Thursday, January 29, 2004

Wow! Its nigh on three weeks since I updated this diary. You know what they say - 'too much work makes Toadsnatcher a dull boy'. I've done damn little birding in the last few weeks cos of work and weather, and latterly, DIY! Bleedin 'ell! Well, after a year in my Fenland pad, I could stand the dreary bathroom no longer so its been largely gutted and being redone. Thankfully, my wee brother Spidd is here to help for the week while I crack on with BOU work and planning for next weeks GM Birds conference I am running in London.

The last two days of 'real' weather seems to have brought the usual chaos and bringing parts of the country to a halt, and it has had a marked influence on the garden and surrounding fen. Yesterday, with the arrival of a few inches of snow, I saw over 6400 Woodpigeons on the fen - a slight increase on the usual 400+! And Skylarks, two flocks totaling 26 birds instead of the odd singleton. In the garden Reed Buntings and Yellowhammers have come in and I've still go a couple of Treeps.

With the weekend approaching I need to get out at least for a few hours to clear the old head!

Tuesday, January 06, 2004

A bleak and wet morning has given way to a very sunny but windy afternoon. Nipping in to the back garden to top up the feeders I hear a Skylark calling. I look up to see it being pursued by a female Merlin. Fab! A chase ensues and the Merlin doesn't seem to have too much difficulty in simply plucking the Skylark from the air during a fantastic jink! Bloody marvelous! As ever, a prolonged spell in the garden such as topping up the feeders, means I have a trusty pair of Leica's dangling around my neck so I'm always ready to enjoy things to the max! (wasn't that a Pepsi ad?).

Monday, January 05, 2004

A report of 12 Waxwings in a Peterborough retail park car park sorted my lunch hour out! At 1.30pm I joined an growing number of local birders and members of the public undertaking the annual ritual of staring at lumps in bare trees! The light was appalling but I did manage a few snaps. Some pretty groovy crests in among this lot!

Last seen in the garden on 26 November, today two Tree Sparrows have returned and are happily filling themselves with Vine House Farm Premium High Energy seed from the feeders.

The date is only three days short of the 8 Jan anniversary when the I first saw Treeps here. Based on their extremely nervous nature when they arrived last January (it took them several weeks before they appeared comfortable on the feeders and even longer before they fed on the ground) I judged that they were completely new to the site. Seeing the two birds this morning seemingly backs this up. They are obviously returning birds feeding confidently and aggressively alongside House Sparrows and Greenfinches.

Sunday, January 04, 2004

Days away from the Peterborough area seem to be as rare as birds' teeth. My days of chasing rarities around the country aren't quite altogether gone, just usually confined to lifers.

The recent Yankee Robin (Cornwall) and Baltimore Oriole (Oxford) were very tempting, but I didn't succumb. Another Yankee Robin less than two hours away in Grimsby tho soon sent my pulse racing and I could feel a spot of dirty twitching coming on!

Having ignored the robin yesterday in favour of some more top Peterborough birding (but it didn't come close to 2 Jan), Katie Fuller and I decide to head up the A15 when news was confirmed this morning. By late morning we had joined a decent gathering on day three of the Grimsby Yankee Robin's (known) stay (it may well have come in much earlier but was only 'found' on Friday).

The bird gave cracking views as it fed on berry-laden bushes or on the ground on apples and worms. It seemed very aggressive at times to the Blackbirds using the same patch. This first-winter female made it a species pair for me, having already seen a first-winter male on St Agnes, Isles of Scilly in 1998.

Katie and I spent over an hour enjoying the robin and chatting to friends from far and wide (well I was anyway!) before we headed round the corner to watch one of those must-see birds - Waxwing. Few species have the Waxwing's charisma and this bird didn't disappoint, performing brilliantly and doing its 'Don King' impersonation. Crackin!

After a few frame-filling snaps, we headed west to Far Ings where we had a great couple of hours seeking out a Red-necked Grebe and tripping across all sorts of goodies along the way - Smew, Water Rail, Scaup and Willow Tit.

I'd forgotten how good these 'away days' can be, and I might just have to think about some more dirty twitching in the near future.

