Monday, 18 November 2019

Semipalmated Sandpiper

Over the weekend there had been lots of reports and also a few good pictures, of a Semipalmated Sandpiper on Oxey Lagoon, Pennington. Monday dawned fine and clear so I decided to make the journey. This is a site I have visited a few times in the past but it is really at the edge of my day birding area. It's a pity that it is so far, as there are always a good selection of birds to see there.

It wasn't difficult to find. I parked up and walked a mile or so along the coast path and soon saw a gathering of three or four people standing overlooking the lagoon. I had expected more, it's quite a rare bird, a life tick for me, and there had been some discussion over the possibility of it being a much rarer Western Sandpiper.

There wasn't a great deal to do. It didn't seem fazed by our presence and I watched it feeding for about half an hour taking a few snaps as it moved around.

Eventually it hauled out under the bank, spent a few minutes preening and then settled down for a siesta. A good time for me to move on. 

As for the issue of Western or Semipalmated - I am no expert and the bill does look a bit long for a Semipalmated but everything else seems to support this conclusion. Colour, straight stout bill, breast markings, etc, but it is a difficult call. They are very similar species and I have no experience of the variations within each. This is one where I will have to be guided by more experienced eyes.

I picked up a Long-tailed Duck on one of the other lagoons

and there were probably seven or eight Spotted Redshanks about but none of them were giving good picture opportunities.

There were probably other things to see around Pennington Marsh but this time of year daylight hours are short and the hours for photography are even shorter. I wanted to call in at Eyeworth pond on the way home to see if there were any Mandarins at home. The ones on my local pond back in Sussex have gone AWOL this year, or at least they have on the occasions I have gone looking for them.

I was pleased to find that there were Mandarins on Eyeworth although they were keeping their distance and sheltering under the bushes on the opposite side of the pond for most of the time I watched them. There was also a Goosander

and a wonderful Muscovy Duck that came rushing over to see one lady who then proceeded to feed it from a dog bowl full of seed.

Possibly an escapee or just a bird that has learnt how to get an easy meal but it needs to take care or it could end up on someones Christmas table.

By now the light was going so I headed back to the car and off back to Sussex.

Thursday, 14 November 2019

Snow Bunting

It looked promising today, the wind had dropped, the sun was breaking through and there was no rain in the forecast. The target was the Snow Bunting at Medmerry and it was good to get out, into some decent weather for taking photographs.

But perhaps not that decent. About a hundred metres from home and I was in thick fog that stretched all the way along the coast to Chichester and down to Selsey. Still I was out and I needed the fresh air so there was no point in turning back. Parking up at Selsey, if anything, the visibility had closed in even further. However, the walk to the Medmerry Breach would be good exercise particularly as most of it was on shingle.

The highlight of the walk was a flock of about forty Ringed Plovers hunkered down on the beach. I had no idea they were there and it was quite a shock when they spotted me and half the beach seemed to lift into the air. They did one quick circuit allowing me to make a quick count but then disappeared westward probably to the Stilt Pool on the other side of the breach.

The breach itself was really spectacular. It was the first time I had seen it with a real high tide running and with the fog making it impossible to see the other side the warnings not to attempt a crossing really carried some weight.

Sitting on the rocks eating my sandwiches the sun started to make itself felt and the fog gradually began to clear. Soft bright light opening up the view and there was the Snow Bunting sitting on the fence of the last caravan.

It was perhaps more wary than some Snow Buntings that I have photographed but as long as you moved slowly it showed little inclination to flight.

I did lose it at one stage when a gardener complete with strimmer appeared and put it to flight but as he moved on the bird soon reappeared and started searching the grassed areas for seeds. I watched it for a while and then had a second chance to photograph it on the fence.

It was good to get it isolated from its background. Most times you see Snow Buntings they are on shingle and their colours tend to blend into the background.

I searched for Black Redstarts but did not see any and with rain threatening I headed back to the car. Half an hour finishing of my lunch, in the car park at the Bill, gave me a few Turnstones but with the rain setting in I headed for home.

I was lucky, it didn't last for long but this was my best lighting and best picture opportunity for months.

Monday, 11 November 2019

Great Bustard

I had left it a few days but in the end I had to go to see the Great Bustard. It had been reported over at Rookery Hill, on the downs just outside of Bishopstone. The bird, which is showing a red ring with the number 92, is a juvenile female and part of the Salisbury Plain re-introduction program. However, you cannot see that from my pictures. As well as being knee deep in Kale it is over 300 metres away. I would have liked to have got closer but there is no point in upsetting the farmer.

Apparently she did fly in from Spain, back in May, but  that was in the form of an egg. She was hatched and then released in August, to join the rest of the reintroduced population. Why it is now in temporary residence in Sussex and what it will do next is still unclear.

I guess I will have to wait a few more years to see a British born Great Bustard but it was well worth going to see. A great bird even if it is half tame.

The best of the rest from a few trips out around Selsey and Pagham Harbour and up onto the Downs. Starting with one of the many Black Redstarts that have been appearing locally.

