Monday, 14 December 2015

Gull on my Mind

I like gulls.  Or rather, sometimes I like gulls.  It's not so unusual an occasion that I ignore gulls. Especially large flocks of gulls.  More especially if the flocks are of large juvenile gulls.  The thought of searching among all that mottled brown plumage for something of interest... The mind boggles.  It's not to say, that I don't enjoy seeing gulls themselves (with the exception of the 1st winter Yellow-legged Gull which I'm sure was a Herring Gull going through a 'phase'), it's just the idea of finding one, or more for that matter, attempting to.  Daunting stuff.
 Caspian Gulls? Well, there lies a slight difference. It's long been a hope of mine to see a Caspo.  I would even go so far as to scan a flock for a Caspo - given the flock wasn't too big, of course.
Recently, a 1st winter Caspian, had been reported at Wanstead.  So it was, Friday morning, having expanded my limited knowledge of gull identification, I walked the mile or so to Wanstead and prepared to scan gulls.
Honestly? It's not quite so bad.  Sure, I may have seen several YLG's and not realised it, but I was at least pretty certain that I hadn't seen the Caspo for the first half-an-hour of scanning.  And that's something isn't it.  Isn't it?
 Having searched the football fields and the Alex pond, with no luck, we decided for one more look before heading home.  Another scan of one of the fields revealed two or three large juvenile gulls in the flock.  One of which had a suspiciously white head. And were those legs particularly long too? It was hard to tell with the gull having laid down.  But the features looked promising.  It certainly seemed to stand (not literally due to the laying down part) out from the other gulls.
 When eventually it did stand back up it showed that yes, those were particularly long legs, the also long, blackish beak was almost parallel with its' head, and in flight it showed pale underwings - Caspo.

What a beauty!

 I later learnt the white rump, dark subterminal band and shawl were also good pointers... Nope... I have no idea what any of that means either.  In all honesty, picking out a Caspian Gull wasn't quite as hard as I'd imagined.  Even from quite a difference I was fairly positive of the ID.
 You know, maybe, just maybe, juvenile gulls aren't that bad after all...

Sunday, 6 December 2015

Birthday Bus Birding

Do you remember last year I turned fifteen? Well, this came as a shock to find out, but this year I'm going to be even older. The cheek of it all.  Tomorrow I turn the ripe old age of sixteen... time to break out the walking stick.
 In keeping with the tradition of the last few years, I celebrated the last few days of being a (variable of course) age by going birding. You may be proud to know that for this year's pre-birthday events, I didn't even twitch. After last year I think not twitching was... umm, wise.  So, just good old - old, stop reminding me - fashioned birding.
On Saturday I headed out with Caleb and Liam  for a day of birding around very windy Sussex. Bus birding to be precise, which constitutes a lot of buses and, well, on this occasion, not a lot of birds.
We started the day shortly after sunrise at Brighton Marina, and saw some large waves and a Rock Pipit.  Exciting times.
 On from there, buses to Hove Lagoon for some distant views of a Great-northern Diver on Southwick Canal.  This was a county tick though, so a nice addition to a list that I don't really keep. Possibly as it would be scarily low if I did.
 Despite the wind's best intentions to  blow us away, Liam managed to find a pair of Common Scoter out on the sea from the beach here, a relatively good bird in Sussex at this time of year.
Back into East Sussex after that, to the Ouse Estuary Project where we had nice views of Kestrel and half a dozen or so Snipe in flight.  The light had begun to fade by this point, so we made our final stop at Newhaven to try and find a Caspian or something else interesting among the gulls coming in to roost.  The wind then decided that shouldn't be possible and reached rather its peak of the day. 'Blowing a Gale', I believe would be a fitting expression.
There was a Shag in the harbour, and with seemingly nothing among the gulls, we called it a day. The weather was not hospitable.
 The journey home took me to an all time personal best, ten buses boarded in a day! It turns out the excitement of buses ran out for me about ten years ago. I think trains to be more bearable a form of public transport.
 We didn't see anything amazing, but still, not an unenjoyable day's birding. At least I didn't dip...

