Wednesday, 18 April 2012

Black-winged Stilt & Bempton

Sunday 15th April 2012
Not such an early start today as at 5.00am we set off for Willow Tree Fen, near Spalding, Lincolnshire. The SATNAV took us down small lanes but eventually got us there, a surprise being that no one else was at the reserve. With a black-winged stilt on offer this rather surprised us, especially as you could see the bird albeit distantly from the car park.

Wanting closer views we walked into the cold northerly towards the distant hides. Birds were few in number with just one swallow and one chiff seen as well as a few meadow pipits [no water pipits Beardy], gulls and ducks.

Eventually we reached the hide we thought the stilt was in front of but no views of it when opening the shutters. It was on the other side of a stretch of phraggy, tucked up against them to shelter from the wind and feed along the edge of the water found there. It did give some close views but was mostly hidden so back to the car.

A Lifer for Chatty UTB and yet another good year tick bird, Olly Clam suggested Bempton RSPB reserve with its seabird massed chalky cliffs so off we set.

Now you may not know it but the same Clam has got a thing for bridges so we had to go over the 5th biggest suspension bridge in the world, The Humber Bridge. The toll for it had just been reduced from £3.00 to £1.50 so a bargain for Olly.

Bempton with a strong, cold north wind in your face was bracing and fresh but exciting with gannets and auks and kittiwakes by the thousand. Surely this RSPB reserve must be in every birders top ten as one gets so close to the birds; well they come close to you as they glide along at eye level at times seemingly close enough to touch. One very friendly gannet came alarmingly close!

                                                     Gordon The Gannet - our new mascot

Scanning the sea we soon added puffin to the year list and fulmar also. The cliffs had mostly kittiwakes and gannets with a few guillemots, razorbills and herring gulls. How pure are the rock/feral doves? A couple of tree sparrows were even on the cliffs.

Now Bearded Clam had seen woodlarks on Cannock Chase a few days before and in usual p*ss taking mode every skylark seen or heard was said to be a woodlark; not that Captain Clam was questioning the birding prowess of the much larger, solidly built Beardy B*stard Clam! Suffice to say that there were a few woodlarks singing in the fields next to the cliffs.

One could see an approaching April shower and luckily we didnt head for the centre for shelter. Instead we stood on a newly erected Gilleards [note well Upton Warren] platform looking out over a spectacular section of the cliffs. As the shower approached a fabulous rainbow appeared which being below our eye level assumed an almost circular appearance. Beautiful!

Back at the centre, after warming hot drinks and the purchase of Gordon the Gannet, our mascot to be glove puppet [see above], we watched the tree sparrows and eventually set off for Carsington Water.

On arrival at this large Derbyshire reservoir we set about searching for the great northern diver that had been there for some time. Blackcap and willow warbler were seen along the pathway to the nature centre, with more tree sparrows at the feeding station there.

Down to the south end of the dam and the bird required was found by our ever vigilant Olly Clam at some distant out over the res; Olly Clams 200th bird for the year.

A stop off at on the suggestion of Bearded Clam made that 201 with a lone corn bunting atop an oak tree, accompanied by a dozen or so yellowhammers and a pair of little owls. The nearby gravel pit had around 100 or so hirundines, mostly sand martins.

The end of yet another successful Clam Day clamtastic!

Clams Hit Scotland - April 2012

Friday April 6th.

So with The Birding Clams all together snug within the car by midnight, after a circuitous route of M5, M42 and A5, the long journey north to Scotland, via the M6, began.

Jason at the helm got the sleeping Clams to Aviemore for first light and dawn was seen from the cool comfort of the quite full Osprey observation room at the RSPBs Loch Garten. Not that ospreys were the target bird; we were here to hopefully see a big black capercaillie. The osprey sitting on the nest was a Brucie bonus.

Youve just missed one, was not welcome news and the next 2 hours were spent scanning the area around the osprey nest and to its right. Not a feather of a caper to be seen; we had started our short Scottish break with a dip.

A walk in slight drizzle through the conifers along the west side of the Loch gave views of lots of noisy great-spotted woodpeckers, chaffinches and titmice, which eventually included a very close crested tit.


