Wednesday, 25 November 2015

Caspian Gull

If you have read previous blogs you will know that Dave and I have been on a mission to spot a Caspian Gull. Neither of us were confident in our ability to identify a Caspian. We had studied the identifying features and knew what to look for  but theory and practice are vastly different when you are faced with a large flock of Herring Gulls.

Our favoured approach has been to visit Dungeness where there are two juvenile Polish colour ringed Caspians and we could play hunt the colour ring rather than hunt the Caspian.

Today we were down at Dungeness again for another try. Our initial search drew a blank and somewhat discouraged we headed off in search of other birds. We had a good day and had just finished photographing the Smew at Burrowes Pit and were about to head for home when we realised that we still had a loaf of bread left. Rather than waste it we decided to head back to the beach for one last look for a Caspian.

This time our luck was in, when a local gull expert told us that there was an adult Caspian in the gull roost. Unfortunately he was just driving away so we had to find it for ourselves. Knowing one is there is a huge advantage but we still had the challenge of locating it.

Some time later and having studied every gull in the roost it looked as though we were going to miss out again. We had one gull, that looked significantly different from the Herring Gulls and showed some of the features we were looking for but it had a yellow eye so could not be our Caspian. We were left with one gull that was asleep with its head tucked back so that we could not see its features. We waited, our confidence slowly draining away, then it moved and a black beady eye appeared.

A Caspian at last - please don't anyone add a comment telling me that it is some form of hybrid and doesn't count.

The pictures are not good. It was getting late and the light was failing. Then on top of that I was admiring the shots on the back of the camera when the bird took off and I missed getting a flight shot. See Dave's Blog for some flight shots.

Caspian Gull

The identifying features I was looking for and think I can see are:-

Small black beady eye
White head with no streaking
Small head compared to a Herring Gull
Legs thinner, longer and paler grey than the Herring Gull
Bill long and narrow
Long neck - not really visible here

It looks good and I am claiming the life tick.

We had a good day at Dungeness but it started slowly. Our initial search for the Caspian drew a blank and the ARC hide, for once, had little to offer, although we were told later that a Bittern had shown well and close just after we left.

We headed back to the Power Station to look for the Black Redstarts that are often present there. The sewage treatment area in the south east corner supports a good colony of midges and a number of birds can usually be found feeding in the area.

Black Redstart

Good supply of food 

Pied Wagtail

We also had a visit from armed police to check out what we were doing taking pictures so close to the Nuclear Power Station. There is no restriction on taking photographs but in this day and age they take no chances. It was a bit annoying but they were only doing their job and trying to keep us safe so it is best just to co-operate. Anyway he had a machine gun so I wasn't going to argue.

Just as we were packing up to move on an alert came through for a Long-eared Owl close to the RSPB Visitors Centre. It was buried deep in the bushes at the other side of the pond and very difficult to spot but we did at least get a picture.

Long-eared Owl

I have only ever seen one Long-eared Owl out in the open and I doubt that I will ever get better pictures than on that occasion. Have a look at this blog if you are interested.

We were on a roll, so we walked round to the Scott hide to have a look for the redhead Smew. They had not been showing last time we were there. This time we were a bit luckier, showing but very distant. Lets hope the male comes in to visit them before the winter is out.

and getting further away all the time

One life tick  and one year tick. Not a bad days birdwatching. The past month has been very slow on the bird photography front. It was nice to come home feeling we had achieved something.

Tuesday, 24 November 2015

Short-eared Owl

It would have been nice if a few of the rarities reported around the country over the past couple of months had spent a few days in Sussex. It would have been even nicer if we had seen some decent weather. Birding you can do when its raining, bird photography needs good light. I think I have managed five blogs in the past two months and it has been a struggle to come up with any material for those. Fortunately Monday was a good day, weather wise, and Dave and I set off to pursue some decent pictures.

We headed east along the coast but it was a slow start to the day. There was nothing worth photographing at Widewater and nothing out on the sea. We found one Purple Sandpiper at Shoreham Fort but it only gave fleeting views and a single Rock Pipit on the harbour wall.

The Great Northern Diver did not show at Shoreham Port. A great pity, as with some of its summer plumage still showing it would have taken a good picture. I had seen it over the weekend but that was in pouring rain and near zero visibility.

Our next stop could have been Brighton Marina but with a Red-throated Diver reported at Newhaven Marina we decided to give it a miss. Bad mistake, there was a long-eared Owl sitting out in the Marina giving great views. Worse still the Red-throated Diver had moved on and apart from a few Herring and Black-headed Gulls there was nothing in Newhaven Harbour.

