Friday, 16 February 2018

Long-tailed Duck

There have been quite a few trips out since the last blog but picture opportunities have been limited and on a couple of occasions so have the birds. A trip to Dungeness proved to be particularly disappointing. We had distant views of Smew and Slavonian Grebe but the Black-throated Diver we were hoping to see failed to make an appearance. Picture-wise all we managed were the Tree Sparrows at Boulderwall Farm.

Fortunately views of distant White-fronted Geese at Pett Level and then a Short-eared Owl in the half light at Horse Eye Level proved to be some compensation.

Similarly a trip up to Stapleash Farm didn't deliver on the Hawfinches or Little Owl but we did at least get to see Dartford Warblers on the commons. The only picture of the day was this Marsh Tit but even that proved hard to get as it scurried through the branches searching for food.

The Tit flocks seem to be dispersing as breeding season approaches and it was unusual to see this lone Long-tailed Tit feeding on the ground.

I also trekked through the mud on the footpath from Pagham to Honer reservoir. It was great to see the long staying Long-tailed Duck but I really should have worn the wellies.

The year ticks are gradually edging up but I am somewhat behind schedule as compared with previous years. The birds, particularly the Geese and the Owls,  just don't seem to be around in the same numbers. Just have to make do with Hawfinches.

Thursday, 8 February 2018

White-spotted Bluethroat

A short blog, only two pictures and neither of those are particularly good. It was still worth recording though, Bluethroat is a life tick. Even better this appears to be a White-spotted Bluethroat which a quick Google search indicates as being a rarer subspecies than the Red-spotted Bluethroat.

Half an hour waiting in the freezing cold for about thirty seconds with the bird. Saw it, got a record shot, but then waited another two hours to get a better picture. It didn't happen. Might try again if it is still there next week.

Location West Rise Marsh. Great find by #naturebotherer.

Friday, 2 February 2018

Mostly Widewater

You get some good birds at Widewater but getting pictures of them can be hard work. Pick the right day and the right time and there are some good opportunities. Get the timing wrong and you leave empty handed, only to read reports of the successes of others when you get home that evening.

You also have to contend with dogs charging out into the reserve and flushing the birds and also the occasional overeager photographer doing the same. Just what you need when you have been sat there for an hour or so waiting for the birds to come closer.

I even flushed the Goosander myself today. I watched it for about five minutes and then decided that I should pay for a parking ticket before I got the camera out. The Goosander must have good hearing as it took off just as my money disappeared into the machine.

Anyway here are a few pictures taken at Widewater over the past month or so.

There has been at least one male and two females at Widewater over the past month so I am not sure that these are all pictures of the same bird. As for seeing them, if they are not out on the water they can often be found roosting on the lawn of one of the houses. Have a look about halfway down the western most lake.

Pull up at the western end of the car park and the resident Stonechats will usually come over to see what you are doing there.

And over the New Year period we had a Knot in residence for a few days. It is always a bit worrying when you see a flock bird by itself but it looked healthy enough and was feeding well.

To finish a couple of pictures not from Widewater, the juvenile Black Guillemot from Sovereign Harbour Eastbourne and a couple of shots of Fulmars from Newhaven West Cliffs.

A useful blog, it has cleared out a some pictures that have been sitting in my pending tray for a few weeks. All now filed away and a clear inbox just waiting for the next great adventure!

Thursday, 25 January 2018

American Horned Lark

The title should perhaps read American Horned Lark Revisited. We had been to Staines Reservoir to see the bird back at the end of November last year. It was another of  those cases of "you should have been here ten minutes ago". It had been showing well at a distance of about ten metres but as we arrive it flew away. We waited a couple of hours in the freezing cold and did eventually get to see it but at a distance of about 200 metres. You could make it out through the telescope but there was no chance of a record shot.

The bird has been AWOL for about a month, probably resident, out of sight, on one of the other reservoirs around the area. Having seen it reported again we were back on the case. Today was all about getting that record shot that we had missed last time.

Everything looked perfect when we arrived. It was a lot warmer than last time and the sun was shining. The bird wasn't around but other birders told us that it was returning to the same spot on a regular basis. We congratulated ourselves on not having travelled yesterday in the pouring rain and settled down to wait.

It was only a few minutes later, when the bird appeared, that we realised that from a photographic point of view things weren't so perfect. A low and very bright sun along with strong reflections off the water made it very difficult to get a picture. Perhaps yesterdays wet conditions would have given better results.

It was really a case of just trying to grab a shot every time the bird turned side on and caught some sun on its features.

There was no chance of that show stopper picture we were hoping for but at least we had our record shots. This is not a bird that I am likely to see in this country again and we were just happy to get a second chance.

Being part way round the M25 we decided to press on towards Rickmansworth and visit Stockers Lake. This was a chance to record a year tick on Red-crested Pochards, not a bird that we always manage to see. We found them easily enough Two groups consisting of four males and two females, but our visit seemed to have coincided with siesta time. They were on the banks or in deep cover and picture opportunities were limited. The shot below grabbed just as they were settling down to roost.

Picture of some nice sharp branches

Lunchtime and early afternoon is clearly not the best time to visit Stockers, even the Parakeets were asleep.

Overall, a good day out. Even the drive around the M25 didn't seem so bad today.

