Monday, 26 January 2015


I have been out birding a few times recently but there has been nothing really interesting about and no real picture opportunities. The Spoonbills below are two of the three currently in residence at Snowhill Marsh. They are usually asleep sheltering from the wind and difficult to photograph but this time they were just the opposite, out in the open and non stop action, but then never taking their bills out of the water to let me get a decent shot.

There is also a Greenshank showing at the marsh but again usually very distant.


I had been over to the Pagham Harbour a couple of times looking for the Tundra Bean Goose. We eventually found it in the fields at the back of the Breech Pool. From the North Wall this would usually be well out of range for recording any detail but with good lighting, clean winter air, and no heat haze it was worth a try. I measured the distance on a map when I got home, just over two hundred metres. If only I could achieve detail at that range every time I am out.

Tundra Bean Goose - Highlights in the eyes at two hundred metres

The lighting was superb and the pictures would have been great except that there were no birds on the pool. My only other shot was of this Cormorant that flew in just as we were leaving. The breeding plumage really lifts them out of the ordinary.

There have also been a couple of trips to see the Kumlien's Gull at Littlehampton. It would be interesting to know if it is the same gull as last year. It's a lot harder to pick out this time. On the ground it looks a lot like a juvenile Herring Gull but in flight you can see the difference.

Kumlien's Gull

Monday, 19 January 2015

Night Heron

I decided to drive down into Kent to see the juvenile Night Heron at Nicholls Quarry near Hythe. I had been thinking about it for a couple of days but had been put off by the fact that the bird was on private property and also that I do not really like twitches. I was surprised then, to arrive at about ten thirty, to find that I had it all to myself and that no one else turned up in the two hours that I watched the bird.

Mind you, they had probably thought about a little more than I had. Its called a Night Heron for a reason. It is active at night and probably best observed at dawn and dusk. During the day it roosts in a suitable low tree or bush and that is exactly what this bird did. I watched its back for nearly two hours as it roosted deep in a bush by the side of the lake.

Juvenile Night Heron

If I was only a birder I could have walked away happy that I had seen it and that I had my tick, but I am not and I needed a better photograph. The temptation is to step over all the private property signs and go and disturb the bird and if you read SOS that's probably what you expect all photographers to do. The temptation is great, there was no one around to see me but instead I stood for two hours in a pool of frozen mud and water waiting for some movement.

Was I rewarded for my efforts? Well sort of, the heron did stir and preen for a couple of minutes but still with its back to me, then before it settled down again it gave me what seemed to be a begrudging glance over its shoulder.

Before going back to sleep

By this time I was getting cold and I had left my sandwiches in the car so I decided to leave it in peace and move on. It may not be the picture I was looking for but at least I had a record shot of its face and eye or at least part of it.

Out of interest the colours shown on these shots are not what I expected. My memory of the bird is of it being a much deeper brown and of the spots having a green tinge. I am not sure if it's my memory that is letting me down, my eyesight, or my cameras ability to record the colours in the very low light levels within the bush.

Having visited Scotney and Dungeness recently I decided on a change of venue for the afternoon. I decided to drive up to Sheppey and visit Elmley Nature Reserve to view the vast numbers of wildfowl and waders that were in the area. I was not best pleased then, when I arrived at Elmley to find that it was closed. They were demolishing a barn close to the entrance and had decided to close it for the day. I was not alone in my displeasure, I met a number of birders during the afternoon that had also travelled long distances to be there.

Fortunately Sheppey has some other good sites, Capel Fleet, Harty Ferry, Swale NR, Shellness. Too many for me to cover in an afternoon and I got no further than Capel Fleet and the Raptor Point. The wildfowl were a bit distant and I did not see any unusual waders but I did manage to pick up White-fronted Geese.

White-fronted Geese in the foreground

Sadly everything was too distant to be able to pick out the Pink-footed and Snow Geese that had been reported in the area.

Raptors were plentiful. There were at least six Marsh Harriers flying at the same time. Peregrines, Merlin, Kestrel, Short-eared Owl, Barn Owl, and a probable Ring-tail. A male Hen Harrier had aslo been spotted over at Shellness. The Merlin was picked up by a couple of birders standing next to me but I failed to get onto it yet again. This is turning out to be a bit of a bogey bird for me with the only ones I have ever seen being the two we picked up dead in the road close to Scotney (see blog)

As usual the only picture that I managed to get was that of a Kestrel

and there was Red-legged Partridge crossing the road as I headed home in the half light

The Night Heron made it a successful day but I had hoped to see a lot more and to get some better picture opportunities around Elmley.

