Sunday 5 December 2010

Common Crane near home, Beddington

This morning I had a call from David Campbell to say that there was a crane on the lake at Beddington. I got my stuff together and made my way over. In half an hour I was watching a gorgeous juvenile crane. It was at the other end of the lake but it was a year tick and close to home. Thanks, David.
Common crane. The grey herons were curious!!

Wednesday 1 December 2010

Frozen Oare Marshes

Oare on Monday was a frozen waste but there was no snow then. A male marsh harrier was quartering the reeds around the East Flood when Mark Stanley and I arrived.

A walk around the sea path revealed c. 75 shelduck on the shore, 80 avocets huddled together against the wind, and a fair number of curlew, redshank and dunlin.

The East Flood was iced over apart from a small area near the road where a number of teal, wigeon, lapwing, mallard, common gulls and shoveler congregated, joined by a single ruff.

What do water birds do in the freeze? They skate!

Shoveler on ice

Common gull. It sat down on the ice a moment later!
A little grebe was very close, on the channel between the road and the bank, as this stretch of water was also not frozen. Whenever we crept up on it, it dived. When we had put our cameras in the car it appeared nearer than ever!! We did get some shots of it anyway, probably nearer than ever before.

Little grebe
The widgeon were also very close and showing very well!


Sunday 21 November 2010

Rustic bunting in Whitstable.

Lynne, my wife, wanted to visit her parents in Blean, which is only 3 miles from Whitstable. Coincidently, a rustic bunting was reported in Whitstable today. Naturally I offered to take Lynne down to Kent!

I rang David, who was at Canons farm as usual. He was a little hesitant about coming because he had some coursework to do but the prospect of another lifer was too much for him. It would be a lifer for me as well.

This had to be one of the easiest twitches of the year. On arrival, the rustic bunting was only 15 or 20m away and showed well for the hour or so we were there. However, it is a small bird and it spent all its time rummaging through grass which was taller than it was. This made focusing rather difficult. it also didn't like being out in the open, so it would dart quickly from one tuft to another. Nevertheless, we were able to observe its plumage and habits carefully.

Rustic bunting from the side
Rustic bunting from the back.
Note the pale spot on the back of the head.

David wanted to go to Reculver to see the hooded crow that lived there. we were not so fortunate on this second quest however. The sun quickly set and we had to go and pick Lynne up. The hooded crow would have to wait for another time!

Waxwings finally come South.

I was becoming increasingly frustrated at seeing reports of hundreds of waxwings in the North. When were they coming down here? David Campbell rang me at about 3:30 PM on Friday afternoon to say that small group had been seen not far from Epsom Downs. I drove over there, but by the time I found the correct spot it was nearly dark and there were no waxwings.

David rang again on Saturday morning to say that there were now 11 waxwings. I went straight over and there they were. Over the next 2 hours a number of birdwatchers came and went. Some of the locals came out to ask what we were looking at and they were interested to know that these delightful birds were on their doorstep. It was lovely to see these gorgeous birds again although the light was very poor and it drizzled on and off all day.


Lesser yellowlegs in Oxford

I went to see this American wader on 5 November before it disappeared. On the day I went the weather was rainy; just my luck! I didn't check the pager before I left home or I would have seen the 'no sign' message. Anyway, I got there and met another photographer coming back who said he'd been there for 3 hours but there was no sign of it. Oh, dear!!

I got to the water and scanned the far bank. There were loads of golden plover, mallards, black-headed gulls, etc. but no yellowlegs. I did come across a wader with very yellow legs and my heart jumped, but it was only a ruff!

The rain was driving into the end of my scope, obscuring my vision, so I walked upwind so I could look with the wind more behind me. Then, there it was on a small island in the middle of the flood. I moved nearer and it flew to a marshy area nearby. I gave it a wide berth and moved beyond it, waiting for it to come nearer to me. It was still raining but I knelt down on the wet grass to lower my profile.

I followed the bird for about 15 minutes but I didn't want my camera to get too wet. I headed back to the car.

Lesser yellowlegs

Wednesday 3 November 2010

Scillies 20-30 October. My first autumn migration.

This was my 3rd visit to the Scillies in a little over a year, but my first trip for the autumn migration. From the ferry I saw 2 Manx shearwaters, several guillemots, 1 or 2 razorbills and a lot of gannets.

Wednesday 20th

I arrived at St Mary's about midday. As my case was being delivered directly to the B&B I went straight off to see the sub-alpine warbler. I met David Abbott who had been to the Scillies many times and we looked together. After a brief glimpse of the bird (it was very elusive) I got the 2 o'clock boat to St Martins for the red-flanked bluetail. On arrival, I met Colin Mackenzie-Grieve, who kindly showed me the way as it was quite a walk. Within minutes I was getting close views and pictures of this handsome and obliging bird.

