Friday 30 November 2012


I try very hard in my interactions with friends and family, and through the pages of this blog, to cultivate a reputation for fecklessness and unreliability. This is in the hope that none of them will ask me to mind their kids, look after their pets or accept other weighty responsibilities, at least at times when I might otherwise be out photographing birds.

Despite this, over the course of the last year I have somehow become a Godfather to three previously heathen, now good Christian, children. This has required me to swear, on a variety of holy books which don't exactly get well-thumbed in the Moore household, to drop everything for these young souls at times of trouble, without any get out clauses such as 'unless a first for Britain turns up'. Fortunately, this hasn't been put to the test yet, and let's hope it isn't any time soon.

The latest unfortunate waif to be entrusted to my unique brand of moral guidance, the lovely Tilly (6 months), lives in Cornwall and was welcomed into the Church amidst the biblical rainfall of last weekend. She at least has a fighting chance of regular autumn visits from her Godfather as I can crash at her Mum and Dad's when a rare bird turns up, as I did with the American Bittern in 2010. Assuming she hasn't already moved into my spare room of course, the selfish madam. The other two live in London, so don't stand much of a chance unless the Wetland Centre in Barnes turns up a goodie, which it hasn't for a while. Fortunately, God moves in mysterious ways these days, so I can send them Amazon gift vouchers in lieu of spiritual leadership.

A bird: will I ever see one again?

Anyway, all this vaguely theistic drivel is a long-winded way of saying that, what with parenting, godparenting, studying and working, I haven't got much birding done lately. During the long winter evenings, however, I have managed to update my website which had been badly neglected in favour of the more trivial responsibilities listed. Check it out, if only so I'm not the only one reminiscing about the times when I used to go outside and take pictures of stuff.

P.S. In the unlikely event that any of the mums and dads of any of my gorgeous God-children are reading this, I'm obviously joking about all of the above. Except the 'first for Britain' bit: Leviticus, Chapter 10, Verse xii clearly states 'thou shalt not dip on Black-throated Blue Warbler'. And who am I to argue with the good book?

Wednesday 14 November 2012

A promise is a promise

In a recent post, after close-up views of impossibly exotic birds on the Isles of Scilly, I promised an early return to distant, grainy photos of patch trash. Never let it be said I don't deliver...

Drake Red-crested Pochard
First up, a Red-Crested Pochard, rewarding my return to Swineham with a new bird for the patch. It was found by a recent recruit to the area, Marcus Lawson - like me, a drift migrant from Kent. I can tick the RCP with confidence due to an executive decision to apply a much lower burden of proof to my patch list than my British one. This helpfully dispenses with any agonising about the origins of all but the most outrageously dodgy waterfowl which may turn up. I haven't decided where to draw the line yet, but I'm thinking somewhere between 'Bar-headed Goose' and 'Flightless Cormorant'.

Male Bearded Tit
Next up, two pairs of Bearded Tits - often heard but not so often seen in the vast reedbeds between the gravel pits and the Wareham Channel. Not frame-filling shots, but as good as I've managed to date at this site. I got close views of these birds despite having two boisterous sons in tow. Their mum was away on a girls day out, and is off again this Saturday for an embarrassing-Auntie-at-a-college-disco weekend with her niece, who is at Uni in London. The obvious downside of this is that I will be full-time parenting and therefore not doing much birding. 'Claire going away' is also close as it gets to a guarantee of a good bird turning up which I won't be able to twitch - second only to 'mum and dad coming to visit'. The upside is the impact on the brownie point jar for future excursions: kerrching!

Bearded Tits - 3 of 4 at Swineham this weekend

Sunday 11 November 2012

Yes tonight, Josephine...

Mr Blyth obliged me the week before last with decent views of his Reed Warbler. Last week was the turn of Mr Bonaparte and his Gull. I dug out my copy of Whose Bird? by Bo Beolens and Michael Watkins to check precisely which Bonaparte gave his name to this dainty visitor from North America. For the record, it was Prince Charles Lucien Bonaparte - nephew of the Emperor Napoleon. The Prince pioneered the cataloguing of all the birds of the world, and although he died before completing the task, his was a major contribution towards its compilation.

Anyway, one of the Prince's Gulls had been reported on and off at Dawlish Warren since mid-October, and as I had never photographed this species well I thought I would try my luck. What light there was was already fading as I arrived. A kindly birder in the car park gave me his ticket as he was just leaving, but also reported that there were virtually no birds about. As I approached the beach, I could see that he wasn't wrong - just one in fact: a Bonaparte's Gull, the only bird I could see on the sea for about a half-a-mile.

It was very distant at first, and I cursed myself for not bringing the essentials of good gull fieldcraft - a bag of chips and some bread. I needn't have worried - within a few minutes it flew in to the beach to feed in the surf and perch on the groynes (it seemed to favour groynes 1 and 2, which are marked on the maps on site and on-line). With uncharacteristic presence of mind I had worn my wellies so was able to walk into the surf and wait for it to fly past, or come back to the nearest groyne.

Saturday 10 November 2012

The last post...

...from our recent family holiday on the Isles of Scilly. I've done the rarities, I've done the ridiculously tame scarcities, I've done the waterbirds, and now, 12 gigabytes of photos and a creaking hard drive later, this is the best of the rest. Next week: back to normal with grainy, distant shots of patch trash. Promise.

