Tuesday, 29 December 2009

Sheppey finishes the year off nicely

I went to Sheppey twice this bank holiday weekend. Firstly on the Sunday with my parents then on Monday with Phil Wallace.

The Sunday was a bit of a failure, after a couple of hours around the Swale NNR I failed to locate any Eurasian White-fronted Geese and was only rewarded with a single Bewick's Swan and a pair of Red-breasted Mergansers for my efforts along with an assortment of common shorebirds, a Little Egret and a Marsh Harrier here and there. There were also large numbers of Dark-bellied Brent Geese, Curlew and Golden Plover. A trip late in the day to Capel Fleet was spiced up by a single ringtail Hen Harrier which afforded good views as it flew in front of and by the car. There was little else there other than large numbers of Golden Plover.A Capel Fleet sunset


The Monday was a lot better. At Leysdown-on-Sea Phil and I enjoyed excellent views of Grey Plovers, Sanderlings and Turnstones on the beach as well as a handful of Redshanks.

Grey PloverTurnstones


We moved on to see if the Eurasian White-fronted Geese were back near the Swale NNR. We immediately got onto good numbers of Dark-bellied Brents, Golden Plovers, Curlews, Lapwings etc. I got onto some small grey geese in the distance. The scope kept going in and out of focus because of the distance but they didn't have much grey in the wing and I was fairly confident that they were White-fronts. We drove further up and onto a high point where we scanned the area that the Geese went down and sure enough there were 54 Eurasian White-fronted Geese along with many Dark-bellied Brents and a handful of Greylags! It was great to finally get this species, it's been a major tart for me for ages, so much so that, ironically, it didn't seem like a lifer. This was my 263rd British bird and 243rd British bird this year (and, I'm sure, the last).

White-fronted Geese (very distant, handheld digiscoped)

Dark-bellied Brent Geese

We went back to the seafront at Leysdown-on-Sea where we located c.5 Red-throated Divers, 2 Eiders and 3 Red-breasted Mergansers and enjoyed the shorebirds gathering in large numbers on the mud exposed by the ebbing tide.

There was very little else that the south east had to offer for us so we were stumped as to what to do next. In the end we plumped for a trip to Capel Fleet, for the outside chance of Short-eared Owl. Here we met Corinna Smart who was working hard on her new BTO tetrads on Sheppey which surprisingly no-one had snatched up before.

male Marsh Harrier

Here we enjoyed good views of a stunning male and 2 ringtail Hen Harriers as well as plenty of Marsh Harriers.
Hen Harrier (with a Marsh Harrier on the right in the upper photo)

A glorious sight and sound was a flock of c.36 Bewick's Swans which flew east over the road! Their calls were magical.

Bewick's Swans

In the big flooded field there were 15 Ruff along with a handful of Dunlin and lots of Golden Plovers and Lapwings. 2 Green Sandpipers flushed from the ditches and a Little Egret was also present. In addition we enjoyed good views of a Peregrine having it's dinner and then harassing a Marsh Harrier and saw a Sparrowhawk perched up on the bank. Red-legged Partridges were calling and flying around. A single Kestrel added to the raptor list.


It was nice to see a Barn Owl hunting and as we were driving back home along Harty Ferry road it flew right by the car and perched up on a roadside post at dusk.Barn Owl; a fitting end to the day

Wednesday, 23 December 2009


This year has just flown by! It's certainly been the best year yet and it is at and end, here's a brief summary of some of the highlights . . .

The birds . . .

There have been countless stunning birds this year. Those that stand out the most . . .

In January I was treated to crippling views of a Long-eared Owl, just feet away from me in wonderful light on a beautiful winter's day . . . at my local patch. If I had to choose, this would be the top moment of the year, I walked away reluctantly and short of breath.
Firecrests stand out. I've had my fair share of them this year with birds wintering just a few streets away and brightening up many a dull day. I had a thrilling encounter with a breeding bird in the New Forest this year (see photo) and enjoyed them on Scilly and at Dungeness. I can't get enough of these wonderful birds.Paying for the train to Staines Reservoirs was well worth it for a crippling sub-adult White-winged Black Tern that danced over the sparkly waters on that beautiful morning, not too far from home, the day after seeing the Kent Black-winged Pratincole and the Banstead Downs Wood Warbler! The latter and the Tern made a wonderful duo of good county lifers, with the Tern being a full lifer.Of course, the Staines Moor Brown Shrike was a highlight, being a showy and interesting mega in my county and not terribly far from home.

