Thursday, 26 February 2015

Surf Scoter

I haven't put many blogs up lately but then I can sum up February as six days spent dipping the Little Bunting at Old Lodge, three days spent dipping the Lesser Spotted Woodpecker at Mark Ash Wood, and a couple of half way successful days standing outside a sewerage farm photographing Siberian Chiffchaffs. All made worse by the fact that on day one of looking for the Little Bunting, it must have perched right in front of me, without my being able to identify it. Dave standing next to me managed to get a picture of it.

Today brought an improvement, a Surf Scoter had been reported yesterday in Stokes Bay just to the west of Gosport. We waited for confirmation that it was still about then set of for Hampshire through the heavy rain. We couldn't find it at the reported location of being off Elmore car park but then driving further east we found it back in yesterdays location of the second car park in Stokes Bay.

A quick look through the telescopes confirmed the sighting of one Surf Scoter and two Common Scoter and also left us soaked through and cold from the driving rain. We then sat in the car for three hours watching the Scoters fishing out in the bay and at the same time watching the weather radar on the web waiting for the rain band to clear.

The birds were always distant and with rough seas and poor light the pictures were never going to be brilliant but any shot of a Surf Scoter on the south coast has got to be worth having.

This is the view through the big lens - about equivalent to a 10x50 binocular

Digitally enlarged on Photoshop - reasonable quality

Overdone, pixels starting to show but it gives a clearer view of that multicoloured beak and the white patches on the nape and forehead.

February has improved but I still need to get that Little Bunting. Even my wife is encouraging me to have another go. Don't let it beat you she said, it's only a little bird - but she was having difficulty stopping herself laughing whilst she said it.

Sunday, 15 February 2015

Slavonian Grebe

I seem to have spent most of the past week at Old Lodge trying to get a picture of the Little Bunting. I think I have seen it, both perched and doing a flyby, but I haven't got a picture and I haven't been able to confirm the sighting. Dave, standing next to me got the picture. Click here to have a look. This is getting to be a bit of a habit on his part. He calls it luck but it's starting to happen too often for that. Even my wife is suggesting that he may just be a better bird photographer than I am!

All I managed to get at Old Lodge were a few shots of the Woodlarks that were busy displaying over the reserve.


For a time it looked as though there would be no pictures for the blog but fortunately the Slavonian Grebe at Arlington Reservoir took pity on me and stayed around long enough to give me a few good pictures.

Slavonian Grebe

The grebe was busy feeding and did not seem to be at all bothered by my presence. In the time I watched, it caught three fish and was still actively feeding when I left. It makes you wonder how many it can swallow at one sitting.

The only problem that I had was its annoying habit of turning its back to the sun when it surfaced with a fish. Trying to get the exposure right on the face, then gives you problems with the neck and tail burning out. I am not sure if this was just bad luck or if the grebe does this deliberately to give it better visibility of its prey.

Other pictures taken over the past week include the Kumlien's Gull at Littlehampton. I am just hoping that it returns next year as a third winter.

Kumlien's Gull

and a selection of Chiffchaffs from Steyning and Coldwaltham Sewerage Farms. There must be a Siberian in here somewhere.

Is that a splash of yellow on its side? - not Siberian if it is

Definitely buff coloured but what about its back and wings?

Looks like the best prospect.

Some good pictures but I didn't get the Little Bunting. Having missed the Lesser Spotted Woodpecker the week before, I am starting to build up a list of places and birds that I need to return to. Lets hope we get some decent weather.

Thursday, 5 February 2015

Cackling Goose

Today I thought I would go down to Cuckmere Haven and have a look for the Cackling Goose. I think it's been there for over a month now and I was just interested to see what a half sized Canada Goose would look like. Strange enough when I did find it I was surprised to see that it looked just like a half sized Canada Goose!

I think that I had expected it to be a lot harder to find. I had spent a lot of time doing a complete circuit of the western side of the river and of course it was in the very last group that I examined. Go anti-clockwise from the Golden Galleon car park if you want to save yourself time. I had examined a lot of Canada Geese. Is this one smaller than that one? Does it have a darker breast? It gets very confusing but when you do find the Cackling it really is half size and there can be no doubt.

Cackling Goose in the centre

Size is key to finding it but even if full size the bird would look different. It has a much darker breast and belly, darker grey upper parts, a shorter neck and a smaller, more pointed beak. In some lights it also takes on a slight purple sheen. This one has a white crescent neck ring. It also had a much different call to the Canada Geese.

Showing slight purple sheen

Now for the nerdy part. Is it a Ridgeway's (minima) or  Richardson's (hutchinsii).  Having read up on them, on balance, I would have to favour the minima due to size and colouring but on the other hand there is the neck ring. It presence does not rule out minima but it is more characteristic of the hutchinsii and even more so of a third variety the Aleutian (leucopareia).

The image below is lifted from

Identification and range of subspecies within the (Greater) Canada and (Lesser Canada) Cackling Goose Complex (Branta canadensis & B. hutchinsii).

Click here to see more detail

The minima on the left, if you add a neck ring, looks like the one I saw at the Cuckmere and again you can see the purple tinge coming through.

Cackling Goose - but no purple tinge in this light

And, the final question, is it an escapee or a vagrant. I have no way of knowing but I see no reason why it should not be a "real" bird. There have been other examples of vagrant Cackling Geese recorded and verified in europe from recovered rings.

More details on identification of subspecies here.

