Monday, 30 November 2009

Sunday, 29 November 2009

a taste of the continent . . . in Kent

A nice duo of year ticks down at Dungeness today with PENDULINE TIT and GREAT WHITE EGRET; I haven't seen the former for near enough 4 years now and my first, and last, Great White in Britain was great because it was on one of patches but was all too brief, staying only 4 minutes after I arrived, so it was nice to get more prolonged views.

I arrived at the ARC pit at around mid-day and walked straight towards the Hanson Hide, pausing at the path-side reedmaces and reeded pools. I saw a small bird fly and drop down where the bushes met the reeds but couldn't locate it in the windy conditions. I moved on to the hide where a Cetti's Warbler was singing. There was little of note from the hide, and I was losing hope in the Penduline as it hadn't been seen since fairly early in the morning (but then again the weather was improving . . . ). The only birds of interest were a handful of Wigeon a couple of showy Shelduck and 2 or 3 Goldeneye amongst the commoner wildfowl and a 1st winter Black-tailed Godwit. At 12:38 I heard the PENDULINE TIT give its high pitched, drawn out call, I knew that was what it was but for some reason it took a few seconds and the excited voices of the other birders in the hide for my brain to get into gear. The others in the hide had it in their view but I couldn't get onto it, I took my bins down from my eyes and I saw it fly, catching the reddish, rich wings and mantle.drake Wigeon

I waited for nearly 20 minutes before heading back to the car (intending to bag the Egret, then come back and stake it out for the Tit). On the trail back, there were 3 birders waiting by some reedmace, they'd just had it. After 15 minutes or so of waiting and scanning, some new arrivals located the bird atop a large reedmace head. I enjoyed good views in the scope but it was a bit windy and sway for a good picture and just as I was about to video it, it mysteriously disappeared. Happy, I got back to the car and made my way straight to Denge Marsh on the RSPB side.
bad record shot of the Penduline Tit

As I was walking up to the hide, I immediately saw the diagonal white-guitar (for want of a better metaphor) shape of the GREAT WHITE EGRET. I got in the hide and another birder was in there, I assumed he'd seen the bird and casually pointed out that it had just flown into a patch of reeds, it turned out the poor man had been keeping his eyes locked on the wrong side of the marsh all that time and hadn't seen the bird! We waited and after a few minutes we both glimpsed it fly up briefly. We stepped outside of the hide to try to pin it down but failed.

A Peregrine was hunting over the marsh, setting up all the ducks and a large number of Lapwings. The gentleman made the choice of going back to his car and driving along the road by Dengemarsh to get a different angle. I went back into the hide and, as murphy's law goes it flew right in front of me, landing in perfect view and stayed like that on and off for all of the time I was there (flying slowly at fairly close range past the hide at one point). 2 drakes and a female Ruddy Duck were present, these are always a treat for me now that their numbers are much lower. An immature Marsh Harrier hunted the marsh and showed well on a clump of reeds for a few minutes.
Great White Egret
Marsh Harrier (immature)Ruddy Ducks

It was starting to rain, I packed up and started going back for fear of it getting worse, stopping at the Christmas Dell hide (dead -1 female Pochard, that's it) and the Scott Hide (also dead, but not quite as bad, having an average selection of common wildfowl).

I enjoyed a nice hot chocolate in the visitor centre before checking the small Gull roost out at dusk. I failed to turn up any Caspians (frustratingly one was at ARC I later learned . . .) but I did find 2 or 3 adult Yellow-legged Gulls before giving in and heading for home.

Saturday, 28 November 2009

some more from Canon's . . .

record shot of a nice male Yellowhammer

Once again Kevin and I decided to go to Canon's Farm this Saturday in the hope of locating at least one out of Yellowhammer, Brambling, Marsh Tit and Lesser Spotted Woodpecker. The weather was much better than on my last couple of visits and as a result more birds were seen. We finally pinned down c.15 Yellowhammers, which definitely brightened the day up no end.

