Sunday, 30 May 2010

Witamy w Polska, Part I (Biebrza Marshes)

Despite all the shenanigans with British Airways, I did get to Poland. Terminal 5 at Heathrow is very posh actually. On arrival at Chopin airport in Warsaw myself and the rest of the group I was touring with met our guide, Henryk, and our mini bus driver.

There is contrasting architecture on the route out of Warsaw. Plenty of new office blocks and new roads, symbols of European Union membership. Along with rather grey and grim looking blocks of flats, presumably built during communist times. We also crossed the River Wisla, the main river through Warsaw, looking very full:

A sign of things to come. There had been quite serious flooding further south in Poland. Whilst enjoying the passing White Stork nests on platforms in people's gardens, a couple of hours drive north is the small village of Nowogrod, where our first hotel for the night was, just to break up the journey north-east to the Biebrza Marshes.

Quite a pleasant hotel by the River Narew, but unfortunately a rather large and loud wedding reception was taking place, and went on well into the night. Despite all the noise, this did not put off a Beaver on the river bank during the evening. The following morning kicked the birding off in the hotel grounds and riverbank. Which included Fieldfares, Red-backed Shrike, Wryneck, Icterine and Barred Warblers, Woodlark and Black Redstart.

After breakfast various stops were made along the Narew River valley during the day, before reaching the next hotel in the small town of Goniadz (stop sniggering, there's an "I" in the name!). More birds came thick and fast including Golden Orioles, Marsh Warblers, Serin, the odd White-tailed Eagle, plenty of Marsh Harriers, a couple of Montagu's Harriers, Common Cranes, Garganey and most impressive of all, hundreds upon hundreds of marsh Terns! The vast majority being White-winged Black Terns, with smaller numbers of Whiskered and Black Terns.

The first full day in the Bierbrza (pronounced Beyepsha) Marshes started off with a Hawfinch in the hotel garden, Great Reed Warbler and booming Bittern from the nearby riverbank. It was also apparent that water levels were higher than usual here. The advantage of this is that the marsh Terns are easier to see, but there is less suitable nesting habitat for them and for waders.
The rest of the morning in the marshes produced Bluethroats, Common Rosefinch (complete with it's "nice to meet you" song), 3 Lesser Spotted Eagles, a Black Stork, a Savi's Warbler and a Penduline Tit.

While trying to find a Thrush Nightingale deep in a bush, it was apparent that the local mosquitoes took a liking to me, biting insects usually do. Despite using insect repellent, they do have a knack of finding the smallest part of unprotected skin. Even the ends of my thumbs got bitten!

After some lunch we continued to an area of the marshes reliable for Citrine Wagtail. Which duly obliged:

There was less flooding here, which allowed for a selection of displaying waders. Curlew, Redshank, Black-tailed Godwit, Common Snipe and, to our surprise, a Great Snipe appeared! We decided to wait a while to see if it reappeared, which it did, along with two more! It turned out that this was a new Great Snipe lek, only discovered by the park rangers this year.

Unlike Common Snipe with it's drumming display, or a roding Woodcock, male Great Snipe gather at leks like Ruff and Black Grouse do. The sound of a displaying Great Snipe is a bit like a fast-bouncing tennis ball. Then when that stops, put your binoculars up in time for them to jump up out of the grass, and hopefully they'll do a short flight before landing and out of sight again. Which I managed to do for one last time as two Great Snipe made that short flight, the mottled brown underneath was distinguishable from Common Snipe. Great stuff! Especially as a very large amount of rain was about to start.

An attempt was made during the evening to find Aquatic Warbler. However, the weather had taken a turn for the worse, with the wind picking up as well as more rain. As a result we didn't see Aquatic Warblers, although we did hear them along with plenty of reeling Grasshopper Warblers and a grazing Elk.

With only one more evening in Biebrza, and with Great Snipe already seen, at least we didn't to face the difficult decision of where to go the next evening. Try again for Aquatic Warbler or go to an established Great Snipe lek.

The final full day at Biebrza was spent exploring the marshes a little further afield, so more time was spent being driven around. It was also the day with worst weather, with a strong cool breeze with some rain.

As a result, finding Ortolan Bunting in a favoured piece of farmland proved elusive, but during the course of the day we did manage to find a Greater Spotted Eagle, more Marsh and Montagu's Harriers and White-Tailed Eagles. Towards the end of the afternoon we reached a large expanse of flooded river meadows with an excellent selection of birds including many more marsh Terns, Little Gulls, Wood Sandpiper, Temminck's Stint.

We were back looking for Aquatic Warbler in the evening, and were rather more successful than the previous evening. And how!

Which brought a successful end to our time at the Biebrza Marshes. In the morning, onward to the Bialowieza Forest.

Monday, 17 May 2010

Don't Panic

Me? Panic? Nah! Anyway, I'm now on another flight that's defintely going to Warsaw. And now the strike's called off, might be able to get on the original flight after all.

So reader, I'm off on a week's birding in Poland this weekend, exploring the Biebrza Marshes and Bialowieza Forest.

Hurrah and Phew!

Sunday, 16 May 2010

Ok then reader, work this one out because I can't!

I'm booked to go on a birding trip to Poland next weekend. It's a group trip, flying from Heathrow with British Airways. However, what with the forthcoming strike I received an email from BA saying the flight is cancelled. I actually spoke to the tour company last week and they were already looking for alternative flights. I'll know more in the next day or two.

To take my mind off things I decided to do some proper twitching this weekend. My twitching trips are few and far between these days. I've only done one so far this year and dipped. But if there's anything within a reasonable distance that I need, then I'll go for it.

Saturday saw me driving to Frampton Marsh, just outside Boston in Lincolnshire, to see the Oriental Pratincole.

