Thursday, 27 March 2014

Dartford Warblers Revisited

I went to have another look at the Dartford Warblers today. Walking around the commons there were plenty of Stonechats visible but the Dartfords were a lot harder to find. It was possible to do a 360 degree scan and spot four or five Stonechat pairs sitting out on their territory but the Dartfords appeared to be covering a much larger area.

Having found a suitable spot I found the best way to see them was to sit quietly under a large gorse bush and wait for them to come to me. I still haven't got that perfect picture that I am looking for but it is getting closer. I just need the bird to slow down a bit, it moves a lot faster than my autofocus or my ability to do a manual focus.

Dartford Warbler

There did not appear to be much else about on the commons. I was hoping for a Woodlark but I could not see any sign of them. Everything that moved seemed to be a Stonechat.


I still haven't seen a Corn Bunting this year so in the afternoon I headed up to the Burgh. Their were good views of the usual Buzzards and Red Kites and I also flushed a few Grey Partridges but I could not find any of the usual small birds. Even the Yellowhammers were absent.

Red Kite

Wednesday, 26 March 2014


The birding has been a bit of a mixed bag of late. There has been a shortage of waders for the first three months of the year and even the usual small birds seem to be keeping a low profile of late. I have not had many good picture opportunities recently and the birding seems to have all been a bit flat. Strange then that, when I check back, the week has been quite successful with five year ticks and one life tick.

Perhaps the most rewarding was catching up with the Cuckmere Spoonbill. This was my fifth attempt at this bird. Previous visits had involve a walk along both paths on the Western side and detailed scanning of the channels and ditches. Other than the White-fronted Geese I saw nothing, but on every occasion the bird was reported on the same day. This time we parked up on Seaford Head and scoped the area from a distance. Not a very satisfactory approach but we did eventually manage to pick it up over in the lagoon on the eastern side.

Other ticks that day were a Linnet and a Black Redstart at Tidemills and Kittiwake at Seaford Head. Whilst I managed distant record shots of all of these birds the only shot worth publishing is this slightly out of focus Skylark.


Today I visited Kent and with the M20 passing within a mile of Snodland it seemed an ideal opportunity to catch up with the Hoopoe that had been reported there. I managed to park in the wrong place but after a short walk I eventually found the bird, although I only managed four shots before it disappeared into cover.

Hoopoe - my first in this country

Feeling flushed with success I thought why not try for the two reported Garganey at Allhallows, its only a few miles away. So I did, but without any luck. If they were there they were staying in cover or were both females that I was unable to separate from the female Teal. Then I thought, there is another Garganey reported at Restharrow Scrape in Sandwich Bay, this time a male, its only a few more miles away (65 to be exact). Can I justify the mileage, I don't really go in for twitches, but then this is not really a twitch.

I arrived at the hide only to be told  the usual, you should have been here ten minutes ago it was swimming around in front of the hide, and the guy had superb pictures to prove it. I eventually managed a brief view through the bins when it appeared in a gap in the reeds. If I was just a birder I could have gone home happy. Being a photographer, I wanted a picture and I was still sitting in the hide three and a half hours later when I had to finally accept that I was not going to get a picture in the dark.

A bit of a frustrating week as far as the photography goes, my only consolation, telling my birding buddy Dave about the Hoopoe and Garganey. It doesn't quite make up for his Capercaillie and Crested Tit but it helps.

Wednesday, 19 March 2014

Dartford Warblers

The weather forecast showed the coastal fringe being overcast today so we headed inland for a look at the brooks and commons. We didn't actually see a great deal.  A few flocks of Chaffinches and Goldfinches, a Bullfinch at Pulborough Brooks, a few Stonechats, a Yellowhammer, a Treecreeper, and a couple of Dartford Warblers. We looked in at Waltham Brooks but appear to have missed the Great Grey Shrike which was reported just after we left.

Picture wise it was a bit disappointing. I keep seeing Dartfords but they are usually distant or staying in cover. The next few weeks are probably my best hope for getting a good shot as they are more likely to be out in the open singing and marking out there territories.

