Tuesday, 30 September 2014

Reading the code

14 September 2014

Oare Marshes

I ran the moth trap overnight for the first time in many weeks, hoping for a few interesting species. The catch was fairly average in the end with a few nice autumn moths though typically no migrants.

With an afternoon high tide I decided to return to Oare Marshes where a slightly increased flock of 15 Curlew Sandpiper arrived not the flood. A single Bar-tailed Godwit and Greenshank joined the main roost of Black-tailed Godwit and Redshank and 3 Little Stint (2 juv, 1 adult) arrived as the tide rose. I had hoped to try to read the ring code on the Curlew Sandpiper seen yesterday, but not read due to the blustery wind. 

From the Hide I noticed one of the Curlew Sandpipers on the spit was the red-ringed bird from yesterday. It was asleep in the water and way too far off to read, even if the ring had been fully visible. Later from the road I relocated it. For 30 minutes it slept with its ring obscured below the water. Occasionally it scratched, walked around, jumped on to the bank out of view or ran around too fast to read the ring, but eventually it paused in view and I managed to read the code, which has now been submitted to the BTO. Hopefully as a juvenile this will prove a very interesting record for the ringer and for me.

A small area of the Swale can be seen from the hide and as I scanned across it I noticed an Arctic Skua rise from the water. It was soon joined by two more then the three put up another two. I followed the three which moved higher and into the Swale where they joined another two which circled up high and then headed west. A Kingfisher flew past calling as I walked around to the sea wall hide. Over 45 minutes I scanned hoping for another skua. A couple of Sanderling, a Common Tern and a Sandwich Tern were the best I could manage, and a Turnstone was on the causeway.

Four of the five Arctic Skua that flew up the Swale
Some of the waders in the roost including the red ringed juvenile Curlew Sandpiper, just behind the Goldies

Monday, 15 September 2014

Can easterlies blow too long?

13 September 2014

Reculver and Oare

With the wind continuing from the east the number of migrants had reduced through the week, though the promise of the odd scarcity remained a real possibility. I started at Reculver and walked out along Chamber's Wall to the sea. I met Marc Heath and Chiddy on the concrete road and they reported little reward from a long walk down from Bishopstone across the fields. Swallows were moving west in small numbers and the first stubble field held 3 Wheatear and at least 6 Whinchat. Meadow Pipits were evident in small numbers, walking around the stubble and flying up in small noisy parties. The hedges and car park produced a Chiffchaff and a Spotted Flycatcher. I walked along the ditch flushing a Turtle Dove out of the scrub, another Chiffchaff was heard calling and a few Meadow Pipit, Yellow Wagtail and Swallow flew over.

Spotted Flycatcher
I bumped into Matt Hindle and Derek Smith along the path and they confirmed just a few migrants along the railway, including a few Redstart. I checked the scrub by the white poplars finding two Chiffchaff. The section of path to the sea produced just a couple of Chiffchaff and a small flock of Swallows flying west. The real highlight was the number of butterflies in the ivy with at least 25 Red Admiral, a Peacock and 2 Painted Lady.

Yellow Wagtail

I wandered back to the car seeing largely similar birds, but found a nice flock of Yellow Wagtail along the concrete road and grabbed a couple of photos before the flew away. Next stop was Shuart Farm, which was absolutely devoid of migrants, not helped by the endless maize crops along the track. A Comma, 10 Red Admiral and 2 Small Tortoiseshell were seen along the path.

I drove west stopping briefly at Seasalter to check the Swale estuary on the incoming tide, hoping for a Skua. After half an hour I'd seen nothing and decided to finish the day at Oare - at least there would be some birds.

As the tide rose the waders arrived - A juvenile Little Stint and five Curlew Sandpiper were the highlights. A couple of Knot among the Redshank and Black-tailed Godwits, plus a single Greenshank in the corner. Duck numbers and variety were increasing and the first Pintail was quietly feeding along the edge of the reeds. Several flocks of Wigeon arrived apparently from the North Sea, some overflying and others dropping down to join the Teal and Shoveler. As I scanned from the East Flood Hide an Arctic Skua dropped down onto the Swale causing me to rush around to the sea wall hide. I scanned for about 45 minutes, but there was no sign and just a juvenile Little Gull to show for my effort. About 50 Brent Geese were the first f the autumn. Back at the road an adult Hobby sat on a perch, 5 Yellow Wagtail fed with the cows and a juvenile Hobby caused mayhem over the flood before I left. Over the Swale a huge flock of 84 Little Egrets took flight and headed east along the coast. One of the juvenile Curlew Sandpipers was seen to have a numbered red darvic ring on its right leg, but the wind and distance made it just too difficult to read.


