Sunday, 19 August 2018

At last! Frampton Marsh, 17th August.

After making our annual visit on Friday morning to the Rutland Birdwatching Fair we had travelled onwards to Lincolnshire and made another call into the RSPB reserve at Frampton Marsh. This reserve, sited as it is on the edge of the Wash, is a real gem and attracts wading birds in their thousands as well as many other sought after species. This would be a quick visit since it was already pushing 15:00 by the time we arrived. The car park was virtually empty too so it would be a nice relaxing few hours as well, far removed from the hustle and bustle of the Birdfair marquees. We checked in with the warden, and on getting the information that we required, made our way out towards the sea wall.

The reason we'd come back here so soon after our last visit (see Frampton Marsh, 23rd July) was to hopefully get some good views of a bird that I'd been hoping to see close up for years. So far this year I had already seen 3 Wood Sandpipers but all had been distant and, although decent scope views had been had, I was lacking any decent images. Encouragingly a juvenile type Wood Sandpiper had been showing well by the bottom car park here for a couple of days, although it could also be very mobile and was prone to disappearing, so with Rutland being only an hour away it was a no-brainer not to have a go for it. Further encouragement had come in the form of some good sightings of the bird earlier in the day too.

We had been told that the Wood Sandpiper favoured a shallow ditch which runs alongside the road so when we came to the channel we started searching in earnest. The first bird seen was a Green Sandpiper but that flew off, as they often do, at the first sign of us approaching. A juvenile female type Ruff was much more confiding and it stood preening and stretching on the other side of the stream. 

juvenile Ruff
Conditions for photography were pretty good since it had clouded over, and thus our southerly aspect wasn't hampered by looking into the sun, but it was still a bright day so I could keep the ISO fairly low. A Black-tailed Godwit was active in the water and in between feeding that too took part in a stretching session. Maybe it was Yoga for birds hour?

Black-tailed Godwit
Next up was a fine male Ruff which just stood in a tussock of grass eyeing us up imperiously from his safe haven. Not that we'd bother him anyway.

male Ruff
We were nearing the sea wall and the end of the ditch, and I was fearing the worst, since there had been no sign of the Wood Sandpiper up to then. Our luck was to be in though when I spotted it stood in the water right at the end of the watercourse before it turned away to the south. I fired off a couple of record shots and gingerly made my way nearer, not wanting to scare it off. 

Wood Sandpiper
We were now within around 10 metres of the bird and I was able to rest the camera on a fencepost for stability and get the frames that I wanted. The bird eyed us up for a few seconds then tucked its head into its back feathers and went asleep, well half asleep since it kept an eye on us.

Wood Sandpiper
After a few minutes the Wood Sandpiper awoke and, after staring back at us for a few seconds, made its way up the mud bank and strode off up the channel to the south. 

Wood Sandpiper
We gained the elevation of the sea wall but at 10 metres above the stream the views were now diminished so we left the Wood Sandpiper to it and relaxed into one of the seats provided. It was obviously a low tide since there was no sign of any water to the east despite the Wash being out there somewhere, about 2 miles away apparently! I scanned around and noticed some familiar elegant grey wading birds a short way away to the north. Confirming through the scope that they were indeed Spotted Redshanks, we made our way along the sea wall to close the distance between us and the birds. The problem with viewing from the bank is that you cut a very stark figure stood so clearly against the sky. Good fieldcraft entails that you approach birds from below the skyline but that just wasn't possible here so I tried to use an isolated bush to hide my advance. It didn't work though and after a couple of record shots all bar one of the  flock of 10 Spotshanks flew to the furthest side of the scrape. 

Spotted Redshanks with a Little Egret 
Spotted Redshank
Spotted Redshank in the centre and Black-tailed Godwits
The 9 Spotted Redshanks feeding
Spotted Redshank in front of 2 Common Redshanks and a Black-headed Gull
We sat on a bench that overlooked the reserve and found in turn Little Egrets, Common Redshanks, Avocets, Common Snipe and more Black-tailed Godwits and Ruff, as well as some Yellow Wagtails and the more common waterbirds. On arriving back at the ditch there was no sign of the Wood Sandpiper but a family of Avocets had settled in next to a small puddle on the largely dried up mud.

adult Avocet

juvenile Avocet
The Black-tailed Godwit was still present. The bill looked rather short for that species but the black tail revealed its true identity.

Black-tailed Godwit
The male and juvenile type Ruff were also still in the stream and I took a few more snapshots. The male had joined in with the Yoga session. I reckon Ruff are very handsome birds, actually I think all birds are handsome so it's wasn't getting any favouritism!

maleRuff above and juvenile Ruff below
A Common Sandpiper tootled quickly past and I tried in vain to get some good photos of the Sand Martins that were zooming around overhead. The Wood Sandpiper had disappeared so we regained the car and, after a quick chat with the warden, headed for home having had a very enjoyable day. We hadn't seen another birdwatcher in our couple of hours there, amazing considering how good this reserve is.

