Saturday 26 February 2011

RIP Ray Turley

I was very sad to hear this week of the recent death of Ray Turley, who was very much part of the Dungeness landscape, not to mention the birding scene, when I lived in Kent. I did not know him well but had the benefit of his sharp eyes and wit during several sea-watching sessions at the Point. Next time I think I see a distant Pom or Sooty scudding past at sea, and wish I had someone more knowledgeable alongside to talk me through the finer points of their identification, I will remember him.

Friday 25 February 2011

Tits and Treecreepers

Some more pictures taken during a rare bit of sunshine this week: from top, Crested Tit (x2), Coal Tit, Blue Tit, Treecreeper

SAS Crestie

This Crested Tit visiting feeders at Loch an Eilein today appeared to have had SAS training: it's mission was to get in an out without anyone noticing. Unlike its showier cousins it would approach from the rear of the tree laden with feeders, sneak through the branches, drop in to grab a peanut and go. Much more obliging was this Treecreeper in the same area which also had the decency to pose for photographs during the only hour of sunlight of my five days in Scotland.

Thursday 24 February 2011

Winter Ptarmigan

More Ptarmigan from today's efforts:

Snow Bunting on Cairngorm

The rapid rise in temperature in recent days was illustrated by reports that Snow Bunting were present in the Cairngorm car park a few days ago, but I only came across these birds much higher up the mountain at around the same altitude as the Ptarmigan (see previous post). Three birds were feeding in the small areas of exposed grass near the lochan at the base of the Coire. They allowed a close approach, and on the way back down I realised that the pictures would have been better had I had the presence of mind to wipe increasing amounts of rain from the lens. Always nice birds to see, but particularly in the snow!

Cairngorm challenge

En route from Stirling to Speyside, a detour to Loch Laggan produced a female Black Grouse perched in a birch tree this morning. My main target for today was, however, another grouse - Ptarmigan, still in winter plumage at this time of year. I approached Cairngorm near midday to find the upper car park full - after the indignity of sharing a shuttle bus with a colourful army of skiiers, I began the arduous 90 minute climb to Coire an Lochan where the birds are usually present. The weather was breezy but clear on setting off, and despite stepping through rapidly melting snow into streams beneath on one or two occasions, it remained so for the rest of the climb. When I heard the croaking call of male Ptarmigan nearby I knew that only mist and rain could get in the way now. Unfortunately, both turned up, driven by increasingly strong gusts of wind, just as I caught sight of two male birds and a female on the coire walls. The next couple of hours were spent happily, but damply, getting close enough to huddle under rocks for shelter and hope the birds would come closer. Eventually a pair did - close enough even to hear the female's soft clucking calls. Had the light been better I might have got some excellent photos but given the deteriorating conditions, I was happy enough with these. My third grouse species of the day was seen on the return journey when three male Red Grouse and a female flushed from beside the path.

Wednesday 23 February 2011

Every Tit but Willow

Ken Dee Marshes was my second new RSPB reserve of the day, and I was hopeful of photographing Willow Tit as this is reportedly the best site in Scotland for the species. Not this afternoon though - Great, Blue, Coal and Long-tailed Tit all came to feeders, but the closest I came to Willow was reading about its regular appearance at the same feeders in the hide log. Still, Brambling, Nutchatch, Great Spotted Woodpecker and Red Kite around the reserve made for a worthwhile visit. Shooting at ISO1600 in dark and damp conditions stretched the camera to its limits, but it seemed to cope reasonably well.

Mersehead welcoming committee

I could hear Tree Sparrows as soon as I arrived at Mersehead this morning and on returning to the small visitor centre after a walk around the reserve there were good numbers attending the feeding station there. Yellowhammer and Greenfinch added colourful photo opportunities, albeit through the windows of the centre.

Barnacles at Mersehead

A week off provided the opportunity to head to Scotland for a birding trip and a chance to catch up with my brother in Stirling. My own family were staying with friends in Kent so after dropping them off on Sunday I started the long journey north on Monday morning. North of the Thames that is, to Rainham Marshes in the hope of seeing the Slaty-backed Gull which had been present for several weeks and for much of the previous day. It's a miracle it's lasted that long considering the stuff the gulls eat from the local landfill site - very stinky birding. Many Herring, Lesser and Greater Black-backed Gulls were present but no Slaty-backed. A female Hen Harrier and half a dozen Corn Bunting brightened up an otherwise dull day, and though picking through the gulls was educational, staring at a landfill site all day doesn't do much for the spirits.

