Tuesday 24 August 2010

Hobby at Banstead Woods.

David Campbell showed me the hobby he had found in Banstead Woods. The tree was empty at first but after about an hour the hobby came to sit at the top of its favourite perch. It stayed for quite a while until we left at dusk. We went back the following day at a different time so the sun was better and took some more pictures. A lovely bird to watch at relatively short range.

Monday 9 August 2010

A week in the Scilly Isles and a pelagic 24-31 July 2010

After Cornwall, Lynne and I went to the Scilly Isles for a week. Last year I spent a weekend on St Mary's but I spent both days at sea so I didn't get to know the islands at all. Lynne had always wanted to come to the Scillies. We went over by ferry. I had expected to do a lot of seawatching on the trip but the weather was cool and windy. I did spend some time on deck where I met some members of the Notts Bird club who had kindly agreed to let me go with them on one of their pelagic trips.

Naturally, you have to go everywhere by boat on the Scillies. This is good business for the boatmen. A simple return to any island is £7.80. If you want to visit two Islands on the same day it's about £11.50.

On the Sunday we decided to go on a trip to the Eastern Islands before going on to St Martin's. We saw plenty of grey Atlantic seals on the trip to the Eastern Isles and this made Lynne very happy. Seals are okay but they're not nearly as exciting as birds! !

Now, I know there may be one or two of you who would like to see a picture of a small, cuddly baby seal, with that innocent looking face, the small snubby nose, the large appealing eyes, etc, but. . .

. . . Oh, all right then!

Atlantic grey seal pup. Aaahhh!

St Martins is one of the larger islands. The tides dictate where the boat drops you off and where it picks you up. We landed near one end of the island and were to be picked up near the other end. I liked St Martin's. The scenery was varied and the eastern end was fairly wild.

Shags are much more common than cormorant. Here's a shag feeding:

Come on, Mum. open up. I'm hungry:

OK. But don't get your bill too far in, it makes me gag!:

I said not too far down!!!:

Here are a couple of cormorants:

After a coffee at the local hotel we strode out to the other end of the island. We passed a field of linnets before arriving at Middletown at 1405. The local tea-room stopped selling lunch at 1400 and I got the blame for arriving late. We had another coffee and a nice piece of cake in lieu of lunch.

We walked to the far end of the island hoping to see some seabirds. We saw some gannets diving and also a basking shark. This also pleased Lynne, but she was now becoming uneasy about getting back in time to meet the boat. Lynne was not reassured by my reassurances. I had to cut short some photo opportunities for linnets, rock pipits, etc and we arrived back at the jetty half an hour before the boat was due to go.

Monday was quite misty. We decided to go to Tresco and looked round the formal gardens. These were quite nice but tranquility was shattered by the sound of a least two motor driven devices operated by workmen in the gardens. Sparrows were still feeding their young.

House sparrow.

Further on we also saw a golden pheasant, clearly now part of a feral population!!

Golden pheasant.

Someone had recommended the fish and chips at the local pub on Tresco. We decided to have it. It was pricey at over £11 each but the portion was generous and we had difficulty eating it all.

On Tuesday we decided to stay on St Mary's. We walked through the old town, on to the end of the airport runway and then to Porth Hellick, a local nature reserve. There was a nice common sandpiper, a sedge Warbler and a distant kingfisher on a post.

Common sandpiper.

Sedge warbler.

We walked on through another nature reserve to the heritage centre where I tried, not very successfully, to take pictures of swallows in flight. Just down the road was an interesting garden where some young blackbirds and thrushes came very near, not yet having learned to fear humans.

Song thrush waiting for his tail to grow.

On Wednesday we went to St Agnes. The Turk's head pub is about 200 m from the jetty, so the first thing we did was stop for coffee! Ambling on for a further half a mile we stopped near 'Big pool' which was supposed to be good for birds. It was actually quite small with only a few gulls on it. A little further around the island I came across 2 brown rats in a bush near the beach!

Brown rat.

There were also several willow warblers, presumably on migration:

Willow warbler.

From St Agnes at low tide it is possible to walk to the adjoining island of Gugh. There were hundreds of nesting pairs of lesser black backed gulls which didn't take kindly to our presence. We did see some rock pipits and some wheatears. The following sequence shows a bee approaching a wheatear, which ducks to get out of the way.

