Tuesday 14 December 2010

Monday 13 December 2010

Taste the difference...

I was at a Pantomime with the kids yesterday afternoon in Bournemouth when the first flock of Waxwings to reach Poole this winter arrived. They were first reported at a Sainsbury's just 5 minutes walk from my house and not far from the school which my sons attend. ''Behind you' indeed. But a day off today meant that I could take my eldest son to school and look for the birds on the way. Grandad was visiting as well and managed to locate the Waxwing flock just outside the playground - 38 birds in total.

This was a tick for two of the three generations present, and the first time I had seen Waxwing in Dorset as well. The light improved later in the day so Christmas shopping was combined with another trip to Sainsbury's to watch the Waxwings making light work of the local berry crop. Shoppers joined birders in admiring the flock, which seemed to contain more juveniles than adults. The birds never settled on the lower berries for long, but long enough to enjoy some excellent views and the jingling calls.

Saturday 11 December 2010

Snow on the Beach

After a few hours with the Lapland Buntings I headed up Hurst Spit to look for the Snow Bunting which had been seen earlier in the day. Although reportedly flighty, with a cautious approach it proved very tame, feeding on the landward side of the beach. Returning to the Cut Bridge, the nearby feeding flock of Dark-bellied Brent Geese held a single Black Brant, while several Mediterranean Gull were roosting in the same field.

Momentary Laps

Theme parks are my idea of hell so I dropped the family off at Paulton's Park today and headed to Hurst Beach in the hope of catching up with Lapland and Snow Buntings. 3 or 4 Lap Buntings were present almost continuously in the south-east corner of the corn field next to the Cut Bridge, and several more calling birds were flying around. A large flock of Skylark were also present, along with many reed buntings, Rock Pipits, Meadow Pipits and a flock of stubble-feeding Turnstone. The Buntings were close but just too far for my 400 mm lens until this well-marked individual landed momentarily in front of me.

More from Milford

Some more photographs from the Hampshire coast today - from top Lapland Bunting, Snow Bunting, Black Brant, Rock Pipit:

Sunday 5 December 2010

Sandbanks Auk and Shore Road Waders

Children's birthday parties this morning and a Santa Special train in Swanage this afternoon prevented me from joining the boat to Brownsea today - a shame as a Little Auk was sitting just off the island's landing stage. Fortunately, it was viewable from Sandbanks with the scope so a quick diversion between family commitments enabled me to add Alle alle to my Dorset list. Despite it's popularity with dog walkers and windsurfers, Shore Road on Sandbanks can be an excellent place to get close to waders when the tide is right. Today a mixed flock of Sanderling (bottom), Dunlin (top), Bar-tailed Godwit, Curlew and Oystercatcher gave a brief window of opportunity for some photographs as the tide turned.

Sunday 21 November 2010

And another American wader...

...but in Dorset this time, with the return of the Long-billed Dowitcher to Lodmoor RSPB. Although very overcast, the bird showed well in fornt of the shelter and got involved in a bit of argy-bargy with one of the local Snipe. The Dowitcher won. A pair of Scaup at the other end of the reserve were good to see (bottom picture). The male's dark green head and pale back, and the white shield at the base of the sleeping brown female's bill, can just about be see in this photo. News of a Pallas's Warbler on Portland tempted me across the Fleet and Chesil Beach, but I had no luck in finding it during a 2 hour search.

Thursday 18 November 2010

American Robin

Finally made it to neighbouring Devon today to catch up with the American Robin present since last week. On my arrival it was being watched deep in a hawthorn on the canal bank near the Turf Hotel - close but not visible. Eventually it flew out to feed on berries in a more distant hedgerow, calling like a blackbird as it went. This digi-scoped record shot was all I could manage. It returned after some time but again went deep into the hawthorn where it remained until just before dusk when it flew into the hedge on the other side of the road. I could not relocate it, but did see a Short-eared Owl on the return to the car.

Sunday 14 November 2010

Invasion of the berry-snatchers

This year's Waxwing invasion has yet to reach Dorset (apart from a singleton reported from Studland last weekend), so a flock within striking distance of Littleborough's Pied-billed Grebe (see previous post) had to be checked out.

These were aspirational Waxwings, frequenting a suburban garden in Chorley, rather than the traditional supermarket car park, but while they co-operated, the weather did not. Apart from when one bird flew past a sliver of blue sky, it remained stubbornly grey and overcast throughout the time I was there, and when the birds were eventually flushed by a Collared Dove I began the long journey home. Hopefully they will continue to disperse and pilfer berries for many weeks to come.

