Wednesday, 25 May 2022

April Brief. Part 1.

I am now so far behind in my blogging that I have to resort to a brief summary of the trips made and birds seen in order to catch up so we are back to the abbreviated version of Old Caley's Diary, namely OCD (old joke).

Friday 1st April; Fooled by Jack

Summerleys near Wellingborough is a, "On our way back" reserve owned and managed by the Wildlife Trust for Beds, Cambs & Northants. I gave it that title because we often drop in there after a day out somewhere further north or east owing to its proximity to the A45. We have other similar spots that we use as stopovers on the way to and from other places much further away (like Leighton Moss if we are travelling up to Scotland on the M6). On April Fools Day though we made Summerleys our soul destination, although now that a parking charge has been introduced, admittedly as an attempt to deter the unsociable and unruly behaviour of a few less interested in nature, we are less likely to make those aforementioned stopovers and will try instead to make a full trip of any future visits. On a stopover on our way back from watching Honey Buzzards and Ospreys last year we twitched a fabulous Purple Heron and I managed to take some of my best photos ever of the bird as it flew past the hide. The images were almost enough to win the fabled BirdGuides photo of the week, almost but obviously not quite. 

Anyway, the object of desire for this visit was a Jack Snipe that had been showing extremely well from the double-decker hide for a few weeks. We'd already seen a Jack this year but it would be great to get some good views and apparently, we couldn't miss. For over three hours we sat huddled in the hide braving the arctic icy blasts that blew straight at us and even had to shovel a bit of snow away from the windows at times. Many birds performed beautifully out on the scrapes, Common Snipe were just feet away from the hide at times. Lapwings, Redshank and Garganey were close up too but there was no sign of any Jack Snipes (a chap told us that the day before he'd seen three really well). I found our first Little Ringed Plover for the year out on the imaginatively titled "Gull Island" so called because it has Gulls on it, but then so did every other island that we could see.

Garganey (right), Teal (centre) & Black-headed Gull (left)


Common Snipe

Then as if by magic, a Jack Snipe appeared, not close and partially obscured in the vegetation, but we were hopeful that it would walk into full view and come closer to the hide. To my complete disbelief though, the Jack then disappeared by even quicker magic. Pfft! It was gone. I was left wondering if I'd imagined it, but a single blurry image was proof that I hadn't.

Jack Snipe

Year List addition

173) Little Ringed Plover

Saturday 2nd April; Plover Lover and Got You Back Jack 

Definitely a reserve on our, "Go to list at anytime" is the RSPB's Frampton Marsh reserve on the Lincolnshire coast. We aim to visit it several times every year, not only to twitch rare birds that are frequently found there, but also to see the multitude of other birds, and wading birds in particular, that use the reserve as either a home or as staging and feeding grounds. The purpose of this trip was to reacquaint with the White-tailed Plover that we'd seen in September last year when it was sojourning at another RSPB reserve at Blacktoft Sands close to the River Humber. That day we'd only stayed with the bird for half an hour because news came in that the Black-browed Albatross had been found again at (yet another RSPB reserve) Bempton Cliffs. That was a truly memorable day out with unrivalled views of the Albatross at the fourth time of trying.

The White-tailed Lapwing (or Plover) could be seen from the East Hide and to get there we walked along the sea wall into a bitterly cold northerly wind that carried frequent showers with it but luckily all of them swept out to The Wash so we remained dry. Birds were everywhere on the grassland and scrapes of the reserve and we quickly added Knot and a couple of flyover Bar-tailed Godwit to our year list as well as many other species already encountered.

Knot & Black-tailed Godwit

Once at the hide we were treated to superb views of the rare Lapwing, only tarnished by having to look directly into the sun. The White-tailed Lapwing fed in typical stalking Plover style over the muddy field and twice was surprised into flight allowing me to take some shots exhibiting the pied nature of the wing pattern. The body plumaged had changed from mid-browns to more subdued greys and pale brown but the strikingly long yellow legs remained, of course.

Our friends Kevin & Kyle (Birdwatch Britannia) had been in touch and had sent me some outstanding photos of a Jack Snipe at Summerleys, which had clearly been far more cooperative than it had been the day before for us. We decided that we couldn't pass up another chance so decided to leave Frampton earlier than planned and travel to, "On our way back" reserve. At traditional kick-off time (sadly a thing of the past) we settled into the surprisingly deserted double-decker hide again and opened the slats. There in exactly the same spot as the day before, was a Jack Snipe, as easy as that. This time, however it stayed on view for over thirty minutes but despite showing willingness at times. it never breezed right out into the open in front of the hide, as it had done for the "Two K's" earlier in the day. 

Jack Snipe

We did have the rare treat of seeing no less than three Jack Snipe altogether although getting a photo of all of them proved beyond me since two were snuggled into a reedbed because of an intrusion by a Great Egret which flew in and landed pretty close by. I thought that the Egret might make a snack of a Jack Snipe if the opportunity arose but thankfully it didn't.