Red flanked bluetail

I rushed down to the south of the island for the melodious warbler. After a few minutes the bird also appeared. I didn't want to miss the last boat so I made my way north again to the quay. On arrival, I learned of a jack-snipe on a very small pond near the beach. It was in full view and didn't move all the time I was there. Jack-snipe rely heavily on camouflage not to be seen. They will remain motionless until you almost step on them before they move.

Jack snipe St Martins.

The bluetail and the 2 warblers were all lifers. My first day had been a success. I sent a few grip texts to David Campbell!

That evening I had a meal in the Scillonian club, followed by the bird log. The bird log is where a full list of all birds seen on the islands is compiled. You can then know which birds have been seen where and decide what to do the next day.

Thursday 21st

I spent the morning on St Martin's, at Porth Hellick. There were a number of yellow-browed warblers, goldcrests and a common snipe close to the seaward hide. News came over the pager of a common rosefinch on St Martin's. I got the 2 o'clock boat.

The bird was quite a long way from the quay. I stopped to watch a pair of male pheasants fighting.


Further on, I surprised a group of red-legged partridges.

Red-legged partridge

When I arrived at the field where the rosefinch was I learned that it was in a flock of about 300 chaffinches. They were in a field of quinola and they were difficult to see when they dropped down. There were also 3 brambling, as well as fieldfare and redwing. Every 15 minutes a sparrowhawk would swoop down and scatter the chaffinches. After 45 minutes the rosefinch hadn't reappeared and I had to get back for the boat. I watched some rock pipits and a cheeky wren on the quayside. No lifers today but I enjoyed the pleasant walks and the fine weather.

Friday 22nd

I decided to go back to St Martins for more pictures of the bluetail. I spent much of the day with a birdwatcher from West Yorkshire. On arrival, the bluetail was amazingly tame. On its circuit it would flit between the bushes and the path, jumping down literally at my feet 1 or 2 metres away! Sometimes it was too close to photograph and I had to wait for it to go further away! We watched it for quite a while before taking a walk through the gorse looking for Dartford warblers.

 Red-flanked bluetail

After lunch we walked further up the island to the top of the hill where we saw 2 ravens and an aerial display by 2 sparrowhawks.


Nah! I can fly upside down. . . . . .


We started back to the quay from the far end of the beach hoping to see the Richard's pipit which had been seen there for a few days. There were 2 birdwatchers in front of us who flushed it at one point. We quickly made our way towards them and I managed to get a few shots of the pipit before it went into the marram grass again. Another lifer!

Richard's pipit

Back on St Mary's we went to see a common scoter in Porthcressa Bay. Whilst there, I watched the turnstones dodge the spray whilst they were on the rocks.


At the B&B I sorted through my photos, had a cup of tea, listened to the Archers and relaxed until dinnertime at the Scillonian. Lovely!

Saturday 23rd

I spent today on St Mary's. In the morning I took some pictures of a kite surfer as he was lifted by the strong wind.

I explored Lower Moor where some water rails were very vocal and occasionally came out. I wandered through the lanes to Porthloo beach, where 3 pale-bellied Brent geese were very close inshore. News came on the pager of a cattle egret. The light was fading and we called Spider to pick us up. On the way there Spider picked the egret up in flight. We got out of the cab and watched it circle over Porth Hellick before it disappeared. Not many people saw it and it was gone the next day.

Cattle egret

Sunday 24th

Sunday was quiet. The highlight was a serin up near the riding stables. A serin is a very small bird and it was with a mixed flock of other finches. Quite a few people were watching it so it was eventually picked out and I was able to take some distant photographs.


Monday 25th

David Campbell was due to arrive today at midday so I decided to stay on St Mary's and go and see the serin again. On the way I looked at the feeding station, took some pictures of a large flock of siskin and watched some redwing eating berries.



As soon as he got off the boat, David joined me at the serin site. He was very keen to see the sub-alpine warbler so we wandered down there. Typically, someone had just seen it but it was as elusive as ever. After a while, I decided to go to the pumping station and Porth Hellick. While in the seaward hide a water rail flew in and dropped down right in front of me before running quickly into a clump of reeds. Later I met 2 birdwatchers who said they had just come from seeing the sub-alpine warbler. I asked them if young blond lad had also seen it. They told me that David had flushed it from round the corner but hadn't actually seen it! How very unfortunate for David.

I wandered back to meet David and we waited 2 or 3 hours until dusk, but the elusive warbler did not show.