Sunday, 7 September 2014

Autumn migration in action

6 September 2014


I awoke early and was soon in the car on my way down to Dungeness. Like last weekend I decided to start at Galloways and slowly drove down the road towards the sea. A Wheatear and two Whinchat in the road hinted at the number of migrants around the bushes and fences. I reached the S bend and got out of the car to scan. A Spotted Flycatcher, several Whitethroat, 2 Willow Warbler, at least 10 Whinchat, 6 Stonechat, 5 Wheatear, 7 Meadow Pipit and 4 Reed Bunting. The light was hazy with a low misty cloud cover. Through the gloom I could hear hirundines and suddenly a huge flock of several hundred Swallows, House Martin and Sand Martin flew low over my head - migration in action; wonderful stuff.

Wheatear along the fence line at Galloways

I was just enjoying the numbers of birds and scanning the various bushes and posts when the security team arrived and politely asked me to leave as the army was about to start firing, but not before telling me about the Wryneck they had seen in the week!

I drove over to Denge Gulley seeing a Lesser Whitethroat along the road, parked by the dam wall and walked slowly along the track towards the sea. Willow Warblers flitted in all directions, three Blackcap flew out of a gorse bush and a Garden Warbler was feeding in one of the small elders. Several Whitethroat and two Sedge Warblers came out as I 'pished'. Further along a Reed Warbler showed tantalisingly in an elder allowing me to grab a few confirmatory record shots. A Pied Flycatcher showed briefly before creeping into cover. The Gulley was buzzing with activity.

Reed Warbler

At the far end I found four Chiffchaff, a smart male Redstart, a Whinchat and the first of 12 Wheatear between here and the sea. Yellow Wagtails were calling everywhere and a flock of about 35 birds was watched feeding with the Wheatear, five Whinchat and several Meadow Pipit. Overhead more hirundines flew east toward the point. A flock of 8 noisy Tree Sparrows flew in and landed briefly before heading off across the shingle and a Goldfinch flew around as I walked back along the other side. 

Yellow Wagtail - one of several hundred seen today

I saw many of the same birds as I returned, though perhaps more Chiffchaffs, Whitethroat and Blackcaps. I saw a number of birds fly into a small gorse bush on the opposite side. Raising my binoculars I saw a small, dark, furtive warbler creeping around the base - a Grasshopper Warbler. It flew down into some rough vegetation by the ditch and I raced around for a better view. However despite much effort it just would not show itself again and eventually I gave up. Two more Pied Flycatchers were feeding  at the top end of the ditch as I departed and 2 Raven flew past.

Next stop was the Bird Observatory. As I got out of the car Steve Broyd and Martin Casemore were chatting. Before I had time to say hello a very strident 'tsseeeeeep' call grabbed my attention as a small pipit landed in the grass behind the cottages. It sounded so loud, clear and drawn out - surely a Red-throated Pipit? Steve had also heard it and our suspicions were strong enough for us to round everyone up from the Observatory before we ventured into the grass. Typically two pipits flew out and neither called. They went in different directions over the mound and down into the Moat. We carefully followed and flushed both again, but we all followed one bird. After some further stalking we pinned it down and got views - a Tree Pipit.

So presumably the strength of its call resulted from the odd sound effects of the walled moat and the cottages reflecting and amplifying the call.......or we followed the wrong bird? Anyway after another fifteen minutes of searching we found nothing and presumed the former (more likely) explanation.

Willow Warbler
Around the Moat I found a Pied Flycatcher, a Spotted Flycatcher, 4 Willow Warbler, 2 Blackcap, 3 Whitethroat, 6 Wheatear and a Great-spotted Woodpecker. Hirundines were flooding past with flocks stretching across the horizon, and several hundred House Martin feeding around the top of the power station.