Ring Bill Grebe

Mid-November and the Americans are still coming - the Pied-Billed Grebe near Littleborough being the latest. I saw one near Ashford in my then home county of Kent in 1999, so this would be a 'Millenium tick'. More seriously, getting some good images of one of only about 40 species that I have seen but not photographed, tempted me into the early start and an unusually long drive -the furthest I have travelled for any rarity this year. I had the excellent company of Anthony (and Mrs) McGeehan for the journey - not in person, of course, just the CD's from the highly recommended Birding from the Hip anthology - very witty musings punctuated by well chosen bird recordings. Mrs McGeehan's mis-transcribed phone messages for Anthony - 'Ring Bill Gull in Belmullet' - are among the highlights.

While there were plenty of birders around this morning, there were also plenty of places from where the bird could be seen. By a stroke of luck I happened to be standing by the best of them, the tiny, pad-locked 4 man hide, when a ranger-type turned up with the key. After 5 minutes inside, the Grebe swam directly in front of the open window. Bright weather had dominated north of Birmingham, but a light mist hung over Hollingworth Lake and the light was far from ideal for photography. Despite this drawback, I could not fail to get some satisfactory images as the bird cruised past just feet away. I would have stayed longer but thought I should move for others to get in the hide, but despite the crowd on the path outside there weren't many takers - a real contrast to the testy queues waiting to see last weekend's American Bittern.

If you can hold your nerve, there's a lot to be said for Sunday twitching, especially it is the first weekend a bird has been present: the crowds (and tensions) from Saturday have dissipated, the traffic is lighter, and the punters always seem more a bit more relaxed - 'communicating to share, not to impress', as McGeehan says about American birders.

Sunday 7 November 2010

Reed my lips

'There it is...' said a voice at the front of the hide as I struggled for a clear view from the back through misted optics, the inevitable result of a hasty dash into a warm hide from the cold outside. '...by some semi-submerged reeds'. This wasn't too helpful, as being semi-submerged is an occupational hazard for a reed. It's difficult to ask for more specific directions without sounding like a git, but I tried anyway. 'By a patch of dead-looking reeds' came the explanation. Most reeds are dead-looking by November so this didn't narrow it down much either. 'Where is it in relation to that lorry in the background' I asked? 'Oh, just under that'. 'Got it. Thanks'. I didn't mean to sound ungrateful, but this bird had taken some seeing. Last weekend's delayed Scillonian III sailing back to Penzance deprived returning birders of the chance to look for the American Bittern at Zennor on the Sunday morning. Many of us went to Zennor anyway on Sunday lunch-time but after no sign during a couple of hours of poor weather most, including me, went home disappointed. Local birder Viv Stratton persevered and told me today that the bird flew in about 15 minutes after I left.

So when the bird was relocated at Walmsley Sanctuary, a nervous week passed before I could finish work on Friday lunchtime and make it to Wadebridge for about 15:30. The bird had not been seen for about 40 minutes from the Tower Hide, and the light was rapidly fading, but a call from the other hide gave the half dozen people in the Tower the signal to move. Camera being less steamed up than bins, I raised it and rattled off these shots as the bird walked right into the open between ditches - something you would be lucky to see a Great Bittern do. I returned this morning but was unable to improve on Friday night's views and photos. The tetchy crowds and immobile queues made it a much less enjoyable experience, so I was glad to see this impressive beast on the Friday, and grateful to friends Jan and Matt for putting me up for the night in Newquay! Tried to string juvenile Grey Plovers into the American Golden reported on the Exe on the way home, but without success.

Sunday 31 October 2010

Scilly Saturday 30th October

Last day of the holiday and still fairly quiet so took the opportunity to try one last time to get clearer shots of the Dusky Warbler at Higher Moors. The bird was a little more showy this morning though still very difficult to capture on film. These were the best I could manage - although too distant to be frame-fillers, the light was good at least.

The children wanted one last go on the fantastic Pirate Playground on the Garrison so I took them to see the Red-breasted Flycatcher on the way which was still performing well. As we headed down to catch Scillonian III, calculating whether we would have enough time to look for the American Bittern in Cornwall, news came through that the ship had been cancelled. This meant no chance of seeing the Bittern at dusk or at dawn on Sunday, which deprived us of our best chance of seeing it. Lots of grumpy birders wandering around High Town in a daze...Finding accommodation for the unexpected additional night's stay was proving difficult but we were rescued by the great generosity and warm hospitality of Terry and Jane, creators of the 49 degrees/Isles of Scilly clothing brand and proprietors of the Foredeck ad other shops on St Mary's. We shall now feel even more morally obliged to dress from head to toe in gear from their excellent online shop - check it out and buy their stuff.

Saturday 30 October 2010

Scilly Friday 29th October

Another quiet day with a good yomp around Penninis Head and the airfield on St Mary's producing little more than this Peregrine (below). The photo shows the bird with an apparently full crop which explains why it seemed reluctant to fly by Peregine standards. A Grey Heron in flight (above) at Porth Hellick provided another opportunity for some flight shots.

