Tuesday 29 December 2009

Sheppy, Waders and raptors

As I write this, Tuesday evening, it has been raining nonstop all day! I'm so glad I decided to go out yesterday! I made what will probably be the last outing of the year. David Campbell and I decided to go to Sheppey to try and track down David's bogey bird, the white-fronted goose. It would be a lifer for him and he had already spent yesterday on Sheppey with no luck.

We set off at 0700 so we would arrive just after dawn and have maximum use of the few hours of winter daylight. It was well below zero most of the day but it was fine and mainly sunny.

On arrival in Leysdown we drew up close to the sea wall and peered over. The tide was in and we wowed at the numbers of sanderling and turnstone just in front of us as well as a grey plover. After a short while with these active and interesting birds, we decided to concentrate on the main goal, so we pressed on into the Swale nature reserve, an area served by an exquisitely pot-holed track which made for a tense drive wondering if my rather low-slung car would hit the bottom in some of the deepest holes. In the end it wasn't too bad.

At our first stop we viewed a field teeming with curlew, golden plover and Brent geese - but no white fronts. We pressed on further and stopped on a small hillock giving a good vantage point over the fields. It wasn't long before we picked out a reasonable flock of white-fronted geese among the many more Brents and that put David one ahead of me for the year! Dohhh!!
He deserved to win (243 to 242). He beat me even though he has to rely on others for all his transport. His dedication and tenacity brought its reward.

We returned to the beach where we lay behind one of the groins photographing the turnstones, sanderlings and the odd redshank. This was instructive as well as allowing some fairly close shots. I'd always wondered what sanderlings ate. I'd only seen them racing along the sand at Titchwell, close to the water's edge. Leysdown beach at high tide is pebbly but with many shells. Both sanderling and turnstone ate shellfish - not sure which, could be cockles. I'm no good at shellfish. They seemed to be able to break into the shells with their beaks and pull the fish out. Clever!

Turnstone with cockle?

Sanderling with cockle


After lunch in the car (it was still freezing), and a bit of sea watching (during which David tried bravely to identify birds that must have been at least 3-4 miles offshore!!!) we decided to go to Capel Fleet, as David still needed short-eared owl for his year list. We stopped at a pull-in just before the raptor watchpoint to watch a lovely male marsh harrier that was flying towards us.

Male marsh harrier

Male marsh harrier

He dropped down and, while we were waiting for him to re-appear, a skein of 36 Bewick's swans flew right over our heads. The noise of their wings, the calls of some of them and their graceful flight was wonderful.

Bewick's swans. Lovely.

We also saw two or three hen harriers fairly close by.

Female hen harrier.

Shortly afterwards a car stopped and I met Corrina Smart for the first time. She had pulled up to ask what was about. I hadn't realised that she, as Eagleseagles, was the person who wanted to use my brown shrike photo on her blog. We chatted for a while, found a pregrine eating its prey and then went on to the raptor point. The light was fading, but we still saw two or more hen harriers, several marsh harriers and quite a dark barn owl. We had just left to come home when, in the fading light the barn owl alighted on a post in the glow of the Western sky. David jumped out to take a silhouette in the semi darkness.

All in all, a very enjoyable day and a fitting end to a good year. Thanks, David for your help and company this year.

Monday 7 December 2009

Epsom Common, Lovely cormorant!

Sunday was not a bad day after 11 o'clock so David Campbell and I visited Epsom Common. It was quiet, not to say almost dead from a birdwatching point of view. We heard / saw a few common birds, got followed by the tame mallard and came across a flock of mixed tits.

Eventually, we spent quite a lot of time photographing an obliging cormorant who was drying its wings in the sun (yes, sun). That was the highlight of the afternoon!

Cormorant, Epsom Common

Saturday 5 December 2009

Brown shrike. Much better pictures.

David Campbell and I went to Staines Moor again to see the brown shrike (after failing miserably to see the Black-throated diver on Papercourt Gravel Pits). The path was incredibly muddy after the thousands of birdwatchers who must have trodden it in the last two months.

