Sunday, 30 June 2013

Dartford Warblers and Others

The birding is proving to be hard work at the moment. The end of June through to early August is always slow. There is no migration movement, there is plenty of cover for the birds to hide in, and the birds are not displaying for territory or mates as they were a month ago. This summer seems worse than ever and my own experience would seem to suggest that a lot of the birds have simply not arrived this year.

I commented in a previous post on how I had only seen two Stonechats so far this year. Like buses the next time I went out I saw at least eight in the same location on Iping Common.

Male Stonechat

Juvenile Stonechat

Hoping for a repeat performance - I have only seen one Redstart and have not seen a Spotted Flycatcher at all. If I could also add Turtle Dove to that list I could be a happy man after my next trip out.

I would have added Dartford Warbler to that list but I did manage to catch up with a pair on one of the commons. I had caught a couple of fleeting glimpses at the same location but did not feel that it was good enough for my year tick particularly as on both occasions the birds did not reappear. Fortunately on a recent early evening visit I was able to watch the pair gathering food for about half an hour. I kept my distance and with poor lighting the picture opportunities were limited. The shot below rescued by heavy cropping and from strong back lighting was the best I could manage.

Another almost picture - One in the bush and one flying

I also visited Warnham LNR. There was nothing unusual about in the way of avian life but I had some really weird lighting conditions. All my pictures appeared to have a colour cast but when you look at them they have both green and magenta in the same picture. This cannot happen as they are opposite ends of the spectrum (as far as Photoshop is concerned) and anyway the whites look clean. Even when desaturated as in the second picture the colours look wrong. Marvellous things the eyes, the scenes all looked perfectly normal to me on the day.

Great Crested Grebe

Young Grey Heron

This young Grey Heron looks like a nice friendly bird, not like the older version below, a true predator.

Grey Heron - Pagham North Wall

Also at the North Wall a Common Tern but not much else.

Common Tern

I did walk down to the lagoon to see the Female Scaup that had been reported there but I seem to have picked the one day when there were no sightings.

Actually there was one other sighting. The local police checking out the north wall, the lagoon, and the spit, and challenging one suspicious individual out on the mud. Given the recent vandalism to the spit hide this can only be seen as positive.

Patrolling the Harbour

Do this every day and he is going to have an impressive year list in his note book.

When the birding has been slow I have been adding to my collection of Butterfly and Dragonfly pictures although it is only in the last couple of weeks that the butterflies have started to appear in any numbers.

Another Four Spotted Chaser

Silver-studded Blue

Speckled Wood
Small Tortoiseshell

Adonis Blue

There have been some missed shots as well. An Emperor Dragonfly, a truly impressive species, that did not land in all the time I watched it. I took about fifty shots of it in flight but there is not a single decent shot amongst them. Also  a Green Hairstreak, searched for but not found. Next time perhaps.

Thursday, 20 June 2013

Dragonflies and Damselflies

I know very little about Dragonflies and Damselflies but I am keen to learn. They are one of the key indicators that summer has arrived. They are colourful, fascinating to watch, and great to photograph. They are also about on hot summer days when most of the birds are on siesta time.

These are a few pictures taken on a couple of days out when the birding was a bit slow. I must confess that until recently I only knew these as red, blue, or green, with perhaps a fat or thin descriptor to help differentiate between them. Although I could probably have told you the difference between the Dragonfly and the Damselfly. I have now invested in the "Field Guide to the Dragonflies and Damselflies of Great Britain and Ireland" and will be attempting to put a name to all the species that I photograph. Please feel free to correct any mistakes I may make.

The following pictures were taken on the 19th June on Iping Common, Ambersham Common, and at Lords Piece.

Broad-bodied Chaser

Broad-bodied Chaser
Broad-bodied Chaser

The Chasers are a fairly easy dragonfly to photograph. They patrols a small area of the pond bank to defend it against other males, but are happy to sit out on a suitable perch where they can observe their territory. This gives good opportunities to get close.

The blue looks a lot deeper in real life.

