Sunday, January 30, 2022

Islay August 2021

 Scotland: Islay trip August 2021



So I've been meaning to write this for a while but haven't found the time. Last summer I visited Scotland for the first time with my family but managed to get some good birding in too. It was my first time visiting a new country since I went to Wales for the first time in year 4 (I think anyway) so I was pretty excited! All species seen were "low-carbon", seen using bikes/bus/ferry/train aside from those seen on the Oa peninsula which was too remote and needed a taxi. Although the trip had originally been planned to be a week and only visit Islay, because of how public transport worked out we ended up with more time to spend in a few other places too,

Day 1: Train from to Glasgow from Euston and then from Glasgow to Loch Awe where we stayed overnight.

Day 2: A very rainy start to the trip to be honest. My initial plan had been to wander off into the middle of nowhere instantly but it turned out you had to walk down a main road for a mile or so at least. But anyway we eventually headed down the road until we found a quieter road leading off it. Within seconds off the main road I picked up my first lifer of the trip: hooded crow! It was sort of half a mile away in the rain but I was pretty happy with that. Within ten minutes I'd realised they were common as muck but I still spent far too much of the trip watching them. Also accompanying the hooded crow in it's field was several Stonechat and a single Whinchat. My brother called me over to two small birds in a puddle on the opposite side of the road which turned out to be Twite, my second lifer of the trip. The rest of the day as we headed into the hills was relatively uneventful and increasing rainy with the highlights being Wheatears, Ravens and the odd Buzzard.

Day 3: The next day we crammed our bikes back onto the train and headed on to Oban to catch our ferry to Islay. Despite spending a few hours in Oban I didn't actually manage to see any Black Guillemots except a single possible bird as the ferry left in the late afternoon. (Luckily the weather had cleared up since the previous day). The ferry journey was part of the trip I'd been most excited for; there were so many sea birds and marine mammals I could potentially see! It began much slower than I'd expected, without much luck seeing anything beyond Gannets (which are pretty mental birds to be fair) for the first hour or so. But as we began to enter more open water I began to pick up the occasional Auk, appearing for a few brief seconds among the waves too far for any kind of ID. The further we went the closer they were to the boat, in increasingly large groups and I managed to see an estimate of 300 Guillemot. My first ever Shearwater species came darting straight at us out of the setting sun and I managed a few photos IDing it as a Manx Shearwater. The final totals were 300+ Guillemot, 300+ Kittiwake, 80 Gannet, Great Skua (v distant but a lifer), Manx Shearwater & a second Shearwater species (probably also Manx). Two dolphin/porpoise also surfaced once towards the end.

Manx Shearwater


Spot the Great Skua


Day 4: For our first day on Islay we headed up towards a headland across fairly empty moorland again in pretty rainy conditions. The birding was decent with a large flock of Lesser Redpoll where we locked up our bikes, Whinchat, Yellowhammer and a single Great Skua which showed far better than the previous day. The highlight was undoubtedly a female Hen Harrier briefly by the road, at the time only my second ever, as we cycled back home.

Slightly less distant Great Skua

Yellowhammer
Hen Harrier

Day 5: We got the bus to Bowmore (the main town) to do some shopping for food and whatever. Bowmore is also on a large sea loch where I hoped to find some sea ducks. The day started well, when our first ever White Tailed Eagle, a ringed adult, flew low over us at Bowmore harbour! We headed out of town where I managed to get distant views of eclipse plumaged Eiders and a family of Red Breasted Mergansers in heavy rain (both lifers). Other species that day included Wheatears, Greenshank, Grey Seals and a single Hare.

White Tailed Eagle


Day 6: Only bird of note a juv Hen Harrier.

Day 7: We got the ferry over to Jura, (only a couple of minutes) and headed along the coastline for a few miles. This produced several prolonged but distant views of female/juvenile Hen Harriers and 3 Eider. While waiting for the return ferry a White Tailed Eagle flew over us and landed on the opposite side of the water some 500+ metres away. Watching from the house we stayed in in the evening, got me views of an adult White Tailed Eagle coming in from Jura and some incredibly distant Red Deer over on Jura.