Without knowing, and without any intention, we somehow achieved a record site count of c.300 Linnets, (flocks of c.70, c.130 and c.100). Also seen were 3 Redpolls overhead, presumably Lesser. A Bullfinch was heard and c.40 and 20+ Fieldfares and Redwings respectively were seen. 20-30 Stock Doves were amongst the regular flock of Feral Pigeons. In the more wooded areas we noted 2 Coal Tits and 2 Nuthatches which are always a bit of a treat; also a Great Spotted Woodpecker here.

2 Kestrels were hunting and one found herself with 50 or so Linnets on her back when she flew across one of the fields that they were feeding in. c.15 Skylark chased each other around and 10+ of both Chaffinch and House Sparrow were around.

We bumped into Steve Gale, it was a pleasant surprise to meet him for the first time after being in contact with him on and off for a year or so.

I am really getting into Canon's Farm now and have now just about gained a reasonable overall, broad idea of the site and its birds. It was interesting to learn from Steve that the woods where the farmers go to hide and shoot can hold c.20 Woodcocks at times!

I will definitely be making more regular visits.

Thursday, 26 November 2009

some photos

A handful of photos from this year;
1-4: Mandarin, Epsom Common, June
5: Egyptian Goose, London Wetland Centre
6+7: Knot, Beddington Farm, April
8: Reed Bunting, Rainham Marshes RSPB, March
9+10: Yellowhammer, Epsom Common, June
11: Black-necked Grebe, Staines Reservoirs, October

Monday, 23 November 2009

local birding

Yesterday I had a brief wander around Canon's Farm (note how I'm getting sick of Beddington Farm and it's unfortunate social situation; nice one, birders . . . ) with 'KJM200' . . . there was relatively little of note but I always get a bit of a kick out of seeing Stonechats. 2 Lesser Redpolls flew over. Fieldfare and Kestrel also seen.Stonechat (1st winter)FieldfareKestrel

Saturday, 21 November 2009

Abberton wader city 21/11/2009

Phil Wallace took me out to Abberton Reservoir today to have a go for the Spotted Sandpiper that had been present for a week, or possibly up to a month ago.

We left just after 0700, at sunrise, and headed straight for the reservoir, arriving at 0830, before the visitor centre was open so we had to start making our way around, permit or no permit. At Wigborough Bay, the surprisingly low water level produced surprising numbers of waders; honestly, you would be forgiven for thinking it was an estuary. Over 20 Avocet were present with 30 or 40 Black-tailed Godwits, about the same number of Ruff, 50-100 Dunlin, a Ringed Plover, a handful of Redshank and about 1500 Golden Plover at one point. 3 Goldeneye were noted here. Raptor wise, 1 Kestrel, 1 Common Buzzard and a frustrating possible Hen Harrier were seen.

We walked for about four miles, unnecessarily, before deciding it would be better if we went back to the car, went to the visitor centre, got a permit and drove around to the other side, so we did. Along these four miles we saw several Meadow Pipits, c.20 Ringed Plover and several more Goldeneye bringing it up to around 10 in total however there was little else new of note.

We signed in at the visitor centre and drove around to the other side, walking about a kilometre to where the bird was meant to have been frequenting. Surprisingly (or perhaps not, considering the rip-off access to a restricted number of people at a time and the huge and confusing site), there were only two other birders there, on the opposite side of a mini-bay, but we could tell where the bird was from where they were looking. At 2 minutes before mid-day we connected with the SPOTTED SANDPIPER, a lifer for both of us (British tick 261 for me (239 for the year)).

After watching it for a few minutes, we attempted to walk closer and around the other side of it in order to get closer views in better light. I heard the bird give the characteristic Common Sandpiper-like (but more drawn out) call and knew it had flown, but when I looked it was still there. I looked again shortly afterwards and it wasn't. We got to the other birders and they said it had flown around the corner. We waited for its return which would happen sooner or later, seeing that where we originally saw it was the only big patch of mud in the area. Another birder appeared and he soon found it just along the shore from us, it must have walked back around and was working it's way back to its favoured feeding spot.

