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.

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