Monday, 24 February 2014

Little Gull

The water levels at Waltham Brooks may be dropping but they still have a long way to go. Good for the ducks and geese but not so good for the owls and raptors, nor as it happens for birders.

Female Scaup

Finding the female Scaup was not too difficult. It could be seen on the flooded fields on the western side of the river and north of the road. Getting close to it though was impossible. There is a bridleway there but a few steps along it and the water was over the wellies. So I had to make do with a record shot taken from the road about about a hundred metres away.

Plenty of Tufted Ducks and Pochard there along with a few Canada Geese, although the following shot was taken at Swanbourne Lake on the way up to Waltham Brooks. The birds there are just a little bit easier to approach.


I did not fancy wading through the mud to search for birds so I decided to return to the coast and spend some more time on the Gulls. First stop was Brooklands and the chance to improve on the Little Gull shots in my last blog.

Little Gull

Not too difficult when it is sitting on the water but in flight this is not an easy bird to capture. Their flight is more like that of a Tern and they seem to have a sixth sense that enables them to execute a ninety degree turn just at the instant you press the shutter.

Flight shot

Underbody shows a slight rosy tinge in this picture

About two thirds of the size of a Black-headed Gull and a bit more agile.

I then moved on to Littlehampton for another go at the Glaucous and Kumlien's Gulls. They were both there and giving good views as usual but by then the light had gone.

Kumlien's Gull

Going back a few years I would spend hours producing sepia toned prints. Today I could get them for nothing. Sepia toned birds against a sepia toned sea and sky. It may work on landscapes but it doesn't do much for birds.

Kumlien's Gull

At least you could see the eye on the Glaucous Gull. It makes all the difference.

Glaucous Gull

Middle of the afternoon and I decided to head for home. The birds were good but without the light the pictures were hopeless.

Friday, 21 February 2014

Greenshank and Others

Today was about catching up with a few of the birds I had missed out on over the past few weeks. Top of the list was the Little Gull. There have been plenty of reports of the bird but I had failed to connect with one despite visiting all the right places. So today was a visit to Wyckham Farm at Steyning to see if I could find the birds reported there.

I had a quick look for the Siberian Chiffchaff but I am not sure I would recognise it if I saw it. There were a few suspects about but they all had too much yellow showing to be the Siberian. Still it's always good fun trying to get any of the little brown things in focus long enough to get a picture.

There were gulls on the field as reported but unfortunately they were all Black-headed. I walked on and came back about thirty minutes later to find two more promising suspects flying with the Black-headed gulls.

Little Gulls - showing black underwing and bill

The birds stayed very distant but I still managed to get a couple of record shots.

Little gull

Little Gull

Next stop was the Nore stream. The Spotted Redshank was there as usual but this time it had a Greenshank along for company.

Spotted Redshank


keeping an eye out for aerial attack

Posing for another picture

I think that Greenshanks are one of the most impressive of the waders and this bird looked in great condition. I always expect them to be a lot more flighty than the Redshanks so was really pleased to get these shots although they do not really convey the quality of the bird on the day.

Flushed with success I then headed off to East Head to see the Snow Buntings. No luck this time. There were a few birds about but the sand was really whipping across the head. It was uncomfortable for me so it must have been difficult for the small birds. The majority of the birds were hunkered down on the exposed sand spits but the Sanderling seemed oblivious to the wind and driving sand and were still running around on the waters edge.


There were also Meadow Pipits feeding on the more sheltered eastern side of the head.

Meadow Pipit

And, one final picture. The red orbital rings on this Great Black-backed Gull caught my eye. They apparently indicate a bird in full breeding plumage.

Great Black-backed Gull

Perhaps the fish head is a little treat for some prospective partner.

Monday, 17 February 2014

Penduline Tit

Mid February must be a good time to see Penduline Tits. Last year I had one at Stodmarsh on the 19th, this year it was two days earlier at Dungeness. They had been giving close up views at the Hanson hide over the weekend but then moved on to Hookers Pit. I tried the hide first as this would give the best picture opportunities but had no luck there. So it was over to the ramp at Hookers Pit where they eventually gave distant views.

It's not much to show for three hours standing in the cold

Digital enlargement

Disappointing but at least I came away with a record shot. Last years bird was much more obliging.

Stodmarsh Penduline Tit -  February 2013

Not much else to show for the day. Female Smew, Marsh Harriers and the usual Tree Sparrows. Brief glimpses of Goldcrests and Willchaffs but they were moving fast and were very difficult to get in focus.

