Sunday, 25 September 2016

Having a Butcher's

Ridiculousness. Complete and utter unbelievable ridiculousness. And no, I don't mean the fact that I'm writing a blog again. Again, no, it's not that I've actually been busy with college, and work since last I related a tale to you all. The sheer crazy, is this really happening??ness stems instead from... please sit down for this... birding.  Actual birding. Okay, maybe twitching, but still, birds were, or rather a bird was involved.  And it was this bird that caused, for many people, a state of flabbergasted awe. Which, to be fair, is most certainly the correct state to be in once a Red-backed Shrike has glided down and taken a grasshopper (R.I.P) from right by your feet. Wouldn't you agree?
 Crippling views is a term which is often overused, here though, it's justified. A shrike sitting on a perfect perch, in lovely light... you don't get much better than that.
 In the off chance that you haven't worked it out yet (I mean it's not as if the internet's filled with pictures of this bird), yes, I went for the Tide Mills Red-backed Shrike.
 It had been present for about two or three days before I managed to get over there, and I had heard it said that it was showing rather nicely.... well they got that right.

I arrived at about 1pm and spent a good five hours there, leaving at around dusk. The days really could do with being a bit longer again. The shrike, a first summer male, was on show almost the whole time, and was having his picture taken at a rate of about 40 times a second. Well, what do you expect, it was basically a photographer's dream, if photographers were ever daring enough to have a dream that crazy.
 At a twitch it is usually considered bad etiquette to approach the bird even a little bit, this wasn't one of those times however (although I'm not saying no one complained), as the shrike would let you approach to within ten feet of it and hardly give you a second glance.

Despite the presence of a large number of photographers, the bird managed to feed well throughout the day, catching grasshoppers, cranefly, bees, Devils Coach Horse beetles, lizards and apparently a Pygmy Shrew.  I was, I must admit, rather fascinated to see a lizard, dripping gook and impaled in a rose bush. Shrikes really are very lovely birds.
 As the evening drew in, it stopped feeding so much and started to sit one legged at the top of bushes issuing forth a soft, scratchy sub-song. Not very common behaviour for a shrike in Britain, but then I'm not sure much that this bird did was.
 Such a crazy good bird, quite possibly the best £2.95 I've ever spent; even if it did take me 2 hours to complete a 30 minute journey to get home... Ahh, good ol' public transport. But even the soul crushing abilities of buses and trains were well worth it.

Saturday, 6 August 2016

Tigers of the Urban Jungle

It has, I believe, been said that London is an urban jungle. If one is to agree with such a statement, then it must be considered that, in a most un-jungle-like way, London is modest. It doesn't, as it were, exude an exotic exterior. Okay, that is if you choose to ignore the lurid green long-tailed squawkers which go around skiving peanuts and biscuits off innocent park goers. For an average inhabitant of this jungle, most days won't be filled with luscious green trees and parakeets who don't eat your peanuts, but with grey buildings and pigeons of about thirty shades of dull, and perhaps two of blue.
 No monkeys, no toucans, no gorillas. Tigers? Well, that's a different matter entirely.
  This jungle is home to tigers. There's even a choice of three or four species. One of these has only appeared in the city within the last ten or so years, and has now become well established, and before you ask, no, not in a zoo. If you live in the right area you may well find that they're right in your garden. In the off chance you were just about to start panicking and locking your doors, I feel it's worth pointing out that you probably won't be in much danger... these tigers generally choose flowers over flesh. Oh, and they're also only two inches big.  Neither Siberian or Bengal, nor even Sumatran, these are much closer to home: the Jersey Tiger.
  There is some speculation as to how these stunning moths ended up in London, possibly they were released, but they may also have been migrants, or even wanderers from one of the already established colonies along the south coast. By whatever means they got here and now that they've arrived they certainly seem to be doing well.
  My previous experience with Jersey Tigers extended so far as a single spider-wrapped individual on the windowsill last year. So, as I'm sure you may be able to imagine, with the prospect of them in the garden I was moderately looking forward to their approaching flight season. Okay, so maybe I was just a little more than moderately excited when I switched on the actinic trap last night, but come on, it doesn't get much better than this!