On Thursday we went to Bryher, one of the smaller islands. This probably had the fewest birds, but I did see a little egret on our approach to the jetty and, as we were leaving, a sandwich tern fishing, as the following pictures show.

That evening, Lynne came with me on a short boat trip to see the Manx shearwaters amassing on the sea before they go ashore to their young. We saw 2 or 3 rafts of birds totalling perhaps 200 individuals, as well as a basking shark.

Friday was the day of the pelagic trip with the Notts bird club. Our guide told us that conditions were better than they had been all week. However, it was a little early in the season. The pelagic was very enjoyable even though sightings were limited. We saw a number of storm petrels, a sooty shearwater, a few Manx, one or 2 great skuas and the usual mix of gannets, gulls and fulmars. A highlight was a grey phalarope, a British tick!

European storm petrel.

Sooty shearwater.

Great skua (bonxie).

Grey phalarope.

On the way back the gulls fought over the pieces of mackerell which the organisers threw overboard. I like this shot of a lesser black-backed gull getting the fish (lower right).

On Saturday morning we went to Porthloo on St Mary's, a very smelly beach. I don't know why. Lynne had a look round the small galleries and I scanned the beach for some reported Mediterranean gulls.

In the afternoon we left on the ferry. I spent some time on deck with the Notts Bird club and we saw a small number of petrels, several Manx shearwaters and a great skua. As we neared the Cornish coast 2 or 3 of us got onto a large shearwater with brown upper parts, darker brown wingtips and clear white underparts with dark fringes. I did not see the bill, but those who saw it agreed it was a Cory's shearwater, a lifer for me. My camera was in my rucksack unfortunately, but I'm sure it was a Cory's. The only other shearwater with upper parts like that is the great shearwater, but the bird we saw had no dark cap and no dark markings on the white underparts.

I don't want to give you the impression that this was purely a birdwatching holiday! We did a lot of walking, went to a singing concert of 5 local men singing sea songs, enjoyed innumerable coffee and cakes at various cafes, saw two glorious, but different, sunsets, and ate out at some of the local restaurants. Here are the 2 sunsets as well as Lynne and me just about to start our meal in 'the Boat Shed' restaurant, which was our favourite.
Me and Lynne at the 'Boatshed restaurant, St. Mary's.

Sunday 1 August 2010

Cornwall - 19-24 July 2010

I was in Cornwall, Porthcurno, to sing in the chorus of 'The Bartered Bride', put on by Surrey Opera. The show was at the Minack open-air theatre in Porthcurno, the village near Lands End famous for being the point at which all the early telegraph / telephone cables entered the sea to go to America and, later, all over the world. The cables are now fibre-optic but they still go from Porthcurno. The telegraph museum is very interesting if you're down that way and the beach is very pretty.

Porthcurno beach.

The Minack theatre is fashioned with concrete out of the steep rocks of the south Cornish coast.  This shot was taken from the rocks at the point.

Minack theatre, Porthcurno, Cornwall.

We did 7 performances in 5 days but I did get a chance to do some birdwatching in the mornings some days!

Around the bay from Porthcurno is Logan's rock. I climbed round and spent most of my time watching a couple of rock pipits.

Rock pipit with grasshopper.

A trip to Cot Valley yielded views of the two male choughs I had seen earlier in the year as well as a distant buzzard.


On Friday I went to Porthgwarra watchpoint where there is an official seawatch for Balearic shearwaters, the rarest of the shearwaters. An almost all-day vigil is kept counting the number of Balearic shearwaters passing near the Runnelstone buoy situated 1.5km offshore. Some other birds are counted as well, notably Manx shearwaters and auks (puffins, guillemots, razorbills, etc).  I met John Swann, the local co-ordinator, and Russell Wynn from Southampton University who explained the purpose of the watch and the importance of the Runnelstone reef. Russell had some very useful tips for long-range identification of seabirds. Thank you both. I did see quite a few Manx shearwaters and one Balearic while I was there. Also several guillemots and one or two razorbills.

On Saturday, Lynne joined me and watched the final performance before we headed for Penzance to take the ferry to Scilly the next day. Watch this space for the next post.