Day 8: This was the only day that entirely targeted birding entirely, (it was also the only day on Islay with good weather which was a lucky coincidence). We got the bus to the south of the island (with incredible views of two WTE from the bus), from there we got a cab up to the Oa RSPB reserve. The guy dropped us a long way from the actual reserve entrance, which actually ended up working out relatively well. My two target species were Golden Eagle and Red-Billed Chough which were both supposedly fairly easy here. After a few kilometres along the cliffs I was losing hope on choughs a bit but eventually I found another birder who told me there were some a bit further along and after another half hour I spotted the flock of around 18 birds. I had some decent views but they mostly remained below the cliff edge.

When I reached the tip of the headland I had brief views of an eagle species against the sun on a distant cliff. I headed off that way and picked up on a distant smudge on a very distant cliff, which eventually revealed itself to be an eagle when I got a little closer. Eventually, it took off and was joined by two more Golden Eagles, all were at least a kilometre away but we still had incredible views in a brilliant setting against the cliffs, with a Hen Harrier hunting in the (still very distant) foreground and Twite calling in the background. Other species that day included Fulmar, Peregrine Falcon & Several Wheatear.

Golden Eagles

Golden Eagle blob


Red-Billed Chough

Day 9: We went over to Jura again but it was very very rainy. Managed to see a single Black Guillemot several hundred metres out.

Day 10: Crossing over to Colonsay to stay one night. The water was incredibly still and we observed several winter plumage Black Guillemot and lot of  Jellyfish. The water was the stillest I'd ever seen, not what I'd expected this far north and made it a lot easier to pick out sea birds.


Black and common Guillemots on a very still sea

Arriving on Colonsay it instantly struck me as being better for birding than Islay: it was far smaller and easy to get around, there was far less empty moorland and more natural habitat (It was also sunnier so there's that). Anyways when we got to were we staying, one of those buildings w bunk beds and stuff, we dumped all our stuff and then I cycled to the beach which more or less instantly got me several Eider and White Tailed Eagle in the dusk light. Returning back I picked up a Barn Owl from the tables outside our place, my first one of the trip and maybe the year. As it got closer I realised it was just a Gull. And then it got even closer and I realised with a minor heart attack it was male Hen Harrier (my first ever) heading straight for us. I didn't bother going for photos (light was awful anyway) and watched it drift past, close enough to watch without bins even. It was a 3cy male bird still showing a few signs of juv plumage when it was closer. Arguably the best bird of the trip. 

Day 11: The next day we never went much further than the beach but even for birding we didn't even need to. Starting the day fairly well, with a juv White Tailed Eagle flying over the little garden and spending a good minute flying around the field that had only yesterday held the Hen Harrier. Unfortunately my camera hadn't held up very well with all the rain so it was kind of steamed up and the autofocus decided to blow up. After some frantic cleaning I managed a few flight shots before it landed on a fence were I watched it for 20 minutes or so until it was flushed by a car.

 


White Tailed Eagle

The rest of the day we spent at the beach, where I had some incredible views of Eiders and a brief diver sp (the only one of the trip).

Eider

 The White Tailed Eagles were present overhead throughout the afternoon. And that was us done on Colonsay. Shame really, it was honestly brilliant, On Islay it had taken several days to find a lot of good birds and I figured my expectations had been too high but Colonsay was entirely different: I saw almost more in 24hrs on Colonsay and it's surrounding waters than a week on Islay and had far better views for that matter. Colonsay also didn't need a car to get around which was a nice change and like I said above, had a lot of better habitat in the area we went with a lot of potential for autumn migration. Not too say Islay was in any way bad and I loved every second of it. I'd never been anywhere like it before and it was amazing seeing so many brilliant birds on both islands.

On the return ferry we had: several hundred Auks including Razorbills this time, a pod of dolphin in the semi darkness and the usual Gannets, Kittiwakes etc. All these incredible sea birds against such an incredible backdrop and sunset made it probably the most beautiful place I've seen in my life (and I don't say that stuff lightly I'm usually much more depressing).

Gannet

Distant rafts of auks

Auks

Gannet

Gannet


The final day of the trip we stopped on the way back, to climb a mountain because, mountain. I hoped to see Ptarmigan and had split second view as they were flushed by someone else further ahead. Still a great day.

Overall it was a brilliant trip with plenty of good birds and a few interesting mammals too. We managed to go some incredible places and I'm super grateful for it. Great birding & beautiful places, defo go back one day.

(I'm sure this whole blog is full of typos and I'm pretty sure the WIFI butchered the already awful image quality so sorry about that)



Sunday, February 28, 2021

February Birding Hampstead Heath

 February continued to be a very exciting month for birding on Hampstead Heath with some quality birds!

