Thursday, 25 April 2013

Grasshopper Warbler

Today I thought I would have a look around some of the commons at the north of the patch. Last time I had visited, there was very little flying or singing, but perhaps with spring coming on I would have better luck and pick up a Dartford Warbler, Crossbills or some other rarity. No such luck. Having walked four of the commons and with quite a few kilometres under my belt I had very little to show for it.  Chaffinches, Crows, a Woodcock flushed and a few buzzards flying overhead but not even a Stonechat on the gorse. My best effort was this quickly grabbed shot of a Treecreeper as it disappeared from sight.


My next stop was Pulborough Brooks to see if I could improve on my Nightingale shots. It was just after midday when I arrived so perhaps not the best time for viewing birds. There were a few singing but mostly from within dense bushes. A couple did make brief flights but none felt like posing for a picture. I can understand why, there were a lot of people standing around waiting for them to appear. It felt a bit like a twitch and I was keen to move on. I can't complain though, everyone is entitled to see the birds, it's just that we all feel that we would like to keep them for ourselves.

Fortunately I was saved by a call from Dave Potter to tell me that he had located a Grasshopper Warbler at Waltham Brooks.

Red Kite

A quick walk through the RSPB site, stopping only for a picture of a circling Red Kite, and a short drive got me to the brooks in time to get some pictures of the Grasshopper Warbler.

Grasshopper Warbler

and in full song

This was a singing male establishing his territory and far more colourful than previous birds I had seen. He looked wonderful in full song and people tell me how good the trill sounds but it is too high pitched for me. I see the bird open its mouth but there is no song - very sad.

As always the pictures could be better. This is the birds natural habitat but it would be nice to get it against a plain background.

Monday, 22 April 2013

Long-eared Owl and Bonelli's Warbler

Birding doesn't get much better than this.

I had seen the reports of the Long-eared Owl close to the  Pagham Harbour RSPB Visitors Centre but had not expected it to be there for a second day. However, with no other plans I decided to head off in that direction and see what was about. First stop was the north wall. Perhaps I could get that picture of a Cetti's Warbler that I have been chasing for so long.

Cetti's were singing but not showing so I had to make do with an obliging Sedge Warbler.

Sedge Warbler

Sedge Warbler

The waders and ducks have mostly moved on but there were still a few Black-tailed Godwits about. It would be nice if they hang around long enough to see them in full summer colours.

Black-tailed Godwit - Needs a few more weeks for full Summer plumage

And there were a few Swallows collecting mud from the Horse field and sunning themselves on the fences.


Looking a bit wind swept

When I eventually moved on to the Visitors Centre I was not expecting too much. If the Long-eared Owl was still there it would probably be in the middle of a thick bush with just its ears or eyes showing. They never sit out in the open.........

but this one did

A once in a lifetime opportunity

When I arrived the owl had its eyes closed but I still managed to take over a hundred pictures. Then it opened them and I took another hundred pictures. They are all very similar and it was a complete waste of time but you just felt the need to capture the moment. Or as it turned out hundreds of moments. The Owl seemed to be totally unconcerned by our presence, about 30 foot away on the path, and we were able to watch it like this for a couple of hours.

 I moved on to the car park at Church Norton thinking I would have a quick look around for any migrants. As I sat in the car eating a sandwich I noticed a couple of the local birding grandees hurrying by. If it was worth them breaking into a sweat then it must be interesting. If in doubt follow at a discreet distance.

Surly the day couldn't get any better - but it could, they had their scopes on a Bonelli's Warbler. I could see that it was not one of your normal run of the mill warblers but I would not have had a clue without their expertise. There was some discussion as to it being a Western or an Eastern Bonelli's but I was not really to bothered. Bonelli's was good enough for me.

No great pictures this time. It was too far away and did not hang around for long but at least I got some record shots.

