Monday, 29 November 2010

Rainham Reedlings

After a very cold morning’s walk round Elmley Marshes, Kent on Saturday - shrouded in freezing mist which stubbornly refused to clear, Carolyn, Malcolm and I decided to spend the afternoon at RSPB Rainham Marshes. We reasoned that even if birds were scarce there was always the option of hot chocolate in the Visitors Centre. As it turned out we made the right choice; not just because of the hot chocolate [with whipped cream – need I say more], but because we managed to catch the matineé performance of a party of Bearded Tits feeding in reeds near the exit gate. They were stunning – we counted a dozen or more, acrobatically working their way through the reeds just a few metres from us and seemingly unconcerned by their audience. Supporting act was a Water Rail doing a Basil Fawlty walk across the channel a couple of times. Cold weather... what cold weather?

Thursday, 25 November 2010


In North American English this was the name once given to the bird we know as the Long-tailed Duck – a migratory sea duck found in northern Europe, North America, and Asia. In the UK it’s usually seen around northern coasts in winter, although the one sighting I’d had of Long-tailed Duck previously was a distant view off the North Norfolk coast. At the weekend, however, I was pleased to get the chance to see a first winter drake that had turned up at Fen Drayton Lakes in Cambridgeshire.
I read somewhere that of all diving ducks, the Long-tailed Duck spends the most time underwater relative to time on the surface and that was certainly true of this bird because it was constantly diving, which made it very difficult to photograph [and indeed to watch].  I don’t think it stayed on the surface longer than 4 or 5 seconds at a time - and often less than that...

But perseverance paid off and I managed a few photos from its brief appearances...

Wednesday, 17 November 2010

Owls, exotics and a murmuration

Last weekend’s trip to the Cotswolds and Slimbridge got off to a great start when we called in at the Cotswold Water Park and found, with the help of a local birder, a Short-eared Owl quartering one of the marshy fields. It didn’t take us long to work out which post was its preferred perch and so when the owl went off hunting for a second time we positioned ourselves to get a good view of the post - and waited. As we stood there a Barn Owl also flew in which was great, at first – until a mid-air altercation between the two birds resulted in the disappearance of the Short-eared Owl; but at least it allowed the Barn Owl to hunt undisturbed for a while. Fortunately, once the Barn Owl had caught some prey and left the scene, the Short-eared Owl returned and to our delight landed on the post we had picked out, giving us perfect views of it.
Mind you, I’m not sure who was watching who...

After a few minutes rest and a shake of its feathers, it was off hunting once more...

Late afternoon found us crossing the county boundary into Somerset for the Starling roost at RSPB Ham Wall reserve. I’ve seen such a spectacle reported a number of times on nature programmes but, believe me, no TV programme even begins to capture the atmosphere of the real thing - it has to be seen [and heard]to be believed.

On Sunday we spent the day with Beds Bird Club members at WWT Slimbridge. There were plenty of birds on view from the hides overlooking the Severn Estuary, and we enjoyed the 4 o’clock floodlit bird feeding from the Peng Observatory, but I particularly liked all the exotic wildfowl. Even if the day was rather grey and dull, those birds were anything but...

Ringed Teal

Hooded Mergansers

Chiloe Wigeon

Red-breasted Goose


Monday, 8 November 2010

That's another Eider down

A visit to Minsmere on Saturday [6 November] provided Malcolm, Carolyn and me with an opportunity to catch up with one of the rarer species of Eider Duck - a drake King Eider that had been in the area for some time. Finding it was not going to be easy, though, as we had been told it usually did a daily commute between Dunwich and Sizewell – that’s a lot of sea to search for one duck! As we walked to the beach I don’t think any of us felt too confident that we’d see it but incredibly, after ten minutes or so of scanning and just as we were beginning to resign ourselves to a long search, Malcolm said he thought he’d got it – and sure enough it was the Eider. It was quite distant at that point but soon afterwards we had a stroke of luck when a small fishing boat spooked the bird into flight, bringing it a bit closer - close enough for us to watch it easily through the scopes as it dived and fed, and preened itself.

After a celebratory lunch in the visitors centre involving lots of cake, it was off to Covehithe, a few miles away, to try for a reported Richard’s Pipit. Yet again, within ten minutes of arriving we had the Pipit in our scopes, after seeing a number of birders making their way through the churchyard to a field beyond. To say this bird was mobile was the understatement of the year - it didn’t stand still for a second and we were continually losing it in the rough grass and weeds of the field. Eventually, however, it did stop for a short rest which gave us a chance to try a photo or two…

Back at Minsmere, a single Waxwing in a tree close to the visitors centre was the only bird I saw that day of a larger flock that had been around earlier…

…while the final half an hour in the Island Mere hide gave me probably the best view I’ve ever had of a ring-tail Hen Harrier. It almost made you hold your breath to watch it - flying in an arc around the front of the hide, its feathers tinged gold by the setting sun.

Needless to say, another great day’s birding.