Wednesday, 22 October 2014

A Hoopoe at Willington

7th October 2014

It is now seven years since I have seen a Hoopoe, the last being in May 2007 at Bishops Stortford. That bird spent much of its time feeding on a football pitch and was viewable at a range of 30 yards. Another reasonably local Hoopoe was found on a farm at Willington, Beds on the 3rd October 2014 and was still there on the 7th, so well worth a visit. My main concern was that as it was on a farm, what would the access be like and how close could I get?

I needn't have worried. When I arrived the bird was feeding on the drive to the farmhouse and it was coming to within 15 yards. However, it then flew to the horse paddocks further down the road, an area it seemed to prefer as it spent most of its time here. It obviously had never seen humans before or was quite used to them as it seemed to be quite happy hugging the fence where the assembled crowd had gathered. Most of these photos were taken at a range of just 5 yards, and it would have been closer had it not been for the fact that there was a deep ditch between me and the bird.

What an incredible day, what an incredible bird, and thank you to the farmer for not only finding it but for allowing us access to watch and photograph it.

Saturday, 18 October 2014

Snipe and Ratty at Rye Meads

5th October 2014

As I arrived at Rye Meads I was told that a Grey Wagtail was showing well right in front of the Gadwall Hide so that was the first point of call. I got there just in time to see it fly off round the willows, never to be seen again and so had to content myself with the Snipe that were sleeping on the nearest island. Although only three were immediately evident, once they woke up and started to feed it was apparent that eight birds were present. Always nice to see them in the open and even better when they are close.

On the way back I looked in on the Draper Hide which was incredibly quiet, so decided to spend my remaining time on the Bridge over the River Vole. I didn't have to wait long to see some movement in the reeds which rather gave away a Water Vole munching on some reeds. It remained deep in the reeds for some time but eventually decided that it was time to move on to pastures new and swam midstream and under the bridge.. So not many species today, BUT THE QUALITY!!!!

Tuesday, 14 October 2014

Another Superb Day on Mersea

30th September 2014

Having left the Ruff behind at Abberton we headed across The Strood to Mersea and started at the jetty at the western end of West Mersea. The tide was out but on the turn so there was a rather large expanse of mud on either side of the jetty. As we went down on to the jetty over the water we came face to face with a rather unexpected visitor - a Common Seal. He seemed to be very much at home and dozed off at one point. Apparently he is no newcomer to the area, and often visits when there is any crabbing activity. There wasn't any today so it disappeared almost immediately.

There was also a good selection of gulls present, with all obviously used to people and were happy to walk within five yards. Here, in order of appearance are Black-headed Gull, Herring Gull and Lesser Black-backed Gull. Adult Lesser Black-backed Gulls have yellow legs but this near adult still retains its sub-adult pink legs.

No foreshore on Mersea is complete without an army of busy Turnstones, all scurrying round flipping over stones and sifting through seaweed. For some reason these waders are unnaturally tame and will come within just a couple of yards, far too close for my lens. A little more sombre at this time of year compared to their flamboyant summer plumage, but still attractive nevertheless.

Next stop was the beach at Seaview caravan park at the eastern end of West Mersea. The main reason for stopping off here was to see if we could find any Mediterranean Gulls in amongst the flocks of Black-headed Gulls. There was a flock of some 20 gulls by the water's edge but difficult to see what they were as we were looking into the sun, so we moved round to get the sun behind us. It wasn't looking too promising as a scan through the bins showed Black-headed after Black-headed and in accordance with the law according to Sod, the last gull in the pack was a Mediterranean. Having said that it was fairly obliging and stood there quite motionless as I edged closer and closer. This was a full adult in winter plumage hence the lack of its jet-black head. but still sporting that amazing red bill.

Now on to Cudmore Grove Country Park in East Mersea and a gentle wander down the path to the sea wall. Rather surprisingly the grazing meadows were already flooded even this early in the winter and there was a significant gathering of Black-tailed Godwits amongst the Little Egrets.

Further down by the sea wall a pair of Little Grebes were fishing on the borrowdyke amongst the loose flock of Wigeon which were having a drink and a break from grazing. In previous years I had always assumed that ducks entering eclipse plumage were well synchronised across all species, but this is clearly not the case. Mallard enter eclipse plumage much earlier than most species, even when they are still breeding. As a result they have all finished and the males are now back in their immaculate breeding plumage. At the other end of the spectrum, this male Wigeon still has a long way to go to attain his breeding plumage.

At that point a bird that was skimming along low over the borrowdyke caught my eye. As luck would have it, it landed on top of a bramble bush on the other side of the dyke, a lovely Stonechat. What a cracking way to end another fantastic day on Mersea.

Friday, 10 October 2014

Herons, Egrets and Ruff at Abberton Reservoir

30th September 2014

The cloud and mist had just started to clear as we arrived at Layer Breton causeway for breakfast and a cup of coffee. The water levels between the causeways had gone down considerably since our last visit exposing large expanses of mud around the margins. A Grey Heron and Little Egret were making the most of the bounty of shoals of fry in the warm shallows just out from the bank. Can't beat a bit of sunlight and some calm water.

The Little Egret's larger cousin, the Great White Egret, was also feeding in the shallows, but unfortunately 200 yards away. These relative newcomers are increasing in numbers rapidly and before long will be resident at Abberton. This particular individual has already been present for a couple of weeks and has recently been joined by a second.

But the stars of today were once again the Ruff. Far fewer than our last visit but irresistable nonetheless. There was an adult male feeding some way away but these two juvenile males stole the show by parading up and down just 20 yards away at the water's edge. What stunning plumage for an otherwise brown bird.

Well that was successful and nothing showing at the Layer de la Haye causeway, so off to see what Mersea has to offer.

Monday, 6 October 2014

A Surprise at Walton-on-the-Naze

22nd September 2014

Still a south-easterly blow so thought I would give Walton-on-the-Naze another go. The schools had gone back by now so, apart a coach load of school children on a geography trip down the cliffs, the car park was much quieter on the people front but quite busy with birds. Apart from the usual flock of Pied Wagtails there was a large influx of Meadow Pipits, presumably birds that were moving up the coast.

I then followed the track past the farm and followed the hedge strip along the western edge. Here there was a large tit flock with a sprinkling of warblers including Chiffchaffs, Lesser Whitethroats and Blackcaps. Unfortunately the flock was moving along at a hell of a pace and was difficult to keep up with. The chiffies were particularly active making photography nye on impossible and this shot was the best I could achieve. Luckily one of the Lesser Whitethroats was more cooperative.

It was very quiet down by the sea wall until a small flock of Long-tailed Tits came along. Initially, they were fairly well hidden in the bushes but then moved into some lichen-covered Elder bushes providing some opportunities for these confiding little beauties.

But the surprise of the day came on the way back along the western hedge when I met Colchester birder Stewart Belfield. We spent a few moments exchanging notes generally agreeing that, despite the south-easterly blow, it was surprisingly quiet but then Stewart mentioned that he had seen a Little Owl on the way down. This set the alarm bells ringing as I have never photographed a Little Owl and so we set off to try and relocate it. Luckily the bird was still sitting in the same lichen-covered dead tree and allowed a few shots to be taken as I gradually edged closer. However, it was now clearly telling me not to come a step further!!!