Thursday, 15 October 2015

Sweet Sixteen

He's arrived. That well travelled local celebrity is here again. Back for his sixteenth (yes, sixteenth) winter, Valentino! Yes, please do go ahead, applause there is justifiable. London's most famous gull has returned.
 It's always a worry in early October that maybe this year Valentino won't return. At around eighteen now he's getting on.  How long is it before he retires and spends his winters on a Mediterranean beach rather than a eutrophicated lake with rats in London? Or worse, abandons us for Wanstead.  After making a few excursions to the flats last year that's a growing possibility.
 But let's not think about that, for now, let us just rejoice. What a bird!

Monday, 12 October 2015


I can at times be a bit of a sceptic.  After twitching a Red-footed Falcon which never even existed, I now like to have a little more than a single tweet to go on - Pictures help too.
 So when, on Friday a Yellow-browed Warbler was reported from Regent's Park, although I didn't completely doubt it, I thought it a little odd.  Last year I had my first Yellow-browed Warbler, an individual which took two attempts to see. It was also one of, if not London's only Yellow-brow that year.  That was at Regent's Park too, coincidence? Sure, why not?
There was only one reporting, but I was heading that way on Saturday anyway, so it was worth a look.  Checking where in the park it had been seen threw up another little oddity: It was seen at the north-east end of the lake before flying to the island. Huh, that's where it was last year. The coincidence grows, as does the scepticism.
 Having spent an hour or so searching the area without even hearing a call, we decided to give up with no warbler and go and photograph the Herons.  Funnily enough that's also what happened last year.

So no, this - unfortunately - doesn't have the kind of ending where the coincidences were just coincidences and the bird was there showing nice as you like.  If only.  However, I don't believe it to be a tale of falsehoods and stringing.  It was reported by people who I believe are good birders, so I'm sure it was there.  At first at least, to save face I'll say it wasn't there when I went.
 As such, it is at risk of contradicting myself that I say, in this case perhaps being sceptical was wrong and it was just a pure fluke of coincidence.  Or, just a returning bird with a routine it likes to stick to, even if it was eight days earlier this year.
 But what am I thinking, last year it took two attempts, so let's see what happens this week.  Just ignore the hindering factor it hasn't been reported again and is probably a hundred or so miles away by now.  Or maybe a little closer to home perhaps?

Wednesday, 7 October 2015

A Birding Moral

Phalaropes are great. I've seen two of the three species, Grey, and as of last week Wilson's.
 Filled with an enviable (for us oldies, I'm nearly sixteen) and seemingly endless energy, they never appear to stop moving.  You'd think they'd be a nemesis to photographers. Not so. With Grey at least they're practically a photographers best friend, particularly if they're in Sussex. They seem to know no boundaries, being more than 24 inches away is out of the norm. A photographer would generally suffer from having 'too much lens'. And as we all know, photographers - generally - love complaining about not having enough lens. So too much? Basically unheard of. This was how both last year's Hove 'play-ground-paddling-pool' bird, and the recent bird on the Cuckmere  performed.  I went for the Hove bird, it was amazing. The Cuckmere bird was showing just as well, and in more natural habitat, you could bet your hat I was going to go! What's more you could be sure I was going to get the first train of the day there. It's practically guaranteed I'd walk the three or so miles from the station to get there before sunrise.  And you know what? It was down right certain the Phalarope would show amazingly.
 This was to be my third Grey Phal. The Hove bird, a hardly tick-able fly-by from a pelagic, and then this. Ignore the fly-by, this was going to rival the Hove bird, this one was going to be great. Wasn't it?
Nope. Nee.  Nein.
 The bird had moved from a small pool to what would probably be classed as a lagoon. In which it stuck to a single current and never came closer that 15-20 foot, more often 50. Terrible.  At the time I'll admit, to my shame, I was a little disappointed. A scarce migrant down to 20 foot, that should be amazing, shouldn't it?  In the moment, it didn't really seem so. There's a simple answer here - the Hove bird ruined it for me. Well, that and the pictures from the day before.

