Saturday, October 10, 2009

Rutland Water

Unusually we had a combination of some spare time and pleasant weather, so where to go? We decided it'd been ages since we last visited Rutland Water so we should pop in there for the morning. Lagoon IV was work in progress during our last visit. It's finished now and, though there's a lot of growing still to be done, it was very busy with birds. We just wished we'd taken our scope as a lot of the waders were quite distant, the Lagoon is huge!

We tried all three hides, the third got us nearest the flock of roosting Golden Plover. You can see them here before something spooked them and they all took to the air:

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There are some Lapwing and Black-headed Gulls mixed in with the flock. There were also Lesser and Greater Black-backed Gulls, Dunlin, Oystercatchers and some other waders too distant to identify.

Here you can see the flock settling down again:

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We also saw Hobby and Sparrowhawk on our walk around. At the visitor centre one of the members of staff was very kind and talked us through all of the development plans they have for various new lagoons, extended reedbeds, etc., it sounds like in two to three years time the reserve will be even better than it is now. On the basis a quick wander around the top third took us a couple of hours, visits in a few years time will be whole day events, maybe the visitor centre will have to start selling hot soup and jacket spuds!

We bought the updated tide timetable for 2010 and 2011 before heading home delighted with our morning at Rutland.

Back at home it's clean-up time in the garden. Lots of leaves are coming off of the lime trees and there's a summer's worth of growth of various weeds that needed clearing up too. The garden is now being regularly visited by Coal Tits, we only saw our first one of those around six months ago so a regular pair visiting is a real treat. The abundance of food is still bringing in over 100 birds a day, mostly House Sparrow, Blackbird, Tits, Greenfinch, Magpies, Woodpigeons, Collared Doves, etc., we do also get rarer visitors including Little Owl, Tawny Owl, Green Woodpecker, Great Spotted Woodpecker and of course all these birds attract their own hunters, this Sparrowhawk seems to be spending a lot of time hunting through the garden on a daily basis. This time she missed:

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Saturday, October 03, 2009

Niagara Falls - long weekend, Monday

Our last day together in Niagara started with a huge downpour and thunderstorms directly overhead. The forecast suggested a brief pause in the rain around lunchtime as the first of two unusual (for this time of year) 'lake effect' weather systems pushed through the area. It did indeed stop raining around noon so we quickly headed down to the falls so that Helen could see them. In doing so we discovered the largest section, which I'd completely missed on the Wednesday evening:














The combination of sunshine, rain and the falls produced a low rainbow:














The weather quickly turned bad again. We tried out a couple of other State Parks but we eventually conceded and headed early to the airport. Helen got an early flight an made her connection home, they couldn't accommodate me on the early flight to Chicago and my flight was then substantially delayed as a thunderstorm sat directly over the airport for about an hour... sigh... still we did mostly enjoy our visit to Niagara Falls and did get to add another six new life species, bringing our total in the USA to 175 species and world-wide to 663 species.

My trip wasn't over however. I managed around half an hour birding in Birmingham, Alabama and saw lots of common US species including Titmouse, Chickadees, Mockingbirds, Towhees, etc., and this Northern Cardinal sat proud in the morning sunlight, beautiful:

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Niagara Falls - long weekend, Sunday

Sunday was darker and wetter but we were determined to make the most of our time in the area. Our initial plan was to visit a small cluster of State Parks on the shores of Lake Ontario then head into Canada for the day. On arrival at Fort Niagara State Park it was obvious that Canada was hosting a 'no bird left alive' day judging by the continuous wall of gunfire so we decided against visiting the other side at all. There were a number of birds in and around the Fort area including various woodpeckers, finches, sparrows and chickadees, etc. but it was so dark and overcast that photography proved very tricky. Then it started to rain. That and the background 'Somme' drove us away and inland. We drove for around ninety minutes to Letchworth State Park, which was good a choice. At the of first half-mile trail we walked it stopped raining and we were able to enjoy a great view of the river that winds, via a series of waterfalls, through the park:















Further up the course of the river this bridge spans the gorge:















And here a view of the upper falls under the bridge:














And finally the middle falls:














One thing we found hilarious. The park has a pack it in pack it out philosophy (which most people seem to observe) but this means that if you buy a drink from the case in the visitor centre the visitor centre staff themselves refuse to take the litter. I wonder why there were so many discarded cups in the general area? We did see a few birds in the Park, though I suspect the park is more for humans to enjoy the view than wildlife. The tendency to manicured lawns only really works for Starlings rather than indigenous species of birds. This lone White-throated Sparrow was the star of the show:














As you can see here, we caught the start of the 'fall' foliage. According to the foliage forecasts (they really do) we were pre-peak in the area we were visiting:


















The park was also home to some critters, including this aptly named 'Green Frog' was one of many we saw:














From Letchworth we stopped at Iroquois NWR as I wanted Helen to see the Gnatchatchers and walk in the old forest, which we did but then the rain started again in earnest and the afternoon was drawing in so it was time to head back again to the hotel and to pack for our respective flights on Monday evening.

