Thursday, 31 December 2015

Yellow-browed Warbler

New Years Eve and we were out for one final birding trip for the year. The target was the Yellow-browed Warbler at Eastleigh Sewage Works and it proved to be one of the easiest ticks of the year. We arrived at the site at about a quarter past nine to find a couple of birders already scanning the area. The bird was visible before we even had a chance to get the bins out.

Great early views and if we were just birders we could have gone home happy. The problem is that we are bird photographers and so we spent the next two hours trying to get a decent picture and we didn't really go home happy. Great fun but very frustrating.

Yellow-browed Warbler

In cover but showing the two wing bars and pinkish legs and bill base.

It was a nice way to end the year but with the clouds building up and the wind strengthening we decided to call it a day and head for home. New Years Day tomorrow and we start all over again.

Saturday, 26 December 2015

Failed 2015

I write this blog as a diary of my birding exploits but I mostly write about my successes. I am not a great one for twitches but I do keep a year list and a life list and I do like to see as many different birds as possible. Success in birding, as in my searching for butterflies, dragonflies and most other aspects of nature, is important to me. However, failure is what makes the hobby so compelling. The search, the disappointments, and the overcoming of failures, it's what makes the success so much sweeter.

I didn’t go to Bardsey Island to see the Cretzschmar's Bunting. For me, there were too many people and too much organisation, but if I had gone I would almost like to have been on the boat below, as recorded by Jon Holt on his 21st June tweet. Success would have just been another tick on the list. This failure, "Boat full of Dippers", would live in your memory for ever. Great capture Jon. I feel sorry for the people on the boat but this was one of my highlights of the year.

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Boat full of Dippers  

So I decided to spend more time recording my failures. It’s proving to be quite painful. Most I had locked away in a part of my mind where I didn’t need to look at them too often and, so it’s not too difficult for me, I am only going to look at 2015.

Top of my list of dips must be the Lesser Spotted Woodpecker. I can remember seeing them as a boy but since I started serious birding three or four years ago I have failed to connect with one on a number of attempts. Perhaps the best (or worst) occasion was back in February in the New Forest. We had been to Mark Ash Wood a couple of times looking for the Lesser Spot and on this occasion as with others there was plenty of drumming, but the bird was difficult to locate. It was very mobile but it did seem as though we could track it back to the individual trees it was using. However, each time we found a tree and stood at the bottom searching for movement we came up empty handed and the bird would suddenly start up again fifty or sixty yards away.

After about an hour and a half of this we ended up back in the car park talking to a couple of other birders. The drumming had stopped so I decided to wander off and take a few photographs of a Tawny Owl that was resident close by. Bad move, I was only a couple of minutes from the car park when I had a call from Dave to say that the Lesser Spot had just flown over them. Mission drift, how many times does it happen? I had come for the Lesser Spotted and that is all I should have been looking for.

I raced back to the car park but it was gone. Dave had only gotten a few seconds view but it was enough for all three of them to confirm the sighting. We looked but the bird was nowhere to be seen. The drumming did not start up again and, despite further visits, I still have a big hole where a Lesser Spotted Woodpecker should be sitting.

The New Forest is also the location of what I see as a regular dip on Goshawks. I had seen black dots yo-yoing in the distance and the experts had assured me they were Goshawks. I had seen very brief flybys of birds that could have been Goshawks but they could also have been Sparrowhawks. I was just not sure. Fortunately this dip was killed off spectacularly when I had an invite to go and watch Goshawk chicks being ringed click here and had good views of nine chick plus adult male and female birds.

Goshawk chick

On 3rd July a Squacco Heron was reported on the Ouse at Southease. I had commitments that I couldn’t get out of until about six thirty but with sunset at around nine twenty there was still plenty of time to get there. A quick discussion with my birding buddy, Dave, and a check on the Friday night traffic chaos and we decided to leave it until the next morning. Stupid or what? The next morning at six thirty there were plenty of birders there but no sign of the Squacco.