We saw the bird immediately on arrival after checking with the handful of others who were there. After a while it came nearer and actually came over the river to our side. It was about 100m away. Someone suggested approaching it as a chap who had just left passed close to it and it didn't fly. We got closer and closer until I was about 25m from it and was able to take some close shots before an off-road motor cyclist came thundering through.

We watched it for another half an hour and then headed back to the car as it started to rain lightly. Here is the star bird which has stayed in the same area for almost two months!

Brown shrike, Staines Moor.

Saturday 28 November 2009

Serin and Yellow-legged gulls at Rainham

Went to Rainham last week and saw the serin briefly in poor light at the end of the day. Decided to go back today (Fri 27 Nov) to try and get a picture. It's a very small bird, smaller than a goldfinch, and very mobile. It was almost impossible to see it in the flock but it was possible to see it as soon as it landed and before it dropped down to the ground to feed.

When I got there it had been seen shortly before (always the way) but it was now nowhere to bee seen. Walked up and down the path for a while, settled on the grass to set my tripod up in readiness. Surely they would come through here soon??

Waited 35 mins - nothing, not even the main flock of goldfinches. I got up and wandered down the track to where another man with the same lens was also waiting. After a few minutes the unmistakable calls of goldfinches could be heard. Dominic Mitchell (as I learned he was) saw the serin straight away and did hid best to point out exactly where this tiny bird was, camouflaged in the bushes. Normally, I'm fairly quick at following where people are looking by following the line of their scope but, at that moment I couldn't. I was also desperately trying to extend the legs on my tripod and that didn't help!!

They flew again!! Nooo! They settled again. Dominic was firing off shot after shot while I fumbled and looked. They flew again to a bush directly in front of us. I got onto the serin and, before they all flew off again, managed a single, poorly focused shot . This is it:

Serin, Rainham Marshes.

Just had time to see a few Yellow-legged gulls (year tick) on the Thames before heading home.

Saturday 21 November 2009

Spotted sandpiper at Abberton Reservoir, Essex

As the penduline tits had gone from Dungeness, David Campbell and I decided to go to Abberton Reservoir for the spotted sandpiper, an American wader that bore more than a passing resemblance to a common sandpiper.

This trip turned out to be a harsh lesson in how it pays to do your homework before setting out. Abberton reservoir is large. It is man-made and eleven miles in circumference. The spotted sandpiper was seen in 'Peldon Bay'. Large bodies of water like this often have local names for parts of it but they aren't marked on any map. Peldon Bay? Could be anywhere. I looked on a map and concluded (correctly as it turned out) that it was the indentation nearest the village of Peldon.

I had been to Abberton only once before and knew that access was restricted. It looked like the best way in was to walk from Wigborough Bay (I'd learnt that name from my first visit) and walk about 2 miles round. Well, we got there before the centre opened and started off. We enjoyed watching flocks of dunlin, black-tailed godwits, avocets, Bewick's swans, lapwing, golden plover, teal, wigeon which abounded and the odd goldeneye . We didn't think it would take us long but, what with scanning the hoards of waders and other water birds that were thriving on the mud exposed by the low water levels, after two hours of walking we still hadn't happened on the small group of birdwatchers we assumed there must be around this bird!!

At this point, a call to the visitors' centre confirmed our fear that the reservoir was larger than it seemed. We were still further from our destination than we had walked already and it was possible to gain access only about a mile from the bird!! We decided to bite the bullet, walk back to the car the way we had come and drive round to the other entrance.

A short trip to the visitors' centre to get passes (all legal now) and we were off again. The other 'entrance' still involved scaling a gate with all our gear but after 20 mins walk we came across the spotted sandpiper. We watched it for an hour and a half before going back to the car.

Spotted sandpiper. Abberton Reservoir.

David's year list was now on 239 and mine was 238. David unselfishly agreed to go to Westcliff-on-sea on the way back to see the ring-billed gull that he had already seen this year. This American gull has returned to Westcliff every year for the last 12 years. It hangs out at Rossi's ice cream parlour and, sure enough, within five minutes of our arrival, David had picked it out in the twilight as the light was fading. 239!! That had to be celebrated with an enormous ice cream in the aforesaid ice cream parlour. Aah!

