Thursday, 24 October 2013

Glossy Ibis

Standing on the North Wall at Pagham you get accustomed to the Cormorants flying over, so I thought nothing of it as another dark coloured bird flew over my head. It was only when it started to circle that I realised the shape was all wrong, the wings were too long, then the bill came into view. No doubt now, it was a Glossy Ibis. It's no longer a rare bird in Sussex but it was a bit of excitement in a birding day that up to that point was looking a bit bland.

Glossy Ibis - brown rather than black

Probably a juvenile but still showing some greenish gloss.

When you see it in the air by itself it looks like a large bird, it's only when you see it on the ground that you realise how small it is. Especially alongside the cormorant that I had originally mistaken it for. In my defence I can only quote Collins - "distant head on silhouette like a Pygmy Cormorant"

A small bird for a wingspan of anything up to a metre in length

After about 15 minutes it flew off high and distant.  However, based on observation of previous birds, Dave predicted that it would return and sure enough it came back to exactly the same spot about an hour later. This time it only stayed a couple of minutes before flying off again. Some hope then, that it will set up in residence for a while.

Up to that point there had been little of interest. The tide was out and the birds with it. The  Godwits were finding the water level in the Breech Pool too high for feeding and there was a single Ruff that was too far away for a picture. The highlights to that point had been a Heron sitting out on the fence when we walked in and the resident feral White Geese that were making a rare trip out on the water.

Grey Heron

Resident Feral White Geese as much a part of the Breech Pool area as any wild bird.

We then decided to skip Church Norton (Two Ringtail Hen Harriers) the Arundel WWT (Spotted Crake) and Hayling Island (Semipalmated Plover refound) and headed up to the Burgh to see some raptors. Perhaps not our best ever decision making but at least we did get to see some close flybys from the Red Kites there.

A good days birding, even if we did miss a few opportunities.

Wednesday, 23 October 2013

Dartford Warblers

I met up with Dave today and we headed up to Lavington. It was windy and with squally rain but we were still hopeful of finding birds on the commons. In fact the plantation proved the best location with in excess of a hundred Fieldfares circling the site and coming down to strip the berries off the Rowans. The birds were not easy to photograph as the trees were in heavy shade and the birds were just grabbing a berry and flying, but they were great to watch.

A blurred tail as he tries to balance in the wind

A Red-Nose Day supporter

Later we managed to find some Dartford Warblers. There were at least four but possibly six although we may have double counted the last two. Their behaviour was interesting as well. At least one of the males was singing and two of the males had an ongoing dispute backwards and forwards across the territory for most of the time we were there.

One day I will get that perfect shot of a male sitting out on the gorse but for the moment I will have to settle for a couple more record shots of them.

Dartford Warbler looking for food

and hiding in the shadows at the bottom of a Gorse bush

A second good days birding with some great sightings but only poor record shots to show for our efforts. The standard is starting to drop. Next time out I will be looking to get some good quality pictures even if it is of fairly common birds.

Monday, 21 October 2013

Crossbills - Common, Parrot and Two-barred

A day of highs and lows. The birding was great but the photo opportunities were awful. We had travelled over to Hemsted Forest in Kent to see the reported Parrot and Two-barred Crossbills. They had been around for a few days but we hoped that by leaving it to a rainy Monday morning we would avoid being involved in a major twitch. We were partly successful, I would call it a mini-twitch, but the combination of people and poor weather did restrict the photography.

Driving over there in heavy rain we had assumed the worse and had decided that if we could come away with decent pictures of a Common Crossbill we would be happy. Given this expectation I guess we would have to say that the result, getting good views of all three varieties of Crossbill, was a great success. Unfortunately good views do not always lead to good photographs.

Parrot Crossbills - part of a group of six

Male Parrot Crossbill feeding Female

I would have loved to have got closer and to have taken some decent pictures. I don't think that the Crossbills would have minded. I have had them feeding within a few feet of me before and they did not seem bothered. I was more concerned about spooking the rest of the birders that were there observing. On balance though, with the birds at the top of a tall tree and with poor lighting conditions a good picture was unlikely so we settled for just observing.

