Ring-necked Parakeet

October 2011

15th October 2011 – Berkshire, Buckinghamshire, Oxfordshire and Greater London

After a pick up just before 6am, Bill and his client, on a three day layover, before going off birding to Ethiopia, were soon at Wraysbury Gravel Pits in Berkshire. It was one of those days where it seemed to take forever to get light, despite being early October – a reminder of the months to come. However, undeterred we managed to see Great Crested Grebe and Tufted Duck on the Station Pit through the gloom and there was also a distant pair of Gadwall, Great Cormorant  and a few Black-headed Gulls. We then headed around to the more open areas of the site, finding Chiffchaff, Blackcap, Eurasian Robin and Common Chaffinch on the way. The afore-mentioned open areas provided us with Green Woodpecker (in flight, but good views, nevertheless), a large flock of European Goldfinch, a particularly flighty group of Common Linnet, Pied Wagtail and some more, closer Tufted Duck. The “hill” held a number of Meadow Pipit which, after a while, settled down and allowed great views of this fairly non-descript, streaky, brown bird, one even perching on a fence so we could see the long hind claw, but keeping their distance from a nearby hunting Common Kestrel. We also heard numerous Dunnock and Winter Wren, but these refused to come out and be seen, though a few Common Blackbird were seen disappearing around the bushes when we disturbed them. We also managed to ‘scope’ a distant Mistle Thrush and a Eurasian Jay and there were a number of Ring-necked Parakeet flying around. The walk back to the car produced good views of Long-tailed, Great and Blue Tits, and excellent views of Goldcrest whilst a Eurasian Treecreeper was heard and fly-overs included Grey Wagtail, Barn Swallow and Great Spotted Woodpecker.  

We then went on to Little Marlow Gravel Pit in Buckinghamshire – always a productive site. There were a number ofNorthern Lapwing loafing on the sand spit along with a congregation of Black-headed,Common, Herring and Lesser Black-backed Gulls, but we couldn’t locate the Yellow-legged Gull that had been seen there recently. Wildfowl were represented by Northern Shoveler, Mallard,Tufted Duck, Common Teal and Greylag Goose. We also kept hearing Common Kingfisher calling, but sadly failed to connect, but a Grey Wagtail did put in an appearance on a small stick in the water, making up for the brief fly-over view we had had earlier. The fields at the southern end held plenty of Carrion Crown and Western Jackdaw and another sizeable flock of European Goldfinch and a distant Red Kite. The walk around the Pit produced nothing new, but the Kingfishers kept taunting us with their calls. On the recently ploughed fields on the north side of the pit, we found a Red Kite on the ground, which then took off and gave stunning views and also a covey of four Red-legged Partridge along the field edge.

Lunch was taken at Aston Rowant National Nature Reserve, Nr. Stokenchurch in Oxfordshire, having seen a Common Buzzard on the journey over. Whilst we were eating we kept hearing Eurasian Nuthatch calling and also Marsh Tit, as well as Blue and Great Tits. So in a quick walk up the road afterwards we managed to get good views of the Marsh Tits but the Nuthatches had taken lessons from the Kingfishers in how to remain hidden from us. We then went onto the fields at the bottom of the Chiltern escarpment, but a stiff breeze kept most things down. We did add Rook to the list here and several more Red Kites.

With an hour or so until we had to head back into town, Bill decided to try a site near London with the aim of finding the up-to-now elusive Nuthatch. So we went to Osterley Park, where this species is usually relatively easy to see and visits the feeders in the gardens up the main drive. Alas, not sight nor sound of a Nuthatch. However, the trip was not wasted as we got good views of Coal Tit, whilst the ponds held a tickable (i,e, a self sustaining population)  flock of Mandarin Duck, Little Grebe and a pair of Mistle Thrush on the grass to within 30 feet made up for the distant views we’d had earlier.

The trip total ended up being 66 species of which 25 were lifer for the client. His favourite bird was the Tufted Duck, as although common over here are rare where he comes from in  California and despite extensive tours all over the USA has ‘dipped’ on them on several occasions – so another ‘bogey-bird’ added to the list. Bill’s bird of the trip was probably the Meadow Pipits as despite being common, they gave such good views... or was it the Marsh Tits?     

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12th October 2011 – The New Forest and East Dorset

I picked up my clients from their relations house in Surrey, just before 6.30am and we headed south-west to the New Forest.  Rather than do my usual summer tour around the Beaulieu Road area, I opted for the area around Bolderwood, which is a site that holds various specialist species for the Forest, some of which my client’s needed as life-birds.

