Wednesday, 25 April 2012

Landguard and Trimley Marshes

With a day off from the grind, I decided to go somewhere new, for a change.  Being fiscally prudent I decided to get a train after 9:30 and headed off to Felixstowe and Landguard.  Not that I expected anything, I was just reconnoitring for the future. I upgraded myself to the first class faded opulence and got a free coffee, which was nice, and the guard never got round to making me pay, which was nice too.

Felixstowe in common with most sea side towns is a mixture of the quaint and the tacky.  People on the sea front were busying themselves for the summer hoards, but the place was quiet.  The sea was even quieter.  A few Herring gull loafed around, Turnstones inspected every patch of sea weed along the strandline, a couple of Wheatear on lookout on the groynes and House Sparrows checked amongst the rocks. The weather was undecided as to whether to rain hard or just drizzle.  I hurried to Landguard.

My pager had told me ouzels were on the common in some numbers, but when I got there the birder action was for a Little Bunting which had been reported just minutes prior to my arrival.  Needless to say it had disappeared almost as soon as it had been sighted.  Didn't take me too long to catch a glimpse of the first ouzel, but the main  activity was of dozens of Wheatear prancing about the short-rabbit cropped grass between the few stands of bramble and gorse. Along the fort I could see mist nets in place, soon held a first winter ouzel, I watched as it was carefully untangled and taken off for processing.

In between the heavier showers I ventured from the cover of the Holm Oak to have a quick nosey around. A smart male Stonechat ran around, and female Restart showed briefly flycatching near the obs. Linnets  everywhere. I counted four more ouzels, showing nicely as they hunted the grass for a meal. I have been told that these are probably all northern European birds, our birds back on breeding sites weeks back.

While sheltering I met up with a retired former rail worker and local birder, who told me of his January road trip round the UK with LGR Evans on which they notched up 190 species in a week, I thought I'd been doing quite well, but his year list was already over the 240 mark.  It soon went up one as I picked up a Swift (tick #204) as it sought out flying food.  It had our pulses racing briefly as an Alpine had been  reported as a probable over Minsmere (heading south east) some time earlier.

Had to snap a Reed Bunting at one of the feeding stations just in case it was a giant Little Bunting, but it wasn't, that would have been too easy.

It had looked like the weather was never going to clear up as a queue of nasty rain bearing black clouds stacked up to the west, but as I finally gave up on the LB and wandered off towards Trimley it remarkable stopped and the light got much better. On the way a couple of Whimbrel flew over the town towards the coast, my colleague at the obs would have liked that for his year list.

On a footpath above the port a Nightingale sang from the side of a wooded slope, how incongruous!  I rang Birdguides to get them to forward the record to the relevant Suffolk authorities just in case, and was given a ten minute lecture in why they wouldn't put out the common stuff! I kept repeating I didn't want it put out, but the guy was on his  high-horse now, obviously the tedium of Arctic Tern and Ring Ouzel reports getting to him.  He also blamed photographers chasing birds so I ended the conversation by saying I would go now and take a picture of the bird, he laughed.  The bird in question had moved off down the slope so I carried on up the path.

Down the other side of the hill countryside.  I walked down the side of a screen of trees hearing Bullfinches as they moved through the blossom. I only met one other person on the way, a strange looking guy with a bag full of polystyrene with another sheet in his hand!

A sign said I had reached Trimley, but couldn't see anything as a large hedge obscured the view, though I could hear Reed Warbler, Blackcap, Chiffies and the occasional Sedge Warbler as I sloshed my way to the river wall.  A few Brent loitered at the waters edge, Shelduck and Black-tailed Godwit fed on the mud, but no hoards of feeding waders. The first two hides overlooked meres which were empty apart from more gulls, a couple of Pochard and Tufties. Little Grebe trilled from the ditches and loads of flies.

The sun was out now and it was rather pleasant given what had gone before.  The third hide showed more promise; a Common Sandpiper picked its way along the shore of one of the islands and disappeared out of site, a few Redshank and Oystercatcher flew about, 3 Avocets waded through the shallow water amongst the Gadwall and Teal.  Something had disturbed the Lapwing on the back of the mere, scanning I picked up a hunting Short-eared Owl, rattled off a few shots and thought it would be nicer if it came a tad closer.

In the fourth hide more of the same, but then a flock of Godwit flew in for a wash and a preen. I couldn't re-find the owl, but that was because it was now quartering the reeds and banks on my side of the reserve, I picked it up as it came into view to my right, cue fumbled auto-focusing and rapid fire. I am quite pleased, it has to be said, with the results.

