30 Jun 2007

Trip Report (Part 5): WWT London and 24 Hours in Berkshire and 6 Lifers!!

Peregrine's Birding Facts The Little Ringed Plover first bred in Britain in 1938

I left Minsmere and headed to London to stay the night with my best friend Jeremy Pollard and his wife and two children. I spent the bank holiday walking around the city which was great as no people around. The following morning I headed off to Barnes in West London where the Wildlife and Wetlands Trust (WWT) London Wetland Centre is situated - one of the largest created wetland reserves in a capital city in the world. I have to say I was enormously impressed. You just dont expect to find a place like this within a city as big as London. I walked around the site and saw my first Little Ringed Plover from the three story Peacock Tower. I had always wondered if I saw one whether I would be able to distinguish it from a Ringed Plover, but they are chalk and cheese the orange eye ring is very distinct indeed. I have a soft spot for the Little Ringed Plover because believe it or not if it hadn't been for one I wouldnt be in the job I am now!!! There was a report of one at the Belfast Harbour Reserve in May 2006 which I went to see and it had gone by the time I got there. Having dipped on it I went to get myself a coffeee in Belfast where I bumped into John Elliot the owner of Clements Cafe chain and he asked me if I would be interested in working for him.

After walking around the site I had a very good lunch in the Water's Edge Restaurant from their salad bar. Probably one of the better salad bars that I have been to. So a big thumbs upto the WWT catering at Barnes.

After lunch I headed out of London to Crowthorne in Berkshire. I was staying with Patrick Crowley and his wife Peggy. I first met Patrick when he contacted me earlier in the year through my blog about where to Bird in Northern Ireland over a weekend. He came over with a group from the Wokingham and Bracknell RSPB Group. The story of their visit is here.

After dinner we headed out to a nearby wood where we met up with Ken White, Anna Hawkins and Trisha Frith all members of the local RSPB group and all had visited Northern Ireland. We were there ostensibly to see if we could hear and possibly see a Nightjar a bird I had never seen. The first thing we came across was a pair of Hobby calling to each other you can hear it here They were flying to a clump of trees in which they were nesting. Hobbies tend to nest in old crows nests. We then heard the distinct sound of the Nightjar churring away. Then another sounded in the distance; we headed towards it and were really close to the sound but couldn't see it. It was by now getting darker and darker and was threatening to rain. Then one flew over the ride we were standing on, it had the very distinct white bars at the end of its wings denoting that it was a male. He flew to a tree and then out of site. However he kept reappearing and at one point flew low over our heads, making a sort of clapping sound with its wings. Absolutely Brilliant. This with the Hobbies really made my day. I am really looking forward to seeing one again and I will be taking midge repellant with me the next time!!

The next morning Patrick and I headed to the woods behind the "Royal Military Academy Sandhurst" RMAS (Where Prince William and Harry recently passed out of as officers as did my father 55 years ago and where I failed to get into 25 years ago). We were here to see the Dartford Warbler another bird I hadn't seen before. The area is Lowland Heath a now fast disappearing form of countryside due to property development.( J E !!) The first thing that Patrick heard was a a Tree Pipit and then we saw it another lifer.Unfortunately not close enough for good photos. Then we made our way to an area where Patrick thought the Dartford Warbler might be. It wasnt long before this this little beauty popped up and sang away.

So far four new lifers in twelve hours. On the way off the heath we heard and saw a Blackcap. Then we went to Swinley Woods, It is owned and managed by the Crown Estate and comprises over 2600 acres of woodland across gently undulating hills. Although now mostly a modern plantation of Scots Pines, the area was once part of Windsor Forest. It was here that we hoped to see a Firecrest. No Luck even though I would say I could hear them.

Then we drove to some lakes where we were looking for a Nightingale.As we walked around the lake we heard a Garden Warbler singing alongside us in a tree where I was able to get a reasonable shot. They are your classic LBJ (Little Brown Job) in fact the main distinguishing feature of this warbler is that they don't have any!