Our first stop by the Canadian War Memorial proved to be a little frustrating. The were birds about; Eurasian Siskin, Lesser Redpoll, Meadow Pipit, Song Thrush,Goldcrest and Eurasian Wren, to name but a few, but the majority were either hidden deep in the woodland or hurtling across the sky. About the only bird that didn’t mind being looked at was a European Robin that was quite happy to sing and flit around in the open. Just as we were leaving this site, a small flock of Common   (Red) Crossbill flew over and appeared to land in the pine trees, but we couldn’t locate them.

We then went to the deer enclosures around Bolderwood itself, a few hundred meters south of our first stop. At first the birds continued to be difficult, but we managed to find a few Goldcrest in amongst a flock of Blue, Great and Long-tailed Tits. On entering an open area, I noticed a couple of small finch-looking birds in a bare tree a little way away. On ‘scoping them I noticed white tail-ends and big chunky looking head and beaks – Hawfinch – one of our target species, and an increasingly difficult bird to catch up with in the UK, even at the few remaining sites around the country that they are regularly seen. Spurred on by this good fortune we continued around the perimeter of the enclosure. We kept seeing flocks of Common (Red) Crossbill flying around, but didn’t manage to get any perched. However, that was soon to change as a flock alighted in a small group of pines near the path and then flew down to rest and preen in some small silver birches. This allowed excellent views of this species and the flock included several red, adult males. It also constituted another Life-bird for one of my clients. Not to be outdone, a flock of mixed finches kept landing in the same group of trees, mainly Eurasian Siskin, but also we eventually found (after much deliberation as we were looking into the light) a 1st year Lesser Redpoll, another of our targets for the day.  

Our walk continued and after getting distant views of Mistle Thrush and European Greenfinch and fly-past Green Woodpecker and Barn Swallow came to a stand of Holly. There was a Eurasian Nuthatch calling, but we couldn’t locate it, but we did find a family party of Firecrest, another of our sought-after species. We then headed back to the car, very happy with our morning’s birding and also saw a Marsh Tit on the way back.

Following an early picnic lunch amongst the ubiquitous New Forest Ponies we decided to head down to the RSPB reserve at Arne as there had been reports of Eurasian Spoonbill in the area recently – another species which my client’s were keen to see.   

At Arne we enquired as to the best place to see the Spoonbills, but were told that due to very a high tide that day, none had been seen and that our best bet was Brownsea Island in Poole Harbour. We spend a while admiring the birds on the feeders outside the Visitor Centre window and had great, close up views of Common Chaffinch, Blue, Great and Coal Tit and Great Spotted Woodpecker on the feeders, while a Eurasian Wren hopped around in a woodpile, before we headed off on a scenic drive past Corfe Castle and across the East Dorset heaths to the chain-ferry at Studland.  Once across the short stretch of water to Sandbanks, we then waited to board a boat to take us out to Brownsea Island. Whilst waiting we added Black-headed Gull, Eurasian Oystercatcher, Great Cormorant and three late Sandwich Ternsto our day list. Virtually as soon as we had stepped off the boat on the Island, we were overlooking the Lagoon, which was full of birds including at least 10 Eurasian Spoonbill, much to the delight of my clients. Other species present included large flocks of Black-tailed Godwit, Eurasian Oystercatcher and Pied Avocet, as well as Common Redshank, Little Egret, Grey Heron,Herring, Great and Lesser Black-backed Gull, Eurasian Wigeon, Common Teal, Common Shelduck and Northern Shoveler, whilst passerines were represented by European Goldfinch, European Greenfinch, European Robin, Pied Wagtail  and  Dunnock.

Sadly time was moving on and we didn’t have any longer to explore the island further or look for the relict population of Red Squirrel that live there, so we got the boat back to the mainland and headed home, adding Common Tern to the list while we were waiting at the quay.

The day list was a modest 58 species, but we had surpassed expectations and seen all that we hoped for which included 4 and 5 life-birds for my two clients respectively. The birds of the trip were probably the Spoonbilll (a long-awaited species) for my clients and for me it was the exceptional views of the Crossbill.  

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13th October 2011 – North Norfolk

I picked up my client from his accommodation in North London at 6am and we headed north up to North Norfolk for the day. As it was a cloudy start and we were well north of Cambridge before it really got properly light, we didn’t stop anywhere on the way, but went straight up to our first destination, Titchwell RSPB reserve.