We enjoyed prolonged, good views of it as it fed, occasionally pausing for two or three minutes allowing for a shot before preening, bathing or resuming feeding activities. Then it flew, calling as it went and I managed some reasonable flight shots. It was back where we saw it originally, further away for where we now were. Then a birder came and flushed it. It flew, I got some more shots in flight while it circled before landing near where Phil was stalking and he obtained some brilliant images. It took off abruptly and returned further up the shore again.

Once more
it flew back to it's original spot, disappointingly for me, who was waiting for a shot like Phil's, it at the first spot. Then three birders appeared, disappointingly it didn't fly but worked its way slowly towards me, before it actually did come as close as it did to Phil (showing, better than ever the key features for a 1st winter bird: plain terials, barred coverts, yellow legs and shorter tail) and I got some shots before it flew back further up the shore. Score! I was so thrilled after all that waiting and walking!

Also seen briefly (too much so for me to judge it's size and structure) was a Bewick's/Whooper Swan. It had the bill pattern of Whooper but 3 Bewick's were reported there that day. . . a Rock Pipit called and a Black Swan added a splash of the exotic.

We headed back to the car and at c.1440 we headed off to Westcliff-on-Sea to get Phil the Ring-billed Gull. We arrived and parked outside the famous ice-cream parlour and within ten minutes the RING-BILLED GULL and a Mediterranean Gull were among the swarms of Black-headed and Common Gulls which came to bread that a gentleman was throwing to them. Excellent views were had of the Ring-billed as it flew feet above our heads and landed on the sea not too far away before flying off (too dark, really, for pics though). A quick ice-cream then it was time to head home after another brilliant day.

By the way, the Firecrests are still at Banstead Downs Golf Course with a recent count of three. Two showed well on Friday. See nuttypatch.

Sunday, 8 November 2009

Kent at its best

Today I had a thoroughly enjoyable day out birding with Kevin McManus in Kent.

Our main target was the Zitting Cisticola/Fan-tailed Warbler at Pegwell Bay. After leaving, negative news streamed through on the pager. I had heard the weather would clear up early/mid afternoon so the bird may show then. To kill the time, we made the minor detour of going to see the Shorelark at Swalecliffe.

This bird was a lot easier than I thought. I imagined this being the sort of twitch where you couldn't find the place at all, but driving through a nearby town, along the coastal path, I spotted a small group of birders on a shingle beach. We parked up and got out, soon reaching the other birders and enjoying good views of the Shorelark (year tick 237). It flew. The bird was relocated and we enjoyed even better views for perhaps a half hour or so until a couple of walkers and their dog flushed the bird. It flew up and round and landed pretty close to us, staying still for a few minutes with a great pose, allowing for some good phone-scoped shots. After just less than an hour with the bird, we headed back to the car just after 13:00 and made our way to Pegwell Bay, not expecting much.On the way, some positive news came out, as I was semi expecting considering the slightly improved weather. We arrived at Pegwell Bay Country Park at roughly 13:30 and joined the waiting birders behind the hide. Kevin walked slightly further on to get a better angle. Two minutes later . . . 'It's showing!'; we all raced over there and Kevin directed us to the bird which was surprisingly near. I couldn't really get onto it but did see it drop down. This was at roughly 14:00.

We waited again for a while, watching thousands of Golden Plovers fly over-head until I eventually got onto the bird in flight, and everybody else did too. It landed, showing reasonably well, for ten seconds at the most, some of which I had it in the scope, before it dropped down into the grass. Yes! Zitting Cisticola firmly in the bag now and after all this time of trying to go for it! We walked back to the car, very happy and warmed ourselves up after waiting there for over an hour (though it seemed a lot longer).

Sorry but the Cisticola was too brief for pics. There's plenty others on the web though.

This was a thoroughly enjoyable day with 100% success rate.

Thursday, 5 November 2009

Firecrest delight

A trip today up to Banstead Downs Golf Course was rewarded with the presence of a male and a female Firecrest which showed well near post 678 along the wooded footpath there.

I kept careful track of these birds, their local movements and their numbers last winter and was horrified to watch their numbers rapidly dwindle after habitat destruction at the golf course. I got the support of some local birders and we were approached by a local newspaper on the issue, we ended up getting the front page!

