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.

Thursday 16 September 2010

A lapland lifer today!

Getting up at 05.15 to get to Beddington Sewage Farm by 06.00 was hard, but worth it to get a lifer in a short while. Two birds were feeding in the long grass and, although not so confiding as with the first ones to see them yesterday, they were still not too bad. The grass got in the way of the autofocus but this shot is perhaps the best of the bunch. After taking some pictures I had to go to work!


Saturday 11 September 2010

Two British/life ticks are better than one!

After missing the Grove Ferry Wilson's phalarope yesterday, I went first for the Isabelline shrike at Gosport today. The weather was dull but the bird obliged on several occasions by coming out briefly. It was very like a brown shrike; just slightly paler.

Isabelline shrike

After that, I just had to return to Grove where the phalarope had been seen. As I arrived, the pager said it was on the water meadow so I made haste to there. AAhhh!! It had only stayed a few minutes and had flown. I decided to stay there as the habitat looked good. After an hour or so it was seen at Harrison's Drove hide, a good 15 mins walk. Off we set hoping it would stick around. Hot and out of breath I arrived and it was still there with a green sandpiper in the far corner of the lake. Yesterday, that lake had been teeming with birds. Today there were just two birds!! The reeds were just a little high to get a clear picture so I jumped onto the roof of the hide where I had clear line of sight but it was still 150-175metres distant. Thank you the couple who helped me up and down with my gear. This poor record shot is all I could get from that distance:


Sunday 5 September 2010

Wryneck becomes writheneck - a sad story

David Campbell and I decided to go to St Margarets at Cliffe today hoping to see large numbers of migrants amassing on the South cliffs before launching themselves off to faraway countries. It was very quiet. A wheatear, a chiff-chaff and some magpies were almost all we saw.


The pager showed a wryneck 'at Samphire Hoe Country Park'. Hardly the most precise directions. We were 20 mins away so decided to go. The park is 89 acres or something and we had no idea where to start. The chap in the office suggested the path at the back that runs alongside the railway at the base of the impressively high white chalk cliffs. We wandered down there, met another birdwatcher searching for it. He went off on another path.

We saw some stonechats and had almost reached the end of the path when we saw a bird fly from the bank to the top of a nearby bush. The wryneck! I got one shot as it flew away! I put out a message with a precise location. In the meantime a young stonechat with a bug stuck to its bill posed on the bush.


The wryneck came back about 10 minutes later but dropped down before I could get another shot. The man who had gone on another path was back now. It flew again and he saw it. It flew to a distant bush on the other side of the railway and we watched it for 6-8 mins. Then it flew and we lost it until David picked it up again on the path in front of us about 25 metres away! I took some photos before a group of walkers sent it over the fence.


About 6-7 other birders came to see it and they all did while it was feeding at the top of the bank.


We heard a train aproaching. The wryneck flew towards his distant bush on the other side of the track. All eyes followed it as it flew straight into the front corner of the approaching train. I and several others heard the impact and we all gasped. Was it killed by the train! We didn't know for certain that it had been killed but we were all pretty sure that it had. One woman burst into tears, bless her, at the shock horror. We were all affected at seeing such a lovely creature die.

I jumped over the fence to the path by the side of the track to see if I could find a body. I looked hard but there was quite a high wall between the path and the track. I couldn't see a lifeless wryneck but the train could have carried it for quite a way.

We waited another 15-20 mins but it didn't re-appear. We feared the worst and walked back to the car. We had to tell the newly arriving birders that the wryneck was no more.

We went to Bough Beech reservoir on the way home and the highlights were 3 green sandpipers, 2 snipe, bucketloads of pied wagtails and a grey heron fishing.


It was a day that was initially joyful for having seen the wryneck but tinged with sadness at its likely fate! A memorable day shall we say. That's life!