Willow Warbler?

I stopped off at Scotney twice but everything was a bit distant. Plenty of gulls, a few geese, and loads of Lapwings but nothing unusual that I could see. Rye Harbour was very similar. Nothing much from most of the hides then when you got to the Crittall Hide so many birds that you couldn't see enough detail to pick out anything unusual.

Nice looking Little Grebe

But you had to be quick.

 I was a bit disappointed not to get closer views of the Penduline Tits but can't really complain. Plenty of birds and no rain what more could I ask for?

Thursday, 13 February 2014

Glaucous Gull

We were back at Littlehampton today. There had been fleeting glimpses of an adult Glaucous Gull on the last visits. It appeared to be in summer plumage with the grey and white  translucent wings that gave an elegant appearance and would give really good pictures. That is providing we could find it again. There had also been an adult Little Gull reported which again would take nice photographs.

We did find a Glaucous but not the one we were looking for. This was a juvenile and whilst already looking big it did not have the same elegant appearance that you would expect from the adult.

Juvenile Glaucous Gull on the right

and on the beach

We waited a couple of hours to see if a Little Gull would turn up. There seems to be a lot about this year but I just do not seem to be able to connect with one. There were a few other birders there who where mostly interested in the Kumlien's Gull but having done that to death over the past few days the Turnstones proved to be more interesting.

There were hundreds of them there both on the West Pier and feeding on the beach. They almost seemed to be lining up on the pier to play chicken with the big waves rolling in. They would sit packed together, head down into the wind and leave it to the last second before the wave struck to take to the air.

Lining up waiting for the next wave

There must be more comfortable places to wait for the tide to go out.

Early afternoon and we decided to move on. The Little Gull would have to wait for another day. Instead we went up to Stapleash Farm to have a look for the Little Owls.  It was good to see that they are still resident there although we only managed to pick out one.

Little Owl in its "usual Tree" see below

The Owls rarely give a clear view but for once the strong wind was helpful, blowing all the branches out of the way to give a brief clear view.

Little Owl

A good day but we still need that elusive Little Gull.

If you are interested in finding the usual tree see my blog of 9th January 2013.

Monday, 10 February 2014

Kumlien's Revisited

It had to be revisited. I know that however good the picture I take, there is always a better one out there waiting to be taken. BUT .... to wake up and find that everyone has better pictures than you! The excuses start, poor light, bird too far away, luck of being in the right place at the right time, I only wanted a record shot, you failed.

So it was back to Littlehampton for another go at the Kumlien's Gull. The first hour or so was spent at the East Beach sitting in the car under torrential rain. When it eventually stopped the gulls started to appear but there were not as many as yesterday and there was no sign of the Kumlien's. We did get a flyby from the Glaucous Gull but it was out of range of the cameras. A pity as it really looks elegant in flight.

The only consolation, a Guillemot, paddling past close inshore. A great view as I had never really seen its swimming action before.


Then we got a shout from Owen Mitchell on the west side of the river to say that they had found it on the beach there. What to do? Its a couple of miles drive through the town centre to get across the twenty metres of water that separated us from the bird. We went, and of course by the time we got there it had flown. No one had managed to track it but it was probably sitting back over on the other side of the river where we had just come from.

This time we waited and after about an hour it suddenly reappeared.

Juvenile Kumlien's Gull

No excuses this time, the light was good, the bird was posing well. There is still the fear that you haven't managed to capture the image but this time everything was OK.

When you first arrive, identifying the Kumlien's amongst a thousand other gulls looks impossible. What you are looking for is the juvenile without the black tail and once seen it's fairly easy to find again. The difficulty is when its not there and you are trying to search a large flock that is continually relocating.

Juvenile Kumlien's Gull on the left - no black tail

Coming in to land

Carrying a Whelk

Posing for a last picture

It had been a good mornings birding and we decided to relocate to Beeding Brooks to see if we could locate our first Owls of the year. We had a couple more hours waiting about in the cold but eventually had views of two Barn Owls and one Short-eared Owl. It was almost dark when they appeared and impossible conditions for a decent shot so just treat the following as a taste of what could have been. I think this calls for another revisited blog.

Short-eared Owl

Barn Owl

Sunday, 9 February 2014

Kumlien's Gull

I have to be honest and say that I could not have identified this bird by myself. To me it looks like a juvenile Iceland Gull. It is only when I am told that it is a Kumlien's that I can start to see the identifying characteristics.

