Thursday, 22 December 2016


I am still waiting for the Waxwings to arrive in Sussex but with time moving on it is starting to look as though we could miss out on seeing them. That will not come as a surprise to most of the local birders. In an exceptional year across the country, for  rare and scare birds, Sussex has been noticeably missing from the list. Sussex, Surrey and Hampshire seem to be a birding Bermuda Triangle.

Today I needed to travel down to Canterbury. It is a regular trip and I usually take the opportunity to visit a few birding sites on the way. With Waxwings having been reported in the north Kent town of Strood and with it only being a short distance from my intended route it seemed to be worth a visit. At least I would have the opportunity of a 2016 year tick.

When I arrived it didn't look too bad. There were only two other birders present and the Waxwings were flying between a high tree perch and  an orange fruiting Rowan in a garden opposite the Bounty Pub. The only problem was that the Rowan was mostly in shadow.

After about half an hour the lighting improved but unfortunately the number of birders also increased. We were getting up close to twenty people with most standing directly under the feeding tree, setting up tripods and talking loudly. The Waxwings were coming down but were just grabbing a few berries and heading back to the safety of their high level perch.

How inconsiderate birders can be. Don't they realise that I need to have these bird all to myself, for about an hour, in what was turning out to be perfect light. We all have our problems. In the end I gave in, joined the fray, grabbed a couple of quick pictures, and then left to find a more peaceful place.

Dave and I have been able to get some great pictures of Waxwings in the past but you need time and space. A large twitch severely reduces your chances of success. I think, that in the new year, we could be making the trip up north, possibly even to Scotland where at the moment Waxwings can be found in their hundreds. 

My route to Canterbury then continued via a minor detour to Dungeness. I had no specific target but it is always a place where something unusual could turn up. There were Smew and Goldeneye on the Burrows Pit but both were too far away for even a record shot. I also failed to find the Ring-necked Duck behind Bolderwall Farm. However, there were good numbers of Tree Sparrows around Bolderwall, which was good to see after missing them earlier in the summer.

The Long-eared Owl was in its usual spot behind the dipping pool. With the green foliage gone it was at least a bit easier to find him this time.

Lots of other birds but nothing really unusual. The Great White Egret dosen't even raise an eyebrow these days other than for me to think that it is unusual to only find one at Dungeness.

Finally another shot of a Kestrel. One day I will get that picture of a Merlin that has been at the top of my list for so long.

Not a bad day out given that it is just a day after the mid winter solstice.

Tuesday, 6 December 2016

Snow Bunting

We missed out on seeing Snow Bunting on our February trip to Scotland. They are usually found in good numbers around the car park at the Cairngorm ski lifts or on the coast at Lossimouth. This year we came away from both sites without seeing any.

Early December and it was beginning to look as though I would miss out on the year tick.Then we had a report of a Stone Curlew in a ploughed field at Ella Nore point and close by at East Head a Snow Bunting. I picked Dave up on Monday morning and we headed off towards West Wittering. We didn't hold out much hope of the Stone Curlew still being there but it would be a pleasant walk and the Snow Bunting was worth having.

As often happens we were half way down the A27 when we had a report of another Snow Bunting, this time on our home patch at Goring Gap. We pressed on in the hope of finding the Stone Curlew. Unfortunately it wasn't to be, it must have flown on south overnight.

We found the Snow Bunting at the northern point of East Head where it was being chased along the beach by a couple of dogs. We waited a few minutes and after having given the dogs a bit of exercise, it returned to its feeding area and gave us good views.

It was very active in feeding but as with most Snow Buntings, if you get in front of it and sit and wait it will eventually come quite close.

Missing out on the Stone Curlew was a disappointment but East Head is a nice place in the winter and there are always a good few birds around. It is perhaps worth adding that it is a place to be avoided in the summer with way  too many cars, people and dogs.

Tuesday morning and I was out to get the patch tick for the same bird. A Snow Buntings seems to turn up most winters on the beach at Goring Gap. It is difficult to see why they would choose the location. It is busy with dog walkers, joggers, cyclists and people out for a stroll and the birds are continually disturbed. However, they always seem faithful to a small feeding area and return to it once the disturbance has moved on.

This one was again easy to locate.

Another nice bird to photograph and two in two days. The birding scene in Sussex finally appears to be picking up.