The Pratincole showed wonderfully well from the east hide, as well as a Temminck's Stint and three 1st-summer Little Gulls. Perhaps understandably the hide and it's surroundings were jam-packed with people. So it was rather unfortunate that many of the birders and photographers already there were not so forthcoming in letting others into getting the views that they were enjoying. As a result I found digiscoping impossible.

After about an hour and a half with the Pratincole I decided to move on. The Great Reed Warbler in Derbyshire was as good as on the way home, so I made a slight detour to Straw's Bridge pools, on the outskirts of Ilson (or Ilkeston if you're from outside the east midlands).

I know Ilkeston pretty well, mainly for watching the Brewers at Ilkeston Town. Most famously for one game when Ilkeston's then-manager, the late Keith Alexander, had olympic decathlete Daley Thompson in their side. Daley got sent off for a head butt!

But anyway, I had no idea this site existed. It was easy to find, as was the small patch of reeds where the Great Reed Warbler was.

The bird showed well, but briefly, on one occasion during my visit, but on the whole it was keeping hidden in the new growth. I've only seen one Great Reed Warbler before which was a long time ago, but I always remembered what a distinctive, and loud, song it has. It really is the Barry White of Reed Warblers.

Then as for today (Sunday 16th May), I did another twitch up to Doncaster, at Potteric Carr Nature Reserve. It's only a 90 minute drive to get there from home. I've been here a couple of times in the past and it has always impressed me. But what is new here is what must be the poshest visitor centre I've ever seen!

Although it does double-up as offices for the British Trust for Conservation Volunteers. Obviously I was here to twitch the Iberian Chiffchaff, which has been around a small patch of woodland adjacent to the M18.

The Iberian Chiffchaff was singing on arrival, but didn't show until about a 30 minute wait. But when it did show, it showed really well. It's song is noticeably different to our Chiffchaff, although I wouldn't like to identify it out it singing.

So that concluded a successful weekend of twitching, with two lifers for me there. I also left Potteric Carr and back home in time to watch the World Twenty20 final. Which England won, beating those nice Australians. What a shame for them.

Monday, 10 May 2010

Election Special!

My tripod head is all fixed, thanks to the good people at the Birdnet Optics shop in Buxton. It was really good of them to lend me a spare.

Sunday 9th May.

Not a particularly full-on birding day today, but another visit to Hawksmoor was made first after a text from Andy, saying he found a Spotted Flycatcher there. Which took a bit of finding but I managed to see it, albeit briefly. Also a Wood Warbler, 2 Tree Pipits and at least 2 Redstarts around.

Then a very productive visit to Uttoxeter Quarry next. Which included 3 Greenshank, 1 Whimbrel, 4 Goosander, Yellow Wagtail and a good array of Warblers. Buoyed by this little triumph I thought it would be worth checking Branston and Croxall Gravel Pits. But in truth this was a surprising disappointment. Best I could manage were 16 Shelduck at Branston and 3 Common Terns at Croxall.

As for the blog title, don't worry, I'm not so daft as to start politicising my blog. But there are occasions where I find politics absolutely fascinating. Well, I really mean the all back-stabbing and the auctioneering being offered to Nick Clegg. The first event was when Maggie Thatcher was booted out in 1990, then his Tonyness sweeping to power in 1997. But this general election tops it all.

At the time of writing, Gordon Brown has just decided that he will resign. Which in a way is a shame, especially for the following terrible gag. But as The Stranglers used to say, Never a Frown with Gordon Brown.

Sunday, 2 May 2010

Tripod's Revenge

At the time of writing (Sunday 2nd), with the exception of a Hobby going through Uttoxeter Quarry, that's been it for birding today. Somehow I've broke my tripod, the knob to move the tripod head horizontally has snapped right off. It must've happened last thing yesterday. Trying to go birding with a scope you can't move, it really is like losing a limb.

But anyway, before all that palava happened, I've got a bit of catching up to do. After work on Thursday with worsening weather, I checked Uttoxeter Quarry straight after work. It was pleasing to see a good sized wader flock. I counted 38 Dunlin and 6 Ringed Plover, then left it to Andy as I still had work shoes and trousers, wasn't that well dressed for the occasion. In the end it turned out to be 55 Dunlin and 14 Ringies.

Then there was my lunch break on Friday, another quick check of Doxey. When entering the hide a chap told me there was a Greenshank feeding on the mud.

Saturday 1st May.

A gloriously sunny morning, so lets try some woodland birding. Starting at Dimmingsdale, where I managed to see 5 male Pied Flycatchers, Garden Warbler, Blackcap, Chiffchaff and a drake Mandarin.

Then onto Hawksmoor, where straight away there was one Wood Warbler next to the car park, with another one singing deep into the wood. Also a singing Tree Pipit:

A short walk from Hawksmoor is East Wall Farm, which is a delightful little spot. Very pretty.

There's an orchard and a small pool, pretty reliable for Redstart. A singing male Redstart was here, along with another male Pied Flycatcher. So that was a successful morning, after some lunch I had an afternoon drive around the North Staffs Moors. Admittedly with Dotterel in mind.

I didn't manage Dotterel, but over the afternoon I did see a dashing Hobby, a Wheatear, amongst the more usual Red Grouse, Curlews, Lapwings. The last place I checked was at Tittesworth Reservoir. I'm really glad I came here, because on the small island at the north end were two Whimbrel, busily having a wash and brush-up.

Also an Oystercatcher and Common Sandpiper on the conservation pool, with a good selection of finches on the feeders. And that was the end of a very enjoyable and successful day, but little did I know that at some point at the very end, I bodged my tripod. At least I can get it sorted out tomorrow, on the bank holiday. And if it happened in a fortnight's time I would be in real trouble.