Friday, 2 November 2018

Red Kites

Out for a walk along the downs today. Nearly left the camera at home but there is always that nagging thought that today would be the day you find that UK Mega. As it happens today wasn't the day but I am still glad I carried it.

We started off at the Chantry Hill car park and headed off towards the dewpond and scrub area. Always good for a few Linnets, Yellowhammers and Corn Buntings. Not today though, complete devastation, the gardeners had been at work again. I know that scrub needs cutting back and controlling but every single bit had been chopped down to ground level. No cover, no berries, no seed heads and very unlikely to have recovered by next spring, Why?

Area of scrub looking towards the dew pond and Chantry Hill Car Park

There was only one bird to be seen, a very forlorn looking Kestrel surveying her hunting area. She didn't even bother to fly away and I was able to approach to within about twenty feet - very unusual for a Kestrel.


There is usually some form of flying display on the north slopes of the downs. Mostly it is the Buzzards and Ravens but today they were nowhere to be seen. Instead we had Red Kites, eight in total giving an effortless display of their flying abilities.


Lots of other small birds about but no time to stop and take lots of pictures. Just managed to catch this juvenile Long-tailed Tit on the back of a small flock passing by.

Great weather for walking and for photography but not enough hours in the day to do both!

Monday, 29 October 2018

Great Grey Shrike

In the last blog I complained about the shortage of good birding days during October but we then manage to squeeze in one good day just before the end of the month.

Dave and I went back to Wrens Warren, in the Ashdown Forest, to have another look for the Great Grey Shrike. We had tried it last Friday but had seen very little in the way of bird movement. It really had lived up to it's other name of "Eeyores sad and gloomy place", with the lighting down in the valley so dull compared to the surrounding hills.

Today was completely different, a bit slow to start but cold, crisp and clear. A couple of wet feet early on whilst traversing the valley reminded me that my favourite boots, splits and all, must be replaced for the coming winter and distant Fieldfares held promise of things to come.

A couple of passing birders tipped us off to the location of the Shrike but just at that moment Dave had picked up a Dartford Warbler in the gorse nearby. A good picture of a Dartford takes priority over a Shrike so we focused on that target first.

It did pop out on top of the gorse once, a bit further away than I would have like and not for as long as I would have liked and I did get a picture, but it's not the one I wanted. Just didn't manage to pull focus quick enough and it was gone. Or perhaps I should say they were gone as there was a second bird there, so probably a pair. Hopefully we will get a second chance later in the year.

Dartford Warbler

A quick lunch, a chance to dry the feet out a bit and then we trekked up the hill in search of the Shrike. They are not a bird that hides away so once in the right area it was easy enough to find.

Camera settings were interesting. With a white bird in bright sunlight I had to underexpose by a full two stops to prevent the picture from being burnt out. This then underexposes the background trees giving a black background and a slightly false looking studio type shot.

Coughing up a pellet

Unlike the Dartfords the Shrike seemed quite relaxed about our presence, flying off a couple of times but then returning to the same perches.

We eventually lost track of it when it was pursued by a Kestrel. The Shrike took refuge in a densely branched tree whilst the Kestrel sat and then hovered over the top but was unable to get past the branches. It was a half hearted pursuit and I don't think the Kestrel was intent on killing the Shrike but it may have been seeking to pinch food from it or to chase it out of its hunting territory.

Whatever the intent, it was enough to ensure that the shrike did not return during the next half hour or so that we waited there.

Well pleased with the time spent observing the Shrike we were about to leave when a dozen or more Crossbills flew into an adjacent tree on their way into a drinking pool. I missed the first few shots as I had forgotten to take the couple of stops underexposure out of the camera but I still managed a reasonable record shot.

Some of the Crossbills

The drinking pool was nearby and although we could not get close without risking disturbing them, you do sometimes get the benefit of lugging a big lens combination all the way up the hill.

A flock of fourteen fieldfares flying down the valley as we were on the way out finished what was one of the best birding days in a long time.

Sunday, 28 October 2018

Grey Phalarope

Only my second blog of the month. It's been a tough Autumn with very few interesting birds about and even less in the way of photo opportunities. The Grey Phalarope dates all the way back to the first day of the month at Bough Beech Reservoir. 