In the far distance we saw a Kite coming towards us but it veered away which was a shame as I hoped to get a shot of one on my trip. Not that much further along the path was a Nightingale singing. It has to be one of the sweetest sounds a bird can make. They are very good at hiding in the deepest part of the bush and so I was quite lucky to get a photo even if it was facing away from me.

After successfully seeing these two birds we headed towards the Thames just above Henley. On the way we suddenly found four Kites thirty feet above us in the middle of a village. We stopped and I managed to get a few shots. They had wing tags on .

Patrick later found out that the Kite with the yellow 2 wingtag had been tagged in the Chilterns in 1999. You can look at the site regarding them here UK Red Kite Reintroduction Programme

We arrived at a Pub near the Thames and before we had lunch went for a walk alongside it. We saw another Kite and we also some Ring Necked Parakeets which were making a racket. They are Great Britain's only naturalised parrot. Despite large numbers of parakeets living in the wild for a long time, they only started to breed in 1969 in Kent, south-east of London. since then the population has steadily increased and currently numbers over 4,500 birds.
There was also a recent hatch of mayfly and as I like to photograph birds in flight I thought I ought to try a Mayfly in flight!!

After a good pub lunch we headed back to Crowthorne and I said my goodbyes and headed onto my in-laws in North Dorset.

Patrick and Peggy thank you very much for putting me up and driving me around it was a brilliant 24 hours.

21 Jun 2007

Trip Report (Part 4): RSPB Minsmere

Peregrine's Birding Facts Marsh Harriers do not breed until their third summer.

I left Norfolk at around lunchtime and headed over to RSPB Lakenheath Fen. This is a remarkable site in that ten years previously it was a carrot field and now it is a wetland area with reedbeds and Poplar plantations. The plantations have a breeding population of Golden Oriole's one of only a few sites where this occurs in the UK. They hadnt arrived yet which was a shame but not too worry the reed beds were teeming with Sedge and Reed Warblers.

I also saw my first Hobby which was very exciting it was some way off though. The previous day there had been a passage of them going through Lakenheath because forty were counted!!! There was also a cuckoo calling from one of the poplar plantations and I could see it through my telescope but couldnt get a decent photograph.I approached it and it flew off just as I was setting up underneath it. :-(

Having walked around the reserve I left Lakenheath and headed to Minsmere where I have wanted to visit for a long time. Fortunately my Uncle lives within a ten minute drive from it. I have to say having driven around quite alot of England I found the signage to the RSPB reserves very poor. I had decided to spend a couple of hours at Minsmere in the late afternoon before turning up at my uncles house and then spending the whole of the following day there.

Minsmere is probably the most famous of the Royal Society for Protection of Birds' reserves. It had just celebrated its 50th anniversary celebrations. It pioneered the use of observation hides and management of wetland areas to allow visitors to see some of the huge range of birds that pass along the Suffolk coast. They have so far recorded 328 speies of bird and with about 230 seen annually (55 more than my list so far this year) Also if you are into Moths and Butterflies it is a spectacular place to go with 33 species of butterfly recorded and over a thousand moths. It has a variety of different habitats ranging from freshwater reedbed, heathland, dunes, salt lagoons and vegetated shingle.

I arrived at the visitor centre and picked up a sheet of latest sightings and then headed towards the sea where I immediately heard and then saw a Whitethroat

The one thing that I observed was that there were some serious photographers here with enormous lenses!! I met this guy Steve Morgan who had a very nice Canon 600mm lens attached to his Canon 1Ds his website is here.

On my way down to the shore I had five firsts. I heard my first Cetti's Warbler, I heard my first Nightingale, I heard and saw my first Turtle Dove, I saw my first Little Tern and I saw a Black Tailed Godwit in display flight which was pointed out to me by Adam Rowlands who works at Minsmere.