It was a true delight to re-discover these fantastic little birds a short walk from my front door and I hope they have a successful winter at the golf course.

See my local patch blog for more details.

Sunday, 1 November 2009

Scilly 2009

Porthcressa Bay

I am now back from my half term trip to Scilly, which actually materialised this year.

A day by day summary follows:

Friday 23rd October

Boarded the Scillonian III at around 0900. I spent all of the time in the fresh air scanning for seabirds. Little of note was seen but my efforts were rewarded with 2 overdue year ticks; Manx Shearwater (brief glimpse) and Great Skua. Also flocks of Razorbills here and there (with one flock containing two Guillemots), c.5 Kittiwakes and countless Shags and Gannets. Of note I spotted an Ocean Sunfish. Razorbills +Guillemots (latter being at far left and fourth from right) Kittiwake Gannet Gannet

Great Skua Great Skua

We arrived at the quay at St. Mary's around mid day in terrible weather. Didn't really do much proper birding; saw a female type Black Redstart, a Northern Wheatear, many Shags, Gannets, Rock Pipits, Turnstones and Oystercatchers (these were all pretty much ubiquitous and I shan't keep mentioning these). 1 Sparrowhawk over Porthcressa. 11 Swallows flew over Buzza Tower and one flew past my cottage.

Saturday 24th October

After seeing a Merlin dash through Old Town, St Mary's (a welcome year tick), I made the trip over St. Agnes to see the reported Marsh Warbler around the Big Pool. Got the 1015 boat over to the island and hastilly made my way over to the pool. On the way, at Porth Killier I enjoyed fantastic views of around 5 Black Redstarts including a male. At the Big Pool, I stood with ten or twenty other birders. We waited for a while before somebody decided to walk through the low vegetation around the pool, and one by one everybody followed his actions. Sure enough the MARSH WARBLER flew from the vegetation and showed well briefly a couple of times. This was my 253rd British bird. Also on the pool were 6 Whooper Swans. I asked around about the Rosy (Rose-coloured) Starling but nobody had reliably pinned it down. I proceeded to walk around the areas that I had learnt were most likely and pinned down a large Starling flock which I followed and scanned through but I couldn't locate the bird. As I was about to board the boat over to St. Mary's, a WONDERFULLY timed message came through on the pager that the Starling was at St. Warna's Cove c.1 hour previous. Dilemma time. I decided, in a rather cheesed off manner, to stay and look for the bloody thing. It was all completely pointless in the end because I thought at the time that Porth Killier was St. Warna's Cove, and spent my time there. I realised after ten minutes I wouldn't find the bird, even if that was St. Warna's Cove. So I gave up pretty quickly and sat overlooking the sea and relaxed for a while (I wouldn't have much time to do this for the rest of the trip); here I watched a Peregrine pass close by and some entertaining Rock Pipits at close quarters. Other bits and pieces on 'Aggy' was a heard-only Firecrest, a Bar-tailed Godwit, a Siskin, 2 Stonechat, many Meadow Pipits and Skylarks and a Merlin.

Below is a series of shots that I took of the Black Redstarts

and a Rock Pipit for good measure . . .

Back on St. Mary's a Water Rail was heard at Lower Moors. I received news on my pager of the continued presence of the Richard's Pipit at Porthloo Lane so made my way up there. Here I met Joe Ray for the first time, after being in contact with him for two or so years and enjoyed relatively good views of the RICHARD'S PIPIT before it flew into another field. A good bird and my 254th for Britain. Walking back through Holy Vale, I enjoyed EXCELLENT views of 2 Firecrests.
Richard's Pipit

I attended the Birder's Log at the Scillonian Club and continued to do this daily. It was very informative and good fun.

Sunday 25th October

On St. Mary's I pinned down the Snow Bunting at Peninnis Head that I had heard about at the log the previous night and enjoyed good views. This was a very welcome year tick and a cracking bird. A Firecrest was heard at Lower Moors with one or two Water Rails noted and plenty Chiffchaffs.
Snow Bunting

News of a Citrine Wagtail on Tresco was released so I made my way over to the Tourist Info centre in Hugh Town and bought me a ticket. I joined up with James Bloor-Griffiths who I had met earlier in the day and we enjoyed good views of the 1w CITRINE WAGTAIL (my 255th British bird) before having a quick check of the Great Pool where we noted 6 Greenshank, plenty of Redshank, a drake Pintail, a Water Rail, 2 Little Egrets (6 were on the shore) and many Teal and Gadwall.

