Monday, 11 November 2019

Great Bustard

I had left it a few days but in the end I had to go to see the Great Bustard. It had been reported over at Rookery Hill, on the downs just outside of Bishopstone. The bird, which is showing a red ring with the number 92, is a juvenile female and part of the Salisbury Plain re-introduction program. However, you cannot see that from my pictures. As well as being knee deep in Kale it is over 300 metres away. I would have liked to have got closer but there is no point in upsetting the farmer.

Apparently she did fly in from Spain, back in May, but  that was in the form of an egg. She was hatched and then released in August, to join the rest of the reintroduced population. Why it is now in temporary residence in Sussex and what it will do next is still unclear.

I guess I will have to wait a few more years to see a British born Great Bustard but it was well worth going to see. A great bird even if it is half tame.

The best of the rest from a few trips out around Selsey and Pagham Harbour and up onto the Downs. Starting with one of the many Black Redstarts that have been appearing locally.

Black Redstart

Cattle Egret


Singing competition



Nothing unusual but it is at least nice to see a few birds. Is it just me or are they getting very thin on the ground? Some of the once reliable places I visit now seem to be completely devoid of birds.

Wednesday, 23 October 2019

Grey Phalarope

It has been a frustrating autumn migration, made even worse by the reports of good birds from around the country. I really don't understand what the birds have against coming to visit us in Sussex. I have spent hours walking the local birding spots looking for a rarity, have stalked many promising looking birds only to discover Chiffchaffs, Reed Buntings, Goldfinches, etc. and have generally started to sink into a state of despair over birding the local patch. I don't think I have taken a single decent picture since the Eastern Olivacious Warbler back in mid September.

Today I decided to change my luck. A Snow Bunting at Shoreham Fort and a Grey Phalarope at the Cuckmere were bankers. Both appearing to be in residence for a few days, both species loyal to a small patch so making them easy to find, and both easy to approach giving the promise of some decent photographs.

It was going to be a good day, except it didn't start too well, the Snow Bunting had gone AWOL. Undaunted I moved on to the Seven Sisters Country Park and headed off down the footpath to the Phalaropes location. On the way I spoke to one kind lady who told me that there was a police car down there with the occupants flying a drone out along the cliffs and that the drone had flushed the Phalarope. It didn't look good.

The valley looked great with the meanders and the flood plain mostly under water but on arriving at the target location there was no sign of the bird. I stood on the path scanning the area for about ten minutes just hoping I would see it flying back in but with no sign of it I decided to move on. Fortunately Alan Kitson, walking in from the opposite direction,  kindly pointed out that the Phalorope was feeding under the bank less than three metres from where I was standing. All credit to Alan, he even managed to keep a straight face whilst he was telling me!

What a great bird to see and to photograph. It paid no attention to me, to the people walking by, or to the police car passing close to it. Its sole interest seemed to be the task of clearing the Cuckmere of flies which it was picking up off the weed covered surface of the pool.

A great bird to see, easy to photograph, although strangely difficult to get a good photograph. Dull lighting and a grey bird against a grey background don't make for the best  of photographic opportunities.

Only usually seen in the UK when on migration and in this dull grey plumage the bird is known outside of Europe as a Red Phalarope due to its bold red breeding plumage. Migration from the arctic breeding grounds is usually down the western coast of the UK to the Atlantic Ocean where it winters off the coast of Africa and South America. Recent storms have probably driven this one inland where it is topping up on supplies before it completes the rest of its migration.

Wednesday, 18 September 2019

Eastern Olivaceous Warbler

I don't do twitches - but when I do, I particularly dislike twitching "little brown jobs". Birding for me is about spending time with the birds, observing and connecting with them and hopefully leaving with a good record shot or on very rare occasions a quality picture of the bird. A warbler twitch is definitely not the place to be.

Then why did I go to Farlington to see the Eastern Olivaceous Warbler? It is a rare bird, it would be a life tick and it was on what I consider to be my larger birding patch but equally I knew that I wouldn't like it. I called Dave up to see if he wanted to go but he refused to have anything to do with it. A man of principles!

What's worse is that it was a Sunday and parking at Farlington Marsh would be a nightmare. I got out of that one by parking just along the coast at Broadmarsh and walking the mile and a half to the twitch. The walk in was great with Spotted Flycatchers, Whinchats, and various other birds on show but I didn't stop to photograph them for fear of missing the target bird.

I did get to see it, two or three times, probably for a total of thirty seconds in a two hour and a half hour watch, but did I really see it? I was actually too busy getting the camera onto the bird and in focus to really spend time looking at it.

The twitch was exactly what I expected and I didn't enjoy it. I don't blame anyone. It's a free country and the bird does not belong to anyone other than perhaps the finder. I am fortunate in being able to stand off with a large lens and still get my picture, as are the expensive scope brigade but other less fortunate people still want to see the bird. Some people do get too close but then who am I to set the rules.

What else was around? Well, I didn't get to see any Bearded Tits and on the walk out, the Spotted Flycatchers and Whinchats had all disappeared. Disappointing day? Not really, that evening I did enjoy adding a tick to the life list that I don't like to admit to keeping!


And that should have been an end to the blog.........

.....except three days later and the bird is still there. My record shot above is poor, numbers at the twitch will have dropped, the weather is nice, and even Dave is now interested. So back we go and I am really glad we did. On Sunday, with all the crowds around, the bird was playing hard to get and I ended up with three record shots from about two and a half hours watching. Today it was showing a little better and I had five hundred plus shots from about an hours watching. 

Admittedly most of the shots are poor, being out of focus or with the bird partialy in cover, but there are a couple of decent ones in amongst them. More importantly I had time to study the bird today. The tail pumping is very distinct and it seems to have a different hunting style to other warblers. If I ever come across another one I think I would now have a good chance of recognising it.

Below are some of today's shots. A slightly better result than the picture above!

If only all little brown jobs showed as well as this.