Black Redstart

Cattle Egret


Singing competition



Nothing unusual but it is at least nice to see a few birds. Is it just me or are they getting very thin on the ground? Some of the once reliable places I visit now seem to be completely devoid of birds.

Wednesday, 23 October 2019

Grey Phalarope

It has been a frustrating autumn migration, made even worse by the reports of good birds from around the country. I really don't understand what the birds have against coming to visit us in Sussex. I have spent hours walking the local birding spots looking for a rarity, have stalked many promising looking birds only to discover Chiffchaffs, Reed Buntings, Goldfinches, etc. and have generally started to sink into a state of despair over birding the local patch. I don't think I have taken a single decent picture since the Eastern Olivacious Warbler back in mid September.

Today I decided to change my luck. A Snow Bunting at Shoreham Fort and a Grey Phalarope at the Cuckmere were bankers. Both appearing to be in residence for a few days, both species loyal to a small patch so making them easy to find, and both easy to approach giving the promise of some decent photographs.

It was going to be a good day, except it didn't start too well, the Snow Bunting had gone AWOL. Undaunted I moved on to the Seven Sisters Country Park and headed off down the footpath to the Phalaropes location. On the way I spoke to one kind lady who told me that there was a police car down there with the occupants flying a drone out along the cliffs and that the drone had flushed the Phalarope. It didn't look good.

The valley looked great with the meanders and the flood plain mostly under water but on arriving at the target location there was no sign of the bird. I stood on the path scanning the area for about ten minutes just hoping I would see it flying back in but with no sign of it I decided to move on. Fortunately Alan Kitson, walking in from the opposite direction,  kindly pointed out that the Phalorope was feeding under the bank less than three metres from where I was standing. All credit to Alan, he even managed to keep a straight face whilst he was telling me!

What a great bird to see and to photograph. It paid no attention to me, to the people walking by, or to the police car passing close to it. Its sole interest seemed to be the task of clearing the Cuckmere of flies which it was picking up off the weed covered surface of the pool.

A great bird to see, easy to photograph, although strangely difficult to get a good photograph. Dull lighting and a grey bird against a grey background don't make for the best  of photographic opportunities.

Only usually seen in the UK when on migration and in this dull grey plumage the bird is known outside of Europe as a Red Phalarope due to its bold red breeding plumage. Migration from the arctic breeding grounds is usually down the western coast of the UK to the Atlantic Ocean where it winters off the coast of Africa and South America. Recent storms have probably driven this one inland where it is topping up on supplies before it completes the rest of its migration.

Wednesday, 18 September 2019

Eastern Olivaceous Warbler

I don't do twitches - but when I do, I particularly dislike twitching "little brown jobs". Birding for me is about spending time with the birds, observing and connecting with them and hopefully leaving with a good record shot or on very rare occasions a quality picture of the bird. A warbler twitch is definitely not the place to be.

Then why did I go to Farlington to see the Eastern Olivaceous Warbler? It is a rare bird, it would be a life tick and it was on what I consider to be my larger birding patch but equally I knew that I wouldn't like it. I called Dave up to see if he wanted to go but he refused to have anything to do with it. A man of principles!

What's worse is that it was a Sunday and parking at Farlington Marsh would be a nightmare. I got out of that one by parking just along the coast at Broadmarsh and walking the mile and a half to the twitch. The walk in was great with Spotted Flycatchers, Whinchats, and various other birds on show but I didn't stop to photograph them for fear of missing the target bird.

I did get to see it, two or three times, probably for a total of thirty seconds in a two hour and a half hour watch, but did I really see it? I was actually too busy getting the camera onto the bird and in focus to really spend time looking at it.

The twitch was exactly what I expected and I didn't enjoy it. I don't blame anyone. It's a free country and the bird does not belong to anyone other than perhaps the finder. I am fortunate in being able to stand off with a large lens and still get my picture, as are the expensive scope brigade but other less fortunate people still want to see the bird. Some people do get too close but then who am I to set the rules.

What else was around? Well, I didn't get to see any Bearded Tits and on the walk out, the Spotted Flycatchers and Whinchats had all disappeared. Disappointing day? Not really, that evening I did enjoy adding a tick to the life list that I don't like to admit to keeping!


And that should have been an end to the blog.........

.....except three days later and the bird is still there. My record shot above is poor, numbers at the twitch will have dropped, the weather is nice, and even Dave is now interested. So back we go and I am really glad we did. On Sunday, with all the crowds around, the bird was playing hard to get and I ended up with three record shots from about two and a half hours watching. Today it was showing a little better and I had five hundred plus shots from about an hours watching. 

Admittedly most of the shots are poor, being out of focus or with the bird partialy in cover, but there are a couple of decent ones in amongst them. More importantly I had time to study the bird today. The tail pumping is very distinct and it seems to have a different hunting style to other warblers. If I ever come across another one I think I would now have a good chance of recognising it.

Below are some of today's shots. A slightly better result than the picture above!

If only all little brown jobs showed as well as this.