Citrine Wagtail (top SLR pic cropped, bottom phone-scoped pic cropped +video)

We got the boat back to St.Mary's. A Little Egret flew over Porthcressa Beach as did c.5 Swallows +many Meadow and Rock Pipits and Skylarks.

Monday 26th October

On St Mary's my early morning walk yielded a Black Redstart near the dump and a self-found but frustratingly heard-only YELLOW-BROWED WARBLER in strange habitat at Buzza Hill; it was probably moving through quickly. Also 2 Stonechat, 2 Goldcrest (Lower Moors), 6 Common Snipe over Lower Moors/Old Town Bay, Firecrest at Old Town Bay and Water Rail at Lower Moors. Little Egret Porthcressa. + usuals +Curlew.

I made another trip over to St. Agnes to have another go at the juvenile Rosy Starling. After much effort and searching and scanning, another birder told me where the field was that the bird was feeding, unfortunately, this was out of view wherever you went so you had to wait until the bird flew up. Myself and another birder both got a brief view of the ROSY STARLING in flight before seeing it atop a bush all too briefly before it again flew down to the field. This was my 256th British bird. Also seen on 'Aggy'; 1 Peregrine with prey +2 Stonechat. I made a brief stint over to Gugh and saw nothing before getting back to the quay and boarding the boat back to St. Mary's.

Tuesday 27th October

I suppose the highlight of my daily early morning walk was a female/1w Northern Wheatear showed well in the field by the Health Centre with the plastic Owl in it. A Ringed Plover flew over Porthcressa.

I got the 1015 to St. Agnes with Harry Barnard and we both enjoyed good views of our target, a PALLAS'S WARBLER in The Parsonage. This was a complete stunner of a bird, showing very well for me; so tiny, so active and with so many striking marking, this was the highlight of the trip for me and my 257th British bird. 1 Firecrest showed well. Ashley Fisher, some other birders and Harry and I put our fair share of money in the pot and arranged a chartered boat to Bryher to look for the 1w Serin that was reportedly showing well. 4 SPOONBILLS were on Merrick Island in Tresco Channel. 6 Shelduck and a Cormorant were on some rock and a handful of Little Egrets were knocking around.

We spent some time looking for the Serin, Joe Ray was already there and had been treated with brilliant views. Eventually, somebody saw the bird fly into a tree and we waited for the bird to re-appear. Foolishly, I went around the corner to ask a local birder about the resident Hooded Crow and when I returned the others informed me it had just flown to Tresco . . . nice. I wasn't too bothered, I didn't need it for Britain, it would just be a nice year tick.

We boarded the boat over back to St. Mary's. Harry and I walked to Holy Vale and pinned down the YELLOW-BROWED WARBLER (my 258th British bird; I don't count heard-only). We made our way over to Porthellick/Higher Moors and saw 1 Common Snipe, 2 House Martin, a singing Firecrest and heard 2+ Water Rails (2 showed well at Lower Moors). An enjoyable day with 2 lifers.

Wednesday 28th October

This time my early morning walk produced a 1w Mediterranean Gull at Porthcressa Beach where a Fieldfare flew over (my first of the autumn). There was also a handful of Redwings in the area which I had also seen daily til now. A Grey Wagtail flew over. 1 Little Egret in Porthcressa Bay was being harassed by a Grey Heron. It really was a beautiful morning. A Stonechat showed well on the way up to Peninnis Head. One fem/1w Black Redstart was at Peninnis Head. Lower Moors was, as usual, packed with Chiffchaffs, 5 Common Snipe and 2 Water Rail showed well at Lower Moors. A single Greenshank was present in Old Town Bay. 2 Ringed Plovers flew over the Quay as I boarded the boat to Bryher to look for the Hooded Crow. On the way to Bryher, 10 Shelduck were on the same or possibly another rock. Stonechat