The month started well with a Brambling being reported near the viaduct on the 4th, sadly it was not seen again. As expected the Beast from the East 2 brought some decent birds, although nothing compared to what was seen further outside the city. This included 50 Lapwings flying over on the 9th, 3 Teal and a flock of Waders flying over on the 10th and 2 Lapwing flying over on the 13th. There was also several fieldfare about which do not normally land even in Autumn. 2 Greater Black Backed Gulls also flew over. The middle of the month following the snow was fairly quiet although the large flock of Lesser Redpoll were seen occasionally as well as a Buzzard. Another Water Rail was found on the 23rd but was heard only and the first singing Chiffchaffs were seen on the 24th. The first Linnet of the year also flew over on the 24th. An incredible record of a Crossbill briefly landing near Whitestone pond was a surprise to everyone. Two Woodcock were seen on the 27th and 28th as well as the remains of a dead one found. And most surprisingly was a Hawfinch heard by David Darell Lambert a few hundred metres off the heath in Big Wood just past the Hampstead Heath extension on the 28th! (Doesn't go on the year list but still a cool record!)

That puts us on 71 for the year, a very impressive total with the highlight probably being either the Lapwings (first since 2018) or the Crossbill which although we had many last year, was the only one having landed I've heard of in recent times

Thursday, February 4, 2021

Hampstead Heath bird roundup 2020

It's been incredibly quiet recently on Hampstead Heath so I figured it's time to do a roundup of 2020! 105 Species were confirmed seen. 

January: January was relatively quiet although there was a few nice birds. Bullfinch was seen twice in the first week of the month at hedge two by Reuben Braddock. Pete Mantle had the only two confirmed Greater Black Backed Gulls and the 1st Red Kite of the year on the 19th over Parliament hill. The only other notable sightings in January are 5 Redpoll on the 11th by Jamie Cedar & 60 Siskin on the 26th at the bird sanctuary by Jamie Cedar & Samuel Levy. Water Rail was seen occasionally through the month but there were sadly no reports of woodcock. 3 Meadow Pipits briefly took up residence near the bird sanctuary for around 2 weeks.

February:  The 1st Stonechat of the year was found on the 7th by Pete Mantle and three others were seen throughout the month. 2 Siskin and 2 Lesser Redpoll were in Kenwood briefly on the 19th and the missing pale buzzard was found to be living in the Vale of Health. Three Redpoll were found at the bird sanctuary by Reuben Braddock and wintered until late March.  The first Reed Bunting of the year was found feeding at Highgate no1 pond on the 29th as well as a bullfinch at the bottom of hedge 2(probably same as previous bird).

March: Several more Stonechat were seen through the first few days of the month including one individual who spent almost a week by the Model Boating pond. The first Snipe of the year was flushed from the Model Boating pond early in the month and the first woodcock flew past the cafe on the 17th. A 2nd Snipe was seen on the 31st as well as the only Rook of the Spring. Reuben had the only Skylark of the spring.(A flock of 8 Geese flew incredibly high East over Parliament hill not calling early one morning in lockdown March too although I forgot to note which day.)

April: (April & May were insanely busy due to lockdown so difficult birding, Kenwood was closed and less coverage than normal). A pair of Reed Bunting were at the model boating pond on the 1st. And several flocks of common Scoter were heard over Highgate & Tufnell park between 11 and midnight on the 2nd although no one ventured onto the heath to listen. 2 more Snipe went over Parliament hill in the first week of the month. A female Ring Ouzel was on the slope above the running track briefly on the 18th at 6:30am before flying into some gardens and a yellow wagtail landed briefly the following day. On the 22nd Dean had a group 3 large waders circle over Parliament hill around 6am. The best guess would be Whimbrel as Dominic Mitchell recorded at least one bird over his garden around 20 minutes later but it'll be the painful one that got away. Several Wheatear were seen through the month including 4 in one morning by Henry Wyn Jones. The first of 3 singing Lesser Whitethroat seen this Spring was found near the boating pond on the 25th. A brilliant male Whinchat was at hedge 2 on the 29th as well as a the 1st Reed Warbler in pryors field. Several Red Kite, Buzzard and a Hobby were seen through the month.

