Saturday, 16 August 2008

A wood sandpiper and a redstart

This saturday, my VLW (very lovely wife) and my two daughters had to go to London shopping, leaving me to look after our two year old son, L, for the day. Naturally I felt that he would be best entertained by some local birdwatching trips. To start with I was sure that he'd be keen to visit our local patch, Port Meadow, to see what was about. After that I suspected he wanted to go hunting for a common redstart, one of the birds on my summer hit list which I still needed.

I'd been going to Port Meadow early each morning with the new scope to check out for any autumn passage waders (see for my daily sightings). The light is often excellent at this time and from the ideal direction to light up the birds so one can see everything clearly. I'd also taken the opportunity to start getting to grips with my new camera and the black art of digiscoping. I even managed a couple of good shots which I would like to post here.

A Little Egret

A grey heron

There'd been nothing particularly exciting this week but I thought that I would go again this morning with L. I arrived at the usual viewing point to find three fellow birding colleagues all present. We spent some time viewing and chatting but with not much of interest around when we heard a wader calling and someone identified it as a wood sandpiper which we soon managed to locate. I even managed a passable digiscoping effort.

A wood sandpiper

This was a lifer for L and I'm sure that he was very excited with this tick. Flushed with this success we decided to head into Bucks to Calvert BBOWT nature reserve where a common redstart had been present for the last few days. This was one of the birds I still needed for my summer hit list, the others being nightingale and firecrest. The nightingale I've more or less given up on for the year and the firecrest I still hope to get at some point but I wanted to try and bag a redstart before they all leave. If I didn't manage to connect with the Calvert one I was going to head on to Quainton Hill where they often congregate in the hedgerows at the foot of the hill.

I managed to find the Calvert reserve ok and having installed L in his all-terrain pushchair we set of. The bird was apparently located to the left of the hide which I managed to find after only a couple of minutes walk down the path. I couldn't hear any "hueeting" when I arrived so I popped into the hide to check out the lake but there was little of interest apart from a juvenile great crested grebe, three common terns, lots of coots and lots of cormorants. Coming back out of the hide I start to walk slowly along the path listening carefully and I soon heard the insistent hueeting of a redstart. Scanning around I couldn't see it at all and it soon stopped calling. I'd read that they can be quite shy and once they spot you they hunker down until you've gone so I back-tracked out of sight and L and I had our packed lunch. After this we went back to the bushes and listened again. There was some brief calling and then nothing so I decided to set off down the path to see if I could get a sighting. Walking slowly and scanning carefully I soon spotted a couple of lesser whitethroats in the scrub. I got good views of them which was nice after the very fleeting sighting that was all that I'd had up till now for this year. I walked to the corner of the lake with only a pair of bull finches for my trouble and a couple of nice lizards sitting on a log so I retraced my steps.

Lizards on a log

I'd nearly got back to the path when the redstart started calling again, quite near and quite insistently. Parking L's buggy in a strategic place I crept forwards in a crouch and scanned around. I could hear it calling and then I spotted it flying from one bush to another. I only caught a glimpse of its tail and couldn't tell it's sex but it was still calling and flitting from bush to bush and each time I got a better view until I saw clearly that it was a lovely male which was interesting as it had been a female that was know to have been present there. On the way back to the car park I met a fellow birder who said that he thought that there was more than one redstart present and my sighting seemed to bear this out.

We next nipped over to Quainton Hill, which I recognised as somewhere where I'd been on a family picnic a few years back. I went to the north and south sides of the hill and had a brief scan from the car but didn't see anything of interest apart from a close view of a red kite. It seemed that one would have had to get out and walk a fair way to the line of hedges on the north side and as it was getting late and I'd already bagged my redstart I decided to leave it for another day.

Another year tick for me and another step closer to the 200 figure.

194: common redstart

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