Monday, April 30, 2007

Red Kites of Rockingham

Yep, not been to Rockingham yet, even though it's only a 30-minute drive, it's in county and it's the site of the re-introduction of the Red Kite. But apart from that no reason to go really!

We headed for the car park at the visitors centre at Fermyn Woods, which is a good looking location and one to which we shall return. We saw about five Red Kites in the local area, though this one showed the best. His name is 'G', we could tell that from the tags he was sporting on each wing, which can't be all that comfortable, but hey, what do I know?

They are magnificent birds, the biggest for miles around and very distinctive. The way they use their 'fan' tails in flight stands them out from the other raptors, that and just their sheer size. Try cruising down the M40 on a clear day... between junctions 7 and 4!

I want to go back and spend a whole day setting up the perfect photo, rather than these hurried efforts. Anyway the car park was the start of an extended walk, the Lyveden New Bield walk, which is mapped at 9.5 miles but we extended it to take in Aldwincle too. It was a perfect day for walking, 21 to 22c with a very light breeze and very few people around (where were they all?).

We heard a number of migrants calling including at least two cuckoos and a handful of warblers but everything was proving rather elusive (I think we got there too late and anything unusual had already been flushed or driven into cover by the morning dog walkers). Further along the walk, this Yellowhammer showed very well on the path before flying up to join its mate in a nearby tree:

Towards the end of the walk, having routed through the villages and now heading back, this Willow Warbler hopped around a bit before allowing me sufficient time to get a focus:

On the Sunday it was up to Kedleston Hall accompanying my wife, to surprise a mutual friend and to mooch around the house and the grounds ( Tis fair to say the Curzons including the then Viceroy for India appear to have looted their way around half the planet!

There's a 'long walk' in the grounds, which is a well-trodden 3.2 miles around, with very clear paths, etc. Quite pleasant if a little 'canned'. In the forested section of the walk the ground is quite literally covered in Bluebells at the moment:

It was a real surprise however to see this Mandarin Duck drake on the water as we neared the end of the walk:

We'd seen these before in captivity but not in the wild, so another one added to the UK and life lists :)

Monday, April 23, 2007

Breeding Bird Survey

Saturday morning we set off toward the village of Sywell to walk the two transects in 'our' grid, that is the grid provided by the BTO and the organisers of the Breeding Bird Survey. Unfortunately the two land owners on the second transect have refused us access to their land to undertake the survey work (which involves walking up clear paths in a straight line and recording all the birds you see and hear), which was kind of them - boo hiss!!!

We did get (grudging) permission to walk the first transect which we duly did. The second transect, because of the landowners refusal, is made up of a road that runs parallel to the grid line, which isn't ideal, but better than nothing. I will badger them and hopefully they'll be more generous next year.

Walking along the road we think we found the reason why they didn't grant us access, lots of game birds around including over 20 pheasants, some quail and a few Red-legged Partridge, including this one visible through a hedge:

From Sywell village we drove to the reservoir at Sywell, a well trodden route. It was a lovely spring/summer morning and some of the annual migrants are starting to arrive in numbers now. At the far end of the walk around the reservoir, this Sedge Warbler was showing well, but I couldn't persuade the camera to auto-focus so it's manual and therefore a bit blurry:

The eye stripe (supercilium) is the most outstanding feature on this warbler, with a song sharing similar characteristics to a Reed Warbler. I really liked this face-on shot, although again a touch blurry:

Further round this Wren was showing particularly well and is the best photo of the species that I've managed so far:

From Sywell we headed over to Ravensthorpe Reservoir, to feed the local ducks and swans (with seeds and grains - not white bread!), have our own lunch, and for a wander around the perimeter there. The water was quiet which is quite typical for this time of year, not many terns around yet and most winter migrants have headed off to their breeding grounds.

This Grey Wagtail was hopping around by the water run-off:

8 miles walked so a good start to the weekend, but it was time to head home.

Thursday, April 19, 2007

Summer Leys

Whether we like it or not, Spring migration is in full swing and summer migration has started too, and it's still mid-April! We've already had both Swallow's and Swift's over our garden in Northamptonshire!

This weekend we decided to head for Summer Leys - the county migration 'hot spot'. It was indeed hot, around 20 degrees centigrade late morning, and warming. There wasn't much of note around the hides except some exceedingly long lenses :)

We headed up to Mary's lake and around it, this Mute Swan timing it's landing to perfection, just as we were walking by:

On the lake edge, we were being driven mad by a couple of Sedge Warblers, singing away but we could not locate them, though we spent a long time trying. We passed a couple of lads who were having similar issues spotting a Lesser-Whitethroat they could also hear but not see. Anyway the mutes are clearly enjoying the Spring/Summer:

These two were gliding gracefully on near still water, ignoring everything around them...

