Thursday, 23 May 2013

Cetti's Warbler at last

What a difference a day can make. I was out on Tuesday around Pagham Harbour and the Chichester Gravel Pits but it was overcast and cold and there was nothing moving and very little singing. A couple of distant Common Terns and two Hobby hawking around Ivy Lake were the best sightings of the day. I managed to conceal myself in the bushes and had the Hobby flying by within fifteen feet of me. Great to see but not much good for photography. After about 30 shots and not having got the birds in frame once I gave up and went home early.

I went out again today. It was cold but the sun was shining and there was a lot more activity. I headed over to the North Wall at Pagham again hoping to see a Turtle Dove I had been looking for the previous day. No luck with that but instead there was a Cuckoo sitting in the tree that I had been staking out.


My being there did not seem to worry him but he was under attack from a male Chaffinch and after a token resistance he soon got fed up and moved on with the Chaffinch in hot pursuit. The Chaffinch came back and posed on the same branch, looking every bit the victor, but somehow it did not make such an interesting picture.

I had a look at Church Norton but, with the tide in, there were few birds about. As it looked like rain I decided to return home via the Arundel Wetland Centre. There is a lot of landscaping taking place on the site so I did not expect to see much in the way of wild birds but at least if it rained there would be plenty of shelter in the hides.

As I walked through the reed bed a Cetti's warbler started up close by and I caught a glimpse of him in the tree.

Cetti's hiding in the tree

He disappeared as quickly as he had arrived but at least this time I had seen his face and managed to get a picture, where usually all I see is the back end as they disappear into the bush.  Not expecting to see him again I started to move off when he called again this time even closer, and I found him sitting out in the open.

Cetti's Warbler

Out in the Open

and staying for a few pictures
I managed to get quiet a few pictures before another visitor  disturbed him. Most of the pictures have an out of focus branch or reed across his face, so I have some detailed work to do in Photoshop to clean up the best ones, but I am more than happy with what I have got. This bird has been on the top of my hit list for a long time.

For once there seemed to be quiet a lot going on at Arundel. Plenty of chicks but not all of them pretty.

Looks more like an old man

but at least his mother still loves him
 Shelduck seem to be everywhere this year so they must have been one of the more successful breeders last year. It looks as though they are off to another good start.


Lots of Hirundines over the scrape but it only seems to be the Swallows that you see perched at this time of year. House Martins will give better picture opportunities when they flock before migrating and I don't think I have ever seen a Sand Martin other than in flight.


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Lots of other birds about including this Common Tern. Not too bad a picture given that it was taken through a plastic window in the hide.

Common Tern - not looking very happy in the heavy rain
Only one pair seem to be building a nest. Even if they lay eggs the chances of successful fledging must be limited given all the gulls around them.

Wednesday, 15 May 2013

Bempton Cliffs

Continuing a return journey from Scotland with a one day stopover in Flamborough.

The journey out of Scotland and down the Northumberland coast took me past dozens of good birding sites, Bass Rock, St Abbs Head, the Farne Islands, and Lindisfarne, to name but a few. I did make a couple of quick stops around the Druridge Bay area but I needed to get some miles under my belt before I stopped. The plan was to pay a quick evening visit to Bempton Cliffs and then to spend the next day birding around Flamborough Head.

That plan quickly went out of the window when I saw Bempton Cliffs. The number of birds is truly spectacular. There were tens of thousands on the cliffs, on the sea, and carrying out a spectacular aerial ballet in the sky above the cliffs. I spent the evening there and most of the next day. A quick one hour trip around Flamborough Head and it was clear that this was an area that had great potential but needed days of detailed searching to cover all the available sites.

Bempton added picture opportunities of Puffins and Gannets to those sea birds I had already seen on the trip.

Gannet In flight

Gannets in Love

Gannets at War

Part of the six thousand pairs of Gannets that use the cliffs

 There are around 38,000 pairs of Kittiwakes, 60,000 Guillemots, 15,000 Razorbills, along with assorted other sea birds including around 1,000 Puffin. Puffin numbers are in decline though, with hundreds being washed up dead on the beach. They were emaciated and with little body fat and it is thought that this is due to the prolonged bad weather in the area. This is a natural occurrence known as a wreck but highlights the risk to the colony with up to 10% of the areas Puffin population dead, with many of the survivors in poor breeding condition, and with the sand eels they feed on in short supply.

Survived the storm but tired and hungry

All the nesting holes gone

No room here either

The colonies have always been at risk. Locals used to take around 130,000 eggs a year to supplement their diet and to trade. That no longer happens so there is scope for recovery but what it really needs is a marine conservation area off the Yorkshire coast to safeguard the birds food supplies. Unfortunately at the moment none of the proposed sites have been designated by the government.

Fulmar and Guillemot



One of the more interesting birds on the cliffs are the Rock Doves. These are the ancestral form of the common feral pigeon that we see around our towns. True Rock Doves breed in caves and on steep cliffs on sea coasts and in mountains. I am sure there must be cross overs between the two populations and I often see birds with the correct makings around where I Iive, but it is nice to see these flocks and to recognise them as a true wild bird.

Rock Dove

They all look pure breed

There were also plenty of birds along the top of the cliffs although these were regularly disturbed by the visitors. The chances of seeing these improved drastically as you moved away from the car park.