The Two-barred Crossbill was reported as flying with a flock of Common Crossbills but there were a number of flocks flying in the area so he was difficult to pick up. He is actually in the flock of twelve shown below - the bird on the extreme left. He is more of a raspberry red than the Commons but I really wanted a sideways on shot to show the wing bars. He did oblige but I missed the shot and then had to spend the next hour trying to find him again.

Flock of Common Crossbills with the Two-barred on the extreme left

Eventually he showed up again, very distant but at least I got the shot confirming that he was a Two-barred.

Two-barred Crossbill - smaller than Commons with smaller bill and with the white wing bars showing well

Overall a great days birding. The sun was just coming out as we left and it reminded you of what could have been, but perhaps we will come back once things quieten down a bit.

Common Crossbills - still distant but the sun makes a difference

Thursday, 17 October 2013

Cattle Egret

 I think that I will soon have to remove the word "novice" from the descriptor above. I am starting to notice things that even surprise me.

Today I was searching the salt marshes on Sheppey having made yet another failed attempt to get a picture of the Lesser Yellowlegs at Cliffe Pools. There were a few distant Little Egrets and nothing much else but then there was one bird that did not look quite right. I do not carry a scope so my technique is to take a picture on the 700mm set up I use and then to blow it up on the back of the camera to see what I've got. Its not much use on hazy summer days but works quite well as we move into the crisper, clearer winter days.

My initial shot below showed an Egret but the shape looked wrong, the head was too big and rounded and there was no sign of a dark bill.

View through 700mm lens

Blowing up the shot on the back of the camera confirmed a yellow bill but it was clearly not a Great White Egret as it was too small. That only leaves a Cattle Egret. Initially I had my doubts. I would not expect to see it on a salt marsh. It is an insect eater and in this country would normally be seen around cattle.  A  quick check in Collins confirmed the identification ( I hope! ).

Digital enlargement of the shot above.

 I would have liked a better shot but it was quite mobile and stayed distant so all my shots suffer from being huge crops and over sharpened.

Cattle Egret in Flight

Cattle Egret

There were lots of other waders on the mud flats but very few that were close enough for a picture.

Grey Plover

and one still showing the remnants of its summer plumage

Ringed Plover

 There were also a number of Raptors around. Peregrines, Buzzards, Marsh Harrier, etc but the only picture I managed to get was yet another Kestrel.


And finally a few shots of a Wren hunting insects in the fading light.


There is one around here somewhere.

There were plenty of birds around today although they were mostly the usual suspects and very few were close enough for pictures. Still Sheppey is a new area for me and I enjoyed searching out new birding locations. On the way off the island I went past the entrance to Elmley NNR. It was getting late and its a big site to get around so I decided to leave it for another day. Bad mistake. This evening there is a report of nine White-fronted Geese on the reserve and I haven't managed to see one yet this year.


The identification of the Cattle Egret in this blog was questioned and led to the publishing of a BIRDGUIDES Webzine article, The article and comments are set out below for completeness.

Throughout October and November 2013, a Cattle Egret was reported regularly (although intermittently) from the Isle of Sheppey, in north Kent. The bird, first reported on 3rd October and last seen on 29th November, was generally to be found on the saltmarsh at Harty Ferry, at the south-east end of the island. Despite its being around for several weeks, we received no images directly here at BirdGuides — unusual for such a long-staying scarcity. However, towards the end of last year, Marc Read emailed me a link to Sussex birder Martin Peacock's blog, asking me to have a look at the egret featured in his post from 17th October. On opening it up and looking at the photos of the bird in question — the Harty Ferry bird no less — it was instantly clear that something was wrong. Though labelled as a Cattle Egret, there appeared to be multiple plumage and structural features at odds with that species, although it didn't really seem to fit any of the European or African egret species. I got in touch with Martin to express my thoughts, and he responded with the following:
"The pictures below are of the 'Cattle Egret' seen regularly around Harty Ferry on Sheppey back in October. It was my first Cattle Egret, so I spent some time checking the identification, photographing and learning about the bird. Although I was happy at the time that it could not be anything other than a Cattle Egret, I could not find any pictures on the web that showed examples of black legs and yellow feet as you would find on a Little Egret. The shape of the lower jaw also seemed to be different to the pictures that I was looking at but I put this down to the bird being a juvenile. Finally there was the fact that it was feeding on a saltmarsh along with other Little Egrets, when I would have expected to find it in pastures, feeding around cattle, or in similar habitats.
The shots were published on my blog back in October and I thought nothing more of it. However, since that time I have received queries suggesting that this may be a Little × Cattle Egret hybrid. I have searched the web but although this hybrid is recognised I cannot find any details on what the resulting bird would look like. This is getting a bit beyond my current levels of expertise and I wondered if there is anyone out there that can help me with the identification...
Finally, my apologies for the quality of the pictures. The bird was about quite distant and the pictures are heavily cropped."