Four-spotted Chaser

Four-spotted Chaser
Four-spotted Chaser

Large Red Damselfly with prey
Blue-tailed Damselfly

Common Blue Damselfly
Azure Damselfly

The next few pictures are of the two species of Demoiselles in the UK. They were taken by the road bridge just below the weir on the Cuckmere River close to Arlington Reservoir. The two species should really be in different habitats with the Beautiful favouring fast flowing, clean, pebble or sand bottomed streams and the banded slow flowing, muddy bottomed streams or rivers. Previous years I have only seen the banded here but the river does seem to be running higher and faster this year.

Banded Demoiselle ( I think! )
Banded Demoiselle
Beautiful Demoiselle

Beautiful Demoiselle in flight

A great start to the dragonfly season. A life list, year list, and Sussex list are already starting to form and the Sussex commons provided some of the best habitats in the country. They will fill the summer months when the birding starts to slow and along with the butterflies I now have an excuse to put off all the DIY jobs for a bit longer.

Wednesday, 19 June 2013

Sussex Commons

I had a few disappointing days wandering around the Sussex Commons earlier in the year. The open heathland, the walking and the scenery were all great but the commons seemed devoid of bird life. You tend to expect more from such a unique environment. I have not been back since, but having seen a few promising reports on the SOS web site over the last couple of weeks, and knowing that the dragonflies would be about, I thought it would be worth another look.

I started off on Iping and Stedham Commons. Initial impressions were good, a lot of singing and plenty of birds flying. However, it did not last long, by 10am with the temperature gradually increasing and the humidity rising it started to go quiet. There were birds about but they were hard to find.

Tree Pipit

The Tree Pipits were perhaps the easiest to spot but they are going to have a difficult time nesting on the ground here. There were notices up all around the common asking for dogs to be kept under close control to protect the ground nesting birds, but of the thirty or forty dogs I saw on the common none were on leads and most were running backwards and forwards through the scrub. It was perhaps fortunate that there was nothing around for them to chase.

Tree Pipit

I did have a few doubts over this second Tree Pipit when I saw the length of the claws but the identifying feature is the rear claw which is shorter and more curved than on the Meadow Pipit and this can be seen in the picture above.


Stonechats seem to be in short supply this year. This is only the second one that I have seen so I was pleased that he was looking so smart.


I am still trying to get a good picture of a Treecreeper. They are fast moving and usually stay in the shadows so it is hard to get a good shot of them. When they do come out into the sun the silky white on there underside burns out as soon as the sunlight hits it


There were Yellowhammers about on the common but my pictures there were poor so this is a shot taken on Cissbury Ring on the way home.

I tried Ambersham and Lavington Commons but by midday both were very quiet. Fortunately we are now into the dragonfly season so most of the day was spent photographing these. Getting good pictures is just as challenging as with the birds but you don't usually have to walk so far. Something I was grateful for on a hot afternoon.

See my next blog for the pictures.

Thursday, 13 June 2013

American Golden Plover

I was up at 5.30 on Wednesday morning, ready to go down to Cuckmere Haven to see the AGP, but rain and poor light helped convince me that the bird would have moved on, so it was back to bed with a cup of tea for a copy of Birdwatch. I was not quite so happy later that day when I read that the AGP was still there and showing well.

Thursday morning and I set off convinced that it would be a wasted journey but not willing to make the same mistake twice. Fortunately the bird, which had been found by Matt Eade, was still showing well and there were only a couple of people around when I arrived. All credit to Matt as I don't think that I could have spotted the difference between this and a Golden Plover, but then I have only ever seen the Golden as a distant flock bird and do not have a close up photograph to compare it with.

American Golden Plover

It's nice to have a photograph to take home so that you can sit down later and really understand the identifying features. So on these pictures I can identify:-

  • Four primaries projecting beyond the tertials
  • Wing tips projecting beyond the tail-tip
  • More white in the supercilium than for a Golden
  • Gold spangled on upper parts - but more confined to the upper mantle

I did also see the grey underwing when it stretched its wings but I was a bit slow on getting the photograph.

Showing gold on the upper mantle, projecting primaries and wing tip beyond tail tip

It's not that I don't trust the experts but if I am ever going to learn I have to be convinced that I can make the identification. If you want more details on identification have a look at Matt's blog    -     now added to my recommended list on the right.