Tree Sparrow taking a dust bath

The drive home from Flamborough took most of the day. I had a quick stop in Bridlington harbour where I found Turnstones wandering around the car park looking for scraps just like you would see Sparrows back at home. I also stopped just off the A1 at Paxton Pits by St Neots. It is rated as one of the best sites in the country to see Nightingales but it was really the chance to photograph the Hobby that caused me to visit the site.




My panning technique is definitely improving

And, to round off a good trip, I noticed  a Red-crested Pochard in the bottom of the frame whilst I was photographing the Hobby. Can't wait to go again.


I have just returned from a walking trip to the Cairngorm mountains in Scotland with a group of friends. Fortunately they are all Munro baggers and so under the pretext of not wanting to slow them down I was able to opt out of the longer walks and do a bit of bird watching.

The journey up there stopping off at Martin Mere and Leighton Moss was a little disappointing. There were plenty of birds around but nothing very interesting and all too distant for a decent photograph. The highlights were a Little Ringed Plover and a Ruff that was showing the start of its summer plumage.

The first days walking was also a bit of a failure. I had done my research and set off through Glen Muick in search of  Capercaillie and Black Grouse. It was a nice walk but by the end of the day I had seen a Jay, Common Sandpiper, Common Gulls, Willow Warbler,  Wheatear, and a couple of Chaffinches. A disappointing day even if I was birding from home. To add insult to injury that evening my friends were happy to tell me all about the birds they had seen on their way over Lochnagar. I think we eventually decided these had been Red Grouse and Red-legged Partridge.

Stung into action I was out by four thirty the next morning and off along the Tomintoul Road to check out a possible Black Grouse Lek site. No luck again but I did at least close the gap on them by finding Red-legged Partridge and Red Grouse.

Red Grouse

Superb camouflage - you only see them when they come out to take a look at you.

Red-legged Partridge

The three pictures above demonstrate the vagaries of using high ISO speeds in low light. It was a dull wet morning with dawn just breaking and these pictures are hand held on the car window using a 700mm lens, ISO 1600, F8, and low shutter speeds. The first picture is at 1/80sec and has come out well, the second also at 1/80sec is just about acceptable, and the third at 1/320 sec has an unacceptable level of noise even after working on it in Photoshop. It would be nice to know what really works but like most people I end up taking as many combinations as possible and hoping that I get at least one good picture out of it.

I had another day searching Glen Tanar for the Capercaillie and Black Grouse but even with a tip off from a local birder I came away empty handed. I knew this was also a good area for Dipper but was not having any luck with those either, until one of the group, Alan, who is a bit of a closet birder, said he had seen them at a location I had already searched four times.
A quick trip the next morning and I had some superb views.


Must have a nest nearby

With my friends returning home I headed off to Fowlsheugh, a seabird colony just south of Stonehaven on the Aberdeenshire coast. 

Where there had been a shortage of birds up in the Cairngorms there were plenty to see at Fowlsheugh. The cliffs had Kittiwakes, Guillemots, Razorbills, Fulmar, Rock Pipits, and Rock Doves. Out to sea there were Eider and Gannets and on the cliff tops hirundines, Yellowhammers and Meadow Pipits.

Guillimot - including one bridled variety


Meadow Pipit

Yellow Hammer

Next stop was an overnight at Musselburgh and a look around the estuary and lagoons. The lagoons have been filled with ash from the nearby Cockenezie Power Station and the remaining shallow pools attract large numbers of roosting waders, terns, and gulls - or so my research had told me. In fact the lagoons had now been completely filled with ash and the site was left with what looked like a series of slag heaps. There were still a few scrapes but these only held a couple of Shelduck. Fortunately the estuary was more interesting with both Velvet Scoter and Eider Duck present and with a number of waders moving around.

Female Eider


Velvet Scoter

Again the views are a bit distant but as this was the first time I have seen either of these in the wild they were worth including.

The journey home then crossed the border into England but read the second part which will be in the next blog and covers Bempton Cliffs, Flamborough Head, and Paxton pits.

Wednesday, 1 May 2013


Last week it looked as though the spring migration was really under way. Bonelli's, Reed, Sedge, and Grasshopper Warblers, Corncrake and Nightingale and all showing well. This week it's all quiet again. The weather has been good for photography but the cool northerly wind has deterred movement of the birds and those that are here seem too be staying undercover.

The exception is the Whitethroats that appear to be around in large numbers. So the following is a summary of my birding for the last few days over a variety of sites.

Whitethroat - Pagham Harbour
Whitethroat - Waltham Brooks

Whitethroat -Arlington Reservoir

Whitethroat - Pagham Harbour

They are a nice bird, both to hear and to photograph, but I was even happier to get a photograph of the more elusive Lesser Whitethroat.

Lesser Whitethroat - Pagham Harbour

Lesser Whitethroat - Pagham Harbour

Not much else to report really. My first linnet of the year........

Linnet - Pagham Harbour

and a Blue Tit with a punk hair style.

Blue Tit - Pagham Harbour

Arlington Reservoir proved particularly disappointing. Common Sandpiper and Yellow Wagtails had been reported there but I could not find either. The only consolation was that I could look in on Seaford Head where I would be guaranteed Kittiwakes.




 Nesting on a cliff gives good protection from preditors but it is difficult to see how the eggs and chicks can avoid being knocked over the edge.

High rise communal living

or a more exclusive penthouse