By now I thought I had better go and see my uncle so headed back to car and to his house in nearby Sibton. He wasn,t there!!! My phone was out of charge so I drove into the village and called my sister from a payphone to see if she could call him. No reply!! So I thought well I will head back to his house and wait for a while. On my way back I saw a Little Owl on the telegraph wires another year tick.My mood increased on seeing it. By ten o'clock the outside temperature had fallen to four degrees and I decided to wrap myself up and go to sleep in the car. 11pm some lights came up the drive and I was mightily relieved to see my uncle.

The following morning I headed back to Minsmere where I was determined to see a Bittern. I had been told they may be in front of the Island Mere Hide so I walked down there . On the way I saw a Chiff Chaff which was singing away.

I also saw a Muntjac Deer not something I would see in Ireland.

I arrived at the hide and was listening intently for a Bittern, even though I had never heard one before. They are unmistakeable when you do hear them.They sound like this. I was then very quietly trying to imitate them when I heard a couple at the other end of the hide say "Did you hear that Darling" I looked out of the hide and kept quiet from then on!!! Unfortunately I never got to see a Bittern but I did see a Hobby flying quite close by and I managed to get some poorish images.

Wow! they are a fantastic bird chasing after the dragonflies; so agile. One minute they are high in the sky before diving down at breakneck speed over the reed beds catching their prey and then feeding themselves in mid air. They were definately my bird of the reserve.

There was also a lot of activity with the Marsh Harriers feeding and displaying.

From the Island Mere hide you get a very good view of Sizewell A (The Nuclear Power Station)on the Suffolk coast. It is an operational twin reactor Magnox power station, generating 440 MW of electricity. On a typical day, the station supplies more than 10 million kWh of electricity - enough to serve the energy needs of a third of East Anglia.

I am of the view that Nuclear is the way forward as far as electricity generation goes. Windpower is a waste of time and money for its efficiency and the fact they are bad for the wellbeing of birds and are generally an eyesore. Fossil fuels are running out so I think the nuclear option is the way to go!!

Sorry I digress back to Minsmere where my other highlights of the visit were the Mediterranean gulls on the scrapes and the very confiding Water Vole.By this time the weather was very threatening and with pretty bad light I didnt get any more shots.

So after one visit I cannot wait to return and hopefully actually get to see a Bittern.

13 Jun 2007

A New Northern Ireland Tick and an Invitation from the British Library

Peregrine's Birding Facts: The Common Spoonbill (Platalea leucorodia) is one of 6 species and the most widespread species, which occurs in the northeast of Africa and much of Europe and Asia across to Japan.

I thought I would post a bit of home news before I continue with my trip report. Last week I had a text from Derek Charles at 8.36pm to say a Spoonbill had been found by Andrew Corry and was at Dundrum Inner Bay so mid meal I headed off to see it. As my bed time is 9.30 due to getting up at ten to two every morning I wasnt leaving much time to see it. Dundrum is about twelve miles away. I got there double quick time got out of my car and the first bird I looked at was the Spoonbill. It was in the middle of the bay and quite far away. I watched it for a while with its bill scything back and forward across the waters surface before deciding to go round to the other side of the bay to get better photographs. On my way there I stopped at a layby where Andrew and a couple of other birders were watching it from. I left them cursing the fact that I didnt bring my extender with me so was only shooting at 500mm. This photo is fairly heavily cropped.

The last Spoonbill was spotted on the Quoile about three years ago when I was in New Zealand so I dipped on that one. However I did see a Royal Spoonbill (Platalea Regia)
while I was there so I have only four species to go!

My other news is the invitation from the British Library to have my blog archived.

Dear Peregrine Craig Nash,

Peregrine's Bird Blog: http://www.peregrinesbirdblog.blogspot.com

The British Library is building a collection of blogs. This collection will form part of the UK Web Archiving Consortium (UKWAC) initiative to archive websites of research interest. Please visit www.webarchive.org.uk if you wish to see the current online archive which is publicly accessible.