Tuesday 27 October 2009

Dungeness. The rare egrets.

Arrived at Dungeness hoping to get a better view of the dusky warbler but no luck. In recompense, managed reasonable views of the two rare egrets, the cattle egret and the great white egret.
The cattle egret was in a field next to the Dengemarsh Road. The barren field doesn't make a very good backdrop but that's where he was!!

Cattle egret, Dengemarsh, Kent

I walked to the Dengemarsh hide in search of the great white egret and perhaps even the glossy ibis which some had seen. Had my lunch there and scanned the gulls for any rarities. No sign of the great white, so I wandered back to the car again. As I arrived, the great white egret was just coming out of some nearby reeds. I crept up to a large fencepost to put my beanbag on and took a few shots before it went into the reeds again. I like this one particularly.

Great white egret, Dengemarsh, Kent

Thursday 15 October 2009

Glossy Ibis, Snipe, Pectoral sandpiper, Brown shrike and cattle egret

David Campbell and I have been getting around recently. We decided to go for the glossy ibis at Oare Marshes. We arrived early (well, about 9 a.m.) but a diligent search of both the West Flood and the East produced no glossy ibis. We were walking back to the road when it suddenly flew off towards Sheppey. I managed to get one or two distant shots before it flew out of view.
We did a tour around the East Flood to the sea watching hide. We were just about to leave Oare when a man told us that the glossy ibis had been seen from the West Flood. We raced to the hide. After a few minutes the ibis came out from behind the reeds.

Glossy Ibis

I wasn't supposed to be doing much birdwatching in September because I'm in the process of moving offices after 25 years at Balham. However, we went to the theatre in Chichester a couple of weeks ago and the report came of a pectoral sandpiper on Hayling Island, not a million miles away. It only took about 20 minutes to get there but a search produced no pectoral sandpiper. However I got talking to some other birdwatchers and, when I rang one of them later that day, it turned out that I had been looking in the wrong place. Lynne was with me by now. We jumped in the car and drove about a mile down the road to another car park where a short walk brought us to quite a small pond with a magnificent pectoral sandpiper in the middle, all on its own. This bird was very tame and came quite close. The light was perfect. At one point a dog walker with a large dog came. One bark from the dog and the sandpiper was off. Fortunately, it came back a few minutes later and landed on the far side of the pool. If I had had more time I would have waited for it to come closer. As it was, I was very happy to have seen the bird which was a lifer for me.

Pectoral sandpiper

The following weekend Lynne and I took Louise back to Durham. On the way back the following day, we stopped at Draycote Water to try and see the long staying lesser scaup. We walked well over a mile but the bird was undoubtedly associating with a flock of a least 100 tufted ducks on the other side of the water. Because we had to get back, I didn't have time to go round to the other side. However I took a picture of what I thought was the lesser scaup.

In the meantime, Lynne had been speaking to another couple who recommended Brandon Marshes just up the road for kingfishers.Kingfishers are Lynne's favourite bird so we had to go. Brandon marshes is a very nice reserve. We saw a very close snipe on the way to the Kingfisher hide.


While waiting for the kingfishers to arrive we had lovely views of a grey heron fishing.

Grey heron

After about an hour, I heard the unmistakable sound of a kingfisher approaching. Sure enough it perched on a very long thin perch which had clearly been put there for the purpose. This gorgeous bird treated us to very nice views for about 10 minutes before flying off.


On Sunday the 10th of October David and I went to St Margarets at Cliffe, in Kent, hoping to see a yellow browed warbler. Shortly after we arrived David got a message on his pager of a wryneck about 1 km away. While walking down there we met the man who had discovered it and he mention that there was also a barred warbler.

We didn't see the barred warbler that we did see the wryneck which proved fairly tame, but we did not approach it too closely because there were about 10 people in the pack and we didn't want to frighten it off.

We went briefly to Samphire Hoe to look for two ring ouzels but David wouldn't let me stay very long because a cattle egret had been reported at Lydd. It was getting late. A cattle egret was a lifer for me and a British lifer for David. We got to the place but no sign of the egret. We drove towards the farm buildings passed several fields until we came to one with cattle in it. True to its name, the cattle egret was there but distant.

