Tuesday 30 December 2008

My goose is cooked - not yet!

Following my goose-bonanza, I went to the inlaws and had goose for lunch! Felt a bit bad about this, but it was darn tasty!

Today, I got a call from Colin to say there was an Egyptian Goose sitting with Greylags in the field just on the edge of Perry. I shot down there and to my delight, there it was. So, after much hard work, nappies and foreign trips, I beat my record, with this my 169th species for the year. I have missed several species, so without the other commitments, it could have been higher. Lowlights were dipping Raven (again) and Little Tern by literally seconds and missing the bird of the year, a Black Stork, which would have been viewable from the west end of Grafham back in the summer. Never mind!

So this, probably my last full year birding at GW was pretty good, I didn't continue my trend of finding a BB rarity, but did ok, with my best finds being Honey Buzzard, Ring-necked Parakeet, Manx Shearwater, Fulmar, Bonxie, Arctic Skua and Red-necked Grebe, plus a number of enjoyable patch ticks, such as Crane, Spoonbill (found by Mark Piercey), Water Pipit (found by Colin Addington), Firecrest (found by Ray Presley) and Storm Petrel (found by Colin Addington). Also, it has been a good year for birds at GW, particularly breeding waterbirds and wintering wildfowl, possibly linked to the maintenance of high water levels throughout the year. This has been a disaster for autumn wader migration, but good for aquatic plant growth, leading to the high duck numbers.

I hope all you birders reading this have had a good year too, and all the best for a bird-filled 2009. Maybe we will get a Tengmalm's...

A Christmas Goose!

Our first Christmas at home with the new nipper and my first patch birding on Christmas day. Sadly, it did not result in an American Robin, with the best bird being the regular Barn Owl with the manky wing, or possibly the 14 lb turkey I cremated later on.

Adelaide enjoyed unwrapping her presents and then playing with the wrapping paper, and too much booze and food was consumed by all.

On boxing day, Santa had left a couple of avian pressies with first three Dark-bellied Brents sitting out on the middle of the reservoir being the only Brents seen this year since a single on New Years Day! They were later joined by a fourth bird. More excitement was to come... While watching the Brents, they suddenly stretched their necks and started calling. They then took flight and joined a group of geese flying towards me along the north shore. I switched to my scope and realised they were dark, with white flashes encircling their beaks - White-fronts! They came straight towards me down the reservoir, 30 in all, passing straight over me showing off nice black belly bars, and dark underwings. They headed off towards Paxton Pits. The Brents peeled off and circled back west down the reservoir. Fantastic - my first White-fronts at Grafham Water, and my 168th species for the year, thus equaling my previous yearlist record.

The usual cast of diver, grebe, scaup and RC pochards were still off the dam, and together with a crisp, frosty dawn, it had been a beautiful way to start the day.

Tuesday 23 December 2008

Ma-ma, Da-da, Greenshank

Have been spending a bit of time teaching Adelaide wader identification. We have started from scratch, ie 'repeat the name after me'. Not really working yet. She definitely liked the word 'stint' as she was a bit sick when I mentioned it, which I took to be her way of communicating pleasure. We decided to leave North American peeps til later (well, maybe in 10 years time).

Well, it is nearly Christmas. In a few years time she will be opening the wrapping paper on her first pair of bins, presumably with built in digital camera, species-recognition-technology and mp3 player, which will be much more fun that the high-chair she is getting this year.

Saw the barn owl again over the set-aside across from the house this morning. It has a lot of feather damage on the end of one wing. It has either had a skirmish with another raptor, been shot, or eaten one too many voles and crash landed in a hedge. Good to see one back in here after the field was ploughed up in the summer and we found a moribund barny a week later.

Monday 22 December 2008

Downhill from here

Well, we are passed the shortest day of the year, so it is downhill to spring from here on. In two and a half months the first Sand Martins and Wheatears will be back. Fantastic! Had a wander round this morning, with highlights being a Kingfisher and six Goosander in Dudney Creek, the GND, Red-necked Grebe and 5 Red-crested Pochards off the dam and that was about it. Oh, and two Barnacle Geese (feral) with the Greylags at Marlow, one of which had a BTO ring and a red Darvic ring, and was apparently one of the feral birds caught and ringed in Bedfordshire a few years ago.

View from Dudney field back towards Mander CP and Valley Creek.

Sunday 21 December 2008

Skin Cream for babies and more of the same on the shortest day

A nice walk with Willow along the dam this morning in some mellow winter sunshine on this the shortest day of the year. My friend, the GND was still present and was very obliging, sitting just off the dam and allowing close approach. At one point a bout of preening caused it to dislodge a mantle feather which it struggled to reach to remove.

Great Northern Diver

Great Northern Diver

Great Northern Diver
The Red-necked Grebe was showing well, though still fairly distant and I managed a couple of slightly better photos.

