Wednesday, 25 March 2015

Red-breasted Goose

I picked up on the report posted on SOS of a Red-breasted Goose on Henfield Levels and with the sun shining this morning I went to take a look. It took a bit of searching but I eventually found it whilst viewing from the Downslink Path although it was very distant.  It was with a flock of about a dozen Greylags although I later found it in a mixed flock with Greylags and Canada Geese.

With mixed flock of Greylags and Canada Geese.

You will have to be very lucky if you want to get close to this bird. The Greylags make excellent guards. They start giving alarm calls if you get within about 100 metres of them and take flight if you approach any closer. There is good cover along the Downslink path but the river bank is very open and people walking along the bank were putting them to flight.

There was another Red-breasted Goose flying with Greylags reported in the same area in March last year. Perhaps it is making a return visit.

Yesterday we had another unusual Goose, a single Barnacle  on the Breech Pool at Pagham Harbour. This time associating with Brents.

Saturday, 21 March 2015

Lesser Scaup, Cirl Bunting, and Penduline Tits

My last post drew to a close a very unsatisfactory search for a Little Bunting. Eight days and probably around fifty hours and I was still not really sure that I had the right bird. (but now confirmed via BirdForum) I needed some success and a few decent pictures and the next few hours were about to deliver just that. Three great birds, good picture opportunities and all for a couple of hours birding and a "bit" of driving. 

The light was beginning to fade as I left Forest Farm where I had been looking for the Little Bunting. My other target in Cardiff was the Lesser Scaup. It was getting a bit late but I headed round to Cosmeston Lake on the other side of Cardiff just to see if I could locate the bird. Sometimes you just get lucky. I parked up and walked down to the lake and there it was.

I also spotted this unusual duck on the lake. I assume that it is some form of hybrid but I will have to do a bit more research to find out what it is.


What to do next? There was no point in going back to Forest Farm the next day as they would be working around the hide area. Cosmeston looked interesting but it would be full of people and dog walkers on a sunny Saturday. I felt as though I was on a bit of a roll so I decided to head over the bridge and down into Devon to look for the Cirl Buntings.

The next morning I was in the car park at Broadsands at at 06.15 with the sun just coming up, no one about and a lot of bird activity all around me.

Song Thrushes, Dunnock and various Tits kept me busy for a few minutes


Song Thrush

but then a pair of Cirl Bunting arrived. I got a couple of record shots but the dawn light has too much orange in it for  recording the true colours and I just had to hope that they would hang around for half an hour or so. Fortunately they did and I got the pictures I was looking for.

Cirl Bunting

The female was staying in cover and was harder to photograph and in the time I was there I only saw these two birds but then two is a lot better than none.

Female Cirl Bunting

Where to go next? Darts Farm was just north of Exeter and on the way home, Penduline Tits were putting in occasional visits there, would my luck hold?

Only a quarter to ten in the morning and I was heading for home feeling really happy. There were a lot of places I could have visited on the way back but anything now would be an anticlimax. All I really wanted was a comfortable chair and a cup of tea.

The frustration of an eight day search for one bird wiped out by three great birds in just a couple of hours. Knowledge and field craft play a big part in finding the birds but you need to be lucky as well.

Friday, 20 March 2015

Little Bunting

The Little Bunting has proved to be a bit of a problem bird for me this year. I went to see the bird reported at Old Lodge in Ashdown Forest but failed to spot it even though Dave standing next to me went home with a picture of it. Not wishing to be defeated I went back for another try and another and another and..... Seven visits in all, hundreds of pictures of Reed Buntings but nothing that convinced me that I had seen the Little Bunting. This was starting to be a major part of my life that was going missing.

I had a forced break from the bunting when we went up to Scotland for a week but on return it was still there nagging away at me. Perhaps a different approach was needed. There was a Little Bunting being reported as showing well at Forest Farm reserve in Cardiff. It was a long way to go but could I face another seven days at Old Lodge and that was even if the bird was still there.  Wednesday of last week and I would have gone to Cardiff except I had a problem with the brakes on the car. This was really turning out to be a bogey bird.

Friday the car was fixed and I set off for Cardiff at 05.30 and was in the hide by 09.00 and settled in for what was going to be a long day. Late morning and someone in the hide had a sighting (below) but I was not convinced. It might have been but this looked too much like a female Reed Bunting and as this was my first Little Bunting I needed to be really sure.

Is it a Little Bunting?

By 15.30 I was thinking I would call it a day and go and look for the Lesser Scaup on Cosmeston Lake. I planned to be in the area for two days so I could always come back tomorrow. Except, the warden then appeared and told me that they planned to do some work outside the hide on Saturday and that it was unlikely that I would get to see the bird.

I gave it another half hour, another possible appeared and this time I was convinced - just. The shots are not clear but I can at least, this time, identify the diagnostic features I am looking for.

  • Sharp bill with straight culmen
  • Distinct white eye ring
  • Chestnut cheeks - but not as bright as I would have liked
  • White spot on back of cheek
  • Dark edging around cheek
  • Grey/brown shoulder
  • Crown with dark lateral stripes and brown median stripe. - difficult one this, the crown was darker than the female RB but not as dark as I would have liked
  • Pink Legs
The bird was also smaller than the Reed Buntings I was seeing.

Was I happy? Not really, I wanted a good picture and one that really stood out as being a Little Bunting but it is at least the end of the current search. It's time to move on to other things including what to do with the rest of my two day pass.

My thanks to Peter Suneson, Adam Bowley, and Rich. for help with identification via BirdForum and to Dave who was always confident in the identification and is probably just glad that I will not be going on about it any more.

