Wednesday, 25 September 2013

Spotted Crake

Wednesday saw myself and Dave heading off to North Kent in search of the Lesser Yellowlegs reported at Cliffe Pools and the Spotted Crake at Oare Marshes. They were both new sites for us and the first, Cliffe Pools, did give us a few problems, both in the location of the entrance and car parking areas. Take a good map if you decide to go there. We ended up walking a couple of miles to get to the location of the bird, only to find that we could have driven to within a few yards of the viewing point.

There were three birders there when we arrived including Mick Davis and John Stanton. Although the Yellowlegs had been giving good views it had just been spooked and had flown to the back of the pool which was a bit of a disappointment. You could just about make out the bird looking through the binoculars but even with a telescope I could not really make out the distinguishing features. All I could say was that it was something like a Redshank but with lighter coloured legs.

It's always a bit difficult when you hit this situation. I know it was the Yellowlegs that I was looking at and Mick and John had "kindly" shown me pictures of what I had just missed, but my criteria is - see and identify the bird on the spot or take away suitable pictures for later identification. Given the lighting conditions and the distance involved there was no chance of a picture and at the moment I am not good enough to make the identification. So I dipped on this one. Disappointing as the same thing happened to me recently with the Sykes's/Booted Warbler at Climping.

Other than the Yellowlegs and a lot of Great Crested Grebes there was little else to look at on the site. I am sure it will be a great location in the winter but there seemed little point in spending much time there now.

Our second location was Oare Marshes. Easier to find and bird-wise a totally different prospect. If I had been wondering why there were few waders on the south coast I now had the answer, they were all roosting at Oare Marshes. It was difficult to take a picture that conveys the sight and sounds and we spent some time just looking at the roosting birds and various flocks as they circled over the marsh pools.

A small selection of the birds present

Some of the hundred or so Avocets on the marsh pools

No landing space for the Black-tailed Godwits - I decided not to count them

After a time we remembered why we had come to the site and set off for the East hide to see if the Spotted Crake was around. We spoke to a couple of birders who had been waiting an hour or so for a sighting. Fortunately we had timed it just right and the Crake made an appearance albeit very much hidden by the reeds.

Spotted Crake

In its usual reed bed habitat

The other birders all moved on and we were left waiting for the next picture opportunity. You always believe that the next picture will be better and this time we were proved to be right as the Spotted Crake made its way out onto the bank and disappeared under a thick bramble.

Emerging onto the grass bank

Out in the open

 We stood around feeling pleased with ourselves and thinking that we would not see it again. We started packing to leave and then it stepped out onto the path in front of us and stood looking at us for a few seconds. Do you reach for the camera and risk scaring it away or do you just enjoy the moment? In practice we did something in-between the two and managed to scare the bird away without getting the photograph. Still a great moment.

A final few minutes looking at the birds as the sun started to go down finished of what had turned out to be a great day.


Golden Plover

Golden Plover

Monday, 23 September 2013


A mixed bag of birds, locations and weather today. We started out in overcast conditions with a visit to Cissbury Ring and a stakeout on the Yew tree that Ring Ouzels stop over in
each year. The climb up the hill probably did us good and we had a pleasant hour or so looking at the view but there was no sign of the Ring Ouzels or of any other birds apart from a few crows.

Next stop was Pagham North Wall to see if I could improve on my Curlew Sandpiper pictures. No luck again as they had moved further down the creek on the rising tide but there was a Ruff on the Breech Pool and the usual collection of Black-tailed Godwits along with a couple of Spotted Redshanks and a few Snipe that were showing well.

Ruff in amongst the Godwits

on alert

and feeding

The Snipe were more active than usual, feeding, running around, aggressive behaviour, and tail fanning. Perhaps practising courtship techniques for next year!



With the weather improving we decided to move on to Church Norton to have another look for the Pied Flycatcher. It had been seen just before we arrived but as with the previous day it had gone into hiding when I arrived. There were even more Spotted Flycatchers about today. It was difficult to do an accurate count but probably ten or more just in the area outside of the church grounds.

So yet more pictures of Spotties:-

Spotted Flycatcher

Likes butterflies as well as Flies

So we dipped out on our three targets for the day but we still had a good days birding and enjoyed the Autumn sunshine.

Sunday, 22 September 2013

Spotted Flycatchers

The title should really have said Pied Flycatcher. I spent yet another session chasing around after a reported sighting of a Pied Flycatcher without getting even a glimpse of it and, in the end, not even being sure that it was ever there. The consolation, there were four or five Spotted Flycatchers and they were showing well.