Great Egret

When the Great Egret had departed the boldest member of the Jack Snipe trio (there's a good name for a Jazz band), made its way back along the spit towards us and posed out in the open as we had wished for but unfortunately it wasn't the point blank empty space in front of the hide. Still, as Jack Snipe views and  photos go, I wasn't too disappointed with that.

Across the road from Summerleys is the shallow fringed Hardwater Lake. A fine Spotted Redshank had been gracing those shallow edges for a week or so. From a gate by the roadside we were able to grab some decent views of our own plus a further couple of Little Ringed Plovers to add to the year tick of the previous day.

Spotted Redshank

Year List additions;

174) Knot, 175) Bar-tailed Godwit, 176) White-tailed Lapwing

Sunday 3rd April; Mystery Duck

Local birder, David Bevan, had discovered a female duck at Marlow Low Grounds close to the Thames. Instantly realising that the Teal sized duck didn't fit the normal for Eurasian Teal, he thought that he may have found a Blue-winged Teal although a couple of features didn't quite appear to fit with that species so the ugly spectre of a hybrid duck was raised. Over the next few days many birders far more qualified than myself visited the site to see the bird and the majority favoured the opinion that it was indeed a female Blue-winged Teal, others however, still discussed the true parentage.

In the hope that at some point in the future, the duck would be rubber-stamped as a Blue-winged Teal (BWT), I felt that we needed to go and see for it ourselves. We've seen several BWT's before, but all were males, and the last was in West Scotland in June 2017. Drakes of the species are distinctive with a white crescent shaped blaze on the face set against a dark blue crown and nape, whereas females are less so although both sexes exhibit the sky blue wing panel that give rise to the birds name. Suggestions had been made that the markings on the Marlow bird could even indicate a bird in transitional plumage from a first-summer female to a first-summer male! 

We parked easily at the top of the lane where the ponds lay about half a mile to the south, and walked past tennis courts, through a small wood and then through some rough fields before joining another half dozen birders who were already watching the bird. Except they weren't because it had gone to sleep behind some vegetation on an island in the middle of the largest pond of three! We didn't have to wait long though before the duck emerged and swam out into the pond. Not that we could see it very well since it managed to swim away from us while screened by more vegetation that was hampering the view. For a while I was left wondering how other folk had managed to get the decent photos that they had. That question was quickly answered when the duck took to flight and landed in the smallest, and closest, pool to us, maybe only 50 metres away. A quick shift through the trees and we had a better view of the duck as it fed along the furthest margins of the pond.

(putative) Blue-winged Teal

The main bone of contention with this duck was the bill which looked too large and spatulate for a genuine female Blue-winged Teal and put me in mind that it may have some Shoveler parentage down the line somewhere. Apparently however, such a large bill would be within the range of a male BWT. The amount of chestnut in the plumage was also considered, by people far more knowledgable than myself, to indicate that the duck may actually be a Cinnamon Teal, an American species which is commonly kept in captivity and often escapes. The large bill lends itself to Cinnamon Teal as well. Just as many experts thought that it was a pure Blue-winged Teal though and until I know differently it's going on my year list as a Blue-winged Teal.

A treat was in store for Mrs Caley on the walk back to the car when we heard and then spied some Ring-necked Parakeets high in the trees that bordered the path. I had already seen one this year so it meant that she was able to catch up. Many people, including (incredibly) some birders, don't like the Parakeets and think they are a nuisance and outcompete some of our native birds for nesting and feeding opportunities. Some are even suggesting that a cull is in order. I totally disagree with that and think the Parakeets embellish the countryside with their colourful beauty and raucous nature.

Ring-necked Parakeet

A Little Egret was fishing in a stream that passed under the path on its way to the Thames. The stream was cloaked by an avenue of trees that put everything into deep shade. The Egret shone through the darkness like a glittering jewel.

Little Egret

Year List addition;

177) Blue-winged Teal

Saturday 9th & Sunday 10th April; Shh!

Absolutely no details of this weekend spent watching a very rare species that breeds in remote rural areas. There are a few well known places where Stone Curlews can be viewed, such as Minsmere in Suffolk and Weeting Heath in Norfolk, but there are other sites where they breed. I know of a couple of those places and just once a year visit one to watch one of our oddest birds from a safe distance. Views through the scope are always better than any photos which will always be taken from over a hundred metres away and destroyed by heat haze. This year we only found a pair in one of the favoured spots.

Stone Curlew

Farmland doesn't provide desirable habitat for too many species these days but certain birds enjoy the cereal fields and hedgerows and we found many Corn Buntings, Yellowhammers and Linnets over the weekend. We also found a pair of the increasingly seldom encountered Grey Partridge. A female Ring Ouzel was found on the Sunday morning although it was very brief sighting and we finally added Blackcap to our year list.

Corn Bunting

Grey Partridge


Year List additions;

178) Stone Curlew, 179) Blackcap


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