Friday, January 02, 2004

After a somewhat grim end to the year (very little birding and what there was wasn't very profitable), it was nice to belatedly kick off 2004 with a storming day's birding in the Peterborough area.

News of three Waxwings at Crown Lakes CP in Farcet (just three miles from the house) on 1 Jan was not to be missed, so arriving with Katie Fuller just after 9am we were greeted by Mike 'earlybird' Weedon who was just leaving the site empty-handed.

We stopped to chat at the start of one of the footpaths. I commented that Mike had been out far too early and birds had only really started stirring in the last half hour. At that precise moment, Mike spotted a lone bird on a nearby wire and commented "look, at least there's a Starling here now we can string".

Lifting his bins, he was greeted by a Waxwing! Wow! Scopes were soon trained on it and stonking views were soon enjoyed in the brightening light. We watched the 'Wacko' for about 45 mins before it started to get a bit more elusive in the thick scrub. I managed a few snaps between being disturbed by dog walkers.

We departed and headed for Eldernell to check the pit to see if the Shag Mike had seen there last night was present. No joy, but a look over the RSPB reserve was fantastic - hundreds of duck including Wigeon, Pintail and Gadwall, loads of Lapwing and Golden Plover, plus lesser numbers of Ruff and Redshank, and, err, two Black Swans.

A quick check of the River Nene at The Dog for the Shag (nothing) and on to Stanground Wash. The Dartford Warbler found by Brian Stone on 10 Dec was last reported on 17th, so it was a long walk out to the wash for what was a pretty slim chance of any further sign of it. Fieldfares, Redwings and Grey Wags brightened up the half-hour walk to the wash.

Katie and I were soon on to three Stonechats. The Dabbler had been sticking pretty close to them in December so we concentrated our efforts in this area. Within 15 minutes of constant panning I simply happened across the Watford Dabbler sat up on top of some vegetation! Fantastic. Katie was soon onto it, but it soon flew into vegetation and was again lost.

Another half hour of so of searching and the Dabbler appeared below a female Stonechat. It spent a couple of mins shadowing the Stonechat before being lost again. No photo opportunities but my best views of this cracking little bird.

From here we headed out to Eye Tip to search for the Hooded Crow that we last saw on 24 Dec. Arriving at our viewing area at Tanholt GP I heard a loud crack from my tripod as the leg I was holding to carry it over my shoulder broke from its mount. Great! Katie set up her scope and after a while I had managed to fix the leg temporarily back in to place. Phew!

I immediately started scoping the tip and fields for the Hoodie, searching through the rafts of gulls and surprising few corvids. Just panning past the main tip area I glimpsed a Glaucous Gull's wingtips dropping down behind the tip bank. Fantastic! And Damn! at the same time! We switched our efforts to the gull and within a few minutes I was soon shouting to Katie that it was flying right along the tip and . . . behind some soddin trees! It didn't come out the other end so it had clearly dropped back in to the tip.

We stayed put, searching through the gulls each time they rose over the next hour and a half, but apart from one other very brief glimpse, I wasn't able to get Katie on to it. Not good! We did however pick up the Hooded Crow during the searching, but it remained distant and our of range of the camera. A couple of Whooper Swans also flew over, calling their almost mournful 'whoops' as they went.

Leaving the site with numb toes and fingers as we drove back to mine in fading light, I had a rare brainwave! Diverting along North Bank we pulled up at Dog-in-a-Doublet to look for the Shag (presuming that Mike's bird at Eldernell Pit yesterday was the same bird found at The Dog by Jonny Taylor in mid-December). Binning the river and bank - nothing. Looking left towards the sluice I then saw a bird flying low over the river coming straight towards us. 'It's the Shag!' I yelled! Great stuff.

So we returned for a hot drink and some snap pretty chuffed with our day, even if Katie had missed the Glauc (sorry KAF!).

Wednesday, 31 December 2003
The year ended with my last PBC year tick being the Shag found by Jonny Taylor on 18 Dec and bringing me up to 185, three better than my PBC record total set last year. Wot for 2004?