We started by going around the Meadow Trail where a Yellow-browed Warbler had been residing for the last couple of days. It had been seen briefly that morning, but had now retreated to the thicker parts of the vegetation, and we only heard it call, but we did see Chiffchaff.

Undaunted we then headed out to the main footpath that runs north to the sea. Whilst waiting for the Warbler we had heard two Cetti’s Warblers singing against each other. They were still singing and one was really close, so a few minutes were spent trying to locate this often skulking warbler. Our wait paid off and we had brilliant views of it in the thinner parts of the willows and even right out in the open, before it flew off to the middle of another dense willow stand. We also heard a couple of Brambling calling but could not locate them in the trees.

As the tide was falling we elected to “do” the sea and shore first and come back to the hides, but we found Tufted Duck,Gadwall, Common Snipe, Spotted and Common Redshank, Eurasian Curlew, Little Egret and Little Grebe on the various pools on the way to the beachwhilst Dark-bellied Brent Geese and Marsh Harriers were flying about. We also saw a couple of family groups of Bearded Tit (Reedling) sitting up and flying around on the reeds, taking full advantage of the calm weather. What was really nice was that there were a couple of stunning males in the groups which showed really well. The sea was fairly quiet, and flat calm, but we saw both summer and winter plumaged Red-throated Diver (Loon), Great Crested Grebe, Common Eider and a pair of distant Common Scoter (plus a few passing offshore) and even more distant Northern Gannet. While we were there the call went up for a Short–Eared Owl coming in off the sea. It was quite distant but identifiable. This was the first of a large influx of Short-eared Owls in Norfolk that day with Titchwell recording an unprecedented 50 during the day, though this was the only one we saw. The beach itself held a good collection of the common shorebirds and we saw Sanderling,(Great) Ringed Plover, Ruddy Turnstone, Red Knot, Dunlin, Eurasian Oystercatcher, Bar-tailed Godwit and probably the most unusual, a Purple Sandpiper. This last bird we walked up the beach to get a better look at, but as it was asleep against a small, sand and pebble bar it was almost invisible – not the best view ever, but a good bird for the site and the day, nevertheless.      

On the way back to the Visitor Centre we had a look from the hides and added a number of further species to our list. These included Black-tailed Godwit, a single Pied Avocet, Northern Lapwing, European Golden Plover, Ruff, Egyptian Goose, Common Teal, Northern Shoveler, Common Linnet, Pied Wagtail, Meadow Pipit, and Reed Bunting. However, we just missed a Great Grey (Northern) Shrike that had been seen briefly. This was another species that had arrived all along the coast that day, though not in the numbers that the Short-eared Owls had.   

After a quick coffee & lunch stop and a look at the feeders which held House Sparrow, Common Chaffinch and European Greenfinch, Blue and Great Tits (but sadly no Brambling) we headed off towards the Holkam area, 10 miles east along the coast. However, on the way we stopped for a few minutes at Choseley Drying Barns, Here we found a couple of Red-legged Partridge and well as several Pied Wagtail, Common Chaffinch and Yellowhammer.    

We then continued to Holkham Pines. A stop on the road gave us good views of Greylag and Pink-footed Geese. Another Great Grey (Northern) Shrike had been reported at the western end of the pines, so we elected to go and have a look and see what else we   

could find on the way. The change in the weather the previous night had produced a huge influx of birds into the country, especially along the eastern coast (which included where we were). Many of there were migrant thrushes and there were a large number of Common Blackbird present (migrants from Scandinavia/Central Europe that hugely augment our partially migrant British population) as well as Redwing and smaller numbers of Fieldfare. Also finches were much in evidence with Redpoll spp (it is very difficult to identify Lesser from Common Redpoll when they are passing overheard at height – but the majority are likely to be Lessers), Eurasian Siskin, Common Chaffinch and more Brambling were heard, all flying over.

Eventually we got to the end of the tree belt and walked onto the dunes where the Great Grey (Northern) Shrike was showing well on a low hedgerow. Also here there were several Brambling calling from the pines, but try as we might we could not locate them. This was definitely the bogey bird for the day (especially for my client as he had yet to connect with this species anywhere, having missed a number of them in the USA!). We did find a Blackcap there though and after chasing the Chaffinch flocks around for a while we had to start heading back but just as we were leaving a flock of Common (Red) Crossbill flew over calling.

On the way back to the car we found an impressive “flock” of at least 19 Common Blackbird feeding on a small lawn area together with a Redwing and a Song Thrush thus getting excellent views of all three species.