I had the Monday off as part of my new regime of working three days a week. I spent the day shopping in Kingston and doing a few things about the house, as well as an hour or two at the wetlands in Barnes. A nice, but not that rare, red backed shrike had been seen on Staines Moor. This bird was later re identified as a much rarer brown shrike. David rang me in the evening and said he was planning to go and see it after school the following day. I had to work but I took my scope into work with me just in case!

I eventually got away at 4:25 p.m., missed the 4.40 train from Streatham Hill and had to wait 20 minutes for the next one. When I arrived in Ashford the sun was going down. The minicab came quickly but there was at least a 10 minute walk at the other end. I met a woman who said she thought I was too late because the shrike had gone to roost. I met up with David (who had already taken several photos and had observed it for at least half an hour) just as the sun was setting. The shrike had not been seen for a least 10 minutes. As we were looking into the sunset, I suggested we go round the other side so as to have the light behind us. One or two other bird watchers were already there and, as we arrived, one of them had just seen the shrike go into the middle of a Bush. I managed to pick it out using my scope and it flew several times from bush to bush before the light failed. David took the only picture that didn't suffer from severe camera shake from the soft ground. Those fleeting last minute glimpses of the shrike before Sunset were profoundly unsatisfying. I knew there was a reason I didn't want to become twitcher!?

Brown shrike

Thursday 27 August 2009

Scillies Pelagic

I've just been on a pelagic trip to see birds that don't normally come to land except for breeding. The true masters of the waves, who use every small upward movement of the waves to help them fly. Pelagic means: 'of the open sea'.

I went by train to Penzance and then helicopter to St. Mary's. Got what must be almost the only bus on St Mary's. He dropped me right at the door of my B&B. I asked the owner where I could see birds then, as it was still early. He took me to the kitchen of the local restaurant at the back of the B&B. The owner was a keen bird photographer and gave me the number of a taxi and told me to go for the marsh sandpiper that had been seen at Porth Hellick. I rang it and the driver was also a keen birdwatcher who took me to the reserve with another elderly couple. The man told me he had been to the Scillies twice a year for the last 46 years!! This was my first visit! Would I get hooked, I thought.

The marsh sandpiper was worth the trip. A lifer for me. It's on the right in the photo below. Much finer bill than the greenshanks with it.

Marsh sandpiper (right)

Next day at 0700 hrs we left for the 'pelagic' on the 'Sapphire III'. I wondered what had happened to I and II! The boat was modern and quiet. with plenty of seating. There was no cover, but I had my wide brimmed hat. We were 25 in total, of whom only three were women. Yes, birdwatching is still a largely male pursuit! I was apprehensive about being the whole day at sea in case I was sick, but I needn't have worried. Bob Flood announced that there wasn't as much wind as the birds like but he hoped we would still see some interesting ones.

While we chugged out to sea, Bob and his colleagues set about making the 'chum', a mixture of bread, fish oil and fish which attracts the tubenoses (fulmars, shearwaters, petrels) which use smell as a means to find food. The bread floats and attracts gulls which follow the boat in great numbers, giving a visual clue to other birds with good eyesight that food is around. We saw good numbers of herring, lesser black-backed and great black-backed gulls, common terns, fulmars and even some gannets following us.

Some of the birds which followed the boat. L to R: fulmar, lesser black-backed gull, great shearwater, great black-backed gull (on water) with probably juvenile, herring gull. Not sure what the flying juvenile is - probably a GBBG. Anybody?

Once out at sea within the first two hours we saw all the new birds for me. Storm petrels were quite common. We also saw a few Wilson's petrels, which are much rarer. The record shots below are the best of a couple of hundred. Storm petrels remind one of swallows, darting over the waves. They are small and rarely come close, and when they do it's hard to follow their fast, erratic flight. Wilson's are slightly less erratic in flight. The differences are that Wilson's are larger, their white rump goes round underneath, their legs are longer and stick out beyond their tail and they fly more slowly and often hover over the waves.

Storm petrel.

Wilson's petrel.