But now I had to hurry, the day had slipped away, and I had to get the 3 miles back to the station, via the scenic route, in under an hour.  Normally a cake walk, but in the mud and unsure of my map reading this could be tight. Plus a few stops for some landscapes, a flock of feeding Godwit in a field and other frippery.

A couple of Swallows, the only hirundines, a Yellowhammer tight in a bush, a couple of Red-legged Partridge and what would have been a pleasant walk if I hadn't been against the clock. As I approached the station from the wrong side, the barriers were closing. I hope they have a bridge!

Thank buster for bridges!

I think I shall return one day.

Sunday, 22 April 2012

Dial R for boredom

Nice sunny day, too late to hit the patch, I thought to go to Rainham to clean up on the warblers.   Started so well, Reed, Sedge, Common Whitethroat, and Willow all before I got to the security barrier on Cold Harbour Lane.  Two Wheatear over the Serin mound and then I hit a metaphorical and physical (river) wall.  Down hill for there on in.

A couple of Whimbrel flapped around,a Dunlin picked it's way through the increasing number of dead gulls on the target pools, and of course the Little Ringed Plover.  Bugger all else.  No martin, missed the tern and the Marsh Harrier, even the Peregrine couldn't be arsed to show itself. With storm clouds threatening I thought I'd dash back to the centre to avoid a good soaking. Watched the river for a bout half an hour, 1 Swallow my prize.  I was on the point of heaving myself over the balcony to join the gulls in the afterlife, when a Turtle Dove zoomed passed the centre and over Purfleet in a definite hurry.  Can't blame it (tick #203).

Was planning to go to Scotland tonight to try for the Greater Yellowlegs, etc. but I've lost my enthusiasm. Rainham can do that to you.

Tuesday, 17 April 2012

Dunge duck dip

Black and white duck, or black and white wader with bubblegum pink legs, which to choose?  Or why not go for both of them. An ill-thought plan is hatched. Last train to Rye, walk to Dunge overnight, clobber said black and white duck first thing, fill my boots with landfall migrants and bag a few seaborne niceties while I am at it.  Back to London down to Weymouth, overnight walk to Portland Bill, fill some other boots with landfall migrants and then sit in the obs drinking tea/coffee (I'll decide later) while the serve me up freshly caught goodness in their mist nets.  Catch the bus back to Weymouth check out where stilty's at, and do him.

Sounds like a plan. "Old school", is how Tim described it.  That was it then, it will work.

I had of course forgotten how punishing the 9 mile walk to Dunge can be especially after an early morning on the flats, 7 hours at work, in the dark, add fog, leave out any food and then inadvertently spill half your water on some poor glow worm thingy you bend over to have a look at on route.  Then handicap yourself further by having dodgy knees and and aching ankle - it would be a long walk, but at least I had the foresight to bring my arctic sleepingbag for the hide!

First negotiate the sheep field just to the east of the River Rother and its stubborn and large inhabitants, collect as much pooh on your feet as is feasible.  Then try and avoid all major puddles and wet patches on the path to avoid the added burden of sodden socks, while averting your eyes from on coming traffic with full beams on which may cause you to stumble into a ditch.

First milestone, after malignant sheep, is Camber Sands - a holiday camp full of drunk Pontin's weekenders.  A fillip though in the form of a calling Tawny Owl (#193), and then back into the dark.  Along with the owl I heard Oystercatcher, Wigeon, Lapwing, Greylag Goose, Coot, Mallard, Herring Gull, Common Gull, Cetti's, Curlew, booming Bittern and some other stuff I couldn't recognise.

It got colder, I got slower realising that Dorset was becoming increasingly unlikely.  Lydd, then a further mile or so up the road across a field and the shelter of a hide.  As I got in my sleeping back I soon realised I had company and that the arctic must have been much warmer when my sleeping bag had been made. Luckily it was only 2 hours before it got light so me and my small companions had a fitful couple of hours pretending  I was sleeping.

Outside in the early morning gloom Sedge Warbler scratched amongst the brambles (tick #194) and Linnet sang from the tops of the gorse.  Three Marsh Harriers rose from their roost and would be my constant companions while I was on the reserve. I hobbled down to have a look over Denge Marsh and concluded that black and white American ducks might not be so easy to see if they didn't want to be seen in the reedy expanse. Ducks would have to wait, I was hungry and the nearest food a mile or so away at the point.

First the Arc pit, as I had some time to kill before breakfast could be acquired.  A showy Tree Sparrow, calling Reed Warbler (tick #195), and a marvellous Hare on the path, which came bounding towards me in greeting.  Apparently they have very bad forward vision, but for all that still way smarter looking than a rabbit.