Tuesday 26th

David and I decided to go to Content Farm. We wandered up there slowly via Porthloo, stopping for elevenses at Juliet's garden, then up round the golf course to Telegraph and then to the farm. This yielded 2 black redstarts, which we watched for some time.

Black redstart

Spider had told us about a small, strange raptor that he had seen on several occasions and which exhibited features of a sharp-shinned hawk. The bird had been seen again by Newford Duck Pond, so David and I went to join quite a large crowd. At one point I did notice a small raptor for a few seconds over the tree line, but it was too quick to get a photo. The general opinion amongst the assembled birders was that it was the subject bird. David didn't see it because he was showing me something on his iPhone. I got the blame! We stayed until dusk with no further sighting (echoes of the sub alpine).

After dark, news came through of a red-breasted flycatcher up on the garrison.

Wednesday 27th

Immediately after breakfast, David and I went to the garrison. After 10 minutes or so we saw the red-breasted flycatcher in the pines. After watching this nice bird for a while we went to the pumping station where a dusky warbler had been seen. This bird was very mobile but we did eventually get reasonable views.

Red-breasted flycatcher

David decided to go to Tresco after lunch but I stayed on St Mary's. I had good views of a reed warbler at the pumping station.

Reed warbler

After that I went back to the garrison to get some better shots of the red breasted flycatcher. I managed to find a spot a little closer with the light behind me away from everyone else. Patience paid off. The flycatcher came quite close at times, as did some goldcrests, which were very mobile.

At the Scillonian club there was a lot of talk about the mystery bird and David was keen to track it down. However, we decided to go to St Agnes the following day. A spotted Sandpiper had been reported and we were both keen to see it. However, we arranged with Spider to pick us up at 8 AM so we could spend a couple of hours looking for the mystery accipiter. Our acquaintances Peter and Jamie agreed to come with us.

Thursday 28th

After an early breakfast, Spider arranged for us to go into the field of a local farmer where the hawk had been seen. The 4 of us watched for an hour and a half before Spider picked us up to take us to the harbour. Amazingly, the boat for St Agnes was full and they wouldn't take us! David and I therefore went back to the field to continue the vigil until the next boat at 2 PM. Although we saw a couple of sparrowhawks there was no sign of the mystery bird.


We were entertained by a hunting Merlin which scattered a flock of chaffinches in the next field and caught one of them. The noise was tremendous. The Merlin then took his prey into a nearby tree.

On St Agnes we looked in vain for a turtle dove which had been seen. We continued on to the beach where we enjoyed spectacular views of the spotted sandpiper which foraged only 10-15m from us.

Spotted sandpiper

Also present were some rock pipits and meadow pipits

Rock pipit

Meadow pipit

Friday 29th

This was a fairly relaxed day with no new birds. David and I went to Porth Hellick where we finally managed to see a firecrest, as well as a jack snipe on the Lake. We ended up at Porthcressa beach to see a single red-breasted merganser.

Surprisingly, the ferry sailing was cancelled today, apparently because of poor weather. Some cynics, however, said it was because the ferry wasn't very full!!

Saturday 30th

A trip to Lower Moor gave us wonderfully close views of a greenshank.
We were due to get the ferry at midday but, even more amazingly, it was cancelled for a second day, something which the owners of our B&B said had not happened for the last 35 years! The B&B had closed and we had to move next door for one more night. As we had more time, David and I went back to the garrison. While he looked at the red breasted flycatcher from the usual path, I ventured into the pines, making my way carefully round the back to a position where I hoped I would be able to take shots of goldcrests or the flycatcher. I had carefully manoeuvred myself into position over a fallen tree when David rang. He had seen a warbler which looked good for Blyth's reed warbler and he urged me to go back immediately to take a picture. This was easier said than done. I had to get myself off the trunk, make my way back through the pines and along the path again. When I was nearly there I heard someone shouting demonically at the top of his voice but couldn't hear what he was saying (maybe that was just as well!). On arrival I realised it was David screaming in desperation because the bird had just disappeared. Unfortunately, it did not reappear that day or at all. I got the blame for that as well! David was in poor humour for the rest of the day!


Sunday 31st

At first light we went back to the garrison hoping to see the promising warbler. It did not reappear and we had to be at the ferry by 8.15. The crossing was uneventful. Here is a juvenile kittiwake.

Juvenile kittiwake

An American bittern had been seen north of Penzance. I was travelling back to Sutton with David and his parents and Josh Jenkins Shaw. The weather was awful but we drove north hoping to see the bird. After 45 minutes in the driving rain, cold, hungry and with the long journey to Sutton ahead of us, we gave up. David's parents had thoughtfully bought us Cornish pasties. They were really tasty. Thanks to Gordon and Lois.