After getting disappointing views of the Rufous Turtle Dove recently, and now no views of this, I was pretty raritied-out and ready for some proper birding. A dozen Waxwing on the hard shoulder of the M11 as I sat in a traffic jam heading north last night cheered me up, and Mersehead RSPB this morning provided further tonic. Barnacle Geese from the Svalbard population were fewer in number than nearby Caerlaverock, but whereas at the latter they are often quite distant, here the small flocks gave close views from the various tracks around the reserve. A Kingfisher and good numbers of Pintail were present along with more common waterbirds.

Sunday 20 February 2011

Not quite the Orient

Work and other commitments prevented a mid-week visit to Oxfordshire to see the orientalis Rufous Turtle Dove, leaving little choice but to queue up with the masses on the Saturday morning. Heavy rain did a good job of dampening the spirits of 250 would be dove twitchers, but the bird flew into a tree which could be seen from the road allowing most people to get a satisfactory view. At this point the crowd collectively exhaled, some enterprising brownies set up a cake stall, and all seemed well with the wet and windy world. The bird relocated to some nearby trees where telescope views were reasonable. Photography was almost a non-starter - this picture was the best I could manage - the rufous tones of the upperparts can just about be made out. I stuck around for a few more hours but could not improve on the earlier views. An American Wigeon on the way home was not far from the cemetery where my in-laws are buried so having twitched that, I stopped by to put some flowers on the grave in the hope of improving my standing with them - and their very tolerant daughter.

Sunday 13 February 2011

Pimp my hide

Hampshire Wildlife Trust have done such a great job of demonstrating how restoration of old mineral workings can benefit wildlife at Blashford Lakes that it seems churlish to criticise - but the choice of fixed windows covered with tinted film for two of their showcase hides is a puzzler. The effect is like trying to watch birds through the window of a pimp's limo. Only two small windows at the extremes of each hide actually open, but unlike a limo where the papparazzi crowd around them trying to peek in, anyone wanting a decent view has to huddle around these trying to see out. If you can cope with queuing patiently, it's worth it for the excellent views of Brambling, Siskin and Redpoll as well as commoner species which attend the well stocked feeders.

The only reason I can think of would be a misguided attempt to stop photographers 'hogging' the view but on the evidence of yesterday, (a) this doesn't necessarily work and (b) it just leads to poor views and frustration for everyone. A bittern showing from the Ivy North hide illustrated the problem nicely - being south facing, you had to factor glare and reflections in to your attempt to see one of our most elusive birds hiding in a reedbed. The other hide, deep in dark woodland, hardly needs tinted glass, and the birds seem unperturbed by the open windows, so disturbance, the only other reason I can think of for fixed windows, wouldn't appear to be a risk. Anyway, rant over, I enjoyed my 10 minute ration of good views and photo opportunities before making way for others, and the woodland walk to a cacophony of calling finches was very impressive. The hides aren't the only place to take good photos either - these Siskins were taken just wandering around near the car park.

More from Blashford Lakes

A few more pictures taken at Blashford Lakes today - from top Siskin, Brambling, Blue Tit:

Saturday 12 February 2011

Last of the Park Life

A few more pictures of the Ring-billed Gull in Poole Park, taken in better light than on the day of its arrival:

Sunday 6 February 2011

Poole Park...

...more like Central Park today, with a 1st winter Ring-billed Gull joining the Long-billed Dowitcher present all week and attracting a crowd of admirers. Both birds were viewable from the same spot at times, and both were excellent additions to the list of birds I have been able to see within a short walk from home. With the children and their mum safely despatched to 'Gus Gorrillas' playland/cafe (sorry Walpole Park, Gosport - you may have an RBG but you can't offer that kind of luxury) I had an hour to photograph these confiding birds. The Gull didn't look too well in truth, but the Dowitcher continued to feed very well despite very strong winds - and water levels seem to be rising in the lake, pushing it even closer to the shore. An elderly lady told me that there was a whole flock of Dowitchers further along the shore. I politely dismissed them as Black-tailed Godwits, though on second thoughts, perhaps I should have checked...

Wednesday 2 February 2011

More Park Life

The 1st winter Long-billed Dowitcher was still present on Poole Park Lake early this morning, with Black-tailed Godwit (bottom picture) also showing well on the edge of the lake:

Tuesday 1 February 2011

Park life

Following up on a report of a Long-billed Dowitcher in my local park in Poole last night, I was unable to locate it during a flying visit on the way to work this morning - though several Black-tailed Godwit and Redshank were present on the mud where the park lake would normally be.

The more observant Steve Smith had better luck later and was kind enough to let me know that the bird had returned. I was able to get back from work in time to find the Dowitcher tip-toeing through drink cartons and fag packets on the margins of the lake, just a few yards out from the edge. Many photos were deleted due to this unfortunate detritus - these pictures were rescued only by savage cropping. An amazing record for this location, putting the regular Black Swan's nose seriously out of joint...