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Niagara Falls - long weekend, Saturday part 2

my apologies for the break in the post - you may have noticed the software appears to be getting less reliable in spacing of post content - I ended up having to split this post:

As well as the swans at least ten Bald Eagles were present. We were relatively closely overflown by this youngster:














We decided, before finishing at Montezuma to head back to the visitor centre, which is no mean feat as you have to travel around ten miles on various back roads to relocate it. We were glad we did. The bird in the middle of this snap appears to be a version of the 'Blue Goose' morph of the Snow Goose:













You can see here a limited view of the pond, which by now was heaving with resting geese:














We did then head to Braddock Bay but it was both hard to find and when we finally did locate it, pointless. The wind was building up and the bad weather rolling in but none-the-less was still deserted, I suspect it's a spring only location. From there it was time to head back to the hotel in Niagara with time to stop and buy food, at which point the first storm duly descended and I got soaked on the short run back to the car!

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Friday, October 02, 2009

Niagara Falls - long weekend, Saturday

The weather forecast for the weekend was actually quite worrying with continual rain, heavy rain and thunderstorms being the main theme. Saturday started off quite pleasant however so we decided to head to what we though would be the top two destinations in upstate New York. En route we changed our plan from Braddock Bay and carried on past Rochester to Montezuma National Wildlife Refuge in the finger lakes region. We got there quite early, around 8:30, having driven for two and a half hours. On getting out of the car another birder was pointing out a lone Snow Goose flying overhead, excellent start, we'd never seen Snow Geese before!

We had a walk around the visitor centre on to the decking to watch the flock of Canada Geese on the main pond then were invited to follow a local Ornithological Society on their trip round the Refuge, only they took off too quickly for us, so we decided to find our way around by following the one-way trail. We walked the short distance first to an observation tower overlooking the lake and were treated to a flock of Snow Geese descending to the pond:















I filmed them eating and resting-up, the juveniles are the darker colour birds:

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Whilst we were watching the spectacle of the geese landing a Northern Goshawk flapped silently past the tower:




















Once seen however the alarm calls of the smaller birds (which we'd not seen) made up for the silence of the hawk. We did eventually see Eurasian Starlings and Red-winged Blackbirds amongst others. Also in the trees around the watchtower were Cedar Waxwings:





















The short walk along the river from here revealed a singing Carolina Wren, a small group of Greater Yellowlegs and this stop-off migrant, a Black-necked Blue Warbler:



















At the end of the one way trail and having traversed a highway to access another part of the space we saw a number of new species from another watchtower including American Wigeon, American Coot and here a distant family of Trumpeter Swans:



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Niagara Falls - long weekend, Friday afternoon

Well work was done by lunchtime and Helen didn't make the early connection out of Newark so I had an afternoon to kill/some early exploration to do!

First stop then was the Beaver Meadow Audubon reserve south of Buffalo. It turns out the reserve was very very quiet. I did encounter some Killdeer, Canada Geese and some White-throated Sparrows, chirping away at me from cover, showing briefly from time to time:





















I walked for a few miles but saw almost nothing. The staff at the visitor centre confirmed the reserve was now very quiet and even that the Beavers themselves have moved on having exhausted their food supply. So next up I headed for Iroquois National Wildlife Refuge. Refuge in this context is a lie, NWR's are now canned killing zones for the usual idiot + gun combo. Congress changed the law in 1997 so all these specialised, essential nature 'spaces' are now specialised hunting/killing sites. Great!

Anyway I was a week before the 'youth start of the season special event' so thankfully no guns! As I was sat in my car waiting (impatiently) for a client call a Mourning Dove settled on the other side of the mini roundabout. I love the neck plumage in particular, I had no idea they had gold plumage (click for a closer look):
















From the next car park I watched a Cedar Waxwing hawking for dragonflies, and doing very well for itself:





















Along the short riverbank were six pairs of what I believe are Blue-Gray Gnatcatchers:



















Finally as I turned around to head back to Buffalo to collect Helen, an adult White-throated Sparrow again skulking in cover and chirping at me, but with the sunlight I really caught the bird well:











Helen being still on BST we headed from the airport to hotel planning a pre-dawn start on Saturday.

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Niagara Falls - the working week

It's not every day/week/month/year/decade you need to travel to Niagara Falls for work. I suggest it's even less frequent that having been required to be there you get the time to go have a peek.... not being one to miss such an opportunity, I wandered from my hotel, The Holiday Inn, towards the Niagara Falls State Park. About three minutes later I was watching these rapids as the water descends towards the falls:














Even with the rushing water, from a bridge over the rapids you can see both Ring-necked Gulls and Herring Gulls mooching about on various perches:














Here's a short film of the rapids:

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Followed by a short film of the gulls:

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The light was great, this being a rare rain free day and in the last ninety-minutes of sunlight, here you can see the more built up Canadian side from across the rapids:













A little earlier Helen had continued the occasional 'out of the back window' series of snaps, showing more stunning colours in our local night sky:














Last but not least, on the American side of the falls you can stand really rather close to the falls themselves, as this short film shows:

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