Tuesday, 31 March 2009

Gloucester Goshawk

A good couple of weeks birding to report on since my last blog entry. I only had one major trip outside the confines of the county but it's an interesting time of year with passage birds starting to move through and every day there is the possibility of something new.

It started well when a couple of Saturday's ago I nipped down to Port Meadow as usual. There was a very stiff north-westerly wind which made viewing difficult but as I scanned I saw a familiar black and white patterned bird flying around over the floods: an avocet! I willed it to land and fortunately it did so I immediately whipped out my digiscoping gear and shot away like crazy. It was a long way away into the teeth of the strong wind but somehow I at least managed some passable record shots. I put the word out and soon a few other birders had assembled and managed to see the bird. Unfortunately it didn't hang around long and was gone by lunch-time. Still an excellent bird to find on one's local patch.

A couple of record shots of the avocet on the Meadow

I seem to be falling into a pattern of late of going out to Port Meadow first thing to check what's about with my scope and then at lunch-time I go for a run around Meadow and Burgess Field (the neighbouring nature reserve). About two weeks ago I did this and didn't find much on the early morning excursion but lunch-time proved more productive. Firstly, in Burgess Field I decided to have one more try for jack snipe despite the fact that the pools there are practically dried up. In fact there was only one pool left but as I started to tramp around it I did indeed manage to flush a snipe. What's more it flushed from less than a metre away, it flew away low and rather weakly on rounded wings before landing some 50m away and I saw that it was rather smallish with a comparatively short bill and a rather greenish back with yellow stripes: finally a jack snipe! I was delighted to have found this so late on in the season and on my local patch too! Flushed (sorry!) with success I carried on with my run, managing to see a singing chiffchaff nearby before heading out of Burgess Field and back on to the Meadow for the long slog around to the west side of the floods. It was worth it though as I managed to find a lovely little ringed plover (my first of the year) lurking on the floods as well as a white wagtail flitting around. A very pleasant lunch-time run!

The next morning I arranged to meet up with JC my fellow county year lister at Shotover Avenue in order to try for lesser spotted woodpecker. The Avenue was a know hot-spot for this difficult county bird so we thought that we'd give it a try. I arrived slightly early at 6:30 am so thought I'd have a bit of a wander before JC arrived. I'd not got more than 50 yards down the path when I heard one calling and drumming. However I couldn't seem to see it anywhere until it flew at tree-top height right over my head and off somewhere. At this point JC arrived so I quickly directed him to the spot where I'd last seen it but there was no sight nor sound of it. We then spent the next couple of hours wandering slowly down and back up the Avenue without any sign of it until back where I'd originally seen it JC spotted it in the tree tops. It proceeded to drum briefly before once more flying off at tree-top height. A great county bird to see and in fact a bird I haven't seen at all since my childhood birding days.

That Thursday I decided to take a trip over to the west of the country to catch up with the goshawks in Gloucester. I decided also to nip in to Slimbridge to see if I could catch up with their American wigeon and also the glaucous gull that was sometimes there in the morning. There was also a long-eared owl roosting at Frampton which I hoped to be able to see. The weather was gloriously sunny and with not a breath of wind as I set off. However as I headed west I eventually hit a thick wall of fog which seemed to be covered the whole of the west country. Visibility was so bad that when I got to Frampton, even though I found the trees in which the LEO's were supposed to be, there was no way that I could tell if they were there or not! Disappointed with this I next headed over to Slimbridge where things were just as bad. The American wigeon could not be picked out from the few wigeon that I could see. I did manage to spy a sand martin and a black-tailed godwit in the gloom but little else. Hoping that this wasn't going to be a totally wasted trip I decided to head on to Gloucestershire, to New Fancy View, the known goshawk hot-spot, hoping that it would be high enough to be out of the fog or at least that it would have cleared by that time. Fortunately as I approached the Forest of Dean, climbing up the hills there I was soon out of the fog and the Forest itself was almost completely fog free. At the watch point itself there were a few birders around including one local who seemed to know the ropes. As I was standing next to him I could spot when he had found something and could then pick it up myself. I quickly had a couple of distant views of goshawks as well as some much closer ones of buzzards. A flock of siskins also flew over calling and there were coal tits in the nearby trees to be watched as well. After a while the local left and things got rather quiet so I decided to head back to the car park to see what was on the feeders. I tried digiscoping some of the siskins on the feeders and then noticed some birds feeding under the trees a bit further away where some food had been put out. As I watched I was pleased to find a brambling in amongst the chaffinches there. A short while later it was joined by a hawfinch so I had a great time digiscoping them though the light was rather poor under the trees despite the bright sunshine elsewhere and so the quality of the photos wasn't that great. A most enjoyable end to the day and I headed back home, well pleased with my trip despite the foggy start to the day.