Always a great bird to see but there was nothing much else about so I thought I would hold it back until I had some other pictures to add to it. Here I am at the end of the month and I am still struggling to come up with anything else.

So here are the best of the rest.

Jay on Holm Oak at Church Norton

Kestrel at Kithurst Hill

Blackcap - Kithurst Hill

Reed Bunting Pagham North Wall

My first Fieldfares of the year - Pagham North Wall

Whimbrel - Church Norton

Common Darter

Not much to show for a months birding although I did get to see the Rustic Bunting at Wanstead Flats. Just too much good weather, the birds seem to have gone straight through Sussex without stopping. Lets hope the current cold snap brings a few Winter goodies.

Tuesday, 23 October 2018

Rustic Bunting

I am not into twitching, I find it all very depressing, the complete opposite of why I like to be out in the countryside birdwatching. Then again, as my header says, if the bird is still around once the crowds have gone away, I might go and have a look. Last weekend gave me one of those opportunities.

Sue and I where staying up in London for a couple of days, just a few miles from the Rustic Bunting twitch on Wanstead Flats. I vetoed the suggestion of a shopping stop at Lakeside and managed to get across to Wanstead just before 4pm. There was enough light still available to get a decent picture but I needed to get onto the bird quickly.

Much to my surprise  there were only four people looking for the bird when we arrived. It had appeared briefly about fifteen minutes earlier and I suspect that most people had gone home then, thinking that the show was over for the day. We had a nervous wait but it did finally put in an appearance of sorts, although mostly concealed by the long grass.

I had real difficulty getting onto the bird but fortunately my non-birding wife was able to follow it and provided an ongoing commentary until I finally got a decent view. I think it must have been the fear of her seeing it and me dipping that had caused me to panic.

Rustic Bunting -  showing some of the diagnostic features for an Autumn bird

The bird was feeding on the ground amongst tufts of grass and in a fire damaged area. It only made brief appearances in the open and often these were in heavily shaded areas. With the light gradually going it proved difficult to get decent pictures.

Rustic Bunting  -  looking a bit more like a Reed Bunting

It is interesting to speculate, as to whether I would have realised it was a Rustic rather than a Reed Bunting, if I had not known that it was there. Certainly at times and when in the shadow it looked very similar to a Reed Bunting.

At other times the red/brown markings showed well and the white wing bars, white cheek patch, pink tint to the under bill and pinkish legs showed a lot more clearly.

Rustic Bunting  -  feather detail

Rustic Bunting  -  feather detail

Not too bad as twitches go and a life tick for me. I may not be competitive on twitching and listing but I do still keep count.

Now I just need a reason to be down at Lands End and just a couple of miles from the Catbird so I've got a good excuse to tick that one as well. 

Thursday, 27 September 2018

Willow Emerald Damselfly

Thursday was a good day. Not only was the weather perfect but I also had two life ticks. Insects unfortunately, rather than birds but I still came home with a smile on my face.

We had started off the day on Cissbury Ring looking for an early Ring Ouzel. No luck with that but we did have a secondary target, caeruleopunctata, aberrations of the Small Copper butterfly with a row of blue spots on its hind wings.

Aberrations giving variations in colour and markings are quite common in the Small Copper. In the wild these can be genetically inherited or the result of extreme conditions during the pupation stage. In previous years we had noted the caeruleopunctata aberation on Cissbury Hill, in late year third broods. I am not sure if this is just a result of when we end up looking for them or whether there is an underlying cause for it.

There were hundreds of Small Coppers flying, so if we searched long enough we were likely to be successful. We did eventually see a couple of examples although none were in really good condition.

Small Copper with just a hint of blue spots.

caeruleopunctata aberration although unfortunately in worn condition.

and one from a previous year in slightly better condition


Whilst searching for Small Coppers I  also managed to find a new Shieldbug, Coreus marginatus, more commonly known as a Dock Bug and a life tick for me.

