Sunday, 31 May 2015


A recent holiday with the family in North Devon proved to be very enjoyable, if just a bit frustrating as far as bird watching went.

I had great plans - a detour on the way down to see the Purple Heron and Red-footed Falcon, a trip to Lundy Island giving me a four hour sea watch and a chance to see the Puffins, and a couple of walks planned for locations with Wood Warblers. If I was really lucky and got a few hot days I might also get an early High Brown Fritillary.

Needless to say, it did not quite happen as planned. We were late leaving due to a hairdressers appointment that I had not factored in (not mine) and I had to abandon the detour. The trip to Lundy was great but I only saw a couple of Gannets and a few Guillemots on the boat trips and the Puffins were too far away for a photograph. I did one of the Wood Warbler walks without seeing any Wood Warblers and then when I went to my banker site at Watersmeet it was so crowded that I couldn't even get into the car park.

Still, there's always something to look at and in flight shots of the Ravens and Fulmars from the local cliffs proved to be one of the best attractions.


and with a tasty morsel of food!




Plenty of Grey Wagtails about

Grey Wagtail

and juvenile Grey Wagtails

and even younger Grey Wagtails


Rock Pipits in the coastal steams

A Whitethroat

A juvenile Warbler - probably a Chiffchaff

and just for the record a very distant  and heavily cropped shot of a Puffin

It's not the raft of excellent photographs that I had hoped to come home with but it is the record of the birds seen on my holiday.

Wednesday, 20 May 2015

Turtle Dove

The Sussex Wildlife Trust Headquarters at Woods Mill is always a good place to look for Turtle Doves. They tend to favour  a couple of trees on the footpath down the west side of the site and often sit out in the open.

My first circuit of the site did not look very promising. There was very little moving and not much bird song. I sat for a while and enjoyed the view out over the lake and had just decided to move on to Pulborough Brooks when I heard a familiar purring coming from the other side of the lake.

The Turtle Dove was easy enough to find but it was deep in a tree and it was very difficult to find an angle for a clear shot.

Turtle Dove playing hard to get.

It called on and off for about half an hour and then flew away. It was probably about an hour before it returned. This time it found a more open perch but was left silhouetted against the sky so was still not easy to photograph. It also seemed determined to keep its back towards me for most of the time I was watching.

At last a front view but he doesn't look very happy

It's a pity he didn't want to pose for me but I'm just happy that he made it through the Mediterranean and ended up somewhere where I could see him. Lets hope he finds a mate and that the species starts to make a recovery.

There was not much else around, a few Whitethroats, a Sedge Warblers singing from deep in the reeds and a couple of Wrens singing their hearts out.


I had left the Macro lens at home so when a Dragonfly flew past me I did not at first think about taking a picture. However, on the second pass I noted more detail and could not immediately put a name to it. You can take Dragonfly pictures with a big lens but you have to stand a long way off. Vegetation tends to get in the way and its usually best to use manual focus unless they are really perched out in the open.

It took me a long time but I eventually got a few decent pictures. It looks like an immature Scarce Chaser.

The species is called a Scarce Chaser and it is scarce throughout its range in southern and eastern England. However, where it does occur it is usually abundant and West Sussex seems to be a good location for it.

An interesting days birding and it was good to see a Turtle Dove. Is it my imagination or have they become more common over the past couple of years?

Monday, 18 May 2015

Greater Yellowlegs

I have had a couple of trips down to Titchfield Haven looking for the Greater Yellowlegs. They were both dips. The first, I think, was a false alarm triggered by a Greenshank and for the second visit, the bird, whatever it was had just melted away into the reeds.

With further sightings being posted yesterday and this morning I thought I would give it another go. The weather was poor with strong winds and steady rain so I thought there would be a good chance of it staying in place until I could get there.

I had a good feeling this time although my confidence dropped a bit when I saw a lot of people walking back along the track to the road. Fortunately the news was good - still showing well from the Spurgin hide.

Black-tailed Godwit and Greater Yellowlegs

The Yellowlegs was feeding with a small flock of Godwits. It was much closer than I had expected but was behind some reeds for most of the time that I watched it. It was a case of focus on the bird, then wait for it to face the right way, take its head out of the water and, if you were lucky, have the reeds blow out of the way at the same time. It's a technique guaranteed to give you a lot of failures but if you take enough pictures there will be a reasonable one in amongst them somewhere.

 I had great hopes of the bird coming over in front of the hide but every time it moved towards us it was chased back behind the reeds by one of the Gulls. Interesting that it only did this to the Yellowlegs and left the Godwits that it was feeding with alone.

I had expected to see a more pronounced upturned bill

I watched it for about an hour, then something flushed all the birds on the scrape. The Godwits took off, wheeled once over the scrap and then headed off north, possibly going back to the Posbrook Flood. 

I would have liked longer with the bird and also the chance to get some better pictures but, with it having flown off, I could at least head for home without worrying about what I was missing.