Sand Martin
As of the time of writing, the Wood Sandpiper has not been seen subsequently so, after dipping the one at Slimbridge the week before (see Slimbridge, 5th August), our persistence had paid off.

Thursday, 16 August 2018

Fill those Wading Boots, Part 3, BWR 7th August

...continuing on from Fill those Wading Boots, Part 2...

The Tuesday afternoon was warm and sunny and I'd finished work early (again) so I dragged Mrs Caley down to the local Wetlands in the hope that a Wood Sandpiper had found the place. No such luck, of course, but there were still the other birds around. The main scrape was very quiet, apart from a large flock of 63 Canada Geese, but there was much more action at the Cattle Bridge Pool where the Greenshank was still holding court. Alan the warden had seen 3 Greenshank on Monday but now just this bird remained and it was definitely the same one from Saturday since it was still startled every time a train came past. The Greenshank kept to the same pattern as before too, travelling around the pool in a clockwise fashion until arriving in front of the hide and then flying back to the far corner once it had preened.

"running away from a train"
There were now 5 Common Snipe feeding in the mud and they showed well mostly out in the open but did retreat back to a lone tussock at times when a preening session was called for. Hopefully the water level will stay low enough in the winter period for the mud to attract one of the wintering Jack Snipe out into the open.

We counted no fewer than 10 Green Sandpipers, up from the 6 of Saturday but still short of my own site record of 21! Most stayed well over the far side but one came a bit closer in tandem with a Common Sandpiper enabling a nice comparison to be made.

Green Sandpiper, front, Common Sandpiper, back
Green Sandpiper, left, Common Snipe, right
The Greenshank once again captured our attention again as it was nearing the hide. Although not a rare bird, we don't get that many in Oxfordshire and this was the first one of the year at BWR,  I was quite happy to watch it feed, run away from trains, stretch and preen, and took far too many photos. 

It had been an enjoyable hour or so and just as we left the Canada Goose flock flew off in the direction of Otmoor. I snapped a couple of quick shots and was pleased with the composition of a couple of them (although they weren't deemed good enough for any merit in the Birdguides weekly Photo competition).

Fill those Wading Boots, Part 4, 8th August

...continuing on from Fill those Wading Boots, Part 3 ...

My job for the day was cancelled late on Tuesday evening leaving me high and dry for the Wednesday. I always keep an eye on news of any rarer birds that are in the country and there was one in particular that had been present in East Yorkshire since being found at the weekend. Blacktoft Sands RSPB reserve is roughly 160 miles and the best part of 3 hours drive from Bicester so I waited until fresh news of the birds presence came in which it duly did at 07:45 and less than an hour later we were on the road heading north. The bird we were wanting to see was a Buff-breasted Sandpiper, a species of wader from North America, and one that we'd yet to put on the life list so it would be a long awaited tick. Buff-breasted Sandpipers had eluded us for years and we'd had a few failed twitches for them in Cornwall and one very memorable near miss in Shetland when we'd gone to catch a ferry to Fetlar from Unst, to see the Red-necked Phalaropes, and couldn't get on it because of locals taking all the places on board. At the time we had no idea why there was so much interest in Fetlar since bird news disseminated slowly back in those days  but later found out that the rush had been created by a Buff-breasted Sandpiper appearing on the island. The next day when we managed to get on the ferry the bird had disappeared! So we were due a bit of luck with this species.

Being close to the East coast, Blacktoft Sands is a magnet to all manner of wading birds so we were also hoping to add other nice birds to the weeks tally. The reserve is also good for Bittern, Bearded Tit, Tree Sparrows and Marsh harriers amongst others. We had visited a couple of times in the past and had always seen plenty of birds and had also been pleasantly surprised at how few people seemed to visit the place. We speculated as we always do at "how many birders would be there" and based on our past experience didn't think there'd be too many. The drive went well and we looked into the reception hut for the latest update, the warden telling us that the Sandpiper was still present and was being seen from the Townend Hide but that it was "pretty busy in there"! Busy? We could barely get through the door and into the hide, it was jam-packed! At least 30 fellow birders were already inside, all seats were taken and our initial viewing through the slots in the hide was uncomfortable and awkward to say the least. By kneeling down I managed to scan the scrape between two heads and very gratefully clocked the Buff-breasted Sandpiper about 50 yards away. I quickly rattled a few record shots off, one of the heads tutting loudly as the camera went into overdrive. Admittedly the lens was right by her lughole. Bloody toggers! Once I'd shared the bird with Mrs Caley and we had both relaxed a bit, it was a case of waiting for a seat to become vacant. Mrs Caley took a space, much to the disapproval of her near neighbours I might add, so at least she was settled. I set the scope up for her so she could get good views of the bird.

