Tuesday, 30 December 2014


I had a week in Cyprus over Christmas on a family holiday. Whilst that meant no going off  by myself for the day birding, I did still get to see plenty of birds. We were based in Paphos so a walk around the headland always presented a good opportunities to see the birds, although unfortunately, not the Greater Sand Plover that I had been told were almost guaranteed there.

Waders were in short supply and the only ones I saw, Common Sandpipers and Golden Plover, hardly set the heart racing. Pictures were also harder to come by as I did not have the large lens with me.

Common Sandpiper

Common Sandpiper

Golden Plover

Golden Plover

And with a Kingfisher sitting by one of the rock pools it felt just like being at home.


The most common birds were House Sparrows, Larks, Black Redstarts, Stonechats and Hooded Crows.

Crested Lark

Crested Lark




Black Redstart

Hooded Crow

Hooded Crow and Kestrel

We had one day up in the Troodos mountains and this was the one that I had been looking forward to. I had great hopes of seeing some decent raptors - but it didn't happen. We got up over 6000ft and had some great views out over the valleys but there were no birds flying. All I saw all day were Chaffinches and Sparrows and one very distant raptor that was too far away to identify.

Back down on the Paphos headland I finally caught up with a couple of decent birds, a Spanish Sparrow and a Sardinian Warbler.

Spanish Sparrow

Sardinian Warbler

Sardinian Warbler

I didn't see any signs of shooting or of the lime sticks that I have seen on other Mediterranean islands but there were caged birds around, in particular Turtle Doves. Its sad when I think how long I spend each year trying to see them in the UK.


As always, I would have liked to have seen more. Perhaps I will be able to get back sometime in the future and spend a bit more time tracking down some of the birds but that's it for now.

Tuesday, 16 December 2014

Richard's Pipit

Today's target was the Richard's Pipit on Horse Eye Level. The bird has been around for a while although apparently it has not always been easy to locate. However, with it being reported a few times recently and always from the same location we thought it was worth giving it a go.

I picked Dave up and we headed over to the levels. I had never seen a Richard's Pipit before and I cannot say that I was very confident on my ability to identify it. Checking the Collins the night before, it looked very similar to the Tawny Pipit. I was sure that I would be able to tell it from a Meadow Pipit if the two were close together but I was not so sure on my ability if there was only one of them there. A Tawny Pipit should have moved on by now but I was really concerned that my identification would be done on the basis of find a large Pipit and assume that it was the right one. Not really very satisfactory. I needed a picture to take home and study.

Fortunately we arrived at the site to find Bernie Forbes and Dorian Mason already searching the area. Usually I like the birds to myself but this time I was glad of the expertise to help confirm the identification.

Richard's Pipit

Bernie found the bird and although it was very distant I managed to get good views. I could see it was not a Meadow Pipit, it looked large and had a thrush like feeding behaviour, running through the grass and lunging at the insects. It was nice to feel confident that you are on the right bird but having Bernie there to explain what I should be looking for helped a great deal.

We had about fifteen minutes watching the Pipit before it disappeared into a dip and failed to re-emerge. It took about an hour of searching before we managed to relocate it, this time much closer to the road, which is where both these pictures were taken. It was still a long way off and the pictures are a massive crop but at least I have my record shot.

Richard's Pipit

Whilst waiting for the Richard's Pipit we had good views of Marsh Harriers, Stonechat, Short-eared Owl, and could hear Cetti's Warblers in the reeds.

We headed back via Jevington for another look at the Rough-legged Buzzard. It was there but not feeding this time. It took a few short flights but was heavily mobbed by Crows and Jackdaws. 

Rough-legged Buzzard

You certainly could not complain about a shortage of birds. As well as the large flocks of Crows, Rooks, and Jackdaws, there were probably two hundred plus Stock Doves and we also had a flock of Skylarks through that must have numbered over four hundred. There were also three or four Common Buzzards in the area including one particularly brutish looking individual.

Common Buzzard

At about half past two, with the light already starting to fade, we headed for home. We made a brief stop at Widewater on the way to see the Mergansers and to have a quick look out over the sea. There were thousands of Gulls stretching along the coast as far as the eye could see. Fortunately the light had gone by then so we did not have to stop and inspect them all searching for a Caspian.

Wednesday, 10 December 2014

Dartford Warblers

Having had a disappointing days birding yesterday we decided to head inland today and visit Iping Common. Yesterday had been ruined by a weather forecast that had got it completely wrong. The promised day of sunshine and clear skies through to late afternoon had in fact lasted to about ten in the morning when a cold wind, dark skies, and a general air of gloom settled over us.