It was even more galling to see that Lee Evans, who must have seen dozens of Squaccos, spent four hours travelling the 88 miles through the M25 Friday evening traffic to get there just before the bird went to roost. Perhaps it explains why his life list is a little longer than mine!

Dave Barfield’s picture of the Squacco Heron that we dipped.- Posted on SOS

I also dip butterflies although it’s very rare. This time it was the Large Blue at Collard Hill on Monday 8th June. We were really keen to get this butterfly so having seen the first report of the year for the site we headed down there the next morning, a two hundred and fifty mile six hour round trip and all for nothing. It was cold, windy, and there were no butterflies flying. This time a little more patience and a few days wait would have paid off. I did eventually get to see the butterfly late one afternoon a week or so later but the record shot is hardly anything to write home about.

Large Blue

I see this one as unfinished business. I have my life tick but I still don’t have the photograph. 

I had similar problems with the even rarer Long-tailed Blue but fortunately this was only five miles from home. We searched for about three hours in the cold but with rain threatening we decided to give up and head for home. The butterfly, of course, turned up just a few minutes after we left. Fortunately a return visit the next morning gave us some good views.

Long-tailed Blue

Then there was the little Bunting in Ashdown Forest. I had seven days of dipping this bird made all the worse by the fact that on day one Dave had taken a picture of it. It was in with a small flock of Reed Buntings that we had both been watching. Neither of us spotted the bird at the time but Dave recognised the picture when he got home. I must have looked at it but not seen what it was. Seven days and over thirty hours of looking and I finally gave up and drove down to Cardiff to see the one that was sitting outside a hide at Forest Farm Reserve. Again not a brilliant picture and it did take me a while to get the identification confirmed but it did at least bring this little episode to an end.

Little Bunting

Pallid Harrier at the Burgh? We were over there on the Wednesday and Thursday from early morning to mid-afternoon. On both days I had to leave early and as you would expect it turned up after we left. On Friday we went over mid-afternoon and stayed until it got dark and of course it showed well in the morning. To make it worse on the Wednesday we walked round to the dew pond and it showed from the triangle car park end. Thursday we stood at the five bar gate by the car park and it showed at the dew pond end and Friday late afternoon whilst we were back at the dew pond it showed briefly from the car park end again.

There is nothing worse than walking back past birders that have big smiles on their faces and are keen to tell you about the "stonking" views that they had. Fortunately I caught up with it on the Sunday, after a couple of false alarms with Hen Harriers. It was always distant and although I had it in sight for about an hour I could only get poor record shots. To be honest I was just glad when it was all over. I will wait for the next bird to get a decent picture.

Then there are all the birds that I missed. Not exactly dips because I was not actively looking for them. They are just birds that I expect to see each year and for some reason I have failed to connect with them this year – Yellow-legged Gull, Water Pipit, Shorelark, Yellow-browed Warbler, Woodcock, Ruddy Shelduck, Hoopoe, Chough, Grasshopper Warbler, and Ruddy Duck. And of course the boggie birds. Lesser-spotted Woodpecker I have already mentioned but Jack Snipe and Merlin are also birds that I just do not seem to be able to catch up with.

The closest I have ever been to a Merlin - two we found dead in the road near Scotney Pits

This was an interesting blog to produce. Cathartic I think is the word - it might just become an annual event. I saw 245 different birds this year and that only involved attending one real twitch, the Acadian Warbler, so I can’t really complain. 

2016 is just a few days away and the challenges are still there.

Thursday, 17 December 2015

Glossy Ibis

Three years ago the Glossy Ibis seemed like a common bird on the south coast. I saw five perhaps six that year. The following year it was one bird and last year zero. It looked like being zero again this year but with a Glossy being reported regularly at Pett Levels we were still in with a chance.

Our first visit on Monday was a bit of a failure. We spent an hour there in the morning and an hour again late afternoon, with a visit to Dungeness in between. We searched thousands of birds that morning but came up with nothing. It's strange how, at a distance, an upright walking coot can look a bit like a Glossy Ibis and there were a lot of coots out there feeding on the grass.

