Tuesday, 26 November 2013

Bearded Tits and Others

I spent most of Sunday over at Farlington Marsh with Dave looking for the White-fronted Geese. We must have searched over a thousand Geese but could find no sign of our target bird and I returned home without a single picture.

The White-fronted were reported again on Monday so we decided to give it another go. There was some encouragement early on when we saw a flock of about sixteen Bearded Tits and also had glimpses of a Cetti's Warbler. A good start but there were no pictures and as lunch time approached it was becoming clear that the White-fronted were not on the Marsh.

All very depressing and it was looking like another days birding with very little to show for it. Then out on the marsh Dave saw his lucky black rabbit from last year and suddenly lots of birds started to appear.

A Marsh Harrier flying over, a Buzzard sitting out on the marsh, and a Kestrel that was to give us some great views. We found the Kestrel first sitting in one of the bushes by the side of the path.


Later we watched her hunting from another tree then catching and eating some unfortunate small mammal.


Decapitating its lunch

Trying for the big mouthful

Resting after lunch

The bird seemed unconcerned about people and even allowed a dog walker to pass within about twenty feet whilst it was sitting in the tree just above head hight.

Whilst watching the Kestrel we also had a pair of Stonechats close by on the sea wall.



We also managed to refind the Bearded Tit flock we had seen early in the morning. They were moving deep within the reed bed and were difficult to photograph but I did manage a couple of record shots.

Bearded Tit

Bearded Tit

There was still no sign of our target species the White-fronted Geese but by this time we were a lot less concerned. We will catch up with the geese another day.

In the afternoon we decided to head back into Sussex and visit Pagham North Wall. Recent changes to the drainage there have resulted in a lower water level and a lot more mud which should start to attract more waders.

It is probably also the reason why we found four Water Rail out on the mud feeding around the edges of the reed beds. They are not the most sociable of birds and they spent a lot of their time squealing at and fighting each other. Great to watch but it's just a shame they were not a bit closer.

The Chase
The Fight

A Victor

Much more enjoyable birding today with a lot of new bird behaviour observed. Lets hope the weather holds and we can have a repeat tomorrow.

Friday, 22 November 2013

Arundel WWT Kingfisher

I have made a couple of visits to the Arundel WWT hoping to photograph Firecrests and Bullfinches. Monday was wet, windy and dull and I came away without a single picture. Today looked a lot better so I thought I would give it another go.

The weather cooperated but the birds didn't. I got two or three glimpses of distant Bullfinches and a blurred shot of a Grey Wagtail and I really didn't see much else in the way of wild birds.

Feeling sorry for myself I headed back to the visitors centre with the intention of heading home. When I arrived there the Kingfisher was sitting on one of its favourite perches just outside the picture windows. Favourite with the Kingfisher that is, but not with me as the only way you can photograph it is through the glass and I would not normally bother. In fact Dave and I had sat there the day before drinking tea and watching the bird on the same perch.

Today desperation was creeping in. I didn't want to go home empty handed again. The window looked reasonably clean so I thought I would give it a go.


The pictures are not perfect and they would not stand enlarging much above what you see here but it was nice to be able to get some shots of a Kingfisher stretching its wings and preening.


Its not much to show for two birding trips but its better than nothing. Lets hope that's the bad days out of the way and things will pick up again now.

Tuesday, 19 November 2013

Lesser Yellowlegs & Long-billed Dowitcher

I came away from our last trip to Lepe Country Park happy that I had seen a Lesser Yellowlegs and happy that I had a record shot to prove it. It was a good result after the four failed attempts at the Cliffe Pools bird. However, the record shot was heavily cropped and there was scope for improvement

Looking at the map of the Dark Water area I estimate that it was taken from a distance of over 200 metres so I was lucky to get anything recognisable on the shot. The challenge was to get closer to the bird and with recent report putting it back on the Stansore Point pool the opportunity was there. So this morning Dave and I headed off into Hampshire once again.

It took a while to locate the bird. It was on the back of the pool and out of sight for most of the time so we had a long wait in the biting cold wind. Fortunately there were plenty of small birds around to practice on whilst we waited. My favourite being the Dunnock.


Eventually the bird relocated towards the front of the pool, a distance of about 60 metres. Still not ideal but at least we could get some better shots.

Lesser Yellowlegs

We waited to see if it would come closer but instead it took off and disappeared over the back of the pool. It was getting colder so we decided to relocate ourselves and went off to find the local cafe and a cup of hot tea.

Next stop was Pennington Marsh where I was hoping to improve on my pictures of the Long-billed Dowitcher. Another long wait in the cold wind but eventually we found it on the back of the Jetty Pool. I will spare you most of the pictures. It a shy bird and its nature is to stay well hidden in the reeds and today this one was living up to its reputation.

Long-billed Dowitcher in hiding

I would have liked to have got better pictures but you can't win every time. We were lucky. How often is it that you get see two rare American vagrants in one day?