During the voyage, the crew set up rods to catch shark and also fished using rods with four hooks. This was amazingly effective. He would lower the line into the sea for about a minute and when he pulled it up there were four mackerel attached!! These fish were kept until later when they were chopped up and thrown overboard slowly to attract other birds.

It wasn't long before we saw the first great shearwater. This was a very cheeky bird that flew straight in to take some of the fish being thrown overboard from under the noses of even the largest gulls. They're certainly fearless birds, often making off with a titbit followed by more than one gull. Then there were two or three, but never more than that.

Hey! Come back with that fish!! Great shearwater pursued by a great black-backed gull.

Great shearwaters, masters of the air.

There wasn't much wind and the shearwaters were having to work hard to keep airbourne. A sooty tern appeared in a group of birds behind a trawler. Another lifer. We saw a distant Manx shearwater, not a lifer but lovely.

Sooty shearwater.

The wind picked up slightly and we hoped we might see a Cory's or Balearic shearwater, but no luck. We spent the rest of the day watching the one or two great shearwaters that were with us for most of the day and the petrels that raced by at intervals, the gannets which acted like gulls at times and the fulmars and gulls.


The following day we started at a slightly more civilised hour, 0930. The core people were the same as yesterday with one or two new ones. The sea was like a millpond with almost no wind at all. Wind is essential to carry the smell of the chum to the birds. It wasn't looking good. We saw a colony of shag and another of terns on the way out to sea. Then a group of ten or so Manx shearwater flew off at our approach.

Manx shearwater.

A little further out near the Seven Stones Reef we saw a single puffin, not in breeding plumage and looking rather monochrome. As we approached he took off, racing along the surface of the water to get airbourne on those impossibly small wings. It's a wonder they can fly at all!


We pressed on and were rewarded by a magnificent Balearic shearwater, a very handsome bird. It, or another, came back time and again. This shot was very pleasing with the reflection of the gliding bird in the smooth surface of the sea.

Ballearic shearwater.

Sometimes it jumped in with the other birds, showing no sign of being intimidated by the much larger gulls.

Balearic shearwater.

The rest of the day was taken up with fishing, taking endless shots of the petrels which came in, hoping to get one or two decent shots from dozens of hopelessly out of focus ones!!

About lunchtime there was a bite on the shark line and the skipper spent at least 10 minutes reeling in a blue shark. In fact, the hook had caught the shark in the tail. After tagging the shark and removing the hook it was thrown back into the sea.

The line was set again and it wasn't too long before there was another bite. The skipper asked any of the birdwatchers if they wanted to reel the shark in. One of them volunteered and spent an exhausting 15 minutes reeling in another blue shark, which was even larger. After tagging it and throwing it back in we slowly motored back to the harbour. I had a look at some of my photos before dinner.

The following day I was bumped off my helicopter flight, missed my train, had to buy another ticket (£82 single!) and eventually got home much later than expected. But, hey, I got seven year-ticks out of the trip and six of them were lifers!!

Sunday 2 August 2009

Spoonbills at Oare Marshes

We had heard there were Wood sandpipers at Oare Marshes and Lynne wanted to go and see her parents at Blean so we set off late morning. David Campbell heard on his pager that three spoonbills had been seen at Oare that morning so that was an extra reason to go. At Oare there was a good collection of waders. We saw at least 200 black tailed godwits, 100+ golden plover, 4-5 curlew sandpiper, 2 greenshank, 2 sandwich tern, 2 common tern, 11 avocet, 100+ redshank, several ruff in various plumages, as well as the usual assortment of ducks, a female teal, lapwings, little grebe, little egret, etc. While we were looking for the wood sandpiper the three spoonbills, which had been on the West Flood, took to the wing, wheeled around and flew off. I managed to get a few flight shots before they got out of range. In this photo the adult is in the lead, followed by the two juveniles (black wingtips). The second juvenile hasn't quite got the hang of flying with legs straight behind yet!! He seems to be running to catch the others up!

Spoonbills, Oare Marshes.

We never did find the wood sandpipers but we did see a pair of hobbies catch a swift in mid air and then pass the prey one to the other in the air. I had just put my camera back in the car, so no photos of that fascinating episode. I've made a mental note never to leave my camera in the car again!