Today's forecast had changed from strong winds and storms to yet again a promise of clear skies and sun. We were sceptical, with some justification as it turned out, but decided to give the birding a go anyway.

On arriving at the common we headed up to the north west corner where a large birch tree covered in bracket fungus is located. The target was the reported Great Grey Shrike and the tree is a perch that has been favoured by previous Shrikes visiting the common.

Our initial search did not locate the Shrike but we were quickly sidetracked by a small flock of Goldcrests and then by a Dartford Warbler that Dave managed to locate. The shrike eventually returned to the Birch tree and we had good if distant views of the bird.

Great Grey Shrike

A walk around the common gave us some of the usual birds and then another pair of Dartford Warblers. It also signalled the onset of another overcast sky and eventually of rain. The score so far is BBC weather forecasters  0 , the weather  2.

The Dartford Warblers are always difficult to photograph. They are fast moving and tend to stay in cover but they are a beautiful looking bird and a great prize for the photographer who gets a clear shot.

Dartford Warbler

We had plenty of sightings over a period of about an hour but there were few good picture opportunities. The birds would stop and look at us and when they moved out of the Gorse into the Birch saplings you had some reasonable views but there were usually twigs or small branches obstructing the views. It was all very frustrating but eventually I managed a clear shot.

Dartford Warbler

Still not perfect but easily my best shot of a Dartford Warbler to date.

Monday, 8 December 2014

Snow Bunting

The title should have read Brambling which was yet again our target for the day with Friston Forest car park being the location we had chosen. We did actually manage to see two female Brambling this time which is a big step up from our last few failed attempts but there was no chance of getting any pictures.

It had looked promising as we drove into the car park with a large Chaffinch flock moving through the area. After studying them for a few minutes we came up with at least two female Brambling. Unfortunately the cameras were in the back of the car and our attempts to retrieve them saw the whole flock take flight. We watched for about another two hours but they did not return in that time. I should be happy at getting the year tick but without a record shot or better it does not feel like a success.

We aborted a plan to look for Kingfishers on the Cuckmere and decided to head back to West Sussex but a last minute decision (about ten yards from the turning) saw us heading into Tide Mills. We were telling ourselves that these last minute impulse decisions always come good, and it did. Two young birders Gideon and Caleb had located a Snow Bunting. We might well have missed it but the two doing a commando crawl across the shingle suggested there might be something worth looking at. They already had a few good shots and, hopefully without spoiling it too much for them, we also managed to get some pictures.

We then tried the pier looking for Purple Sandpipers. Unfortunately by then we had missed high tide and the birds had gone back onto the concrete supports below the pier. Light levels were low down there so I only managed to come away with one decent shot but I was grateful for that given that the speed setting was only 1/40 sec. Its amazing what you can do with image stabilisation.

Purple Sandpiper

We went back to Friston Forest and had one more search for the Bramblings. There was a Chaffinch flock feeding there but we could see no sign of the Bramblings this time. A couple of Jays were threatening to give good picture opportunities but I could not get them down sun of me so I had to settle for a backlit shot.


To finish, here are a couple of shots of the Tundra Bean Goose taken on Sunday at Cuckoo Corner. The lighting was poor but the bird did allow a reasonably close approach whilst it was out on the river. I was surprised to see it still there by itself. There was a fox about, a number of dog walkers,  a few bird watchers and at one stage it was even harassed by one of the local crows. Having to keep a constant watch for threats takes a big toll on feeding time. It would be better off in one of the the Greylag flocks where it could share sentry duties.

and there is always someone trying to gatecrash the picture

I wasn't aware of the Kingfisher at the time it only came to light whilst I was checking the pictures at home.

Saturday, 29 November 2014

Short-eared Owl

We had set an ambitious programme of visits for today, in an attempt to fill a few of the gaps in our year lists. It got off to a good start when we picked up Hawfinches in the trees at the back of Yew Tree Cottage in West Dean Woods. They were very distant and did not give any picture opportunities but this is a bird that you are always pleased to see.

The next target was Woodcock and Ambersham Common is a place where we have often flushed them in the past. This usually comes as more of a shock to us than to the birds, as they suddenly burst into the air just a few feet in front of you.

However, today it was not going to happen, the place was full of horse boxes, four wheel drives, and yellow jacketed marshals. We got the definite impression that we were not wanted, they probably thought we looked like hunt saboteurs. For our part we were happy to move on and look for some peace and quiet elsewhere. Not an easy task when there is an "El Alamein" style soundtrack playing out all across Sussex as the landed gentry enjoy their weekend "sport".

Next stop was Lavington Common which proved to be mostly devoid of life other than a few Crows and a couple of dog walkers. The best we managed here were two Yellowhammers.