Above: the 'Harty Ferry egret', both at rest and in flight, 17th October 2013 (Photos: Martin Peacock).
So, what is it? For starters, it seems quite clear that this isn't a Cattle Egret. Perhaps the most striking feature is the yellow feet (as in Little Egret), but there are other differences that point away from that as a diagnosis. For example, the bill is comparatively long, thin, and posseses a dark tip, while it also appears rather long-necked for that species. The legs are also rather long and spindly. Could it be an aberrant Little Egret? Personally, I'm not sure: facially, it looks quite Cattle Egret-like with those bright yellowish lores and the predominately yellowish bill (which is perhaps a little shorter than on your average Little Egret). Similarly, the neck, though longer than a typical Cattle, looks quite thickset and rather less 'snaky' than you'd expect in a Little Egret. This, along with the quite plump body and shortish legs, give it quite a dumpy, stunted feel.

Composite showing (left to right) Little Egret, the 'Sheppey egret' and Cattle Egret in similar poses, demonstrating the apparently intermediate structure and appearance of the Sheppey bird. Photos of Little Egret (John Freeman) and Cattle Egret (Tom Victory) from the BirdGuides Iris galleries.
Another species with a yellow bill is Intermediate Egret but, like Cattle Egrets, they have black (not yellow) feet and are larger, longer-necked and more elegant-looking than Little Egrets (not smaller and short-necked as in the Kent bird). White-morph Western Reef Egrets would show paler, greenish legs and a duller bill, as well as a different structure. The bird is also clearly not a Great White Egret.
It is at this point that we mention the 'H' word for the first time. Hybrids between herons, egrets and their allies are rare but certainly not unknown. The Handbook of Avian Hybrids of the World lists Cattle Egret as having hybridised with both Little Blue Heron and Snowy Egret in the USA, and with Little Egret in both Europe and Africa. Furthermore, examples of Cattle Egrets apparently hybridising with Squacco Heron have been recorded in the wild in Spain and Italy (see here and here), while an apparent Cattle Egret × Night Heron has been recorded in captivity in Germany (see here).
Therefore, displaying characteristics seemingly intermediate between Cattle and Little Egret, could the Sheppey bird be a hybrid between the two species? Based on what we can see in Martin's photographs, such an assumption certainly seems reasonable. We'd love to hear your views and opinions on the bird — feel free to leave any comments in the section at the foot of this article!


a lesson for all in checking a rarities true identity. how many people must have seen this and just 'ticked' without thinking. photos show very clearly its not a simple cattle and H seems right
   Mark Welfare, 10/01/14 14:08Report inappropriate post Report 
According to Collins....Western Reef Egret (Egretta gularis) can have an all yellow bill, legs greenish grey to black, with yellow toes, clearly it can be cosmetically variable, also size ranges between 55-68cm. (garzetta/Little Egret) 55-65cm. with gularis at the upper range wings can stretch to 112cm as opposed to 106cm for garzetta. Cheers
   Ken Murray, 10/01/14 21:01Report inappropriate post Report 
Well spotted Marc. I wonder how many people saw this and didn't question the ID?
   Andy Lawson, 10/01/14 22:23Report inappropriate post Report 
Hybrid Little x Cattle looks the most likely. It is obviously not a proper Cattle Egret and to be honest I am surprised that it was reported as such for so long.
   Steve Lister, 11/01/14 12:55Report inappropriate post Report 
Why not simply a Little Egret, with an individual fault in the complex mechanisms for controlling the production and accumulation of melanin. Perhaps, with the substitution of a carotenoid-based bill colour?
   Colin Selway, 12/01/14 14:23Report inappropriate post Report 
Perhaps worth remembering that juvenile Little Egrets can look like this Of course this isnt a juv but individual variation can occur, what did these birds look like when they fledged!
   Richard Ford, 15/01/14 00:17Report inappropriate post Report 
On the Western Reef v Little point Ken Murray raised - it should perhaps be noted that the tip of the bird's bill appears to be decurved. Normally regarded as a distinguishing characteristic between these two easily confused species.
   kev roy, 15/01/14 17:34Report inappropriate post Report 
A breeding plumaged Cattle Egret was present in North Kent last spring and was seen on Higham Marsh, Cliffe and finally Northward Hill close to a Little Egret colony............
   Paul Larkin., 15/01/14 17:38

