Saturday 30 January 2010

Painshill Park at last, and goosanders!

It was to be my last day out in January. My year list wasn't at 100 yet. What was I to do? I'd seen from Tricia's blog that she'd seen goosanders at Painshill Park recently so I decided to visit the park as I didn't know it.

On the way from the car park to the bridge, I was assailed by the sound of 50-60 redpoll and siskin in the birch and alder trees near the river. I spent half an hour watching but the trees were very high and it was difficult to get a good angle.

Siskin. (click photos to enlarge)

I pressed on to the bridge, watching for any kingfishers. There is an entrance fee for the park of £6.60. I hoped it would be worth it. I signed up for gift aid as requested and then tried the local tearooms.

I had a cappuccino with a scone, jam and clotted cream. The 'cream' bore no resemblance to clotted cream at all, more like white rubber. I took it back and asked if I could just have another jam. He was very apologetic and said he had lots of cream and would get me some more. I was sceptical but he brought back a portion of cream which was even slightly runny in places and was more like the real thing (this being Rodda's Cornish clotted cream. Even though I'm from Devon I have to admit that Rodda's is hard to beat).

I had been advised to take the Historical route to the lake and I complied. I saw more redpoll, heard several nuthatch and then one showed well for me, picking out a bug from the bark of a tree.

Nuthatch with bug

A scan of the lake from above the plantation revealed no goosanders. I found the Chinese Bridge and was just about to look at the entrance to the grotto (open weekends and Bank holidays) when I glanced down the lake and saw in the distance what looked like goosanders. The binoculars confirmed. Great!

They were nervous and swam off at my careful approach. I went round the other side of the lake where the light was better. I got some reasonable shots of the three males and one female, infinitely better and closer than the very distant shots of them at Dungeness a few years ago.

Drake goosander.

Female goosander, male behind

Someone spooked them and they flew off. A pair of Egyptian geese flew off as well. I took some good shots (well they looked great in the viewfinder) and as they reached the optimum distance the camera froze. What was it? As they flew past I saw that my memory card was full!!

Egyptian geese, both male

I waited around and noticed that the lake is surrounded by trees so the larger birds have to circle in order to gain height. They also came in to land on the water from upwind. A couple of swans circled the trees outside and came round the upwind end of the lake and started their descent. One of them overshot and ended up on the ice sheet in the middle of the lake.

Mute swan coming in to runway three!

Hmmm! Seem to have overshot the waterway!
I watched the goosanders a while longer as well as looking for the kingfisher without success, before going back to the car.

Despite the rubber cream I enjoyed my afternoon there and will go again.

Sunday 17 January 2010

Ring-billed gull at Gosport.

A beautiful day was forecast and I decided to make the most of it. I went first to Hayling Island where, at 0900, the sea in the harbour was like a mirror. I quickly got onto the two long-tailed ducks and the harbour was awash with red-breasted mergansers and the odd goldeneye. No sign of the green-winged teal though. There were several brent geese feeding in the oyster beds, good numbers of curlew, shelduck and redshank. When the tide started to come in, a pair of red-breasted mergansers fished in the strong current entering the lagoon. The current probably brought in the fish.

I intended to go to Gosport for the long staying ring-billed gull but I thought I'd go to Portsmouth on the way to see if there were any purple sandpipers. When I got there the tide was in and covered their habitat so no luck.

I moved on to the boating lake in Gosport where the ring-billed gull hangs out. There were quite a few gulls and a number of common gulls (which look very like ring-billed gulls) so it took some time sorting through them all. After a while I came across one I was almost sure was 'it', but I needed to go around the other side to have the light behind me.

Ring-billed gull, Gosport.

Sure enough, the one with the larger bill with more clearly marked ring (on common gull it is less distinct), the white eye with red surround (common is dark eye with no eye ring) and with a meaner aspect had to be the one. The light was perfect so I was able to take a number of shots, some with a common gull for comparison.

Ring-billed gull. Common gull behind.

Common gull, Gosport, for comparison.

I had a couple of hours daylight left. I decided to go to the New Forest for the great grey shrike but it was a wasted journey. I didn't have my OS maps with me and, apart from the OS ref., the location details were unclear so I couldn't find the place. That'll teach me to go unprepared.

Saturday 16 January 2010

Bittern shows well at Barnes WWT

15 January 2010

The bittern finally showed well at Barnes for me. I saw nothing from the Dulverton hide where it had been seen recently so I made my way up to the Wildside. My approach was greeted with the appreciative 'ooohhs' of those already inside who were onto the bird. It was on the other side of the lake but the nearest I had ever seen one. The lake was still frozen so the poor bird was reduced to stalking the edge of the ice shelf and fishing in the negligible strip of water at the edge of the reeds. He didn't go hungry. I was told he'd already caught four fish and he caught another three in the hour or so that I watched him. Here's the sequence:

Hmmm. Stretch up high. Then stoop down low....!

Ha! Gottcha!

Mmm. Fish for lunch.

Gulp!! AAhh!

Monday 4 January 2010

Water pipit at Staines Moor, redpolls at Barnes WWT

First thing today I went to Staines reservoir to see the black-necked grebe and female scaup. It was still freezing but managed to see both as well as some smew.

Then went to Staines Moor, not so much to see the brown shrike (which hasn't been seen now since 2 January) but more for the water pipits. I decided to walk up from the southern end so as not to have the sun in my eyes. A dog-walker told me the way but it wasn't quite as direct as I was expecting. I got to the river and started taking pictures of a little grebe in the reeds.

Little grebe, Staines Moor

A large flock of fieldfare flew overhead. Another photographer (Ian, alias Fungus McBogle) came along and we talked for a while before Ian noticed a small bird fly along the river, a water pipit. We were able to take quite a few pictures before it flew further upstream.

Water pipit, Staines Moor

As it was only about two o'clock, I decided to go to Barnes to see the bittern. I met Corinna Smart coming out as I went in. She advised me to go straight for the flock of redpolls that were feeding on the Wild Side. I went in and managed to find the birch tree where there were one or two other birdwatchers waiting. The redpolls soon returned and allowed very close approaches for some lovely pictures in the warm light of the late afternoon sun. I did see the bittern briefly and distantly from the Dulverton hide but it was very skulking. However, a jack snipe was another welcome bird for my year list from the same hide. I went home very pleased with the redpoll photos which I knew would take me hours to sort out. Ah Well! It's always nice to get at least one good photo!

Lesser redpoll, Barnes WWT

Lesser Redpoll, Barnes WWT

Friday 1 January 2010

Brown shrike back at Staines Moor

At the start of the listing year the brown shrike is back after an absence of two weeks. As it's fairly local, I decided to go straight up and see it for this year. There were surprisingly few people there, only six or eight. With directions from them, I quickly got on to it, in exactly the same area as when it went AWOL before Christmas.

I watched it for a while and took a few record shots. There were quite a few dog walkers going over the river so I went over and set up my tripod over a small clump of rushes where there was a bush about 20m away. The shrike is a creature of habit and usually does the rounds of its favourite bushes. I sat down to wait.

I watched it on the far side of the river where it gave good views to those on that side. Had I made a mistake? Perhaps I had made the mistake of sitting on the grass. Very quickly I had a very wet behind, the ice cold water seeping through all thicknesses. I shifted sideways so I could sit on the tuft itself. Eventually the shrike came over the river again quite a way away. It flew off behind a bush. Suddenly it appeared low down left of 'my' bush but it was obscured by a twig. Then, yes, it moved to the right hand side, half-way up. I managed about ten shots before he was off and I was happy.

This is a very entertaining bird. If you go, you're almost bound to see it. A nice start to the year.