Thursday, 31 January 2013

Seven Life Ticks in a Day

Seven life ticks in a day. That's good even for someone that has only been birding for a year.

Had a great day out with Dave yesterday. We went down to Dungeness arriving early and having the ARC hide to ourselves for a couple of hours. Birds were distant so photography was not so good but we still managed to get some good record shots.  We had at least ten sightings of Marsh Harriers and at one point there were four in the air at the same time.

Marsh Harrier
We also had distant views of two bittern and a Great White Egret.

Bittern - hiding in the reeds as usual but at least still visible

Great White Egret

I did manage to get some closer pictures of the GWE but in the bright sunlight they were burnt out and I could not rescue them.

My seven life ticks for the day were - Marsh Harrier, Great White Egret, Ruff, Cetti's Warbler, Goldeneye, Barnacle Goose, and Tree Sparrow. I had seen the first four previously but not to my satisfaction for positive identification. They had either been too distant or in the case of the Cetti's disappeared into the reeds too quickly leaving me with a fleeting glimpse of a rear end.

The Cetti's in particular was good to see as this had always been one of my target birds. Unfortunately I could not get an angle for a picture and whilst I felt like elbowing Dave out of the way I did manage to keep control. So, half a success on this one, but it's good to have something left for another day - I think.

The Tree Sparrows at Boulderwall Farm were the real surprise of the day. I had not realised how colourful they looked compared to the more common House Sparrow.

Tree Sparrow

 I would like to go back and have another go at photographing these.

Our next stop was at Scotney Pit. The number of birds spread out over the water and on the grass banks was truly stunning. We spent a pleasant hour birding from the comfort of the car but could not find any rarities. Dave did, however, spot a Ruff, and three Redshanks together and I managed to get a distant shot of the Ruff confirming my life tick.

Scotney also has a resident flock of Barnacle Geese and these flew in just before we left. There were probably thirty plus in the flock but other than for a record shot they did not offer photographic opportunities.

On the way home we called in at Princess Park in Eastbourne to give Dave a chance to see the Bonaparte's Gull that had been reported there earlier in the day. Unfortunately we dipped out on that one but I have included another picture of it, that I had taken earlier in the week, so Dave does not feel too disappointed at missing it!

Bonaparte's Gull

A great days birding and lots of pictures to work through when I got home.

Monday, 28 January 2013

Bonaparte's Gull

Gulls should be easy. I live by the sea, they are all around me and I see them every day. Yet still I struggle to make even simple identifications. Adult Herring, and the Lesser and Greater Black-backed are OK and I think I can now identify adult Common and Ring-billed Gulls but juveniles and anything outside of this group and I am reaching for the guide book. So when I saw a report of a Bonaparte's Gull in Princes Park Eastbourne I decided to head off for a quick look.

I had great plans for the day, an early start, an hour watching the gull, and then perhaps a visit to the Pevensey Levels or one of the other sites around the east of the county. It's never that easy. I was down at Eastbourne early but the bird was nowhere to be seen. Fortunately I found a Little Grebe fishing in a feeder stream and that kept me occupied for a while.

Caught it

Its not giving up without a fight

The fish did not give in easily escaping twice and having to be recaptured by the grebe.

Dinner is finally ready

The Grebe was a nice diversion and there were a few other birders around to talk to but it was still another three hours until the Gull finally turned up at around 12.30. I was lucky, I had just decided to go off and find a bacon sandwich but was called back by a couple of the others.

The weather had started to turn and it looked like rain but the Gull was very obliging and a number of close up shots were possible. These may look like black and white but they were all taken in colour format.

Bonaparte's Gull

Just to prove the pictures were taken in colour

And coloured legs

A grey bird on grey water on a grey day but I was very happy to have gone home having seen and photographed it.

Saturday, 26 January 2013

A Break in the Clouds

Despite the cold and overcast weather of late, the birding has been good with many species forced out into the open in search of food. Photo opportunities under the grey skies have been limited, but they still exist. The following two shots are hand held at 1/60sec using a 700mm lens combination. It works to a certain extent although the Wood Lark is still showing some head movement.

Unfortunately this technique will not work with the likes of Goldcrest, Firecrest or any other of the highly mobile small birds which is a pity as they have been much more visible during the cold spell.

Mistle Thrush on Goring Green

Wood Lark on Goring Green

Today the sun came out and we rushed off to capture all the pictures we had missed over the past couple of weeks. Except it didn't happen. With the sunshine and warmer weather the birds had reverted to more normal behaviour and were less easy to find and to approach.