Thursday, 1 December 2016

Desert Wheatear

Today we had a trip down to Normans Bay, just to the east of Pevensey, to see the Desert Wheatear. It was showing really well and as with the previous one I had seen in Worthing, a couple of years ago, it seemed completely unconcerned about being close to people. On occasions flying to within a few feet of where I was standing.

It was feeding on a stretch of grassy foreshore stretching westward from the Martello tower for about 200 metres

It is a lovely bird to watch. I am not sure if it is the soft colours or its lack of fear of people but it just makes you feel good to see it flying around.

We watched it for a couple of hours but with a few good shots in the bag and with the number of birders on the beach starting to increase we decided to move on. Probably not a good idea as I didn't take another picture all day.

Just for a bit of variety, here is a Stonechat from Tuesdays visit to Waltham Brooks. We did get to see the Great Grey Shrike but I didn't manage to get a picture. The Male Stonechat was keeping his distance but the Mrs came over to have a look at us.

Friday, 25 November 2016

Long-tailed Duck

Friday and great weather for taking pictures but where to go, Amberley Wildbrooks for the Swan Geese (escapees) or West Rise Marsh for the Slavonian Grebe, Long-tailed Duck and an outside chance of a Richard's Pipit. In the end I settled for West Rise Marsh.

The Slavonian Grebe was easy to find. Scan the lake until you see a couple of birders, walk round to where they are standing and the bird was happily feeding just a few metres away. It was nice to have a subject that does not swim or fly away as soon as you appear but I was still not happy, too much wind and reeds blowing across the picture every time I pressed the shutter button.

Slavonian Grebe

The Long-tailed Duck was a bit harder to find. I knew where to look but for a long time I could not locate it. It seems to spend most of its time under water, only surfacing for a few seconds at a time. I did eventually get a few shots although most were of its rear end as it disappeared under the water yet again.

Juvenile Long-tailed Duck


I spent about an hour looking for the Richard's Pipit but the marsh is a big area and with no starting point it was a bit of a lost cause. This is a bird that tends to stay on the ground running through the long grass and disappearing into dips and gullies. It may still be there but I couldn't find it.

Tuesday, 15 November 2016

Dartford Warbler

I went looking for a Merlin today. It's one of those birds that I have never really seen and for which I have certainly never managed to get a decent record shot. There had been one reported on the west side of Medmerry and with a Dartford Warbler also reported at Park Farm it seemed worth a trip out.

Park Farm proved to be a nice walk but there was no sign of the Dartford so it was on to Medmerry. Initially it looked promising. A bird flew through, low and fast with crows in hot pursuit. It looked a good possibility, so I set off on a slightly slower pursuit. The crows turned back and the bird disappeared from sight. Then I picked up something sitting on a post. A careful approach and I had it - except that it turned out to be a Kestrel. A different bird or the one chased by the crows? I will never know.


It wasn't all bad news though, a little further along the track I found another Dartford Warbler. As is their way, it stayed mostly low in the gorse, just occasionally appearing for a few seconds out in the open. It was a case of point, shoot and hope for the best, but after about half an hour of trying I did eventually get a shot that was in focus.

There were plenty of ducks on the Stilt Pond but very little else. Distant flocks of Brents, Skylarks, Meadow Pipits, Linnets, Goldfinches but nothing to get exited about. The weather had been threatening all day and the light was poor so I decided to head for home.

On the way back to the car a couple of unusual geese attracted my attention. Two Bar-headed Geese in with a small flock of twenty two Canada Geese. It was interesting to see that these were fully integrated into the flock. The one below being on point duty whilst the rest of the flock were feeding.

So another day of meagre returns. West Sussex still seems a bit slow when compared with the rest of the country.

Friday, 11 November 2016

Black Redstart

South Africa has spoilt me. It hardly seems worth going birding unless I am going to get ten life ticks a day and get good pictures of them all. There also seems to have been a dearth of good birds around Sussex of late. Elsewhere in the country there are reports of Alpine Accentors, a Pelican, and along the east coast a raft of rarities but nothing in my area. It all seems very flat.

To be fair, things do seem to be picking up, Long-tailed Ducks, Grebes, and Goosanders are starting to appear along the coast, and although I have yet to see any of them, the enthusiasm is begining to return.

A couple of trips out this last week gave me a lot of birds but nothing really unusual. There were two Black Redstarts on Pagham Church roof .....

