Monday 31 January 2011

Over the Border

Dragged the family off to Hordle in Hampshire after a cinema trip this morning to look for the juvenile White-tailed Eagle present for the last few weeks. It showed distantly after a short wait (being mobbed by a Buzzard) - my 7 year old son George seemed as pleased to see it as I was. It had flown low over the same field shortly before we arrived which must have afforded great views.

We moved on to Keyhaven in beautiful light and biting wind to look for Lapland Buntings but could find none in a brief search - the presence of this guy (top - male Sparrowhawk) may have explained their absence. A large and mobile flock of Brent Geese and this single Little Egret gave some opportunities for flight photography.

Sunday 30 January 2011

Rockpooling in Penzance

Purple Sandpipers are pretty faithful to the rocks by the Jubilee Poole in Penzance and this afternoon was no exception, even though the tide was a fair way out. This one among seven roosting just over the sea wall and allowing a close approach.

Marazion Waders

A few more pictures of the waders at Marazion this afternoon: from top - Sanderling, Dunlin, Bar-tailed Godwit.

Cornish Diver

It was a surprise to read that the Pacific Diver currently in Cornwall was thought to be returning for its 5th winter as it only seems like yesterday that the first for Britain was identified in Yorkshire. I hadn't seen any of the previous records so a good forecast and a clear day tempted me to Penzance. Plenty of Great Northern Divers were present during the morning but I could not locate the Pacific. Some locals familiar with the bird eventually picked it up in an apparently favoured area just off Marazion. Although distant at first it at least remained on the surface allowing the features to be studied - no white on the flanks; a shade paler grey on the back of the head and neck; more rounded head and smaller bill than Black-throated (see sub-record shot above). Although there was a hint of a neck strap, at that distance it was hard to distinguish from shadow. It came closer eventually but was diving by this point which made photography almost impossible. Much more obliging were the waders at the base of the St Michael's Mount causeway - a mixed flock of Bar-tailed Godwit (pictured), Sanderling, Dunlin, Ringed Plover and a single Purple Sandpiper (bottom picture) coming in with the tide and feeding on the seaweed below the sea wall.

Mind the optics...

Success with the Pacific Diver this morning allowed time to check the beaches of Mount's Bay for waders and passerines. The slipway opposite St Michael's Mount is always a good place to see and photograph Rock Pipit. Black Redstart is less common - but even more photogenic. The bottom picture shows this character perching on my telescope.

A Chat on the Beach...

While 'scoping Mounts Bay for divers, I felt a peck on my left hand which was holding a piece of cheese at the time - it turned out to be a precocious Robin which obviously couldn't wait for food to be volunteered willingly. Not quite as tame, but not far off, was this Stonechat on the sea wall and around the dunes at Marazion.

Sunday 23 January 2011

They're back!

Little Egret numbers have been worryingly depleted in Poole Harbour since December's extended cold snap, so it was reassuring to see 10 together in Holes Bay this morning a short walk from home. I would normally count 12-15 from the train every day before December, so perhaps this number is not far off the pre-freeze norm for this part of the Harbour at least.

A wintering Common Sandpiper (right) was the other highlight, patrolling the rocks on the east shore of Holes Bay. A small flock of Goldeneye, including 2 drakes, were also on the open water, and passerines were represented by Rock Pipit (below), Grey Wagtail and a singing Reed Bunting.

Wigeon and Teal are still present in good numbers, among the many birds which seem to have become relatively accustomed to the stream of joggers, fishermen, cyclists and others who use the waterside path.

Red- and Waxwings in Broadstone

Waxwings continued their tour of suburban Poole today - I caught up with nine at Broadstone this morning, all that was left of a much larger flock present during the week. With only a few berries left on the trees they had been feeding from, it was clear why they had dispersed. They generally sat high in a poplar and never settled lower down so photographs weren't possible, but this Redwing put on a good show in a bush which the Waxwings obviously didn't fancy.

