Tuesday 21 June 2011

Dungeness, spoonbills, small birds and a bad back!

Yesterday, David Campbell and I went to Dungeness. Weather wasn't brilliant but we had a really nice day. David wanted to see the squacco heron that was there on Sunday but the bird had flown!

While David kept a vigil for the heron at the ramp I relaxed photographing small birds near the Christmas hide. Monday being a weekday, the reserve is quiet and the birds more confiding. I was able to get really close to a sedge warbler and a common whitethroat, and reasonably close to some linnets.

Sedge warbler

Common whitethroat
A hobby flew over chasing dragonflies and eating them on the wing as this sequence shows:

Hobby. "I'm hungry! Hope there's some food soon".

"There's a damsel fly. I'll go for it!"

"Nearly there! Get claws ready."

"Gotcha!! Mmm! Lovely!"

"Right. Where's the next one?"
I joined David on the ramp from where we were treated, unexpectedly, to the sight of a pair of spoonbills which flew almost over our heads. I fired off well over 100 shots with my camera above my head and must have pulled a muscle in my back. I was in serious pain this morning! Handholding a 5Kg camera for more than a couple of frames is dangerous!! This is what caused my agony:

Reed warblers flitted tantalisingly near but they are very difficult to photograph as they only hang around for a second or two. I just couldn't get a photo.

From the hide we saw a pair of common terns on the raft, mating even this late in the season.

Common terns. "I told you to sit on those eggs!"
Back at the visitor centre we nearly stepped on some very small newts, probably smooth newts, that were crossing the path.

We wandered over to the ARC pit hoping the spoonbills might have landed there. They hadn't, but there were more reed warblers! Several times I tried to get a shot without success. The reeds were thick and autofocus doesn't work in that situation. I initially had my camera on a beanbag but it's not possible to focus manually with the focus ring resting on a beanbag! Finally, I put my camera on the tripod and waited. After a couple of failures I finally managed to nail a shot of a reed warbler bringing food back to some youngsters out of sight.

Reed warbler bring food to its young.
A very enjoyable day.

Saturday 18 June 2011

Flying lessons begin for Sutton peregrines

Now, you'd think that learning to fly from the top of Quadrant House, about 19 stories high, would be achievement enough! However, for these peregrine chicks there were lessons in soaring and diving. They will need these skills to hunt food for themselves when the parents have kicked them out! . . I mean...persuaded their offspring to seek accommodation elsewhere!

First, the male, Dad, called to the chicks while he was soaring in the modest breeze we had this morning. One of the chicks followed him up. and there was some mock hunting and diving. It was quite spectacular!

Here I am, Dad. Show me, show me!! (Male is top left, juvenile below)
OK, son. Follow me into this dive!
Here we go! Wheeeee!! (Dad is lower left, chick follows)

Tuesday 14 June 2011

Drama at Quadrant House as first peregrine chicks fledge!

We knew it could be any day this week but when it happened, none of us was prepared for it. At about 08.30 one of the chicks, No.1 suddenly threw himself off the top of Quadrant House. Clearly it was his/her maiden flight because his feet were down awkwardly and he lost height during the brief circuit. Although dad flew with him on the approach, he didn't quite have enough height to land on the roof again. He clung for a minute or so to the concrete before launching himself again and landing on a lower tower block on the other side of the railway line. Here are some photos showing the heart-stopping sequence.

Dad (top left) shadows his chick on his maiden flight.
Unfortunately the chick is unable to gain enough height.

He clings on for dear life with his claws to the sheer side of the concrete slab

"Can't hang around here all day. I'm off!"
"This is better. I've got my legs up now and life is in the fast lane!
I think I'll head for that other building!"
"Ooops. That building is looming very quickly!!
I'd better put the brakes on"

"Ouch!! Who put the spikes there".
Shortly afterwards, chick No.2 followed suit but just managed to scramble back onto the roof of Quadrant House! Here are his pictures:

No. 2 approaches the top of the Reed Building after a short flight.
It looks as if he won't make it!

Will he?  Won't he?

Oops! Not quite high enough!
Wow! Just made it.
Later, dad patrols the skies.
We're still not sure whether there are still four chicks. The longer we can see only 3 chicks the more likely it is that the fourth one has died or flown off alone.

Watch this space for more news.

Sunday 12 June 2011

Sutton peregrines - Sunday 12 June. Dad is active.

Rather quiet this morning. Weather was dull and calm. There was no wind to assist the youngsters. 