May: A Hobby circled over the south meadow on the 2nd and the first big arrival of swifts came in too. A Cuckoo was heard very briefly early on the 3rd by Matt Evans. 2 Yellow Wagtail flew over on the 12th and a singing Garden Warbler appeared too. On the 13th a  Crossbill flew over Parliament hill. A few Reed Warblers took up residence as did a pair of Common Tern. 2 "possible Black Kites" were reported on birdguides at a date I can't be bothered to find in May as well. An Egret sp flew very high over the hill late in May also.

June: 3 Crossbill flew over on the 2nd and one on the 3rd. Two Buzzard took up residence in Kenwood and a few Hobby were seen.

July: Two flocks of 9 Crossbill flew over on different dates. Significant influx of Crossbill now underway. A group of 6 Siskin also turned up twice. A few Garden Warbler and Lesser Whitethroat appeared at the end of the month. The main highlight of June and July was a very showy pair of Tawny Owl chicks which became fairly popular with local birders but still fairly few people found out and presumably they fledged undisturbed. Other pairs of Sparrowhawk, Tawny Owl & Kestrel also fledged elsewhere on the Heath.

August :The first signs of Autumn migration arrived on the 7th with a 3 Yellow Wagtails and a Garden Warbler.  3 Pied Flycatcher were found by Reuben on 16th in Kenwood and 2 others were seen throughout the month in the same area. Over 10 Tree Pipit were seen in the last week of the month including 3 or 4 on the ground in Kenwood. A male Common Redstart was in Kenwood on the 24th with the large flock of 50+ Willow Warbler. One Whinchat was in Kenwood on the 28th and the first Teal arrived on the 29th. 2 Snipe were reported flying over on Ebird. One Crossbill flew over on the 27th. Several Siskin were present and flying over on the 31st. Several Wheatear, Spotted Flycatcher (15 or so) and Hobby were seen through the month.

September: Finch and Pipit migration began to pick up with 100 Siskin present in Kenwood on the 8th and 112 Meadow Pipit flying over on the 10th. A Redstart, 3 Whinchat, 3 Wheatear & 4 Spotted Flycatchers were also present around Parliament hill on the 10th. On the 18th a Common Sandpiper flew around one of the Hampstead Ponds. 14 Crossbill flew South in two separate groups on the 22nd. A Firecrest was found by Pete Mantle on the 23rd and showed itself briefly to other observers but not seen since. A frustrating large wader flew over Kenwood obscured by trees that looked like a Redshank or Ruff on the 26th (as well as another small wader species earlier in the day). Several Spotted Flycatcher (15+), Wheatear, House Martin (400+), Lesser Redpoll, Stonechat, Hobby, Yellow Wagtail, Teal, Siskin and other common Migrants were seen throughout the month.

October: There were several records of Crossbill (20 or so),Brambling (10+), Siskin (400+), Redpoll (200+), Redwing (3000+) among other common migrants in October. On the 11th two Snipe & two Rook flew over Parliament hill as well as around 800 Redwing. On the 12th the only Hawfinch of the month flew over. On the 16th a female Marsh Harrier flew over the Kenwood viewpoint in the afternoon. A Golden Plover flew south over parliament hill on the 18th. Several Stonechat and a few Teal were also seen in October. A hundred or so House Martins passed through early in the month as well as one Sand Martin and fifty or so Swallow

November: The first two days of the month produced several Crossbills (14 on the 1st and 1 on the 2nd). A Golden Plover flew north on the 4th and a Stonechat was in Pryors field. On the 7th a Hawfinch flew west over Parliament hill. On the 6th the only Pochard of the year spent one day on the boating and Men's bathing pond. The 1st Water Rail of the winter was seen at the womens pond late in the month. A Woodcock was seen at the end of November

December: 2 Mealy Redpoll were seen by Sam Levy on the 2nd. 2-3 Woodcock, Teal, 80+ Lesser Redpoll were also seen in December. Red Kite was seen on the 31st

105 species were recorded in total in 2020 not including the two wader sp. It was a decent year despite the lockdown which it made it so insanely so busy,  better than 2019  in terms  of variety (highlights: Rock Pipit, Raven, 3 Ring ouzel & 2 Hawfinch). 2020 brought the first Pied Flycatchers since 1 in 2013 and Crossbills since one in 2016 (to my knowledge) as well the first Golden Plover, Cuckoo and Common Sandpiper for several years. But sadly having failed to ID the few species that were likely outstanding, we've failed to record anything particularly amazing or new for the site this year. However in terms of variety 2020 has been outstanding having got plenty of birds that are normally not seen yearly into a single year.

