Garden.

Chiffchaff arrived on territory in the garden on the 30th March and today Blackcap singing. Now there has been a male Blackcap on and off through the latter part of the winter but last saw that about a week ago… so is this one the summer bird? It was singing from right at the top of our oak tree!

Blackcap (male)

Blackbird (male), grumpy looking isn’t he?

Blackbirds have been sorting out their territories and carrying on most nights, their chucking lasting well into the dusk.

Blackbird (female)

Dunnocks are very frisky at the moment too, with at least one male and two females. He is a busy boy just now.

Also singing are Robin, Goldfinch, Great Tit, Blue Tit.

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Willow Tree Fen Bluethroat sketches.

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Pine Bunting notes.

Not brilliantly happy with these, not got the jizz right I think. I’ll try a finished piece at some point  to see if I can improve on that.

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My last Dusky Thrush sketches.

The bird was in the fields just outside the village. She looked much more slim and upright on this slightly warmer sunny day. The contrast between the buffy throat and white ground colour to the underparts was much more obvious. Check out the long feathery tibia, they looked like she was wearing knee length fluffy thermals!

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Hooded Crow Derbyshire 4th March

Now news broke yesterday of a Hooded Crow in Derbyshire near Uppertown, west of Chesterfield, just below Beeley Moor. This species is now a bit of a Derbyshire mega, the last being a fly through at Carsington in 2007, and before that single day or shorter birds. So this was the first twitchable one for a long time. Probably the first one the masses have seen certainly since the split? It was chucking it down yesterday all day and I could not drive up due to my foot still being injured so I had to wait and be gripped off by the photo’s some of the locals were tweeting out. Today dawned and we should have been at the football, but I couldn’t walk and Paul had a really bad cold and cough, so we elected to take the short drive up to the site instead. We arrived at the junction of Alicehead Road and Cullumbell Lane to find no cars in the layby near the junction and hardly any crows in the fields. Not a promising start. We decided we had better walk down the lane a bit so I gathered up my stuff and limped off. We noticed two birders watching a field a little way down the road, and through the binoculars a few Carrion Crows were feeding a field one back from the road, over a wall. Reaching them we soon found they were on the Hoodie and it showed fairly well for a couple of minutes before flying and dropping into a very reedy field where it was obscure among the vegetation. Typical, when you don’t want to be on your feet much we were going to have to wait. One of the chaps there was the finder of the bird and he was telling us he had taken 2 days to make sure of the ID so as to eliminate one of the hybrids with Carrion Crow that you sometimes come across.

Whilst we were waiting a pair of Stonechat were busying themselves feeding along the wall, dropping down into the grass and catching insects before flying back up.

Eventually the bird flew out again and we were able to watch it feeding a fair distance off.

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The crow fields…

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It certainly did have a thing for those reedy bits in that far field though as it kept disappearing into them for long periods. Finally just before we left the bird flew a little closer into the nearer field, but sadly the light had gone dull for photography.

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Hooded Crows are very smart in my opinion, with their sharply demarcated shiny black and smooth grey areas. They have a certain character all of their own produced by their dapper two tone monochrome look. This particular individual looked a little smaller and slimmer than the Carrion Crows it was with. It’s difficult to say if this one is from one of the Scottish or Irish breeding populations or a visitor from Europe. I have always thought the distribution of Hooded Crow is rather odd in the UK being very much a north west (Scotland) and western bird (Ireland), leaving the rest of the UK, France and Spain as the Carrion Crows domain, before Hoodie takes over in Scandinavia and the rest of Europe.

Also in the area were Ravens, Jackdaws, Rooks and Carrion Crows along with Magpie, so we only needed Chough for a full house of UK breeding species… we might have been waiting a very long time till that one! Whilst we were standing around we also saw Kestrel and a party of 20 Redwing flew along the line of the road calling in their high pitched thin seeeeps. The odd Meadow Pipit was calling and a Wren was searching through the roadside bushes. After a while my foot could not take anymore and we left for home.

