Tuesday, 22 September 2015

Acadian Flycatcher

The title of the blog was going to be Wilson's Phalarope but a change of plan ended up with me seeing an even rarer bird.

The Phalarope was at Vange Marshes in Essex and I had arrived there about 10.30 just as the rain was clearing. I made my way over to where a couple of people looked to be watching the bird, only to be pointed in the direction of a distant spot on the other side of the scrape, probably three hundred metres away.

Through the bins I could see that it was a Phalarope although I could not have made the identification of a Wilson's. Even blowing the shots up on the back of the camera did not give me enough detail in the image. I was considering heading back to the car for my small travel scope but fortunately one of the birders there let me look at it through his Swarovski Scope. The detail seen was staggering. I must really scrape some funds together to get one of these.

Wilson' Phalarope

I waited to see if it would come closer but after an hour with the rain starting up again I gave up and retreated to the car. I was hoping to see the Glossy Ibis that had been reported over Vange Marsh and also at the Watt Tyler Country Park but an hour trudging around in the rain soon dampened my spirits. The RSPB Visitors centre did not seem to know where it went during the day, only that it often came back to roost during the evening.

I retired to the car once again to eat my sandwiches, reconsider what to do in the afternoon, and best of all to enjoy a short siesta. The only problem was that I kept getting disturbed  by Mega alerts coming through on the phone. Something called a Empidonax sp. - I had no idea what it was and anyway I don't do Twitches so I switched the phone off and went back to the siesta.

A short while later and much refreshed it occurred to me that if the experts could not put a name to the bird then it must be really rare. It was still raining so the choice was go home or wait for about five hours in the car to see the Glossy Ibis come in to roost. In the end I decided to drive down to Dungeness to see what an Empidonax looked like and to experience my first large twitch.

I have to say I didn't like it. When I arrived at 1530 there must have been between two and three hundred people on site and there were more arriving all the time. It was like a ring of steel all around South View Cottage where the bird seemed to have taken refuge. Everyone was well behaved but somehow it all felt uncomfortable. This was a tiny bird, thousands of miles from home that was probably going to live a short and lonely life. Did we care - not really, it was all about getting the tick.

Lifted from Twitter - original I think by Owen Leyshon

I only stayed about ten minutes. I saw the bird, grabbed a few quick record shots, said hello to a couple of faces I knew and then went home. I will probably regret it when I see some really good pictures coming out over the next couple of days but it wasn't for me.

Acadian Flycatcher

The Empidonax sp now seems to have been identified as an Acadian Flycatcher, a North American bird for which this is the first record in the UK and only the second for Europe. 


The previous day I had also been in Kent and had stopped off at Samphire Hoe on the way back to look for Black Redstarts. It's probably now the most reliable site that I know of for these birds. I saw either four or six, it was a bit difficult to tell as they were very mobile. It's a good place to see them but it is not easy to get close.

Black Redstart

So two life ticks in the Wilson's Phalarope and the Acadian Flycatcher and a good year tick for the Black Redstarts.

and, just in case you were wondering, the Glossy Ibis did come in to roost in its usual spot at 1900 - but I wasn't there to see it.

Thursday, 17 September 2015

Pectoral Sandpiper and Grey Phalarope

I did a few jobs around the house and then with the sun shining outside I thought I would make a return trip to the Ferry Pool to see if I could improve on yesterdays picture of the Grey Phalarope. As I arrived I could see a group of people standing by the road and pointing there scopes and cameras down into the reeds. It all looked very promising.

I parked the car and crossed the road to what must be my least favourite birding spot. You stand on a path no more than three foot wide, with a low metal railing and the pool below on one side and on the other the cars, HGVs and buses thundering past. The strange thing is that the birds don't seem to be fazed by all the movement and noise.

The Phalarope and the Pectoral Sandpiper were feeding in the reeds no more than twenty feet from the traffic and less than that from the assembled birders. They didn't even seem to be upset by the occasional, more mentally challenged, members of the Selsey community that feel obliged to go by sounding their horns. I am not sure if they hope to scare the birds away or perhaps just to frighten one of the birders into jumping into the pool.

So, the birds were close and the sun shining, I should have superb pictures. Nearly, but not quite, I should have done better. I would have prefer diffuse sunlight, the angle of the sun was wrong, I was photographing down onto the birds, it was difficult to get a clear shot through the reeds, and the reeds were casting shadows over the birds. I could probably think of a few more excuses as well.

So here we go with the Pec Sand first. Fortunately you don't have to look at all the ones that didn't make the grade.

and the Grey Phalarope. I think this one spotted me hiding behind all the scopes and objected to having its photograph taken, so I only got a few shots before it flew off to the back of the pool.

This was a really beautiful bird. I think I will have to go back and have another go at this one.

Wednesday, 16 September 2015

Common Crane

I haven't put a blog up for the past week or so. There have been plenty of birding opportunities  and I have seen some good birds but I am having one of those spells when you just don't seem to be able to take a decent picture.

Tuesday last week Dave and I made a return visit to Dungeness. I had managed to miss the White-winged Black Tern when we visited the previous week and with nothing else to chase we decided to give it another go. It was on the ARC pit and sitting on exactly the same island as the Black tern we had seen on the last visit.

It was not close enough for a good picture but there could be no doubt on the identification. It as lacking the dark breast patch evident on the Black Tern and as it flew off there was a clear view of the white rump.