Red-necked Grebe with a Great Crested Grebe in the foreground

Red-necked Grebe
The five Red-crested Pochards were in Gaynes along with the female Scaup nearby. Also, this 'scaup-faced' Tuftie was off the dam, showing the extent of white they can sometimes have.

Tufted Duck with a white face.

Yesterday, Adelaide found a new use for yoghurt...

And the day before, a new mode of transport...

Tuesday 16 December 2008

Day off - hurrah. Murky misty crap - boooo!

Quick scan through the murk on the dam revealed the GND lurking near the tower, the Black-necked Grebe frantically diving around the south end of the dam, and the usual Red-necked Grebe hiding in the distance off Plummer. The Water Pip obligingly flew past me calling and landed on the shore. Otherwise shed loads of big gulls chasing the Cormorants for their breakfast and loads of scarce and rare stuff hidden in the fog.

A quick dip at Tesco where the berries were not tempting Waxwings, then on to Coveney where the Rough-legged Buzzard heaved over the car shortly after arrival, before doing some text book hovering, showing off her gleaming white backside. She then was escorted north towards Little Downham where I lost her amongst the gloom.
I then dipped on the Tundra Beans at Waterbeach. In fact, I dipped on all 300 geese! There was not a single one to be seen.
Back to The Mighty GW for a quick look at the gulls which revealed the usual nada.

Padzy Pea produces proper plop

Ok, so while I was away, Adelaide *Padzy Pea* decided that she would start eating solid food. So, this is great, obviously, but what it means is that the nappy full of creamy yellow, fragrant poop has been exchanged for proper brown Glasgow station toilet smelling human dump. Yikes! I thought facing a jasmine-tinted piccallily fest was hard at 5 in the morning, but waking up to one of these baby wonders, is pure terror! I am doing my best to make myself scarce around nappy time, and have perfected the blocked nose, so that I can never smell that she needs her nappy changing if asked.

What exacerbates this problem is that Adz has decided that when put on her back she will pretend to be a fish and flap her legs wildly, try and grab between her legs and consequently, unless you are equipped with 1. Lighting reactions, 2. Four arms, 3. a snorkel, you, baby and the nursery rapidly get a covering of aforementioned slurry.


She is cute though and I am sure that makes up for it!!

Blurred Grebe

So despite being "my" Red-necked Grebe (I found it at Grafham Water back in early November), this bird refuses to come anywhere near me. Is it embarrassed I wonder? Or simply aloof? All the other scarce have come in camera range recently, but whenever I have my camera in my pocket, this monkey decides to peg it. When I don't have my camera, it is close enough to see up it's nostrils...
This is as good as it gets.

Why is the White Hawk white?

Here is a photo I took of a White Hawk sitting in a Cecropia tree in Costa Rica three weeks ago. It is looking miserable because it is white and it's prey can see it coming. In the winter, they fly down to Antarctica where they prey on penguin chicks, using their snowy plumage to hide among the icebergs, snow drifts and frost. They also hunt rats and pigeons among recycling centres for white goods.


Spent the morning Christmas shopping with Adelaide in Queensgate, Peterborough, where I felt I was backstage at the Jeremy Kyle show! Scary place! Headed back for lunch, whereupon I received a call from Chris Orders to say he had a small grebe swimming around the end of his fishing rod at the south end of the dam, which he thought could be a Black-necked.

I shot down there and was delighted to find the Black-necked Grebe showing really close off the dam. I clambered over the wall and on to the shore and whilst Chris carried on fishing, I took some shots:

Even better was to come, when Chris whipped out a large Rainbow Trout and offered it to me. I gratefully accepted and took it home for tea wrapped unceremoniously in a Morrisons carrier bag. Vicky was less than pleased when I presented her with this enormous fish in the living room!

Later, Vicky was heading out for her first Christmas party, so I with laptop to hand, followed some instructions on t'internet to mutilate this beautiful fish. Eventually, after much swearing, slipping and sliding, I managed to remove all the gore and grime and produce two fine fish filets. One of them was slung in a pan with some butter and garlic and the other headed for the freezer. Shortly, a delicious fishy tea was served. Thanks Chris!

Tuesday 9 December 2008

Sick Leave

Despite under the cloud of man-flu, I dragged myself out in the afternoon sunshine to see if some fresh air would lift my spirits. Willow certainly seemed pleased to be out. The Great Northern Diver was showing well off the dam, catching several small fish.

The Red-necked Grebe was busily feeding near the south end of the dam and even the female Scaup was active. The Water Pipit was not in it's usual spot on the south end of the dam; it was here yesterday afternoon.

So, a breath of fresh air and apart from a coughing fit when I got back in the warmth of the house, I feel a bit better!