As we were turning into the road that leads towards our crescent I spotted a small group of birds flying up between two houses… I must have seen them for a second from the moving car but was prompted to say “Oooo They look like Waxwings!” we drove round the block and to my amazement we got back after a couple of minutes just as I was doubting because of the local starling flocks nipping over the estate, for Paul to say “birds in that tree” and to my surprise there were indeed 10 Waxwings. Amazing as we had seen none on our estate all winter and now here some were round the corner from our house. After about 2 minutes they flew off and away. A bit jammy!

Awful record shot snatched from in the car.

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Blue Rock Thrush….. 25th February, Stow on the Wold.

Well we have managed not to bother about the Stow on the Wold Blue Rock Thrush that has been present for a couple of months over this winter up until now. We had previously seen the bird that spent a few days on Scilly in 1999 (the year of the Whites/ Short-toed Eagle etc). Indeed we had storming views of that on our first afternoon on the islands that year when one of the boat men diverted into Porthloo bay and got us close to the bird on rocks. We were lucky with that one, we always went to Scilly Saturday to Saturday but that year we had not been able to get accommodation for that and instead went Friday/Friday, the one and only time we did this and the Blue Rock Thrush left that night.

However we had work down in Warwick and were seeing friends down there too so decided that as its only 30 miles further we would take in the bird on the way home on Saturday the 25th. We had happily got up on Saturday morning to prepare for breakfast before waving good bye to our mates when I decided to invent a new extreme sport, Stair Diving, unfortunately I received nul points for style or content and ended up well fluffing the landing… and ended up a gibbering heap on the ground floor with an extremely unhappy ankle and screaming in pain. I must admit from what happened I thought I had broken it as to start with I could not put weight on it and it had doubled up under me as I landed and I felt a sick inducing pop, but as I rested I concluded I had very badly sprained it. It was still wrapped tightly in my boot and I left it there.

This of course made us think of coming straight home instead of going to the Blue Rock Thrush. However after a couple of hours with my foot up and after getting in the car I decided that as I had a commission for the bird I had better see the damn thing. The twitching demon took over… Honest. We were surprised on reaching Stow that even on this very gloomy and damp afternoon the place was heaving with people and we had real trouble finding parking. Why is this always the case when you need to be close to where you are going because, say, you cannot walk! We had not appreciated how touristy the place was. Anyhow we found a spot a small distance away and grabbed camera and bins, and my mono-pod as a walking stick, and gingerly set off. It took ages to limp the few hundred yards to Fisher Close and Maugersbury Park roads where the bird had been this morning.  Arriving we found a few birders mooching round and found the bird had not showed for a couple of hours at least. Again just when you don’t want to be standing a lot! Predictably it wasn’t playing ball, we stood in Maugersbury Park for what seemed like ages watching the local Robin, Blackbird and Starlings and a solitary Red Kite, before struggling round to Fisher Close to again fail to find the bird. Oh dear this wasn’t looking good. There was also  the constant nagging fear you would be standing in one road when it showed in the other, and I was in no position to run round. The weather was closing in and time was ticking by, and my ankle was slowly getting worse. Back to Maugersbury Park. We happy band of hopeful twitchers had dwindled to just 5 souls by now, standing on a corner staring at a small back garden, of which we could see just the tops of the tall walls and a single smallish tree in front of a leylandii hedge. Some Starlings raucously arrived on the aerial of number 27 and dropped down into the garden behind the wall. One flicked up into a tree… idly I raised my bins and as I did I noticed another bird perched mostly obscured below it in the tree. I could just see the top of its head. I thought another Starling or the Blackbird that had been flying in and out… but looking I was surprised to see what I thought was a blue tone. Could it be? I moved position and got a slightly better angle, more of the bird was in view. Blimey that was it.

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First view… not obviously blue is it.

A bit more jiggling around and a much better view through the branches was obtained. How had it just materialized in there? Not one of us had seen a bird fly in despite watching the area all the time. After getting all those who where there onto the bird (I felt for the chap who left just before it showed) we enjoyed quite prolonged views as it sat deep within the tree. Unfortunately the weather had become quite dark, and rain had started to fall so photo’s were hard. In the rather gloomy light the bird looked rather dull blue grey rather than bright blue, and could be seen to still have some of the pale feather tips although to me some of the ones visible in the early photo’s seem to have worn away. Across the lower breast some scalloping could be seen.

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Bit better view. Sitting in the tree looking blue.