Because I'm so late in posting this I figured I might as well add January 2021 on here as well

January 2021: 2 Teal were in Kenwood on the 1st and increased to an impressive seven birds later on in the month. A Firecrest was found on the 7th by the stock, this later turned out to be two birds who are still present now. Perhaps even better than Firecrest in terms of local rarity was a pair of Red Crested Pochard which appeared one morning after a big freeze. Another male Red Crested Pochard was also found later in the month at the same time as a water rail. Both very unexpected on a quick routine check of Hampstead no1 pond which has hardly any water rail habitat and backs onto houses and a block of flats! Thats the magic of birding a local pond daily! On the 28th, the first Greater Black Backed Gull for almost exactly a year flew over Parliament hill! Around 100 Lesser Redpoll and Siskin were seen throughout the month. This brings us up to a total of 65 as I'm writing this on the 4th of Feb. Shaping up to be much better than last year!


Wednesday, December 16, 2020

Minsmere October 2020

After a very quiet and rainy week for birds locally, a trip to Minsmere was something I'd been looking forward to for a while! I got the train from Liverpool st at 9am and was at Saxmunham station by 11 where I met Henry who gave me a lift to a heath near Minsmere where we met with David Walsh. After fifteen minutes walking David pointed out a group of Stone Curlew! My first lifer of the day! Despite being distant, we had some good views through David's scope! Also for comparison, there was a regular Curlew wandering across the heath for some reason beyond my inferior human understanding. I'm sure it had some kind of smart curlew reason.... It was great to see the Stone Curlews; such weird birds!

After that David drove us over to another area on the edge of Minsmere or Dunwich and left us to look for Crossbills. I was feeling pretty hopeful and wandered out with Henry hoping to see them all happily perched in the tree. Unfortunately it wasn't that easy! After fifteen minutes wandering the eerily quiet heath, I realized this might be more difficult than I thought! Aside from the occasional Goldcrest there was nothing to see or hear for miles around. A distant Lesser Redpoll calling got me excited for a second until I realized it wasn't a Crossbill. We kept wandering down the path; I hadn't been birding on an actual Heath for a long time and the landscape was a refreshing change from a London park with all it's stunning pinks and purples as well as so many pine trees (another thing I don't get much of down here). Just as I was lost in thought and happily eating my sandwich, the sudden "Jip-Jip" call snapped me out of daze. We both looked up to see two Crossbills bobbing across the horizon and dropping into some distant trees. With my sandwich still in my hand I couldn't get the best views so I was glad when Henry spotted the pair perched in a tree about 80 meters away. We spent a minute watching them before they began to call again and flew over us into some much closer trees. There we had some nice views of the yellow 1st year bird although the bright red male had sadly disappeared out of sight. Another Crossbill went flying over and behind us a Dartford Warbler decided it wanted some attention and began wandering around and calling! All this at once was just amazing! The Crossbills didn't stay long although we were visited by two more fly-overs a minute or two later. A bit more wandering produced two more Dartfords and two fly-over Siskin (one of my other favorite finches along with Bullfinch and Crossbill).

After a successful two hours we made the fairly long walk to Minsmere and arrived an hour or so later. A look around the scrape started off quiet and quickly took a turn for the worse: rain! We sheltered in the hide for a bit watching all my favourite ducks like Pintail and Wigeon until I got bored and suggested we leave being stupid as I am. As with most of my geniusly impulsive ideas it didn't go well and soon we were hiding under a tree in even worse rain. Again, probably not my best decision ever. When the rain eventually lessened a bit after half an hour or so we stopped by the reedbed to try and photograph the Bearded Tits. Despite calling in the reeds for ages we only had a single flight view although I suspect that may slightly be due to the Sparrowhawk which continuously made some incredible hunting passes (although still nothing on one absolutely incredible hunt I witnessed on Parliament hill a few weeks before). Suddenly I heard an odd call and looked up to see 3 Snipe flying overhead. As common as they are, they're one of my favourite birds in the world and any day I see a Snipe is good day seeing as I don't see nearly enough living in Camden. I might even go as far as to say they were my favourite bird I'd seen all day so far... They certainly cheered me up from being soaked to the skin anyway. Finally as we wandering back, we bumped into David again who offered to help find me a Caspian Gull; something I'm much to lazy to try and ID myself and have therefore never seen. While sitting back in the hide I spent some time trying to watch the birds on the opposite side of the water but my binoculars had taken a bit of a beating from the rain and didn't give me much more than blurry shapes in the murky dusk light. I did manage to see one Green Sandpiper wandering about in the dark. Suddenly David exclaimed that he'd found a Long Tailed Duck! I jumped up and frantically tried to find it before remembering my binoculars were useless. I had a look through David's telescope and was amazed to see the beautiful long tailed duck ,fresh out of the artic, bobbing on the muddy water among mallards and teal. Long Tailed Ducks were a bird that had always fascinated me being both an amazing black & duck from the artic and an incredible sea bird that survives the bleak winters wintering out on the North Sea. Having never seen many sea birds, that added extra wonder to it! We decided to walk around to the other side of the water seeing as the duck was about 200m away. Halfway there, we were distracted by a Barn Owl! We gave it a quick look before heading on to try and refind the duck. By now it was almost dark and I didn't expect to get much of a view of it. However when we arrived at the the east hide we were amazed to see it drifting about meters away from the hide! It was amazing to see such an amazing sea bird so close especially as I'd always expected to see my first as a tiny speck out among the waves. We had some amazing views of it swimming about until it was too dark to see. What a day that had been! We drove back to Henry's house to warm up slightly before I got on the train and had (for once) a smooth and easy train journey home (although a little damp)! 

