Wednesday, 27 February 2013

Bean Geese

I had a poor days birding on Tuesday. Not much flying and misty, cold, and overcast weather that made it unpleasant to be out. The only highlight was that we managed to see the two Bean Geese at Arundel. They were very difficult to spot even with the telescope and we were on the wrong side of the river for a closer approach. However, I went home confident with the identification. This morning I woke up and knew that I would not be satisfied unless I got  a record shot of this scarce bird.

Fortunately it was possible to get a little closer approaching from the East of the river and using the railway line for cover. The birds were still distant but visibility had improved and pictures were possible.

Bean Geese

Although the makings on the two birds are slightly different the experts agree that they are both the Tundra variants.

With Greylag Geese for size comparison

The sun came out midday. Not what I was expecting or what any of the forecasts had predicted. Rather than heading off home I decided to walk along the river bank to see what was about. Plenty of birds and one big suprise when what looked like a blow up toy came floating down the river along with some Canada Geese.

Canada Geese and a Bar-headed Goose

A Bar-headed Goose, I have seen reports about it in other parts of Sussex but it still comes as a shock when you see it. Everything about the bird looks wrong, even the way it sits in the water.

It is a Central Asian high altitude species so this is most likely an escaped feral bird and is not recognised on the British list.

Looking more lifelike

A little later I spotted another escapee but this one has been around as a species for a couple of hundred years and is recognised on the British List.

Egyptian Goose

To cap a good afternoon a skein* of geese flew over and landed in the river in front of me and in the middle of them were the two Bean Geese I had been stalking all morning. I thought I was going to get some good shots but by the time I had moved out from behind the reeds and got the camera focused they had taken fright and were airborne again.

My picture flying away

Another day of low expectations and good results. I just wish someone could get the weather forecast right so I could make plans a couple of days ahead.

*(clever word - collective noun for a group of geese in flight)

Monday, 25 February 2013

Raven and Others

Another overcast and less than promising day but I was tempted out by reports of a couple of interesting birds over at Langstone Harbour and a Ravens nest being built at Cosham. My first stop was at Warblington Church to see if the Glossy Ibis was still around. It was, and these were the closest views I have ever had of this bird, but without any sun it just looked black and there were none of the deep greens, bronze and coppery red reflections I was hoping to capture. Still, a nice bird and I was happy to see it there.

Glossy Ibis

The bird was visible from the church path which leads through to the Nore stream at Emsworth. I had been there on a couple of occasions to see the resident Spotted Redshank but without any luck. It was high tide so I was not very hopeful of seeing the bird but it was only a short walk so I decided to give it a go.

Much to my surprise the Spotted Redshank was in the water about six feet from the path and showed no signs of moving. I actually had to move away from it to be able to get the camera to focus. It seemed too good to be true and it was. I managed one picture before the inevitable dog walker came along and the dog dived into the water in an attempt to catch the bird.

My remonstrations met with the usual arrogance - it was a Springer Spaniel - that's what they do - what did I expect. When I told her what I expected, I got the ultimate insult, she called me a Twitcher, deeply hurtful!

Fortunately the bird did not go too far and I still managed to get some good pictures.

Spotted Redshank


It was proving to be a good day so I headed off to Cosham to see if I could locate an electricity pylon with a Ravens nest being built on it.

The nest is visible from the footpath running alongside the James Callaghan Drive at the top of the chalk pits. You cannot get close to the nest but you do get superb views.

A nest with a view

Raven - Black birds are always difficult to photograph

Bringing lining for the nest

Female trying it out for size

On the way home I called in at Budd's Sewage Works. First time I had been there and I was amazed at the number of birds present. I was hoping for good pictures of the Scaup but they stayed distant and the female did not raise her head to show the white face blaze that would confirm the identification.

Scaup - male on the left female on the right - white face blaze just visible

I had gone out with low expectations but it proved to be a good day. Plenty of birds about and enough light to get some good pictures.

Tuesday, 19 February 2013

Penduline Tit

Another early start, picking Dave up at 06.00 and heading out to Kent. Our first destination was Stodmarsh NNR to see if we could locate the Penduline Tit. The weather on the way down was not promising. There was dense fog in places with cloud cover above but we arrived with the sun breaking through and were able to quickly locate the bird.

Penduline Tit on Reedmace

Our last encounter with a Penduline Tit had involved distant views through moving reeds and whilst we had left happy to have seen the bird the pictures were not very good. This time we were more lucky, the bird came close and at times was perched out in the open.

Colours blend in well in the reed bed.