As you would expect whilst we were away at Dungeness the Glossy Ibis was reported again and in its usual place - in the ditch, in the first field, just to the left of the roadside pool (the eastern most pool). In the afternoon we searched all the birds again but still drew a blank. The doubts start to creep in, Who had reported it? Did they know the difference between a Glossy Ibis and a Curlew? Was it someone's idea of a joke?

Still we had to try again and with some decent weather promised on Thursday we left home early and were out at Pett Level just before nine o'clock. Within thirty seconds of getting out of the car Dave had spotted it. It was exactly where all the reports had placed it and despite what I said above, it looks nothing like an upright Coot. But then its easy to be clever once you've made the identification.

We grabbed a few record shot, all of mine were useless. The early morning light was giving me 1/80 second and hand held on a large lens that does not make for good pictures. Then the bird took off and we thought we had lost the chance. It circled round then came into land even closer to us. Too close in fact.  Great for looking at the bird but I could barely get it in the frame and there were reeds blowing across the view.

I don't usually put up poor pictures but this one is a classic. Almost close enough to touch but too big for the frame, too close to focus properly, reeds blowing across the view and photo bombed by a coot.

Little more that could go wrong with this picture

A bit of shuffling around to try to get a better view saw us flush the bird and for a second time we thought we had lost it. Fortunately it stayed close and we had the chance to get some better pictures.

A great bird to see but this time of year its colours are a bit dull. I would like to get a picture of of one that was really showing the green and purple gloss that they are named after.

Given our early success we headed off to have a look at Scotney and Dungeness. It was all a bit quiet although the numbers of geese and ducks are gradually building. We saw Great White Egrets and Marsh Harriers, both quite common birds at Dungeness these days.

Marsh Harrier

The Long-eared Owl was still showing behind the dipping pool, but it was even better concealed than when we last saw it, and there were four redhead Smew on the Burrows lake.

On our Monday visit to Dungeness there were a couple of pairs of Pochard showing but both the males were asleep. This time they were nowhere to be seen so I had to settle for just taking a picture of one of the females.

It took two trips but it was good to see a Glossy Ibis again.

Thursday, 10 December 2015


With another short break being predicted in our run of stormy weather,  I picked Dave up and we headed down to Pagham Harbour to see what was about. First stop was the North Wall. Unfortunately we had decided to give Climping Beach a miss on the way and so probably missed the Dusky Warbler that was found that morning.

The tide was in and there was a lot of water in the Breech Pool but it was good to see the numbers of ducks and geese had increased significantly since our last visit and in particular to have the background noise of the Brent Geese calling to one another. Waders were still in short supply with just a few of the usual Godwits, Snipe, and Curlew although Lapwing numbers had increased significantly.

The only unusual sight was a Yellowhammer searching for food along the path. It would have made a nice addition to the blog but it was flushed by a dog walker before I managed to get a decent shot.

We had a look around Pagham Lagoon for the possible American Herring Gull that had been reported but could not find anything that matched the description. A couple of pairs of Goldeneye were the only real picture opportunity.

Other birds on the lagoon were Tufted Duck, Little Grebes and the usual gulls.

Little Grebe

Ferry Pool had a good number of birds on it. It was interesting watching the flocks take to the air and swirl around but they were all settling at the back of the pool and there were no picture opportunities. A quick check at the bill showed that there was nothing much happening there either. With the weather starting to take a turn for the worse we headed for home stopping off at the Arundel Wetland Centre on the way.

Grey Heron

Grey Wagtail

We were hoping for Bullfinches but there were none showing whilst we were there. A Heron and a Grey Wagtail were the only pictures that I managed to get. There was a good sized Long-tailed Tit flock and a couple of Goldcrests moving through but with the sky darkening over it was time to head for home.

Not the greatest days birding but at least it was good to be out in the sun - if only for a short time.

Tuesday, 1 December 2015

Ring-necked Duck

Tuesday, and we finally had a day that promised a break in the storms. Where to go? The wind was still strong and the light poor so the smaller birds would be in short supply. Widewater for the Mergansers was one possibility but in the end we decided to take a trip down to Rooksbury Mill near Andover, to have a look for the two juvenile Ring-necked Ducks that had been reported there.

