Ring-necked Parakeet

September 2011

4th September 2011 – Wraysbury Gravel Pits & Little Marlow Gravel Pit (½ - day trip)

Bill picked up his client at Heathrow Airport (who was en-route to a birding tour of Uganda and Rwanda) late morning and they went off to the nearby Wraysbury Gravel Pits.  Unfortunately, on arriving at the site the heavens opens and despite a ½ hour trudging around in the increasingly heavy rain, very few birds of note were seen, and nothing that would not be seen later in the day.

The executive decision was therefore made to abort this site and move onto Plan B, returning if time allowed later. Plan B was Little Marlow Gravel Pit in south Buckinghamshire (which was planned to be the 2nd site, dependant on time). This proved a good move as by the time they had got there it had all but stopped raining and the birds were plentiful, if some looking a little bedraggled   The short walk up from the car park to the pit itself was alive with passerines with Eurasian Robin, Great, Blue and Long-tailed Tits, Blackcap and Common Whitethroat, European Greenfinch, European Goldfinch and Common Chaffinch, whilst the larger birds were represented by Common Woodpigeon.Eurasian Magpie and two Great Spotted Woodpecker. The garden feeders that are visible from the path at one point had four species on one feeder at one time – European Goldfinch, Common Chaffinch, Great Tit and Blue Tit! 

The pit itself held a good variety of waterbirds with Common Teal, Common Pochard,Tufted Duck and Great Crested Grebe being the most noticeable. The sand spit in the middle of the pit was full of birds with the most numerous species being Northern Lapwing, Common Starling, Greylag and Canada Geese, and several hundred Black-headed Gulls with smaller numbers of Lesser Black-backed and British-race Herring Gulls mixed in with them. Also on the spit were several Grey Heron, a solitary Little Egret, Gadwall, Egyptian Geese and a single “escapee” Bar-headed Goose. Another birder there found a single Common Snipe for us and two juvenile Common Tern were fishing over the pit.

The walk along the side of the pit added several Barn Swallow and a single House Martin and Common Kingfisher were heard but not seen. The cattle field between the pit and the River Thames held good numbers of the four common corvids, Eurasian Magpie, Rook, Eurasian Jackdaw and Carrion Crow and Chiffchaff could be heard calling. A distant falcon was seen stooping but was picked up too late to be sure of its identity. The walk continued around the field to try and see if any of the Yellow Wagtail that had been there in number the previous week were still around. Eventually, four were found, all juveniles, and all frequenting one particular feeding cow. Red Kite was also added to the list here and a small flock of mixed hirundines (Barn Swallow and House Martin) made a brief appearance. As time was now getting on, the last place visited were the fields and wet wood at the north of this site. The wet wood was surprisingly devoid of birds, but excellent views of Chiffchaff and flight views of Eurasian Jay were obtained on the way. However the field produced three different raptors, Red Kite, Common Buzzard and Common Kestrel, the last being perched on some telegraph wire, its yellow legs and feet glowing in the sunlight. By then, time had run out and a flight had to be caught, so a return visit to Wraysbury was not possible on this occasion.

This short, rained-marred trip recoded a respectable 55 species (including the “dodgy” Bar-headed Goose), of which 18 were “lifers” for the client. Favourite birds were the Red Kite, and for Bill, the Yellow Wagtails.

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12th & 13th September 2011 – Norfolk (1½ day trip)

I picked up my clients, a couple from on vacation from California, shortly after breakfast from their hotel in Kensington. After fighting our way through the morning London traffic we headed up to our first birding stop in Suffolk a few miles south of the Norfolk border, having grabbed a quick cuppa on the way. After a short while we found our target species, a solitary Stone Curlew, which quickly flew off towards some scattered gorse bushes. However, we had already located a large, bright Northern Wheatear, probably a migrant from the Greenland population (sub-species leucorhoa). Also, at this site we found Barn Swallow and heard a Green Woodpecker. Whilst walking back to the car, we relocated the Stone Curlew sitting in some grass and all had excellent view of this scarce British bird.