By 1am this morning the trap had brought in five of these giant beauties, several of which were flying around and flashing their exotic colours; looking better fitted for a rain forest than a small garden in the Urban Jungle.

Sunday, 15 May 2016

Feet Without Stilts

I wouldn't say Red-footed Falcons and I have had the best relationship. I just find it hard to trust their 'realness'. Especially when they're in Essex. It's not as such the fault of the birds themselves, more my previous experience. This distrust, as it were, all started about, hmm, 2 years ago now, when a Red-foot was reported at Lee Valley. With the enthusiasm that comes oh so naturally to a child, I quickly travelled to see it via the delights of the public transport system. The report was unfortunately erroneous, leading to a rather devastating day. I wasn't quite as hardened a 'dipper' back then you see.
Since the fated day I've always glanced at reports of Red-footed Falcons with the shrewd eye of bitter experience.
 Yesterday afternoon the shrewd eye crept back out, with reports of a female Red-footed Falcon at Vange Marsh. Shortly after, all shrewdness made a swift retreat - ah, the magic of photos.
Vange wasn't too far away... maybe it could be worth a trip. I then recollected that there were a pair of Black-winged Stilts there too. Yeah, maybe.
 Okay fine, you're right, there was no way I wasn't going. Except maybe if there were train cancellations - I've never enjoyed replacements bus services. Thankfully there weren't any issues - yes I know it's hard to believe, but I fib not - and so my morning, well, some of my morning and a little of my afternoon, was spent watching this beauty!

What a bird! Cross a Hobby and a Kestrel, add a drop more awesomeness and voilĂ !
 It spent most of the time in flight over the water, or perched off in the distance, but on occasion it did the decent thing and showed off its aerobatic prowess at moderately close range to the awed admirers amassing below.

Please accept my apologies for the repetition, but really, what a bird!
I think I rather trust them now.

There was no sign of the Black-winged Stilts, but I wasn't complaining (much), it was still superb only to see the falcon. Just as long as the Stilts didn't show up again after we left, all would be well.
At 16:45, they did.

Thursday, 12 May 2016

A Pyrausta A Day Keeps The Doctor Away

Five a day and it must be May. Okay, well technically that's not true, but be honest, what would you prefer, facts or rhymes? Surely you'd pick the rhyme.... every time. Alright, alright, I'll cut it out. Without a doubt.
 To those slightly keen with their micro moth latin, I'm sure by now that an inkling of the following (un-rhyming) content has began to form. Yes, it's moths. That time of year is here (well that was  unintentional) again. Oh and of course, I do still live in Britain, so there will naturally be some complaining about the weather.
 A few weeks ago Bob Eade kindly offered to show me around his patch in Seaford to see some of the fantastic and rather specialised lepidoptera species that occurred there. Up until this week, we could never find a good day to go, and I'm sure you can hazard a reasonable guess why - the weather, faithfully awkward as always. I mean come on, frost and snow in mid-April? Where was that in December? Oh and don't get me started on that wind...
 Last week however the climate appeared to have finally noticed the calendar, knocking the temperature up into the mid 20°C's. The wind didn't really relent, but hey, it actually felt like spring - maybe summer even. The point is, it didn't feel like my fingers were going to freeze off. A very promising start.
 Late Monday morning, after the now-to-be-expected train delays (I did however manage to see a Pyrausta aurata in my spare time), I met up with Bob and we headed off to his patch.
 Within just a few minutes of arriving we were greeted with good views of the scarce, delightful little Elachista subocella.

We continued on, seeing: Silver Y, Cinnabar, Burnet Compaion and Pyrausta despicata. A nice surprise was a Pyrausta nigrata, not a moth I'd expected to see.
 Pyrausta ostrinalis was one of the species we were hoping to see, and after about twenty or so minutes Bob found one. An extremely beautiful moth, but, you know the word mean? Well they were, for the most part, the definition of mean. Perhaps so far as invidious? They had the idea so  ever present in wildlife, that moving during the taking of an image is good. Like a sixth sense almost.
Ah well, it certainly made me much more appreciative when one landed and stayed for a while.
They really are superb!