(On the downside all my A level chemistry & Biology work that I'd brought to do on the train sadly did not survive the rain)

I didn't take many photos that day so I won't bother adding them to this blog. Maybe I'll borrow Henry's & add them later...

Sunday, November 1, 2020

Hampstead Heath October 2020


On the 1st of October I did a nice early watch from Parliament hill but only managed a few large flocks of House Martin (130 in total) and 3 Linnet.

On the 2nd I made some kind of insane attempt to watch from Parliament Hill in the pouring rain under some kind of delusion that I might see something good. I didn't. One lost Red Kite was a nice surprise but didn't make up for the soaking.

The next day I avoided watching from Parliament hill early (of course now the Gannets and Kittiwakes start turning up). I went out at around 10am when the rain eased a bit to look for Yellow Browed Warbler. No luck of course but I did manage my first Greylag Goose since the Spring resting on the ponds and another fly over Lesser Redpoll. The real surprise came when I was at home trying to do some work when I received a message from another local birder asking me to ID something. Before I tapped on the video I was expecting to see a distant video of a single little bird flitting around or calling so I was shocked to see an enormous flock of Siskin in the video erupting from the trees! It was more than I'd ever heard of on the Heath so I gave up working and jogged over to have a look. On arrival the sight was amazing. Huge numbers of finches feeding in the birch trees above us and frequently bursting into incredible flights. There was a fair few Lesser Redpoll in among the Siskin too which gave some stunning views. I spent the next hour just watching the spectacle; there were so many feeding in the tree you could hear them rustling like the breeze and a steady drift debris from the trees fell like snow from the tree. My final count was 200! (185 imaged + estimations of whatever wasn't in the photo). It was a truly incredible spectacle to see in 21st Century London!

6th October: 25 Swallow, 20 House Martin, 90 Meadow Pipit and a few other common migrants from Parliament hill

7 October: After a relatively slow watch we were surprised to see a group of 10 Crossbill "chip-chipping" their way West over the hill. A nice few 30 Swallow and a single Sand Martin were nice too!

8 October: 1 Redpoll and 1 Redwing over Parliament hill

10 October: A decent watch from dawn, 145 Chaffinch, 70 Meadow Pipit etc

11 October: Superb morning with the first hundreds of Redwings passing through as well as a pair of incredibly high Snipe heading North! I also had a probable Yellowhammer heard and there was a single Stonechat by the ponds.

12 October: My first ever Hawfinch flew North over Parliament hill before school as well as 350+ Redwing!

13 October: A few hundred Redwing and plenty of common finches

14 October: Brilliant morning! 3 Brambling flew over (my first ever) and I heard my first Skylark for the Heath. On top of that I had well over 300 Redwing and a possible Ring Ouzel.

15 October: 4 Brambling, Skylark, 240 Redwing etc over Parliament Hill

16 October: Probably the best day of the month: 3 Brambling, Skylark, 180 Redwing, 140 Chaffinch in the morning and a Marsh Harrier over in the afternoon! As a final bonus I had at least 30 Redpoll in Kenwood!