The plan had been to go to the RSPB reserve at Lakenheath Fen, but the remnants of Hurricane Katia had found its way over the pond in the recent days and it was still extremely windy. Thus the possibility of looking for passerines, and in particular, Bearded Tits (Reedlings) was thought to be a hide into nothing, so we opted to head coastwards. Our next stop of the day was at Titchwell RSPB reserve on the North Norfolk Coast. This proved to be the correct decision as there was a lot to see here, including Pied Avocet, European Oystercatcher, good numbers of Bar-tailed Godwit and Eurasian Curlew, Common Redshank, Dunlin both Ringed and Little Ringed Plovers and best of all a small flock of Curlew Sandpiper right outside the hide giving crippling views. There was also a Little Stint seen briefly with the distant Dunlin flock. Passerines were represented by Yellow and Pied Wagtails, Meadow Pipits and European Greenfinch, European Goldfinch and Chaffinch. Wintering duck had started to arrive and we saw Northern Pintail,Common Teal, Northern Shoveler and Shelduck. A quick walk along the beach produced more waders with Sanderling and more Eurasian Oystercatcher and Bar-tailed Godwits being present, but more impressive was the sand which was being whipped along the shoreline by the wind. Suitably sand-blasted we made our way back to the visitor centre, stopping for 20 minutes to search for the Little Bittern that had been present there for 3 days, and had been seen 10 minutes before we got there. Sadly, it didn’t show and ironically, it was never seen again!

We then headed inland towards our hotel, finding a family of Red-legged Partridge on the way and a brief stop at Flitcham Abbey Farm produced Greylag Goose and Stock Dove.

The next day we opted to head coastwards again, this time to the world-famous reserve at Cley. On the way we stopped at overlooking the marshes at Holkham Woods, where as well as plenty of Greylagand the feral Egyptian Geese, there was a flock of 35 Pink-footed Geese, freshly arrived in from Iceland for the winter. There were also at least two Marsh Harrier hunting over the marshes and the hedge next to where we stopped held a very showy Willow Warbler as well as Long-tailed, Great and Blue Tits. Cley proved another popular choice for as well as many of the waders that we had seen the previous day and the ‘Eye Field’ was full of Bar-tailed Godwit, Eurasian Curlew and Ruff with one or two Whimbrel in amongst the throng. We also saw another Northern Wheatear (this time a nominate race). The sea was fairly quiet, but there was a small flock of 3 Arctic Skua visible distantly and a couple of closer Northern Gannet (both immature birds) and a good sized flock of Linnet on the beach feeding amongst the seeding Yellow-horned Poppies together with a Eurasian Skylark, whilst the occasional Sandwich Tern flew overhead and we had flight views of Mediterranean Gull. The light from the north-facing hides was excellent and on the middle scrapes we got really good views of many of the species that had been distant or viewed poorly the previous day including Black-tailed Godwit, Little Stint and Ruff in a variety of plumages. One of the hides even had a late brood of Barn Swallows still in it! There was a Eurasian Spoonbill present, doing what Spoonbills do best - sleeping – and good numbers of Eurasian Wigeon present. Unfortunately, we had to head home early as my clients had an early evening engagement, but the journey home produced Common Buzzard and several Common Kestrel. The trip total finished at a respectable 81 species of which 8 were lifers for my clients. The total would have been higher but for the strong winds making passerine searching nigh on impossible. Both of my client’s decided that the bird of the trip was the Stone Curlew and for me it was either the Pink-footed Geese or the showy Willow Warbler.     

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15th September 2011 – Ivinghoe Beacon & Wilstone Reservoir, Tring

I picked up my client, who was on a 10-hour layover from Houston, Texas to Johannesburg in South Africa, from Heathrow mid morning. The traffic was kind to us and within the hour we were at Ivinghoe Beacon in Buckinghamshire. It was a glorious morning weather-wise, calm with sunny skies and the day’s birding looked to be productive. On our way up to the top of the hill we could hear various species of tit, Goldcrest, Chiffchaff and Blackcap, but most remained hidden in the dense vegetation.