We took the back roads avoiding the rush hour traffic and enjoying the last of the autumn colours. We had expected to have some difficulty in separating the juvenile Ring-necks, from the juvenile Tufted Ducks and had anticipated having to spend the morning trying to identify our targets. As it happened we had no problem. When we got to Mill Lake there was nothing there. No Ring-necks, no Tufties, just a couple of Moorhens, some Little Grebes and a few Swans.

We couldn't believe our luck. A quick search of the river and adjoining Brooks Lake at least gave us a few Tufted Ducks and Gadwalls but there was no sign of the Ring-necks. A local birder told us that they had been there on the previous evening but that they now appeared to have moved on. What to do next? it looked like a long trip for nothing.

Fortunately we decided to have one last look at Mill Lake on the way back to the car. It still looked empty but then, out in the middle, there was a disturbance as a couple of small ducks broke to the surface of the lake. A quick check with the bins and it was clear that we had our Ring-necked Ducks.

We watched them for a couple of hours, hoping that they would come closer and give us the chance of better pictures. They did move a bit when dog walkers came past but seemed determined to stay out in the open water in the centre of the lake. It was a bit disappointing but I can't really complain. We both had good record shots and a life tick, so it had to be counted as a good birding day.

We stopped off at a couple of watercress beds in the Meon Valley on the way home. These were new birding sites for us. We were hoping to see a Water Pipit but the conditions were deteriorating. There were birds there, including Pipits, but with the wind picking up, the birds were hunkering down and identification was not easy.

We did see Green Sandpipers, Grey Wagtails, Pied Wagtails, and Little Egrets.There were a couple of large dark Pipits but we could not be sure. The only positive identification we made was on a Meadow Pipit.

This Grey Wagtail was interesting. It was happily feeding in the watercress beds until a Sparrowhawk flew through. It then froze and stayed that way until about five minutes after the Sparrowhawk had disappeared. It's the first time that I have ever seen one without its tail wagging.

I came away from Rooksbury Mill with lots of pictures but they all look very similar. With both of us only getting decent shots of two birds I have a feeling that Dave's blog will look very similar to mine.

Wednesday, 25 November 2015

Caspian Gull

If you have read previous blogs you will know that Dave and I have been on a mission to spot a Caspian Gull. Neither of us were confident in our ability to identify a Caspian. We had studied the identifying features and knew what to look for  but theory and practice are vastly different when you are faced with a large flock of Herring Gulls.

Our favoured approach has been to visit Dungeness where there are two juvenile Polish colour ringed Caspians and we could play hunt the colour ring rather than hunt the Caspian.

Today we were down at Dungeness again for another try. Our initial search drew a blank and somewhat discouraged we headed off in search of other birds. We had a good day and had just finished photographing the Smew at Burrowes Pit and were about to head for home when we realised that we still had a loaf of bread left. Rather than waste it we decided to head back to the beach for one last look for a Caspian.

This time our luck was in, when a local gull expert told us that there was an adult Caspian in the gull roost. Unfortunately he was just driving away so we had to find it for ourselves. Knowing one is there is a huge advantage but we still had the challenge of locating it.

Some time later and having studied every gull in the roost it looked as though we were going to miss out again. We had one gull, that looked significantly different from the Herring Gulls and showed some of the features we were looking for but it had a yellow eye so could not be our Caspian. We were left with one gull that was asleep with its head tucked back so that we could not see its features. We waited, our confidence slowly draining away, then it moved and a black beady eye appeared.

A Caspian at last - please don't anyone add a comment telling me that it is some form of hybrid and doesn't count.

The pictures are not good. It was getting late and the light was failing. Then on top of that I was admiring the shots on the back of the camera when the bird took off and I missed getting a flight shot. See Dave's Blog for some flight shots.

