Tuesday, 30 September 2014

Pagham Kingfisher

We had a trip down to Pagham Harbour today in the hope of finding a new fall of migrants and perhaps to relocate the Cattle Egret. There were a lot of the usual birds about Curlew, Redshanks, Snipe, Godwits, Lapwings etc., but with the tide out most birds were well out on the mud. We could not find anything unusual although I did manage to pick up a Yellow-legged Gull, my first of the year.

I searched most of the fields to the south of Marsh Farm but there was no sign of the Cattle Egret. The main interest here was the large mixed flocks of Corvids, with Rooks, Crows and Jackdaws gathered in the trees and with the huge volume of noise they were making.

Picture opportunities were provided by the local Kingfisher. He gave some great views of his fishing techniques and on how to dispatch the fish he caught but unfortunately he was in deep shadow at the time. Here are a few shots of him out on a couple of his fishing posts.


Other entertainment was provided by a couple of drake Mallards. It was probably just an opportunity to show off there new plumage to the ladies but the dispute lasted a long time and looked quiet fierce. Perhaps they are already anticipating the spring.

Chill out boys it's a large pool

A quick trip to the Burgh in the afternoon gave distant views of Red Kites and Buzzards but no close flybys. A good days birding but it seems a long time since I have taken a really good picture.

Thursday, 25 September 2014


I had to make a trip up to Horsham today and with an hour to spare I thought I would call into Warnham LNR for a quick look. I wasn't expecting too much and that is exactly what I found. Wanham is a site to visit in the winter if you are looking for birds, although it can be worth a visit in the summer for butterflies and dragonflies.

Fortunately there were two Kingfishers mobile around the site. It was difficult to get a clear shot but I did manage the one below. The bird was mostly in shade which gave me a chance to get the iridescent blue colour along its back. This is usually too bright for the camera to record when it is in direct sunlight.

Actually the feathers are a dull brown rather than blue but the structure of the feathers scatters and reflects the short wavelength blue light much more than the longer wavelength red light thus giving the bright blue effect. So to be correct I should be referring to it as the "Tyndall Effect" rather than iridescence.


And a few shots taken at Pagham North Wall the day before.


Reed Bunting

Two Spotted Redshanks taking to the air. Black-tailed Godwit in the background.

Monday, 22 September 2014

Dartford Warblers

This blog should have been called Wryneck but I have managed to dip on two more birds, one in the fields to the east of Budds Farm sewerage works and the other on the North Wall at Pagham Harbour. You would think that would have made for a disappointing day but the Red-backed Shrike and a couple of Dartford Warblers on Hayling Island gave us some good birding even if sandwiched between failures on the Wryneck at the beginning and end of the day.

Budds Farm is always worth a visit, great ponds even if you have the sewerage works as a backdrop and always the chance of some unusual ducks during the winter. There is a wonderful Willow tree there that has recently been taken over by the Herons and Egrets. It looks ok at the moment but I doubt the tree will last very long with all the extra fertiliser that it is going to get.

Heron and Egret Roost

There have been a couple of reported sightings of the Wryneck at Budds Farm and I have made two seperate visits to look for it but both with no success. There were plenty of Willchaffs and a large Long-tailed Tit flock but nothing else of real interest other than a Grey Seal out in the harbour and a Small Copper abberation.

Long-tailed Tit

A well worn Small Copper ab.caeruleopunctata 

We moved on to Sandy Point on Hayling Island to get Dave his year tick on the Red-backed Shrike. Fortunately this was easier to spot than the Wryneck. You cannot enter the Nature Reserve so all my shots are a bit distant. I had been hoping to improve on the ones I had taken last week but these look no better.

Red-backed Shrike

and with captured moth

The surprise was in finding at least two Dartford Warblers on the site. When the Shrike ducked out of view we started watching a a small group, possibly a family, of Stonechats moving around the reserve. They were easy to spot sitting out on top of the brambles and gorse but they were being accompanied by a couple of birds that looked darker and always disappeared into the vegetation below them. We eventually got decent views and it was clear that they were Dartford Warblers.

They are never easy to photograph and this is the best image that I managed to get

Dartford Warbler

I had always thought that Dartfords and Stonechats were competitors for territory but here they formed a definite flock. Whenever the Stonechats moved on the Dartfords would follow and go into cover in the bush on which the Stonechats had perched.


Finally we moved on to Pagham North Wall, to be told that a Wryneck had been showing well there for most of the day. Not for us though. We waited a couple of hours and had one view of a woodpecker type flight between two low bushes but it was not enough to confirm the sighting.

