Friday, 7 November 2008

Jack Snipe, Red-necked Grebe & Cattle Egret

On Friday I didn't feel much like working as I had too much on my mind to think about (more on that in due course) so I generously decided to give myself the day off and felt that some birding would clear my head. A couple of decent twitchable birds within reasonable distance that I needed for my year list were about: a jack snipe was showing well in front of the first hide at Calvert lakes in Bucks and the long-staying red-necked grebe had been reported as still being at Draycote reservoir in Warks. In the time I had, I couldn't really hang around too much at either venue but there was a good chance of connecting with at least one of these birds so I thought that I'd give it a go.

I set off just before 12pm and some 30 minutes later I pulled up at Calvert with the encouraging sign of three other cars in the layby. Within the hide I found Tim Watts and another Bucks birder both watching the jack snipe. They were both very kind and helpful in helping me pick it out amongst the reeds and I was soon able to get a good albeit partially obscured view of it. I decided to take a photo and it was as this point that I discovered that I'd foolishly left my camera at home. I'd been transferring the shots from my daily visit to the Meadow to my computer for my blog and had forgot to put it back into my bag. Most annoying. Since I didn't have my camera and so couldn't fiddle around digiscoping I decided to head on up quickly to Draycote.

This part of the journey actually took some 45 minutes, longer than I had anticipated so I arrived there at just after 1pm. The bird had been reported as being near the sailing club that morning so I started my search there. I soon came across a fellow birder who, when asked, said that he thought that the bird had gone "over there", indicating the far side of the reservoir, a good 30 minute's walk away. Dismayed, I was contemplating going back to the car and driving around to that side when I saw another birder close by intent on taking some photos. I thought that I would ask him before heading off to the far side and it was good that I did because it was the red-necked grebe that he was in fact photographing, some 20m away from him. It was diving frequently (and successfully) so one had to get a good look at it whilst one could in between dives. Again I was ruing having forgotten the camera but it was a lovely bird to watch and I came across some photos taken by
Bob Hazell which he kindly gave me permission to reproduce.
The Draycote Red-necked grebe © Bob Hazell

There was not much else around at Draycote so I didn't stay particularly long but it was great to connect with such a nice and showy bird. On the way back some lunatic in a jag shot across a cross roads just as I was crossing it with only violent braking on my part preventing an accident. Shaken but unharmed I made it safely back home.

The following day a message came through about a cattle egret at Days Lock near Dorchester in Oxon. Cattle egrets are new to Oxon this year with one possible sighting of 4 birds near Stanton Harcourt earlier in the year and one non-twitchable sighting from a reliable source a bit later on. If the bird stayed around then it would be the first twitchable one in Oxon and since I had L, our two year old son, for the afternoon I felt that he would be keen to add such a prestigious county tick to his list. We set off after lunch and after a bit of getting lost arrived at Little Wittenham, parked by the church and I pushed L in his all-terrain buggy down towards the lock. On the way there I met a fellow birder who told me where to go to find the bird and it was a few minutes later that I arrived in a field with cattle and some 100m away a wonderful feeding cattle egret with several birders watching it. L was very well behaved that afternoon so I had time to try to take some photos. This was a bit problematic as the bird was threading its way through all the cattle and it was often not possible to get a clear line of sight. Still I managed a few decent shots and also took some video footage. It was great to get such good views after my brief flyover sighting a few weeks earlier on the way down to Cornwall.

To view this video in high quality click here and select "Watch in High Quality Mode".

So three great birds in a couple of days. They were all out-and-out twitches which is always less satisfactory than finding something for one's self but still it was great to see them and there were two welcome additions to the year list. The jack snipe was one of the birds from my winter hit-list, the others being lesser redpoll, merlin and willow tit which I still hope to connect with some time though time is running out for the year.

2008 Year List
214: jack snipe

215: red-necked grebe

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