Friday, 15 May 2015

Black-throated Diver

On Thursday evening there were some superb pictures of a summer plumage Black-throated Diver posted on the web. They were taken at Farmoor Reservoir near Oxford. Now I may not be into "twitching" or keen on travelling long distances for a bird, but I will travel for a good picture and these were too good to ignore. So Friday morning, I was in the car early and off to Oxford full of anticipation for the show stopping shots I was about to get.

Great plan but the execution was not quite as good. Nobody had told the bird to co-operate. Just before I arrived it had been feeding at the edge of the reservoir but it had been flushed by one of the anglers boats and when I arrived it was sitting out in the middle of the water and there it stayed.

I walked around the reservoir a couple of times. Somehow they always looks closer to the far bank but they never are once you walk round there. It was probably going to come in closer to the bank to feed at some stage but I had to get away about three o'clock to get home for an evening commitment.

This was my best shot. Its a big reservoir and with a 500mm lens, 1.4 extender and 1.6 multiplier in the camera this was the best I could get.

Distant Black-throated diver in the centre

You can blow it up in Photoshop but it's never going to give you a good picture and cannot compare with those taken the day before when the people had it ten to twenty feet from the camera. It just gives me an idea of what I missed.

Heavy crop of the shot above.

Still it was not a wasted trip. As well as the Diver, I saw my first Yellow Wagtails of the year, although I did not stop to photograph them as I was so keen to get to the Diver.

There was also this odd couple sitting on the reservoir causeway. They seemed inseparable and were not at all phased by the walkers, birders and photographers coming within a few feet of them - not me of course.

Dunlin and Sanderling

Summer plumage Dunlin

Summer plumage Sanderling

I went back to look for the Yellow Wagtails but they were gone. The best I could manage was a Pied.

Pied Wagtail

It was a long drive home with the thoughts of the missed opportunity but at least I came away with a couple of year ticks.

Friday, 8 May 2015

Common Terns

I was back over at Selsey today. My targets were to get a good picture of an Arctic Tern, to see a Cuckoo, and if there were Pomarine Skuas coming through, to get a look at those as well. There have been plenty of Cuckoos reported but, so far this year, I haven't even managed to hear one.

My first stops were the Pagham Harbour Visitor Centre and Church Norton looking for the Cuckoo. There were lots of small birds around in the bushes but no sign of the target bird. My best shot was of this Red-legged Partridge in the Church Yard.

Red-legged Partridge

Down at the bill things looked a bit slow, although there had been a couple of Arctic Skuas through earlier. I was told that there had been a Roseate feeding offshore so I decided to walk along the beach to take a closer look at the Terns. There were a few feeding over the water but with the tide rising the shingle bar was being covered and the Terns were moving onto the groynes to roost.

Terns at rest

Now all I needed to do was to find an Arctic Tern. The Sandwich Terns I can spot, the Arctics and a possible Roseate were a different level of problem.  I was looking for a Tern with slightly shorter legs, longer tail streamers, and a slightly paler upper-side, more the shade of the Sandwich Terns. Is there a difference?

When faced with this sort of problem I usually photograph everything and take the pictures home to check against the diagnostic details.

You only get about an hour before the groynes go underwater and the Terns move back out to sea. I took plenty of pictures and spent hours checking through them at home - and the conclusion - lots of pictures of Common Terns. There may have been an Arctic or a Roseate in amongst them, I may even have seen them, but I couldn't identify them.

The experts sitting at the bill can pick them out at a hundred metres and I struggle with the pictures two feet in front of my nose. I still have a lot to learn.

So here are a few pictures of Common Terns

and a Sandwich Tern

No success this time but I had great fun taking the pictures and I will be going back for another go.

I eventually caught up with a Cuckoo flying west to east along the North Wall at Pagham Harbour. It disappeared in the direction of Pagham Church but I did not bother pursuing it. By then the rain had set in and there was little chance of a picture.

Thursday, 7 May 2015

Bonaparte's Gull

I went down to Southampton today to look for the second calendar year Bonaparte's Gull that has been frequenting Riverside Park. Habit suggested that it would turn up early afternoon on the rising tide but, hopeful as ever, I was down there by about half past nine walking the river bank. I should have stayed in bed, true to form it turned up just after one o'clock and joined the Black-headed Gulls on the river.

Bonaparte's Gull

It is similar to the Black-headed Gulls and can be a bit difficult to isolate when flying with them. However, once settled on the water the slightly smaller size, the black bill and white underwing, when shown, are easy to identify.

Black bill and white underwing are key identifiers

Black bill and white underwing are key identifiers

With Black-headed Gull for size comparison

A very dainty bird for a gull, very reminiscent of the Little Gull or of terns in flight.

I filled in the waiting time by taking pictures of the Black-headed  and Lesser Black-backed Gulls.

These two second calendar year Black-headed Gulls  below at different stages of gaining their chocolate brown hoods.

Black- headed  Gull  -  Second calendar year

Black- headed  Gull  -  Second calendar year

Lesser Black-backed Gull

Lesser Black-backed Gull

I had to leave mid-afternoon but given the choppy water and the wind I was reasonably pleased with the pictures I came away with. That was until I got home and found that late afternoon the Boaparte's had been sitting out on the jetty giving easy photo opportunities.