The Rutland Ospreys were brilliant and it was also exciting seeing a passage bird at Beddington.

On Scilly, the bird that stood out the most and was one of the year's highlights was the Pallas's Warbler on St. Agnes. It showed wonderfully and was undoubtedly the most entertaining, interestingly-plumaged and exciting Warblers that I have ever seen and I doubt I ever will see a more exciting Old-world Warbler!

All rarities this year were captivating and very interesting, each and every one was a highlight along with countless other good birds seen this year, from thousands of Whooper Swans at Martin Mere to displaying Goshawks in Surrey.

Listing wise . . .

I have had 45 British lifers this year (rising from 217 to 262), the vast majority being lifers full stop. Despite my list being bigger than previous years, this is more than 2008 and maybe even 2007! My British year list absolutely zoomed way ahead of target; I was hoping for 200 but this was reached in July and I am now on 242 (though I'm hoping to try to fit in White-fronted Goose before the year's end). I finished 2008 on about 197.

Local patch lists rose. Beddington rose to 128 by the year's end but I have given that place up now so it doesn't matter. Banstead Downs rose from 60 to 73. At the end of the year, I replaced Beddington with Canon's Farm and Banstead Wood and my patch list for Canon's Farm and Banstead Wood was 57 straight away.


In summary, an excellent year with good birds, many useful ticks, new friends, good scenery and lots of fun.

I am very grateful to Phil Wallace, Surrey's top bird photographer, who took me on many a enjoyable day's birding this year.

I hope next year will be as good, but I somehow doubt it (I said that last year).

London Wetland Centre, 20th December

With nothing particularly to go for, and ice limiting travel anyway, I made a casual trip up to the London Wetland Centre today with my parents, on Sunday.

I was hoping for some winter birds, especially Bittern but got none of my targets!

The most interesting sighting was one that got the adrenaline running for a moment when I thought I was onto a drake Ring-necked Duck! Upon closer inspection, it had a bit of a tuft and the bill pattern was not right. Also the flanks weren't as well defined as would be expected of a pure Ring-necked Duck. It was the returning drake Ring-necked x Tufted Duck. An educational and interesting bird, anyway. This (presumably the same) bird has been seen at the Wetland Centre a winter or two ago as well.

Drake Ring-necked Duck x Tufted Duck hybrid

Common Snipe

I really didn't see much else at all. A flock of 46 Wigeon added a bit of colour and 2 Green Woodpeckers showed well. A Lapwing and a Common Snipe posed for photographs and I came across 2 Lesser Redpolls, failing to locate the Mealies. Both Great Crested and Little Grebes were seen and 1 or 2 Water Rails called over at 'Wildside'.Wigeon


Green Woodpecker

As well as the hybrid aythya and the Wigeon, there was the usual selection of other common wildfowl; Shoveler, Gadwall, Pochard, Tufted Duck and Mallard although don't specifically remember seeing Teal . . .

ShovelerLittle Grebe

Even though it was quiet, and I somehow managed to miss all the winter goodies up there, it was a nice winter's day and an enjoyable walk.

Saturday, 19 December 2009

Ice, fire and a tick

Very cold weather has struck the south east, and we have all felt (including, it seems, the Staines Brown Shrike).

Couldn't really be bothered to go to Canon's Farm today, in the cold weather, and wanted photos of the Firecrests in the snow so I worked Banstead Downs for the late morning and early afternoon.

At Banstead Downs Golf Course I located 2 Firecrests, 1 of which showed well and I managed a handful of record shots, though nothing spectacular.

The highlight was a very pleasant surprise in the form of 6 Lapwings flying over. A Banstead Downs tick for me (72, and 69 for the site for 2009).

At the eastern part of the golf course I came across 4 Blackcaps, which was a nice surprise. This was 1 male on his own and a pair with another which was unsexed.

male Blackcap

Thrushes were much in evidence with roughly 30-40 Redwings, 2 Fieldfares and 10-20 Blackbirds. A Meadow Pipit called.

Blackbird (1st winter male)

Both Green and Great Spotted Woodpeckers were seen and 2 Bullfinches showed for once.Bullfinch

Other bits and pieces included 2 Jays, 1 Coal Tit nearby, 1 Pied Wagtail over and a Common Gull over.Long-tailed Tit