Tuesday 29 September 2015

Change of scene

Sunday saw me heading east over the border to Hampshire, Keyhaven Marshes to be precise. This is a great stretch of coastal lagoons and saltmarsh which has attracted some fine rarities over the years, and I have some fond memories of visiting here. Memorably, I chanced my arm to twitch a Lesser Sand Plover just two days before my eldest son was born. Fortunately, he didn't arrive early. The year before I saw my first Stilt Sandpiper here, and since then I have also caught up with Baird's Sandpiper and Semipalmated Sandpiper on the pools behind the seawall.
Long-billed Dowitcher: #225 for my photo yearlist
The Dowitcher on the deck
Kinder light than in the above flight shot
This was as close as the Dowitcher came while feeding, and it was always facing away unfortunately
With such a track record for American waders, the recent arrival of a Long-billed Dowitcher, one of our commoner trans-Atlantic visitors, was not a huge surprise. Needing to travel a bit further at this stage of the year to add to my photo year list gave me a good excuse to reacquaint myself with the area. Half a dozen Bearded Tits were pinging manically around the reedbed as soon as I stepped out of the car - a promising start.
Bearded Tit - male
Bearded Tit - female
The small flock would fly around before landing back in the reedbed
Here the male in flight
A short amble down the seawall to Keyhaven Lagoon brought the Dowitcher within view, and, when it woke up and moved from behind some other waders, within camera range. Grey Plover, Knot, Redshank, Black-tailed Godwit, Lapwing and Dunlin kept it company.
Black-tailed Godwit
Another Blackwit in winter plumage
Dunlin on the shore
Lapwing on the pools behind the seawall
My photos weren't terribly satisfying so I stuck around. It took an age for the Dowitcher to move, and I had returned to the car for lunch when it returned to the saltmarsh. This was enough to tempt me back and despite patiently waiting for a few more hours, the closest I got was when it flew over my head to commute between the lagoon and the saltmarsh.
Greenshank: why couldn't the Dowitcher show like this?
Greenshank in flight
The distinctive black armpit of Grey Plover
Grey Plovers on Keyhaven Lagoon
So, while the Dowitcher didn't quite perform as hoped, it was a still a day well spent on a fine stretch of the south coast. The Isle of Wight provides a dramatic backdrop across the Solent, and with so much good habitat there is always a sense of promise at Keyhaven. I'm sure I will be back again soon.
Meadow Pipit
Meadow Pipit
Stonechat - a male
Hurst Castle and Lighthouse from Keyhaven
Male Bearded Tit

Monday 28 September 2015

Talon spotting

Having been a bit starved of quality time with the camera in recent weeks I reluctantly had to neglect parental duties this weekend to mend relations with the Canon 7D Mark II. As well as depriving me of the opportunity to watch Wareham Rangers U-13s concede eight and get dumped out of the Dorset Youth League Cup at the first time of asking, this required me to try photograph a variety of passerines and waders. Not easy when they were being terrorised by the following:
This Peregrine over Keyhaven lagoon flushed the waders half way to the Isle of Wight
Tune in to next post to see if I was able to photograph the Long-billed Dowitcher which was among them
This Sparrowhawk caught a thermal over a warm Middlebere on Saturday morning
It posed for pictures before having a tilt at one of the Chiffchaffs I was photographing
Kestrel at Keyhaven

Friday 25 September 2015

Evening at Middlebere

A fine evening at Middlbere after work this evening - not much time before the sun went down, unfortunately, but enough to find a couple of Firecrests by the cottages. Chiffchaffs were the other main event, with 20+ along the track to the hide.

Wednesday 23 September 2015

Empid-free zone

Full-time employment has its advantages, of course, but I was reminded this week that accommodating an acute twitching habit isn't among them. An Empidonax Flycatcher, almost certainly an Acadian, was discovered at Dungeness sufficiently early on Tuesday morning to make twitching it from as far afield as Cornwall theoretically possible.
The geekier corners of the internet are currently full of pictures of a rubbish satellite dish with an Acadian Flycatcher on top. Here is a picture of an excellent satellite dish without an Acadian Flycatcher on top.

Time and distance were, however, academic in my case: there were urgent reports to write, important meetings to attend and mission critical pens to be pushed. A shame as it was quite the show off, judging by the photos taken by work-shy friends who were able to cancel their mid-morning appointments with Jeremy Kyle, hurriedly change out of their coffee stained pyjamas and head off to Kent.
On reflection, I have not had a lot of luck with this family, three individuals from which have appeared on these shores in the last seven years. I couldn't go for the first one in Cornwall due to work commitments. Any chance of seeing the second one in Norfolk was scuppered by a family visit. And now this one, another victory for professional duty over personal obsession. Ah well, at least I didn't head off in the wee small hours, burning more fuel than I had previously realised in my nearly new VW, only to find the bird gone this morning, apparently for good.