White-winged Black Tern

with the all important white rump

This week I had planned a trip down to Slimbridge to see the Cranes and with a Glossy Ibis reported at Ham Wall it looked like an interesting if somewhat long trip. I should have gone Monday but when I got up at five o'clock the weather outside was awful and with the promise of better weather on the Tuesday I decided to put it off for a day. Tuesday and the weather was even worse but I decided to go anyway. Unfortunately so did the Ibis. It had been giving good views on the Monday but despite three hours of searching I could find no sign of it, nor has it been reported since. I will put that miss down to the BBC weather forecast yet again. All I managed to see at Ham Wall was a Marsh Harrier.

Marsh Harrier

Fortunately the Common Cranes were showing at Slimbridge. There were four visible in the fields to the north of the wetland centre although they were all some way off. At first I though that I would not be able to get a picture but the rain had cleared the air and when the sun came out I got a distant shot.

Common Cranes - 500mm lens 1.4 extender and 1.6 camera multiplier

A crop of the above shot

With these birds being barely visible to the naked eye I was quite pleased to walk away with this shot. Given the proportions of the two birds in the picture this looks as though it could be parent and fledgling. If so it is one of the first free born and free flying Common Cranes fledged in this country for 400 years. On the other hand it could just be a small adult!

For interest hear is a shot of one of the captive Common Cranes from inside the wetland centre.

Captive Common Crane

There was also a Kingfisher showing well from one of the hides. I didn't want to miss the cranes so I just grabbed a few quick shots with the intention of going back later. I did, but of course by then the Kingfisher had gone missing.

Finally I had a quick trip down to the Ferry Pool at Pagham Harbour this morning to see if the Grey Phalarope was still there. Most people were searching for the Pectoral Sandpiper but without any success. I was quite pleased that I had seen it when it first arrived at the North Wall (see here).

The Phalarope was there but as usual it was right at the back of the pool. It kept making a purposeful approach along the southern edge of the pool but every time it looked like coming into range of the camera it would fly back to the far corner. I managed a record shot, during one of the brief breaks in the rain, but it's not very good.

So some good birds but not many good pictures. Lets hope for a return to some sunny autumn weather next week.

Monday, 7 September 2015

Spotted Flycatcher

Sometimes you go out with a plan and it works - yesterday. Sometimes you go out with a plan and it doesn't work - today. I had wanted to see a Merlin. It's been at the top of my list for a long time now, a bit of a bogey bird. The only Merlin that I have seen were a couple of dead ones that we picked up off the road near Scotney Pit.

There was a Merlin reported at Farlington Marsh yesterday so I though I would give it a go. No luck, the best I could manage was a Kestrel. Still I had a good day, I saw a lot of birds and even got a few good shots.

Linnet - rather dull at this time of year


Sedge Warbler


The Bearded Tits were seen at Farlington today but not by me. They are probably still feeding on insects and will be easier to see once they change over to the reed seeds in the winter. There were also Yellow Wagtail in with the cattle but the grass was long and I could not get a clear shot of them.

Next stop was Church Norton where I got some close views of the Spotted Flycatchers from the hide.

Spotted Flycatcher

Then round to the North Wall. The water in the Breech Pool was back to a reasonable level and with mud showing again the waders were back. I missed the Spotted Redshanks so the picture opportunities were limited to the Black-tailed Godwits and Snipe.

Black-tailed Godwit

Black-tailed Godwit


Swallows and House Martins were hawking over the pool and gathering on the overhead cables. It will soon be time for them to leave. 

To finish off I had a Long-tailed Tit flock moving through. For some reason they always raise the spirits.

Long-tailed Tit

I didn't get the Merlin but it still turned out to be a good day. Nothing really exciting but a lot of good birds to see.

Barred Warbler

I am not a great fan of twitches. Usually, there will too many people there and you end up too far away from the bird to get a decent picture. That does mean that I miss a lot of good birds but then I have always said that I would rather have a good picture of an ordinary bird, than a poor picture of a rare bird.

Except, I do really want to see the rare birds. If only everyone else would stay at home and leave me to see the bird by myself. It's not going to happen, so I usually wait until the initial rush has died down and then if the bird is still around I go along when it's a bit quieter.

On that basis, today, I went to look for the juvenile Barred Warbler at Staines Moor near Heathrow. Sunday is not really a good day as more people would be there but then it's probably better than the Monday morning traffic on the M25 and that assumes that the bird would stay around for another day.

It was not too difficult to find. There were some good directions on the London Bird Club web page (see end of blog) and I was soon standing in front of a large patch of brambles along with about a dozen other people. The bird was actively feeding for a time but then settled down to observe the strange looking group of twitchers.

Barred Warbler at rest - and just too far away for a decent picture

A bit disappointing as far as pictures go but fortunately most people wandered off once they had their ticks and with the bird moving around I was able to get some better pictures.

Barred Warbler

a juvenile so barred underside markings not yet developed

Rear View

A bit of barring starting to show on the undertail-coverts

Not too painful as far as twitches go, a life tick for me,  and a great bird to see. I am glad I decided to go.

Other birds seen were a Kestrel, Whitethroats, Blackcaps, Swallows, and House Martins. There were probably others but I wasn't really paying attention.




and here is a Whinchat from a couple of days ago. It's a bit distant but it gets into the blog as it was my first of the year.


Directions for the Barred Warbler: 

Park at the end of Hithermoor Road in Stanwell Moor village. Walk along the Colne Valley Way (following the west bank of KGVI Reservoir), turn right through the kissing gate and follow the path, cross the boardwalk and over the bridge onto Staines Moor. Walk south following the Colne and then turn right cross the concrete bridge, follow the path and go across the first wooden bridge, turn right before the second wooden bridge and view the hawthorns and bramble to the right.