Our first stop of the day was to photograph Goldcrests and Firecrests at Swanbourne Lake Arundel. These had been foraging on the ground within six foot of us on previous days but today they were back in the treetops. An hour and a half of observing them left me with about thirty blurred pictures. You could see that both birds were present but they were not even worth keeping as record shots.

Our next targets were at various locations around Hayling Island. We had great hopes of relocating a Short-eared Owl that we had seen perched the day before and of finding Divers in the harbour. I came away without a single picture and despite the sunshine the day was starting to look a little dull.

A quick review of our plans and we decided to head off to the Long Pool at Pagham Harbour to have another look at the Bearded Tits. It is a real challenge to photograph them.The reeds are forever moving even in a gentle breeze and the birds rarely appear in the open. However, there is always the chance of an exceptional picture and that makes the challenge interesting. Sadly though, good shots but nothing outstanding today.

Such a soft and gentle looking female

And a real bruiser of a partner.

Blue colouration more evident in this light

Ring visible but not readable
There are probably five birds present and at least two of these are ringed. The objective now must be to get a close up of the rings and find out where they came from.

Tuesday, 22 January 2013

On Seawatching

Interesting but I cannot see it catching on!

I tried a seawatch for the first time yesterday morning. Hardcore birding as I have seen it described. The sea was calm and there were plenty of birds about. We could identify Common Scoter, Red-breasted Merganser, Great Crested Grebe, and Gannet with probable sightings of Guillemot and various Grebes. However, I left feeling something was missing. This was not what I wanted from bird watching. Lots of black dots, mostly unrecognisable, no chance of getting pictures, and an element of doubt in anything you do identify.

For me birdwatching is about getting up close, making a positive identification, and getting a good quality record shot. Or, perhaps being a bit more realistic, having a good enough record shot to be able to go home and make the identification against the Collins Guide.

Arriving home with no pictures to look at also left something missing from the day. Fortunately I was home by 10.30 and after an early lunch I was soon starting to get edgy. I headed off into the snow flurries hoping the reflection from the snow would give the extra couple of stops needed for decent pictures. There were certainly a lot of birds about.

The cold weather has caused a lot of bird movement. Thousands of Fieldfares have been heading west in flocks of a few birds through to a few hundred. Great to look at but they are stripping all the berries from the trees and bushes. What will the the other birds live on and perhaps more interestingly where are the Redwings? We even had a dozen Fieldfares in the garden, a first that I can remember.

Fieldfare in the Garden
Looking for water to drink

On the local Gull roost at Goring Gap

 Other notable birds were Meadow Pipits and dozens of Skylarks down on the coastal fields looking for food. All of the birds seemed really focussed on feeding and were not too bothered by people being close to them.

Skylark on the local Gull roost at Goring Gap
Skylark on the local Gull roost at Goring Gap

 A meadow Pipit running around in the failing light in search of that last mouthful of food.

Meadow Pipit in a hurry

Finally, on the way home I spotted Waxwings in Rustington. They have been returning to the roundabout on the A259 for a couple of weeks now but this was the first time I had spotted them. No light for a picture but this was a year tick for me and not too worried as I doubt that I would have been able to improve on the shots shown on my December blog.

Friday, 18 January 2013

Purple Sandpipers

Out birding again yesterday and starting to see the real benefits of teaming up with a more experienced bird photographer. We had set off before dawn with a plan and target list for the day. The weather forecast was good and with a brilliant sunrise the day looked promising. However, having located our first target, a Shag at Eastney Point, heavy clouds started drifting in from the west and it looked more like pending snow than the promised sunshine.

The Shag disappeared into the harbour before we were able to get record shots and we moved on to Southsea Castle. The target here was Purple Sandpipers and it proved to be our only photographic opportunity of the day albeit under an ever darkening sky.

700mm   ISO400   f8   1/200sec

700mm   ISO400   f8   1/100sec

I was not very happy with the quality of these pictures and thought I would show a better shot below taken at Brighton Marina last year. It was only when I looked at the picture information that I realised that this was arguably taken in worse lighting conditions. Sometimes its just to easy to blame the light when its actually the guy that presses the button that is at fault.

700mm   ISO800   f8   1/125sec

The plan for the day was then revised and we set off to visit some of Dave's favourite birding places on Portsea Island, Langstone Harbour, and Chichester Harbour. We managed to log over sixty birds for the day but the real benefit for me was in finding out about the best places to visit, where to park, the impact of the tides, how to avoid the dog walkers, and the best places and time of day to optimise the lighting.