It was located on the golf course on the western side of the river Arun at Littlehampton. My first problem was that it was a long way off, probably 130 Metres, and settled in a hollow in the middle of the Golf Course. The head and bill looked different but there was a long wait until it moved and we were able to get better views.

Juvenile Kumlien's Gull settled down in a hollow. All black bill evident in this picture

It eventually took to the air but I could only managed to get a couple of reasonable record shots and both of these with a huge crane in the background.

Showing signs of a darker tail band

In flight - Dark grey primaries with pale edges evident

Apparently it should also be showing darker outer webs to the outer primaries. I think I need to do a bit more reading on that one.

and back on land

A great bird to see and all credit to the people that found it. I did not count them but there must have been over a thousand gulls over the golf course and beach and it takes some good skills to pick this out from all the rest.

Friday, 7 February 2014

Spotted Redshank

I picked up Dave this morning and we headed off to Hampshire to visit the Pennington March, Inchmerry, and Lepe areas. It's always a big area to cover but today with the flooded fields it was huge. There were lots of birds but they were thinly spread and we spent most of our time searching flocks of geese, ducks and the more common waders hoping to find something unusual. Top of our list was the Long-billed Dowitcher at Pennington. It looked an impossible task and so it proved to be. It is a skulking bird and difficult to find at the best of times. Its usual haunts were all flooded so it was probably out on the fields but despite an extensive search we could not find any sign of it.

The highlight of the day was watching two peregrines fly through chasing and diving then locking talons as they flew together. It was a fascinating sight and it was only after they parted and flew away that I remembered that I was standing with a camera in my hand. It was probably best that I had not tried to get a picture. I doubt that I could have got them in focus and in trying I would have missed the spectacle.

By the middle of the afternoon we were heading home. It had been a good days birding but we did not have a single picture between us. To break the journey we stopped off at the Nore stream. The tide was just coming in and there are a trio of reliable birds that you can usually find there on the high tide. The Spotted Redshank has been there for years but it is now regularly joined by a Little Egret and a Greenshank.

Spotted Redshank

We got two, the Spotted Redshank and Little Egret, but the one we really wanted, the Greenshank, did not come in close. It is an unusual place to see the birds. There are lots of people and dog walkers around but the birds seem to have gotten use to them and will allow close approaches if you take your time. You have to be prepared for the occasional dog jumping in and chasing the birds, and the occasional cross word between birders and dog walkers, but the birds are reliable and always come back.

I have usually found Greenshanks to be a harder bird to approach so this is a site I will be revisiting in the future to get a picture. One final tip, look for a high tide in the morning. The light is usually better and allows greater detail. See my blog of 25 February 2013.

Monday, 3 February 2014


Monday was forecast to be a reasonable day and with a few loose ends to tidy up we started off at Fareham Creek and the Eider that we had dipped on last week. I thought we had missed out again but just as I was about to drive off Dave spotted it flying in with its mallard cohort. We had to relocate to the recreation ground to get decent views. The promised sun had not materialised and it was difficult to hold the camera still in the gusting wind but we still managed to get a few decent shots.


Its a smart looking bird, it flies well and there did not appear to be any rings on its leg but it is not quite as smart when it comes to picking a mate. It seems to have taken a fancy to a female mallard and was paying her close attention with a lot of displaying and calling.

Eider and Female Mallard

Next stop was Farlington Marsh to look for the Short-eared Owl. We watched from the viewpoint for a while but it was no fun in the cold wind and we decided to move on. On the way out we found a number of waders being pushed up on to a small island by the incoming tide.   Amongst them were half a dozen Knot. This is not a bird that I manage to see close up very often. In fact it was on a short list of only five birds that I had seen and not  photographed. So another success and the list is now down to four.


Grey Plovers with Knot in the foregound

   Onwards to Pagham Harbour. We couldn't find anything much at Church Norton. The Ferry Pool had lots of birds  but other than the two Ruddy Shelduck there was nothing unusual.  The Slavonian Grebe was still on the Lagoon. The pictures this time are an impovement but they should have been better.

Slavonian Grebe

Catching plenty of fish

To finish off the day we stood on the North Wall and watched one of the local peregrines feeding on an unfortunate wader as thousands of the birds she had spooked flocked and swirled in the air above her.