Thursday 20 January 2011

Auks and Grebes Galore

A dawn stroll around Durlston with Hamish Murray was remarkable for the huge numbers of Razorbills - an estimated 5,000+ - joining a large melee of gulls and gannets offshore. Good numbers of Guillemot were also back on ledges (pictured), untroubled by a distant Great Skua heading west. A brief scan of Studland Bay later produced 2 Slavonian, 20+ Black-necked, 1 Red-necked and 7 Great Crested Grebe, the latter 3 in the same telescope view at one point. A small flock of Velvet Scoter also flew in with a single Common Scoter before heading south, while 4 Eider and a Red-throated Diver joined the usual Mergansers and Med Gulls in the Bay. Pretty good for a 10-minute seawatch!

Monday 17 January 2011

Who ate all the Pieds?

A weekend in Brighton visiting family usually provides an opportunity to look for Purple Sandpipers on the walls of Brighton Marina. But bad weather saw the walls closed to the public leaving only park life to photograph. The sight of this Herring Gull stretching its gizzard reminded me of seeing a Lesser Black-back eat a Moorhen at Cley a few years ago. Quite disgusting. More than enough to make the local Pied Wagtails keep a nervous distance.

Sunday 9 January 2011

A Big Day in Poole Harbour

40+ Dorset birders sacrificed the traditional January bird race date to take part in a co-ordinated site watch of Poole Harbour today. The idea was not just to record as many species as possible but conduct counts at key locations at the same time to develop a more accurate picture of exactly how many birds over-winter in the Harbour. An initial tally suggested that 142 species were seen, which would have comfortably broken the winter day record for the Harbour had it been done by an individual. It will take a while longer to collate individual species counts so stand by for further news.

My designated patch - the North Shore from Poole Quay to Sandbanks - is one of the most populated areas of the Harbour and the open water is among the busiest stretches - even so I estimate I saw over 4,000 individuals of 44 species, and was pleased with some good high tide counts of 195 Brent Geese at Baiter Park (including 2 Pale-Bellied Brents) and 320 Oystercatcher. Other waders I had hoped to see on Shore Road were absent due to the perfect kite-surfing conditions. Highlights for the North Shore included a female Scaup off Baiter Park (pictured top), the first I have seen in this area, while Bullfinches (pictured above) and Jays in the Luscombe Valley added a dash of colour.

The Big Day was expertly organised by Shaun Robson, and a pre-roost gathering of thirsty birders met to socialise and exchange information about productive sites later in the evening where they were generously fed and watered courtesy of Mark and Mo Constantine.

Monday 3 January 2011

Around the harbour

A small flock of Sanderling and Dunlin were feeding on Shore Road, Sandbanks early this afternoon, despite repeated flushing by dog-walkers, oblivious not just to the birds, but to the crouching man with a 400mm lens nearby. Criticism of them is prevented by my New Year's resolution to be more positive about our four-legged friends and their owners. They do, after all, provide a valuable social service - who else would find all the corpses hastily disposed of in secluded beauty spots?

Moving clockwise around Poole Harbour, several small flocks of Black-necked Grebe and a couple of Common Scoter graced Studland Bay. Despite failing light there was just time to catch up with a small flock of White-fronted Geese - 18 by my count - mingling with Greylags at Bestwall RSPB before a much smaller flock of tetchy children insisted on returning home.

Come to think of it, why don't birders find more cadavers? We're out early (though not before dog walkers, evidently), scouring the countryside with expensive optics - but how often do you hear 'birdwatcher discovers body' in the news? Is it that we're scanning distant horizons rather than what's under our noses? And is that why I can never find Jack Snipe? Or perhaps we're just too embarrassed to admit we're birders - 'yes, officer, I was out bir...err, jogging...' My wife says most birders wouldn't bother reporting a body unless it was a strandline corpse being fed off by an Ivory Gull. That's a message I'd like to see on RBA.