17 October: 200+ Chaffinch, Little Egret, Skylark, 100 Redwing, 60 Fieldfare and some other nice birds from Parliament hill.

18 October; A bit of an odd watch from the hill. We spent most of the morning watching a distant line of blue sky slowly drag it's way towards us in the hope there might be a few nice birds moving through it. Then as if by magic, when the gap in the clouds arrived, Pete called out to us and I looked up to see what looked like a large Sandpiper frantically rocketing shooting south! I desperately tried to get a picture and despite the focus doing its best to try and take a photo of the sky I managed a single photo! Then someone exclaimed "oh no it's actually a falcon". Of course it wasn't but I still stupidly put my camera down to check. Once it disappeared it Pete told me it was a Plover sp but he didn't know which. Luckily my photo showed it to have clear underwings to confirm it as Golden Plover! Probably the best bird of October! Other than that we also had 2 Collared Dove, 2 Skylark and a hundred or so Chaffinch.

The rest of the month had very poor weather and the winds were blowing the wrong way so I had very little and towards the end of the month took a break from watching from Parliament hill super early. The only good days were the 22nd which produced 3 Crossbill and  the 24th which gave us 1600+ Woodpigeon (1000 from roost and 600 Migrating)

In all a good month with a slightly disappointing end. Hopefully when the winds switch I might get something good in early November though!

Sunday, October 18, 2020

Hampstead Heath September 2020

 September was an exciting month with some great migration including three new birds for my list on the Heath and some bonus panic with fly over waders! I didn't get out early much like I am at the moment but still got some quality sightings.

1 September: Some eye-burning skywatching for osprey from Parliament hill. Managed 8 Buzzards at insane heights as well as a brilliant pair of Hobby hunting for much of the watch. Also a Spotted Flycatcher in Kenwood

2 September: 10 Swallow N over Kenwood

5 September: Garden Warbler near the back of Pryors field and a Buzzard. The first Meadow Pipit of the Autumn flew over Kenwood

6 September: 4 Yellow Wagtails flew over Parliament hill early on. Later on I managed Wheatear and a buzzard from the bog. Late in the evening I had Peregrine, Buzzard, 6 Siskin, 2-3 Spotted Flycatcher and a probable Pied Flycatcher in the West Meadow.

7 September: 10 Meadow Pipit over Parliament hill and chat sp on the bowling green.

8 September: An incredible four Spotted Flycatcher in the Kenwood Birches & a large flock of Siskin sharing the trees!

9 September: 120+ House Martins over Pryors Field & 85+ Siskin in the Kenwood Birches!

!0 Septmeber: A great day for migration with 112 Meadow throughout the day as well as 6-3 Wheatear, 3-4 Spotted Flycatcher & 2-3 Whinchat flying over/ landing on the hill. Also 55+ Siskin, 2 Yellow Wagtail and my first Collared Dove for Hampstead Heath flying over! 4 Sand Martin also

11 September: Stonechat and 15 Siskin around the Sphagnum bog

12 September: 2 Meadow Pipit and another Collared Dove over

13 Septmeber: 2 Sand Martin, Buzzard,30 House Martinm 3 Swallow & a Yellow Wagtail over Kenwood.

16 September: 42 Meadow Pipit, 10 Swallow, Wheatear, Red Kite S, 4 Siskin and some Pied Wagtails over Parliament Hill. A pair of Teal on Hampstead no1 in the evening also.

18 September: Feeling a bit ill and couldn't really be bothered to go birding. Did anyway and what a reward! As I walked down towards the concrete thing I use to view the Hampstead Pond, a small wader shot past in a blur of clockwork wings! I noted the white wing bars as it shot off into the distance. It then surprised me by circling back and calling loudly! A common Sandpiper! What a nice surprise! Also on the pond was one of the teal from earlier in the week and a Spotted Flycatcher wasn't too far off either.

20 September: 5-6 Buzzard over Kenwood.

21 September: 40 Meadow Pipit over and a Hobby flying South over the gorse area. 27 Siskin flew over near the boating pond too

22 September: Another great morning! Groups of 12 & 2 Crossbill flew South! Also migrating were Redpoll, Red Kite, 3 Linnet, 7 Swallow, 70 Meadow Pipit and my last Yellow  Wagtail of the year. There was a Stonechat in Kenwood too.

