Champions of the Flyway!

Monday, July 27, 2009

Rainham Marshes, Essex - 22nd July 2009

An afternoon jolly out to a still and sunny Rainham (in truth it is never either), ostensibly for work-related reasons, but an excuse for the majority of local Hackney birders (myself, Laurence, Tony and Jamie) to eat cake and stroll around admiring dragonflies and moaning about the wader-repellent water levels and lack of large gulls. Still, Green Sandpipers and Little Egrets did their level best to entertain, practically entering the hide, and a pair of Whimbrel roosting on posts by the river were in view while we slurped our tea. Despite its obvious ornithological appeal and proven track record, it's a hard place to love.

Epping Forest, east London - 18th July 2009

female Mandarin

Brown Hawker

A leisurely afternoon walk in the High Beach area of Epping Forest with our good friends David, Anne and little Mia. Worthwhile if only for the general, commoner flora and fauna of this ancient woodland, with the added bonus of at least three Common Crossbills, flushed from the edge of a small pond a few hundred metres north of the field centre.

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Coppermill Lane, east London - 18th July 2009

En route to visit friends over in Walthamstow, via Coppermill Lane and thus past the Filter Beds and the southern fringe of Walthamstow Reservoirs; the former clouded with at least 200 Sand Martins, and the latter with the requisite goose flock. Greylags, Canadas, and.... a Barnacle!

The chances of it having just arrived from the arctic tundra are about as likely as TMS not being the greatest entertainment known to humankind, but it's unringed, and so I recommend a mass twitch just in case.

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

The Naze, Essex - 19th July 2009

It's mid-July, pickings are at their absolute slimmest (aside from the usual breeders and a few early passage hirundines) on patch in Hackney, blustery south-westerlies and messy low pressure systems have been dominating for more than a fortnight, and a precious day free with the Mrs beckons - and so to the Naze, former runaway home, local patch and easily commutable parallel universe.

Onto a 149 outside the house and via a train from Liverpool Street, and two hours later we're indulgently drinking in the sea air and heading north along the trashy-but-somehow-reassuring-benign seafront, along the beach and up to the Naze. The strong SW wind brought in the first and last shower, gone by the time we left the tower, and soon after we were onto the Naze proper; a few hundred metres north, and into the scrubby grassland magically free of Homo sapiens, despite the throngs on the beach just a few minutes south.

Criss-crossing the upper and lower scrub more out of habit than hope, there were almost no passerines on show, but every glade and footpath revealed a wealth of butterflies - the most impressive species being Painted Ladies, with uncountable hundreds during the course of the day, resplendent in freshly-emerged technicolour.

The tide was still a long way out by the time we reached the causeway, with the John Weston EWT Reserve on our left and the saline lagoons on our right, with the dunes and beach just beyond (good memories are too numerous to begin reciting here, another time perhaps); any thoughts of making it along the beach to the saltmarsh and pools towards Stone Point (the latter particularly good for waders, including Curlew Sandpipers) were reeled in by the temporary rope fence - easily navigable but justifiably erected, with explanatory signs - to deter disturbance of breeding Little Terns and Ringed Plovers.

Instead, a stumble out onto the mix of clay, shingle, mud and seaweed-covered rocks beyond the saline lagoons was worthwhile in getting good views of feeding waders, including summer-plumaged Sanderlings, Turnstones, Dunlins, Black-tailed Godwits and a single Knot (as well as Ringed Plovers, Curlews, Redshanks and Oystercatchers).

Despite the strength of the wind, the day was increasingly mild with sunny intervals, and with no-one else around (two friendly dog-walkers in eight hours birding - almost perfect), we began covering almost all of the remaining accessible areas of the Naze. Onto the reserve, the sewage works (including minor coronary induced by a distant pratincole-shaped and -coloured lump of wood on the gravel), and the farm track south to Walton Hall; site of several satisfying self-discoveries in the early / mid 2000's, including dark-breasted Barn Owl and a couple of Yellow-browed Warblers, and despite expectations set at almost zero, another treat was in store.

