27th January 2013 - Dungeness, Walland Marsh and Scotney Gravel Pits

It was time for a trip to Dungeness and of course it was miserable, cold and blowing a gale when we arrived.  Surprisingly, within 20 minutes of enduring the winds on the beach, the sun came out and it was practically glorious.  One good aspect of the wind was that it appeared to be blowing the birds further into the beach, making it a little easier to seawatch.  If you have ever tried seawatching, you will know how hard it is to identify a small, far off, fast moving blob on the horizon when you are just starting out.  I did manage Guillemot and Red-throated Diver however, a few miscellaneous auks and a lovely Kittiwake which came extremely close to shore.  There was also a selection of gulls around with rumours of a Glaucous, but we didn't spot it.  A brief glimpse of a Common Scoter was the first for a while, so was extra pleasing.  A wander up to the Bird Observatory gave Redwing and Fieldfare, along with a happy Robin and a Kestrel.

It's cold in Dungeness.
It was on to the RSPB reserve with a first look over the ARC pit.  A Goldeneye was diving and 14 Smew (2 male) were to be seen amongst the large numbers of Teal, Tufted Duck and Wigeon.  We were hoping for Great White Egret on the reserve, but it kept being seen just before or just after we left an area, so that unfortunately was a no show.  However, there were 3 Marsh Harrier around for most of the visit and a little Egret high up in a tree provided a chuckle.

A Fox and a Weasel added to the sightings for the day, although the Fox didn't look very happy.  I was checking every swan in my hunt for Bewick's Swan, but they all turned out to be Mute Swan.  Two Red-legged Partridge were running along the left side of the entrance drive when we got out of the car to look for the Tree Sparrow, which was a first for us at the site.

House Sparrow
Tree Sparrow
Whilst in the Firth Hide, we unexpectedly had a deluge of small birds, with sightings of Goldcrest, Chiffchaff, Dunnock and Long-tailed Tit within minutes of each other and yards of the hide.  Other great sightings were a Green Woodpecker, Snipe and a huge flock of Lapwing.  I spotted a flock of geese and was looking for Bean Goose (I wish!) but instead found a small few Barnacle Geese, which made me happy - they are pretty adorable.

Wintering Chiffchaff
Hello little Long-tailed Tit

We went to Walland Marsh on the way to Rye where I saw a flock of Bewick's Swan - finally!  They are very sweet, less curvy and smaller than Mute Swan.

Bewick's Swan, finally!
A final stop before Rye was at Scotney Gravel Pits as a message on the pager had just come through to say there was a Red-throated Diver and I had read earlier that there was a Bean Goose (Tundra) on the border between Kent and East Sussex but unfortunately even after scanning every Greylag I could see I didn't see either of them.  Ah well.

Grumpy fox
Barnacle Goose <3 
A quick note on the Sunday roast at the Standard in Rye.  It's huge and amazing.  See below.

26th January 2013 - Big Garden Birdwatch

As our balcony gets a grand total of zero birds, despite the bird feeder with about 60 different bird food holders on it, we decamped to Buckinghamshire for the RSPB Big Garden Birdwatch.  On the journey there up the M40, there seemed to be more Red Kite swooping around than usual and I spotted a stately Buzzard on the top of a lampost.  This of course set of longing for Hungary where there is a Buzzard sitting on the top of everything post like...

We totalled 13 species throughout the hour, in order of frequency:

=1 Blackbird
=1 Starling
=1 Woodpigeon
=1 Blue Tit
=5 Collared Dove
=5 Robin
7 Great Tit
=8 Coal Tit
=8 Chaffinch
=8 Song Thrush
=8 Magpie
=8 Carrion Crow
=8 Great Spotted Woodpecker

There was a Red Kite teasing me throughout by circling directly above the garden but not settling down, so I couldn't count it.  Gah.

By the way, if anyone wants to start a bird B&B in Hungary, I'll happily run it for you...!

19th January 2013 - Hyde Park

My birthday weekend (yes, I stretch it out) has to include at least a bit of birdwatching, so I hopped up to Hyde Park to go and see the two lovely posing Bearded Tit.  Unfortunately my new camera still hadn't arrived, so I didn't get any pictures, but I'd advise going to see them.  You can get an excellent view and they are very adorable birds anyway.  We were hoping for both Tawny Owl and Little Owl as they are often around the Park, but neither were to be found.  A few Jay and a Kestrel added to the list which reached 23 species.