Sunday 2 January 2011

A New Year in Poole Harbour

A 1st of January jaunt around Poole Harbour with a boat-load of Dorset birders, courtesy of newly-ennobled Mark and Mo Constantine, awarded OBE's in the New Year's Honours list, produced some excellent waterfowl. A flock of 15 Scaup, a couple of Eider, a redhead Smew and a Great Northern Diver were the highlights on the water, with Spoonbill, Avocet and Greenshank also seen from the boat over the wall on Brownsea Lagoon. Even a female Golden Pheasant could be seen as we passed Furzey Island. Poor light and distant subjects made photographic opportunities a bit limited, but some flying Mergansers (above) and a pair of Scaup (below) are pictured here.

Saturday 1 January 2011

Review of the Year

Happy New Year to both my readers. Being housebound with illness for much of the last week has provided ample opportunity for reflection on 2010. I had some superb days around my adopted county of Dorset, many of them car-free (but not boat-free) with regular trips to Brownsea Island, one of the best places in Dorset to see waders. Trips further afield included a few days on the Farne Islands, and family holidays on Scilly and the near continent but I was still able to enjoy the occasional twitch, bringing my British list up to 418 species this year, the additions being:

Lesser Kestrel - poor views of my first tick of the year but an enjoyable 'smash and grab' trip to Suffolk with Paul Welling in any case; Oriental Pratincole - I was a bit casual about this one, leaving it several days before realising 'bloody hell, it's an Oriental Pratincole'; Marmora's Warbler - I was on holiday in France when this turned up, but squeezed it in on an early morning trip to Wales before my return to work; White-tailed Plover at Rainham Marshes, Essex - dashed off to see this after work, but could have waited and seen it subsequently on any of its UK tour dates; Quail - finally catching up with my often-heard but never seen bogey bird. I waited for ages, then two came along at once; River Warbler - was blown away by the power of its song, all the more special as it kept us waiting until near dark before revealing itself; Arctic Warbler - eclipsing bad memories of a fruitless, chilly, four-hour wait in the Cot Valley to not see one - another trip with Paul Welling; American Bittern - seen at the 2nd attempt after the first was scuppered by delayed return sailing of Scillonian III.

Although I photographed all the above with varying degrees of success, the Oriental Pratincole was undoubtedly the most photogenic. Other rarities which performed well for the camera this year included: Subalpine Warbler - a singing male at Hengistbury Head in Dorset - my pictures of this bird were published in both Birdwatch and Birding World; Spotted Sandpiper on the Exe in Devon - this juvenile was flushed by micro-lights and other photographers before settling and allowing a close approach; Solitary Sandpiper at Seaton Black Hole Marsh in Devon - great views of this mega-rarity; Glossy Ibis at Christchurch Harbour in Dorset - probably the most approachable bird of the year; White Stork at Wareham in Dorset - almost as tame as the Glossy Ibis; Pectoral Sandpiper on Portland, Dorset - a juvenile in the unlikely location of a housing estate lawn; Green Heron - the confiding juvenile which graced the Lost Gardens of Heligan in Cornwall; Red-flanked Bluetail - the first and best rare bird seen on the annual family holiday to Scilly this year; Pied-billed Grebe at Hollingworth Lake in Greater Manchester - the furthest I have travelled this year, this obliging bird swam in front of the hide shortly after I entered.

Other British 'firsts' for me this year included four reptiles (native Sand Lizard and Smooth Snake plus introduced Wall and Green Lizards), and an amphibian (Natterjack Toad).

Resolutions for 2011? With the kids now old enough to turn their own TV in the mornings, I should be able to spend a bit more time birding within walking distance of home - tried this the other day and saw Black-tailed Godwit, Rock Pipit, Chiffchaff, Woodcock and Snipe within spitting distance of Poole's urban centre. It's also traditional to give something up, so I'm giving up reading Birdforum - if I want bitchiness and unsubstantiated rumours I can go to work. Tolerance should also feature in resolutions, so perhaps I'll try to be more tolerant of dog-walkers. But not too hard...

Last day of 2010

Took a stroll with the family around Holes Bay to see the last daylight of 2010. Not there was much daylight about on a murky afternoon. Good birds for the Asda car park included Rock Pipit and this over-wintering Chiffchaff. Little Egrets, notable by their absence recently, were represented by 4 birds shivering in the shallows by the RNLI boats.