We would like to invite you to have your site included in this important collection for Internet research. We will be selecting some 150 key sites to form the basis of the blog’s collection until August 2007 but archiving will continue into the future. To carry out this archiving we need you to sign the Licence document.

If you are happy for your site to be included in this Web archive please complete the attached copyright licence form and return it to the address given below. If there are any other of your sites which you would like to be considered for archiving, and you are able to sign a licence document for them please make additional copies of the licence document. For more information about Copyright, the UK Web Archiving Consortium and how your archived web site will be made available please see the attached Further Information & FAQ document.

Alternatively, if you require any additional information, please do not hesitate to contact me.

Best regards,

Leila Medjkoune
Web Archiving

pp. Alison Hill
Curator, Web Archiving
Modern British Collections
The British Library
96 Euston Road
Tel: +44 (0)20 7412 7623

So I am pretty happy about that. As I said to my children if someone is interested enough they can read my blog a hundred years hence!!!

The only other news is that I have bought the BWP Concise Volume 1 Original Plate 158 of Black Grouse by Peter Hayman from NHBS Environment Store. The NHBS were having a sale and I bought it for seventy pounds a bargain I think.It is really nice and I am in awe of illustrators who can paint eight different illustrations on a piece of card without making mistakes.

I will be getting my sister to frame it.

4 Jun 2007

Trip Report (Part 4): Norfolk and a day out with Gordon Hamlett Author of "Best Birdwatching sites in the Scottish Highlands"

174. Arctic Tern
175. Manx Shearwater

Peregrine's Birding Facts : Why the MANX Shearwater. The prefix Manx, meaning from the Isle of Man, originated owing to the once large colony of Manx Shearwaters found on the Calf of Man an island to the south of the Isle of Man.

Photo: View in North Norfolk

I got up and joined Gordon and Chris for breakfast before she headed off to Norwich to fundraise for the East Anglia Air Ambulance. Donations can be sent Here. Gordon and I then headed off firstly to Abbey Farm Organics at Flitcham where they have a bird hide.The bird hide at Abbey Farm opened in May 1995 and it was funded with money from the Wildfowl & Wetlands Trust in recognition of the farm's work to conserve wetlands. Well I would never have found or known about this spot if I had decided to look at North Norfolk on my own. We came here with the possibility of seeing Little Owl which breed nearby but sadly none were in evidence nor was the Kingfisher which can be seen regularly in front of the hide. However I did see my first Egyptian Goose.

Photo: Egyptian Goose

Then we left Abbey Farm and made our way to RSPB Titchwell via Choseley Barns where Gordon reckoned we would be in with a good chance of Corn Bunting another bird I have never seen before. We were in luck there were a number sitting on phone lines and some feeding on the ground with some Yellowhammers they were singing their very distinctive call which resembles a bunch of keys being jangled. Listen to it Here

Photo:Corn Bunting

It was not a day for great photography as it was very grey.

Next stop was RSPB Titchwell Marsh. Titchwell Marsh is situated on the North Norfolk coast and is one of the country's best known reserves. Out in front of the centre there are shallow lagoons and reedbeds with hides dotted here and there giving close views of a wide variety of birds. From our first hide we saw a distant Marsh Harrier another year tick. Many of the Warblers had arrived and we heard Sedge, Chiff Chaff, Willow Warbler.

Photo: Sedge Warbler

We made our way towards the sea and I saw my first Avocet which was a bit of a letdown I think mainly because one has seen their photos everywhere for years and years and one knew exactly what you were going to see. Having said that I do think it is a lovely looking bird.

Photo: Avocet

But the bird I saw next was the one that made my day it was a Spotted Redshank in Summer Plumage. I saw my first Spotted Redshank last year at RSPB Belfast Harbour and it is amazing the difference in plumage.