Confirmed as a Western Bonelli's Warbler

Non stop feeding and very fast moving

 The bird was later confirmed as a Western Bonelli's Warbler a rare vagrant to this country. I will probably have to go back to Pagham harbour tomorrow just in case it returns. There is always a better picture waiting to be taken.


I went back the next day but did not get to see the bird again. I have had to resort to tidying up the best of my record shots.

First picture above with obstructing vegetation removed

How much tampering with the picture is acceptable?

Friday, 19 April 2013

Corncrake and Tawny Owls

Thursday and Friday saw me making two trips down to the Beachy Head area, making a couple of really stupid mistakes, but overall coming out of the two days with a decent result.

Thursday morning I was at Shooters Bottom just before seven o'clock looking for the Corncrake that had been reported the previous day. The wind was really harsh over the head and it was difficult to maintain your footing let alone hold the binoculars or camera steady. The gorse and scrub offered little shelter and worst of all there was no sign of the Corncrake.

By half past eight I was ready to give up and go home but fortunately the day was rescued by Mick Davis. He had seen the bird the day before and managed to relocate it again some way from the area that most of us were watching. All credit to Mick for putting us onto the bird and for ensuring that we all had good views. I managed to get off about a dozen shots of it foraging along the edge of the ride before it disappeared into the thicker cover.

I was feeling really pleased until I looked at the images and realised that they were all badly over exposed. Somehow I had managed to nudge the controls from aperture priority to manual. Worse, this has happened before, and I have lost valuable pictures. Even worse than that, I had stood there for two hours and not once checked that the camera was set up correctly.


Photoshop gives you some recovery options so I ended up with the picture above but the detail has been lost and I cannot enlarge the picture any more. I did wait around for a couple more hours and saw the bird a few times but pictures were always difficult with most of them being backlit.

Corncrake heading for cover

My second mistake was in not checking what else was about in the area. I did call in at Belle Tout wood on the way back to Birling Gap but when I opened the car door and was hit by the wind again I got back in and drove home. I checked when I got home and saw that two Tawny Owls had been reported at the wood. Another missed opportunity.

Friday morning and I decided to return to see if I could get a better picture of the Corncrake and also to see if I could locate the Tawny Owls. The Owls were first and despite them being well hidden I located them both quite easily. Looking at the pictures now I am not quite sure how I managed it.

Well hidden

Close up it looks like a Grey Morph variant

Second bird - more familiar Rufous Morph

Obviously been watching me from a long way off

but not going to loose any sleep over it

I had great fun photographing the Tawny Owls, which was just as well, as there had been no sign of the Corncrake when I finally arrived at Shooters Bottom. I gave it another hour but with the birders gradually drifting away it looked as though it may have moved on.

So, a bit of a messy couple of days birding with a number of silly mistakes but at the end of it I had seen the Corncrake for the first time and had also found the Tawny Owls.

Monday, 15 April 2013


Last year I spent a lot of time standing in front of bushes listening to Nightingales singing but failed to see a single bird. This year I was determined to start looking at the beginning of the mating season when the birds were more likely to be displaying in the open and when the bushes would have less green growth.

Pulborough Brooks RSPB is one of the more reliable sites in Sussex for finding the Nightingale and I had a good idea where to look from last years failed attempts. I visited the site today but did not get there until about one o'clock and my initial walk around proved very disappointing with virtually no birds visible and very limited bird song. However, by three o'clock everything had changed and the hedges were alive with birds.

The ground was not doing so bad either with a number of snakes and slow worms visible. These two were within about three feet of each other. I think if I were the Slow Worm I might put a bit more distance between us before the adder woke up.

Male Adder

Slow Worm

Being a photographer I did wonder about doing a bit of gardening around the adder to tidy up the picture but I felt sure he was watching me from below that blade of grass.

The Nightingales were around and I heard a number of them singing, although I was told that they had been displaying more openly on the previous day. I missed a couple of good shots but was happy to leave with a few decent record shots. I am looking forward to returning over the next couple of weeks to improve on these.