There were plenty of good butterfly species around too, a few Grizzled and a dozen or so Dingy Skippers, as well as a couple of stunning Green Hairstreak.
The fifth species of Pyrausta turned up shortly after, an incredibly fresh - and as such stunning - purpuralis.

 One of the micro moths we saw was unfamiliar to the both of us. When I got home I tentatively ID'd it as Tinagma balteolella, a rare species, and after a couple of days, the county recorder kindly verified this. It was only the second site ever to have knowingly held the species in Sussex, and the first sighting of one in the county for 30 years!

A big thanks to Bob for showing me around, such an incredible array of great species and a superb day out.

Saturday, 27 February 2016

The United States of Ireland

Being the somewhat creature of habit that I am, last week I set of for my now seemingly annual February trip to Ireland. I think this will be the fourth year in a row now, so let's have a brief recap shall we? 2013 - Kumlien's Gull, and Greater Scaup. 2014 - King Eider, Ross's Gull, and loads of other great gulls. 2015 American Wigeon, Woodcock, and so much dipping, that having written a blog-post about it I deemed it too depressing to publish.
 So how was 2016 going to fare? Well as long as I didn't dip three rarities - two of which were megas - in one day (why thank you 2015 visit), it couldn't be all that bad could it? I know what you're expecting, but fear not, for thankfully this isn't one of those times I follow a question like that up by calling myself 'naive', or perhaps even foolish. It actually wasn't that bad. You know what, I'd go so far as to say it was a pretty darn good trip.
The previous February forays for Irish birding all contained me dipping the Ring-necked Duck at Ross Castle. The bird had it in for me, I'm sure. How I offended it though I must assure you I do not know!  With a lingering expectancy to once again dip, strengthened by the flooding of most of the paths on site, we took a walk around the area on the 20th.
And my oh my, what was that amongst the Tufties on the lake? Could it be? Surely not... had I at last earned the right to see a Ring-necked Duck? Why yes, indeed it seemed so, for that certainly was a Ring-necked.  A stunning drake at that.

Ireland is an incredible country for gulls, every year seems to throw up a few rare laridae's, and this year was no exception, far from it, with two country-firsts: Vega and Glaucous-winged Gull. The closest England got was a Glaucous Gull, which had wings but was not winged. If you get my drift.
Thankfully the Glaucous-winged was a long stayer, and more fortunately its chosen position to 'long-stay' in, was only around an hour and twenty minute drive away. It would have been rude not to go, and I like to think that I have some manners. So... just to be polite, on the 22nd we went.
It took only a minute or two after I got out the car to successfully not dip. The grey primaries and distinct shawl standing out like a Glaucous-winged among Herring Gulls.
 It took flight soon after, giving rather decent views as it went past. Look at those wings!

It spent a while preening on some rocks, giving good comparison views with a Herring Gull, before flying slightly into Castletownbere and flying between lamp-posts. Standard habitat for a 1st for the country to hang out in.

I've called it a first for the country a couple of times, but for accuracy's sake, until a decision's reached by the IRBC, this lovely gull has to bear the rather ugly title of 'putative'. Fingers crossed, for birders and the bird's sake alike, that title can be removed.

I didn't even make it twenty four hours before ticking another American rarity, this time the drake Black Duck at Baltimore. To clarify, the Ireland Baltimore, I have a slight suspicion American Black Duck aren't so rare in the American Baltimore. Not sure why, but I do.
It was a surprisingly distinctive bird, I'd managed to ID it before I even got out the car - and that definitely wasn't because it was the only thing around at the time that looked like a female Mallard. Definitely not.
It showed well for around five minutes, allowing great scope views before it flew around and around, and yep, once more around and then finally off to the north. They're actually pretty nice birds.

Having seen the Black Duck so quickly, and having had the bird leave a few minutes later, we still had some time, so we decided to go to White's Marsh for yet another long-stayer, and would you believe it, another American duck - Green-winged Teal.
This one actually required a bit of effort to find, effort which equated the repetitive scanning of the same small groups of Teal, to no success. Four Teal flying in brought us salvation, for amongst their numbers was a drake Teal who hadn't put his white line on the right way around, the Green-winged. I still can't believe we had to wait a whole fifteen minutes to see a bird. The impertinence! Still it was worth it to see a Teal with a vertical rather than horizontal stripe.