Hopping the fence and taking the track west towards Walton Channel, the unmistakeable form of a Quail half-ran, half-flew just a few metres in front of across the track. The runaway highlight (as it were) of the day, and the first one I've actually seen since, well, somewhere abroad, more than a few years ago.

Spring-stepped and surrounded by clouds of butterflies down the tall hedge-sheltered track, we hit the seawall path and headed north on a circular route back to the Naze tip. The channel's exposed mud held a scattering of waders, including both Black- and Bar-tailed Godwits together and two Whimbrels. Little Terns had the good grace to commute over our heads to within about five metres, and an immature male Marsh Harrier headed straight towards us before ditching down in a field, presumable with a successful catch. A large pre-high tide gathering of waders on the mud just off the NW tip of the path held more superbly-plumaged godwits and a single Greenshank.

We were back onto the tip for early evening, and with the tide steadily encroaching, waders came a little closer in the rosy evening light; the high tide was a low one however, and many stayed beyond view up towards Stone Point. However, as well as the tolerant few that came close, two Kittiwakes and a raft of Common Eiders were out at sea, and a single Turtle Dove skirted the gorse and the beach as the sun went down.

From the top: Sanderlings, Dunlins, Turnstone, Ringed Plover, Black- and Bar-tailed Godwits, Little Tern, Black-headed Gulls, and Turtle Dove.

Friday, July 10, 2009

A couple of forgotten moths

...from up north a couple weeks back, courtesy of our good friend Rich B's trap in his Coastguard cottage garden, at the tip of our beloved Flamborough Head. His garden is fashioned from an urban birder's sweetest dreams, hosting rare and scarce passerines every autumn that make me weep quietly as I wake up to screaming sirens and petty crime here in deepest Hackney. ("Oh look, there's a Blyth's Reed Warbler next to the tomatoes"). One day Mr. Baines, when I'm sipping coffee overlooking my St. Kilda scrub and vegetable patch, you'll be sorry.

(Eyed Hawk Moth & Burnished Brass)

Thursday, July 9, 2009

Day-flying Bat, Amwell - 9th July 2009

In broad daylight, in the middle of the day, along the Lea Navigation tow-path at Amwell.... the consensus so far seems to be Leisler's, but further comment welcomed.

Amwell gravel pits, Middlesex - 9th July 2009

Flushed with success from our Empirical morning, we paid our virgin visit to Amwell gravel pits (H&MWT) for the early afternoon. Highlights included a Hobby buzzing around our heads, about a hundred Lapwings, a Ringed Plover and a confiding Little Egret by the hide, many not quite- and just-fledged Common Terns, a pair of Bullfinches, and a lack of humans.

Broxbourne Woods, Herts - 9th July 2009

Butterfly twitching on your hands and knees... an expedition just north of Das Capital in pursuit of a relative lep Holy Grail - to Broxbourne Woods reserve in Hertfordshire, with Paul C in the chariot of fire (a.k.a his whale-like Volvo which runs on chip oil after a deft DIY conversion), on the trail of a midsummer wonder.

Conditions looked good, with lots of common spp. were on the wing, and within minutes we'd crippling views of eye-level Purple Hairstreaks. But then, word came through of our quarry, seen a few minutes earlier on a favoured food source.... a short speed walk later and there it was - a stunning Purple Emperor, at point blank range, yellow proboscis plunging deeply into and feasting alluringly on a, well, a dog turd. Check your shoes, its not always bad news.

A beautifully serendipitous visit, especially considering the fact that several enthusiasts we spoke to had been trying for years to connect with these local specialities without success. We bade our farewells to the good people (and lovely dog, who almost ate the Emperor) around us, before heading north-east for a look at Amwell gravel pits (see above).

Wednesday, July 8, 2009

Yorkshire, June 2009 - other seabirds

Plenty of shots of Fulmars, because a) they're easy to photograph, and b) they're one of Britain's most wonderful birds; Herring Gulls with the lighthouse in the background, as well as on South Stacks (for the little ones - click on the picture and count the chicks); Cormorants in stop-start animation in Bridlington Bay; three Eiders in Robin hood's Bay; and the sound of my childhood, a Kittiwake.