                                                             I mean it's not that bad

 Does this mean then, that unless my next Grey Phalarope is less than two foot away I'll be disappointed? Honestly, I hope not. How often do they show quite that well anyway?  I'm sure two in the last two years is just a coincidence.  At least with Wilson's it just needs to be within 500 foot, and Red-necked just needs to be there...
 The moral of this story? Never (ever), have expectations with birding.  Or, just make sure you go the day before.

Tuesday, 29 September 2015

The Boat was Diesel, There Were Still a lot of Petrel

During my month in Ireland, I did go birding, yes.  But only twice.  About ten hours of birding for a month, not great I know.  To be fair, there seemed to be little around - Not that that's a viable excuse.  England on the other hand was seemingly brimming with migrants and rarities.  I mean there was even a group of three Wrynecks. Three of them. I'd be over the moon with just one!  Ireland of course, had none of this, well they steered clear of western Ireland at least.
 As such, the two birding forays of the trip were not twitches (If you can believe that), but nor were they regular birding days (if there is such a thing).  No you see, I finally entered the realm of the Pelagic.  A realm I'd been dreaming of for a long time.  I like boats. Oh, and of course, I like sea-birds too. 
My stomach is of the constitution that it, umm, doesn't handle car-journey's that well.  So you can, I'm sure, imagine my worry of spending five hours out at sea.  I won't paint that picture any clearer, for your comfort and mine.  I found however, fresh sea air, along with Storm Petrels flying just a few feet away make for a good remedy to keep sea-sickness at bay. Who'd have guessed...

Although I think following their nonsensical flight through the view-finder may have counteracted that a tad.  I added hundreds of shutter-counts to my camera, and this is practically all I got.  Fast little things!
 Aside from the Storm Petrel, the first Pelagic trip produced two Sooty Shearwater, a handful of Manx and this Bonxie.  It's amazing how much more impressive they are when they're not blobs on the horizon.

The second Pelagic involved one of those lovely 5am starts.  Eating muesli at 5am isn't that easy.  It also sadly involved a lot less Storm Petrel, only about twenty throughout five hours.  The Manx's however were out in much larger numbers.  A Sooty (I think), more than half-a-dozen Bonxie, oh and two of these beauties...

Long-tailed Skuas, yeah they're rather something!  One even had the audacity to chase a Bonxie, it must have been mad.  They showed amazingly, one flying right over the boat!
 We were also quite fortunate with Cetaceans, having up to five Minke Whale, and rather a lot of Common Dolphin - three of which swam right by the boat, if only for a few seconds, it was still a little mesmerising. 
Ignoring the daunting, ever-present feeling that the rocking of the boat would get the better of my afore described constitution, it was great fun. I like boats, I like sea-birds, so of course, I like Pelagics.

Saturday, 26 September 2015

A Quick Stint at the Marsh

Remember when this blog was true to its name and was about birds?  When scopes and telephoto lenses were a common feature? When I regularly complained about dipping, or less commonly, told of successful twitching? It seems to have been an eternity doesn't it...  But fear not, for on Friday, my scope having been recovered from hibernation and my binoculars having been dusted down, I went birding. Yes, you read that right, birding. A rather nice spot of local twitching to be precise. A bus, a train and a walk later (OK so maybe just local-ish) and we had arrived. Let's get the eyes back to looking at blobs in the distance, and what better way to start than with the Vange Marsh Wilson's Phalarope.
 There were half a dozen or so birders there already, so it wasn't long before one of them had got us onto the hyperactive speck that was the Phalarope.  Even at that distance there's no mistaking a phalarope! Although I wouldn't have been too happy to comment which species for myself...

Slightly closer, but by no means close, were three delightful, and oh so tiny Little Stint, scurrying around some sleeping Mallards.  A species I've wanted to see for a while now (The Stints, not the Mallards), so it was nice to get some reasonably decent scope views.

Asides from taking such stellar photographs, it was just good to be back in the field birding again, and with some great birds too!

Monday, 14 September 2015

Ireland lepidoptera...