Despite reports of Common Crane and Great White Egret having been found at Titchwell since we had left there, and various other ‘goodies’ all along the coast we resisted temptation and headed home. Our species total for the day was an excellent, but frustrating 99 species. As we drove through Norfolk a smallish “blue” raptor shot out from a hedge and flicked straight over it – our hundredth species for the day, and we saw it so briefly we didn’t get enough on it to identify it. So the 100th species was either Eurasian Sparrowhawk or Merlin, but the split second view wasn’t enough to count it, though my gut feeling tends towards Sparrowhawk.

My client ended up with 47 “life-birds” of which his favourite was the Bearded Tits, narrowly beating the Cetti’s Warbler. For me, I don’t’  think I can pin down a particular species, though Great Grey Shirikes are always nice to see, Instead it has to be the spectacle of autumn migration in full swing with thousands of birds of lots of different species arriving to spend the winter in Britain or passing though on their way further south.                   

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25th October 2011 – Ivinghoe Beacon & Tring Reservoirs (Buckinghamshire & Hertfordshire)

After a pick-up in North London, Bill took his clients to Ivinghoe Beacon on the Buckinghamshire/Bedfordshire border, about an hour’s drive from London. After an impromptu breakfast while we waiting for it to get light enough to see the birds we climbed the hill to near the summit of the Beacon, having seen Goldcrest and heard European Robin and Dunnock on the walk up. The bushes below the summit held a variety of birds and we found Yellowhammer, Common Blackbird, Redwing and Common Chaffinch in the bushes whilst Meadow Pipit, Common Skylark and Common Kestrel were all seen flying around. A scan of the fence line in the Sheep fieed produced a late Northern Wheatear which was a nice surprise. We then walked along the ridge to Income Hole (Steps Hill) where another birder told us that up to six Ring Ouzel had been reported that morning. On the way we heard a Great Spotted Woodpecker, but couldn’t locate it, but did see Dunnock and European Robin. There were a lot of thrushes in the Hole but unfortunately we couldn’t find any Ring Ouzel. However we did find a large flock or c100 Fieldfare which sat out on the bushes, a lot of Common Blackbird and Redwing as well as excellent views of Blue Tit, Goldcrest and European Goldfinch. Bill managed to find a Eurasian Bullfinch, but sadly it flew off before anyone else got to see it.  There was also a pair of Common Kestrel trying to hunt around the Hole, but these were constantly being harried by the local Carrion Crows, and we heard a Green Woodpecker. We then continued our circular tour back toward the Beacon. An area of woodland proved productive with Eurasian Nuthatch, Goldcrest, Blue, Great and Coal Tits as well as Eurasian Wren (recently split by the ABA), We saw another Eurasian Nuthatch which showed itself very well on a bare tree on the way back and we kept hearing Common Bullfinch but they remained hidden. We did see a medium sized deer (probably Fallow) though.  Most of the thrushes we had seen early on had now disappeared due to the increased people activity below the Beacon, but there were a pair of Common Raven soaring above the ridge before they drifted off east and we had distant views of Common Skylark on the ground.

After lunch, we went to Wllstone Reservoir (part of the Tring Reservoir complex). Here we added a number of waterbirds to our daily tally including Great Crested Grebe, Eurasian Wigeon, Tufted Duck, Gadwall, Northern Shoveler, a single drake Northern Pintail, Common Teal and Common Pochard. There were a number of Pied Wagtail on the banks and the shingle bank (exposed due to very low water levels) held over 200 European Golden Plover as well as Northern Lapwing, Great Cormorant and Grey Heron, After getting a Common Chiffchaff in the hedge, We walked into the woodland to look for some more passerines but the heavens opened and we were forced to take cover for 20 minutes or so until it stopped. We then managed to add Rook, and a flypast Common Buzzard, whilst a probable Northern Bullfinch remained elusive yet again, having been seen very briefly. On the way back around the reservoir another birder had located a Water Pipit which was a good day-bird, but unfortunately the light was not good, so it didn’t provide the best views ever. There were also the local pair of feral Whooper Swan on the reservoir, which had obviously arrived during the rainstorm.                   