Pied Flycatcher in the Moat

Spotted Flycatcher
I awaited the return from the next net round, which produced another dozen birds, but nothing of any significance, so after a cup of tea and a chat I wandered down towards the trapping area. I first checked the gorse clumps at 'the drop' where Owen had earlier seen a brief Wryneck. A rather flighty Redstart, about 10 Whitethroat and 2 Lesser Whitethroat were all I could find so I walked out to the gorse and brambles that run from the Old Lighthouse  car park into the desert. They were literally alive with birds - five Whinchat in the teasels, Whitethroats everywhere, Blackcaps and the odd Lesser Whitethroat and Willow Warbler. I checked everything carefully as I walked the 'hedgerow' with the birds flicking out in front of me. Suddenly a bird flew toward me and landed briefly on a bent stem - a Wryneck! Just as I tried to photograph it, it flew back into the largest gorse bush, showing briefly in some dead branches.

The Wryneck in the gorse
A brief view through a hole
A few text messages later I was joined by a few others birders. Fortunately I relocated it sat at the top of a nearby bramble before it flicked down to the small gorse bushes along the old railway line. With Gill Hollamby I approached the area it dropped but there was just no sign. Assuming it had slipped away I turned to walk further down the path, and within two paces the Wryneck flicked up from under my feet. It dropped into the next bush and we watched it pretending to be invisible. I snuck down the path keeping my head below the bank and crept carefully over the top. The Wryneck at exactly this point hopped off its perch and into thick cover. However I stayed put and waited. A movement on the right of the bush suggested it was working its way to the top. Nothing happened. Then it appeared just sat in half view on the side of the gorse bush.   

It sat in the open for a while, then suddenly seemed to realise I (or something) was there, stretching its neck out and peering in my direction.

Rather than flying away it dropped down onto the ground. I crawled nearer, below the bank and up until I could see across to the area it landed. Initially it was out of view, but suddenly without warning it appeared hopping around in the short grass. A couple of shots fired before it noticed.

What a stunner
Trying to hide behind the grass

It fed actively on the ground covering large distances in a few hops, but never getting in range. After a while it flew into the gorse then across the Desert to a nearby Willow bush. I continued on my way finding another Whinchat and six more Wheatear. The few bushes on the edge of the trapping area held seven Blackcap, a Willow Warbler and a couple of Whitethroat. A Sparrowhawk raced right over my head and a second flew out of a bush on the edge of the Desert. As I walked into the trapping area the first net held another Sparrowhawk, which unfortunately escaped before Dave arrived to bag it. Walking through the bushes produced two Redstart, a Pied Flycatcher and 2 smart Firecrest along with lots of Willow Warbler. 

Back at the Observatory Dave returned with the latest catch which included a young female Redstart and a superb juvenile Green Woodpecker, which provided some educational views of its moulting primaries (woodpeckers are the only passerines that moult their primaries in their first autumn), its incredibly strong feet and sharp claws (clinging to Dave's arm) and its unfathomably long tongue.

Juvenile female Redstart

After a long chat with Gill about the recent Bird Observatory conference in Falsterbo I was about to leave when Martin phoned to say he'd found a Nightjar on the edge of the trapping area. From his excited call to Dave it sounded like he had it perched, so we grabbed the cameras and raced out to join him. It took a while to find him and when we did we learned that the bird had flown down a ride and vanished. We searched around but couldn't relocate it - with just Martin's excellent photos to show what we'd missed.

I walked back across the Desert seeing another Sparrowhawk, but nothing new. After a check of the Patch, where about 30 Common Tern and a range of large gulls, I drove around to the Long Pits and walked out to the first bushes where I found 2 Pied Flycatcher feeding in a bush beside the pit. Rather than search for more birds I sat quietly in the grass and watched as they fed along the edge. A Lesser Whitethroat and 2 Willow Warbler also showed in the same bush.

Pied Flycatcher

Willow Warbler
With time moving on I had a quick scan of the ARC pit and then checked the gull roost along the RSPB entrance track. Nothing of real note, so I drove home seeing 2 Turtle Dove on Walland Marsh and over 100 Yellow Wagtail feeding on the model aeroplane lawn outside of Lydd where hundreds of Swallows were moving low west over the fields.

A really fantastic autumn day out.