My goodness it's been a while since my last post, about a month now? What's that you say? Two months!? Well yes, I rather think you're right.  One month of that time I have an excuse for however, and the course of this post will be focussed on that month. The excuse? Ireland.  This year, in tradition with the last three or more, I spent an enjoyable month staying with family in the Irish countryside - or in colloquial terms, up a hill.
 In short, a month of mothing. And now, in long, but not full, unless you want to hear the details of what I saw on each of the 36 days...
 It was Ireland, so of course, the weather was not great: nights were often pretty cold, and days were often very windy. But working with and around the weather, it actually turned out a superb trip for moths.  We only set up a light-and-sheet trap on a handful of occasions, and although that did contribute a fair amount, most of the moths seen on the trip were either by day or by torch-light.  Altogether I totalled up over 140 species, though most of that was in the first few weeks, towards the end it was hard finding anything that wasn't a Square-spot Rustic.
 Early on, before the reign of the Rustics, was when one of my favourite species from the trip turned up rocketing around in the house, the beautiful Antler Moth. Although not an uncommon species, we only ended up having one of these lovely little moths during my stay.

Although never bringing that many species at a time, the light-trap did however bring some stunners: Pebble Prominent, Scalloped Shell, Scalloped Hook-tip True Lover's Knot, Four-spotted Footman... being just a few that stood out, to be honest most of them were stunning!
 Another firm favourite was Ghost Moth, I had two, on separate occasions. One, a rather worn individual on Ragwort, and then this beauty by the light one morning! What an an incredible moth. Of course, I couldn't resist taking a few photos...

And what would a month of mothing be without Micros? Aside's from a lot easier on the eyes that is. I spent most days looking for micros, and found a good number around the land.  Nut Bud Moth even challenged Square-spot Rustic for the 'Most-ubiquitous-moth-in-Ireland' award. Blastobasis adustella was also in the running.
 Prochoreutis myllerana, Mompha locupletella, Carcina quercana... I'm beginning to think writing a list of micro names will take a lot of time...
 Although it wasn't packing quite as much colour as any of the aforementioned, Phylloporia bistrigella was a micro favourite, at only 3-4mm it's one of the smallest, unless you dare to attempt Nepticulidaes. Phyllonorycter are bad enough too.

Rather like the conversion of a book into a film, a lot's been left out. But I can't see my self making it through writing out 140+ moths names, or  even less likely, anyone making it through reading them all.  But the highlights have been covered, it was a good trip.  Oh, and you know what? I even went birding (whatever that is). More on that to come...

Thursday, 9 July 2015

1st Class Mothing

I have recently spent a lot of time at train stations.  And not just for my weekly traversing.  I have, for want of a better word, been loitering at my local train station. Both day and night. Camera in hand? Yes. Making lists? Yes. I see what you may be thinking, but worry not! I have most certainly not taken up train-spotting. Despite what it may seem to an onlooker.  No, you see, my local train station is unusually good for moths. Sure, I'm no expert when it comes to mothing at train stations, but I feel more than fifty species over a period of three days isn't too bad.
Although it had occurred to me on several occasions that the lights at the train station could be good for attracting moths, I'd never really tried mothing there. However when Caleb found an Elephant Hawk-moth on the side of the steps, I was unsurprisingly swayed to deciding to see what came at night.
 A lot, that's the answer. The stunning Blackneck, Peach Blossom and Swallow-tailed were a few favourites. However, the award for most incredible moth of the night for me goes to the Enteucha acetosae. One of, if not the smallest moths in the world. Being just 1.5mm in length, it was umm, quite tricky to see.  It's size is comparable as to that of the eye of a White Ermine.  Both ridiculous and ridiculously awesome.

Heading back the next night, there was even more about. Burnished Brass, Buff Arches, Figure of Eighty, Coronet, The Lackey, Shark (no, not the fish), Elephant Hawk-moth, and a nice surprise under one of the seats in the waiting room - Small Elephant Hawk-moth!  A very worn individual, but stunning nonetheless.