Photo: Spotted Redshank at RSPB Belfast Harbour

Photo: Spotted Redshank at RSPB Titchwell Marsh

Generally in Northern Ireland when you pass or bump into other birders they are very friendly and make the effort to say hi whereas in Norfolk!!! I made every effort to say Hi to birders as I passed them on the paths around the various reserves yet the amount of people who would have their heads down and not even look at you. Gordon and I found it quite amusing.

After looking from a number of the hides we went back to the centre and had our lunch. From here we went to Burnham Norton as there had been reports of a Spoonbill which we believe we saw briefly in flight. I have seen them before down in Dorset a few Christmas ago.Then we went to an area where there were reputed to be some Montague's Harrier. We drove up this road and parked at the entrance of a field. There were a few other people there as well. We were in luck as in the distance flying over some mustard seed rape were four harriers. I could only get two in the photo at once as they were a long way off and this image is heavily cropped.I was fortunate last year to see Northern Ireland's first up at the Belfast Harbour Estate.

Photo: Montague's Harrier

Then we went to the Mecca of CleySpy. CleySpy is situated in a barn on Manor Farm in Glandford. It is one of the best destinations in the UK for buying Binoculars, Telescopes and Digiscoping Paraphernalia and all their related accessories.Tripods etc They also have a gallery of Bird Art adjoining the shop. I wanted to meet one of the guys working there called Peter who last year had a photographic year list on Birdforum and a Bird Photography website www.blueskybirds.co.uk I dipped on him!! But I did have a look through the Nikon ED50 an absolutely wonderful lightweight travelling scope.
It is on my shopping list. I may even sell my scope to get one. it not far off fits in your pocket.I couldnt buy any art but I did get a few postcards by Robert Gillmor

After leaving here we went to our final stop of the Norfolk Wildlife Trust's (NWT) Cley Marshes another premier Birding Hotspot. We drove past the amazing new visitor centre. Gordon had heard there were Yellow Wagtails to be found another bird I have yet to see. I still have yet to see!! We were later told there had been 20+ in the field earlier in the day but that is life and I will get as much enjoyment when I next see it. We then went back to Gordon's house. I would be quite jealous of him as he has a fantastic birding library of over a thousand books. This is a result of him reviewing books for Bird Watching Magazine. Maybe I will have to start reviewing books on my blog and hope that the publishers will send me books to review!!!

The following morning after getting directions for Weeting in South Norfolk I said my goodbyes. Gordon and Chris thank you very much for putting me up and showing me around it was greatly appreciated.

I drove south to Weeting Heath. Weeting Heath NNR, which is 137 ha in size, is owned and managed by Norfolk Wildlife Trust. The reserve is situated in Breckland, that is to say, a unique area of grassy heath, forest and arable land in western Norfolk and Suffolk. Heaths in Breckland were formed after Stone Age farmers cleared the original woodland to grow crops. Once the soil became exhausted they cultivated new areas. This intermittently cultivated land became known as ‘breck’. The Breckland heaths have declined dramatically in size since the turn of the century due to changes in agriculture. From mediaeval times, Breckland saw the management of rabbits in large enclosed warrens for fur and meat production. Their continued grazing and burrowing created the short grassland, rich in mosses, lichens and other plants that can be found today. The reason I came here was the reserve is famous for Stone Curlew which breed here, laying their eggs in shallow scrapes in the soil. The Stone Curlew are very sensitive to disturbance and you can only observe them from two hides. I spent an age looking for them and eventually had to be shown one sitting on a nest away in the distance. You can just make out the head in the photo below.I look forward one day to seeing better views.

Photo: Stone Curlew

Weeting is also an excellent place to see Woodlarks and I wasn't to be disappointed a pair dropped down right in front of the hide and I got a grab shot of one before they flew off.

Photo: Woodlark

So having seen a couple of lifers within a matter of minutes I headed onto Suffolk.