On Bryher I failed miserably to find that bloody Hooded Crow but found a Curlew Sandpiper and enjoyed good but brief views of the 1w SERIN which had returned to its favourite fields near the post office. A welcome year tick. Also 54 Ringed Plovers, 3 Grey Plovers, 3+ Lesser Redpolls, 4 Spoonbills still and a single Greenshank. 2 Water Rails were heard at Samson Hill.
Spoonbill and Little Egret

I was keen to return to St. Mary's to see the 1w female Bluethroat at Rosehill just north of Lower Moors. I got off the boat and walked as quickly as I could, breaking into a run once or twice before I got to the surprisingly large gathering. I am truly pants at estimating numbers but there were perhaps around 100 people there . . . the bird was frustratingly elusive and I was scared that I was going to miss it but sure enough it did show (though it took me too long to get onto it, as I was in a panicky state). James let me look through his scope and I saw my first BLUETHROAT (My 259th British bird). Happy, I headed home.

Thursday 29th October

My final full day. Thrushes were evident in the Porthcressa Bay area with 40-50 Redwings knocking about and a flock of 60-70 Fieldfares NW. A Merlin on Peninnis Head was harassed by a Great Black-backed Gull and it flew to Gugh/St. Agnes. A male and 2 female/1w Black Redstarts showed briefly on Peninnis.

I went to St. Agnes with James and looked for the Radde's Warbler for a couple of hours. This bird had apparently been suppressed for no reason for several days . . . we failed in pinning it down but James saw a Warbler's undercarriage with it's bright orange legs. He also reckoned he heard it a couple of times. We enjoyed good views of the juvenile ROSY STARLING on the beach below the coastguard cottages, it was great to finally get good and prolonged views, but these views were truly supurb. 6 Whooper Swans were still present on the Big Pool. 3+ Blackcaps were noted.

Rosy Starling (juvenile)

Whooper Swan

Back on St. Mary's, 6 Common Snipe, 2+ Water Rail (1+ showing) were at Lower Moors with a putative Wilson's Snipe. This would be a major rarity. Some people are saying it definitely isn't one but I think there might be some confusion over which bird was which and how many were involved etc. Plenty of the usuals (+Curlew . . . slightly more unusual)

putative Wilson's Snipe (foreground on first photo and the only bird in second)

Friday 30th October

My last day . . . and an enjoyable one. I spent the morning and early afternoon with Harry Barnard and his parents, and James Bloor-Griffiths. The putative Snipe and c.15 Common Snipe were at Lower Moors and a YELLOW-BROWED WARBLER was heard around the Hilda Quick hide. A Reed Warbler was seen where the old tin hut used to be at Lower Moors. 5 Little Egrets were in Porthellick Bay. 4 Ringed and 10+ Golden Plovers were at the airfield with a male Northern Wheatear. 9 or 10 Black Redstarts were newly arrived and moving inland between the airfield and Giant's Castle (there was also one or two at the east end of Hugh Town, one of which was later seen by Harry's dad and James flat on the road). 1 YELLOW-BROWED WARBLER (seen), a Goldcrest, 10+ Common Snipe, 1 Cormorant, 4 Little Egrets, 1 Redshank, 4 Greenshank and 2 House Martins were at Porthellick. I said my goodbyes, headed off to the quay and boarded the Scillonian III. The crossing was pretty good. The highlight was a pod of Common Dolphins that jumped at close range by the side of the boat for a short while. My first cetacean ever, I think. 3 Great Skuas were seen and I got much better views of a Manx Shearwater as it was getting dark. Also c.23 Kittiwakes and many Gannets. We drove home through the night and got back home at around mid night. I actually got some sleep in the car this time!

My British list stands on 259 and my West Pal/Life list is on 275. My British year list is on 236.

I really, really, really enjoyed this trip. I saw some fantastic birds, even if none were mega rare nearctic passerines, enjoyed brilliant scenery (the islands are truly unique and stunning, everything is mini too!) and made some new friends. I truly hope to come back next year; I'd be so gutted if I couldn't.