It dropped down towards the garden after about 10minutes briefly perching out in the open on the garden wall and allowing us to see it really well. We thought that was that, but shortly after it popped back up onto the wall and I grabbed a couple of snaps which are dark and soft/grainy due to the high ISO, but you can see the blue in the rear shot.

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Up the Garden Wall….

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The bird then flew and disappeared. Not perhaps the crippling rooftop view we had hoped for but good enough. We decided that was it as the rain threatened to get harder and we headed north and home. Oh, and overnight and on the Sunday my ankle, now released from my boot swelled massively… looked like a football, that will teach me… Or not.

 

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Britain’s most twitched Bluethroat? Willow Tree Fen, Lincolnshire. 19th February 2017.

About a week ago a surprise in the form of a 1st winter Bluethroat turned up in Lincolnshire. A Bluethroat in February! Whether this is a bird that has made a mistake in returning early or is one that has spent the winter this far north here or at another site is unclear, but he now seems settled in a small strip of reeds adjoining the track through the reserve.

We were driven ever so slightly mad on the journey over to Lincolnshire, we seemed to end up behind every Sunday driver out for their 30mph stroll. The journey to the reserve near Spalding took longer than it normally takes us to North Norfolk! We found the area is typical of what I associate with the Fens, flat lands crisscrossed with dykes and drainage ditches of varying sizes, all under a huge skyscape. Typically we arrived to find the small car park full and ended up carefully parking on the road side next to the drain. The track up to the reserve was amazingly busy with birders coming and going. The path bisected some flooded fields and marshy areas along with some pools. One of the first birds we saw was a flying Little Egret in the distance, soon followed by at least one more that rose out of the reeds and flopped along a short distance before dropping back into the dark reedy landscape which had caused the gleaming white bird to appear to glow.

About 600yards or so along the path we came upon the small crowd that was gathered on the left side of the track, all focused on the reeds on the right. It was here that the Bluethroat had set up temporary home.

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I managed to cut out all the birders in this shot!

As we arrived a pair of Stonechats were feeding off a fence a little way into the field behind the reeds and showed quite well. Dropping up and down off the fence line in typical fashion they offered a splash of colour against the greens and browns.

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Mr and Mrs Stonechat.

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The bird was not on show so it was waiting time. Behind us the sound of Teal and Wigeon was constant, a large group of Shovelers, including many splendid males with their orange flanks and bottle green heads were feeding on a distant pool. A group of Gadwall floated past, the males resplendent in their vermiculated grey plumage.

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Every so often wildfowl would be put to flight over the flat landscape by a single Marsh Harrier quartering lazily on the look out for the unwary. A distinctive whistling whirring and whiffling sound heralded the arrival of a herd of Mute Swans, presumably flighting in from the surrounding fields to wash and bathe.

Suddenly there was a stirring in the crowd, and there was the Bluethroat on the edge of the reeds, right in front of me, less than six feet away. Always jaunty and lively the little chap dropped onto the grassy verge and began to pick ad food items on the floor. Even though the sun had faded away as the afternoon had drawn on, the incomplete blue gorget of his lower throat gleamed like enamel jewelry. As to whether this bird is Red or White Spotted Bluethroat is open to argument, but I feel given the look of the red areas it could be the red-spotted form.

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As always watch the video in HD…

He bounced around on the track for a while then dashed back into the reeds. We waited again… after about half an hour he bounced out again onto the sandy track. Here the clear flat surface it just exaggerated the leggy look and upright jizz of the species. Another short show and he was gone again into the reedy dyke. Bluethroats seem to be getting scarcer on passage in the UK, at least to me. I haven’t really seen that many in the last few years. I remember days in Norfolk when you could see several along Blakeney Point. I remember crippling views of birds at Spurn, Flamborough and Filey too.

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The landscape took on a moody look as we walked away to return to the car. I feel this is a reserve that would deserve a longer visit and we determined to visit again, probably in the spring.

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As we drove away along side the drain, a ghostly form drifted over the road in front of us, we drew up along side as a fine Barn Owl kept pace with us just yards away, with its slightly bouncy light flight keeping it above the grassy verge, a sudden stall and drop took it away over the drain to the far side and we lost it to view as the road took us on our way home.

 

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