 Returning the next afternoon to collect some rain tickets, we then found a Kent Black Arches under one of the seats!  I feel I may now spend more time looking for moths under these seats than sitting on them.

An awesome few days mothing, and a much more enjoyable way to spend time at the station than waiting for trains...

Sunday, 31 May 2015

Much Ado About Mothing

Although todays gloomy weather could make you believe otherwise, it is almost summer.  And with the season fast approaching it's been time once again to brush the dust off the macro lens and head out looking for moths. Oh, ahum, and butterflies too.  The annual summer transition from Ornithology to Lepidoptera has begun.  And I must say, it's been a rather good start.
 A 6:40am walk up to Hollingbury Golf-course (or rather the fields and woods around it) on the 25th for a couple of hours, transpired into over five hours.  Of course, it was on one of the few occasions I had neglected to have breakfast before leaving. And no, I didn't get lost, I just got a little bit carried away looking for moths...
 The morning started off with a stunning Alabonia Geofrella, and as it started to warm up, one of the hedgerows held a Green Long-Horn, Elachista Atricomella,  Red-twin Spot Carpet and a few hundred Cocksfoot moths.  And in the grass along the edge, a pair of Aspilapteryx Tringipennella (Yes, I wish that name was simpler too) and a Small Yellow-Underwing.
 I began to slowly make my way home, heading through a patch of woods where I found a lovely Pammene Regiana.
While walking through the main field, an interesting looking orange micro moth flew over the path in front of me and landed briefly, I grabbed a few record shots before it flew off and I was distracted by a Mother Shipton.  That little orange micro turned out to be the nationally scarce Orange Conch! A very unexpected find.

 Hoping to re-find the Orange Conch, I headed back for an hour or so in the afternoon the next day, and although I was unsuccessful in that endeavour I did find a Downland Conch, close enough for me!

After two great days mothing in Sussex, on the 28th we decided to see what we could find at Wanstead.  It was quite slow going to begin with, but we did eventually get Firethorn Leaf-miner, Pseudargyrotoza Conwagana, Dichrorampha plumbagana, Homoeosoma sinuella (If you properly read all those names you deserve a medal), and best of all a Eucosma metzneriana! A recent colonist of the UK, the first record for Britain was only in 1977.  I'm not quite sure what its status is in Wanstead.
So yes, I feel that's a decent start...

Thanks to everyone who's helped with ID's!

Friday, 15 May 2015

Patching, It's More Than a Hobby

Today the patch was, to put it simply, good. No, I jest not, it was genuinely good.
 A morning visit around 9am, had nothing out of  the ordinary, save the first Cygnet of the year. While walking through the old pitch and putt however, I heard a call I'd long awaited in the park, and looking up - as I'd clearly forgotten to do for so many springs and autumns previously- there it was, a Swallow! Patch lifer... I know, how!?  It's simply incredible it took so long. Still, all the more rewarding after a couple of years of looking.
 A little gleeful after the Swallow, and wanting to see if there were any more Cygnets, we headed back in the afternoon. Alas no sign of Cygnets, nor the female Swan, so they most likely were hidden on the island.
 Heading home after photographing some Geese and their Goslings, I picked up on a small falcon bombing past the boating lake.  Hobby! I grabbed a few record shots before it flew off distantly to the West.  Wow.  Another patch lifer, and a great one at that!  I must say, I was pretty ecstatic, an incredible day on the patch. There's something I never though I'd say!

Saturday, 9 May 2015

Cuckoo Clocked

I, as I'm sure is the case for most people, have heard Cuckoo's cuckooing.  Not many times, but, given that I spend most of my birding time on a London patch where a Swallow would be a mega, no surprises there. I'd not, however, ever seen one.  I resolved (as I do every spring) that this would be the year that would change, the year I finally saw one. With several birds being regularly reported at Two-Tree Island, it seemed only right to head down there this morning.
 The Cuckoos had been on the east side of the island, and having arrived there it didn't take more than fifteen minutes before a Cuckoo could - just - be heard over the buffeting wind. This was then quickly followed up by a flash of long-tailed pointy-winged grey as the Cuckoo flew off.  We walked back a way in the direction it had flown, to try and re-find it. And after a few minutes of scanning, I picked it up in a hawthorn opposing one of the hides.  Yes, finally!  At long last I could put a bird to the song.  Or however that expression goes.
  It was a male Cuckoo, and he gave fantastic views, singing on and off. He was soon joined by a female who flew in ever so briefly, before the pair departed.  Not for long though, as they both then proceeded to show well intermittently over the next two hours.  Beautiful birds, much better views than I was expecting...