Four lifers that are as a majority, I believe, from America. I may have to recheck it was Baltimore Cork I was in, and not Maryland.
So, February 2016... From a non-birder's eyes, a Tufted Duck with paint on its bill, a Herring Gull that's been attacked with an eraser, a female Mallard, and a Teal whose line has wiggled the wrong way around. From a birder's point of view however, I'd say it may have been borderline awesome. Those were some superb birds!

Tuesday, 2 February 2016

NGB's in Norfolk

Now that was a long weekend.
On Friday morning I headed up to Norfolk with Caleb, enduring a 'delightful' five hours or so on public transport.  How else would you like to spend your Friday than staring out the window of a coach for hours, miraculously not seeing any Pheasants? The prospect of Norfolk birding kept me going.  Just.
After arriving just outside Norwich, we headed out to meet up with around fifteen other Next Generation Birders, before we all embarked together for a weekend of birding and dipping in the great county of Norfolk.
Early(ish) Saturday morning we were greeted by a convoy of four cars, before heading to Flitcham to look for a Pallid Harrier. You can at least tick 'looked for' off the list, for that we did, but alas, looking did little good.  It was dip. My first of the year. Well you've got to start somewhere.
The Red-legged and Grey Partridge, Peregrine, Tree Sparrow, and large flocks of Linnet and Brambling made up for it though. Kind of.

This was soon followed by another dip, the (according, not to me but to about 60% of the group, hideous) Golden Pheasant at Wolferton.
Thornham next, with a stop on the way where we 'saw' a Rough-legged Buzzard.  I'd rather have called it a silhouetted blob that was shaped like a Buzzard.
 At Thornham I life-ticked a lovely small flock of Twite (I shall refrain from making a pun, playing on the fact Twite and quite sound similar). I also missed, what were apparently stunning views of Merlin (somehow still a lifer), which after one was seen at Flitcham while I was there that morning, was a little, umm, what's the word... saddening? Annoying? Peeving? They all roughly sum it up.
Titchwell after that, where we had Water Pipit, Common Scoter and all the expected waders and waterfowl - both Godwits, Knot, Goldeneye, it was a nice spot for birding!
The Lapland Buntings reported at Blakeney had us on yet another dip, but some conciliation came with another group of Twite. Seeing so many on a day, having never seen one before, was 'Twite' a nice surprise. Agh no, I'm so sorry, I tried my best, but it just had to be done. Please forgive me.
By now if was quite late in the day, so we finished the day's birding at a Hen Harrier roost where we had distant views of about six individuals, along with a probable Marsh Harrier and a stunning pair of Barn Owls! Oh, and another Merlin, which, would you believe it? I missed.
A lot of dips (the tale of my birding life) but still a very enjoyable day.  Next morning we had a little more success.
The day started with the magnificently terrifying beauty that comes so naturally to Glaucous Gulls, even when they're scrabbling for bread in a car park.  The 1st winter bird at Great Yarmouth gave stunning views. A lovely brute, if those words ever could work together.
There were one or two Med Gulls here who also held the their composure while sinking to the same bread-eating level.

A drive through some muddy fields - which nearly got us stuck - gave good views of both Bewick's and Whooper Swans, with some further muddy fields (Norfolk has a lot of mud) providing a few thousand Pink-footed Geese.

From there, we went to Braydon, where the islands in the river turned out not be made of mud (with how things had been going, that was surprising) but were comprised solidly of thousands upon thousands of Wigeon and Teal.  I don't think I've ever seen such a sheer number of birds as were in that river! Along with all the ducks, there were Snipe, Golden Plover and Spotted Redshank.
After a while of staring out at the river, most of the time in awe, with the rest being spent thinking of the effort involved to try and find a Green-winged Teal out there, I happened to glance behind us in time to see a pair of Bearded Tits at the front of the reed-bed.  Quite a good bird for the area, the male and female both gave amazing views as they fed, in the reeds.  Such stunners!