Have a look at the Pagham Birders site for some great shots including one with the bird sticking its tongue out. Great timing by Trevor in getting the shot, not so good by us in turning up too late.

Monday, 15 September 2014

Red-backed Shrike

It has been a strange couple of weeks. The migrants are flowing through but with the weather being so good they are not stopping at the coast. Reliable places, like Church Norton, have been very slow and when there have been birds around I also seem to have been very slow. I have missed two or three Wrynecks as well as some of the other birds I had been chasing and those that I have seen have been too far away for a decent picture.

One of the birds I failed on was the Red-backed Shrike at Sandy Point, so today I was back there having another go. For once I was not worried about pictures. In September last year we had a really showy bird at Rottingdean and it was unlikely that I would improve on those shots. However, it is an unusual bird to see and I did not want to let it go without having another try.

This time the bird was easy to find, although it stayed distant all the time I was watching it. It was also quiet mobile so I was fortunate in having help to keep track of it from Simon Colenutt. Have a look at his blog, the Deskbound Birder for some more great shots.

Having lost the Wryneck I had been chasing at Shooters Bottom to a Sparrowhawk I thought I was in for a repeat performance when one flew flew through  the nature reserve, but the Shrike stayed in cover. It is a first year juvenile and I would imagine that it will stay a while. It was finding plenty of food and with the weather being warm there is no real pressure on it to move on.

Red-backed Shrike

Red-backed Shrike

Today was really about plugging some more of the gaps in my year list. Pagham North Wall gave me a Water Rail, always a great bird to see.

Water Rail

I also realised that I had not seen a Sandwich Tern all year so I paid a quick visit to Selsey Bill. Fortunately there were no other birders around to see my one man twitch of the Sandwich Tern sitting on the post. Worse still the pictures were hopeless so I have not posted any of them here.

I felt a bit happier coming home today. I had seen a couple of year ticks and I had some pictures for the blog. Life feels good.

Tuesday, 9 September 2014

Shooters Bottom Wryneck

We all marvel at the cryptic camouflage on the Wryneck but it wasn't good enough to save this one from the Sparrowhawk.

I had promised myself that I would do some work around the house on Tuesday but with the weather looking good and with reports from Monday of a Wryneck showing well over at Shooters Bottom I had a change of heart and by mid-morning I was on the road over to the Beachy Head area.

It didn't look very promising, there were a few birders about but no one had seen the Wryneck that morning. I ended up spending the rest of the day with David Gardiner and Paul Snellgrove who were very happy to tell me all about the close views they had the previous day and about all the great photographs they managed to get.

You should have been here yesterday - how many times have I heard that before. You can tell good bird photographers though, even with the great shots they already had, they were back the next day trying to improve on them.

Paul was convinced that the Wryneck had not departed in the night and who am I to argue with him, he has been birding a lot longer than I have and this was his patch. However by mid afternoon it still had not shown and we decided to widen the search area to see if it was feeding elsewhere.

Well, we did find it, but unfortunately the local Sparrowhawk had found it first. The Sparrowhawk had made a couple of passes over us earlier in the afternoon and thinking back on it, I believe I could hear it saying - too late boys I got it before you did, whose the best hunter around here.

So this is what I ended up with and I don't think I can claim it as a year tick.

Remains of the Wryneck

and this is the picture I should have taken. A real case of you should have been here yesterday.

Wryneck - Paul Snellgrove - taken the previous day

See more pictures on Flickr under icemelter4 and davidgardiner8. Not a great day as far as my pictures go but certainly not wasted, I picked up a lot of tips from a couple of patch experts.

Sunday, 7 September 2014

Little Stint

I was down at Widewater Lagoon this morning to see the Little Stint. It's a bird for which I have never really managed to get a decent picture and this looked like an ideal opportunity. It was easy enough to find but not so easy to photograph. It is only about the size of a House Sparrow so from the footpath on the bank you only get a distant shot even with the big lens.

Little Stint

You get the chance to do a digital enlargement on the computer but there is only so far that you can push it without losing the quality. The shot above, for example, starts to lose detail and sharpness and could not really be enlarged much further than shown below.

One or two of the shots came out OK but at this distance you never really get the quality you want.

How do you go about getting a better shot. Well you could try getting closer. The shot below must have been taken from the bank later on in the morning and has been circulating on Twitter.

Image taken from Twitter

The photographers will have taken really good quality close up pictures but they will have to balance this against the flack that they will get from the rest of the birding community for getting too close.

