Wednesday, 28 February 2007

The South Lincs Coast

Had our first trip to a couple of RSPB reserves on the Lincolnshire coast, down on the Wash. Pretty exciting day since we hadn't really ever visited the British coast at all during the winter.

First up was Freiston Shore RSPB. There's only the one hide, but practically two if you go by car since the car park faces directly onto the lagoon. Birds like Brent Goose (Dark-bellied), Redshank, Black-tailed Godwit, Wigeon and Ringed Plover continue foraging as if oblivious to your arrival, this and they are hardly 10 yards away across a fence.
Other notable birds on site were Knot, Curlew, Goldeneye, Oystercatcher, Dunlin, one Spotted Redshank, Reed Bunting and Tree Sparrow.

That car park view.

View from the hide.

The eastern side of the reserve is all impassable salt marsh, with countless gullies populated by Redshank (almost annoyingly vocal with their alarm calls) and Little Egret, and 400 yards beyond that the beach. I could make out big numbers Golden Plover and Oystercatcher, the smaller waders too difficult to make out at that range though. Did get a Red-breasted Merganser in the shallows though.

Then onto Frampton Marsh RSPB. Visitor-wise it's utterly undeveloped, only a small car park and a footpath that runs through the reserve rather than around. This time it's nothing but salt marsh, again plenty of Little Egret, also picked up a pair of Twite here though, good bird any day. The sea is even further away here, still it was mid-afternoon now and enormous tumbling bait ball flocks of Knot were in the far distance.

Little Egret by the road.

At either site Short-eared Owl and Hen Harrier, among other raptors, look likely considering the landscape, didn't see either though, neither had anybody else we talked to. Just a no show of a day.
In between them we attempted a visit to a beach site where a Sperm Whale was reported to have washed up a couple of days earlier - dead or alive it'd be pretty cool to see a true leviathan of the sea, plus we might see Shore Lark or Snow Bunting on the beach. Unfortunately the online forum I found the news on neglected to mention that beach is a part time bombing range for the RAF, which explained the low runs fast jets were doing above us. Just behind the sea wall there was a control tower and a barrier down across the road beside it. We buzzed the intercom and found out access would return at 5pm - when it would have been getting dark.

Can't be disappointed though. Those Brents were a true spectacle.
In the spring/summer, it looks like Freiston Shore is good for breeding Avocet, so a return visit is on the cards when the weather warms up.

Well worth a day outing for any birder.

Video - Brent Geese at Freiston Shore

Saturday, 10 February 2007

Gull Watching

See those specks on the far pool? In amongst them was supposed to be a Kumlien's Gull, a rare vagrant race of Iceland Gull all the way from Arctic Canada, only it wasn't. The first day in a week the bird doesn't turn up is when I go there. Ah well, I did score my first Glaucous Gull, so I couldn't count myself as disappointed.

Gull watching is a new thing for me. I'd always thought of it as grossly labourious, not only do you need to study very carefully to distinguish 2nd-winter this form 2-nd winter that, but you may very well end up browsing 20,000 such birds at some winter roosts. That's more like bird-working than birdwatching to me.
Still, I felt I should bite the bullet and did plenty of homework with guides and specialist websites, and felt confident enough to give it a go. Fortunately the site I chose, Carr Vale, only had around 300 gulls in the day roost so it was a pretty easy start, and the bird of the day was a handsome 1st-winter Glaucous Gull (looks like this), which did rather stick out once you found it. It's the white wing-tips you look for first - then you can be quite certain it's either Glaucous or Iceland Gull, and work it out from there.

As for the Kumlien's, a special bird like that attracts twitchers to my local area and it was surprising how poor some their ID skills were. I'm no purist myself, I don't expect great expertise from any birdwatcher I come across, yet I cannot understand why anybody would travel dozens of miles to spot a bird when they don't actually know what it looks like. A couple of times some of the elder gents swore blind they had found the bird and then went on to describe an individual with black wing-tips (probably a Herring Gull), the first thing that should indicate the bird wasn't their target.
I find most twitchers do know their stuff, but this small minority who can seldom tell anything apart and still claim life lists into the 300's, well, I do not understand them at all.

After a while, I surprisingly found the gull watching quiet fun. It's a true test of ID skills, which is something you don't very often get after a decade's worth of birding, so there is real achievement when you pick out something a bit special.

Saturday, 3 February 2007

Hoveringham Gravel Pits

Disused gravel pits are becoming a real boon for wildlife these days, particularly those nearby rivers like the Trent. Today we scored American Wigeon (here's different one the girlfriend snapped in Cambridgeshire last week) on a network of pools at the old works around the Notts village of Hoveringham.
Splendid day all round, with roosting Tawny Owl, courting Buzzards, stout Stonechat and confiding Goldeneye. Duck-wise this is the time to go looking for them, we still have the winter influx but unlike November/December they're coming into marvellously handsome breeding plumage - which makes IDing jolly easy.


Tawny Owl

The Buzzards.