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?