Sunday, 29 September 2013

The Sooty Show & Incredible Edibles

A packed Thursday saw me up at 3.45am to help out with a bat survey and I used the opportunity to do some birding as well. A juvenile red kite and a few green sandpipers provided the highlight at Ouse & Berry Fen and later I had a first in the form of some sexton beetles beneath felt at Mildenhall - larger than I'd imagined and covered in some parasitic mite, perhaps from the body of an unseen victim.

Stone curlew numbers were down on last week's visit (probably as a result of the differing time of day) but a woodlark overhead was only my second record at this site.

It was on to Cambridge for a three course meal at a restaurant with some friends but when news broke mid afternoon of a sooty/ balearic shearwater at Grafham I hastily made plans to visit. A couple of hours later I was there, watching what is likely to become the first ever accepted record of an inland sooty shearwater in Britain. The only previous contender was a bird in 1988 at the same site - removed after a review last year which concluded balearic could not be ruled out from the evidence available.

The bird showed well off the dam down to about 50m or so and I heard after I left it drifted right up to the shore. It wasn't seen to fly and was probably unwell. There was no sign of it the following day. Bearing in mind this is a southern hemisphere species perhaps it's not a wonder that it never seems to turn up inland but rather that is shows up in such good numbers on seawatches at all. At this time of year sooties can be seen in their hundreds at the right locations and with the right weather conditions (though my personal best is a rather more modest 19!)

Moving back to mammals and last night saw me take a little sojourn down to Wendover where the edible dormice showed very well. They were there when I arrived at dusk and soon the woods were alive with their little calls, the odd individual posing in the beam of a torch. These mammals (often known by their scientific name Glis glis, or a shortened version, simply Glis) have been around since last century when they were introduced to Tring Park and though they haven't spread far they have certainly built up a respectable population density. Non-native invasives they may be but cute they most certainly are too - unless you live in one of the homes they choose to invade (over 400 have been found in a single loft before).

Sunday, 22 September 2013

19th-20th September

A busy couple of days saw me help out with a couple of surveys and sneak in a bit of batting and birding too. On the 19th I popped in to Ouse Fen where 5 or 6 hobbies were sat around on posts along Cuckoo Drove. They included an obliging 2nd calendar year bird sat close to the main track. A little later a bittern showed in flight. It's not quite the Somerset Levels or Minsmere but this species is seen now on most visits to the site, proving they're going from strength to strength in the county.

That evening I joined some bat catchers at Grafham. It was quiet but we caught an adult female brown long-eared. There were a good few pips about and we glimpsed a Myotis spp, a Natterer's or Daubenton's (I also think I had Natterer's at Over Village earlier in the evening). Tawny owls were vocal at both sites. I got home about 12.40am.

The following day I called in to Lynford Arboretum where two young male two-barred crossbills were showing well with at least 8 common crossbills. Going through my photos afterwards I noticed a juv female next to one of them - how did I manage to miss that in the field?!! Strangely a tawny owl was vocal here too, despite it being mid afternoon!

On the way home I called in to a traditional stone curlew site and counted an impressive 65+ birds. I pay about one visit a year to this location and last year counted an astonishing 88 individuals, though I believe counts of over 100 have been made as both adult and juvs gather from miles around before embarking on their journey south.

Monday, 16 September 2013

September livening up!

Last week was a busy one. A pretty awesome weather forecast for a Norfolk seawatch on Tuesday failed to deliver the goods, though I did manage 2 or 3 sooties, a black tern and a puffin from a 2.5 hr seawatch off Sheringham. I also paid my respects to the dodgy sparrow at Northrepps - put out as a possible Italian, but notably lacking any white around the eye and perhaps more likely to be an erythristic house sparrow or a hybrid.

On Thursday it was an early finish at work to bomb down to Oare Marshes for a spotted crake. This bird showed like a dream, giving great views down to 7 metres or so. The scrape offered excellent views of a wonderful array of waders which included at least 7 juv curlew sands and 4 little stints. An impressive flock of 1,000+ redshank was also present.

Torrential rain on Friday night failed to dampen my enthusiasm for some local mammal trapping at Fowlmere and it certainly didn't keep the rodents away either. A total of 15 wood mice were trapped, with 2 bank voles, 2 common shrews and 3 yellow-necked mice. One wood mouse escaped in Doug's hut and another ran all over Mark before ending up on his head where it launched itself high into the air and made good its escape!

I've only seen one great snipe, on my London local patch at the age of 14. Views were poor with just the head visible above grass in the fading light of dusk. It's always been the one and only bird on my list with less than spotless credentials. I knew I needed to see another and on Sunday I got the chance. One had turned up at Kilnsea, Spurn, the previous day, and to my surprise was still around the following morning. It was time to Fire up the Quattro though in the event I left the Type-R behind and borrowed Liz's slower but more economical Skoda! I collected Robert Smith at Stamford and continued north to Kilnsea, arriving at around midday.

The bird was showing on arrival and wow, was it showing!! I hadn't realised just quite how close people had been getting to this one. A small crowd on the verge were staring into a roadside ditch and there, just metres away, was a very unconcerned great snipe! Just occasionally rarities turn up which have little or no fear of people and those twitches can fast become all-time classics. Last winter I got within 2 metres of the 'pet' buff-bellied pipit at QMR and within a metre of the Suffolk Hornemann's arctic redpoll; pine grosbeak, lancey, isabelline wheatear and yellow-rumped warbler have all allowed me to grill them to a few feet in the past.

Now the irony of this twitch is that I'd left my camera at home! It was a deliberate but stupid move as I thought on this occasion digiscoping would suffice. Digiscoping turned out to be extremely difficult and I ended up inserting my memory card into Robert's bridge camera to get some shots. At one stage the snipe got spooked by something in the ditch and flew out of it towards the crowd, landing just 2 metres in front of me - amazing! It scuttled off and re-entered the ditch a few metres further down, where it started to poke around a discarded can of Strongbow.

A barred warbler residing 100 yards along the road was a handy bonus bird but I had to return to the mesmerising snipe which by now was snoozing in the grass in the corner of the field the other side of the hedge. After a while it had a brief preen and ran back to the ditch and eventually we managed to tear ourselves away.

There are more records of great snipe than any other BB rarity but it remains a tough one to see, with most of the 2 or 3 annual records coming from Shetland. Many are only seen in flight after flushing so to get one like this is all the more remarkable. Long live the Kilnsea great snipe, a true birder's bird!

STOP PRESS - The snipe was found dead on the morning of 17th, thought to have been killed by a cat. A sad end to a wonderful bird and an unfortunate sentence to finish with (above). RIP.