I'm only working a four day week next week. I'm off on Friday to go to the Scillies for a pelagic boat trip to see seabirds, the sort that don't normally come ashore much. I'm hoping to increase my year list to re-take the lead from David. He's 3 ahead of me now. I'm on 209. He's on 212. Grrrrr! No, of course I'm not overly competitive!!

Saturday 1 August 2009

Purple Heron, Barnes WWT London

Went to London Wetlands today to see the juvenile purple heron. It was rather elusive at first but it finally came out into the open. A lifer for me.

Juvenile purple heron.

There were also three wood sandpipers. Also lifers. My year list is on 209 so far.

Thursday 18 June 2009

30 / 31 May 2009 New Forest - Chobham

On 30 May i went raptor watching in the New Forest. Acres down is the known best watchpoint. The morning was perfect, clear sky, sun, light breeze. Should have been perfect for honey buzzard. Surprisingly there were goshawks a-plenty over the forest, a lifer and very welcome, but no honey buzzards. There were several cuckoos, siskin and common buzzard.

Around lunchtime I moved to Bishops Dyke where I hoped to see common redstart, quite a common bird but a lifer for me. I wasn't disappointed. Several redstart appeared at the edge of the forest affording good views.

Redstart, Bishops Dyke, New Forest.

The following evening, 31 May and the last day of the month, I went to Chobham Common for nightjar and woodcock. I wanted to bump up my total for the end of the month. As soon as we got to the main clearing of the common I saw the unmistakable sillouette of two roding woodcock. Great!

We moved on to an area where nightjar have been seen in previous years and sure enough we could hear the familiar churring, followed by close views of two or three nightjar. There was a lull. Lynne reminded me of the trick of waving a white handkerchief to make the nightjar think it was a female. I was sceptical but pulled one out and waved it. As if by magic a nightjar appeared and flew straight towards us and over our heads! Amazing! It worked! That evening my end of May total was 193!

Wednesday 3 June 2009

Bank holiday. Three days of birds. Day 3

As it turned out, having no breakfast at the B&B in Brandon was fortuitous because I'm an early riser and I was able to get to Weeting Heath by 05.50! I know!...., but it was only a few minutes away by car and I wasn't quite the first one there. Someone else had gone to the other hide!

I set up very gingerly and only then opened the flap. Very soon I saw three stone curlews quite a long way off but very active. Magnificent. They are such striking birds with their huge looking eyes. I took many photos from a distance. Heat haze was not a problem at that time of day and visibility was excellent. The birds were quite along way away though.
Stone curlew, Weeting Heath.
At one point a lapwing started to mob one of the curlews. It reacted by fanning its tail and opening its wings. Lovely. Here's the sequence:

In the woods by the car park I saw and heard a willow tit.

I went back to Lakenheath where I saw the common cranes and their chicks but only from a great distance. They were unmistakable. I also got a few more pics of the orioles but not better than the day before.

I went on to to Titchwell. I saw nothing new but I did take some lovely views of some turnstones on the beach.

Turnstone, Titchwell Beach.

I was now on 188, one behind David. I knew that a squacco heron had been seen at Wicken Fen. I had seen a great grey shrike there last year so I knew the reserve. I started driving home and made a slight detour to Wicken. It was early evening. Would it still be there? Would it be a long way in? Wicken Fen is quite a large place. I met someone in the carpark who told me where it was. Still there! He said it was very close to the hide so I decided to take my small lens. I raced to the spot. One returning birdwatcher said: "You should have been here ten minutes ago", and shook his head!! He was only joking. This bird was a lifer and brought me level with David. Sent him a text to grip him off. Notice how small the squacco heron is compared to the coot behind.

Squacco heron, Wicken Fen.

On the M25 I got blocked in the services when the motorway was closed for an hour and a half because some cattle escaped from a lorry which had overturned.

Bank holiday. Three days of birds. Day 2

Sunday 24 May 2009.