At Exeter we just had time before dark to see the American golden plover (a lifer).

Overall, the trip was very satisfying and relaxing. I met several friendly birdwatchers and I enjoyed the evenings at the Scillonian club. 5 lifers on the Scillies and one more on the way back was a reasonable number. Thanks, as always, David for your company.

Tuesday 19 October 2010

A brief trip to Newhaven

I am trying to concentrate on increasing my British list, so I went to Newhaven to see the rose-coloured starling which had been around for a few days. It hadn't been reported by the time I got there, but on arrival, the small group had just seen it. After 5 or 10 minutes it appeared again, allowing some fairly distant views. I went round to the other side of the hollow and got a couple of additional shots before heading home in time for lunch.

Friday 15 October 2010

Norfolk - missed one got one!!

Left early today for the red-flanked bluetail at Waxham. Got there at 09.15 but went the wrong way. Spent a long time on the dunes. It didn't matter because the bird wasn't there. A ringtail hen harrier quartered the nearby field.

Hen harrier

As backup, went to see the Pallas's warbler at Warham Greens. That wasn't there either. There was a yellow-browed warbler though. As I hadn't got a shot of the one I saw for a millisecond at Holkham a couple of weeks ago, I decided to see if it would show. At the 'pit' the bird had been seen a few minutes before my arrival. I waited with the others and after a while a brambling appeared.


After a little longer the yellow-browed warbler appeared but it was very mobile and kept darting in and out of the ivy. I did get a shot but it was a little distant. I clearly wasn't going to get a better one so I headed back to the car as I had a long way to go.

Yellow-browed warbler

I had almost got back to the car when I met a couple I had seen earlier. Just at that moment the man saw the Pallas's warbler in the oak tree right by my car. I quickly got onto the bird in my binoculars, but it was even more mobile than the yellow-browed warbler!! It was in the top of the tree just below the canopy and then flitted in an out of the bushes giving tantalising views of its sillouette. Finally it flew to the bushes on the other side of the track and I was able to take a quick shot before it disappeared again. Well, the day hadn't been too bad after all.

Pallas's warbler

Tuesday 12 October 2010

Solitary sandpiper - an American vagrant.

Yesterday, I went further than I normally like to twitch for the solitary sandpiper at Black Hole Marsh, Seaton in Devon. I started off going to Chew Valley Lake for the ferruginous ducks but, when news came in that the sandpiper was still there, I re-set the satnav for Devon, my home county!!

On arrival the bird was fairly close; 40 metres but it then flew closer, under the bank where no-one could see it. Eventually it moved away as it fed and good views were had by all. It's very similar to a green sandpiper but has a dark rump in flight (green sandpiper is white), is slightly smaller and more delicately built and has narrower wings. The tail is thinner, too.

Solitary sandpiper.

After watching it for 45 mins I headed off to Chew Valley where I got distant views of the ferruginous duck about 500 metres away in a flock of about 1000+ tufted ducks and pochards.

Sunday 10 October 2010

Baird's and semi-palmated sandpipers in one day

I had a text from David Campbell to say he had a day off school and should we go for the semi-palmated sandpiper at Abberton reservoir. I wanted to go for it but was hoping to pull clear of David in our British lists. Ah, well! I do enjoy birding with David so off we went. We decided to go for the Baird's sandpiper at Holland Country Park first as the Abberton centre wasn't open when we arrived. The Baird's is an American wader. The hide was fairly close. It was a steel shipping container on top of another one. The bird was last seen a few minutes before we arrived (isn't it always the way!!) so some people leaving allowed us to get a seat by the window. An hour and 45 mins later the bird finally came into the open after many tantalising views of the top of its head and other small parts of its body. By the way, the main difference between this bird and a dunlin is that the wings are much longer. When the bird is standing, the wingtips extend far beyond the tail. I think this is visible in the picture below.

Baird's sandpiper.

Having got one in the bag, we quickly headed for Abberton where the reputed semi-palmated sandpiper was 500 metres away, albeit in good light. Close scrutiny of the several little stint sized birds by several birwatchers eventually concluded that the distant bird had to be the semi-palmated sandpiper. The photos I took are so distant / bad that I'm not putting them up. As an extra, little stint was a year tick for me as well!

We had to get back for David's tutor so we just had time for 15 minutes on the causeway before heading home. This produced 2 males and a female red-crested pochard. I was pleased about them. I had seen one in Hyde Park recently but David was not too happy that they were truly wild!