I didn't look at much else around the Cuckmere. I am not allowing mission creep any more having missed out on the Lesser Spotted Woodpecker on Monday, but I did stop to take a picture of these Barnacle Geese. There were five in total on the river side of the circuit.

Barnacle Geese

Wednesday, 4 February 2015


As far as waders and wildfowl are concerned I am not a great fan of Pulborough Brooks. There are great expanses of water, but the birds are usually too distant even for record shots. The place is actually better for the smaller birds with Bullfinches, Goldcrests, and later in the year Nightingales being relatively easy to capture.

Today, however, with the brooks and scrapes likely to be frozen over and with the possibility of finding birds out on the ice looking for open water, it seemed worth another visit. It was worth the try but it was nearly a wasted trip. There were birds on the ice, as we had expected, but they were all the common ducks. We managed to find a group of ten Snipe foraging near West Mead Hide but other than those and a few Lapwing I did not see a single wader all day.


Fortunately the visit was rescued by the Bullfinches and a few good looking Fieldfares we spotted as we walked around.


We found a small flock of six Bullfinches close by West Mead hide, a couple at Fattengates and another three or four at the top of the zigzags. They were all very mobile and it was difficult to get shots of them but it did occupy us for an interesting hour or so.


Keen to improve on our Bullfinch shots we then headed off to the Arundel Wetland Centre where Dave had photographed a couple of females the previous week.  They were still where he had left them, feeding on the buddleia bushes just outside the Sand Martin hide. These were a little tamer than the Pulborough birds and had no intention of leaving their food source even when people passed within a few feet of them. Unfortunately though, there was no male to photograph.

Female Bullfinch

A quick look from the Sand Martin hide gave us the unexpected bonus of a Grey Wagtail actively feeding on the waters edge and the interesting challenge of could you get a shot that was not a complete blur as it raced up and down

Grey Wagtail

I had one final opportunity for a photograph as we headed back for the car. One of my favourite birds the Dunnock, almost too close to get him in the frame.


Overall, not a bad day. A few decent pictures of the Bullfinches, sightings of Water Rail, Treecreeper and Goldcrest and a few year ticks and I went home happy.

Monday, 2 February 2015

Mandarin Ducks and others

I only walked away for a couple of minutes but I missed the Lesser Spotted Woodpecker, a bird that has been on my hit list for a long time.

We had travelled down to the New Forest in the hope of seeing the Lesser Spotted and initially things looked very promising. It or possibly both of them were very mobile but we could hear the drumming and it seemed 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. It's usually hidden behind branches so you never get good pictures but it's always worth a look. 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 Spotted 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 and the drumming did not start up again. I suppose you have to look on the positive side. We do at least know where to look and the next couple of months will give the best opportunities for sightings and possibly even a photograph.

So what of the rest of the day. Well I did get pictures of the Tawny Owl.

Tawny Owl

There were large Chaffinch flocks around as well but we could not see any signs of Bramblings flying with them.

After a time we decided to move onto Eyworth Pond. The hope was that the pond would still be frozen over and that the resident Mandarins would be out on the ice instead of hiding away under the bushes on the far bank. It looked good when we first arrived. There was only one area of open water and all the Mandarins were crowded around it. There was plenty to look at and some great views but picture wise it was difficult to frame any decent shots. I counted sixteen of them but most of the pictures just turned out to be a jumble of colours and shapes. Some of the more acceptable ones are shown below.

There were also a pair of Gadwall on the ice


The female seemed quite sure footed but the male spent most of his time sitting down

Eyworth Pond is also a good place to photograph the smaller birds. They are fed regularly and are not worried about people being close but do remember to take some bird food if you go.

Marsh Tit

Marsh Tit


Coal Tit

The Coal Tit was just a bit too fast for me although I eventually managed to get the picture above but this Long-tailed Tit seemed happy to hang around eating its seed whilst I took pictures.

Long-tailed Tit

There were also three Muscovy Ducks cleaning up any dropped food and seeming to have intimate conversations gently hissing at each other.

Muscovys  - perhaps not the prettiest of ducks but there looks to be some character there

I wonder how many of these there are living and breeding in the wild. They are South American in origin and are not migratory so any out in the wild are escapees or descendants of such. Reading up on them they are meant to be great farmyard ducks and do not need their wings clipped as they do not wonder far from home. I think somebody forgot to tell the ducks! They are also meant to be some of the finest meat available from any animal or bird so their population in the wild is likely to be well controlled.

We then headed down to Blashford Lakes to see if there were any Redpolls or Siskin about. Siskin there were although we could not get any pictures. Why they have hides with windows that do not open and others that have blue glass in them I have never really understood.

There were other unusual birds around.

Perhaps they were expecting a visit from the "Next Generation Birders"

By early afternoon the light had started to go. We called back into the car park and had one final look for the Lesser Spotted Woodpecker but there was no sign of it. There was a nice Goldcrest hunting close by but the light was too low for a picture so we decided to head for home.

On the way out of the forest we had one more stroke of luck. Dave spotted a bird sitting out on top of a small tree. I stopped the car and we reversed back for a closer look. We were really pleased to find a pair of Crossbills, there have not been many reported so far this year. The light was low and they were a long way off but any record shot of these birds is worth having.

Overall, a great days birding. I missed the Lesser Spotted Woodpecker but then that leaves me something for another day. Dave might have seen it but he didn't get a picture so I know he will be keen to go back and have another go.