Monday, 13 March 2017

Exploring parts of the Forest of Dean

After visiting the Hawfinches I went on to look for Goshawks at New Fancy Viewpoint following a tip I got from a chap whilst I was at Parkend.  Having been to Wykeham Raptor Viewpoint in Yorkshire only a couple of weeks ago, I wasn't holding my breath for any close views, but I did get some distant views of a pair so I can say that I saw them here.  I wasn't absolutely sure about these record shots, but the one and only Lee Geoffrey Evans has confirmed them for me on a Facebook Bird ID page.

A chap who had been there for a few hours said there had been ten sightings during the day including one that did come very close - it's the luck of the draw whether or not you are there when this happens. I did have quite good views of a Buzzard and could hear Ravens cronking somewhere close. It's probably a place to which I will return sometime. I wish the Goshawks had been this close, and one day they might be!

From here I went on to Cannop Ponds which is only a couple of miles away from New Fancy. I really enjoyed driving in the Forest of Dean, the trees are amazing and the roads are much better than I expected.

The star birds at Cannop Ponds are the Mandarin Ducks and the Marsh Tit.  I saw the Mandarins from the car as I drove in to the car park. There must have been around ten in total and they looked great in the sunshine.

Although originally descended form escaped birds, these beautiful ducks now have a self-supporting breeding population in the wild and are classes as a UK bird, so they can be 'ticked'.

The Marsh Tit was a surprise however, as I didn't know it was here until I watched some birds around a feeding area. I had to decide between Marsh Tit and Willow Tit and after checking my photos decided that the small fleck on the upper mandible was enough to favour Marsh Tit.  I didn't really hear it calling, but there were definitely no Willow Tit calls in the area.

There was also a pair of Little Grebes feeding in front of the reed bed and a Common Buzzard flew low overhead for a short while.

Hawfinch at Parkend, Forest of Dean

Text to follow later ...

Slimbridge Wildlfowl and Wetlands Trust

Ever since joining the Wildfowl and Wetlands Trust at Caerlaverock WWT in Dumfries I've been thinking about going to Slimbridge WWT near Bristol. After all it is widely regarded as the birthplace of modern conservation where its founding father, Peter Scott, first established the Wildfowl and Wetlands Trust as well as the place where he introduced the general public to nature and the countryside via some of the earliest natural history TV broadcasts. However, it always seemed quite just a little too far to  go for a day trip.

Well, as the opportunity arose of tying it in with a trip to see the Blue Rock Thrush at Stow-on-the-Wold as well as some Hawfinches that had been showing well at Parkgate in the Forest of Dean, I decided to book into a hotel for the night in Gloucester and go for it.

After visiting the Blue Rock Thrush at Stow, I headed straight for Slimbridge and arrived there in the early afternoon.  My target species were the Bewick Swans (on which so much work was done here by Peter Scott), the Eurasian White-fronted Geese and the Cranes which have been successfully breeding here.  Luckily, I managed to get all three, but only just.

I started off asking where things were at the information desk and was soon on my way towards the Holden Tower which overlooks the banks of the River Severn. There are many hides along the way and I first saw the Cranes from the Martin Smith Hide where four were actively grooming themselves.  It was a real shame that they were wearing such large leg rings - know and understand the reasons for them, but I still don't like them very much. I didn't actually stay very long here as I'd previous seen my first Cranes only a few weeks ago in Norfolk.

There are two subspecies or 'races' of White-fromted Goose - the Greenland race and the Eurasian race. The name of the race originates form where they breed and so the Greenland race is usually found a lot further north, such as in Scotland.

Therefore I spent most of my time photographing the industrious rooks which were busy nest building in the tall trees behind the hide. One particular bird had found a piece of branch that was far too long to carry, but it wouldn't give up trying and was very amusing to watch.

I continued to the Holden Tower where I got quite excited about a flock of Barnacle Geese feeding on the grass before I was informed that they were feral birds which never leave the area. Oh, well. There were also plenty of Greylag Geese about and I sane these are feral here too. Holden Tower gives a good view across this part of the reserve and there were plenty of Wigeon, Shelducks and Tufted Ducks to see as well as another view of the White-fronted Geese.

So next it was on to the other side of the reserve to reach the Zeiss Hide in order try to find the Bewick's Swans which had been reported there.  Bewick's Swans are actually a subspecies of Tundra Swan and they are the smallest swan in Europe.

Slimbridge is a stronghold for Bewick's Swans and it is here the Peter Scott first drew his famous diagrams of their various bill patterns.

Compared to Whooper Swans their black beaks sport a small yellow blob, rather than the Whooper's extended yellow wedge.

These yellow and black beak patterns have been extensively studied and illustrated over the years and are unique to each swan, identifying individual birds.

I would have liked to see Peter Scott's original drawings but apparently they are not on display anywhere at the moment.

By now most of the Bewick's Swans had moved back to their breeding grounds in the cold Arctic tundra of northern Russia but a small family party of five birds was reported as still being around together with a sixth juvenile straggler which seems to have been left behind. But I had no luck finding any of there here. I had also been informed that they had been seen in the fields approaching the reserve, so I decided to look there on my way out.