The first decent weather for photography in a long time and we couldn't find any birds. Fortunately Tide Mills came to the rescue. There were two Short-eared Owls quartering the fields and scrub area at the back of the beach. I think food must be in short supply for them to be out hunting at eleven o'clock in the morning. They were easy to spot as the crows were up mobbing them for most of the time that we watched.

Short-eared Owl

We walked out to the Harbour arm to have a look for the Purple Sandpipers but, having been delayed by the owl, the tide was receding and we were a bit late for the best views. All I could manage was this shot down on to one bird feeding in the gloom around the legs of the pier.

Purple Sandpiper

A Guillemot swimming and preening just off the beach was a bit unusual


and there was the ever present Stonechat.


Nothing unusual found on the day but it was nice to be out taking pictures again. We went out again this morning, this time to Southsea Castle looking for Purple Sandpipers. This time the tide was too high and there were none about.

We only had about an hour before the light disappeared and the rain returned. I spent most of that time trying to get a picture of Chiffchaffs that were feeding in the garden next to the castle. No luck with that but I did pick up another Rock Pipit and a couple of the usual suspects.

Rock Pipit

House Sparrow

Pied Wagtail

Monday, 9 November 2015

Great White Egret

We were down at Dungeness beach on Monday searching for Caspian Gulls. I have studied all the books and know how to identify juvenile Caspians but theory and practice are vastly different. The advantage of going to Dungeness was that it has two Polish colour ringed birds. So this was a case of spot the colour ring rather than spot the Caspo.

It didn't help. We started by searching the beach area and gull roosts around the fishing boats. Plenty of Herring Gulls, Greater Black-backed and Black-headed but no Caspians, or at least none that we could identify. The wind was fierce so we soon retired to the car and parked up so that we could scan the gulls in comfort. Still no luck. We found one ringed bird but that was a Herring Gull.The only consolation was that a couple of other birders were having the same problem.

In the end we dipped but we did have a brief stop at the ARC hide and had good views of a Great White Egret and Marsh Harrier.

Great White Egret, a superb looking bird sideways on.......

but a bit more comic looking head on.

Not too bad, but with a white bird it's always difficult to get the exposure right so that you can see the feather detail.

The Marsh Harrier gave some great flybys but was difficult to photograph against the sky. Fortunately he did one low pass with the water as a background.


Not the Caspos we were looking for but at least a couple of decent birds to photograph, so it wasn't a wasted day.

Monday, 2 November 2015

Snow Bunting

There were a few birds around this morning but with the fog lingering along much of the coast it was difficult to get any pictures.

I picked Dave up and we headed over to Climping Beach to have a look for a couple of birds, Black Redstart and Dartford Warbler, that had been reported there. It was all a bit disappointing. We didn't see any of the target birds although I did come away with shots of a Dunnock and a Goldcrest. Given the light levels, the Goldcrest was a bit of a lucky shot. I was having trouble getting it into the viewfinder let alone pulling focus on it.



Next stop was Pagham North Wall and another disappointment. This used to be my favourite birding spot but it has been short of birds for most of the year. Godwits, Teal, Curlew, one Snipe and a Spotted Redshank, but there was nothing to really get excited about.

The Lagoon was more promising and we got a few shots of a Slavonian Grebe before it took fright and paddled over to the other side of the water. There was some flood defence work going on over there. Men in orange oversuits, pile driving equipment, welding taking place. Strange that it should be spooked by the two of us lurking behind a gorse bush in our green camo gear and happier over with them.

Slavonian Grebe

One decent bird in the bag and the day was beginning to look up. A short journey around the harbour took us briefly out into the sunlight but by the time we reached the coast again at Selsey we were back into the fog. A quick search and we found the Snow Bunting on the beach by the oval field. As with all Snow Buntings it was very obliging. It was put up a couple of times by dog walkers going past but it always came back and we had some close views of the bird and plenty of time to take photographs.

Snow Bunting

We stopped off at the Ferry Pool on the way back. There were a good number of birds on there with Little Stint, Avocet, and both Common and Green Sandpiper being the pick of the bunch. At least I think it was a Green Sandpiper. The visibility was going again and it was difficult to be sure.

October was a very slow month but this was at least a better start for November. All I need now is for a few of the birds up in Norfolk to be blown down this way,