We finished up the weekend's birding in the 'Brecks', where we dipped Great-grey Shrike and Hawfinch, but did see a few Marsh Tit and a rather early bat at Lynford.
And thus we returned home, after over 300 miles of driving (big thanks to Jess for driving) 91 species seen, and all in all an awesome weekend with great company.
However, I do feel those three Merlin I missed will haunt me for a while to come...

Thursday, 28 January 2016

2015 Year in Review

A year-in-review post? Yes, I think there's just enough time for one before I have two years' worth.  I do seem to make a habitat of being, umm, fashionably late with writing these.
So, how was 2015? Well, it certainly involved more dipping than I'd have liked. A lot more.  Anyone else ever dip two megas in a day before? A suggestion, don't try it.
There was also the odd success here and there, the time I happened to be visiting Scotland while there was a Harlequin Duck in Aberdeen for example...
But for the sake of structure, and in line with a fair percentage of stories, let's start at the beginning.


Ah January, the month that deceived me of the twitching failures awaiting in the coming year, with a spell of unprecedented good luck. By the end of the 2nd day of the year I'd already seen Rough-legged Buzzard, Hen and Marsh Harriers and 5 Short-eared Owls. Although I did miss a Barn owl on the drive home...
Next day, Slavonian Grebe showing exceptionally well at Wanstead, and continuing to do so for a further two visits during the month.
Bring on the 29th, where a drive down to Kent had me successfully not missing a Barn Owl.  By 10am, having got Bewick's Swan a little earlier, I was watching my third lifer of the day - Cattle Egret, in a field which unfittingly had no cattle. The rest of that day held, among much else, the usual Dungeness goodies: Great-white Egret, Bittern, Smew and Tree Sparrow.
January was a good month.


February was the month things started to go a little wrong... but before that happened, let's begin with the 1st, when a spur of the moment trip to the cold of Gunners Park had us freezing to our spines for 3 hours before being rewarded with 2 stunning Serin!
The 9th, I was out twitching again, this time for a bird with yellow legs, it was called a Lesser something or other... and that was it, my first dip of 2015. The first of many.
Just 18 days later, while in Ireland I dipped (not for the first time) the Ballycotton Laughing Gull. Unlike the gull, I didn't find it funny.  A stunning American Wigeon saved the day.
Is it worth mentioning that I dipped Ring-necked Duck too?


Still in Ireland, I began March in a spectacular way.  On the 2nd I headed for the American Coot on Lough Gill, it was out there, Caleb had it in the scope, I looked, and then came the rain, the snow, the hail, the sleet and the strong winds. I could see Coots, but the sudden weather change made it impossible to distinguish which was the American.  I'll file that one as a dip. We then headed to look for the Black Scoter.  Let's just say the 'dipping file' got a little larger.  Later that afternoon, while partaking in lunch a dozen or so miles away, we spotted a single Scoter which seemed... odd.  You know, at the time it seemed to reminisce the look of a Black Scoter. When the photos were posted online several others thought the same. So it was, of course, an unusual Common Scoter.  Now if that's not a spectacular day, what is?
Things did pick up after returning to England, on the 11th I had great views of a female Black Redstart at Brighton Marina, and a day's birding around Newhaven on the 16th brought my first Richard's Pipit and Jack Snipe.
Not only was March begun spectacularly, but March ended rather spectacularly. Thankfully in a very different way. On the 28th we headed up to Scotland, and on the 30th we took a slight 'diversion', which lead us to Seaton Park. Just for a stroll you know.  OK you saw through that, so it may have had something to do with the Harlequin Duck... It was quite a nice stroll too though...
Having driven to Blairgowrie, after the 'stroll', we headed out the following morning to look for Grouse.  And we found Grouse.  By midday we had seen over 20 Black Grouse and 10 Red Grouse as well as a Short-eared Owl!
March was not all bad.


I started the month photographing Grouse, Mountain Hares and walking up a mountain through a foot or two of snow - No, London hadn't changed that much, I was still in Scotland.
On the 2nd I was back in England, and on the 16th I cycled 12 miles to look at a field.  It wasn't even an interesting field. It was interesting earlier that morning of course, as it had a Hoopoe in it then. But when I arrived it was just a field.  Hoopoe-less and birder-filled. Dip.
The next day we headed to Abberton reservoir (thankfully not on bicycles) for what proved a more successful day's birding. An awfully stunning drake Garganey, and after a few hours of chasing sounds and staring at a hedge, a Nightingale!
8 days later, I was once again to spend several hours chasing sounds, this time craning my neck up to the canopy to eventually spot a Wood Warbler.  When it appeared, it made the neck-pain worthwhile.