A squirrell chewed on a banana skin nearby:

Grey squirrell
When I arrived there were 3 chicks all together on the edge but by the time I had taken my camera out they had moved. Two chicks look at the male on the ledge below them:

"Here, Dad! Go and catch us some breakfast!!"
The male peregrine flew twice but the female just relaxed! The male brought back something both times. First it was a medium sized bird and he threw it to the chicks. The second time he caught a swift and ate it himself!!

"Right, this one's for me!"

Saturday 11 June 2011

Sutton peregrines nearly ready to fledge!

The 4 chicks born to the peregrine falcons on the roof of Quadrant House, Sutton are in the news. They're on the front page of the Sutton Guardian this week.

On Friday, 2 of the chicks were trying out their wings while running along the parapet but the adults weren't taking much notice. They were doing the same today:

Today, the adults were more active, flying round the building and calling to encourage the chicks. This shot shows the parents. The male is on the left. He's considerably smaller than the female but the angle of this shot doesn't show the female at her full size.

Male peregrine left - female right.

Here is the female in flight to encourage the chicks. They didn't all hatch at the same time (because the eggs were not all laid at the same time) so only the first ones to hatch are nearly ready to fly. The others will take a few days longer.

Peregrine falcon - female

Peregrine falcon - female
At one point both adults went after a pigeon. The chase was very exciting for about 200 metres before the pigeon got away by plummetting into a tree!

Later the male caught a small bird (perhaps a sparrow) and dropped it to the female without landing:

I'll keep you posted as the young birds fledge. Watch this space!

Friday 10 June 2011

Birdwatching in Poland May 2011

I was really looking forward to this trip but not to the mosquitoes!

Sunday 22 May 2011

On arrival at Warsaw, Trevor Hatton and I waited for the guide and the other two in the party, Edward and Mandy, to arrive. Then we set off for the Białowieża Forest. It was clear as we got nearer that this was an immense expanse of forest.  On the way we saw wild European bison and a singing ortolan bunting!  I was excited for the next day.

We had dinner soon after arrival at the modest lodge in Białowieża village itself, and then settled down for a good night's sleep after the journey.

Monday 23 May 2011

All the best houses have a white stork's nest on the chimney. Here's one a couple of doors away from our pension:
White stork

We set off to just a couple of km. down the road where the day started well with barred warbler, thrush nightingale and a common rosefinch (all lifers). We heard great reed warbler and pale backed woodpecker too.
Barred warbler
On to the next bridge where we saw redstart, white wagtail and linnet. Cruising around we also came across ictarine warbler and spotted flycatcher.

Ictarine warbler

Spotted flycatcher
At the next forest stop we saw wood warbler and red-breasted flycatcher in breeding plumage. We were to see several more red-breasted flycatchers. Wood warblers are rather common birds in Poland.

Red-breasted flycatcher
Wood warbler

Off then to another bridge over the river to the nest of a middle spotted woodpecker and the perch of a collared flycatcher, again, both lifers.

Middle spotted woodpeckers changing duties in the nest
Collared flycatcher
After lunch we saw a lovely common rosefinch in full breeding plumage.
Common rosefinch
We also came across several nuthatches. Note how pale the underside is, almost white compared with our nuthatch with its rufous underside.
We also heard another river warbler in the village park but it was keeping a very low profile! In the park we saw a lesser spotted woodpecker and a pied flycatcher. We also saw the enormous black woodpecker; as big as a crow but rather shy. I saw this bird about three times but I was never to able to get a picture.
Lesser spotted woodpecker
Later that day we visited the restricted area of the forest. Entry was with a qualified guide only and we were let in by one of the rangers! We enjoyed close views of another middle spotted woodpecker's nest.

Middle spotted woodpecker

Later, we waited quite a long time near the nest of the rare three-toed woodpecker. The female poked her head out once or twice but the male did not appear!

Three-toed woodpecker

On the way back to the pension some whinchats were soaking up the last rays of the setting sun while a solitary corncrake called from the meadow. Meadows in Poland are not the green sterile affairs we have in England but rich in wild flowers giving them a green, red, blue and yellow tint.

Tuesday 24 May 2011

Next day we were up early and were rewarded by a lesser spotted eagle flying over:
Lesser-spotted eagle
Then it was off to find a grey-headed woodpecker in the local park. Here he is at the nest:
Grey-headed woodpecker
We made a stop hoping to find citrine wagtail (at the Westerly limit of its range). It wasn't there (although I had seen citrine wagtail in Israel in February). There were, however, hundreds of marsh terns including all 3 varieties, i.e. black tern, white winged tern and whiskered tern. Great! They were distant but we were due to go to the other side of the marsh later so I wasn't worried. On the other side we had a spot of lunch by the railway line to Belarus and saw a lovely penduline tit, a little crake and a pair of golden orioles.