So, if, like me, you find yourself gainfully employed for the full working week, and have yet to experience the joy of retirement, voluntary redundancy, gardening leave or other forms of indolence, this post is for you. Stop torturing yourself by looking at stonking photos of the Flycatcher on Birdguides, eschew all those celebratory blog posts and finder's accounts, and dwell a while here in my Empid-free zone.

Sunday 20 September 2015

Bluff-chested Handwiper

A six hour session with the Buff-breasted Sandpiper today provided plenty of opportunity to point it out to passers by, most of whom seemed genuinely interested, particularly when told about its provenance from North America. Quite a few though seemed to have trouble remembering its name, despite it being only seconds between me telling them and them reciting it back to me. 'Bluff-chested, you say'; 'Chuff-crested, is it?'; 'A Rough-legged whatwasit?', I had them all. In the end I decided to tell them I was looking at the metal detectorists who were prospecting in the same field. Much less scope for confusion.
Buff-breasted Sandpiper
Slightly ruffled in this one
It never came as close as I had hoped...
...but certainly an improvement on my previous efforts
A very dinky wader
During one of its frequent rest stops
Sandpiper on a stick. Spoiling a perfectly good photo of a metal detectorist.
Plenty of Wheatears in the area
Whitethroat feeding on elderberries

Friday 18 September 2015

An evening out

It's that time of year when autumn rarities start turning up, and if they do so close to home, there might just be time to twitch them between finishing work and sundown. So as I ambled out of the office on Thursday night I checked the pager to find that a Buff-breasted Sandpiper had been located on the Dorset coast.
Buff-breasted Sandpiper
Having seen one nearby a few years ago, I wasn't planning to dash off. Then I remembered I was supposed to be doing a photo year-list, and at this stage of the game it wasn't exactly going to tick along of its own accord. Mindful of the maxim that motivation comes from action, not the other way around, I quickened my pace from the train to home, got changed and headed to Ringstead under threatening skies.
Near the White Nothe - species #224 on the photo year-list
The view to Portland from the National Trust car park was stunning and moody. But given the lateness of the hour, there was no time for sightseeing. I saddled up with camera and scope and headed east. I was in such a hurry I quite forgot my manners: only after I hurdled the stile from the car park on to the track to White Nothe did I notice the posh-looking car containing a posh-looking couple who had apparently been waiting for me to open the five-bar gate next to the stile as I passed. He had his hands outstretched, palms upturned in a 'why didn't you open the gate?' kind of gesture. Resisting the temptation to say 'sorry, mate, despite its feudal image we did actually abolish serfdom in Dorset several centuries ago', I scurried past, muttering something apologetic about having urgent business to attend to. Yes, in a field.
The Sandpiper spent short spells sitting tight in the field
A few field widths later, I arrived at the spot where the bird was last seen. Finding it was easy as the ever thoughtful Nick Urch had staked it out just in case any short-sighted late-comers like me turned up. While the sun briefly threatened to provide some late evening light as it dipped below a bank of slate grey cloud to the west, in the end it never quite made it, and so I had to settle for shoddy pictures in poor light. I went back for more tonight and while the light was slightly better, the bird was more elusive, hiding just over the brow of a field until the sun had almost gone again. But a few late rays illuminated the North American visitor's scalloped back beautifully.
A very small bird in a very big landscape

Sunday 6 September 2015

Late news from Portland

The Dorset Youth League under-13s (Division 2) football season started today (a 2-7 away win for newly promoted Wareham Rangers, since you ask, son George being responsible for only one of the opposition goals, trying to dazzle his way out of defence when simply getting rid would have been advisable), so we're back to that time of year when the scope for birding at the weekend becomes even more limited. So I'm already reminiscing about last weekend, when the kids were still away camping with their mum, leaving three days free for wall-to-wall birding.

Having thrashed Poole Harbour pretty thoroughly on our birdrace on the Sunday, after a lie-in on Bank Holiday Monday I fancied a change of scene and headed to Portland. A Rose-coloured Starling had been around the same houses as the one I saw last year, but when Dave Foot re-found a Wryneck at the Bill, I gave up on the Fawn Yawn and headed there instead. Rather like Greenlands the previous day, the bushes by the Pulpit Inn were buzzing with a similar cast of migrants - Wheatear, Whinchat, Tree Pipit, Whitethroat, Redstart, Spotted Flycatcher and, best of all, the Wryneck - my second in 2 days. This one showed a bit better and for longer than the star of the birdrace, and it was interesting to see one of the battered ant nests into which it had been poking its bill.
Wryneck on Portland
It's still there a week later
The cryptic plumage really is stunning
The wind is catching the crown feathers here creating a crested appearance
Note the striping under the chin
This Tree Pipit perched up nicely after flushing from almost underfoot
A smartly plumaged bird
Whinchat is another favourite migrant - always good to see one of these
Spotted Flycatcher in the Pulpit Bushes
This bird was keeping quite a low profile...
...perhaps trying to avoid the attentions of the local Kestrels
Before heading to Portland, the day had started wet but well with a Hummingbird Hawkmoth on lavender in the garden