Dock Bug  -  Coreus marginatus

Late, but still welcome, the Clouded Yellows have started to arrived over the past week. I was beginning to think they wouldn't appear in any numbers this year but I have seen five or six in the past few days. This being the first one that stayed still long enough for a picture.

Clouded Yellow

By far the best sighting of the week were the Willow Emerald Damselflies at Warnham Nature Reserve. This species, common in southern Europe, is relatively new to the UK. The first specimen was collected in Kent in 1992 but was not identified until 2003. Then in 2009 a substantial population of 400 was identified in Suffolk and adjacent counties probably from an unrecorded influx from the Continent.

Since then they have spread rapidly and can now be seen in Sussex, both at Warnham and Woods Mills, although it is likely that they are far more widespread than this.

Willow Emerald Damselfly  -  Lestes viridis

Willow Emerald Damselfly  -  Lestes viridis

Willow Emerald Damselfly  -  Lestes viridis

A rewarding day in what has been a less than spectacular Autumn around Sussex. Long may it continue.

Friday, 21 September 2018

Red-backed Shrike

Only one bird in today's blog, a juvenile Red-backed Shrike at Farlington Marsh. It has suddenly become the place to visit, Pectoral Sandpiper, Bluethroat, and now the Shrike all in the space of a week. Just a pity some of them couldn't have come over the border into Sussex.

We spent a few minutes looking at the Pec Sand which was again feeding on the mud in the same spot as earlier in the week. I had hoped for some better pictures but with the sun behind it and glare off the water, there was no chance of an improved shot. We may have been able to get a better angle but there was a risk of spooking the bird and we could see other birders approaching in the distance.

We then went off in search of the Red-backed Shrike, in the shrub area to the north west of the stream. Initially it didn't look promising with very little flying in the strong winds. However, Dave soon picked it up in flight and with the bird seeming indifferent to our presence we had some good close up views.

It would have been nice to have longer with the bird, all to ourselves, but with a number of other birders in the area we were soon developing a twitch. Flushed with our success of two good birds before ten o'clock we headed off down to Selsey in search of other goodies.

And the absence of any more pictures in the blog speaks volumes of our success for the rest of the day. We should have stayed in Hampshire.

Thursday, 20 September 2018

Flies, Bees and Wasps

You get days when there seems to be nothing about, no birds, no butterflies and no dragonflies. However, if you look hard enough there is always something flying, even if it's usually the Cleggies out to drink your blood.

Below are a few of the Flies, Hoverflies, and Bees encountered this year. I have tied to identify them all but its hard work. There are so many that look similar and without killing and pinning them you cannot confirm the identifying features.  If you spot any errors please let me know. There are no pictures of cleggies, they don't usually survive long enough.

First the Flies. Some of them can be really beautiful.

Green Bottle Fly - Lucilia sericata

Blue Bottle  -   Calliphora  sp. probably vicina

Fly - Graphomya maculata Female

Fly - Musca autumnalis

Fly - Tachina magnicornis

Fly - Phasia hemiptera

Sarcophaga sp. probably bercaea


Tapered Drone Fly (Hoverfly) - Eristalis pertinax   

Dronefly (Hoverfly) -  Eristalis tenax

Hoverfly - Chrysotoxum bicinctum

Hoverfly - Myathropa florea

Helophilus pendulus

Hornet Mimic Hoverfly  -  Volucella zonaria

The Bees

Wool Carder Bee  -  Anthidium manicatum

White-tailed Bumblebee  -  Bombus lucorum

Common Carder Bee - Bombus pascuorum

Ivy Bee  -  Colletes Hederae

Large Carpenter Bee - Xylocopa violacea   (Croatia)

Two Wasp

Field digger wasp  -  Mellinus arvensis

Ichneumon Wasp - Amblyteles armatorius

a couple of shots of a Scorpion Fly

Scorpion Fly -  Panorpa communis

Scorpion Fly -  Panorpa communis

a couple of Mayflies - I think, but it may be safer to refer to them as Ephemeroptera


Mayfly  -  Ephemera danica ?

and a Hornet

European Hornet  -  Vespa crabro

Nothing really unusual here but quite interesting once you get into it. Identification of the Mayflies was certainly beyond my abilities at the moment. I have a lot to learn.