On the old railway path, this Dunnock was sitting preening on a tree, I swear no bird has ever let me get as close as this one did, I like the way he's stretching out his wing, before getting singing again:

Further down the path and in the shade of the tree, this Willow Warbler was also in the mood and I caught him just as he was singing:

There were a number of Sand Martins sitting on the power cables that extend along the old track, who along moved about a bit when we passed but seemed very settled, again this one let me get good and close without appearing ruffled:

There wasn't as much around as we'd hoped for but the general atmosphere, singing birds everywhere, made it a pleasant if short expedition.

Monday, April 09, 2007

and then to Eastbourne... Day 3

Our last day in Eastbourne and time for a shortish (7 mile) walk before (a late) lunch (bringing the total over 30 miles in 3 days)!

We started at Jevington and walked over a hill to Alfriston for a lovely cup of tea in a local tea room there, I passed on the cake but everyone else tucked in!

There were some lovely views en route including this field with the light playing across it:

and this view of the chalk white horse on the hills around the Cuckmere river valley:

Again there were fews birds around, we spotted some Long-tailed Tits close to Alfriston, including this one:

Heading down from Alfriston to Exceat this Yellowhammer was perched in a shrub singing away, unfortunately he refused to turn around:

Finally as we headed toward the Golden Galleon and the end of our holiday, this female Reed Bunting exhibiting fresh plumage :

A cracking break taking only four days' holiday but providing a nine day break, ensuring we were fully able to relax and unwind.

and then to Eastbourne... Day 2

On the second day we headed up to Kent and Bewl Water, Southern Water's reservoir. There's a £5 per car entry fee and the signage around the car park is very poor. It's unusual to have to pay to park at such places, hence there's a lot of folk parked up around the reservoir too. The circular walk around Bewl is 13 miles, including a large section on roads, which appears designed to route you away from the views of some housing which is let out. All-in-all an experience not to be repeated, though the walk was pleasant enough and the company excellent, even the grumpy 14 year-old :)

Bewl was strangely absent of birds. For such a large expanse of fresh water there was perhaps 10 Great Crested Grebes, another 10 Mallards and fewer coots. We did catch sight of this male Blackcap in some woodland along the walk:

The only birds in any number around Bewl were House Sparrows, Blackbirds and lots and lots of Blue Tits. In terms of migrants only Chiffchaffs called relatively regularly, including this curious chap:

The final snap of any interest was this Mistle Thrush, which looks to me like a juvenile, with attendant adults feeding. The nest was right over the path.

and then to Eastbourne... Day 1

Having travelled back from France we headed on to Eastbourne to stay with family. As the weather for the Easter weekend looked so promising we all agreed that a long walk on the Friday would be ideal and that an early start would help us avoid the hoardes, so we caught the first bus after 9am to Exceat and the Seven Sisters Country Park. There were only three cars parked in the car park so the plan worked. We walked down into Cuckmere Haven and along the short path near the breeding area. Easter was later last year so there was more about, the area being predominantly filled with Linnets, Blackbirds and the odd Skylark this year. We then headed up the coastal path that takes you to Birling Gap (National Trust) along the Seven Sisters.

There are a number of relics of the second world war including pill boxes and the bases of gun emplacements. This pill box was being used by a couple of Meadow Pipits:

The next pill box was being shared by a pair or recent arrivals, migrant Wheatears. In this snap the male Wheatear is showing well, you can just make out the orange on the neck:

The female Wheatear darted between the pill box and the ground nearby, and showed well here:

At the top of the first 'sister' there are dramatic views along the river valley and of the haven itself:

and also as you look west along the Sussex coast:

We followed along the path (with me doing my very best to keep as far away from the edge as possible) and encountered a number of Skylarks, there is an almost continuous presence of Skylark song from one end of the walk to the other.

Wherever there is gorse on this coastal path there are Linnets, this male showed particularly well:

and then in flight:

Linnets, Meadow Pipits and Skylarks were the dominant birds in terms of numbers along the entire path between Cuckmere Haven and Birling Gap. We did however spot this female Whinchat, another migrant arrival:

As we headed down into Birling Gap a Green Woodpecker shot past and into a field behind a hedge, I just managed to get a snap through the base of the hedge:

We stopped for a well deserved cuppa, by now the numbers of people were building up so we didn't hang around for long. This Lesser Black-backed Gull was watching from his post:

Next was the low path around Beachy Head which was the quietest (and avoided any visible steep drops).

