Thursday, 30 January 2014

Bearded Tits

We travelled out west today with our first target being the long staying male Eider in Fareham Creek. It should have been an opportunity for easy close up pictures but despite a lot of searching we could not find the bird and came away empty handed. Fortunately the poor start to the day was rescued when we came across a small flock of Bearded Tits that were showing well on the edge of a reed bed.

Bearded Tit

It was an opportunity not to be missed. We counted eleven birds and we had about an hour photographing them before they moved on. Almost perfect, the only thing missing was enough light to take a decent picture. I know its not worth pushing my camera above ISO 400 but to get anything at all I had to go above this, use f6.3 and try to keep the lens steady at 1/100th sec. I took over six hundred pictures and in the first three hundred I could not find a single shot worth keeping. Fortunately towards the end it brightened up a bit, probably only by a couple of stops, but it was enough to get a few acceptable shots.


We finished off at Pagham Harbour. There were lots of birds visible from the North Wall but they were mostly some distance off in the flooded fields. I don't think I have ever seen so much water north of the wall. The birds were flushed a number of times whilst we watched, probably by a passing raptor, and thousands of birds would take to the air forming up into flocks of the various different species. It was like an aerial ballet with the honking of the Brent Geese providing the soundtrack.

There were Goldeneye and a Slavonian Grebe on the lagoon along with the usual birds.


Displaying to impress the females

The bird I really wanted though was the Slavonian Grebe. I had already had one go at getting a picture of it and had been driven off by the heavy rain. Today looked more promising and after a bit of stalking I had the shot all lined up. I pressed the shutter and nothing happened, just a little image in the viewfinder saying memory card full. If only I had taken a few shots less of the Beardies. I had a spare memory card but by the time I had changed them over the opportunity was gone.

I just hope it stays around for a bit longer.

Monday, 27 January 2014

Green-winged Teal

Seen but unfortunately not photographed.

We were down in Hampshire at Sopley Cemetery overlooking the flooded fields around the river Avon. The Green-winged Teal was the main target of the day and at first it looked like an impossible task. There were probably more than a thousand teal spread out over the water in front of us and they were all very distant. You could not pick out the distinguishing features using binoculars so it fell to a tedious inspection of each individual bird using a scope. Perhaps not too difficult if they are all lined up giving a side view but not so easy when they are all milling about and often have their backs to you.

So what were we looking for. Well, at the distance we had, the only thing you can really pick out is the vertical stripe in place of the horizontal stripe on the common teal.  Fortunately Dave likes to get stuck into these difficult tasks and eventually he found it. He managed to get a couple of other birders onto it but I just could not see it. I was 99% sure I had the right bird but it had its back to me and I could not make the identification. After a long wait and with my eyes streaming from the cold and my refusal to blink in case I missed it, the bird turned and I had a clear view of the vertical stripe. Life Tick.

Unfortunately the rest of the day turned out to be a bit of a disappointment. We went to Blashford lakes. We found the housing estate and the hole in the fence through which if you were lucky you could get a distant view of the Ferruginous Duck. But it felt more like voyerism than birding so we quickly abandoned that search.

Blashford always looks promising but the wildfowl is usually distant, very few of the windows in the hides open, and one of the hides uses blue tinted plastic for the windows. On top of that the light was going. Not ideal for taking pictures.

Coal Tit

Great Tit


Juvenile Siskin
A few shots of the usual suspects and we moved on to the Eyworth Pond at Fritham. There are usually Mandarin Ducks at this site but they can be difficult to find. After a bit of searching we thought we had five or six hidden deep in the bushes on the far side of the pond. It was only when they were spooked and took to the air that we realised that there were between twenty and thirty present.

Mandarin Duck

This is also a good site to see the smaller birds. A few handfuls of bird food on the fence posts and the bushes were alive with half tame birds. Good for photographs but nearly as bad as having shots of them on feeders.


Blue Tit


Marsh Tit


Real manners - sitting down for lunch

To finish off the day we drove along the Warningcamp road to see if the Bewicks had returned to their usual feeding ground. No sign of them but I did manage to pick up a Red Kite and Grey Partridge as year ticks. I think we probably had Corn Bunting as well but in the fading light it was difficult to be sure.

Grey Partridges

Thursday, 23 January 2014

Mealy Redpoll

Today's destination was Warnham Nature Reserve and in particular the Woodpecker hide. In the winter it is one of the best locations in the county for being able to get close to the birds and for getting good pictures opportunities. You need a bright day for the best results but it's always worth a visit.

The Mealy Redpoll was our main target. Redpolls show a lot of variation in appearance and it can be difficult to identify the Mealy unless it is sitting alongside the more common Lesser Redpoll for comparison. Fortunately a number of experienced birders had also turned up so we would be able to confirm any identifications we made.

There were also a number of Lesser Redpolls flying into the feeders and perching in the surrounding trees.

Lesser Redpoll

The Mealy was putting in an appearance about every twenty minutes. Unfortunately he was flying direct onto the feeders rather than using one of the many available perches. I am never sure if it is better to have the bird sitting on  a grubby looking feeder or looking unnatural floating around in mid air. Judge for yourself in the following pictures. Replacing the metal perch with a branch is possible but it takes a lot of work.