Grey Wagtail fledglings! Always a highlight of Spring, they turned up in the park on the 1st.
A seawatch a few days later provided Little Tern, as well as Arctic Skua and Bonxie. And didn't, I repeat didn't require an early start. That was an odd seawatch.
On the 9th, after many years of being driven mad ( you might even say Cuc.... No, I won't say it) by hearing them and not seeing them, I finally saw a Cuckoo. Two actually.
Perhaps most surprising though, I got an interesting bird on the patch. Yes, I couldn't believe it either. A Hobby, dashing over and out of the park on the 15th.
On the 25th things changed. On the 25th I went looking for moths.  The highlight was the scarce Commophila aeneana, along with 11 other species. A Eucosma metzeriana was the only other moth of real note for May.
There wasn't all that much birding for the next few months.


Probably the last spot of birding I did before August, a trip to Lakenheath for the Little Bittern.  The Little Bittern which sat there calling the whole time.  To avoid confusion, let me adjust that. The Little Bittern which sat there out of sight calling the whole time. Need I say it? Dip.
Throughout June my garden played the afternoon resting spot of a rather 'chill' fox. With the views it gave, I wasn't complaining!
There were a lot of moths in June, to save keyboard wear, I'll summarise it to - There were some cool moths in June.


An appropriate summary of July however would have been - There were a lot of cool moths in July. An awful lot.
Towards the end of the month we headed to Wales for a week's camping. After two days I was successfully put off camping.  It's never nice to wake up and find that rain's been sneaking in your tent all night.  Never.  The moths were worth it though.  Many, many hours of walking around, day and night, and we managed 95 species, including two county firsts.


On the 3rd I headed off for a month or so in Ireland.  The only birding we did were two Pelagic trips, and, other than the constant worry that comes hand-in-hand with being out at sea for 5 hours with a stomach of a somewhat weak constitution, I found that I like Pelagic's...
Storm Petrel, Sooty Shearwater, Grey Phalarope, Bonxie and Long-tailed Skua, are all thing that are 'likeable' I would say. A small pod of Minke Whale and a load of Dolphin aren't half bad either.
And of course, there were some moths in Ireland too. Through the endless Square-spot Rustics, Agriphila straminella and Blastobasis adustella, I managed to see around 140 species.


After Ireland, I was back on the patch on the 12th, when I had my 2nd Hobby for the park this year.
On the 19th, I was rather surprisingly awarded the ZSL Animal Photography Prize 2015 Junior winner.  Not sure what happened there...
The 21st held A Grey Phalarope that 'only' showed down to 17 foot, at Cuckmere.  On the 25th I finally mixed things up,  managing to do a successful twitch. Yes, an actual successful twitch. I wasn't sure it was possible either, but the hyperactive blob could be nothing other than a Wilson's Phalarope.  A few Little Stint were a nice bonus!


October... October, what happened in October? Hmm, well I dipped a Yellow-browed Warbler, took a lot of photos of Grey Wagtails, and umm... oh yes, spent an excellent £2.25 to see an Osprey at Southease.  That was October.


Rather embarrassingly, I dipped a butterfly two days running. What a way to kick-start the month. It turns out Long-tailed Blue aren't that easy to see.
I also at last got myself a moth-trap, a little late in the year, but I still had a fair amount turning up.
To answer your question, no, I did no birding.  I did have a regular Firecrest in the garden however, and garden-ticked Treecreeper.


The final month of the year (I'm sure you know that though...). Not exactly a bird-filled month, but it did hold my first ever Caspian Gull on the 11th, so not bad, not bad at all.
A trip to Rainham on the 3rd was intended for birding, but I got distracted by a few Agonopterix alstromeriana - my 400th moth species of the year.
So, there we have it, a rough overview of my year as an extremely successful dipper. That's something to aspire to, right?

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