Monday 30 October 2017

Tyttenhanger Herts UK

Oct 16 2018 Verulamium Lake and Tyttenhanger 
St Albans Herts UK

During this visit I had done all my birding in the south-west of the UK, one day in Gwent (Wales) another in Gloucestershire and a third day in Somerset. My final destination was St Albans just north of London in the south-east of England. A different part of the country that might just turn up a few surprises. It's one of the two areas in SE England where Tree Sparrows can be found. St Albans also has rich history dating back to Celtic and Roman times, something I was eager to explore. I have included a link about St Alban's, besides where else on this trip could I combine so much history and birding at the same time.

Verulamium Park in St Albans.
Close by is Verulamium Park, with lawns, a wooded area, a river and pond contained a good selection of birds. I wandered around with the Nikon P900, the 24mm-2000mm bridge camera that can shoot Roman remains one moment and birds the next.
Verulamium and the site of the mosaic below AD 46.
The floor of a Roman town house showing the underground heating system .


Prior to my visit I had sent out some feelers via Birding Pal to birders in the area. This would be my last serious day of birding before returning to Vancouver and wanted to make the most of it. I had made contact  and corresponded with Alan Gardiner, who is also the Herts County recorder. A really good guy to bird with as he is up to speed with all the latest sightings.
Prior to my visit he sent me heaps of information about birding in the St Albans area and even made out a wants for me.

Alan picked me and we headed for nearby Tyttenhanger Gravel Pits a few miles outside St Albans.

Tyttenhanger Gravel Pits.
Our first stop was to look for a Little Owl. The owl was there, tucked inside a hole of an oak tree but unfortunately was only partially visible, too bad, I wasn't going to count it unless I had a better view. Perhaps next time.
We continued through a mixed forest where the trees held mostly Goldcrests and Blue Tits. We did however come across a huge badger set.

Badger set
 Exiting the woods we had a Kestrel, a Chiffchaff and around the  lake were a good selection of birds including Great Cormorant, Little Egret, Pied Wagtail, all kinds of ducks and a Caspian Gull. A full is included below.

As the day wore on we had a great sighting of Red Kite and eventually the Tree Sparrows, a bird  that is becoming increasingly rare and localized in the UK.

Red Kite

 This bird is banded part of a concerted effort to help out a fragmented population

Tree Sparrow

Before leaving the Tyttenhanger car park a flock of Linnet alighted on the fence.


Here is the website to for those interested in birding the area. 

Late in the afternoon we made our way out to a farmers field where had I been on my own I would have just driven by. Thanks to Alan we were soon into Red-legged Partridge, the third lifer of the day.

Red-legged Partridge

We made our way to the highest vantage point in search of a Yellowhammer, the wind was blowing but after about ten minutes a single yellowhammer flew over, making it my 100th species of the trip. The perfect way to conclude my UK visit.

It's never too late to start birding"

John Gordon
BC Canada

Saturday 21 October 2017

All Things Must Pass

Brockweir Nr Chepstow Gwent UK

All thing must pass. After 55 years the family home has been sold. It's a bittersweet feeling as I bid farewell to the lanes and meadows I played in as a child, the brooks and rivers I fished and in later years, the gardens and orchards I birded. Will I ever return to my old haunts, I will never know. but the memories will be indelibly etched in my memory for the reminder of my days.
Mistle Thrush or Stormcock
Stormcock is an old English name for the Thrush because it sings in the heaviest storms .

The name was traditionally used in the south of England especially in Hampshire, Herefordshire and Gloucestershire.
The name derives from the fact that the Mistle Thrush, unlike most other birds, who seek shelter from stormy weather, actually seems to be stimulated by approaching storms and will sing or call lustily before and through bad weather.

Mistle Thrush

My last days were spent packing boxes and talking runs to the tip. Close-by was Cannop Ponds where a feeder attracts many of the forest birds. I had thirty minutes to spare between errands so headed for the ponds. These pictures from the comfort of my car which also acted as a blind.

These last images were taken with the Nikon P900

Blue Tit

 Male Chaffinch

Male Chaffinch colour variation. 

Chaffinch female.

Willow Tit..I think?
There are Marsh Tits nearby but quite rare.



