Monday, 19 May 2014

Passage Waders.

After a very disappointing week in terms of twitching the last few days have seen a slight uptick in quality. Last Thursday saw me make a quick visit to the meadow to twitch the Avocet that Adam had found the previous day. Upon arrival I quickly located the bird fast asleep in the north arm of the floods. Eventually it perked up and had a preen allowing me to capture some record video footage for posterity. A nice bird constituting only my second patch record and a decent patch yeartick which I thought I had missed out on. Saturday saw me head to the Warwickshire Wildlife Trust Reserve, Brandon Marsh NR, to help Matthew Bruce man the NGB stand at their wildlife day. A couple of brief sojourns to the hides over the course of the day produced two very smart, summer plumaged Wood Sandpipers. Always a pleasure to see, these stunning, delicate waders with their striking spangled plumage were a nice treat after the trials of the previous few days. Overall I was highly impressed with Brandon Marsh and its ripe potential. The rest of the afternoon was spent drinking beer in the sun and skywatching in the vain hope that a Honey Buzzard or Black Kite might deign to drift over. Well there are worse ways to spend a Saturday...

Brucey working hard

Thursday, 15 May 2014

A mixed bag.

On the last day of a great trip to Tenerife during which I mopped up all but one of the endemics (damn you Bolle's Pigeon!), a quick check of RBA informed me of an Oxfordshire double whammy; a summer plumaged Spotted Sandpiper at Farmoor and a Glossy Ibis, the bird I had been anticipating for weeks, on my patch Port Meadow! Seeing this was a somewhat gut wrenching feeling but I consoled myself with the fact that it could've been a much rarer bird and with the still fresh memories of singing Blue Chaffinch at Las Lajas from a few hours before. After a somewhat grueling journey home and only 4 hours of sleep, Sunday morning saw me stood on the banks of Farmoor Resevoir just 45 minutes after the Spotted Sand had last been seen. I hung around for an hour in a despondent state but predictably the bird didn't return and I had to head off back to college. An evening visit to Port Meadow produced very little although the summer plumage Black-tailed Godwit was still hanging around and had been joined by a second, winter plumage bird.

That evening I endeavoured to give the Spotted Sandpiper another go  as it seemed to have a routine of roosting on the reservoir before flying off to the river mid-morning to feed. I figured that if it was seen early the news would get out on Twitter or at least RBA at 07.30 so after receiving no confirmation I stupidly decided to roll over and go back to sleep. Predictably at around  08.30 I was woken by an RBA notification informing me of the bird's continued presence at 06.45. This amounted to a mystifying 2 hour delay in getting the news out which lead to me missing a lifer that I could easily have twitched!! Suitably annoyed, I decided to head up to Port Meadow to look for a singing Sedge Warbler which Adam had kindly informed me about. Upon arrival I heard the bird chuntering away in the hedge at the southern end of the Trap Grounds Allotments and with some perseverance i managed a few brief views of the elusive little bird; a nice patch tick! Whilst attempting to watch the Sedgie I suddenly realised that I could hear a Cuckoo singing from somewhere  in the Burgess Field. I was just setting off to search for it when I picked it up flying off across the meadow to the far side of the river. My second patch tick of the day and nice to actually see a bird that usually a heard only species on the patch! The conditions were nice and drifty so I decided to stake out the valley for migrating raptors. My efforts were unfortunately unsuccessful although I did pick up at least 4 each of Red Kite and Buzzard as well as a flyover Little Egret. The 2 Black-tailed Godwits also showed well allowing me to capture the phone-scoped pictures below.

Wednesday morning saw me at Farmoor early for another attempt at the Spotted Sandpiper. Despite carefully searching all of F1 and a good stretch of the river behind Shrike Meadow, I could not relocate the bird which hasn't been seen since. A really frustrating dip of a great bird for Oxon and the commonest yank wader is till need. I hung around at Farmoor for several hours but found nothing other than a flyover Little Egret. However my spirits were lifted by the sight of good numbers of Swifts screaming past my head as they hawked low over the causeway for insects. As ever a close encounter with these breath-taking birds, to my mind the pinnacle flight and filled with almost an inherent joy, lifted my spirits inexorably. As I watched them gracefully twist and turn over the water, my mind ran wild with fantasies of a Needletail bombing in to join them but this was, unfortunately, rather wishful thinking. Whilst at Farmoor the news of a singing Great Reed Warbler at Slimbridge filtered through and Dave Campbell and I made plans to head down there the next day to twitch it. Unfortunately circumstances conspired to thwart us as limited time meant that we were forced to leave 20 minutes before it showed for the final time. A couple of Spotted Flycatchers and nice views of one of the introduced Cranes provided some consolation but the whole day ended up being the climax to a pretty dreadful week. Seeing all the fantastic endemics in Tenerife with such ease has made me realise what a slog British birding can be once you get over 300. Still we all go through these periods and hopefully the hard work will eventually pay off with some rewards, a Yellow-throated Vireo on Skomer this Autumn would be nice...

Friday, 2 May 2014

Summer starts here!

After several weeks of rather limiting birding (save for a few mad dashes to East Yorkshire), May the 1st represented my first day of relative freedom after the first installment of my final exams. Due to some rather poor judgement the previous night, yes in retrospect no human should consume 6 cans of RedBull in a night, I was wide awake at 8am when I received a text from Adam about a drake Garganey on my patch, Port Meadow. Usually I would have rolled over and worried about it later but with half of the world's supply of caffeine coursing through my veins I decided to wander up there and have a look. After a brisk walk I fund myself on the patch for the first time in over the month. Almost straight away, picked up my first Swallows of the year hawking over the floods accompanied by good numbers of House Martins. I also quickly spotted a couple of Common Terns hanging around at the south end of the floods, according to Adam they appear to have made the floods their home and I later noticed them courtship feeding. This seems like a promising sign however I can't see anywhere in the meadow that they could successfully breed as disturbance leels are just too high. After a couple of scans I soon picked up the drake Garganey showing well along the far bank, as ever an absolute treat to see. The subtle grey vermaculations contrasting with the bold conjoining white supercillia and the ridiculous tertials all combine to make a sublime bird which is one of my most eagerly anticipated spring migrants. It was also only my second record for the patch and was far more active than last years bird which remained resolutely asleep for the duration of my visit. After enjoying the Garganey I had a wander around Burgess Field but it was relatively quiet, producing only the common warblers as patch yearticks.

Record shot of the drake Garganey

This morning I was back on patch again following earlier reports of some Common Sandpipers and a Cuckoo in the Burgess Field. As soon as I arrived I noticed my first Swifts of the year hawking low over the south end of the floods, a welcome site after what seems an eternity since my last, at Spurn in early September last year. I also relocated the Common Sandpipers along with an extra bird, bringing the day's tally to three. I also located a rather late Sand Martin among the numerous hirundines, a nice patch yeartick. The Garganey was also still hanging around remaining slightly distant although I did get the reasonable video of the bird though my phone. Also nice were an extremely late pair of Pintail a rather suprising bird to see on the patch in May! Despite hanging around at the north end of the Burgess Field, I failed to hear the Cuckoo although I can't imagine the could northeasterly breeze helped my efforts. A nice visit to the patch and I aim to make daily visits starting on the 11th. Until then I'll be in Tenerife and hope to mop up on a few of the endemics for my paltry Western Palearctic list.

A late pair of Pintail.