Friday, 18 January 2019

Snow Bunting

Thursday evening, when I arrived home, there was a report of a Snow Bunting on the beach at Goring Gap. It's walking distance from home so the next morning I went to have a look. It was very easy to find, feeding along the path at the back of the beach, with a small group of birders grouped around it.

It was frequently flushed by walkers and dogs going past but as with others I have seen there in the past, it did not seem to be worried by the disturbance and quickly returned to its favoured feeding spots.

Snow Bunting

They are one of the easiest birds to photograph, being even more confiding than a robin. You just have to note which direction it is foraging in, get in front of it and sit and wait for it to come to you.
I have had them land on my shoes a couple of times and a big lens can be a real disadvantage.

It was nice this time to be able to get it with a green background. They usually stay on the pebbled areas where they blend in and are difficult to spot. Also unless you use a narrow depth of field to put the background out of focus the bird will look lost amongst the pebbles on your picture.

We did have a Snow Bunting reported in the same place just before Christmas but that was very elusive. It would be interesting to know if this is the same bird.

There were a few Skylarks over the road in the gull roost but unfortunately they are not as obliging as the Snow Bunting. This one beating a hasty retreat as soon as I wound my window down.


The morning was only spoilt by a few dog walkers. Most were happy to make a small detour around the bird and many stopped to ask what it was and to look at the pictures. However, there are always a few, with one woman in particular, insisting on walking her dog straight at the bird whilst telling us that this was a place for dog walkers. That's odd, I thought it was there for all of us to share and enjoy.

There are always a few bad apples, dog walkers, toggers, and even (whisper it) amongst people that carry binoculars!

Thursday, 17 January 2019

A New Year List

January always seems a bit weird. The start of a new year and Blackbirds, Starlings and all those birds you have paid little attention to during the year, suddenly become important again, as you try to get the year list off to a good start. Bird races are not for me but I do expect to get above the hundred before the month is out. A modest target perhaps but then my real objective is to get some decent photographs. Lighting is the key to success and cold January and February days, bright but with high thin cloud are the best. Unfortunately there aren't many of them and the useful hours in those days are limited.

The two shots below, of the Black Redstart at Shoreham Fort, show the difference lighting can make. The same bird on successive days and it looks very different.

Black Redstart

Black Redstart

January is also the time for me to make the annual trip to Newhaven West Beach to see the Fulmars as they start to take ownership of their nesting holes.


Actually the trip to Newhaven this year was mainly to see the Hume's Leaf Warbler. I did see it but I didn't manage to get a photograph. My second Hume's Warbler and the second time I have failed to get a picture, so my key list of seen but not photographed stays at twelve.

Truth be told I had to rely on Dave and others for the identification. I cannot pick up the call and with the brief views I had it could easily have been a Yellow Browed Warbler I was looking at.

A picture of a Goldcrest in the same area of scrub was no consolation.


We have had large numbers of Gannets along the Sussex coast over the past couple of weeks, with the birds close in and giving good views of plunge diving. The lighting was appalling but they were at least good to watch.

I also failed to get a photograph of the plunge diving but I can't blame the lighting for that. It was something to do with my inability to press the shutter release at the right time.

We also had a day down at Pagham Harbour. There were a lot of birds there and I added a few to the year list but they were a long way off and there was no chance of a decent photograph. It was also very cold so we retired to the Wetland Centre at Arundel.

It's always good for a few pictures and as we drove there Dave predicted Water Rail, Bullfinch, Kingfisher, and Snipe. He was spot on, we saw all four and I also picked up on a Chiffchaff. Good practice for if I go back for another go at the Hume's.

Water Rail

Water Rail

Water Rail

Water Rail

Female Bullfinch




Not a bad start to the New Year. It's good to be out in the countryside again and even better to be getting a few photographs.

Wednesday, 16 January 2019

Costa Rica Butterflies

I apologise in advance for any mistakes in identification. I am not an expert but even if I were I think I would still be making mistakes. Butterfly identification initially seems simple but the more you get into it the more complex it becomes. Differences between male and female; variations between individuals within a species; genetic morphs; variations between early and late broods; aberrations; geographic variations within species; mimic species. The potential for confusion is boundless.

I have tried my best to identify these butterflies but I have no authoritative text to hand and there is a lot of conflicting data on the web. You could perhaps use this blog as a starting point for identification but please don't assume that because it is written here, it must be correct.

Perhaps it is best to just admire their beauty and not worry too much about what they are called.

Orange Julia -  Dryas Iulia obtaining salt by drinking crocodile tears

See my earlier blogs for details of the places we visited whilst in Costa Rica. Butterflies were low on my priority list. It was in the main a touring holiday with my wife Sue but I did manage to include a bit of birding! Much as I love butterflies there just was not enough time to focus on these as well, so only a few pictures were taken.

Banded Peacock  -  Anartia fatima

Banded Peacock  -  Anartia fatima

Above a Banded Peacock near the Hacienda Guachipelin and  below, in the same area, a small patch of mud clearly containing some minerals that the yellow and sulphur butterflies needed

Cloudless Sulphur  -  Phoebis sennae

Little Yellow  -  Eurema lisa

Tailed Orange  -  Pyrisitia proterpia

Below my first sightings of free flying Monarchs with a few seen around the Arenal Springs Hotel. In the same area a Simple Checkerspot.