The song is amazing. It's too unstructured to be my favourite but the volume and the range are truly impressive and the energy that the bird puts into it makes you wonder how it can stay singing for so long.

There were plenty of Blackcaps, Warblers, and Whitethroates around but I spent the rest of my time there trying to get a decent picture of a Redstart. I would have preferred the more colourful male but as this was my first sighting of the year I needed a record.

Female Redstart

I think a trip to Old Lodge Nature Reserve may be in order whilst the males are still showing well.

I could not resist finishing off with this Green Woodpecker, one of two seen foraging in the cow fields.

Green Woodpecker


I have just got back from a week in Spain on a non birding Holiday. We spent the week exploring the influence of 800 years of Moorish occupation on the country and very interesting it was. I had left my cameras and telephoto lens at home but did manage to squeeze in a little Canon SX50. I say little but it has a zoom lens that gives the equivalent of a 35mm camera 1200mm lens plus a 4x digital zoom. Very impressive figures but it only has a 12.1 Megapixel sensor, it still has all the problems of hand holding such a long lens, and a zoom lens will always be a compromise on quality. Still it could be a useful way of obtaining record shots when carrying the full photographic set up is not an option.

The route we took was mostly through the cites of central southern Spain and only included a couple of places where I had expectations of seeing birds. The first was Seville Cathedral which I had read was a stronghold for the Lesser Kestrel and the second was Ronda where I could expect to see a variety of birds around the gorge and cliffs. There were no Lesser Kestrels at Serville but Ronda did not disappoint. There were dozens of birds floating on thermals about 50 metres below the cliff top and lots of small birds in the bushes along the top. Viewing was great but positive identification and, even more so, good pictures were difficult and I only had an hour before we had to move on.

Chough were easy to identify as they swept up and into nest holes on the bridge, but checking my pictures later either the camera has a shutter delay or the operator was suffering a brain delay from too much Rioja the night before.

Not my best ever picture!

In Flight

There were Pallid Swifts and at least five Kestrels on the cliffs and there may have been a few Crag Martins as well, but they were all too fast and too far away to get any decent pictures. The Kestrels could have been the Lesser Kestrels that I had been hoping to see but the only positive identifier I had was the colour of the claws and that is not very helpful when you are looking at them from above.

Fortunately things did improve when we moved towards the coast. I am reasonably confident on this being a female Red-backed Shrike and as I was taking the picture a Hoopoe flew past. Fortunately I remembered about the bird in hand being worth two in the bush and settled for getting one decent picture.

Female Red-backed Shrike

See comments below from Richard T. It looks as though this is actually a Woodchat Shrike. Checking Collins again I am inclined to agree with him.

There were also plenty of Spotless Starlings around.

Spotless Starling

Smart Looking Birds

The coast around Malaga had a more colourful selection of birds. I have yet to see a Ring-necked Parakeet in England and the Monk Parakeet was a new bird for me.

Ring-necked Parakeet

Monk Parakeet

There was also another bird that so far I have been unable to identify. It's probably an escapee but I am hoping its short tail will give me some clue as to what it is.

Suggestions for identity gratefully received

I also managed to get record shots of a couple of other birds including the Hoopoe so given the time I had available for birding this was not too bad a trip. Its interesting seeing the different birds but not as satisfying as adding to my UK list.

The SX50 will not be replacing my 500mm lens. It was ok for record shots but the real quality was missing from the picture and I found it quite difficult to handle. There are buttons all over it and I found myself brushing against them and switching the camera into the wrong mode just as I was about to take a picture. It was also quite difficult to hold such a  lightweight camera and long lens combination really still whilst setting up and taking the pictures. However, if you need to travel light, need a back up camera, or are just getting started in bird photography then it is worth looking at. My one cost about £310 as compared to a new Canon 500mm lens at about £8500.