Friday, 15 November 2013

Great Grey Shrike

Thursday afternoon saw me over at Waltham Brooks looking for the Great Grey Shrike. Both birds had been seen in the morning but neither seemed to be present whilst I was there. Having returned empty handed yesterday I was up early and over at the Brooks by 07.30 this morning.There was little point in viewing from the road. The early morning sun is straight into your eyes and photographs would be impossible. Instead I took the footpath to a point south of where I expected the bird to be and hid in one of the bushes.

Fortunately I did not have to wait long before one of the birds turned up. First views were a bit disappointing. It did not look like the sleek hunting bird I had remembered from Thursley Common. Instead it looked like a cute cuddly child's toy.

Great Grey Shrike - seems pretty relaxed

I am sure it knew where I was standing but it did not seem concerned and sat for a good ten minutes whilst I took pictures of it. It was quite a chilly morning so it was probably happier sitting under fluffed up feathers than having to fly around.

At one point It saw something that interested it and seemed about to take off but then thought better of it.

Looking more like a mini polar bear

After a while it started to get a bit more active, moving around between various perches and starting to look more like the Great Grey Shrike I remembered.

Looks more of a hunter now

By about 0915 there were a number of birders starting to gather on the road and it seemed like a wise move to withdraw from the position I was holding. As I left the bird headed over towards the road. Perhaps it was interested to see who its next group of admirers were.

I was pleased. It had been a good morning. I would be back home by ten with some decent pictures and I had also had good views of at least another twenty species.

Wednesday, 13 November 2013

A sad end for two Merlins

We travelled out to Dungeness early this morning for a day that was going to have some real highs and lows. First stop was a quick visit to Pevensey Bay to look for the Red-breasted Flycatcher that had been reported there. We had no great expectations of finding it and after a quick look around we were about to leave when we saw a flash of red as a bird emerged from one of the bushes. A high quickly dashed to a low as we realised that it was only a Robin.

We then moved on to Scotney where we were faced with thousands of geese and wildfowl. The Barnacle Geese which had returned for another year were probably the most interesting and the flock included at least seven hybrids that looked like Barnacle/Emperor crosses.

Barnacle Geese with Barnacle/Emperor crosses - yellow legs and white heads

We had planned to spend some time searching the Greylags for ringed birds or perhaps a Bean or Pink-footed but just as we were getting ready the farmer came along on a tractor with hay for the cattle and the whole lot relocated to the far side of the pit.

Then on to Dungeness. As we got out of the car we had a flyby by two Marsh Harriers, great start but it then all went quiet. Water levels in the ARC Pit were high and there were very few birds around. A visit to the beach gave us huge numbers of Gulls with a few Great Crested Grebes and Cormorants, but not the Little Gulls we were looking for. There was nothing to be seen around the Bird Observatory. At the RSPB Visitor Centre the reports board gave no indication of anything unusual around the site and, to top it all, they had fenced off the area around the Tree Sparrow feeders so you were too far away for a decent picture. Use the wood to put up a screen instead of trying to keep people away from the birds. I might have a rant about the way the RSPB is going in a future blog.

Finally we decided to settle in the Hanson Hide overlooking the ARC Pit. It had always managed to turn up something good in the past and fortunately it did not disappoint this time.

We had a noisy Water Rail probably defending his territory. He was not coming out into the open but we did at least get views in amongst the reeds.

Water Rail

 A Glossy Ibis was settled out on one of the flooded islands. Again I am amazed by how small the bird is, but this time it probably had something to do with the juvenile gull behind it, which I assume is a Great Black-backed. He is going to be a big boy when he grows up.

Princess with her minder and I think he has spotted me

There were lots of the usual suspects about but the highlight was a Kingfisher that gave good views in front of the hide for about twenty seconds. Not long but enough for some decent pictures.


Almost perfect but no blue showing. The lighting really has to be perfect for a Kingfisher shot.

We then decided to return to Scotney to see if the Greylags had returned. There were a few about but nothing easily viewable. Still it had been a good day and we set of for home feeling happy.

Unfortunately just after setting off we came across two dead birds in the road. Sad at any time but these proved to be two dead female Merlins. I had never seem one close up before and I have not seen one at all this year so it was strange to see two together like this . They are a really beautiful bird and it put a bit of a downer on the trip home.

Dave picked them up and took them home to give them a decent burial. The picture below is lifted from his blog site.

Two dead Female Merlin - original on Friends of Groyne No.4 Blog

Tuesday, 12 November 2013

Lesser Yellowlegs

Back in September we saw a Lesser Yellowlegs at Cliffe Pools. It was a long way off in poor lighting conditions and although there were experts present to confirm that I was looking at a Yellowlegs I could not make the identification. Frustrating but I did not feel that I could count the bird. I went back four times over the next couple of months to see it again but always managed to miss the bird. Then the reports stopped and I assumed that I had missed out on the bird for this year.

I have a hit list of target birds and with a Cetti's Warbler finally seen and photographed the Lesser Yellowlegs had moved to the top of the list.  So, when Dave suggested that we go down to Lepe Country Park to see the one reported there I leapt at the chance.