Dartford Warbler pair


The Bullfinch was good to see but again it was staying in cover and giving very few clear views.


A good days birding but I feel as though I missed a few picture opportunities along the way. Lets hope I get another chance.

Tuesday, 18 March 2014

Mandarin Ducks

The weather looked reasonable on Tuesday morning so I picked Dave up and we managed a couple of hours birding before it clouded over. Clouds don't stop you birding but they do stop the bird photography. We hadn't been down to the North Wall at Pagham for a few weeks. Water levels had been very high in the Breech Pool and although there were plenty of ducks and geese about the waders were in short supply and most of the birds were some distance off on the flooded fields.

Things had improved for this visit. The water levels were down, there was mud showing, and there were a few waders about, although nothing unusual. The Black-tailed Godwits were back in the pool along with Redshanks and at least four Spotted Redshanks. We also saw a couple of Snipe and one Water Rail.

Black-tailed Godwit coming into summer plumage

Spotted Redshank coming in to land (or in this case water!)

An elegant bird but it's difficult to keep up appearances with muddy feet

The wind was picking up on the coast so we decided to head inland and have a look for Firecrests at Arundel. No luck with that but we did find a pair of Mandarin Ducks in the stream alongside Mill Road. Having spent a recent afternoon in the New Forest trying to photograph distant Mandarins that would not come out of cover it was odd to see this pair quite happy with people and dogs walking past less than six feet away. Spring is obviously in the air and perhaps the pair had other things on their mind.

Chasing after him

Giving him the definite come on

Doing the business

Looking pleased with themselves

Great birds to watch. The female was in exceptional condition with very subtle colouration and hard as it is to believe, really outshone the drake on the day.

Wednesday, 12 March 2014

Distant Views

Distant is going to be the theme of this blog. Distant views and long shots and those have been the good days. It seems to have been a couple of weeks since I have had a good birding day. A trip down to the New Forest gave me a Tawney Owl but it was deep in a hole in the tree with only half its back showing. There was also a Great Grey Shrike, a distant shot but it's the only picture I came home with that day.

Great Grey Shrike

We spent most of the morning trying to locate a Lesser Spotted Woodpecker that we could occasionally here drumming but did not seem to be able to get anywhere near. I did manage to end up in a bog over my knees - exiting stuff and a good way of improving the camouflage but it hardly makes up for missing the LSW. The afternoon was spent looking for the Long-billed Dowitcher at Pennington Marshes. Our second attempt to get the year tick but we dipped it yet again.

Other days out included three attempts at a Spoonbill. One on Farlington Marsh and two at Cuckmere Haven and a couple of goes at the Red-necked Grebe seen in the Budds Wall area. The birds were all reported on the days I visited so I must just have been unlucky with the timing of my visits.

Today saw us back to the New Forest. It looked like being a sunny day and we had hopes of seeing a Goshawk. It did not quite work out the way we had planned. The mist/fog took a lot longer to clear than we expected so much of the morning was wasted. We decided to divert to Pennington Marsh for another go at the Long-billed Dowitcher and this time we were lucky. Long distance shots but the bird was actively feeding out in the open, as compared to when I saw it back in August of last year, when it was skulking away in the reeds most of the time, looking very much like a Snipe.

Long-billed Dowitcher

It looks a very different bird in its winter plumage with grey breast and white belly. Back in August it had a rusty orange breast and belly.

Snipe with Long-billed Dowitcher disappearing into the reeds

And with Wigeon landing in the background

The water levels in the marshes were considerably down on last week and waders were more in evidence although I have yet to see any form of Sandpiper this year. Most birds were too distant for good photographs although the diffuse lighting enabled a reasonable shot of this Little Egret.

Little Egret

Lets hope the birding is on an upward trend. The Long-billed Dowitcher is a good year tick and although we did not see a Goshawk we came away with a couple of good sites to revisit and some ideas for Honey Buzzards later in the year. Watch this space.