When we got onto the Ridgeway (an ancient trackway) the dense bushes give way to a more open grassy landscape and here we found a number of Meadow Pipit (mostly passing through on migration) and Common Skylark, whilst the sheep pens below up held a large flock of European Goldfinch and a perched Common Buzzard. A Common Kestrel (one of many seen during the day) was perched on a bush and another three Common Buzzard were playing on the thermals above us. The good weather had had its downside however, as the Northern Wheatears and the Whinchat that had been reported in recent days had used the previous clear night to their advantage and left. Some migrants were still left though, (or newly arrived) including a Common Whitethroat that gave good views as if moved from bush to bush feeding

We then had a very pleasant walk over the tops towards Incombe Hole, whilst we watched the almost continual stream of Meadow Pipits heading south-west. Once we got to the scrub on the other side of the road around the beacon, the hedgerows were alive with birds, mainly Chiffchaff and a large number of Blackcap, that were constantly flitting along the hedge in front of us. Once at Incombe Hole, the bushes below us were full of birds and so we sat and watched more Blackcap and Chiffchaff feeding, and also added Green Woodpecker, European Robin and Common Chaffinch to our day list. On the walk back to the car, a Eurasian Jay dashed across the path in front of us and we heard Eurasian Bullfinch calling from a dense thicket, but despite a good search we could not find it.

After picking up lunch en-route, we then spent the afternoon at Wilstone Reservoir, part of the Tring Group of reservoirs. The water level here was the lowest I’ve ever seen it and as

a result there had been an impressive passage of shorebirds over the last two weeks. As we looked out onto the reservoir it became apparent that to find anything, we would need to pick our way through the several hundred Eurasian Coot that were gathered on the water and loafing on the exposed shingle bank. We managed to find Mallard, Northern Shoveler, Common Teal and Common Pochard while we sat on the bank eating our lunch. A Tufted Duck had inadvertently got itself hooked by a couple of anglers, but managed to break free, hopefully without ingesting any hooks or fishing line. We then wandered around the reservoir to view the exposed mud and gravel. There were a number of Pied Wagtail feeding along the concrete backs and a flock of three Yellow Wagtail shot past us, appearing to drop onto the reservoir bank as well. However, we could not find them, so one must presume that they carried on towards the grassy fields that border the reservoir. A Common Kingfisher was perched on the top of the reservoir bank obviously wondering where all the water had gone as the area around the hide where this species is usually seen, and which is normally flooded, was bone dry. He (or she) did pose for a couple of distant record photographs before heading off toward the middle and some open water. From the “jetty” we managed to pick out a juvenile (Great) Ringed Plover, a large flock of Northern Lapwing, several Little Egret and Grey Heron and a distant Common Sandpiper, but the “wader-mania” that had been present in the past week appeared to have significantly diminished and we couldn’t find the Black-tailed Godwit that had been reported that morning. However, the hedgerow bordering the reservoir provided a suitable distraction from looking for non-existent shorebirds, holding Chiffchaff, Blackcap, Goldcrest, Eurasian Robin and a very smart Lesser Whitethroat, sunning itself in the front of the hedge. We also had good views of a young Hobby hunting for dragonflies above the reedbed, and occasionally perching to allow distant but perfectly acceptable views of this summer migrant raptor. A quick look around the wood just produced a Eurasian Treecreeper (heard, but not seen) and the walk back to the car gave a nice flight view of Eurasian Sparrowhawk to end the trip with.

The day total for the trip was only 56 species, probably due to the departure of many of the migrant species expected migrant species having departed the previous night, but it was still deemed a very successful trip. The client’s “best bird” was Hobby, one that he thought he wouldn’t get, but this was surpassed by the sheer numbers of Meadow Pipits,  Blackcap and Chiffchaff seen – migration in full swing. I’d second his choice on that one, though I do have a soft spot for Lesser Whitethroats which to me are always stunning looking little warblers.     

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Many Northern Lapwing were seen on the trip on the 4th September

Curlew Sandpiper & Common Teal

A late brood of Barn Swallow were nesting in one of the hides

Common Buzzard

Grey Heron