We stopped off at Burton Pond and Lord's Piece. Birdsong was more evident at these two but there was little to look at. Waltham Brooks usually saves the day but even here there was nothing much moving and nothing at all at the Sewage Works. By know I think we had seen more butterflies than birds, not bad for the end of November.

Our final destination was the Burgh to see the Short-eared Owls. The walk in gave us views of Grey Partridge, Corn Buntings, and the usual Buzzards and Red Kite, but unfortunately not the Merlin that we were told had been seen.

Grey Partridge

Red Kite

We had great views of at least six of the Short-eared Owls for about an hour before the sun went down. I was disappointed in that I only managed one decent picture. In bird photography you are always pushing the camera and the lens to the limits of their performance capabilities but I should have done better. Now I am just going to have to go back and do it all over again. Life is hard!

Monday, 24 November 2014

Tawny Owl

We were back on our search for Brambling today. In theory, if you can find a decent size Chaffinch flock, you have a good chance of finding a Brambling in amongst them. The difficulty we had today was in finding a Chaffinch flock to search. We tried a few places and found a few odd birds but we could not find any feeding flocks. It was beginning to look like another of those days, plenty of birds to see but nothing unusual and no photo opportunities.

The good thing about searching woods though, is that there is always the chance of finding an Owl and we were fortunate enough to come across our second Tawny in a week.

Well hidden amongst the trees

The challenge is to get close enough for a clear shot without disturbing or upsetting the bird. Perhaps you can creep up on it. No chance, it knew you where there long before you managed to see it.

Keeping you under surveillance 

Don't walk towards it, wander around outside its comfort zone until it gets used to to the idea of you being there. Find the right angle for the shot.

Another weirdo with a camera and bins

When you find the right spot get your picture and then back off slowly. Don't underestimate the owl, Eric Hosking lost his eye when he got too close to a Tawny's nest.

Your getting a bit close boys

but your too fat and too clumsy to be a threat - might as well go back to sleep

It was a great day to be out in the countryside, bright and clear with the first chill of winter creeping in. The birding wasn't great but the Tawny Owl saved the day.

Tuesday, 18 November 2014

Franklin's Gull

For me, Friday of last week was not a good birding day. We had travelled down to Blashford Lakes to see the Franklin's Gull. It was there and was easy to see, albeit after a long wait and hours of searching the thousands of gulls coming in to roost. Easy that is for everyone in the hide except me. I just could not get onto it. Even looking through Dave's scope which was centred on the bird I could not see anything that I could recognise as the Franklin's. I think by then I was just brain dead from staring at gulls.

There were distant views of Goosanders, Egyptian Geese, Ruddy Duck, and Black-necked Grebe but my only pictures for the day were of a Little Grebe and a Coot doing its leg stretching exercises. Going home in the car Dave was doing his best not to sound too happy whilst I tried to come to terms with my total failure.

Little Grebe


At first I was a bit negative about going back for another try but Dave convinced me that I should give it another go and volunteered to come along with me to ensure that I did not dip it for a second time.

We did a bit of birding around the New Forest before heading to Blashford. It was all very quiet. We followed a Chaffinch flock for a while in the hope of seeing a Brambling but there was nothing we could be confident about. We also managed to catch up with an old friend that we had last photographed back in February.

Tawny Owl

On arrival at Blashford we found that the Tern Hide that we planned to use was to be shut between 3.30 an 4.30 for a gull roost event. The Goosander Hide had also been closed by the police as a result of an incident. This only left us with the Lapwing Hide. You get good views out over the lake from there but by 3.30 when the gulls would be arriving you are staring straight into the sun. Still we had no choice so Lapwing Hide it was.

We settled down to an afternoons gull watching with a couple of Green and one Common Sandpiper thrown in for a bit of variety.

Green Sandpiper

The only other item of note was a flock of thirty eight Herons that came in to roost late afternoon. This was the first time I had seen them in a large flock. Other than that it was a long afternoon and by the time the sun started to set at 4.15 no one in the hide had spotted the Franklin's. Then we had a call from the Tern Hide to say that it had been spotted and that it was close to us. It turned out to be directly in the path of the setting sun but as it dipped below the horizon we had a few minutes of light left and everyone in the hide, including me this time, managed to get good views.

I had already lost sight of the bird in the gathering gloom when I decided that I should try to get a picture of it. By then I could not see where it was so I just pointed in the general direction, wound up the ISO, fired off a few shots and hoped for the best. They are not brilliant but these are my record shots of the bird.

 Just a few of the gulls on the lake with the Franklin's arrowed

Heavy cropping but the white eye rings and darker mantle are just visible.

And, to finish off the day, we had a starling murmuration swirling over our heads as we walked back to the car.