At the Arc pit the water level was too high for waders, but a couple of Little Ringed Plovers studiously inspected their small spit of gravel while gulls loafed around them. Not much to make me stay either so I limped on to the road towards the point. A few tufties on the new diggings, no yank, a cheerfully bright Yellow Wagtail at the end of the arc pit, and a Swallow hawking around more in hope than anything as it was still pretty cold even though the sun was well up.

I crossed to the point by the long pits, a few chiffies called deep in the sallows, and the calls of Great, Blue and Long-tailed Tit could be heard, but I barely saw anything, never have walking through here, but apparently it's a bit hit or miss. Sea-watching could wait, I needed sustenance.

After a life threatening and heart clogging repast, I was ready for the point.  Unfortunately the good stuff; a few skuas, had been and gone, so I had to make do with some Common Tern (tick #196), some small flocks of Common Scoter, larger flocks of Brent, and a calling Med Gull - should have gone to Portland. There were however, a number of porpoises fishing offshore, so that was alright.

From here it looked good to get back to the reserve by the coastguard building as the powers that be had levelled the top of the sea defences and seemingly had spread concrete into the pebble mix, making easier to walk on. For the first part that is.  I was joined by a another Londoner, Gavin, who works on the KOS database, an entertaining chap, as vitriolic in his liking for dog walkers as myself. Nothing in the Denge creek by the firing range, though we expounded how good it should be for migrants.

The idea was that we'd get back to the Springwell Bridge and look for the yank duck, from where it was last seen. The duck, who was probably hundreds of miles away (Norfolk) was probably unaware of our interest.  It was all a bit quiet.  Two Med gulls called high up as we made our way back to the Reserve.  I headed for a coffee, while Gavin sought Sedge and Reed Warbler, we would meet again.

After another bout of refreshments and a quick look for the Long-tailed Duck and some more horrible distant digiscoped nastiness, I started off for the Arc for a second time.  I had no plans and was in a bit of a quandary as to what to do and where to go, there was obviously nothing coming in, and it seemed I was just coasting while there was still light.

A flock of Grey plover flying east raised my spirits, and a Peregrine was note worthy, but very little else.  I met up with Gavin again on the approach road, he had four Whimbrel feeding in a sheep field, nice, but...

He sallied off on his bike (oh he was on a bike!), to see the LT Duck, while I stumbled on.  By the farm at the entrance a car pulled up: "If you're interested there's a male Redstart in the gorse just back there?". Male Redstart's always good.  Texts from back home had pointed out a male Redstart had been found in Long Wood again, and a House Martin, and a Reed Warbler by Alex...

I stood and waited, sure enough out popped a female Redstart, they are good too.  If not better in my view.  I watched and waited for Gavin to catch me up.  And waited.  The Redstart entertained me while I waited.  I waited some more.  A couple of House Martin circled over the arc in with some Swallow (tick #197).  Finally his bike hove into view and quite soon I had him on the bird too.  It pleased him. We watched and rattled of a few snaps, he getting close enough to get a spanking couple of shots as it briefly landed close by on a log.  His image was way better than what I was getting, but then he was crouching and doing the creepy up thing.  If I'd crouched I would have needed a team of paramedics to get me upright again.

We parted company at the Arc, he cycling back to Appledore, I staggering off to Lydd for the bus.  Probably see you on the train he said in parting.  Hah!

Not much to report on the way back, a couple of Wheatear in the sheep field, harriers again and that was about it.  Reached Lydd and caught what was apparently the last train to Rye that night - that's planning that is!

Welcome to Ashford

Sunday morning and I was surprised to see I could still walk, so tardily I went up to the flats to meet up with Jono.  Bugger all was about so we decided to try the park.  Bugger all was about so we decided to go to Wooton Bassett to try for Goshawk.  Standing by the approach road to a woodland burial site with scope and bins, you are bound to get asked questions.  Tactfully we both neglected our main quarry as you never know!  Jono picked up a Hobby (tick #198), while a number of Buzzards display stuff and circling routines over the distant wood.  A possible large hawk made a brief appearance and we got buzzed by a Spitfire as it came in to land. 

The weather was becoming increasing inclement so we decided to head for the Lee Valley to check out the reports of early Nightinglae at Fisher's Green.  Within a few seconds of arriving it started singing and I even got a glimpse of it (tick #199). that's it, a Nightingale

That was it then I'd have to stay to reach the 200. Little Owl a possibility at the farm?  Nope. Wood Sandpiper on Landgridge? Nope.  Garden Warbler - ditto. A Cuckoo had been reported by Hall Marsh scrape, so I laboured my way down there, the aches and pains back with a vengeance. I hadn't reached the scrape when the archetypal spring sound reached my ears, yay tick #200.  Now the hard hundred.