Wednesday, 17 January 2018

Jack Snipe

Getting a picture of a Jack Snipe has been on the top of my wish list for a long time. I have probably seen them before but but only in flight and I could never be sure. There was always that nagging doubt that I was seeing what I wanted to see and not what was really there.

On Wednesday I finally nailed it, a photograph and the confidence to claim the life tick. To get it we ended up travelling into the centre of London, to the Greenwich Ecology Park. Not my favourite place to go birding but actually a little oasis of calm and tranquillity in the middle of a huge housing estate and industrial area.

The park  volunteers pointed us in the direction of the East hide and we duly spent some time  searching the reedbed and banks around the pool but without any luck. Fortunately the warden then arrived, opened a window on the side of the hide and after a bit of searching declared that it was there. Great, except that neither of us could see it. It was only fifteen feet from the hide but so well camouflaged that it took about five minutes and the use of binoculars before I could pick it out. Put the bins down and it just disappeared again, very frustrating.

It was sleeping most of the time but fortunately did move around a bit, it also did a bit of bobbing and at one stage was disturbed by a Water Rail. It was always in cover and picture opportunities were limited but I was happy. I have my picture and it is clearly a Jack Snipe.

I probably won't be happy for long. The picture below is really the one I wanted, minus the reed stalk of course. That's the problem with bird photography, there is always a better picture out there waiting to be taken.

Our quest finished by midday, we decided to call in to the Sevenoaks Wildlife Reserve on the way back home. A quick walk round to the far side of the East Lake and we had the Black-throated Grebe in view. Good views but unfortunately back lit by the sun.

Our first time at the Sevenoaks site and it was really quite impressive. We didn't have the time to explore it all but I think we will be going back for a good look around.

Wednesday, 10 January 2018

Red-necked Grebe

Wednesday and a promising start to the day with the mist clearing and the sun starting to break through. First stop was Warblington just over the border into Hampshire. The fields around the church are becoming a reliable area for Cattle Egrets. Only one so far this year but there were eight here at one point last year and also birds present for a couple of years before that.

Find the cattle and you can usually find the Cattle Egret. This time in the field just west of the cemetery at the end of Church Lane. There is a Little Egret roost close by and this morning five of them had joined in with feeding on the insects disturbed by the cattle.

Next stop was Church Norton to look for the reported Red-necked Grebe. This is a bird that I had seen a few times before but it had always been distant and my only record shots were poor. We were fortunate in meeting Andrew House when we arrived but the update he provided was mixed - Still there but distant. 

A walk along the spit and we realised we were in luck. The Red-necked was being aggressively pursued by a Great Crested Grebe and it was bringing it in closer to the shore.

It was not clear why this bird was behaving so aggressively, possibly protecting some food source, later we saw the Red-necked happily feeding alongside another Great Crested without any problems.

Fortunately things eventually quietened down and we managed to get a couple of reasonable shots.

There was not much to look at on the North Wall other than an idiot in a light plane (G-MZPJ) making a number of low passes across the harbour and seemingly intent on disturbing all the birds. Possibly practising forced landings but if so a poor choice of locations and lucky not to be involved with any bird strikes.

With little else of interest at the North Wall we headed off to the Burgh in the hope of seeing a few raptors and downland birds. Again nothing much showing. A distant Buzzard, Corn Bunting and Grey Partridge but no sight of the Red Kites and no Fieldfares or Redwings in the usual fields below Burpham Church.

Still, a good day out and a few shots of the Red-necked Grebe that are better than anything I had before.

Monday, 8 January 2018

Penduline Tit

I was in Bristol for a few days over the weekend and with a bit of time to spare managed a quick trip to Gloucester to see the Penduline Tit. Although globally classed as being of "Least Concern" with an increasing population and large range, it is still a rare bird in the UK and always interesting to see. 

The bird was to be found at the Plock Court Wetland Nature Reserve just next to the A40/A38 roundabout. It was showing well when I arrived flying between a hedge backing onto the busy A40 and a small pool where it was feeding on the Reed Mace.

I picked a spot near a stand of Reed Mace and didn't have long to wait before it flew in to feed. A really stunning bird and giving some great views.

It is amazing how every birder now seems to carry a camera. It only seems like a few years ago when Dave and I would often be the only ones present trying to take pictures. There are advantages, in that I now no longer feel like a dose of the plague when I turn up on site but there are also disadvantages. This bird had a clear flight path between its hedge and feeding area. So where did some of the photographers go and stand to get the best shots? I am all for getting a good picture but you still need field craft and some empathy for the bird's struggle to survive.

We also had another curious observer. This Stonechat had probably never seen a Penduline Tit before and spent some time following it around.

As twitches go , it wasn't too bad. There were about a dozen present. On a bright and sunny Sunday morning I had expected more. I would have liked more pictures but we didn't stay long. Slimbridge was just down the road and I wanted to pay a quick visit there to see the  Red-breasted Goose.

Well, it was there although very distant on the Tack Piece. It looks good, it is free flying and with wild birds but I guess the default position has to be that it is an escapee from somewhere rather than a genuine wild bird.

Lots of other Ducks and Geese out on the peripheries of the site. A couple of year ticks but most too far away for a picture. Although this Bewick's Swan was worth recording.

I always have mixed feelings after a visit to Slimbridge. I support the work they do but it always feels a bit like a zoo with even the wild birds being a bit suspect. It gets more crowded every time I go there, which is good for fund raising but not so good for birding.