Thursday 24 August 2017

Frampton Marsh 18th August

Mrs Caley and I made our annual trip to the Birdfair at Rutland Water. We were dismayed to find that the Little Chef at Towcester has closed down but that was maybe a stroke of luck since we ended up having a far more salubrious (eggs benedict no less!) breakfast at the excellent Falcon hotel in Uppingham. We did our usual blitz around the stalls at the Birdfair collecting what I could and trying out the biggest and best Swarovski scope. But, as per normal (it's only the collecting interest that compels me to go every year), we couldn't wait to get away and by 12:30 we were on our way to Frampton to spend the afternoon at this most excellent of RSPB reserves.


We parked up but, as we booted and tooled up, the sky to the south was looking rather ominous and sure enough within a couple of minutes we had witnessed an incredible lightning bolt emanate from one very dark cloud. This area is by it's very nature very flat ground and you can see the weather approaching from all sides. I gauged that we had just enough time to make the nearest hide before the first heavy shower caught us. Frampton Marsh is usually teeming with waders and the hides provide good close viewing and superb photographic opportunities. Over the past few years I've taken many crippling (by my standards anyway) shots of wading birds, from the 360 hide in particular, and it was to there that we headed. There were only a few other birders present in the hide. We took our pews, looked out and were greeted by the sight of young lady wading through the scrape carrying a strimmer above her head. She settled on the closest island , revved the machine up and began deforesting the weedy patch of dry ground. Every bird for 200 yards bolted out of there! So much for close views!! The majority of the waders that were present just kept flying away over the seawall but thankfully some settled down on islands further away and could be scrutinised all be it through distant scope views. There were avocets, black-tailed godwits, many dunlin and ringed plovers. A few shoveler and teal dabbled in the shallow water and a couple of little egrets flew lazily over. The only birds to brave the noise were sand martins busy hawking insects and no doubt benefitting from the disruption! After a while the strimming was completed on the nearest island and the worker moved on to the next, a little further away. The birds became more relaxed and approached closer to us but still at some distance.

avocets fleeing
dunlin & ringed plover
sand martin

I then noticed a slightly larger wader mixed in with the dunlin flock. It was behaving rather furtively though and was spending much of it's time standing squat to the water and looking nervously skywards (maybe it was watching the rain clouds too). I knew that it was a wood sandpiper but I've always seen them adopting more upright postures which makes them look much more elegant than this particular bird did. After managing a few record shots it flew off uttering a high pitched call as it went. I tried very hard to turn a dunlin into a curlew sandpiper or little stint but couldn't. On our visit here at the same time last year we saw over a hundred curlew sandpiper and four little stints very close to this hide. Just goes to show that no two visits are ever the same.

dunlin & wood sandpiper (right)
ruff, dunlin & wood sandpiper
avocets returning

The wading flock suddenly took to the air disturbed by a kestrel which was now flying straight towards us. It hovered above a rough patch of grass directly in front of the viewing slot at which I sat and, despite not having the camera set quite right for the conditions, I rattled off many frames, the rustles of which I am actually delighted with! Kestrels are superbly aerodynamic but tend to get ignored owing to their being fairly commonplace. But I love watching them hunting. This bird, an adult female I think, then dropped into the grass and mantled (the habit of spreading its wings to conceal its prey) briefly before shuffling off into another patch of weed. It then stood there gazing around for a while before taking flight again.
Eyes on the prize
Taking a breather

It was raining now and we sat fast watching the coming and goings. Birds are always on the move, skeins of geese on the horizon, avocets moving from one area to another, little flurries of dunlin. Mrs Caley was on the ball today noticing a smart yellow wagtail bathing in a small inlet of water. Not very close but close enough to get a pleasing view of its bath time antics. It was joined by its more common cousin, the pied wagtail, and a flock of linnets settled in the surrounding thistles. I could hear a greenshank calling and spotted it wading through a scrape but too far away. The day list was steadily building. The rain eased and the sky looked clearer so we moved on. 
yellow wagtail
black-tailed godwit
The path to the hide has high banks either side that are covered with thistles and these were being attended to by a small charm of goldfinches. To the south of the path (and directly into the sun) I noticed another interesting wader working along one of the many channels. Another wood sandpiper! I say another because this one looked much browner than the previous one which appeared much greyer above but that could have been just a trick of the light. It picked its way along the shallows garnering food items from or just below the surface. At one point it passed in front of several lazy looking common snipe.

wood sandpiper & common snipe

We made our way to the sea wall and the viewpoint there. The largest concentration of waders were on the marsh below but I couldn't find anything unusual in amongst the dunlin and ringed plovers. Looking slightly further afield resulted in finding 10 spotted redshanks in a shallow. Now moulted out of their splendid black summer plumage they nonetheless looked just as fine in their various pencil shades of grey with just the striking red legs and bill lifting the subdued effect. Spotted redshanks feed in a group together and belie their elegance with their busy scything action. They very obligingly flew in to the closest body of water allowing some reasonable photos. 

spotted redshanks

The kestrel had also followed us and now sat on a post just a few yards away, totally unperturbed by us birders. 

"am I bothered?"

Somebody called a curlew but Mrs Caley reckoned it was a whimbrel. With its very well marked striped crown and shortish bill I agreed with her that it was indeed. Well done Mrs Caley! It was camera shy though and was away even before I could focus on it. I don't have much luck with whimbrel! A flock of about 30 or so yellow wagtail had now flown in and were working the muddy edge of the lagoon. Both adults and juvenile birds. 

yellow wagtails

I tried again, in vain, to pick out a different and scarcer wader from the dunlin flock and am pretty sure that I didn't miss anything. One of several little egrets on site flew in from the north upsetting a common sandpiper from a sandbank, taking us up to 15 different waders for the day. You'd be very hard pushed to get such a number at home!
common sandpiper & little egret

dunlin flock

With one eye on the approaching weather we started for home. I took a few shots of the many sand martins that were seemingly everywhere overhead. The roadside pools held snipe and avocet. A greenshank flew across ahead of it and I quickly grabbed a frame or two. 

sand martin


common snipe


On the last pool before the carpark a small flock of ruff had joined some dunlin and black-tailed godwits. They very obligingly took flight and circled the pool before settling down again allowing some close quarters flight shots. A distant bolt of lightning followed by a rumble of thunder signalled the end of the day, no longer had we reached the car then the rain began falling.
ruff, dunlin & black-tailed godwit

ruff & black-tailed godwit


This was probably our least productive time spent at Frampton Marsh but was still superb! It has to be the best reserve for getting close views of wading birds even when work is going on. And anything can fly in at any time!  

My thanks to Badger for casting his eye over a few of the photos.