Mealy Redpoll

On the feeder

And, on the feeder showing a comparison with the Lesser Redpoll.

Lesser on the left and Mealy on the right

 There seems to have been a shortage of the smaller birds around of late so it was nice to see so many at Warnham.

Long-tailed Tit




I just wish I could get this selection of birds visiting the feeders in my Garden.

Wednesday, 22 January 2014

White-fronted Geese

Out with Dave today and we finally managed to catch up with White-fronted Geese a bird that we had failed to see last year. They had been reported at Cuckmere Haven and were fairly easy to find albeit that it meant wading through a lot of mud to get to them.

White-fronted Goose

They were in with the Canada Geese, which makes them a little easier to find, than when searching for them amongst Greylags.  They were probably feeling reasonably safe amongst such a large flock and this made them easier to approach.

White-fronted and Canada Geese

White-fronted Goose

Rain clouds were moving in when we located them so pictures were difficult. We waited a while but with the skies getting darker and the flock relocating to an adjacent field with the White-fronted further away we grabbed a few pictures and waded back through the mud to the car.

Working our way back along the coast we stopped at Seaford and at Newhaven Harbour to search for Kittiwakes and Fulmars. No luck with the former but the Fulmars were occupying nest building sites and performing aerobatics along the cliff faces. 

Fulmar - always appear to have strong pair bonding

And, it's difficult to pass Widewater Lagoon without stopping off to take yet more pictures of the Red-breasted Mergansers.

Red-breasted Mergansers


Tuesday, 21 January 2014


Dungeness was today's destinations with the objective of adding a few year ticks before the winter visitors start to disappear. The day got off to a slow start when a stop at Scotney Pits gave us plenty of ducks and Lapwings to look at but very few geese and other than a couple of Egyptian none of the rarer species we were looking for.


The ARC hide at Dungeness was a little better. A Marsh Harrier flyby as we arrived, Golden Eye displaying, a Great White Egret, and whilst there were no male Smew we did see lots of redheads spread out over the lake. We also had a brief view of a Bittern from the viewing screen as it disappeared into the reedbed.

Great White Egret

The Tree Sparrows were on the feeders and around the garden at Boulderwood Farm as were a number of House Sparrows and Reed Buntings.

Tree Sparrow

I think we were both a little disappointed by the end of the morning. Birds like the Marsh Harrier and the Great White Egret are unusual in Sussex but in Dungeness they are quite common. We had four or five sightings of each during the day. The water levels were also very high and there were no waders around.

The afternoon livened up a bit. We spotted a female Goosander on the far side of the lake and could not believe our luck when she swam all the way over to perform just in front of the hide.

Female Goosander

After much searching of the thousands of ducks and gulls present we also found a Black-necked Grebe. As you can see below they do not always come close enough to give a good picture opportunity.

Black-necked Grebe

A local birder also put us onto a a pair of Black-throated Divers on the New Diggings Pit. We missed them in the morning but they proved a lot easier to find when we returned in the afternoon.

Black-throated Diver

We tried Scotney again on the way home. The geese were there but were on the fields on the far side of the pits so even with the scope we could not see any detail. All we saw were more ducks and Lapwings and a few Golden Plover. We also tried Pett Level . Even more ducks, a couple more Marsh Harrier sightings, and plenty of Curlew.

We have often looked over the sea wall here and seen a vast expanse of sea with nothing on it so we had no great expectations as we climbed the slope. It's always worth a look though and this time there were hundreds of birds. They were mostly Wigeon but we did manage to pick out Red and Black-throated Divers, Great Crested Grebes, and a few Auk species.

With the mist  rolling in and the sun beginning to go down the opportunity for more sightings disappeared and we headed for home. Over fifty species seen on the day and eight year ticks, it had proved to be a good day out.

Thursday, 16 January 2014

Great Grey Shrike

I managed to get out late afternoon and with nothing visible on the sea I decided on a quick trip up to Waltham Brooks to have another look for the Great Grey Shrike. As I got out of the car I was greeted by Dorian Mason saying that he had the bird in his scope and did I want to have a look. Birding does not get much easier than this. Distant but clear views and just close enough for a record shot.

Great Grey Shrike - still a bit distant

I did have a few pangs of guilt when I realised that some people had been standing around for four or five hours waiting to see the bird but I tried not to let it worry me too much. Things got even better when a Marsh Harrier flew through putting all the ducks up from the flooded fields.

Two good sightings in less than ten minutes, I should probably have gone home then. The trouble is you always hope for better and even with rain and clouds moving over I still thought there might be a picture to be had.

Coming Closer

The bird did come closer but with shutter speeds down to 1/40 sec and with the branches being blown in a strong wind it was pure luck on getting a shot that was not blurred. These are the best two out of about forty attempts.

But not close enough

I photographed another shrike in the same location back on the 15th November but on that occasion I had it all to myself and was able to get good close up pictures without disturbing the bird. The picture below is from my 15th November blog. It was taken in early morning light which gives it the softer colours but it does look like a younger and fresher bird. The bill and mask markings are different and I doubt that it would have aged so much in just two months.

All I needed then was a Barn Owl to finish off the afternoon but it didn't happen. I will just have to go back and try again another day.