Thursday, 12 September 2019

Red-necked Phalarope

I wasn't going to bother going to see the Phalarope at Pulburough Brooks. It's a great place for birds but not so good for bird photographers, especially in the summer when the water in the brooks seems to retreat back over the horizon. Then sitting at home you start to think - I haven't seen a Phalarope for a couple of years; I haven't been out all day; I do need to top up on the bird feed supplies. In the end I was convinced. I did get to see it and I did get my shot although it was a little distant!

Red-necked Phalarope on a 600mm lens combination

With a big crop you can at least see what it is. It was nice to catch up with it although I don't think that it will be taking pride of place amongst my Phalarope pictures.

Better news though, in a Spotted Flycatcher, that at first landed too close for me to focus on. Fortunately, after staring me out for about fifteen seconds, it did give me a second chance, moving a little further away before quickly disappearing into the distance. One of those all too fleeting magic moments.

Spotted Flycatcher

This was my first Spotted Flycatcher of the autumn although I have seen a number of Pied Flycatchers. A reversal of the usual autumn norm.

Walking back up the zig-zags to the visitors centre its always worth inspecting the Stinking Willies (Ragwort) for insects. This time finding an obliging Clouded Yellow.

Clouded Yellow

and a Painted Lady in reasonable condition

Painted Lady

A couple of shots from the past week. A Whinchat, all I had to show from a morning searching for the Beachy Head Montagu's Harrier.


and an ugly duckling but it won't be long before he turns into a beautiful Reed Bunting.

Reed Bunting

Nice to get some pictures but we could do with a rarity on the patch.

Thursday, 29 August 2019


It's Wryneck time again, one of the highlights of the birding year. They are always such a fantastic bird to see and to photograph. There may not be many of them but when they are feeding up, before crossing the channel, they do tend be loyal to a patch and so can be relatively easy to find.

This year there looked to be a good candidate at Farlington Marsh. We gave the Bank Holiday weekend a miss but were along there early on Tuesday morning. Unfortunately so where a lot of other people. 

My best pictures have always come from watching the birds feeding pattern and sitting down in the open where you expect it to get to in about ten minutes time. My experience is that if you stay seated and move slowly the bird will ignore you and come close. See here for some examples.

Today was a bit different. As soon as the bird was sighted there was a bit of a scrum. It's understandable, everyone wants  to see the bird and that includes me but all I got were a couple of rather distant shots before the bird took fright and disappeared.



If it's still there in a weeks time I might have another go.

There have been a lot of other migrants through over the past few days. They mostly seem to be juveniles but I am still hoping for a some better pictures and I still haven't seen a Spotted Flycatcher.


Pied Flycatcher

Pied Flycatcher

Yellow Wagtail


And from a trip over to Anchor Bottom to look for Clouded Yellows, no pictures of said butterfly, although we did see two brightly coloured males and one female. It was just too hot to chase after them up and down the slopes.

Worth going though, as there were still Adonis Blue on the wing and I needed Autumn Lady's Tresses to complete my Orchid year.

Adonis Blue

Autumn Lady's Tresses

Autumn Lady's Tresses

Thirty six species of orchid seen this year plus a number of variants and hybrids. It could have been more but it would have needed a few trips to Scotland and the north of England to find them. I am not going to do long distance twitching for single targets but combine birds, orchids, dragonflies and butterflies and the trips look more acceptable.

Tuesday, 27 August 2019

Long-tailed Blue

With an influx of Long-tailed Blue butterflies being reported along the south coast we headed over to Whitehawk Hill to search for them. The best information we had was somewhere around the transmitter tower, so the plan was for a search for the food plant, everlasting pea Lathyrus latifolius, and then to stake it out and wait to see what turned up.

In practice it turned out to be a lot easier than that, as there were already two people searching the target area when we arrived.

We had a number of sightings with a maximum of two in the air at any one time so probably somewhere around four to six being present. They seemed to be based over the fence in the allotments and where making occasional forays out into the scrub area looking for Everlasting Pea. Their presence in the allotments could well herald a problem for the gardeners pea crops in a few weeks time.

My photographs are both of the same specimen and show a hole in the  under wing where the eye spot should be. It looks as though the combination of eye spots and short wispy tails has served its purpose and fooled a bird into attacking the wrong end of the butterfly.

The last influx of the Long-tailed Blue was in 2015 and that year the eggs laid by the migrants resulted in fresh UK born butterflies on the wing at the end of October. My blog of the 25th October of that year shows a freshly emerged individual. These are the pictures you really want rather than the slightly worn individual above.

They are said to not be able to survive the winters in this country in any stage of their life cycle but who knows, with global warming that may change. Great for butterfly fans but not so good for gardeners or farmers as they are considered a pest on the continent.

Having found our target species early on we then headed over to Steyning to have another look for the Brown Hairstreaks. This must be the most frustrating of all the Hairstreak family but at least this time we managed to see a few and get a couple of record shots.

Still not the pictures I really want but I will get them eventually. It's good to have a challenge in life, it's just a pity that you have to take it on when it is over 30 degrees out in the sun.