Made a further (unsuccessful) attempt to improve on my photographs of the Dusky Warbler still present at Higher Moors but did manage to capture this a partially obscured Yellow-browed Warbler (above) and a Reed Warbler (below) in the process. Plenty of the former around, but another bird that can be surprisingly difficult to photograph even when quite easy to see.

Friday 29 October 2010

Scilly Thursday 28th October

One of the many rewarding things about birding Scilly in October is that you can take your time catching up with specialities like Red-breasted Flycatcher and almost guarantee that you will see one over the course of a week. One had been on the Garrison for a few days before I finally got around to looking for it this morning. Frequenting a 100 yard stretch of pines the bird was often quite confiding, and the sound of its bill snapping at flies could be clearly heard, as well as an occasional 'trrr' call. The buffy wing-bar ages it as a first winter - a very characterful bird which was reliably present during some of the quieter periods of the week.

Thursday 28 October 2010

Scilly Wednesday 27th October

A couple of quiet days with few new birds were interrupted today with news of a Dusky Warbler at Higher Moors. I have seen a couple of these Siberian rarities but never very well, so I thought I would believe the reports of it 'showing well' when I saw it. It did in fact prove relatively easy to see, calling regularly and hopping about in sallows and willows just over the heads of small crowd of admirers. Photographing it was another story, however as it rarely came to the outer branches and its constant movement confused the auto-focus of even the best cameras. I eventually managed a couple of respectable images manually focusing through small gaps in the vegetation when it paused to eat an insect. The shot above of the bird hopping away reveals the characteristic apricot undertail coverts which were otherwise not always obvious. The brightness of the legs and feet were, however, striking and the call very distinctive. The yellow lower mandible on the fine bill was also noticable.

Wednesday 27 October 2010

Scilly Tuesday 26th October

Caught up with a distant Water Pipit (right) and much closer Water Rail from the hides at Lower Moors this morning in poor weather. Water Rail seem particularly prominent this year with 1-2 birds feeding in the open early mornings in the small pools just inside the entrance to Lower Moors. A quiet day subsequently with three Pale-Bellied Brent Geese, one of which is pictured right, and a Merlin at Porthloo being the only other birds of note.

Tuesday 26 October 2010

Scilly Monday 25th October

An early morning walk around the airfield on St Mary's usually offers the chance of something good, but only Wheatear and Stonechat today - but a very showy Wheatear in beautiful light. Spent most of the rest of the day beach-hopping with the family - ending up at our favourite, Bar Point in the north of the island where a fly-over male Crossbil was a nice surprise. Ended the day at Lower Moors, where Common Snipe are usually easier to see than Jack Snipe, but not tonight, the smaller one being the only snipe on view.

Monday 25 October 2010

Sunday on Scilly

After yesterday's mad dash to St Martin's, today was more sedate on St Mary's visiting favoured haunts and seeing characteristic birds of Scilly in October. Some years just about every beach seems to host a Black Redstart, and every other hedgerow a Firecrest. This Black Redstart was feeding on the strand-line at Portcressa while the Firecrest was one of two in the excellent Carreg Dhu public gardens. Serin also seen at Green Farm with Chaffinch flock and a Whinchat and the first Yellow-browed Warbler of many seen at Higher Moors. Brambling, Fieldfare and Redwing added a wintery touch to the day.

Sunday 24 October 2010

Saturday on Scilly

First day of a week's family holiday on Scilly started well with a Bonxie from the chopper on the way over - seawatching in style - and then got better. We landed at 1300, got a boat to St Martin's at 1400 and, after a stiff march half way across the island, were watching a Red-Flanked Bluetail by 1500. At first elusive, it soon became clear that this was a very confiding bird. At one point it landed briefly 5 feet from me on the ground - too close to photograph. I saw the one on St Mary's a couple of years ago but in poor weather and at a distance, so this was a real treat. The bird was not seen again so with hindsight it was a good decision to go for it on the Saturday.

Saturday 23 October 2010

Green Heron...again

Heading to Cornwall en route to the Isles of Scilly provided another chance to see the Green Heron at the Lost Gardens of Heligan. This time I took the whole family, so now 3 year old Rowan and 7 year old George have seen this extreme rarity up close. It came to within 10 feet of them unperturbed by their not-very-quiet whispers and excitable fidgeting on the bridge overlooking the bird's favoured pond. We have a friend in Newquay whose mother lives in an apartment within the Gardens so she had seen it before any of us, and even her dog Benji got a look in. Not sure I improved on my earlier photos (see post for 17 October) as the bird was always in shade - but it was fun trying.