13th January - Rainham Marshes, The Chase

Rainham, as usual, was glorious.  The car park was full of House Sparrow as usual, which was great - it wasn't on our year list yet!  A tip off by the lovely lady at the desk in the centre lead to our first sighting of Corn Bunting in the UK - 4 of them in fact.  I got distracted whilst Stuart analysed them through the scope by an amazingly beautiful Stonechat. Back on the reserve we got the usual bonanza of finches and Collared Dove on the feeders and ducks on Purfleet Scrape.  A decent count of 6 Snipe were to be seen, but we were disappointed when we got back to the centre later and discovered a Jack Snipe had been seen and we had missed it.  A few Reed Bunting were around and eventually we added Wren to the year list after a few near misses.  I spotted a flock of about 10 waders flying by but couldn't pinpoint them quick enough for Stuart to see and ID, so I spent the rest of the walk around being teased about the imaginary waders I had seen - grrr!  I had the last laugh though as we rounded the last corner and I spotted my imaginary waders which had multiplied in size - to a flock of a 100 Dunlin.  Excellent.

A trip to The Chase Country Park was meant to be quick as I was flagging somewhat but took slightly longer due to a lot of mud navigating!  It gained us Green Woodpecker however and it's always great to see a flock of Long-tailed Tit.

Corn Bunting

Stonchat...somewhere in there

Day list: 44
Year list: 70
Lifers on year list: 5

12th January 2013 - Kingsmead Quarry, Queen Mother Reservoir, London Wetland Centre

Still without camera I'm afraid which was incredibly annoying today with some of the great sights we had.  Whilst we started out on a trip to Rainham Marshes in Essex, a message on the pager got us turned in the opposite direction, towards Queen Mother Reservoir over by Slough.  Two American Buff-bellied Pipit had been there for a few days and had again been spotted that morning.  Approaching the entrance to the reservoir where day permits were being issued, the pager helped again with informing us that the two birds had popped over the side of the reservoir, down to some puddles in the Kingsmead Quarry nearby.  A detour lead us to the birds, showing extremely well, accompanied by some 4 cheerful Pied Wagtail.  A Grey Heron flying low over the trees added to the species count and we turned around to go back to the Queen Mother Reservoir to take advantage of the day permit.

The species were were trying to get were one we had picked up at Dungeness in 2012, a Long-tailed Duck and a new lifer, a Slavonian Grebe.  The reservoir was very very cold and windy and quite a long walk around to where we could see other birders gathered.  Luckily, once we got there, the Long-tailed Duck was easily spotted (after some guidance!) amongst Tufted Duck and after a small walk further along, we noticed a Grebe, soon identified as the Slavonian Grebe, bobbing alongside the Long-tailed Duck.  If only I had a camera - it was an amazing sight.  They also look remarkably similar!

We thought we'd top off an excellent day by trying to gain one more for the year, a Smew at the London Wetland Centre in Barnes, but unfortunately it was not to be found.

Buff-bellied Pipit in the middle...but I like the reflection around the outside!

Long-tailed Duck

Slavonian Grebe

Day list: 26
Year list: 56
Lifers on year list: 4

5th January 2013 - Amwell, Rye Meads

I've been hoping to get out before now, but haven't managed it.  However, as we had 'fake' Christmas on the 29th, I'm claiming today is my New Year and so I haven't missed out on anything!  We had a great first trip out with a grand total of 52 species and 2 lifers!

It somehow started out as a Waxwing stalking day as we STILL hadn't ever seen one.  A sighting the day before at Beaconsfield Services seemed the best place to start, but we didn't find any Waxwing there, just the usual Pied Wagtail contingent!  A timely message came through on the pager, with Waxwing seen at South Ealing Station, so we drove down there, assuming they'd have disappeared by the time we got there, as had happened every other time we tried to see the species!  So we were extremely excited when we saw a small flock of unfamiliar birds (with quiffs!) in a tree opposite Barclays.  This did indeed turn out to be the elusive Waxwing and they are fatter than expected!  Unfortunately I'm still photo-taking-machine-less so there are no photos that I can put on the blog yet.  Stuart may eventually work out the file format of his camera, but until then, they're stuck on the darned thing!  

It was then on to Amwell, with a specific view to see a Scaup.  We got slightly sidetracked at the first lake, with a great many species spotted, including Goldeneye, Yellow-legged Gull and Bittern amongst other commoner species.  We hoped for Lesser Spotted Woodpecker along the next stretch of path, but instead were rewarded with a flock of around 20 Siskin, which we kept seeing flying over throughout the trip.  When we made it to Tumbling Bay (after being slightly distracted by a gorgeous Grey Wagtail flitting around), the Scaup was happily obvious in amongst Tufted Duck and made a second lifer for the day for us.

A lone Redwing spot was amazingly not disturbed by two trains passing within feet of us so everybody got a good look.  I was then being made fun of for my lack of Treecreeper spotting (apparently they don't show unless I spot them!) when a obliging one sidled around a nearby trunk, causing me to throw my bird book in the air in excitement.  Just before we reached the car to pop to Rye Meads before dusk, a scuffling in a bush behind us announced a male Bullfinch exiting!  A quarter of an hour at Rye Meads gave us one new species for the day, a Green Sandpiper.

Day list: 52
Year list: 52
Lifers on year list: 2