We finished off in fading light on Pagham Harbour north wall with a Short Eared Owl hunting over the fields.

Wednesday, 16 January 2013

Bearded Tits

I went down to Pagham Harbour today where Bearded Tits had been reported on the Long Pool. I had seen Bearded Tits before but without managing to get a picture and was keen to plug the gap in my collection.

Arriving at the Visitors centre I found a few finches and the more common tits around the feeders but there was also a nice Kestrel close by. This seems to be coming a regular for my fist bird of the day. Just a pity that they always seem to have their back to the sun.

Kestrel - Perhaps thinking he can have a chunk of me for lunch

 A couple of quick snaps and I headed off to find the Bearded Tits. Alongside Waxwings they are one of the most photogenic birds in the UK but they are also difficult to find. Fortunately another birder pointed me in the right direction.

I manage a few good record shots but the show stopper will have to wait for another day.

I would like to be able to claim some special skill in obtaining these pictures, however, the truth is that with the light levels changing rapidly and the reeds blowing all over the place I just fired off about a hundred and twenty shots in the ten minutes they were visible and then picked out the four or five that were not blurred.

A bit soft but probably my favorite shot
It was particularly difficult to get a picture of the female which appeared to have much more rapid movement and feeding habits.

Female Bearded Tit
The Collins guide refers to them as Bearded Reedlings as opposed to tits and states that are most closely related to the larks.

Whatever you want to call them they are a nice bird to find and photograph.

Glossy Ibis

Out birding with Dave again yesterday. Great day, we managed to see sixty nine species and hear another three. However, on target birds we were not so lucky. We got to see the Glossy Ibis at Bickerley Common but missed out on the Great White Egret and also on the Hawfinches we tried for on the way home at Eastleigh Lakeside Country Park.

Distant shot of the Glossy Ibis in the early morning sun

This is an improvement on my previous record shots of the Ibis but I still have not managed to get close enough for a decent picture.

Most of the day was taken up with gathering year ticks (+19) and on trying to improve on my picture library. Nothing spectacular taken but there were a few pictures worth keeping.

Black-tailed Godwit

Green Sandpiper

Marsh Tit
 And not forgetting the more common birds


House Sparrow

It was cold but it was a beautiful day with birding from sunrise on the Hampshire Dorset border to sunset where we watched twenty four Bewicks settling down to roost for the night.

Sunday, 13 January 2013

Ring-billed Gull

Various people had told me about the Ring-billed Gull on Walpole Lake in Gosport. It appears to have been returning every winter for a number of years and when I checked on the web I found reports going back to 2003. Given that the bird has a life expectancy of 10 to 15 years I thought I had best make the effort to get down there to see it before it was too late.

The day got off to a good start when I came across this Kestrel sitting by the side of the road. Not brilliant lighting conditions but on a cold January morning its nice to be able to just stick the camera out of the car window.

This looks like a regular perch so there may be better pictures to be had in the future.

I arrived at the boating lake at Walpole Park and spent about an hour searching the area without any sight of the Ring-billed Gull, Waldo as he is called. Thought I was on to him a couple of times but they were both Common Gulls which look very similar.

Getting cold and bored I resolved to move on to Titchfield Haven and return for Waldo later in the day. Titchfield was very quiet. A few birds mostly Lapwings and Oystercatchers on the islands in the middle of the lake and very little moving. I spent an hour staring at some reeds where there was supposed to be a Bittern, but if it was there it had decided not to show itself. The only picture I took at the site was of something that should not have been inside the electrified fence.

As I walked back to the car looking for movement in the trees I managed to cap my session at Titchfield by walking off the path into a hidden gulley and filling both boots with water and soaking my trousers to the knee. At least I did not drop the camera into the water.

So back to Gosport and the search for Waldo. No luck again and after an hour I retired to the car to warm up before returning home. Switched on the engine, started to drive out the car park and then thought I should give it one final try before leaving. Glad I did as Waldo was standing at the far end of the boating pool.

Ring-billed Gull

I had hoped to get some pictures in flight but he did not seem very active. Even when all the other gulls were spooked he only raised his head for a casual look around.

Ring-billed Gull

 Interesting to compare him with a Common Gull.

Common Gull

 The heavier beak and yellow eye are the key identification points. The upper parts are a paler grey than the Common but this is not obvious unless they are seen together as shown below. Apologies for the Common Gull being out of focus.

Ring-billed gull in the foreground with Common Gull behind

Overall a poor days birding that was rescued by luck in the first and last half hours.