The location was Church Norton and today for a change the birds were really showing well. There were the Spotties, Blackcap, Wheatear, Redstart, Kestrel, Wood Warbler which I did not manage to see, various Finches, Hirundines, and even a Red-legged Partridge in the field next to the Church. The downside, the lighting was really poor. Most of my pictures were at ISO800, f8, and around 1/80 sec, so most were failures. But, as always, there are a couple of reasonable shots amongst them.

Spotted Flycatcher

The Spotties seem to come down out of the tree tops towards the end of the day and use lower perches, in this case the gravestones, for their feeding forays. I assume they are just following the food.

Spotted Flycatcher and prey

Always interested to see what the photographers are doing

There were not many other birds in range of a photograph in the low light levels but this Wheatear did come down into the church yard and seemed to be copying the Spotted Flycatchers feeding techniques.


Perhaps I should give up on the Pied Flycatcher for this year and head off to Wales next spring to get a male in full breeding plumage.

Monday, 16 September 2013

Ring-necked Parakeet

With the birding on the south  coast still slow we decided to visit the London Wetland Centre to see if the Garganey was still there and also Richmond Park to catch up with the Ring-necked Parakeets. This was my first visit to the Wetland Centre as I had been put off by the thought of the drive through London. It's not my idea of the best way to start a days birding.

Actually, the drive up there wasn't too bad but the birding was just as slow as our local patch. There were plenty of ducks around including Shoveler and Gadwall but no Garganey that we could see and very few other birds. There were a couple of Snipe visible but no other waders. It's an impressive site and I think we would visit again but I would need convincing that it attracts the waders in the winter.

When we told a local birder that we were going off in search of Parakeets and that it would be a life tick for me in this country he fell about laughing. The birds are very common up there, as we were to find out later, and he found it difficult to believe that we did not have them on the south coast. In fact they are a very sedentary species and will not move out of their home patch unless forced to, so their migration south has been very slow.

Ring-necked Parakeet

I have to say , the bird does look unusual flying around in an English park, but it is very colourful and is great to see. There is no difficulty in finding them as the loud squawking sound immediately tells you where to look. The problem is that they quickly disappear once they land in a tree.

Blending in well with the leaf cover

Bright red beak making it easier to spot

At one point we were searching a tree for three or four birds that we had seen land. They were proving difficult to isolate from the background of twigs and leaves but then something spooked them and fifty plus birds suddenly irrupted from the tree. 

Even Parakeets need some peace and quiet

Iridescent colours when the sun catches them

The bird, also known as a Rose-ringed Parakeet was first recorded as successfully breeding in the wild in England in 1969. The population is believed to have been established by birds that escaped from aviaries and others released by sailors returning from the tropics. It is an aggressive bird and a hole-nester and there is concern that it might drive out British hole-nesting species such as woodpeckers. It also causes major crop damage, especially to fruit trees. As such it has been classified as a pest.

Pest or not it is a great bird to see

You also have to look out for the local wildlife. I always keep an eye out for adders when I walk across the commons but treading on a sleeping stag in the undergrowth is a different scale of problem.

Tread carefully

At the moment the stags are calm but give it another few weeks, when they are in full rut, getting back to the car could be a bit more difficult.

I think another visit to the park is called for in a few weeks time, when the stags will be in rut and the Parakeets will have less leaf cover to hide in.

Wednesday, 11 September 2013

Black Tern

There has been a distinct lack of birds showing over the past week with even the local resident birds keeping a low profile. Reports from sites along the south coast have indicated similar situations. In an effort to liven up the birding and the blogs, we decided to travel down to the Lymington-Keyhaven Nature Reserve. Pennington Marsh as it is more commonly known.

When I was last there at the beginning of August to see the Long-billed Dowitcher there were a lot of birds about and recent reports on the Hampshire site had looked good. In particular we hoped to see Black Terns and to get some decent pictures of Curlew Sandpiper and there was always the chance that Dave would get to see the Long-billed Dowitcher that was still being reported occasionally.

When we got there it looked like another bad decision. The lagoons were mostly dry and there were no birds to be seen on them. Even the Coots had disappeared. We sat for a while and watched the seaward side as the tide came in. There were a few Dunlin and Ringed Plover being driven in by the rising tide and a couple of Pied Wagtails feeding off the mud. Interesting but not what we had driven all that way for. At least the Herring Gull that joined us for lunch gave some picture opportunities.

