Thursday, October 30, 2003

I'd spent the last couple of days away and was knee-deep in e-mails and work today with little time for even a peek outside until the quiet of the fen was suddenly broken by thunderous noise of two Army Puma helicopters! The first came right over the house, by the sounds of it skimming the roof! I leapt up and out the back to see what the noise was (grabbing my bins on the way of course!). Outside I saw a Puma chopper skimming the field behind the house when a second came over the house in pursuit of the first. Wow! War games on Farcet Fen!

Looking back at the first, it was flushing everything from the ground in its path. Skylarks, Meadow Pipits, Yellowhammers, Corn and Reed Buntings all came leaping up from their ground feeding sites. A large bird then rose. An owl! I was on to it immediately and switching my Duovids to 12x was staring at a Short-eared Owl. Fantastic. Garden tick no.88. It rose quickly on deep wingbeats, then turned and flew straight towards me still gaining height. It was taking the reverse route that the two choppers had just taken, which lead it right over the house. Fabulous! As it came up to the garden and overhead, I could see its yellow eyes still on 12x. Wow!

The choppers sped off towards the nearby irrigation reservoir, scattering a handful of Fieldfares from the nearby elms. I had just lost the owl from view as it too headed towards the res, so I started checking all the birds in the air. Lapwings, Stock Doves, Woodpigs, then a duck. A female Goldeneye. Great. Not even a garden year tick, but only the second record. It had obviously been put up from the res. Then coming out of the background of whirring shopper blades, the clear 'tchuu' calls of a Redshank - garden tick no.89! Fan-bloody-tastic! Nowhere near as enjoyable as the SEO, but nonetheless, still a welcome addition to the garden list. The Redshank was followed by two Snipe and all three birds zoomed around over the fen before departing to the south-west and out of site.

Distracted from my work, and it being lunchtime, I decided to have a quick walk out to the raised reservoir to scan the fen from their for other birds. The SEO was put up again by the choppers and settled not far from me in a clump of fat hen trying to hide from the great armoured sky-monsters. More pipits and Skylarks were being put up and hordes of Woodpigs, but nothing else of note. I returned back to my desk (via the kitchen for a sarnie and a coffee) well chuffed with the two additions!

Short-eared Owl and Redshank take me to 89 species seen in the garden or from the house and garden since I moved in on 30 November last year. Only two gardens in the PBC area have recorded over 90 species - the Stone's garden in Elton (92) and the Hamlett's Longthorpe garden (93) - and both watched for well over the 11 months I've had! With some relatively easy species still missing, 100 species should be well within reach.

28-29 October 2003
A couple of days in Germany and very little to bright up the monotony of the meeting room. The meeting room did, however, have a floor-to-ceiling window overlooking the nearby river valley and Common Buzzards and Red Kites being mobbed by various corvids were welcome distractions at times!

Sunday, October 26, 2003

A lazy morning! A slow breakfast and beginning to regret watching the England vs Samoa Rugby World Cup game when a text from ace bird finder Kevin Durose broke the boredom. 'Green-winged Teal at Star pit'. Do me! I missed it (as I presume it's the same returning bird we had in the area since 2000) when it was on the Nene Washes in Feb.

Arriving at Dogsthorpe Star Pit NR it didn't take me long to locate the bird - not quite fully out of eclipse, but a jam-spangler all the same. Although distant, I rattled off a few photos at least to get a record shot. My only distress about the GWT is that I gave this pit a good grilling yesterday and either it wasn't here or I overlooked it.

GWT sorted, I headed back to Tanholt GP, scene of yesterday's Firecrest but no joy. Bird action was down all round with fewer crests and tits hopping about and definitely fewer thrushes, although 35 Fieldfares dropped on to the berry-laden bushes. A first-winter Med Gull flew over heading for the landfill and a Whooper Swan 'whooped' across the sky to the east.

Last stop of the day was to Crown Lakes CP to check out a report from yesterday of a Black-necked or Slavonian Grebe. No sign and very little about, probably due to the illegal motorbikers that were around.

Saturday, October 25, 2003

An early start on a freezing morning. There was a hard ground frost overnight and the ground in most areas was well frozen. I made my way towards the washes. I stopped off at the Dog-in-a-Doublet as the river was right up. Nothing on the river but three fen/imm Stonechats visible from the bridge flitting around the edge of Town Fifties at the head of the RSPB reserve.

