Tuesday 26 April 2016

Twitching Raptors and returning Chats

So the options last weekend were as follows; check East Wretham Heath for Redstarts, use my renewed permit and see if Colney GP had any Nightingales, check the east coast once for migrants or head into the Brecks and check a site I knew for Nightingales. With cold NW winds none of those options seemed to hold much promise. In the end I decided I would check East Wretham and if that was a failure I would move on to the Nightingale site.
While it was a pleasant walk around East Wretham Heath, I failed to see or hear any Redstarts. Its looking like they may have abandoned that site altogether as they were absent too last year - shame really.
From there I moved on to a site near Lakenheath in Suffolk where I had great success with Nightingales the previous year Ode to a Nightingale
I located three birds within half an hour and two were showing briefly from time to time - though Nightingales are real skulkers so if I wanted to improve on the shots I got last year then I was going to need to work at it. I also needed to contend with the constant noise of military aircraft from nearby RAF Lakenheath. Apart from the F16's, there was the added attraction of some F22 Raptors which had brought several enthusiasts in to "twitch" them. As a birder though I'm not really best placed to pass judgement on plane-spotters - no doubt we are the ones they think are a bit nuts! I didn't see the F22's but a group of ten F16's did rip over at one stage. Impressive looking aircraft but killing machines nonetheless.

One of ten F16s coming into RAF Lakenheath
Anyway, back to the birds. I picked a Nightingale and spent several hours in one spot trying to photograph it. The light was very harsh and the bird was as you would expect "skulking" - to say the least. It did come out in the open several times but strong light or a poor background meant that I got better results with using the HD movie function instead (note: background noise in clip 2 is drone of F16 engines after landing at Lakenheath).

The next day I returned with James Lowen, the light was slightly better but the wind had picked up and it was colder. We spent about three hours with the same bird and did a little better with photographs but it took all of three hours for it to show well enough in the open.

Nightingale, Lakenheath, Suffolk
I rather suspect this could be the very same bird I photographed last year. It often sang from the very exact same spots as a year ago, although they were slightly more over-grown than last year. I'd like to think its the same bird that has successfully over-wintered in sub-Saharan Africa and successfully made its return back to the same spot to breed. I feel a little connection with this chap!
Anyway after three hours we called it a day. We had singing Woodlark, Willow Warbler and a rather smart Lesser 'throat to keep us entertained when Luscinia wouldn't show.

Lesser Whitethroat
I may not get better shots of the Nightingale but its tempting to try!

Tuesday 19 April 2016

The trickle becomes a flow

This post is a bit of a round-up of the last two weekends because finally some migrants have started to arrive. Well, a trickle became a steady flow as Swallows, Sand Martins, House Martins, Wheatears, Chiffers, Willows Warblers and Whitethroats are all in and this morning I had a singing Nightingale only five minutes walk from the house (not a snowballs chance in hell of that ever happening in Ireland).
The weekend before last Nick and I checked the Horsey and Waxham stretch of the east coast for migrants. Chiffs, Willows and Swallows were all present and correct but it was a fine male Ring Ouzel near the pipe dump that won bird of the day - despite competition from an equally handsome though distant Red-necked Grebe at Ormsby Broad. I think if that had been closer it might have won because summer plumaged RN Grebes are just stunning. Nick commented that they must be rare birds in County Cork and come to think of it - I have not seen one there in my time. In fact I have seen every grebe on the Irish list in Cork (including Pied-billed Grebe) but not Red-necked!
First Wheatear of the year!

Bird of the Day (though not Photo of the Day) - Ring Ouzel

Last weekend I managed to squeeze in some birding somewhere between bathroom renovations and Muse concerts - I think I did well to manage that.
Once again I hit the east coast, being mindful of the fact that the winds were all wrong, so my expectations were low. Horsey and Waxham were very quiet apart from a few singing Willow Warblers however a jaunt around Great Yarmouth Cemetery produced two smart Blackcaps and a Lesser Whitethroat (excuse the dreadful photo).

Willow Warbler - Horsey Gap, Norfolk

Lesser Whitethroat - GY Cemetery, Norfolk
Meanwhile, I've been doing almost daily spot checks of a site only five minutes from home where in the last two years there had been several singing Nightingales. Although Will Soar beat me to it, I was delighted this morning while walking the dog at 6.20am to hear the sweet lilting tones of a Nightingale in song. From the same spot, in fact from almost the same hawthorn bush exactly to the same day as previous years - quite a feat for any creature. Welcome back boys!