Herring Gull and Friend

Lets Play

Having eaten our lunch we decided to walk along to the jetty. It's a good spot for Turnstones, if you want them, and there are a number of posts sticking out of the water that are used by the Gulls and Terns.

There were a couple of Terns there when we arrived and others flew in as we watched. The problem was that they were mostly juveniles with just a couple of adults in transition between summer and winter plumage. I had not given any thought as to how to identify Juvenile Terns and we had left the Collins back in the car. The Sandwich Terns were easy to identify but the Commons and Blacks were giving us a bit of a problem. Local birdwatchers seemed equally confused. In the end it was a case of photograph everything and try and work it out later.

Two Common Terns and a Sandwich

Common Tern

They look different but it must be two Commons

Juvenile Black Tern

Juvenile Black Tern

So, not many birds about but still an interesting day and at least I have learnt something about identifying Juvenile Terns. I will have to start thinking about amending the novice birder description in my introduction.

Tuesday, 10 September 2013

Arlington and the Cuckmere

The birding has been a bit disappointing this week. I was out Monday at Pagham Harbour still hoping to catch up with a Pied Flycatcher before they all disappear and also to get a photograph of the Little Stints on the Ferry Pool. I did get to see the Stints through a telescope, but there was no chance of a picture as they were on the far side of the pool.

There are often good birds on the pool but they usually stay well away from the road and the hide. Top of my wish list, now that the RSPB has taken over at Pagham, is for them to somehow get permission to build a hide on the south side of the Ferry Pool giving views out over the more promising western end.

There were a few Spotted Flycatchers around the churchyard but no sign of a Pied so my only photographs for the day were of Wheatears on the North Wall.

Today has not been much better. We set off with targets of pictures of the Little Stint at Arlington Reservoir and Curlew Sandpiper at Cuckmere Haven. A walk round Arlington gave plenty of ducks and geese but only distant views of a Greenshank and no sign of the Little Stint. Fortunately the Pied Wagtails on the dam wall were as obliging as always.

Juvenile Pied Wagtail

Initially the Cuckmere looked promising. Plenty of birds on the mud looking to be about the right size for the Curlew Sandpiper. Closer inspection though, showed them all to be Dunlin. Nice birds and easy to photograph but not what we came for.

There were also a good number of Ringed Plover along the river banks, along with a Bar-tailed Godwit, a Redshank and a couple of Sandwich Terns. The birds were regularly flushed by dogs but still gave some good views.

Ringed Plover

Juvenile Ringed Plover

Bar-tailed Godwit

Juvenile Redshank

On the way home we called in at Seaford and had a look around Hope Gap. The best we saw was four Jackdaws flying over. Nothing else was moving. This was my third visit in the past couple of months and my best sightings list so far. It must be a timing issue. I will have to make an early morning visit to see if I can connect with the sort of birding list that is regularly reported from there.

I suppose we had a good days birding but it would have been so much better if we had hit one of our targets. Fortunately there are still a few butterflies around to compensate for the missed birds.

Common Blue

Small Heath

Wednesday, 4 September 2013

Red-backed Shrike

I have been watching the reports of the juvenile Red-backed Shrike for the past three days. I wanted to see the bird but I did not want to get involved with the crowds that tend to gather for anything unusual. It's a fine balancing act, leaving time for the crowds to dissipate but not leaving it too long in case the bird leaves as well. When we set off for Rottingdean this morning I thought we had probably blown this one but it was still worth a look.

To our surprise this turned out to be a real result. One birder just leaving as we arrived; the bird showing well and only about twenty yards away; perfect conditions for photography; and two hours with Dave and me as the only people watching it.

Searching for food

Lovely bird to photograph

Caught a number of bees

Taking a rest

Posing for pictures


Pulling the wings and legs off

A tasty morsel - one of many

No fear of people

 We were not the only ones exited by the Shrike. Some of the local Whitethroats clearly did not want it on their patch. This aggressive male chased it away from one of its favourite perches but stayed well clear of that beak.

Aggressive Whitethroat enjoying his captured perch

The Shrike seemed more interested in feeding than fighting as did most of the other Whitethroats. They seemed to have switched from an insect to a berry diet and were busy feeding on the Blackberries.

Whitethroat fattening up on the blackberries

I usually reckon on a success rate of about one good picture in every hundred shots taken. Today I came away with more than twenty shots worth keeping, I saw a great bird close up, and got a life tick for this country. By any standard that makes it a good days birding.