I moved on to Prior's Fen. Parking up a flock of 52 Fieldfare flew over west. I walked out through the fields and found another Stonechat flitting around a game strip. Arriving at East Pit it was unusually quiet. Only Mute Swans, the now resident Black Swan, but no geese or duck. Middle Pit held three more Mutes, three Redshank and a Dunlin, and the usual flotilla of Coot.

I walked the reedfringe on the footpath side hoping for some sign or sound of the Bearded Tits that were reported from 19 October. Amazingly, this same site has now held Beardies on the 19 Oct on three consecutive years! In 2001 I found a family party here, last year it was George Walthew's turn, and this year John Rodford (who he?). But no sign today.

A movement to my left and an imm female Merlin came slicing through the cold morning air passing right in front of me. Wow! What a cracking view with the sun straight behind me and full on the bird. The coarse markings were clearly visible and the size sexed it. It swept over the nearby field, turn and then suddenly kicked off making a dart along the reedfringe of East Pit before pulling up and then powering away. Bloody fantastic!

Catching my breath I looked round to see two 'long' ducks flying across the back edge of Middle Pit. Goosanders. Two males. They just powered through and I saw them go beyond West Pit westwards.

I followed the reedfringe back eastwards, checking all the nooks and crannies and eventually disturbed my quarry - a Jack Snipe. It did the characteristic lift up, rocking flight (like a miniature Woodcock) before looping over my head and dropping down in to the reedbed.

I maneuvered around and after some scanning managed to pick it out, outstretched, among the edge of the reeds. It was clearly watching me, pinned against the ground, bill laid flat on the floor and body as flat as it could. The golden stripes of the plumage now coming into their own as cryptic camouflage among the golden reedstems. As I reached for the camera, it obviously got too nervous and took flight again, only a short distance, dropping into a much denser area and out of view. Damn. I was just beginning to see some stunning photos coming up!

I left Prior's pretty chuffed, and departed with more Fieldfares going west. Driving along the North Bank at Northey, I noticed the hawthorns on the other side of the river looked alive with birds, so I quickly pulled off at the rusty Millennium Bridge, and counted around 420 Fieldfares whizzing around the fields and bushes.

I decided to make a rare visit to Tanholt GP to look for the two Goosanders that had flown through Prior's earlier. I parked up at the Tanholt Farm end and walked in. The trees and bushes were hoochin' with birds - loads of thrushes eating the huge number of berries, crests, tits and Chaffinches in the line of sycamores and ashes.

I decided to bird the pit and then with the sun more behind me, bird the trees and bushes on the way back. The first pit held only two male Pochard. At the crossing there was a field full of gulls. It looks like with the draining of Star Pit by Dogsthorpe Tip, the gulls were now using Tanholt to bath and the adjacent fields to loaf around in.

I stopped and scanned the flock, instantly picking up on an adult Med Gull on the near edge of the flock. A man on a bike then appeared and put the flock up - and what a flock! I was only looking at about a quarter of it, as it extended over the brow of the field, and suddenly there were thousands of gulls in the air! The Med Gull was easy enough to follow and it departed towards the tip with a host of other gulls. I continued on to the second pit but nothing, only more gulls.

I turned round and made my way back to the passerine action further back. Along the berry-laden bushes I counted over 32 Redwings, 28 Blackbirds, 5 Song Thrushes and a couple of Fieldfare. Rounding the corner to the sycamores, a troop of 7 Long-tailed Tits bounced through with a handful of Blue and Greats. I started following the movements higher up in the tops of the sycamores. Chaffinch, Chaffinch, Chaffinch. A few Goldcrests appeared and disappeared. A few more Chaffinches. A couple more crests and 5 more Long-tails and it all went quiet. A few more Chaffinches (or the same ones again) arrived in the tops. Picking my way through them I noticed a smaller bird flitting around one of the sycamore tops. Firecrest! Bloody fantastic!

I'd seen probably double figure Firecrests last weekend along the east coast, but his was only my second ever PBC bird and the first I had found in the area myself. Bloody brilliant! (are Firecrests brilliant! said in a Fast Show kinda way!). The bird performed brilliantly for a couple of minutes before disappearing around the back of the tree. After about five minutes it was back, in the next tree along. It did the same thing, appeared to work round the tree, disappearing around the back then popping up a couple of trees along, slowly working its way along. I watched it on and off for about 15 mins then texted the news out to a handful of locals and directly onto Peterbirder (aren't mobiles brilliant! sorry - Fast Show again!).