Red-crested pochards

Anyway, 2 lifers in one day was very satisfactory. We started back well pleased with ourselves.

Tuesday 28 September 2010

Tern lifer in Hyde Park and Alder flycatcher in Norfolk

Sunday was a day of ups and downs. First was the trek in the rain, with David Campbell, for 3 miles on soft shingle to see the alder/willow flycatcher on Blakeney Point. We saw it in driving rain in the strong northerly wind but it was not very satisfying. Viewing was almost impossible with rain and/or condensation on lenses, scope and camera so I got no pics at all. The trek back was just as hard, taking an hour and 25 mins each way!! We did get a brambling though (year tick)!

Back at the car, we were both sodden and I could actually pour water from my boots. We spent the rest of the day in wet clothes. David needed the red-necked phalarope so we went to nearby Stiffkey where I stayed in the car while David went off to see it.

Then to Wells-next-the-sea for the Bonelli's warbler. We joined a fairly large group looking for it in the dense woods and I was sure we'd see nothing. However, the cry went up and the bird was visible several times in as many minutes. As a bonus the yellow-browed warbler showed briefly as well. That was 3 lifers in one day. We toyed with the idea of going for the common rosefinch but it was getting late by now.

Next day, Monday, I was planning on a lazy day at home when the news of a white-winged black tern in Hyde Park came in. I jumped on the train and a few minutes after my arrival there it was (lifer). Easy! And here it is:

Monday 20 September 2010

A busy weekend - White-rumped sandpiper and King eider.

Oare Marshes, Kent.

On Friday I went to Oare marshes to see the white-rumped Sandpiper. I did see one last year at Abberton Reservoir (if seeing a tiny dot on the far side of the Reservoir counts). At Oare, the bird was much nearer, but it is a small bird so it's difficult to get a reasonable photo. It's actually smaller than a dunlin. When I arrived, one or 2 people were looking at a redstart in a bush near the road. I decided to get the Sandpiper in the bag first, so made my way to the sea path just beyond the sluice. The white-rumped Sandpiper was showing very well at a distance of 60 m or so. I watched it for a while and took some photographs before heading back to see the redstart.

White-rumped sandpiper.

The redstart was proving a little elusive but very entertaining. I hadn't had an opportunity of observing an adult redstart in action before. There was a lot of tail flicking of its gorgeous red (well, actually more orange than red) tail. It also pounced on insects on the ground.

Common redstart.

While watching the redstart it became apparent that the bush contained other birds as well. A gorgeous lesser whitethroat emerged to eat some berries, and it was joined shortly afterwards by a common whitethroat. I watched these birds for over an hour before going to scan the main flood.

Lesser whitethroat.

I was hoping to see little stints , but no luck. A large flock of golden plover flew in. There were half a dozen ruff, a common snipe, as well as the usual lapwings, black-tailed godwits, a couple of avocets, little egrets, teal, shoveller, cormorant, etc.

Golden plover.

Minsmere, Suffolk.

I started early on Saturday to go to Minsmere for the King eider, hoping to narrow David Campbell's lead in our British lists. The bird had been seen anywhere along a 3 or 4 mile stretch of coastline. I arrived at 8.15 but the centre didn't open until 09.00. I decided to go straight to the sluice where a couple of people were already on the bird. I had a quick look through their telescope in case it flew off before setting up my tripod. The eider was quite distant, over halfway to the horizon so these pictures of it are very poor.

King eider.

Having bagged the King eider, I walked further along the beach where some early birders were looking for 2 Lapland buntings. The sand and shingle area between the beach and the path was covered with large clumps of reed grass. One of the birdwatchers found a bunting which, although I couldn't see it, was clearly heading my way. I sat down on the beach, lowered my tripod and waited. A little later a very nice Lapland bunting appeared between the tufts and I was able to take a few photos. It was being stalked by several photographers now and it quickly disappeared again.

Lapland bunting.

One of the birdwatchers mentioned that a large flock of bearded tits was in the reeds by the sluice. I walked down with another birdwatcher and we came across the flock very quickly.

Bearded tits. Male above, female below.

They didn't stay long so we scanned the lake. My companion picked out a very strange looking hybrid goose, which looked like a cross between a barnacle goose and a Canada goose.

Hybrid goose. Probably Canada/barnacle.

After breakfast at the centre I walked around the reserve again. The king eider was still present in the afternoon. There was a single bar tailed godwit, a couple of avocets and a spotted redshank, but nothing else of note.

On the feeders back at the centre I noticed a great tit with a strange fleshy tube beneath its bill. It had a similar lesion on one of its wings. It was eating from the feeder so I hope it will live.

Deformed great tit.