White-tailed plover at Rainham - 7 July 2010

Had a call from David Campbell at work about a white-tailed plover which had just arrived at Rainham. I couldn't leave work then but I was able to leave early to go home and get my gear. I got to Rainham about 6.30 pm and the plover was on the opposite side of the reserve. The group was visible and those nice folks at the RSPB had agreed to keep the reserve open late. I hurried over to the other side and the plover was showing well but on the far side of the lake. Nevertheless, it waded and preened and flew up and down. Next day it was gone! These shots were taken in fading light.

Here it is with a common sandpiper.

White-tailed plover with common sandpiper.

Here is one of it in flight showing the plumage and the pure white tail:

Norfolk 5 and 10 July 2010 - Montagu's harrier at last.

After our 'not bad' visit to the New Forest, David and I decided to visit Norfolk, and also to try and see the river warbler which had turned up East of Norwich (i.e. a very long way from home).

The day started well with some distant stone curlews in a field near Weeting. A useful year tick.

On to Titchwell for the buff-breasted sandpiper. We saw a corn bunting (which I needed) on the way and we were confident. Too confident as it turned out. The buff-breasted sandpiper proved elusive and after 2 hours or so we decided to call it a day and look for Montagu's harriers at North Creake. That also proved fruitless so we headed for the river warbler. It didn't normally come out to play until 21.00 or 21.30 so it was almost dark when it did appear. It had been singing for quite a while before we saw it a few times flit from place to place in the reeds. Not a very satisfying twitch if I'm honest. We watched / listened to it on and off for about an hour before heading for home where we arrived shortly after 01.00.

At the end of the week I decided to go back to Norfolk. I retraced our steps except for the river warbler. At the stone curlew site I watched a common curlew for about half an hour from behind a bush and it came quite near.


On the way to Titchwell, a couple of miles from the coast, I heard a quail and saw it fly briefly. I tracked down the corn bunting and photographed it.

Corn bunting.

At the reserve the buff-breasted sandpiper was more forthcoming and someone from the hide who had seen it came out to tell those on the bank where it was. Very distant but visible for quite a long time.

Buff-breasted sandpiper (behind oystercatcher).

While I was waiting I saw a spoonbill on the other side of the freshmarsh as well as 3 little terns.

I headed off to North Creake with a couple of guys I met at Titchwell. We weren't sure which site to watch from. There were warning signs at some of the most obvious gaps in the hedge but we found a site to the West which gave good views. Eventually, one of the guys spotted a harrier in the distance and we saw an unmistakable male Montagu's harrier as it came nearer but still distant. My record shot is not one I'm proud of but here it is:

Montagu's harrier.

We also saw a turtle dove fly nearby, another year tick.

I and one of the guys went to Swanton Novers in the hope of seeing a honey buzzard but no luck. A couple had been seen that day by a chap who visited Scandinavia a lot and had seen hundreds of them, but they are not breeding this year so their trips were less predictable as they had no need to find food for young.

After that I went back to North Creake hoping to get a better view of the Monty's. I met some others there including a couple of Americans and one of them pointed out a harrier not too far away which I didn't examine too closely while trying to get a picture. The general view was that we had seen a Monty's but later inspection of my photos revealed that it was in fact only a male marsh harrier. If any them reads this, I'm afraid it wasn't a Montagu's harrier, guys.

New Forest - Tree pipits and other common birds!

David Campbell and I decided to go to the New Forest today, 10 July, to see if there were any Honey buzzards at Acres Down. On arrival there was no sign of them and one chap reliably told us that no-one had seen any this year (I knew we should have gone to Norfolk). After photographing a meadow pipit, we decided to look in the forest.

Meadow pipit looking for his offspring.

We saw a lesser spotted woodpecker briefly, tree pipit and heard woodlark.

Tree pipit.

We made our way back to the car and headed for Beaulieu Railway Station near Bishop's Dyke. We hoped to see a dartford warbler and we did see one briefly as we neared the edge of the forest.

In the forest David saw some crossbills but our search for redstart was unsuccessful until we were leaving when we saw one adult male and a juvenile.

Juvenile redstart.

On the way back we saw two ravens fly ahead and then land. Then we flushed 2 or 3 woodlark which we then stalked to get reasonable views.