Sunday 7 December 2008

Recent birds

Great Northern Diver - 7th November 2008

Scaup, female - 7th December 2008

Scaup, female - 7th December 2008

Water Pipit, on the dam, 6th December 2008
Well, following my trip to Costa Rica, Grafham has continued to be good. Today, a female Scaup off Plummer CP was new. Nearby, the Water Pipit was still showing well on the dam. It was initially on the north side but later moved down to the south. The first winter Great Northern Diver was showing well on the calm reservoir near Marlow CP, viewable from the north end of the dam. Lots of birds on the move this morning, following a hard frost, with flocks of Fieldfares, Redpolls, Siskins and Woodpigeons over.

Wednesday 17 September 2008


After a rather quiet WeBS count this morning, our first of the season, a huge surprise came in the form of two juvenile Spoonbills that had appeared in front of the Lagoon hide. Mark Piercey found this first for Grafham only a couple of hours after we had finished scouring the whole site during WeBS! Awesome views were had as the pair fed happily in the shallows.

Wednesday 10 September 2008

All quiet...

The calm before the storm, well, maybe.
Took Willow out to give her a dip in the res and took the opportunity to scour the lagoon scrapes and bushes. A couple of Black Terns are still lingering over the water, whilst a pair of Little Egrets showed well in front of the newly-refurbished hide. A Green Sandpiper called, but remained unseen. Lots of warblers in the bushes stuffing their faces with elder berries, including Sedge, Garden and Blackcap. A Chiffchaff in song nearby was obviously confused...
Returned home to a giant nappy catastrophe which Vicky left me to sort out. This required quite delicate and precise manoeuvres to avoid getting yellow poo all over my clean suit! Nice...

Monday 8 September 2008

Honey I'm home!

Awoke to a brisk northwesterly wind and rain showers - could be good for some seabirds! Walking the dog along the north shore revealed a trio of Common Sandpipers and little else, though intrigue was provided by four medium sized waders which frustratingly avoided identification as they flew south.
News came of a juvenile Gannet over Paxton and for a few minutes my heart raced until the update came that it had headed due south. It arrived at Stewartby Lake in Bedfordshire later.
Despite seemingly perfect conditions, nothing appeared save for one or two juvenile Arctic Terns with the Black Terns off Mander.
I retired to spend a bit of time with the nipper and have lunch.
Vicky's friend turned up later, so leaving them to coo over the bairn, I headed off again in search of skuas. Five minutes after arriving at Mander, the rain stopped and a large dark long-tailed raptor got up out of the woods and began circling out over the reservoir. Scoping the bird, I realised I was watching my first Cambs Honey Buzzard - Awesome! I quickly rang out the news in case anybody else was in the vicinity and then got back to enjoying this big barred beast as it headed off south over the car park.
Still no seabirds, but for the next hour or so the raptors put on a fine show, with 2-3 Marsh Harriers, Osprey, plus several Hobbies and Buzzards. Great stuff.
Hearing the news of more skuas coming south out of the Wash into Cambs, gave us renewed hope, but it wasn't to be and by 5.30 I gave up. Back out after tea and the gull roost revealed a fine adult Little Gull.
So ended an exciting day that lived up to expectations but not in the way I had imagined!

Saturday 6 September 2008


An hour watching from the gate at the harbour (Mander CP) revealed the juvenile Marsh Harrier hunting over Savages Creek, the Osprey (which has been here a week now) soaring over the res for at least 45 minutes, 2-3 Hobbys, a couple of Buzzards and a Sparrowhawk. Strangely, I didn't see a Kestrel! The Osprey caught a fish at one point but it was seemingly so heavy that after a lot of thrashing around in the water, it finally let go and flew off empty-handed (or should that be empty-taloned?!).
4 or 5 Black Terns still flicking about. No sign of the Manxie, but there were a lot of boats around, so maybe it was sheltering in a secluded bay somewhere.

Manx magic

Whilst Willow waded in the water on the approach to Dudney Hide this morning, I thought I would take the time to have a scan over the res to the east. A few Black Terns dipped and swerved over the water. Suddenly in the background a white cross with black wing edges arced up over the waves - A Manx Shearwater! Fab! I have seen a few at Grafham Water before, but this is the first I have found. The bird settled among the waves out towards Church Hill. I put the news out immediately.
I dragged a soaking Willow back home and shot round to Church Hill where I met Owen and Monica Marks, David and Anne Hollin and Colin Addington, all of whom had had close views of the shearwater. Shortly, the bird flew past us, providing much closer views than I had had earlier. It landed off Mander.
Owen called a Common Swift with the hirundines overhead. I then went for a look at the south end of the dam and Plummer to try and dig out a phalarope blown in by the blustery wind, but without success.
A good start to the weekend!

Friday 5 September 2008

End of an era?