On the Sunday, 24 May, I went to Bempton Cliffs RSPB, a sort of poor man's Farne Isles. You don't have to pay for boats, you're not dependent on the weather to see the birds and the bird life is nearly as good. Almost immediately I met Di Stone who had already spent at least a day at the cliffs and knew where all the best spots were. Gannets, guillemots, kittiwakes, razorbills, fulmars and even a few puffins swelled my year list, together with a rock pipit. With Di's help I took close views of most birds there. Thank you, Di. Gannets were soaring close to the cliffs' edge and many of the photos I took were of them.

Gannet soaring off Bempton Cliffs, E Yorkshire

Guillemot, Bempton Cliffs, E Yorkshire

Kittiwake, Bempton Cliffs, E Yorkshire

Razorbill, Bempton Cliffs, E Yorkshire

After about five and a half hours I left and moved down the road to Flamborough Head. I stayed for an hour before driving back down to Brandon near to Lakenheath and Weeting again. I wasn't happy about the stone curlews and the golden orioles. I got to Weeting at dusk, knowing that the stone curlews were most active at dusk and dawn. I saw nothing but I did stop to observe the spotted flycatchers again, seeing them mate at one point.

Again I had no B&B arranged. I went to Brandon and asked at the pub. I was told that the owner of the bowling alley let rooms. One was available at £42 inc breakfast. A bit steep (Bridlington was £23) but I had little choice. A little later the receptionist told me that, as it was a bank holiday next day, they couldn't offer me breakfast so I could have the room only for £35. I wasn't disappointed about this as I'll explain in my next post.......

Monday 1 June 2009

Bank holiday. Three days of birds. Day 1

The situation was serious! David Campbell was on 189 for the year and I was on only 177. This could not continue! Lynne had given me the OK for this weekend which promised to be ideal in tems of weather and David was away on a school trip to Italy so there was a chance for me to catch up.

I decided on a slow journey to Bempton Cliffs in East Yorkshire, via various places where good birds had been reported. I prepared my flask on Saturday morning and set off early for Lee Valley to see the long-staying Savi's warbler. Like most warblers this one was also very drab. I saw it briefly and heard it sing twice (a long mechanical song slightly lower than a grasshopper warbler). On my way back to the car I managed some reasonable pictures of a garden warbler who was singing away.

Garden warbler, Lee Valley

Happy with the Savi's, I moved on to Lakenheath RSPB in Suffolk. There were several grasshopper warblers near the visitor centre - a lifer - but I was really hoping to see the golden orioles. I went the wrong way round the path so ended up walking further than needed, but I eventually came to the group of twenty or so with their scopes trained on the orioles' nest. It was quite high up so, again, pictures not great, but I was happy to have seen them.

Golden oriole on nest, Lakenheath RSPB.

Golden oriole on nest and flying, Lakenheath RSPB.

After a very long walk back to the centre and a well-earned coffee, I was then off to Weeting Heath (Norfolk Wildlife Trust) to see the stone curlews. It was late morning by now and the heat haze was severe. The hide was packed. Stone curlews are very elusive and well camouflaged. If they sit still they are invisible. I saw what I was sure was a stone curlew but it could have been a pile of earth!!

Back at the carpark, I learned that there were spotted flycatchers in the woods. I found them and managed good views of another lifer. "Spotted flycatcher, a lifer??" said a kindly Yorkshireman I met. "They're garden birds for us". I told him my garden birds are the ring-necked parakeets which now come every day to our feeders!

Spotted flycatcher, Weeting Heath NWT.

I thought there was just enough time to go to Cley for the Collared pratincole which had been there for a few days. When I got there it hadn;t been seen since that morning. I couldn't afford to hang about. I had to get to Bridlington and I didn't even have a B&B for the night. The satnav said 4 hours and it was after 5.00 already!

While I drove, Lynne rang round all the B&Bs in Bridlington but they were all full. Well it was the bank holiday! Lynne said all the B&Bs seemed to be in one street. I decided to go there. I got there at 21.20. I pulled into Marshall Avenue and the first B&B I saw, Harmony Guest House, had a sign up 'Vacancies'. I thought to myself that it might be the worst B&B and that's why it has rooms free. Nothing could be further from the truth. Margaret and Ian were lovely. The room was basic but clean. They had just a single free.