"It's never to late to start birding"
John Gordon
BC Canada

Friday 20 October 2017

Avalon Marshes Somerset UK

Oct 8 2017 Avalon Marshes Somerset Levels UK

The Avalon Marches are internationally famous for its nature reserves and wildlife. The area has been lived in and worked for ten thousand years. Pre-historic paths and villages from the Bronze Age criss-cross the area and scores of Roman coin hoards have been found in the area. Towering over the marshes is Glastonbury Tor. During the Middle Ages Glastonbury monastery became one of the most powerful and richest in England.

Glastonbury Tor

 The area was excavated for the peat and the workings later filled with water creating an intricate series of marshes rich in birdlife. These days the famous Glastonbury Festival attracts hundreds of thousand of music lovers. A visit to the marshes had been on my itinerary for the past three years but timing is everything and time after time the opportunity fell through.
Fortunately this time I finally had the chance to visit the area with my Birding Pal Paul Bowden, our second outing ten days. Our previous visit being to the Newport Wetlands where Paul found me two lifers, his expertise and knowledge would prove invaluable a second time.
We left Chepstow and were soon on the motorway over the Severn Bridge and passing north of Bristol. Our first stop was Westhay Moor Nature Reserve in search of Bearded Tits, a bird I had seen briefly on my previous UK visits but was hoping to capture some decent action shots.

Bearded Tit or Bearded Reedling (Panurus biarmicus)
Male Bearded Tit

The Bearded Tits fed along this boardwalk encouraged with offering of grit, essential for their survival during the winter.
Nikon P900

Female Bearded Tit

On our arrival there were more birders and photographers than there were birds. There also seemed a little tension between the two groups with the odd quip exchanged, way too a competitive situation when all most of us wanted to do was watch the incredibly photogenic antics of the Bearded Tit.
The brief time I had with these birds was one of the most enjoyable experiences I have for a long time, they have such character, they bring a smile to everyones face, even the grumpy ones.

It was time to move on a to Ham Wall where the morning dew was beginning to burn off and scores butterflies were beginning to feed on pollen rich ivy lining the pathways. 


The target bird at Ham Wall was a Bittern. At the hide, perched above the reed bed the usual suspects were in plain view. Gadwal, Mute Swan, Stonechat and a Great Egret.

Paul in the foreground and a blindful of birders waiting for the Bittern.
Nikon P900
The longer we waited for the Bittern, the more species appeared. A Teal, a Little Grebe, Mallards, a Stonechat and a Water Rail to name just a few. Still no bittern but a Marsh Harrier being harassed by a Kestrel was exiting and then a Sparrowhawk, all good birds.
The Nikon P900 and its 80X zoom came in handy for this shot of Lapwing.


The Bittern never did show but isn't that the way it goes sometimes.
Just as we were leaving a Little Egret flew by. Recently the species have begun to nest in the UK.
Little Egret

The Avalon Marshes are a special places teeming with wildlife.
Nikon P900
Great Egret

Our last stop of call was Chew Valley where there were plenty of birds including Kingfishers, Grey Herons, Pochard, Pied Wagtail, Little and Great White Egret. We even checked for a Great Bustard but dipped on that although it had been seen earlier in the morning, That really would have been a brilliant way to end what had already been was already a perfect day's birding. Thanks Paul.

Pied Wagtail with what looks like a banding ring. P900 long distance shot.

Small Tortoiseshell

All images Nikon D500 and 200mm-500mm unless stated.

"It's never to late to start birding"
John Gordon
Langley Cloverdale
BC Canada

Tuesday 17 October 2017

UK Birding (Lincolnshire)

Oct 2017 Mablethorpe Lincolnshire

There was family business to take care of on the other side of the UK, a gruelling six hour drive and a two-hundred mile road trip. To make matters worse there just isn't a direct route. One could follow the old Roman roads The Fosse Way or cross every major motorway and secondary that connects the south to the north of the UK. We compromised and used some of the motorway system and eventually arrived in the pitch dark and dog tired. Next morning I promised myself a trip to the seaside to clear the mind.
 Mablethorpe isn't exactly a birding mecca but close enough to some birding hotspots that there is always the possibility of something special turning up. I pulled up on to foreshore, made sure Dad had his paper, a Kit-Kat and hot cup of tea and made for the sand dunes and the crashing waves. He had a great view of the sea and was warm as toast from the sun. We could see each other in case there was some emergency. I had an hour, perhaps ninety minutes to see what I could turn up.

A great expanse of sand stretches for miles along the east coast.
 The very first birds I saw were a flock of Goldfinches feeding in the shrubs that hug the beach. They didn't stay long due to the ferocious winds coming off the flats. An arctic tern was hunting along the water's edge, barely able to keep a straight line.

