Monday 29 February 2016

More on wintering warblers

At one point on Saturday the Portesham Pallas's Warbler appeared to be associating with a small group of Chiffchaffs, plenty of which have been over-wintering in our mild climate this year. In truth, I think it was just that they were all gorging on insects in the same area during the sunniest part of the day, as when the sun went in, the Pallas's become more elusive, and when it did reappear it was very much on its own. I say 'Chiffchaff', but with recent DNA test results suggesting that the colybitta, tristis and abietinus sub-species Chiffchaffs were all present in Ireland this time last year, the possibilities seem increasingly endless. But we don't want to spark another Chiff-off between those fractious boffins, do we, so let's just make the altogether more straightforward comparison between Chiffchaff and Pallas's Warbler instead. You know, like one of those ID articles in the magazines. Or a not very challenging 'Challenge ID' piece.
Chiffchaff - no wingbars, a narrow supercilium, and sullied, yellow-washed underparts
Pallas's Warbler - two wingbars (one hidden here), a strong supercilium with matching crown stripe, and pure white underparts
Chiffchaff - very plain wings
Pallas's Warbler - a riot of wingbars and brightly tipped tertials, not to mention a 'cycle helmet' head stripe pattern
Chiffchaff feeding on a bee - a substantial meal
Pallas's Warbler - not feeding on a bee
Chiffchaff dipping its tail to reveal a plain rump
And you won't see a rump like that on a Chiffy! Ok, I admit it, it wasn't an ID post after all, but a thinly veiled excuse to post more photos of that Pallas's Warbler. Can you really blame me?

Sunday 28 February 2016

Time slowed down

Time felt like it had slowed down on our recent half-term visit to Cornwall. That's my excuse for posting these photos two weeks after they were taken anyway. The Hudsonian Whimbrel rather stole the limelight on that trip, but there was plenty of other stuff to see on the way there and back.
Fulmar, Lands End
We went to Land's End to look for a Rose-coloured Starling. Only after spending the day there did I realise it was actually at The Lizard. Wrong headland. Doh! Here is its close relative, a male Starling.
The Land's End Starlings were looking stunning though. This one a female.
Longships Lighthouse off Land's End
Land's End was taking a bit of a pounding
Oystercatcher at Sennen Cove
Little Egrets near Marazion
Rock Pipit at Marazion
Sanderling at Marazion
This Pheasant visited the garden of our holiday cottage
After leaving Land's End we headed for St Levan where this Barn Own was a highlight
Barn Owl
Possibly the world's worst photo of a Yellow-browed Warbler, which was at the bottom of the valley at St Levan, calling frequently, but not exactly showy!
On the way down to Cornwall, a flying visit to Seaton Marshes enabled me to catch up with a Glossy Ibis 
It was a bit distant unfortunately...
...also a bit distant at Seaton Marshes was a drake Green-winged Teal, here with a female Common Teal
This Whooper Swan was on the boating lake at Helston on the way home
Whooper Swan - a returning bird which first turned up as a juvenile in 2013

Saturday 27 February 2016

Earning my stripes

I was fortunate enough to see three Pallas's Warblers in Dorset last autumn. But this is one good thing you can't have too much of, so I had no hesitation in heading off to Portesham early today in the hope of seeing another seven-striped sprite which was found mid-week. A long, cold wait produced nothing more than a few Chiffchaffs, but when the sun came out late morning, so did the Pallas's Warbler, to give exceptional views.

Tuesday 23 February 2016

Pipit puzzles

Proper birders aren't supposed to admit to finding Pipits a bit difficult. But, as we've established over the years, I don't profess to be one of them, so I can freely admit to finding Pipits a bit difficult. Every now and again an easy one comes along; but generally they are smallish, brownish, streakyish, skittish and non-descript. That doesn't mean they are not worth studying though. On the contrary, Rock, Meadow and Water Pipit can all be seen at my local patch at Swineham at this time of year, but seeing them well is hard and they are generally viewed only in flight when flushed from the saltmarsh.
So reports of several Water Pipit at Lytchett fields saw me heading 'north of the River' (Piddle) on Sunday in the hope of getting better views of these rare winter visitors on the deck. I wasn't disappointed, and although photography was difficult due to distance (a good feature for Water Pipits is that they are easily flushed if you get too close!), with the aid of teleconverters I was able to get some identifiable shots. 
Water Pipit shows cleaner white underparts with finer streaking compared to Rock Pipit. The supercilium is often more distinct and the bill shows a large amount of yellow.
A warmer brown rump also helps distinguish Water Pipit from Rock Pipit, which shows a greyer rump
The call of Water Pipit is subtly different to that of Rock Pipit, as you can hear from this photo.
Water Pipit shows whiter wingbars and white tail sides...
...and unstreaked upperparts compared to Rock Pipit
Another view of Water Pipit's sparsely streaked underparts, with fine streaking 
In spring and summer, the Scandanavian sub-species of Rock Pipit littoralis can look confusingly like summer plumaged Water Pipit, with grey head and upperparts and a salmon pink wash on the breast... 
However, littoralis, which I presume this to be, shows heavy streaking on the breast (Water Pipit little or none)...
...and a grey rump (warm brown in Water Pipit)
A regulation Rock Pipit at Baiter Park a few weeks ago, included for comparison
Meadow Pipit is altogether streakier than Water Pipit and a warmer brown colour
Meadow Pipit

Saturday 20 February 2016

Floundering in the shallows

Sunlight was at a premium during our recent short break in Cornwall. Fortunately Great Northern Divers in winter plumage don't need much light to look good. This was one of two feeding on crabs and flatfish close in off the sea wall at Wherrytown on Wednesday.