Saturday, 12 October 2013


Ring Ouzels have caused me a great deal of wasted time this year with my only sighting being a brief glimpse as one was spooked from the Cissbury Yew by a Sparrow Hawk.

I was not going out today. For me Saturday is not a birding day, but I was keeping an eye on the birding reports. Ring Ouzels were everywhere - Blackdown, Sheepcote, Pagham, Portslade, then 200+ at Hastings and 400 at Beachy Head. Then one reported at Cissbury. There were sure to be more. A chance for good views and a photograph. It was late afternoon but I had to go.

You guessed it. A walk around the ring and visits to the Rifle Butts gave me nothing. The only option was to spend more time standing in front of the Yew tree waiting for another brief glimpse. And that's exactly what happened. An hours wait, a flash of silvery grey as something crashed into the Yew tree and then the contented calls of a Ring Ouzel from deep within the tree. Dipped it yet again!

Fortunately there is an almost tame juvenile female Kestrel on the Ring. It seems totally indifferent to the presence of people although the dogs do cause it to move on. Standing in the middle of the patch that it was hunting over I was able to get some great photographs before the light faded.

This shot taken at 1/160 sec showing how the Kestrel can hold its head and eye steady, to aid hunting,
 despite the rapid wing movements.

Not what I was looking for but at least something worth photographing. The Ring Ouzels will have to wait for another day. The trouble is that the weather forecast for next week does not look that good and I am starting to run out of days.

Tuesday, 8 October 2013

Rose-coloured Starling

It was located with a flock of Starlings on the Selsey seafront but don't expect the bright pink of an adult male. This was a juvenile so it looks a bit like a washed out Common Starling but with a pale yellow bill and showing some contrast between a pale body and darker wings. That is, if you can see the body and wings in my pictures, as the bird stayed well hidden in bushes where the rest of the starling flock was feeding on the blackberries.

Thinking of coming out into the open

But happier staying in deep cover

If I was just a birder I would probably have been happy going away with a life tick but as a bird photographer you are left with the feeling that there was a better shot to be had. The trouble is that I will probably see it on other people's blogs over the next few days.

It's funny seeing something exotic like the Rose-coloured Starling alongside our plain old common Starling. Sometimes we don't see what is in front of us. Perhaps we should look a little harder at what is one of our most colourful birds. Shots below from the same starling flock.

Brilliant colours at this time of year

Looks more like a bird of the rain forests than the British lawn

Returning from Selsey we stopped off at Pagham North Wall. It seemed quiet although we did manage to find around ten Snipe on the back of the Breech Pool. Dave also spotted a Barnacle Goose in amongst the Canada Geese.

Barnacle Goose showing white face and black breast

There were also some Barnacle/Canada crosses on the pool with what appeared to be part of the family group.

Two black breasts at the back suggesting Barnacle - one with Canada Goose face one more like Barnacle

It has been a bit slow on the rest of the birding front. I am still chasing Ring Ouzels. I caught a glimpse of one as it was flushed from the Yew tree on Cissbury by a Sparrowhawk but there was no chance of a picture. Hopeful there will be a few more through soon. As always there was a consolation and this time it was Mistle Thrushes in the same tree.

Mistle Thrush

Kestrels are also easy to photograph on Cissbury. This one was taken looking straight into the sun. A bit more artistic than record shot and it would have been deleted without the bokeh effects in the background.

Kestrel with bokeh effect