The whole place was beginning to liven up again - Long-tails and Goldcrests calling all around and a male Blackcap appeared in front of me. What a spot. I followed the birds along the tree line and relocated the Firecrest further along. I watched it for another five minutes or so but with no sign or sound from any of the locals I left to search somewhere else.

My last stop of the day was Dogsthorpe Star Pit. Wow the water level had gone down with the pumping. Black-headed Gulls were everywhere, but noticing there were loads of Moorhens I did a quick count - 41! Continual scanning eventually I picked up a handful of Snipe, Teal, Shoveler and Little Grebes.

Man U lost at home to Fulham (1-3 first home defeat in 14 months) - bollox! POSH drew at Luton (1-1) - thank you Leon!

Friday, 24 October 2003
A quiet day in the garden due to the increased activity of a pair of Sparrowhawks whose raids on the garden feeding station are getting more frequent.

The male has now taken to perching in a nearby willow and attacking the feeding birds from there. It's amazing just how rarely I see either bird catch anything, and in recently the male's frustration has show when he lands on the side of the thick Leylandii hedge and tries to reach for the birds taking cover inside.

Today he went one step further. After clinging to the side for some time, he dropped on to the floor where he just stared at the hedge for a couple of minutes before hopping under it and trying to get to the birds from below! Ingenious. But he still went away empty-footed.

Thursday, October 23, 2003

Buzzard nailed at long last on to the garden list! And none of this scoping Morborne Hill from the upstairs window malarkey. No. One big bird sat in the field opposite the house - well and truly nailed! Buzzard makes it species no 87 since moving in on 30 Nov 02, and leaves me only three species short of my target of 90 species by 30 Nov 03.

Garden birds have been slow this week with numbers surpressed as most species having dispersed over the surrounding farmland now that the harvest is in and stubble fields are holding most of the birds. Driving back from the post office this morning a large flock of passerines wheeling over a roadside field soon found me watching around 450 Linnets.

New in certainly, as I ain't had a sniff of a finch flock this size around the fen in recent days. They were fantastic as they wheeled around, like Knots over an estuary, suddenly settling, feeding manically before springing skywards again. Although nervous feeders, none of the other birds using the field seemed wary, so I think this too pointed to them being newly-arrived. They had chosen a stubble field which had been fine-tilled which just breaks the topsoil, revealing loads of seeds and invertebrates. The field was jumping with birds including three Golden Plover, Rooks, Jackdaws, Starlings, Skylarks and Pied Wagtails.

Further along the fen and a single field held over 300 Feral Pigeons. I've never seen this sort of number anywhere in the fens before so where have they come from? Mikey Weedon suggests they may have been displaced from the recently-demolished Baker Perkins factory, but that would surely only remove their roosting site, and not affect their normal feeding pattern. Would it?

Back in the garden, what few birds there were had to take the daily raids by a male and female Sparrowhawk. Both left empty-handed as the Leylandii fortress did its job. It's bloody good fun watching the hawks fly in almost slow motion along the hedge making leaps, feet first, as they try and reach their intended prey.

It's been a good week so far, with the garden's second Brambling (on Monday) and second flyover Canada Goose record!

Wednesday, October 22, 2003

Wednesday, 22 October 2003
I awoke to a really grim day - a stark contrast to recent fine days. The wind was all over the place, and predominantly in the south-east, which meant as soon as it started raining, my office window was a blur of water droplets obscuring my view of the garden and the birds. Brill! The heavy rain and wind surpressed the number of birds using the garden, with the usual flock of House and Tree Sparrows and Greenfinches.

A brief look for yesterday's Stonechat on the way to and from the post office drew a blank, but the stubble fields were chocked with Woodpigeon and Feral Pigeons - given the number of the latter on the fen today, central Peterborough must be pretty empty!
Tuesday, 21 October 2003
With Stonechats popping up all around the PBC area, it was no surprise to find a fem/imm along the drove. Three Sparrowhawks soaring high over the house drifted off south-west (presumably migrants) and a male and female raiding the feeding station made five Spars on/over the fen in one day. Not bad.

A young hedgehog spent the afternoon wandering around the garden and comically trying to reach up to the Sombrero - with little joy! It did eventually manage a dip of its nose in the water before giving up and then finding Andy's much lower water trough.