Margaret gave me a parking permit, came with me to show me where to park and then helped me carry my heavy gear back to the house. She gave me breakfast at 7.00 on the Sunday, made a flask for me and helped me carry my gear back to the car. I couldn't have wished for more. Well done and thank you Margaret. Anyone wanting a room should try Harmony - 01262 603867.

The following morning I set off for Bempton. . . . .

10 May 2009. Black-winged pratincole.

While I was at Elmleigh today, David told me about the black-winged pratincole at Reculver, a very rare vagrant to this country. As I wasn't too far away I wandered down and met the throng of at least 100 birdwatchers waiting for a glimpse.

It was last seen over a field of rape. I didn't have much idea what it looked like. Someone saw it two or three fields away and I may have seen it in the sense that I saw a tiny dot in my scope.

Later, I saw what I thought was the bird and started calling out where it was. I lost it for a few seconds and the bird I then picked up on turned out to be a crow. How embarassing in front of all those experts!!

About half an hour later the pratincole came back and settled on one of the banks of the oyster farm. It stayed there for at least half an hour so everyone had time to move round to it and have a good look. It was about 100m away and there was a lot of heat haze so the picture is not good. As I left, it flew off and turned up the next day at Grove Ferry. I was glad to have seen it.

Black-winged pratincole, Reculver.

Tuesday 5 May 2009

9 May 2009. Birdrace 90 species in one day!

Today went with David Campbell on a birdrace of sorts. Don't think we are official and two of the group of four couldn't come in the end. We decided to go to Kent and started with Elmley Marshes. The drive from the road to the car park is always very fruitful. We soon saw marsh harriers, yellow wagtails and linnet, followed by mediterranean gulls, garganey, corn bunting, hobby and grey partridge (a bogey bird for David, who hadn't seen one for the last two years).

We then moved down the main track towards the hides. The first hide is 1.25 miles from the car park so it's quite a treck. I'm glad we went though because I saw one of my bogey birds, a female whinchat. A lifer and a very nice tick.

Female whinchat.

At Elmley we saw 68 species in all. Not bad for one site.

We moved on to Grove Ferry where the notable additions were little ringed plover, greenshank, cuckoo, great crested grebe (the only one of the day - strange) and common tern.

Finally we moved on to Oare, which gave us water rail, bearded tit and a late-staying pair of widgeon. Unusual to see widgeon so late in the year. We got 86 species last year, 90 this year! By the end of the day we were happy but exhausted!!

Here is a complete list of species for that day.

Arctic tern
Bearded tit
Black-headed gull
Black-tailed godwit
Blue tit
Canada goose
Cetti’s warbler
Collared dove
Common tern
Corn bunting
Feral pigeon
Great crested grebe
Great tit
Green woodpecker
Grey heron
Grey plover
Greylag goose
Grey partridge
Herring gull
House sparrow
Lesser black-backed gull
Lesser whitethroat
Little egret
Little grebe
Little gull
Little owl
Little ringed plover
Long-tailed tit
Marsh harrier
Meadow pipit
Mediterranean gull
Mistle thrush
Mute swan
Pied wagtail
Red-legged partridge
Reed bunting
Reed warbler
Ringed plover
Sedge warbler
Song thrush
Stock dove
Tufted duck
Water rail
Willow warbler
Wood pigeon
Yellow wagtail

Sunday 26 April 2009

In the garden this weekend.Result of mystery face enigma.

I was only in the garden late on Sunday afternoon because I had been on a walking weekend on the South Downs. Got back too late to go out again so I set up my camera in the garden to see what would come the the feeders, etc. It was quiet, but this jay did drop by to get some peanuts I had left on the ground. Hopefully I can see more next weekend.

Jay in garden.

Red-breasted goose photo published.
My photo of the red-breasted goose at West Wittering was chosen for publication in Birding World magazine (Vol 22, Number 3). I'm chuffed to bits that my photo was chosen, as there were many other good photos of that bird on the net. Anyway, here is the blog entry where the chosen photo first appeared:


Finally, the mystery face from last week was, as Billy correctly said,............. a mute swan. Here's the full photo:

Mute swan, Oare Marshes

Well done, Billy.