With not too much time left until dusk, we decided to go on to the other reservoirs in the area (Tringford, Marsworth and Startops). This proved a good plan as while Bill was trying to locate some ducks by scanning the mud in front of the reedbed at Marsworth reservoir he found a Water Rail. This bird kept going in and out of the reeds, but eventually we all got good views of it. Startops held a number of Meadow Pipit and loads of Pied Wagtails on the grassy substrate but another heavy shower forced us into the covered viewing screen. Whilst there we picked out two bulky, dark Pipits that after a lot of deliberation in the poor light were deemed to be the Scandinavian race of Rock Pipit (sub-species littoralis).

A flight-in to roost of the ubiquitous Canada Geese heralded the end of our birding day, in which a reasonable total of 64 species were recorded (which included the feral Whooper Swans). Favourite birds for the day were Chaffinch and either Water Rail or Blue Tit for my clients and for me it was the impressive flock of Fieldfare.     

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26th October 2011 – Westcliffe-on-Sea and Wat Tyler Country Park (Essex) and Regents Park and Osterley Park (Greater London)

I picked up my client from the airport before 7am and after a quick stop at her hotel we went around the M25 to Essex. My client was particularly keen to add a number of species to her world list, so it was to be a day of hunting for particular species.

Our first stop was the seafront at Westcliffe-on-Sea, near Southend in Essex. A walk along the seafront produced a large number of Black-headed Gulls with Herring Gulls and a couple of Common Gulls and a few Ruddy Turnstone on the water’s edge. The tide was in (it goes out a considerable distance here – about a mile) and there was no exposed mud, so no other waders were seen here. We also heard Dunnock and European Robin and saw Eurasian Collared Dove and Common Woodpigeon. However, we still could not find our target species. After turning around and walking past where we had started from, we saw them – two initially and then three adult Mediterranean Gulls. They sat about 30 yards from us and also flew off onto the sea, so we got all the salient identification features really well.

We then headed off for our next target bird at Wat Tyler Country Park, near Pitsea (again in Essex). We collected the key for the hide from the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds (RSPB) Visitor Centre and went and looked out from the hide over a reedbed and a gravel pool. There is a municipal tip adjacent to the site and so the pool was covered in gulls – Black-headed, Common, Great Black-backed, Lesser Black-backed and Herring, including some individuals of the latter species that were large and bulky with strong head streaking indicative of the nominate Scandinavian sub-species, argentatus (British Herring Gulls are sub-species argenteus). A search through the gulls failed to provide anything more interesting such as a Caspian or Yellow-legged unfortunately. There were a few waders on the Pool and we got Common Redshank, Black-tailed Godwit, Common Snipe and Northern Lapwing, whilst wildfowl included Mallard, Common Teal, and Northern Shoveler. Sadly our quarry species – Bearded Tit (Reedling) remained hidden in the reedbed, though we did hear one calling a couple of times, before it absolutely tipped down with rain for half an hour and we never heard it again. However we also heard Cetti’s Warbler singing, and saw Blue Tit and European Robin.

After lunch on the move from the local supermarket we headed back towards Central London. The traffic was dreadful but we did get Mute Swan for the day list while we sat stationary. Eventually we got to our next site, Regent’s Park in Central London. A short walk saw us looking over a narrow reed-fringed channel and soon we got our next target species, Water Rail as well as Common Pochard, Tufted Duck and a Ruddy Duck of unknown origin.

From there, we headed out west of London to Osterley Park to try and get one more target species before we lost the light. Osterley Park was a site I had visited on a recent trip. We walked to the lake and eventually a pair of Mandarin Duck, the bird we were after, came up onto the bank to feed a short distance away, with some Mallard. We also heard Goldcrest, and Green Woodpecker and saw Ring-necked (Rose-ringed) Parakeet here. Finally with the light fading rapidly, we went to look for Little Owl, but the nest-box that they have used in the past looked very derelict and may not have been used this season.  There were a number of Redwing flying over and a couple of Song Thrush were also heard and seen briefly in flight. Just as we were getting back into the car, a Little Owl started calling from a group of ancient oaks in the middle of a field. Sadly, there was still too much foliage on the trees to find it and coupled with the fact that it was now dusk, we had to make do with a ‘heard-only’ Owl.

The day concluded on a modest 51 species, but included three much-wanted ‘life-birds’ for my client. Probably the best bird was the Mediterranean Gulls as they gave such good views.       

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Meadow Pipit

Drake Tufted Duck

Adult male Common (Red) Crossbill

Adult winter plumage Black-headed Gull

Cetti’s Warbler (shame about the leaf!)

Winter plumage Black-tailed Godwit

Eurasian Nuthatch

Pied Wagtail

Common Gull  - Some authors regard this as a different species from the American Mew Gull