Beautifully still, the Loch was a mirror of dappled tree and hillside reflections with a single female goldeneye rippling through it.

An adequate if rather expensive breakfast snack in Aviemore was next; the café interesting for having a number of 1922 Archibald Thorburn prints, signed by the artist, of wigeon, pintail and mallard on the wall. Then a drive up to the Cairngorm Ski Centre to catch the funicular to the snow surrounded café in order to try for ptarmigan. Not that we needed to go that far for 2 of them were walking across the snow about 2/3rds of the way up as we passed them. Still mostly white but with flecks of summer feathers coming through, they were well seen, albeit briefly due to the speed of the train, by all except poor Tom who missed them. So after a quick perusal at the top; quick because it was bitterly cold with stinging sleety rain hitting us in the face due to the strong wind, and after a look from the café, it was down again to get Tom the birds. Having failed to do so we were informed that our funicular tickets lasted all day so up again and down again but once again they werent to be seen. Captain Clam did see an arctic hare though.

Off to the Findhorn Valley and then over the moorlands towards the RSPB reserve at Loch Ruthven, with stops on the way to watch the close by red grouse. One cheeky male stood atop a fence post acting out a scene from a famous advert. On approaching the right turn for a loch a fabulous red kite flew low overhead. What a shame that some Scottish landowners havent allowed these wonderful birds to thrive. Released at the same time as the Chilterns birds, compare the numbers in each area; hundreds to a handful. Thank goodness there are no grouse in the Chilterns!

An osprey greeted us as we walked along the path towards the hide at Loch Ruthven, hunting and hovering from a great height but, not seeing anything worth a plunge, it drifted off.

Slavonian grebes next, all in superb golden cheeked summer plumage, and a winter plumaged red-throated diver seen from the hide, which had been approached via a lovely walk through the silver birch bedecked with mosses and lichens.

Raining heavily now, we booked in at Loch Morlich Scottish Youth Hostel and spent the rest of the evening eating and drinking in Aviemore. Early to bed early to rise, the four of us snored our way through the night.

Saturday April 7th.

Back at Loch Garten after quietly leaving the hostel at 5.00am [!], a male capercaillie was soon found atop a reasonably close short pine tree. Preening and nibbling the huge bird allowed everyone present to see it and watch it for an hour or so. Brilliant views and a lifer for some of the Clams, the scene was completed by the osprey pair coming into the nest and ensuring that a next generation of the same was at least on their minds as their mating antics were recorded on the RSPB TV cameras.

After that great start it was off to Tulloch Moor for views of yet another male bird, this time a black grouse, also quite close by and viewed through apertures in a long screen.

Goosander and dipper were seen from a long wooden bridge over the Spey and then it was up into a large conifer forest behind a quarry to look for crossbills. Now can you count as proper parrots, or even certain Scottish the crossbills on view here? A close by male gave great views as it stood on the highest twig but it didnt call and anyway, we hadnt got any sound recording equipment to get a sonogram.

A superb breakfast at The Merry Kettle café in Huntley, in fact excellent fettle at The Kettle with such lovely staff and a long drive to the RSPB reserve at Loch of Strathbeg. Greater yellowlegs the target bird and soon seen well after it decided that hiding amongst the sedges wasnt going to more than a twenty minute distraction.

Yet another osprey flew over and a few barnacle geese were with a number of pink foots and greylags. Into the reserve centre for hot chocolate and tree sparrows and then off to the Ythan Estuary.

Sunny but with a cold wind, a full tide had pushed all the eider onto the opposite sand dunes, where they slept waiting for the tide to fall. The resident king eider was soon found by super speedy Olly Clam and although quite distant all features could be ascertained; yet another lifer for some of the group. Double tick days!

Sandwich terns and many grey Atlantic seals, some of them coming very close indeed to give us a curious stare, red-breasted mergansers and a single razorbill were also seen.

The final bird of the day was supposed to be the white-billed diver at but in heavy rain it had drifted off somewhere and we had to make do with a small flock of four long-tailed ducks to finish the day.


Happy Clams!!!!!