Saturday, 22 February 2014

Dip and glory at Staines Moor

The weather was good to me today, but the birds were not.
Staines Moor is a place I've always wanted to visit, but it's a bit off the beaten track for me who generally relies on public transport. Sue gets there quite a bit with Jasper the bird-dog, but due to its locality, she never stays until dusk when the owls are around.
So to kill two birds with one stone, so to speak, I said I'd go with her if she drove us.
Over the last month a Short Eared Owl has been seen on a regular basis. It was to be a target bird for Sue and I today, along with a few others that had been sighted and noted on the London Birders website. I follow quite a few local birders blogs, two of them being Lee Dingains' blog based mainly at Staines Moor, and Peter Alfreys' blog based mainly at Beddington Farmlands. So who better to show Sue and I around Staines Moor than Lee. And to cut a long story short, it turned out Peter is a good friend of Lees so I duly made contact with them both, and we all arranged to meet up this afternoon.
I had three target birds today. SEO, Water Pipit and Woodcock. I'd previously seen SEO at Papercourt a few years ago, but I have never seen Water Pipit or Woodcock before.
First birds Sue and I saw and heard were Goldfinches, Robins, Greenfinches and Chaffinches, and that was just walking along the path to the Moor. Once there we also saw and heard Skylarks, a song that I could listen to all day. Meadow Pipits were in good numbers, along with several Little Egrets, a female Kestrel, a male Stonechat, a Buzzard being mobbed by a crow in the distance, Linnets, and finally two very flighty Water Pipits. A tick for me. No viewable photos though, the birds were very distant and often flying against the sun for me to get a decent photo. We did track one down on to a bank, but again a bit too far for my little camera to zoom in on.
So just three pics from the first couple of hours......

Little Egret
Meadow Pipit
Little Egret in flight
We then made our way back to the corner of the Moor and waited in anticipation for the SEO to make an appearance. We waited. And waited. And waited. And waited. Several other birders had also turned out for the owl and were dotted around the site. After a while Lee suggested we walk further along a channel, where on two previous occasions recently a Bittern had been seen to fly into the reeds on the other side at around dusk time. Well if we didn't get to see the SEO than the sight of a Bittern flying in would be a good consolation prize. So we waited. And waited. And waited.
Fieldfares started to settle on the tops of the trees as the sun went down. At least three Common Snipe flew over from the reservoir. A Cettis Warbler called from the reed beds. Other birds like Wrens, Blackbirds and Robins started singing from their chosen roosts. And still we waited. And waited. And waited. Then suddenly, very low down and coming in fast, the Bittern flew in and dropped into the reeds no more than fifteen feet away from us. It happened so quick that Sue missed it completely and I only caught a seconds glance, but its one I wont forget in a hurry.
Sunset over Staines Moor
The SEO never did show up, and as the other birders drifted away, it was time for Lee, Peter, Sue and I to do a bit of Woodcock stalking. Lee has an almost 100% track record for seeing these shy birds after dark, so Sue and I had to remind him I do have a reputation as being a bit of a jinx when it comes to seeing a bird that I set my heart on. We persisted anyway. For 45 minutes we walked in a line stumbling amongst the ant hills in almost complete darkness. Every now and then we stopped so Lee could swoop his torch light in an arc to try to pick up any Woodcocks skulking.
Did we find any ? Did we duck ! I wasn't overly surprised knowing my luck, but I was satisfied with what I had seen. I dipped on the SEO and Woodcock, but I got my Water Pipits and the icing on the cake was the low flying Bittern.
I may not have got many photos today, but the company and their knowledge, more than made up for it. So a huge thanks to Peter (link to Peters blog) and an even bigger thanks to Lee (link to Lees blog) for taking the time today to show Sue and I around.
Lee Dingain. Birding with waders.

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