Therefore I spent most of my time photographing the industrious rooks which were busy nest building in the tall trees behind the hide. One particular bird had found a piece of branch that was far too long to carry, but it wouldn't give up trying and was very amusing to watch.

It was starting to get late and I was getting worried that I might not get to see everything, so I hurriedly walked through the captive bird collections to get to the South Lake which is good for waders. I wasn't disappointed here as there were large flocks of Avocets and Black-tailed Godwits, a few Snipe and some nice singletons including a distant Spotted Redshank, a Mediterranean Gull and an immature male Goldeneye.

On the way back to the car I spotted the wild Black Swan with no rings that had reportedly flown in recently and I wondered how long before these are accepted on the British List.

On driving out of the reserve I was flagged down by someone to whom I had been chatting on the car park just before I left.  He'd spotted the Bewick's Swans in the field that I had talked to him about and so was keen to let me know he'd found them. We had great views in the early evening sunlight.

But to cap it all, just as I was about to go two Cranes flew across the back of the same field and then towards us and over the road into the next field.  I fruststratedly fiddled with my camera trying to delete some some shots as I just completely filled my memory card with shots of the Bewick's, but it was too late - they'd gone!  Nevertheless they were a great sight on which to finish my successful afternoon here at Slimbridge.

Wednesday, 8 March 2017

A Trip to Wykeham and Scarborough

Ever since our trip to Spurn last month, George Pike and I had been talking about going to the Wykeham Raptor Viewpoint near Scarborough to look for Goshawks, so today we decided to do it, taking in the Pine Bunting at Dunnington on the way and Scarborough Harbour at the end.  Well, it was so close to our road it would have been rude not to.

With the Pine Bunting under our belt from Dunnington (details re in my previous posting) we were soon on our way to Wykeham Forest to look for the Gossies.  This was the first time either of us had been and so it was great that a couple of people who'd seen them that morning were already there with scopes.  It wasn't long before a distant Goshawk appeared and I could put it down as another lifer found.

However, it must be said that I didn't have really good views and, if someone else hadn't seen them, I wouldn't have been sure that I had, especially as Goshawks bear more than a passing resemblance to large Sparrowhawks.  In fact, the only photos I got proved to be Buzzards in the end, and so I was quite disappointed by that.

Other birds we saw there included this Crossbill high up in a tree and a Redpoll of which I didn't get a photograph, but not really much else.

But then we moved on to Marine Drive at Scarborough and boy was that different.  Here the coastal road runs around the foot of a cliff face and we'd been told to look out for Peregrines nesting near lampost 55, so we parked the car there. The first birds that I noticed were several pairs of Fulmars nesting in the cliff and later flying in front of it.

As I was photographing the Fulmars, a passerby asked me if I could see the Peregrine and I said "No". She kindly pointed out where one was perched on a ledge and I had a chat with her and her partner about it whilst taking photographs.

But then a second Peregrine flew by, and the two birds chased across the cliff face before they both landed on separate ledges.

There a few further fly-bys by one bird whilst the other stayed perched on its ledge watching.

This is a great place to photograph Peregrines in flight as the cliffs making a stunning backdrop - much more natural than a chimney or building in a city centre and more interesting that a plain blue sky.

I think I'll be coming back one morning when the sun is in a better place for photographs.

Whilst I had been photographing the Peregrines, George had been sea watching and had come up with a couple of harbour porpoises, some Guillemots and a Gannet. He managed to put me on to one of the porpoises for a record photograph.

From here we went along the promenade to the harbour looking for a fish and chip shop for tea, followed by an ice cream - of course this was all due to George as he loves his fish and chips and he has such a sweet tooth.

There were three target birds for us to find that had been recently reported in the harbour: a Great Northern Diver, a Black-necked Grebe and a mysterious so-called 'funny duck'. It was the 'funny duck that I saw first and although George and I had some discussion about it, my initial ID was correct - it was a Guillemot coming into breeding plumage.

After we had eaten, we chased it around for a bit because it kept diving in and around the boats and coming up somewhere a long way off, but finally I managed a couple of half decent shots. We later saw it (or another bird) out on the sea.

We also had a small group of very tame Turnstones feeding on the harbour wall around the lobster pots. I've always felt that the Turnstones on the east coast are a lot more confiding than those which I usually see on the west coast, ever since I first saw them being fed crisps outside a harbour pub at Whitby.

Later we were put onto the Great Northern Diver by a couple who had just seen it at the end of the harbour wall and so we hurried on down there before it decided to leave the harbour for the open sea. 

We had really good views of it catching a crab and eating it and it came pretty close in at times.
We crossed over a bridge over the harbour at the sea ward end and walked along the harbour wall doing a bit of sea-watching. 

We saw another Guillemot and a couple of Red-throated Divers out to sea, but there was no sign of the Black-necked Grebe.

So George and I had a grand day out and saw a good range of species - so much so that we're thinking of suggesting Scarborough for an L.O.S. Sunday birding fieldtrip.