Penduline tit
We had an early dinner because we were due to see pygmy owl at dusk. We suffered the many mosquitoes and saw a silhouette of the pygmy owl against the pale sky for a few seconds only. We then had to pack for the early start the following day.

Wednesday 25 May 2011

We headed off towards the Biebrza Marsh, the second centre for our tour. On the way we started to see red-backed shrike, which had been strangely absent until then. Great grey shrikes were also to be seen reasonably often.

At some fishponds we saw a juvenile rosefinch, a red-necked grebe, several great reed warblers and a great crested grebe.
Red-necked grebe
Further on a Montagu's harrier hunted for about 15 minutes and a pair of marsh warblers appeared briefly.

Montagu's harrier

Montagu's harrier
Further still on more fishponds, seven white-tailed eagles fished over our heads. They're not the most handsome of birds but they were certainly striking and impressive!

White-tailed eagle
We could not tarry however and we pressed on to the house which was a gem. Set almost in isolation in the heart of the marsh was our agri-tourism house. It was fairly new and with an unrestricted view out over the marshes. After dinner we went out to explore.

It's difficult to describe the feeling of being in a place so isolated that there is no mechanical noise at all. It's wonderful, and allowed us to hear the sounds of the countryside. This included bitterns booming from what must have been miles away. The same was true for hoopoes. A pair of red-backed shrikes prospected for a nest in the back garden and a pair of black redstarts had already made their nest and hatched their young in the rain guttering on the left of the porch. We watched them bring food to their young while we drank a cool beer!
Black redstart with food for chicks
Thursday 26 May 2011

We went to a wet meadow which was a stronghold of a vanishingly small population of aquatic warblers. A savi's warbler reeled unseen in the corner. We stayed for an hour or so but the warbler did not want to show. The others wanted to go and look for lady's slipper orchid. I decided to stay and let them pick me up later. When they had left I walked back along the boardwalk. My eye was attracted to some movement in the reeds and there, sure enough, a small warbler with pronounced eyestripe was moving through the reeds. I managed a few shots and, further on, more experienced birdwatchers confirmed that it was an aquatic warbler. I quickly sent off a 'grip' text to the others.
Aquatic warbler

While I waited for the others to return I staked out the savi's warbler. It was reeling almost constantly and I saw it once briefly but I was unable to get a picture. The others picked me up. They hadn't seen the orchid. They decided to return in the evening. In the meantime we drove to the centre of the marsh where we hoped to see marsh terns flying near.

We lunched at a spot where the terns were swooping near and it should have been possible to get good pictures. I hadn't bargained for them being so fast, and my camera's autofocus system did not work very well unless the terns were against the sky. If there was any sort of background, the camera would focus on that! After several hundred photos it was possible at home to choose just a handful that were acceptable.
White winged tern

White winged tern
Black tern
Whiskered tern
On our way out of the marsh a lovely garganey fed close to the road.

At yet another stop we were treated to a wonderful show from a thrush nightingale, which has to be one of my favourite birds of the whole trip.

Thrush nightingale
There was also a nice blue-headed wagtail.
Yellow wagtail (blue-headed)
We tried at another spot again for citrine wagtail but to no avail. I was lucky enough to see bluethroat but it flew away before the others could get to it!
Bluethroat (white-spotted)
Back at the house a common buzzard flew over.
Common buzzard
Before dinner I sat down to watch the pair of red-backed shrikes do a little flycatching in the garden. This is the female:

Red-backed shrike - female
After dinner we went back to the aquatic warbler which did appear on cue this time! Finally we went back to a site not far from the house for nightjar which flew around us.

Friday 27 May 2011

We packed up for the journey back to Warsaw. On the way at a small pond we saw turtle dove and I finally got a picture of a golden oriole. They are quite fast and elusive.
Golden oriole
Further on Przemek noticed a river warbler from it's call. Unfortunately, he wound down the window and threw his arm out causing the bird to seek cover!! It did circle us a few times and I was able to get a record shot.

We stopped at a bridge for sandwiches. A great reed warbler was singing nearby. I went down to get closer. Patience was rewarded. The warbler took about 15 minutes to climb higher and higher, singing most of the time. Gorgeous! By the road, Przemek was trying to coax a corncrake out with a recording. These are shy birds but when one appeared close he waded into the meadow with his recording at full volume! Needless to say we saw no corncrake!
Great reed warbler
The trip back to Warsaw was slow as there is a large road building programme going on in Poland.

If any of you are thinking of going to this area of Poland, we saw 132 species in the five days with 13 lifers for me. We needed insect repellent all the time. The cost of living is quite reasonable.