This Chiffchaff was either very brave or very hungry as it kept darting from cover in one of the hedgerows to the path in front of us, and back again:

Finally, back into Eastbourne, this pair of Herring Gulls were perched atop a house in the town:

As predicted it had indeed been a beautiful day, and we ended up walking between 12 and 13 miles in blazing sunshine.

France Holiday - Day 5

The last day in France we set off on our own to explore the Camargue. The maps we bought showed a vast landscape but with very limited access. The land is split between roads and private land; the French don't really appear to have the 'walking bug' like we do in the UK so access to those on foot is highly limited. This is a shame as I'd love to spend a lot more time in the Camargue (I'm sure I'll be heading back), there are clearly hundreds of birds to be seen throughout the year, but I don't fancy trying to do all my birdwatching from a few footpaths or the car. Next time I'll hire a much smaller car, so diving off at the side of the road is less of a gamble!

Having bought progressively bigger scale maps to realise there really are only 2 footpaths in the Camargue we picked the longest, a 12km seafront path. We didn't complete the walk as I picked up a strain and the wind was howling, so that whatever you were wearing it felt absolutely freezing and your eyes watered as soon as you tried to look through your bins.

We walked from the car park at the front into the salt marsh area, and my wife spotted this bird, a Black-eared Wheatear, which was alone, it's plumage made it really stand out from the surrounds. My guess is it had just landed for a breather as part of its northerly migration, so we didn't hassle it for long.

In the air over the salt marshes, I snapped this Lesser Black-backed Gull, which is interesting as the field guides show this spot as beyond their range:

In a lagoon we saw our first French Oystercatcher:

There were a large number of Greater Flamingos but the proximity of this one, together with the sheer brightness of the plumage (look at that Crimson) 'forced me' to take a few snaps:

Finally we did happen upon some Avocets, quite a large number in fact:

I don't know what disturbed them but shortly after we headed away from the lagoon, they had taken flight:

We headed further out but the weather was hostile so we made the walk into a circuit and looped back toward the sea which was much more sheltered, so we could prolong the walk. We followed a path along reedbeds and disturbed this Song Thrush:

I love the way its wings are fully extended in flight and that it's clearly looking at me while I am taking the photograph! Talking of fly-pasts, on the same path I spotted this Hoopoe but he took off and disappeared very quickly, this is the best snap I managed, and it's not very good:

On the last section of the shrub on the edge of the saltmarsh before we hit the main path back to the car park, I spotted an unusual looking bird, which was atop a shrub singing. I followed the bird around for a while before it settled long enough for me to take this snap. It turned out to be a Spectacled Warbler, another lifetime first:

The second half of the day was spent walking up the 'other' footpath in the Camargue. This was a linear walk, basically you have to decide where to turn around and head back. We parked up and reached for our lunch (bread and cheese again!) when my wife spotted a Kestrel. I was way too slow to capture it, but did spot this Yellow Wagtail in the nearest tree:

After lunch we set off along the path. As usual there were plenty of Flamingos around and a number of Little Egrets, this one let us get quite close before taking off from the path. You can see it's courtship plumage being wind-buffeted here:

In the pools we saw just a few waders (it being low tide) including this Spotted Redshank, which appears to be halfway between its winter and summer plumages:

Along the path we spotted another Black Redstart, this one kindly showing its rufus tail feathers with the central black bar:

Blackcaps appear far more common in the south of France than in the UK but they are still very tricky to photograph, this male hung around long enough for me to get this snap though:

Once we'd got back to the car, the tide was coming in, and with it an increasing number of waders were visible. Here you can see a Kentish Plover:

And again, this time showing its head markings clearly:

There was a small flock of these Plovers and they were joined by a small flock of Sanderlings, you can see an individual here :

Delighted with the days walking and birding we headed back to Aigues-Mortes to pick-up our host and hostess before returning for a night in Port Grimaud and our early morning flight to the UK. As we headed back my wife spotted a raptor off to the right. We pulled over, and risking the wrath of the local drivers, I near blocked the road while I took a few snaps of this Short-toed Eagle soaring close-by:

We had been hoping to see an Eagle in the Camargue and this, being the last bird of the holiday, was a fantastic result, we will be back, though we may need to trespass a little to get around and stay locally for some time to make sure we get to see more. I'd also go just 2-3 weeks later as I think there'll be a lot more about.