That initial view of a long awaited lifer!

Buff-breasted Sandpiper with the similar but larger Ruff
My opportunity of a seat took a while longer but eventually I gained one and now I could watch the bird at leisure. The Buff-breasted Sandpiper is a very smart little bird, superficially like a diminutive female Ruff but a lovely custardy colour underneath with a lovely beige and brown scaled back. The pale ring around the eye is very prominent. It moved quickly across the mud gleaning flies and other insects off the surface. It kept very much to itself only occasionally keeping company with other birds. The only problem was it was so far away!

Buff-breasted Sandpiper

After half an hour or so all the birds were flushed off the scrape by a pair of juvenile Marsh Harriers that drifted over and we lost sight of the Buff-breast. I felt it had flown off over the reeds but soon someone called it again slightly further out and on the opposite side of the scrape. At such range photos were now pointless so, keeping half an eye on the movements of the star bird, I looked to see what else was about. Other waders present were Lapwing, Redshank, Ruff, Common Snipe, a Green Sandpiper and a Ringed Plover (number 13 for the week). Right at the far end of the scrape was a Wood Sandpiper, the third I'd seen in the past fortnight, but this one was well out of reach with any lens and not just mine. 

Common Snipe 
juvenile Marsh Harrier
Suddenly the birds flushed again and this time did fly off westwards leaving the scrape at this hide almost devoid of birds. As the flocks went I fired off some shots and was pleased to capture the Buff-breast in flight. 

Buff-breasted Sandpiper flight shots
I knew, by my own research, that the Buff-breasted Sandpiper also favoured the scrape in front of the Marshland Hide and some excellent photos had been obtained from there, so Mrs Caley and I hotfooted it the 500 metres to that hide. We had beaten most other birders there, or they didn't have the information that I had so we found a seat easily this time. Unfortunately we'd beaten the bird there too since there was no sign of the Buff-breast. Our luck was in though as within minutes the bird had rejoined us. Not so lucky though when it chose to settle on a muddy edge right at the back of the scrape and was further away than it was before! So much for those closer views from this hide. It was largely pretty pointless in trying to get photos at such range but, stupidly, I tried anyway.

At least some of the other birds were closer, particularly a small group, or wisp, of Common Snipe that were far more photogenic. But they didn't linger for long since the rest of the birders had now caught us up and were piling noisily into the hide. Whatever happened to being quiet in bird hides? A pet hate of mine is people who give a loud running commentary on the comings and goings of certain birds. I mean we can all see them can't we? One very loud and annoying lady was testing my patience greatly and I was mightily relieved when she finally left. You will have realised that birdwatching from a hide is not my cup of tea really unless it's fairly empty and therefore quiet.

Common Snipe
The scrape contained several small rocky islands and at various times these were adorned by a Greenshank, Redshank and a Garganey in eclipse plumage. A small flock of Yellow Wagtails arrived, I think I've seen more of these delightful little birds this year than ever before, good to know that one of our farmland species appear to be doing well.

L-R, Lapwing, Redshank & Greenshank
juvenile Moorhen
Yellow Wagtails
The Buff-breast was still way out and I became tired of the shouts of "Bearded Tits behind it in the reeds" or "It's behind the island". Whenever I looked I could only see Reed Buntings and Reed warblers so I very much doubted the validity of such calls and there were at least 7 islands that I could see! One of the said islands had a Grey Heron sat on it that I initially took to be a sick or injured bird but it had sprung into life and was now stalking through the shallows. It was a very scruffy looking juvenile bird and had a "punk" haircut. Every so often it would leap into the air and fly a short distance. It even had the audacity to make a grab for one of the Yellow Wagtails, capture was easily avoided.

juvenile Grey heron
A sizeable flock of Sand Martins had flown in and were hawking low over the pool and taking drinks of water. I caught one bird just as it took a gulp from the surface, a bit too far out for any great detail but nice to witness.

Sand Martin
We realised that the Buff-breasted Sandpiper had disappeared and time was pressing on so we decided to head back as well. On a whim though I thought we should revisit the Townend Hide again and sure enough the bird was back on the scrape there. Not any closer so I wasn't going to get the crippling images that I wanted but it was settled on one of the grassy islands giving me the chance to get some different shots. 

I'm looking forward to seeing another of these smart little wading birds and hopefully it'll be closer than this one was. We were up to 14 species of wader for the week, on a parity now with what we saw at Frampton Marsh in a little over a couple of hours a fortnight ago!