Caspian Gull

The identifying features I was looking for and think I can see are:-

Small black beady eye
White head with no streaking
Small head compared to a Herring Gull
Legs thinner, longer and paler grey than the Herring Gull
Bill long and narrow
Long neck - not really visible here

It looks good and I am claiming the life tick.

We had a good day at Dungeness but it started slowly. Our initial search for the Caspian drew a blank and the ARC hide, for once, had little to offer, although we were told later that a Bittern had shown well and close just after we left.

We headed back to the Power Station to look for the Black Redstarts that are often present there. The sewage treatment area in the south east corner supports a good colony of midges and a number of birds can usually be found feeding in the area.

Black Redstart

Good supply of food 

Pied Wagtail

We also had a visit from armed police to check out what we were doing taking pictures so close to the Nuclear Power Station. There is no restriction on taking photographs but in this day and age they take no chances. It was a bit annoying but they were only doing their job and trying to keep us safe so it is best just to co-operate. Anyway he had a machine gun so I wasn't going to argue.

Just as we were packing up to move on an alert came through for a Long-eared Owl close to the RSPB Visitors Centre. It was buried deep in the bushes at the other side of the pond and very difficult to spot but we did at least get a picture.

Long-eared Owl

I have only ever seen one Long-eared Owl out in the open and I doubt that I will ever get better pictures than on that occasion. Have a look at this blog if you are interested.

We were on a roll, so we walked round to the Scott hide to have a look for the redhead Smew. They had not been showing last time we were there. This time we were a bit luckier, showing but very distant. Lets hope the male comes in to visit them before the winter is out.

and getting further away all the time

One life tick  and one year tick. Not a bad days birdwatching. The past month has been very slow on the bird photography front. It was nice to come home feeling we had achieved something.

Tuesday, 24 November 2015

Short-eared Owl

It would have been nice if a few of the rarities reported around the country over the past couple of months had spent a few days in Sussex. It would have been even nicer if we had seen some decent weather. Birding you can do when its raining, bird photography needs good light. I think I have managed five blogs in the past two months and it has been a struggle to come up with any material for those. Fortunately Monday was a good day, weather wise, and Dave and I set off to pursue some decent pictures.

We headed east along the coast but it was a slow start to the day. There was nothing worth photographing at Widewater and nothing out on the sea. We found one Purple Sandpiper at Shoreham Fort but it only gave fleeting views and a single Rock Pipit on the harbour wall.

The Great Northern Diver did not show at Shoreham Port. A great pity, as with some of its summer plumage still showing it would have taken a good picture. I had seen it over the weekend but that was in pouring rain and near zero visibility.

Our next stop could have been Brighton Marina but with a Red-throated Diver reported at Newhaven Marina we decided to give it a miss. Bad mistake, there was a long-eared Owl sitting out in the Marina giving great views. Worse still the Red-throated Diver had moved on and apart from a few Herring and Black-headed Gulls there was nothing in Newhaven Harbour.

The first decent weather for photography in a long time and we couldn't find any birds. Fortunately Tide Mills came to the rescue. There were two Short-eared Owls quartering the fields and scrub area at the back of the beach. I think food must be in short supply for them to be out hunting at eleven o'clock in the morning. They were easy to spot as the crows were up mobbing them for most of the time that we watched.

Short-eared Owl

We walked out to the Harbour arm to have a look for the Purple Sandpipers but, having been delayed by the owl, the tide was receding and we were a bit late for the best views. All I could manage was this shot down on to one bird feeding in the gloom around the legs of the pier.

Purple Sandpiper

A Guillemot swimming and preening just off the beach was a bit unusual


and there was the ever present Stonechat.


Nothing unusual found on the day but it was nice to be out taking pictures again. We went out again this morning, this time to Southsea Castle looking for Purple Sandpipers. This time the tide was too high and there were none about.

We only had about an hour before the light disappeared and the rain returned. I spent most of that time trying to get a picture of Chiffchaffs that were feeding in the garden next to the castle. No luck with that but I did pick up another Rock Pipit and a couple of the usual suspects.

Rock Pipit

House Sparrow

Pied Wagtail