23 September: The second last Spotted Flycatcher of the year flew over Parliament and briefly landed early in the morning. Otherwise it pretty quiet. Then later in the day I received a message of a Firecrest near Parliament hill! I rushed out and after half an hour I found it maybe a hundred meters from where it was initially seen! It showed great despite the rain! I got soaked however! Another great new bird for the my Hampstead Heath list!

27th September: Two mystery waders flew over which you can read about in my previous blog. Also the first 3 Redwing of Autumn.

28th September: The last Spotted Flycatcher was in Cohens field and a Redpoll flew over Kenwood

Sunday, September 27, 2020

Wader Madness on Hampstead Heath Sept 27

 What started off as a normal grey day turned out to be one of my oddest days birding on Hampstead Heath yet! (Possible Nightjar still keeps first place). I couldn't be bothered  to head out early because of the rain and enjoyed an extra few hours of sleep instead. When I finally dragged myself towards the heath I didn't particularly expect to see much so it was a nice surprise to see the fragile little figures of 3 Redwing battling the wind north as I walked onto the Heath. Next I picked up the first two shoveller of the autumn for the Highgate ponds on the dog pond doing their typical spiraling feeding. It was very overcast and had the feeling that it was still dawn so for some reason or another I decided to go have a look around the South facing slope of parliament hill. It gets fairly busy so normally I only check here if I'm here before 8am. There wasn't much to see except a meadow pipit trying to land so I wandered up the hill to have a look. There wasn't much moving but just enough meadow pipits to keep me on the hill. After a while of nothing except for four finches dashing W with quiet calls I was ready to give up. Eventually however I noticed another feral pigeon frantically dashing north in the wind and I half heartedly lifted my binoculars to discover it was wader! It was at least 200m so I knew from the start there was no hope of ID so I contented myself in watching the frantic, clockwork wings and white belly and vaguely wondering what it could be. Initially of course I tried to take a photo but I soon realized it wasn't even visible to the naked eye let alone my camera. My best guess would be either snipe or maybe even Green Sandpiper (the latter would be new for me). Looking back I took it relatively calmly to finally get a wader from Parliament hill. Given that several snipe appeared over London today it's safe to say it was probably a snipe.

What is interesting is that now no fewer than five waders have been recorded using the Hampstead Ponds to fly north this year (3 Snipe, 1 Common Sandpiper, 1 mystery small sandpiper). However the Hampstead ponds are far less watched than the Highgate chain so plenty must go unseen. I wonder where that fly-way leads...

Later in the afternoon I headed up Parliament to have a look for the gannet reported at Walthamstow. Spoiler alert, I didn't see it. Fast forward to Kenwood and I was staring at some mandarin ducks absent-mindedly with no thoughts of seeing anything remotely rare. I was standing between two huge trees so my view was fairly restricted instead of being in the usual middle bit with the broken fence and clear views. When suddenly all hell broke loose: crows and pigeons erupted out the trees in their hundreds and I desperately started looking around for raptor. Instead out of the mess of birds I saw something completely unexpected: another wader! Unfortunately there was a tree in the way. I desperately ran around to see if I could catch it flying over me and indeed I did. Unfortunately it turned out  there was another tree and I only saw it for a spilt second. After a bit more panicky running I relocated it, now flying away from away from me at high speed. I tried to get a photo but my camera decided to focus on the sky instead and here's where my fatal mistake was. If I'd kept trying, I might have got a photo even at a hundred meters off that may have revealed the wing and tail pattern. Although I suspect I still wouldn't have managed it. As soon as I lowered my camera that fatal second too early I saw it as distant speck disappearing over the trees. I spent the next hour desperately trying to figure out what I saw. my description is: Large-Medium wader, no obvious long legs or bill, browinsh with white on underside, more flappy than smaller more "mechanic" waders like snipe. Fairly wide wings with no wing bars noted although they may have been present. Overall a fairly large, compact, bulky bird but not fat like woodcock. Short but obvious neck and fairly long bird overall. Best guess as redshank or ruff. Didn't call, flying at tree height so may have been flushed unexpectedly o forced lower by a bird of prey.

I suppose it will remain a mystery but I have to say I never saw it coming! I can't be bothered to even to try to factor in things like Spotted Redshank or Buff Breasted Sandpiper because it would complicate things further but I'll never stop wondering what it was. After months of getting up at the crack of dawn for a wader with no result it's very odd to get two in a single day much later in day! But I suppose weather conditions are to blame for that. I wonder if it was migrating on regular path or simply lost and/or stupid. I wonder what will be next!