The thin mask and lack of red spotting on the breast suggest this is a female

As there had been various reports of between twenty and thirty Water Pipits at the Marsh Hide we felt obliged to struggle through the mud to have a look. There were only two visible in the distance when we arrived so no picture opportunities but still worth seeing. We also had views of two or three Marsh Harriers circling over the reserve.

Our next destination was the ARC Pit at Dungeness with the target bird being the Smew. We did locate the female (redhead) in the distance but there was no sign of the drake. However, there was a bonus sightings of a Great White Egret and there were also Marsh Harriers flying over the area.

Poor shot but an unusual bird - Redhead Smew

Great White Egret

Spring was in the air and the Goldeneye were getting amorous.

Goldeneye displaying

Making sure she doesn't escape

Either mating or attempted drowning

Still looking good

The one disappointment was that the Tree Sparrows at  Boulderwall Farm were not very visible. We still had three of our target birds for the day to look for so could not afford the time to wait.

Scotney Pit found us just inside the Sussex border when Dave located the drake and female Scaup through his scope. No chance of a picture using the camera or with the phone camera through the scope when I gave it a try. I will have to read up on how to do this. Next stop was Pett Level where we were hoping to see White-fronted and Pink-footed Geese. Dave found the Pink-footed but we had to get the Collins guide out so that he could convince me of what we were looking at. Good to have him along as I would not have spotted the Scaup or Pink-footed without his help.

Pink-footed Goose

We did not get to see the White-fronted Geese but whose complaining. We had five of our six target birds for the day and a few other good sightings as well with 50 different species seen. Its always worth leaving something for another day.

Saturday, 16 February 2013

Loose Ends

I have been out birding a lot lately and have managed to see many good birds but the resulting photography seems more like quantity rather than quality. I needed some good pictures and that would mean revisiting some of the locations again. Top of the list were the Hawfinches at Romsey. I picked up Dave early Friday morning and we set off for Hampshire confident that with a sunny day we would get the pictures we wanted.

 It rarely works out as you planned. Our visit on a dull overcast day had produced dozens of birds, some good picture opportunities, and a lot of dull, out of focus, and blurred shots. Our visit on a sunny day produced a lot more  walkers, children and  dogs. There were fewer birds, they were being disturbed regularly, and they were not coming out into the open. I had one lucky shot, shown below, but even this was a bit distant and does not show the true colours of the bird. However, it's a good example of what you can get away with if you get the eyes sharp.
 We spent about three hours trying to get that illusive close up but eventually we had to move on. Fortunately I also had a Goldcrest paying regular visits and a Bullfinch hiding in the bushes.



We moved on to Blashford Lakes in the hope of catching up with the Green Winged Teal. No luck with that but we did see a pair of Black-necked Grebe on the Rockford Lake. Again a bit distant so this is more like a loose end created than one closed. Still I will save the good picture for when I see them in full breeding plumage.

Black-necked Grebe

Another loose end was my failed attempt to see the Snow Bunting on Ferring Beach. I had in fact been searching the wrong part of the beach and stopping about 30 metres short of its location. An early rise this morning and it proved easy to find as it had already been spotted by a couple of other birders. As with previous Snow Buntings I have seen it was quite confiding, seeming to show little concern for people and often landing very close to their feet. It had, however, chosen one of the busiest parts of the beach so was regularly being flushed by dogs and by joggers running through.

Snow Bunting

 To cap a good morning I returned home to find my first ever garden Blackcap. The garden has been virtually bird free for about a month. The big garden bird watch resulted in a total of one Pigeon for me and I had not filled any of the feeders since Christmas. Snow seemed to make little difference, apart from an influx of Fieldfares. In the past couple of days it has all changed. The birds are back and the feeders are being emptied at an alarming rate. Long may it continue.


With both a Chiffchaff and a Blackcap in the past week it feels as though Spring has arrived early.

Thursday, 14 February 2013

Even More Barn Owls

A bit of a mixed bag today. I went out first thing looking for a Snowbunting reported on Goring Beach. The tide was out leaving a big area to search and I ended up leaving without seeing it. It was relocated later in the day so I am hoping it will still be there at the weekend but it is an area popular with dog walkers so it may well move on.

I did a few jobs in the house and then went to look at some Waxwings that had been feeding on berry bushes in Salvington Road Worthing. They were still around with more than twenty of them sitting on Ariels and feeding in the bushes. However, the location on a relatively busy town road was not really appealing and I left without taking any pictures.

 Feeling a bit disappointed I decided to go back to Waltham Brooks to have another go at the Barn Owls. Only two flying tonight that I could see but I did get a few good shots.