We set off with our usual ambitious plans, see the Yellowlegs, move on to Pennington to see the Long-billed Dowitcher, and then pick up the Red-breasted Goose. It rarely works out as you plan and by the middle of the afternoon we had little to show for our efforts except a few pictures of Pintails.


We returned to Lepe for another go at the Yellowlegs and fortunately we then met up with a couple of birders, Keith and Roy, who we had talked to early in the morning. They had found the location of the Yellowlegs about half a kilometre to the west of where we had been looking and and were just heading off to see it, so we tagged along.

View through the 700mm lens - can you spot the Lesser Yellowlegs

The views were again very distant and at first I thought that I would not be able to confirm the sighting. However, a quick look through Keith's scope and a few shots in the camera that showed the identification points that we were looking for and I was happy that I had the right bird.

Easier to spot in this cropped version
and a distant shot of the bird flying away - again heavily cropped

I would have liked better pictures but there was no way to get closer. Are they worth putting on the blog? I think so - this is a record of where I have been and what birds I have seen and the Lesser Yellowlegs has played a significant part in my birding year to date (and cost me a bit in petrol).

Sunday, 10 November 2013

Long-tailed Duck

After a week of wind and rain the forecast for today looked good so I set off to do some birding around Hayling Island. I wanted to explore a few of the birding locations that I had not visited before, but the real objective of the day was to visit the Oyster Beds to see the Long-tailed Duck. Which was just as well, because I didn't get to see much else.

Or, more accurately, I didn't see much else close up. The weather may have been good but the tides were against me and with high tide at about 1700 the birds were way out on the mudflats for most of the day. Any that did venture close to the shore were soon seen off by the hoards of dog walkers enjoying the late summer sun and by various group of wind surfers.

Female Long-tailed Duck

Well, it may be called a Long-tailed Duck, but you won't see one here. This is a female and it is only the males that carry the long tail. It's also a diving duck and as this one was actively feeding lots of my pictures looked like this.

Probably the sharpest picture I took all day

It's not an easy bird to photograph. There are no crisp lines to focus on and even when you get it right the bird has a general smudgy look with the black, brown, and white colours all fading and blurring together.

Still, a good bird to see and some reasonable record shots for the file.

Monday, 4 November 2013

Grey Phalarope, Snow Bunting, and Kingfisher

Travelling back from Canterbury Sunday afternoon I stopped off at Tide Mills to see the Grey Phalarope that had been reported there. I was on site between 2.00 and 3.00 but saw nothing. It was only when I got  home that I found reports of sightings at both 1.30 and 3.30. Perhaps it had flown out to sea whilst I was there or perhaps I was just not looking hard enough. What ever the reason I was determined to have another go.

Monday morning, I picked Dave up, and we headed back to Tide Mills. Bit of a risk really. Dave has dipped a few birds recently and we were starting to think he was turning into a jinx. Fortunately everything went well this time. A couple of birders had already located the Phalarope when we arrived and we soon had good views.

Grey Phalarope

We watched it for a couple of hours. The bird spent most of the time feeding with occasional rest periods spent in the shelter of small rocks. Most of the feeding was in shallow water with the bird walking rather than swimming and finding huge numbers of worms. If its only interest is food it could be staying for a while.

actively feeding

finding lots of worms

The species spends the summer in the high Arctic with Iceland being its southernmost breeding location. They then migrate to the South Atlantic for the winter rarely visiting land.

Known as the Grey Phalarope in this country where it is seen in its non-breeding plumage most books refer to them as Red Phalarope on account of their stunning red breeding colours.  The female has brighter colouration than the male. They are also unusual in that the male takes responsibility for incubation of the eggs and care of the young with the female either mating a second time or starting migration early.

Easy to photograph - they seem unconcerned about people being around

As the tide came in and the mud was covered up the bird gradually moved away and we decided to move on.

We did find a Bar-headed Goose in amongst some Canada Geese. Interesting but probably an escapee. I saw one earlier in the year on the Arun and there have been a few other reports recently.

Bar-headed Goose

However, most of the afternoon was spent watching and photographing an obliging Kingfisher. I thought the pictures were going to be fantastic, but maybe we were a little bit too far away, the lighting was not quite right, or the photographer was not quite up to the job.
I came away with some good record shots but they could have been so much better.

Kingfisher on perch
Looks like a female with the red base to lower mandible
Successful dive

Note the way the wing and back colour change from greenish through to bright blue dependant on lighting conditions

I tried to capture a shot of it diving into the water but ended up with dozens of empty frames. Even flight shots proved difficult. I know I should be using shutter speeds of a round 1/2000sec to freeze the action but the high ISO required to deliver these speeds would give an unacceptable level of noise in the picture.

Taken at 1/800sec but still too slow

And to finish off with a couple of shots of the Snow Bunting on Worthing beach at the end of last week.

Snow Bunting

Snow Bunting

Another good days birding. We really seem to have left the doldrums of the late summer behind.