Did I see anything else at Forest Farm? Well I did get a bit of mission creep when this pair of Bullfinches turned up. I was probably photographing these whilst the Little Bunting was displaying at the other end of the hide.

Wednesday, 18 March 2015


Friday 13th March

The road up to the Cairngorm car park had been closed for the previous three days due to the strong winds and the threat of snow. Friday dawned sunny and with no wind. This would be our only chance to get above the snow line and find the Ptarmigan so we made an early start and were in the car park by eight o'clock.

The earliest running of the funicular looked like being at ten thirty so we were facing a long wait or a long walk to get to the top. Fortunately we checked with the local ranger and he pointed us in the direction of an easier walk up to the Northern Corries where he said we would find the Ptarmigan.

Local knowledge is always useful and with an hours steady walking we were above the snowline. At first all we could pick up was the sound of the Red Grouse calling but Dave soon got onto the "screwdriver" sound of a couple of the Ptarmigan and we had distant views.

Female Red Grouse

We were having difficulty getting close enough for a picture and decided to split up to cover more ground. I could hear one calling so went higher to see if I could find it. It was then that I realised that it was sitting out on a rock about ten feet away from a group of climbers that had just gone past me. It clearly did not like people in its territory and was giving them a server scolding. They all had their phones out taking pictures and must have thought me an odd sight trying to run through the snow to catch up with them before the bird disappeared.

Dave was a couple of hundred yards away and had even further to travel. He managed to get a few shots but I think his arrival must have been too much for the bird. It probably felt out numbered and made a strategic withdrawal.

We found a few more of the Ptarmigan and got some good pictures but none were as close as the first one.

This male is in full breeding finery

Back down to the car park by midday we decided to give the Crested Tits another go. Much to our surprise we found David Gardiner standing in "our" spot. Still it was nice to see someone from home and we spent a pleasant afternoon and evening discussing the birding opportunities.

The Cresties put in some good appearances and there was also  a Siskin in the area, a rare sight this year.

Siskin - this one seems to have a deformed bill and its feet look a bit of a mess as well

Crested Tit - Posing nicely for a picture

You need to see the bigger picture - a large dollop of peanut butter helps to keep its attention

Ptarmigan and Crested Tits in the same day. Birding back in Sussex is going to seem a little boring.

Golden Eagle

Thursday 12th March

The forecast was for heavy rain by 11.30 so we only had a small window in which to find and photgraph Eagles. Dave had a location in the Findhorn Valley in mind and he could not have chosen better. As we arrived a couple of Ravens flew over and then a larger bird of prey. It could have been an Eagle but we were unable to confirm the sighting.

We got the cameras and scopes ready expecting a long wait but within minutes we had another bird drifting over the crag and this time there was no doubt, a Golden Eagle. Then the dilemma, look at it through the scope or try to get a picture. I, of course, tried both and probably did not get the best out of either, and, when a second Eagle turned up, I made an even bigger hash of it by locking up the controls on the camera and missing the shots of the two tumbling together.

The pictures are awful but given the weather and the distances involved I was happy to get any images.  For me they are a record of a few of the best hours birding that I have experienced. Ravens, Eagles, a Peregrine, a Sparrow Hawk, and a Dipper all without moving more than a few feet from the car.

It is only when you see a bad picture that you realise how effective the human eye is. Watching them live they appeared close and you could see all the detail, looking at the pictures visibility looks something close to zero. All the shots have been rescued after a lot of work on Photoshop.

A flyby - my only half decent shot

Perched on top of the crag - very distant

The white patches on the wing show this as a subadult probably year two or year three. It takes between five and seven years for the bird to gain its full adult plumage.

The rain set in at eleven thirty just as forecast and with nothing else for us to see in the valley we headed up to the coast. We found a raft of about forty Scaup just of Alturlie Point and a Red-throated Diver off Burgh Head but other than this there was not a lot about.

Scaup, male and female

Red-throated Diver

Well that gets rid of a lot of the worst photographs from the trip and just in case you were wondering what happened to Wednesday the answer is not a lot. Here are a few equally poor shots from that day.

The first just in case you are not sure of the differences between a Shag and a Cormorant and the second a Song Thrush as we could not relocate the Twite and the Yellowhammer I could hear singing disappeared very time I went to press the shutter. The seals looked promising but I was slowly sinking into the mud and could not get any closer.

Shag and Cormorants at Burgh Head

Song Thrush

Seals at Findhorn Bay

Tuesday, 17 March 2015

Crested Tits

Tuesday 10th March

The target for Tuesday was to get a good picture of a Crested Tit but I hadn't realised just how difficult it would be. We were out on site at Loch Garten by just gone seven thirty and by midday I hadn't got a single shot. In fact I had only had five sightings of the Crested Tits and none of those had been for longer than a few seconds.

With the wind chill factor it was sub zero temperatures, my feet were like blocks of ice, and my fingers were so cold I was having difficulty pressing the shutter button. I had pictures of other birds but the Cresties were just to fast for me and were flying off before the camera had focussed.

Coal Tit

Great Spotted Woodpecker

Tree Creeper

We decided to have a break and go and look at some Whooper Swans that were nearby at Boat of Garten then on to Lochindorb for the Red Grouse.

Whooper Swan

Red Grouse

The Red Grouse (Lagopus lagopus scoticus) is a subspecies of the Willow Ptarmigan         (Lagopus  lagopus). It differs in that it does not adopt a winter plumage of white.

Nearly too close for the camera

Great fun but then it was time to go back for another go at the Cresties and fortunately they seemed to have slowed down a bit. I assume that whilst we were watching in the morning they were taking and caching food but in the afternoon they seemed to be staying longer and feeding on the food offered.

Crested Tit

A good start but I think I need to go back and try again.