Monday, 20 October 2003
Work. The garden was proving not too busy - still 6 Treeps. Returning from an hour's soaking at Eldernell (and no birds) I pulled up at the front to flush a Brambling which flew off east . . and kept on going. Not even a garden year tick.

Sunday, 19 October 2003

Day two of 'out of PBC area weekend'! I headed over to the Norfolk/Suffolk coast and a bad start dipping on Hume's Leaf Warbler (please - not Hume's Yellow-browed!). Deciding Great Yarmouth cemy sounded infinitely better than the HLW site, I departed some 15 minutes before the sod decided to break cover, perform for five mins and then go and hide again. Still, Great Yarmouth cemy was better, and having walked into the Pallas's Warbler on arrival, soon located the sycamore circled by birders watching the Olive-backed Pipit. And what a spanker! The OBP performed brilliantly creeping along branches picking off insects from the twigs and leaves. Superb!

For some unknown reason that I later came to regret, I decided not to for go 'just another' American Goldie and headed for Lowestoft and a non-existent Yellow-browed. No sign of the YBW, I retraced my route back to Sizewell and feeling comforted that the Hume's LW had been seen at 2pm, decided to stick it out . . . until 6pm when every soddin bird in the area had shown itself (including several Firecrests and a fly-over Woodlark), but not the HLW. Ho hum.

The drive home to Peterborough was only made manageable thanks to a flask of Lavazza coffee and a stop at Pizza Express in Bury St Edmunds (yum-yum!). It was made even sweeter tho, knowing that I had again not missed anything at home (probably down to the fact that most active weekend PBCers were in Norfolk/Suffolk!).

Saturday, 18 October 2003
A right rare occurrence - a day out of my beloved PBC area to bird the Lincs coast. An early start and subsequent timely arrival at Skegness - only no one told the dickies! Working the south end of Skeggie revealed not a great deal - a few fly over Redwings and oddly, 5 Grey Wagtails over to the north. Switching to the north end of the town to the 'bluetail' site instantly brought something to look at - a spanking male Bramblefinch. The bird was feeding in the sycamores, creeping along the branches, allowing me to get some snaps with the digiscope.

A search of the surrounding area produced nothing else (later in the day the male Sardine was to be 'refound' here!) so I relocated to Gib Point where I bumped in to Robin Cosgrove. We birded Sykes's Farm which, compared to the Skeggie areas, was positively dripping with birds. But no sign of the morning's Yellow-browed or the day before's Pallas's. Lots of Bramblings around and a Blackcap were the highlight.

News from further north and Pallas's and Yellow-browed at Saltfleet so it was back in the car. I had got as far as Chapel St Leonard when the pager bleeped with news of a Olive-backed Pipit at . . . Skeggie! Bollox! About turn and 20 mins later I was parked in Derby Ave and searching the gardens for the OBP. I had already decided to give it only an hour before making my way to Saltfleet. As it happened, gen on site revealed the OBP had not been seen for some hours and not by anyone other than finders (recent PBC arrival Kevin Durose and Rutland refugee John 'Lefty' Wright - lucky chaps!). I soon relocated to Saltfleet where on arrival I was lucky to see the Pallas's within, oh, about five seconds of waiting. Now that's more like it!

Over the next hour I watched the sycamores behind the amusements 'hut' and managed to get some excellent views of the seven-stripe sprite, and 'assisted' other arriving birders to get on to it. Vagrant warbler watching can be really good fun, and today was no exception, but it can rarely be more entertaining. To say some of those looking for the Pallas's didn't know their arse from their elbow would be an understatement! Still, a couple of those fitting this description soon realised the complexities of watching a small group of tall trees stuffed with Goldcrests, at least four Firecrests and one Pallas's. Not everything that moved was going to be the Pallas's! In fact, it rarely was.

'Putting the birder on the Pallas's' was proving just as much fun a watching the bird itself, and at least in order to put the birder on to the bird, meant that I first had to find it! Then the fun started. I kept using a perched Woodpigeon as a reference point. After about 10 minutes of mentioning the Woodpig, one guy exclaimed with much relief 'Fantastic! I've found the pigeon!'. At least it was a start.

I returned home happy that my quest for a rare Phyllosc had been successful and I had had a really fun time with some good birding characters. And what's more, I hadn't missed anything in the PBC area!