Nikon D500 

I headed for the shoreline. Soon the fine sand turned to sticky mud, I had the wrong footwear. I knew I would be in trouble if I ventured too far so I used my Nikon P900 24mm-2000mm zoom camera to photograph an Oystercatcher feeding alongside the crashing waves. At about 80x power the camera does a fine job of documenting far away subjects although it doesn't in anyway replace a top quality scope

Oystercatcher P900

The beach was littered with Razor Shells.

click link
 to find out more 

A flock of Sanderling flew in and I able to get a little closer without getting stuck in the mud but no sooner had the birds gained my trust a dog walker and his unleashed mutt flushed the entire flock.

 Nikon D500
Soon my hour was over and time to take dad to see his new bungalow, it's not far from Gibraltar Point 
a super birding location that on the right day turn up some really good birds, rarities and the odd mega. I guess that means Dad will be having regular visitors during the spring and fall migration. 

Here are some pix from my a previous visit to cross-country-bird-trip-to-gibraltar.html

"It's never too late to start birding"
John Gordon
BC Canada

Saturday 14 October 2017

Slimbridge Wetlands UK

Slimbridge Wetland Centre Gloucestershire UK

This was my fifth or sixth visit to the  Slimbridge Wetland Centre 
The sanctuary is very similar albeit a much larger version of the Reifel Bird Migratory Bird Sanctuary in Delta BC. Both are close to large estuaries as well as large tracts of agricultural land. Both offer a haven for migratory birds. Not only is the birding superb the centre's gift shop houses one the largest selection of bird books anywhere on the planet.


My guide for the day was Birding Pal Alan Baxter from Gloucester. I met Alan at the entrance and although we had only previously exchanged e-mails we immediately hit it off, especially when he suggested to the attendant I was entitled to a seniors discount. Five pounds saved just like that! 

We wandered from hide to hide looking for our two target birds, the Ruff and a Spoonbill, both had been showing earlier in the week but like any birding weren't guaranteed. At the first pond we were rewarded with a pair of Black-tailed Godwits, a Common Snipe (Wilson's to us in N.America) and the elusive Ruff, a great start to the day but still no sign of the Spoonbills though.

A  long distance shot of a Black-tailed Godwit.
 Barwits can't be mixed in with the flock so a decent photo makes for certain ID.


One of the better sightings with my new Hummingbird Scope were two Dark-bellied Brent or Brant. Now if only I could attach my iPhone I would have time to study my finds on the computer when I got home.

This Egyptian Goose (wild) flew into the ponds surprising a few observers. Quite a common bird in the eastern part of the country, nor so much in the West.

One birder insisted the goose was tame, all the others disagreed, a pointless argument as it turned out, the bird wasn't tagged and thus deemed a wild bird. Alan and I left the others, we had more ground to cover and a lot of ground there was, one could easily spend the whole day at the centre.


(Northern) Lapwing.


Common Snipe (Gallinago Gallinago)

Finally we heard from other birders a pair of immature Spoonbills had landed in one of the ponds. We hurried over and the pair were already pruning, partially obscured by a flock of black-headed Gulls. The hide was jam packed with a small army of birders, it was a tight squeeze with all the tripod mounted scopes and cameras jostling for position. Suddenly something made the birds take flight and provided us the opportunity of a flight shot. There were high fives all around, mission accomplished and time for a well deserved coffee break.

I left Slimbridge without buying another bird book for which my long suffering wife will thank me a plenty. We headed for Frampton in search of a Yellow-legged Gull. Fortunately Alan knew his gulls but not before I sighted a gull that looked different from the others, Alan confirmed my suspicions and yes it was the yellow-legged, species #143 on my UK list.

It was the perfect way to spend the day following a week-long session of packing and cleaning in preparedness for Dad's move across country from Gloucestershire to Lincolnshire. Next week will be spent sifting through more than  sixty years of memories my parents had squirrelled away, I wonder what treasures i'll find*

* And treasures I did uncover. Every postcard I had sent from my world travels, every newspaper and magazine tear sheet I'd sent them, my old school report cards (cringe) from the Sixties and earlier, old photos I had never seen, a lifetime of memories. 
Six days from now i'll have another opportunity to bird so until them.

"It's never too late to start birding"

John Gordon
BC Canada