ridibundus for comparison

Ferruginous Duck, Aythya nyroca

What a weekend, I left with the feeling that spring had well and truly been welcomed in, and I couldn't wait to get back to the patch and see what had happened while I had been away!

Sunday, 7 April 2013

A Touch of the Med!

I wanted to avoid using the phrase "spring is here," as firstly I suspect that it has become somewhat overused recently and secondly because the weather has been so unpredictable of late! When we met in the car park at Frampton at 7am today, the car thermometer was reading -3.5°C and there was frost on the ground, but without the biting easterlies it felt very pleasant indeed. By mid morning, it was (I hate to say it) positively spring-like! With the weather being somewhat improved, there was hope that the first migrants of the year might have arrived. There was a lovely Mediterranean Gull in full summer plumage on the islands in the reedbed, being hassled by a few of the hundreds of Black-headed Gulls that have decided to make Frampton their home this year.

Mediterranean Gull, Larus melanocephalus and Black-Head Gull, Croicocephlus ridibundus

Mediterranean Gull, Larus melanocephalus and Black-Head Gull, Croicocephlus ridibundus

Migrants were solely represented by this lovely pair of Little Ringed Plovers. In the last few weeks these tiny birds will have crossed the Sahara Desert, travelling from tropical Africa to their breeding grounds somewhere in Europe. Hopefully there are a pair or two aiming for Frampton as their final destination this year! This photo shows nicely the two key ID features to look for when separating these birds from the Closely related Ringed Plover; the bright yellow eye ring and all-black beak!

Little Ringed Plover, Charadrius dubius

Also around the reserve were a good selection of raptors; Merlin, Sparrowhawk, Peregrine and Marsh Harrier were all causing havoc among the waders and wildfowl. The Little Owl was in the dead stump by his usual hang-out, there was a record count of 120 Avocet, at least a dozen Ruff and a very smart Black Brant associating with the Brent Geese.

Tuesday, 2 April 2013

A Weekend on the Wash

I'm willing to bet that there weren't many other people that spent their Easter weekend thigh deep in freezing cold water catching waders... If there were, I think we would get on very well! As the group convened on Friday evening to plan the weekend ahead, despite the cold there was a sense of optimism as c3000 Knot had been seen on Snettisham beach that morning around the area we would be catching in! They were also there at 4.30am the next morning as we gathered in the dark on the beach to wait for the tide to bring the birds in. As the sun rose, the snow began to fall and a Barn Owl appeared and hunted within 100m of me for around 20 minutes, one of those "moments." Alas, the Knot weren't so obliging  and just as the tide was about to put them into the catching zone, they suddenly took flight and headed to Snettisham Pitts. However, left behind were 60 Oystercatchers, some Common Gull and a Few Bar-tailed Godwits, all of which were caught successfully. This first photo is of me and my first Oystercatcher in the hand, what a lovely pair!!?


After catching up on some much needed sleep, we spent the following two nights mist netting at two different salt marshes around the southern area of the Wash. This time the catch included Dunlin, Knot, this lovely Summer Plumage Redshank and some more Bar-tailed Godwits.

Common Redshank, Tringa totanus

The Bar-tailed Godwit can present a bit of challenge when being separated from the similar Black-tailed Godwit, especially in winter. The following photo show off a reliable technique in separating the two species; bill shape. The Barwit has an ever-so-slightly upturned beak, whereas the Blackwit shows a very straight bill. When on the deck, Barwits also look dumpier and a lot less graceful when moving around as the "knee" joint is much higher up the leg. If close views are not possible, the Barwit shows pale fringes and dark centers to the feathers on the upperparts, whereas the Blackwit has a more uniformly greyish appearance to its upperparts . Another useful identification point (the clincher if you will) is the absence of the obvious white wing bar that Blackwits show in flight. In summer, the Barwits orange breeding plumage extends almost over the entire belly, whereas the Blackwits is restricted to its chest, making ID pretty simple. The second photo below also shows the big difference in size between male and female Barwits, the smaller male being in the foreground.

Bar-tailed Godwit, Limosa lapponica

Bar-tailed Godwit, Limosa lapponica

Sunday morning was glorious and we spent some time doing colour resightings on Holme beach, where we found a mere three colour ringed Sanderling. These sort of sighting are vital for the research that the Wash Wader Ringing Group and many others carry out, so reports of any birds, dead or alive are always encouraged. 

I returned home about 1am on Monday morning, and awoke (mid-afternoon) to find this Whooper Swan in the field opposite my house. The bird has apparently been around all weekend, and we will be keeping a close eye on it over the next few days.

Whooper Swan, Cygnus cygnus

Monday, 1 April 2013

Easter Sun

After my bank holiday weekend got off to the perfect start (an extended lay in) I decided to spend a few hours our on the reserve in the sunshine. It was lovely to be able to bird and not feel like my face was being slowly worn away by the biting easterlies that have been present for the last week or so. There wasn't anything new to report, as the weather appears to have put an almost complete halt to migration, and there is a sense that everything is now waiting eagerly to burst into action, whether it be breeding or migrating. Present in good numbers still are Ruff, with this individual showing particularly well from the 360 hide.

Ruff, Philomacus pugnax

The Ruff  is now red-listed in Britain due to the decline in the breeding population. This bird (likely a male, as females very rarely winter in Britain) will soon be returning to its breeding grounds in Northern Europe and Asia to begin lekking. Also around the reserve, Wigeon and Brent Geese are still numbering in the hundreds, and Teal, Goldeneye and Pintail remain.
There are a few species however, that are starting to swing into action so to speak. I spent 20 minutes on the sea wall looking over the salt marsh, hoping for a few raptors to drop in, alas there was no sign. 3 Knot, a Black-tailed Godwit and ten or so noisy Redshank kept me company. The lapwing are also displaying over the wet grasslands and scrapes, but by far the noisiest birds on the reserve at the moment are the Black-Headed Gulls, which are all competing for what little of the islands are visible above the water at the moment.  I spent about half an hour watching these sociable and rather underrated birds scrapping in the sunshine, with some having already chosen and won a suitable site. What separates one spot of gravel from the next is a mystery to me!

Black-headed Gull, Chroicocephalus ridibundus 

Black-headed Gull, Chroicocephalus ridibundus 

Black-headed Gull, Chroicocephalus ridibundus 

As I headed back home to get ready for a weekend with the Wader Wash Ringing Group, the wind started to pick up again and i spared a thought for all those seabirds that tragically didn't make it back to the East Coast this year to breed. Lets hope that the damage to the population isn't too severe!