Are they doing anything wrong? Well if it was breeding season yes, but this time of year they are not really causing the bird a problem. If it was concerned or stressed it would fly away. The real problem is that you do not know how the bird will react  and there is no way of knowing if it will just take off and disappear into the distance. Then all the other birders that would like to see it miss out on the chance.

So is it acceptable and would I do it? Well probably yes if I found the bird out in the wilds and there was no one else about. In Widewater, no I don't think so. This is a LNR designated to protect rare plant and marine life as well as birds. The place has enough problems with vandals and rogue dog walkers and if bird watchers are seen wading out into the water how can you expect better behaviour from others. Its also a site that is easily accessible to a lot of people. The risk of scaring the bird away and disappointing others is just too great.

Wednesday, 3 September 2014

Pied Flycatcher

A three day stay down in Canterbury gave me the chance to visit a few of the birding sites around the Kent area. It's always worth a stop at Scotney Pits on the way down to scan the geese and wildfowl flocks and this time I found the Barnacle Goose flock close enough to photograph. Although I did have to look hard to find one that looked a pure bred Barnacle. Most seem to be Barnacle/Emperor hybrids.

Barnacle Goose

Next stop was Dungeness and for once it did not deliver. All I had there were distant views of all the usual birds with the highlight being a female Red-crested Pochard. A disappointment as Dungeness usually manages to turn up something out of the ordinary. Leaving early afternoon, with the weather starting to cloud over and with only the pictures of the Barnacles in the bag, I was in two minds over giving up for the day. Fortunately I decided to take a detour via Dover and stopped off in Samphire Hoe.

For anyone that does not know about the Hoe, it is a platform created at the base of the cliffs to the west of Dover using the spoils from the digging of the Channel Tunnel. It covers about thirty hectares and is accessed by a tunnel through the cliffs from the east bound carriage way, when leaving Dover on the A20. Observers have recorded 230 species of plants, 30 species of butterfly, 150 species of moth, and 213 species of birds there. It's well worth a visit if you are down that way. It has easy access and the wardens are always helpful with any sightings they have made.

That was the case again this time and within a couple of minutes of arriving I had locations for a Pied Flycatcher, Redstarts, and Black Redstarts. It wasn't going to be easy in the rapidly fading light. Shutter speeds were around a 1/60 of a second at ISO400, and holding a 700mm lens combination steady at that speed is not easy. Still I got some shots and although they are a little soft I was quite pleased with them. Fortunately you do not have to look at all the ones that failed.

Pied Flycatcher


The Redstart was very obliging and gave close views. The Pied Flycatcher was a bit harder and I only ended up with the one decent picture. By then the rain had set in and there was no point in looking for the Black Redstarts.

Needless to say I was back down there at 0700 the next morning when the site opened. The light was superb, bright but with a thin cloud cover, giving a very diffuse but clear light. Pictures were going to be really good and would have been if the birds were still there. The Redstarts had disappeared completely, the Pied Flycatcher was still there but it was now in a wooded gulley half way up the cliffs and beyond the range of the camera. I was gutted, I waited at the bottom for a couple of hours but there was no sign of it coming down.

There was some consolation in the Black Redstarts. I had been warned that they were hard to photograph. They did not allow close approach and a small black bird hunting over black seaweed covered rocks was not going to be easy. I did try concealing myself in amongst the rocks and waiting for them to come to me but they obviously new that I was there and avoided the area. On top of that it was uncomfortable and you do get some strange looks from passers bye, when they notice you lurking with a paparazzi style camera, apparently taking pictures of bits of seaweed.

Black Redstart

Black Redstart

The pictures don't really do the bird justice. Here's one taken a couple of years ago under better conditions.

Black Redstart taken at Climping Beach Sussex - October 2012

I had another look for the Pied Flycatcher but it was nowhere to be seen. There were a couple of Ravens and a Peregrine squabbling around the cliff tops but they were too far away for a picture but I did managed a few other shots around the site.



and there was an unusual visitor to one of the feeders. It makes a change from the usual tree rats.

Brown Rat

The route home was along the north coast of Kent with the main stop being at Oare Marshes There were thousands of birds there with some of the most spectacular being the Starlings. It's not just their synchronised flying that is the attraction, this time of year they have spectacular iridescent colours that make them look more like a tropical bird.


Apart from the wildfowl the majority of the other birds were Lapwings and Golden Plover but there were also Ruff and Curlew Sandpiper amongst them.

Curlew Sandpiper and Ruff

Golden Plover with Starlings and what looks like another Ruff with its head in the water.

You can get close to the birds at Oare but the better picture opportunities are in the afternoon when the sun is over your shoulder. There is a path round behind the birds if you are there in the morning but you are further away from them.