Saturday, 17 January 2015

Dartford Warblers (again)

The post should have been titled Great Grey Shrike but things rarely go to plan. I had managed to get a couple of hours birding on a Saturday. An unusual occurrence, brought about by the wife having to attending a course and leaving me with the afternoon free. The plan was to head up to Iping Common to see the Shrike and I did eventually get to see it but not before being waylaid by an obliging Dartford Warbler.

I had been searching for the shrike for about an hour without any luck and without really seeing any birds at all. I stopped to consider what to do next but then saw a dark flash as a small bird disappeared into the gorse bush in front of me. That's usually all you see but this time the bird popped out on top of the bush and sat looking at me.

And it stayed to have its picture taken..... a good few times

I like the little white flash over the left eye. It will be interesting to see if I can spot it again later in the year.

Refreshed by having found a decent bird I set off in search of the Shrike again. There was no sign of it in its usual dead Birch Tree but I eventually found it flying three or for hundred metres to the south west of the car park. This is not a bird that is easy to approach, so I settle for a couple of distant record shots and left it in peace.

Poor framing but it was the only flight shot with the whole of the bird in picture

The light was going but I thought it was worth taking a small detour to see if the Little Owl was visible in its usual tree at Stapleash Farm. For anyone who does not know the location of the usual tree, see my blog of  January 2013, but be aware that one of the trees in the picture has now blown down.

This is a bird that really does not like to co-operate. At the first sign of anyone watching it runs along the branch into cover. This time I did not even get to see that, as it was already well concealed when I arrived.

An enjoyable afternoons birding with a few additions to the year list which is ticking along nicely.

Tuesday, 13 January 2015

Cetti's Warbler

Out birding with Dave again today and having the usual problem of how to make our blogs look a little different. Fortunately I can start off with a couple of pictures of Spoonbills taken at Snowhill Creek on Sunday. If only I could have trimmed the reeds that were blocking my view.

Spoonbills - with one not sleeping!  Pity about the reeds

Smart looking bird

Today started off in the dark and rain at Widewater looking for the Goosander. It had taken us just under an hour to do the five miles from Worthing and it was a complete waste of time. No Goosander, no birds on the sea, just the usual two pairs of Mergansers, a few dabchicks, and a Shellduck. To make it worse all my pictures of the mergansers were rubbish.

Next stop was Chichester Gravel Pits to have another look for the Dusky Warbler. We drew a blank on that one but there was a particularly showy Cetti's Warbler around. It was pure luck on where you were standing and where he emerged and I could not get a clear shot out in the open but there were a couple of reasonable record shots. Certainly a lot better than the usual back end that you get as it disappears into the bush.

Cetti's Warbler

Not bad for 1/60 Sec

We also searched for the female Red-crested Pochard without any luck. We were even told where it was by Owen Mitchell but of course by the time we got there it had moved on. Fortunately we then relocated it on the far side of Triangle lake and then watched as it paddled over to give us good views.

Red-crested Pochard

There were quite a few small birds around the lakes although the numbers of Coots and wildfowl still seems low. Winter does not really seem to have arrived yet, at least not as far as the birds are concerned. On the other hand some of the Great-crested Grebes seem to be moving into summer Plumage.

Great-crested Grebe

We ended up at the North Wall but there was very little showing. The usual Mallard, Teal, Widgeon, Canada Geese, and Curlews with flocks of Lapwings wheeling overhead but nothing unusual. The water was very high in the Breech Pool and the only Godwits that we could see were half a dozen in the flooded fields at the back of the pool. The wind was cold and getting stronger so we did not hang around for too long.

Friday, 9 January 2015

Common Scoter

Dave called me this morning to say that the Common Scoter was showing again on Widewater Lagoon. It is not a rare bird but it is unusual to be able to see one close up so I abandoned my tasks in the house and headed over there. As it happens I did not really get to see it close up. It was in hiding when I arrived and then promptly swam out into the middle of the lagoon, beached itself on the island there and I assume went of to sleep.

Female Common Scoter

I waited awhile but it did not reappear, the only consolation being that there were two pairs of Red-breasted Mergansers on the lake to pursue. Always a great bird to photograph.

Red-breasted Mergansers

There are a few resident Common Scoters over at the Wetland Centre in Arundel. They would be a lot easier to photograph but they don't have the same magic as a wild bird.

I had a quick look at the Turnstones and Purple Sandpipers on the harbour wall and then headed for home.