I stayed watching the bird for about an hour hoping to get a flight picture but with the number of observers gradually increasing I was reminded of why I tend to avoid twitches and decided to move on. The bird did not seem to be phased by the birders, nor by a party of about 40 school children going past less than 20 ft away, but I was. Everyone deserves a chance to see the bird but too many people around takes the bird out of its real environment and takes me away from what I really like in birding. It also spoils the background!

Wandering back to the car I came across this distant view of a Black Swan on the meanders. Unless it has completed a long flight from Australia it will be a bird that has escaped or been released from captivity. So cannot count this one, but who knows what will happen in the future. The BTO has reported that in 2003 there were 43 of these birds at large and that attempts had been made to breed. It may well be added to the list at some time in the future.

I stopped at Arlington Reservoir on the way home to eat my lunch but missed out on the Osprey yet again, it now seems to be settling into an early morning slot for fishing. I then made a quick trip to a local wood to have a look at a Great Spotted Woodpecker's nest. The birds are easy to view but the lighting is poor even on a sunny day. I was quite pleased with these shots given that they are at slow shutter speeds on a 700mm lens set up.

chick with red crown (ISO 640, f7, 1/13sec)
Female feeding  ISO640, f7, 1/15sec)
Male feeding   (ISO 640, f7, 1/25sec)

There were plenty of other birds about. The usual Chaffinch, singing its heart out - balanced on one leg!

Also a Jay, that I ended up stalking for about a quarter of an hour, but it would not come out into the light. This shot could have been so much better with a bit more depth of field and a couple of stops more on the shutter speed.

Jay  (ISO640, f7, 1/25sec) - My missed shot of the week

I could have got faster shutter speeds by increasing the ISO, but despite what the camera manufacturers say I think the quality has gone once you get above ISO400, particularly if you are cropping the shot.

And finally in the reed beds a Little Egret, always great to watch.

Friday, 7 June 2013

Little Tern

Being determined to catch up with a Little Tern I had another trip over to Rye Harbour. This time I was more successful, although I didn't quite get the crystal clear image I had envisaged of the male Little Tern passing a fish to the female. At about 100 metres distance and barely visible through the binoculars this falls more into the Kitsonian school of photography than the style I had been looking for. Still I follow the mantra of

 - see the bird
 - get a record shot
 - get a quality picture

To you this may look a rubbish picture but at the moment it takes pride of place in my collection and gives me a life tick. Just a pity that it doesn't look quite as good as the shots of the decoys that I had in a previous blog, but it will do until I can get a better picture.

best kept as a small image!

(Apologies to those that don't get the Kitsonian reference and no disrespect is intended to a birder who has more knowledge than than I will ever get in my lifetime).

Rye Harbour held the expected Common and Sandwich Terns along with Black Headed and Mediterranean Gulls. There were also Dunlin, Godwits, Wheatear, and lots of Avocets although I missed the two Knot that were reported later that day.


I had then planned to return via Pett Levels but after being told of a Redstart showing well at Dungeness Power Station I headed off there instead. Bad mistake, I could not find the Redstart and others that went to Pett Levels did get to see a Turtle Dove which was the next target bird on my list. However, there was consolation in a Marsh Harrier over the ARC pit.

Marsh Harrier

Would have been a great picture if the bird had a head!

Out again around Arlington Reservoir the next day, with Dave who seems to be getting fed up with being at home ill. Either that or he is not happy that my year list is now longer than his. We were looking for the Turtle Dove and we did have a possible sighting but we could not relocate the birds so this will have to wait for another day.

We spent most of the day with Dave happily photographing his Orchids and insects and with me thinking that I need to invest in a decent Macro lens. I think I will keep the Dragonfly and Butterfly shots for a separate blog but I was pleased with one in flight shot and it gives me hope of capturing some of the more difficult Dragonflies that never seem to settle.

Beautiful Demoiselle in flight

Nothing very exciting on the birding front but nice views of a Collared Dove and the much under rated Dunnock.

Collared Dove


One of the highlights of the day came whilst we were having a bacon sandwich and a cup of tea. We had been watching a Mistle Thrush gathering food and taking it to a nearby nest. All was going well until a Jay strayed a bit to close. A couple of very aggressive parents soon saw it off. It was all too fast for me to get a picture but here is a more peaceful shot of one of the birds.

Mistle Thrush gathering food