Curlew, Porthloo

Red-breasted Flycatcher, Lower Moors
Red-breasted Flycatcher

Greenshank, Lower Moors 

Rock Pipit

Goldcrest, Great Pool, Tresco
Spotted Flycatcher, Watermill - a very late one (2 Nov)

Turnstone, Porthloo
Song Thrush, Garrison

Starling, Porth Mellon

Friday 9 November 2012

Snorkelling on St Mary's

One of the highlights of last week on the Isles of Scilly was this Red-throated Diver which spent a few days snorkelling in the surf just yards off Hugh Town Beach. The bird was first discovered by streetlight on a high tide one evening. We were staying on the Strand which overlooks the beach, so I was up early next morning to get it on the bedroom window list and take some pictures. The light was poor and remained so all day, but with such a confiding bird, there could be no complaints. The Diver - until recently, a rare enough species on Scilly to require a description by the records committee - commuted between Town Beach and Porth Mellon, and was still there as we boarded Scillonian III to come home last Saturday.


Nice weather for ducks...

...and geese, not to mention swans, on the Isles of Scilly last week. Not bad enough to stop us getting out every day though. The hides at Porth Hellick often provided shelter from frequent showers, and, conveniently, this also seemed to be the waterbird hotspot for the week. The pool attracted:

11 Whooper Swans - an adult and 2 juvs shown here

Whooper Swan is a scarce bird on Scilly...

...though 6 were also on Tresco at the same time.

A small flock of Greenland White-fronted Geese - all young birds judging by the absence of black patches on their bellies.

Initially wary, they stayed in the most well-hidden corner of Porth Hellick Pool...
...but on my second visit they came very close to the hide. A rare bird on Scilly.

2 Pale-bellied Brent Geese also came in with the Geese (another Scilly scarcity, though slightly commoner than its Dark-bellied cousin, of which I saw four on the sea off St Mary's)

The pair of Pale-bellied Brent Geese together

And finally, an actual duck - a female Ring-necked - surprisingly rare perhaps given how many turn up on the mainland, but still the most common trans-Atlantic duck to appear on the islands

Thursday 8 November 2012

Scilly scarcities

Even during a quiet week for rare birds on the Isles of Scilly - and last week was by no means a classic - it's a place where you seem to get exceptional views of a range of scarcer species which would normally defy a close approach. Some may not be used to people, some may just be exhausted, but whatever the reason it makes for a rewarding experience for the photographer. In reverse order of proximity last week were:

Brambling - I flushed this bird from the coast path near Old Town Church so found a place to sit and waited.

Within a few minutes it returned to perch on the seawall and feed on the path again just yards away.

Several beaches on Tresco and St Mary's held 2 or 3 Black Redstarts last week.

The most confiding were this one just over the seawall at Porthcressa...

...and this one just over the seawall at New Grimbsy. Too close to focus at times.

Another confiding bird - a Snow Bunting at New Grimsby. Flushed by my 5-year old son when it strayed into his 'long jump pit' on the beach unfortunately.
The New Grimsby Snow Bunting was surpassed for boldness by this one at Rushy Bay on Bryher.

It hopped up to my eldest son George, let him stroke it and nuzzled into his hand. I managed not to get a photograph of this, as I was trying to prevent the other son from flushing it!

'Too close to focus' doesn't do it justice - this bird had me shuffling backwards in the sand to get it in the frame as it hopped towards me.

Shame about the light, but still some compensation for the absence of the Buff-bellied Pipit which had been present and showing very well on this beach the previous day.

These 1st winter Waxwings were feeding at ground level three feet beyond a garden gate in Porthcressa on our last full day on the islands.

I waited for them to perch up for these shots, and then tried to find an angle which eliminated messy window frames, gutters etc from the background. The perils of photographing Waxwings...
Closest of all though was this Firecrest. We just missed a Little Bunting being released by the same hand having been caught earlier in the same net, but this was the next best thing.

Wednesday 7 November 2012

Rare birds on Scilly: it's all relative

October half-term on the Isles of Scilly tends to give a slightly warped impression of the whole business of rarity. Last week, for instance, a Blackpoll Warbler from across the Atlantic, and a Blyth's Reed Warbler, which should have been heading from Finland to India or thereabouts, were the rarest birds I saw in British terms. But both were upstaged by a wandering Chough, which provoked Scilly listers into chartering the jet boat to St Martins where it first turned up.

Blackpoll Warbler - thought to be a different bird to the one on Bryher earlier in the month. Common as muck.

A streaky flight shot, in every sense. It showed down to 10 feet in the half light of early morning - this was taken later when the bird was more distant.

With over 20 records, the Blackpoll is the 'commonest' of the three on Scilly. While Blyth's Reed is historically rarer, the first record for the islands being in 2002, a recent run of this species has spoilt the locals somewhat. I have managed to see three of each species in about a decade of October holidays there.

Blyth's Reed Warbler - this species shows a longer supercilium and shorter primaries compared to Reed.

Blyth's Reed Warbler lacks the rich brown colouration of Reed Warbler and usually shows a darker tip to the lower mandible.

With just two accepted records since 1950, therefore, the Chough has become the most desirable species of the three for Scilly listers. I'm not too serious about my own Scilly list, but a Chough is a good bird to see anywhere. We couldn't get to St Martin's on the day of the bird's arrival but fortunately it relocated to Peninnis Head on St Mary's later that evening and was still present the following morning. It was getting a hard time from the local Peregrine and Crows as I watched it, and one of these may have been responsible for its sad end - it was found dead by an Islander the next day. Pride of place, then, in this post, must go to the Chough. Wherever it came from - Ireland, Wales, France and now Cornwall all being possibilities - may it rest in peace.