Wednesday, 7 January 2015

Lesser Yellowlegs

I have a few record shots of the Lesser Yellowlegs from the one that visited Lepe Country Park last January. That bird was very flighty and kept its distance. I was happy with the shots I had but when I heard that there was another bird down at Pett Levels that was much more confiding it seemed like an opportunity not to be missed. I picked Dave up and we headed down to darkest East Sussex.

On arrival we quickly located the appropriate spot on the edge of the eastern most pool. It was bitterly cold so we sat in the car surveying the birds, but we only had about a five minute wait before the Lesser Yellowlegs put in an appearance. It was very close and we were concerned that we might flush it getting out of the car and getting the cameras from the boot. To our surprise it then flew even closer ending up probably no more than twenty feet from the watching birders.

Lesser Yellowlegs

These are a big improvement on my existing record shots but I didn't get that real showstopper shot that I was looking for. It's a delicate looking little bird and it was being buffeted by a strong wind. I was also having difficulty holding the camera steady in that wind. There is a better shot here somewhere and if it hangs around I will have to go back for another go at it.

We moved on to Scotny Pits where Dave soon picked up the male Scaup and we had the usual problem of trying to find something that looked like a true Barnacle Goose from the assortment of hybrids in the flock.

Barnacle Goose

Next stop was Dengemarsh road where Dave had photographed a pair of Cattle Egrets a few days ago. He had promised me close views of these as well but when we arrived they were some distance away. I thought I would have to make do with distant record shots but as we headed back towards the car they both flew up and landed within a few feet of the fence. It is rare that I complain about birds being too close but I was having real problems this time. I had too much lens on and I could not get the birds in the frame.

A damaged bill on this individual

Next stop was the ARC Pit at Dungeness where we picked up year ticks on Great White Egret, Goldeneye and Bittern. They were too distant for record shots but we did have good views of one of the local Kingfishers, a couple of Chiffchaffs and a rather fine looking Great Tit.



Great Tit

After a bit of searching we also found a few Tree Sparrows but we could not find any sign of the female Smew.

A great days birding and some good picture opportunities. The new year has got off to a flying start.

Tuesday, 6 January 2015

Dusky Warbler

Dusky Warbler, but I have to point out straight away that this is not my picture. Dave had talked me into going to Chichester Gravel pits to look for the Dusky Warbler that had been reported there. I was not too keen. From past experience I knew how hard it can be to nail these small fast moving warblers. They like to stay in cover, the lighting was going to be poor, and I also have difficulty in picking up their calls. There is nothing worse than getting fleeting glimpses of a bird, thinking that it is the one you are looking for, but ending up walking away without being one hundred percent confident.

It looked as though it would go that way today. I had a four or five sightings of the bird moving through the bushes but all added together they probably came to no more than ten to fifteen seconds and it was moving all the time. I could see a white stripe over its eye but that alone was not enough to confirm the sighting. There were experts there that were confident that the call was that of a Dusky but again that is not really satisfactory.

Fortunately Dave managed to get a few shots of it. He was the only photographer there that did, but it was enough for all of us to go home confident that we had seen a Dusky Warbler. It's just a pity that they weren't my pictures. See Dave's Blog for more images.

Dusky Warbler - Dave Potter

I have had a few good days birding already this year but with mostly dull overcast days I don't have many pictures to show for it.  We were out New Years day and down at Gosport to see Waldo the Ring-billed Gull. He is now in his thirteenth winter on the boating lake in Walpole Park. We logged another forty or so birds that day but with poor lighting and no picture opportunities we headed for home early.

Waldo - Ring-billed Gull

Yesterday was going to be my big birding day and a chance to get a few year ticks under my belt. It started well when I left home just before eight and ended prematurely a few minutes later when I pulled up with a rear offside puncture. By the time I had the wheel changed, had cleaned up, and then visited the garage for a new tyre, it was about eleven o'clock.

I moped around the house for an hour before deciding that I really needed to go out. I was glad I did. I headed over to Horse Eye Level where I managed to pick up five Short-eared Owls, Richard's Pipit, Hen Harrier, and Marsh Harrier. Picture opportunities were again limited by the light with the Short-eared Owl below, just about making the grade for the blog.

Short-eared Owl

On the way home I stopped off at Jevington for the Rough-legged Buzzard and at Butchers Hole car park in Friston Forest for the Bramblings. The Chaffinch Flock here was huge and I have never seen so many Brambling in one place. I could have watched them for hours if it had not been for one of those nice dog walkers with six dogs running loose that scattered the lot.

So a good start to the year even if I don't have many pictures to show for it.