My third visit to the brooks to photograph the Barn Owls and I can see an improvement in technique and in results across the three sessions. Clearly a case of practice makes perfect although perhaps I need a few more attempts before I claim perfection.

Wednesday, 13 February 2013


Went out on Tuesday expecting some sun at last, but it was obvious when we set off pre dawn, that we were in for another dull and gloomy day. We had decided to go in search of Hawfinches, a bird that we had missed out on a few times over the past year. We started off in Eastleigh at the Lakeside Country Park. Hawfinches are regularly reported there although we had never managed to see one. It also has the added advantage that the cafe does a great bacon sandwich and cup of tea which would help to console us if we dipped out yet again.

As it happens we spotted the bird as soon as we arrived. I managed to snap a quick record shot, distant and in silhouette, but still clearly recognisable as a Hawfinch. Even better Dave was still trying to get his camera out of the bag when it flew off. It looked like bragging rights to me for the rest of the day. I would have been quite happy to go off for a bacon sandwich then, to celebrate, but Dave wanted to stay in case it returned and there was always the risk that he might end up with a better picture than me.

Getting cold and with no sight of the bird we decided to move on to Romsey where there had been reports of a small flock of Hawfinches with a supporting cast of Bramblings and Siskins. The site is on the edge of the town in a small housing estate and did not look very promising. I don't think either of us really believed it was going to deliver but it was worth a look.

Hawfinch Heaven

It was absolutely amazing. There were dozens of Hawfinches sitting in the trees and flying backwards and forwards across the site. However, getting a good picture was going to be near on impossible. Although the birds were coming down to puddles to drink they were skittish and keeping their distance. In the poor light it was going to be difficult to get the shot - and it was. Four hours, freezing cold, and a couple of hundred pictures later as  we headed back to the car I already knew that we would be returning on the next sunny day.

Tree top shot


Drinking from Puddle

Nice record shots but they do not do justice to the real colours and magnificence of the bird. At least we now know where to find Hawfinches and perhaps next time I will make the effort to photograph the Bramblings as well.

Fortunately there is always a Robin waiting about to have his picture taken.

Take my picture next

Wednesday, 6 February 2013

More Barn Owls

Being disappointed with Monday's Barn Owl pictures and with the weather looking reasonable I decided to go back to Waltham Brooks on Tuesday evening and have another go. On the way I called in at Swanbourne lake in the hope of seeing the Firecrests. None about but I did see an unusual leucistic Jackdaw.

Leucistic Jackdaw

Leucism is a condition which causes pigment defects, making some of the feathers white or very pale. Unlike albinism the eye colour is normal. I have seen this a number of times in Blackbirds but this is the first time in a Jackdaw. There are suggestions on the web that this is becoming more common in many breeds of bird.

Recent trips out have resulted in a shortage of the "small brown birds" but arriving at Waltham Brooks I was pleased to see a lot of movement in the scrub and headgerows.
This Chiffchaff posed nicely to have its picture taken. My first sighting for the year.


I also had a Goldcrest sitting on the fence in the open within six feet of me. It must have known that I am desperate to get a good picture of a Goldcrest. My Camera was out of reach and even if I could have got to it the bird would have been too close to focus on. We watched each other for about 20 seconds and then it disappeared into the gathering gloom. I don't think I have ever seen a Goldcrest stay still for that length of time.

The first Barn Owl appeared about 3.45 with two more following quickly behind. I had picked a good spot and had a couple of flybys within about 15 feet but unfortunately I only had the sun for about a quarter of an hour. After that I was back to the previous days problems of high ISO and slow shutter speeds.

I had not realised how difficult it would be to keep the Owl in focus, particularly when it was heading straight for me, and I had a lot of wasted shots. It is difficult to know when to try to take a picture and when it is best just to stand and watch the bird. You can miss a lot hiding behind the camera.

I also found that I needed the sun to get a reasonable shutter speed but with the sun out the face and leading edge of the wing were over exposed. These pictures have all required work in photoshop to reduce the contrast.

One good picture and standing in the cold for a couple of hours is all forgotten

There have been reports on the Sussex Ornithological Society of one of the Waltham Brooks Barn Owls having something sticking to or sticking out of its chest. This is visible on the picture below. I have no idea what it is but it has been there for at least a few days and does not seem to be restricting the birds movement. Lets hope it is not doing any long term damage.

My initial disappointment at the quality of this second round of pictures has dissipated slightly as I realised that I could recover a few of the pictures. There is no sun tonight but I think I will soon be going back for another go. The good thing about photographing birds is that you always know there is a better picture out there waiting to be taken.