Well, two weeks without a laptop and indybirder.com is no more. At least for now anyway. Two walks along the dam revealed a lot of rain and nothing better than a damp ringed plover. The gulls were a bit unsettled prompting thoughts of skuas, but I couldn't find anything. Maybe one of the sabs or phalaropes will find their way here tomorrow...

Here are two shaky, distant shots of Martyn Davies' fantastic Baird's Sandpiper he found at Paxton Pits. An awesome find and due reward for many hours of dedicated patching. I twitched the bird and was fourth on the scene, enjoying some good but distant views in the evening light.

Here are some recent shots from Grafham:

Vapourer Moth caterpillar on apple tree in the garden.

Whinchat, at the foot of the dam, 4th Sept

Osprey, over the east end, 4th Sept

Knot, on the dam, 4th Sept

Shags, 20th August.

Monday 30 June 2008

Away for two minutes...

Thursday, Colin found a little tern off the dam. Despite pegging it down there from work the lingering bird managed to de-linger itself and clear off two seconds before I arrived, leaving a bemused Mark who had been watching it up until I arrived.
The bird was undoubtedly still around as it wa seen again by Colin the next morning, but I had a band practise to get to, so I couldn't look around elsewhere. Doh!

Then, Colin pulled it out of the bag again, when on Saturday he found a drake Green-winged Teal in the lagoons. Now this time last year Mark and me found one in the same spot, so this could potentially be the same returning bird, coming back to moult, but we will never be sure. However, I was sitting in a garden in Taunton, Somerset, with a beer in one hand and a sausage in the other (from a bbq), so I didn't get to see it.

Arrived home Sunday night and went straight to the lagoons with full family. Enjoyable walk, but no joy with the teal. Did pick out a first summer Mediterranean Gull loafing with the Black-heads in front of the hide however, which was a little bit of consolation.

Later, had another look round and during this managed to stand on a blackthorn thorn (ouch) and tear all the skin off the end of my little finger through getting it caught in my tripod (double ouch). So, with blood everywhere, I failed to see the pesky teal. I am confident that the teal will stay to moult so let's hope I catch up with it before it becomes indistinguishable from it's European cousins!

Tuesday 24 June 2008

Bee orchids and things

Two Bee Orchids, Sulphur Clover and a vetchy thing...

Still ill

A bit of an easterly was blowing so I was not surprised to see a fine adult Black Tern sitting on J buoy and then flying around over the res at 4pm with a bunch of Common Terns. However, being the end of June, rather than mid-May, it is perhaps a little unusual.

Not a lot else doing, but managed a few shots of the Bee Orchids. Also, found a bit of Sulphur Clover in the lagoons too, just about clinging on in the scrubbing-up grasslands.

Two young men who I spied walking round the lagoons finally lay down on a sunlit slope. I thought they might be about to re-enact a scene from Brokeback Mountain, but thankfully for Willow's impressionable young eyes, they did not.

Monday 23 June 2008


Off work ill, boohoo. Went for a walk with the family round the lagoons for some air (it will do you good) mid-arvo. The Wigeon was still hanging out. Not surprising really, it has no flight feathers left. Not much else doing on the bird front, apart from a couple of loafing Yellow-legged Gulls on the res, and about 20 Common Terns gliding about. No hoped for mid-summer Manxie though. I hope we didn't peak too early with the Stormy on the 4th!
Bee Orchids and two Common Spotted Orchids also in the lagoons.

Sunday 22 June 2008

Mid-roast birding

Roast in the oven, so nipped down to the lagoons to check out the scene.
For once, the lagoon in front of the hide was full of birds. Several Common Terns loafed on the islands, with loads of moulting ducks, including a male Wigeon, which was a nice surprise. A LRP was skittering about, but the hoped for Stilt Sandpiper had still not arrived from Rutland. Smelt oven smoke so shot home...mmmm roast potatoes!

Crested Cow-wheat & Spiked Star-of-Bethlehem

Birds 0 - Plants 3

With strong westerly winds, my hoped for Little Shear did not show itself on the res, so I packed baby (10 weeks now!), dog (5 stone now!) and lady wife in to the jalopy for a drive down to Honeydon in North Bedfordshire. Having not been to this site in years I was a bit worried I would not find the exact spot...Fortunately I had had the foresight four years ago to put a little ring round the spot on my OS map, which helped no end. As soon as we turned up I could see hordes of Spiked Star-of-Bethlehem in full flower along the verge - nice! Although it is also called Bath Asparagus, we decided not to sample any. Next, we wandered north up the road spying some Sulphur Clover and then shortly the main target, Crested Cow-wheat. This mad looking alien of a plant is simply stonking and I have only ever seen it here. I was pleased to see there was plenty of it growing in magenta patches along the roadside.

We then headed over to Paxton to look for fly-over Black Storks or rare raptors, but only managed some Tufted Ducklings and a Chiffchav before leaving the site to the bull terrier-toting Sunday afternoon crowds.