Some brambling and hawfinch photos.

Apart from that I've been birding away in county. Late in the morning the day after my Gloucester trip I got a text from "Mr. Farmoor" saying that there was a passage of little gulls going through. I had to pick L, my two year old son, up from nursery shortly so I packed us a picnic, picked L up and we headed straight over to Farmoor. It was a gloriously sunny day and we had a very pleasant walk around to the south side of the reservoir where the sun would be behind us and there was a bench to sit on. NJH, the Farmoor expert came over and helped me pick out the little gulls which were flying around in the centre of the reservoir. Even from this distance you could distinctly see their very dark underwings and their more rounded wing tips and their tiny size. A most delightful bird to watch. As I headed back towards the car park I spotted a raven flying high overhead. It's huge size and large wedge-shaped tail giving away it's ID even at that height.

The following week was rather quiet until the weekend when I went to the Meadow earlier than usual at 7:30am on the Saturday morning. I was fortunate enough to come across a drake ruddy shelduck on the floods though it seemed rather nervous and kept moving around, soon flying off to the grass 100 yards or so to the north of the floods. I sent a text off to JC about it but by the time he was able to get there at 9am it had gone.

A surprise bonus on the Meadow in the form of a male ruddy shelduck

The next day I was down on the Meadow and I met up with a fellow birder (BRCa). He mentioned in passing that he'd seen a couple of wheatear down at Day's Lock the previous day and as I still needed them for the year list I thought that I would take L over there that afternoon. I'd only once been there before for the cattle egret last year so it would also be a good chance to explore this area further. As I walked along the track from the lock I soon spotted a promising looking blob on a fence post and the scope soon confirmed it as a beautiful male wheatear. There was a lot of heat haze about so digiscoping efforts were difficult but I tool a record shot at least. Elsewhere there was what looked like the remains of what would have been some rather nice flood waters in the field which were just drying up. Beyond that were two pools: a smaller one with some gulls and geese and a couple of white wagtails on and further in the distance a larger one on which I could see some tufted ducks and coots. L was getting grumpy by this time so we headed back to look at the weir and a boat going through the lock which L enjoyed much more than sitting around whilst I stared at distant blobs through a scope.

My first wheatear of the year. I couldn't crop in any closer as the heat haze meant that there was very poor resolution in the photo.

So some good progress with the lists and a life tick in the form of the goshawk. With the passage really starting to kick off now it's an exciting time of year to be birding.

National Year List 2009
139 jack snipe 16/03/2009 Burgess Field NR
140 little ringed plover 16/03/2009 Port Meadow
141 lesser spotted woodpecker 17/03/2009 Shotover: the avenue
142 sand martin 18/03/2009 Farmoor Reservoir
143 goshawk (Lifer) 19/03/2009 New Fancy View, Glouc.
144 little gull 20/03/2009 Farmoor Reservoir
145 swallow 27/03/2009 Port Meadow
146 ruddy shelduck 28/03/2009 Port Meadow
147 wheatear 29/03/2009 Days Lock

Oxon Year List 2009
117 avocet (Ox Lifer) 14/03/2009 Port Meadow
118 chiffchaff 15/03/2009 Stanton Harcourt
119 jack snipe (Ox Lifer) 16/03/2009 Burgess Field NR
120 little ringed plover 16/03/2009 Port Meadow
121 lesser spotted woodpecker (Ox Lifer) 17/03/2009 Shotover: the avenue
122 sand martin 18/03/2009 Farmoor Reservoir
123 little gull 20/03/2009 Farmoor Reservoir
124 swallow 27/03/2009 Port Meadow
125 ruddy shelduck 28/03/2009 Port Meadow
126 wheatear 29/03/2009 Days Lock

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