Black Redstart

and a walk around Pagham Lagoon gave me a Golden Eye and a couple of  Pintails. The later I am told are unusual for the Lagoon.



An hour or so on the North Wall finally gave me decent views of the Bearded Tits that had been reported there but I could not get any pictures of them. That also meant that by the time I got round to Church Norton the tide was way out and the light was starting to go. I skipped the walk down to the beach and settles for this Whimbrel in the harbour.


The good news is that the Waxwings seem to be moving southwards.

Sunday, 30 October 2016

CapeTown (6/6)

The last stretch of our tour included a quick stop at Hermanus for Whale watching. There were no whales but there were a good few birds. A couple of nights at the Devon Valley Hotel near Stellenbosch and three nights in Cape Town. Wherever I looked there were good places to go birding but you have to keep these obsessions in check. It was a holiday not a birding trip. For example my top place to visit in the area was the Strandfontien Sewage Works but I just couldn't see anyway of getting it onto Sue's two day agenda for Cape Town.

Hermanus continued the theme of touristy and up market but it was pleasant to walk around and it did give me a another bird and a couple of Gulls.

Cape Canary

The Grey-headed Gull below is a Juvenile, probably second summer. It will develop a yellow eye as an adult.

Grey-headed Gull

Hartlaub's Gull

I saw plenty of the South African national bird the Blue Crane but all from the coach so no pictures and there were a host of other ducks and water birds on various lakes and ponds that I couldn't stop to identify. Perhaps the only other one that I can claim is the Red-knobbed Coot. I didn't see the red knobs but there doesn't appear to be any other Coots in South Africa to confuse it with.

The hotel was good and again had some decent gardens. The most common bird was the Egyptian Goose. At least in South Africa they really do appear to be wild.

Egyptian Goose

I was out again at dawn but as before the early morning light, or lack of it, made photography difficult. Plenty of birds about but the first picture I managed to get was this Olive Thrush.

Olive Thrush

Pictures of the Cape Robin-chat, Southern Boubou and Pied Crow are not worth posting although this female Common Fiscal was sitting out in some better light.

Female Common Fiscal

Juvenile Red-backed Shrike

Cape White-eye

I missed a raptor that shot out of the trees, across the lawn and back into trees on the other side. Any raptor would do but I was betting on a Goshawk or something similar. When it reappeared from the trees I was ready for it and got a few pictures. I tried hard to match it to another raptor but I can only make it a Peregrine Falcon. All the raptors in Africa and I get one that I can see a few miles from home in the UK.

Peregrine Falcon

Kirstenbosch Botanical Gardens was a great place to visit. They have a resident pair of Spotted Eagle Owls that have nested there for years.This species seems to be very tolerant of people. I had already seen one roosting in a tree in a busy car-park in Franschhoek.

The mother and chick were on the ground underneath a tree nesting/roosting in some undergrowth and quite well concealed. The male was up in the tree. The only protection for the nest was a six foot wide taped off area around the nest. It seems amazing that with all the people walking past they do not get scared away. Apparently you do get some people that disturb the mother to try to get her to open her eyes. I am told that some of them end up having a close up face to face with the male.

Spotted Eagle Owl

Much as I would have liked an open eye shot I did not disturb him.

I managed a few more life ticks around the gardens including the Cape Sugarbird and I am sure that if we had been able to follow the trails up onto the flanks of Table Mountain we would have found a lot more.

Cape Sugarbird

Cape Sugarbird

Karoo Prinia

Collared Sunbird

Cape Spurfowl

Swee Waxbill

Yellow-billed Kite

Orange-breasted Sunbird - in the mist on Table Mountain

The final few birds come from a trip down to the Cape of Good Hope. Although I did not photograph it I saw my first Ostrich running free in the National Park there. I am told that if they are in the park they are as close as you will ever get to a wild bird.

Just before Cape Point we saw  hundreds of Terns resting out on the rocks. I searched them all but there was only one species there, the Swift Tern.

Swift Terns

White-breasted Cormorant

Rock Kestrels

 And finally Penguins at the colony at Boulders Beach

African Penguin

African Penguin

A great holiday, very busy but a lot seen. As far as birds go I saw about 120 different species during the two weeks, of which 108 were new birds for me. I managed to photograph all but four of those although I have to say that some of the pictures are less than perfect.

I just cannot stop thinking about the five or six hundred that I didn't get to see!