Monarch  -  Danaus plexippus

Simple Checkerspot  -  Chlosyne hippodrome

One of the most common butterflies was the Malachite. The shot below of a rather tatty specimen on the wall outside our hotel room. It doesn't look much here but it is the underside that is really spectacular. I had a few goes but I couldn't get the shot I wanted and in the end had to resort to photographing a specimen in a butterfly house at La Quinta.

Malachite Siproeta stelenes

Malachite Siproeta stelenes

Brown Longtail Urbanus procne

We did see a lot of butterflies but perhaps not in the numbers that I had expected. They were about, but in the frequent rain showers they were not flying and when the showers stopped and the sun came out there was little chance of finding one settled and willing to pose for a picture. It wasn't until we got towards the Caribbean coast and the denser rain forests that everything started to slow down and the butterflies could be found nectering on flowers or feeding on fruit. Most of the following pictures were taken in the Tortugero area

Postman - Melpomene Longwing  -   Heliconius melpomene rosina

Markings on the underwing suggest Melpomene Longwing  (Heliconius melpomene rosina) although I could only see one red dot on the hindwing against an expectation of three for H. melpomene and four for the very similar H.erato. However, this species is subject to geographic variation, morphs and hybridisation so some variation is to be expected. The red markings indicate that it is poisonous. It is a pollen eater and apparently can see in the ultraviolet range so is able see subtle wing markings that should enable it to avoid mating with other similar species (H.erato) in its geographic area. Given the level of hybridisation there must be a few around that are not too fussy.

Ruby-spotted Swallowtail - Papilio anchisiades -  On the beach at the RIU Palace

Zebra Longwing Heliconius Charitonia

Prepona sp.

Side-striped Hairstreak  -  Arawacus lincoides

Side-stripped Hairstreak, perhaps my favourite butterfly find.  It has wing markings pointing towards a false head at its back end and, when threatened, wing tails that it is able to move, to look like moving antenna and legs. The body and real head being off white in colour tend to blend into the foliage making it a difficult target to identify.

Tiger Leafwing  -  Consul fabius

White Angled Sulphur  -  Anteos clorinde

White Peacock  -  Anartia jatrophae

Like everyone else I wanted an open wing shot of a Blue Morpho. I saw a lot of them on the secondary growth around the Pachira Lodge at Tortuguero but getting a good picture was almost impossible.  You could find them seemingly basking in the sun with open wings but they always seemed to at a height of two metres or more. Any settling below that height were usually on the underside of a leaf and with the wings closed. Perhaps I was just unlucky. Most specimens were also in a very damaged state. My best picture is shown below.

Common Blue Morpho -  Morpho peleides  (Pachira Lodge)

The pristene specimen below was exactly what I was looking for but unfortunately it was also in the butterfly house at La Quinta. Even with a captive specimen I failed to get the open wing shot I was looking for.

Blue Morpho or Common Morpho -  Morpho peleides  - La Quinta butterfly house

Cyndo Longwing -  Heliconius cyndo

Eurybia molochina

Hecale Longwing (Heliconius hecale)

I still have four butterflies and a moth for which I am struggling to find a name. Any suggestions would be gratefully received.

Annoying, found this one on the web, failed to make a note of the name and now cannot find it again


Looks a bit like a Duke of Burgundy so possibly a metalmark

Possibly a Scallopwing  -  Staphylus sp.

No idea where to start

Whilst you're here check out the Costa Rica birding blogs from December 2018.

Sunday, 6 January 2019

White-rumped Sandpiper

A belated record of the White-rumped Sandpiper present at Pulborough Brooks for a few days during December. I saw it, it would have been a life tick, but unfortunately I can't count it. Sad but I only count new birds if I see them well enough and am confident to make the identification myself.

I watched it for a couple of hours but it was a long way off. It looked good and there were people in the hide with better skills than me and who had probably had better views than me, who were able to make the identification. I am sure they were right but for me with no view of the white rump and no clear view of the supercillium there was just not enough to call it.

I use a camera as it gives me the ability to double check when I get home or to seek advice from the experts but in this case it was just too far away.

White-rumped Sandpiper at about 22X magnification (500mm +1.4ext +1.6 camera crop)

The bird was well camouflaged in the long grass and did not move from the spot in the time I watched. With overcast sky and dull lighting it was also difficult to get a sharp image on the camera either using autofocus or manual focus. Perhaps Canon could bring back the old style split screen manual focus?

Heavy crop from the picture above

A heavy crop of the picture and you can see the bird. Some of the features look good but on balance it's not enough.

I have missed a few good birds in the past because I could not make the call. Sea watching is probably the best example. I am improving but all I could see when I first started was a lot of distant black dots. Very frustrating when the experts around me were confidently identifying a list of birds that I desperately wanted to see. Over time I have gradually managed to tick most of them off but there are still a few missing.

Not happy that I missed the life tick. Perhaps I should have gone to the twitch on the first day when the bird was a bit closer........

Still, not to worry, there will be another one along soon!