There was even a third Cuckoo singing over the west side!
 Worth the wait? Yeah... suppose so.

Monday, 4 May 2015

May the 'fourth' be With You?

Today something happened.  Something I didn't know to be possible.  Something I thought only to be true in dreams, crazy dreams.  Seawatching... without a ridiculously early start.  Not even relatively early, I didn't leave until after midday.  I know this may be hard to believe, but I assure you it's true!
 After midday you see, was when the south-easterlies were supposed to kick in.  An supposedly that's what's needed for a good seawatch.
 I got to Splash Point for 13:00, and immediately had three Little Terns pointed out!  Of course, by Little Terns I do mean black blobs with pointy wings - it may be a different time of day but this is still seawatching after all. Still, things were looking promising, fingers were crossed for a good movement of Pomarine's!
 A handful of Sandwich Tern, a 1cy Med Gull and some Common Scoter soon followed, but no Poms, and things soon slowed down to barely a steady passage of birds past.  Hmm, surely when the wind really started so would the bird movement.  Logic right?  And so, the wind picked up, but the passage didn't.  After four hours all that was seen of note was a moderately close Arctic Skua, a couple of specks that were Bonxie's and a few Red-throated Diver. A Porpoise too, but I don't think that had anything to do with the wind movements...
 At 17:00 I had to call it and head home.  Where were the Poms? I don't know. Five passed Dungeness, but apparently avoided Splash.  So although it was enjoyable -especially not having to put on an alarm for 4:50am- it was a pretty quiet seawatch.  Today, the force was not with me.

Sunday, 3 May 2015

Grey Wagtails

Regular readers (if there are any) of this blog will probably know by now, that I'm a big fan of Grey Wagtails.  They've been an on and off photography project on my patch for well over a year now. And no, that's not just because there's nothing else to photograph in the park, that's almost, but not quite true.
 Over the autumn and early winter they spent about half the time too close for my lens to focus, then come January 1st they became elusive, I hadn't managed a passable shot since.  This seems to be their pattern, or at least it has been for the last two winters. But now, they're back, and with five fledglings!
On Friday, conveniently whilst looking for any Grey Wagtails, I found several fledglings around the Boating Lake and the Wash. The light was too high to really bother taking many images, so Saturday morning I got an earlier start. Naturally, it was cloudy. Still, beats the harsh midday sun.

 I headed back again in the afternoon, and found all five chicks lined up along the edge of the lake. While their parents were busy proving themselves amazing at fly-catching, with some incredible speed and agility! A pair of Pied Wagtails also joined them for this.  Probably the closest the park will get to a Flycatcher this year....

I would like to take this moment to apologise to my camera for the overuse of it's shutter - Sorry!  But a superb day out photographing.

Saturday, 25 April 2015

Wood You Believe It?

I do love Wanstead.  A migrant hot-spot within walking distance, what's not to love? Sure, it's probably one of the high causes as to why my patch produces oh so little, but I really can't complain. It's like a second patch almost, but with the twist that it's actually quite good.  Last year Wanstead got a Blyth's Reed Warbler, I got a Gadwall.  You see what I'm getting at?  Maybe I should just make a permanent transition of my patch... I'd probably end up missing the Squirrels.
 The routine morning check of Twitter showed once again that the dedicated Wanstead crew had another great find, a Wood Warbler.  A rare bird in London, and perhaps another site mega.  As soon as breakfast was eaten we were off.
 Half-an-hour later we arrived to the news it was still there, and to hear it a second or so later.  It seemed it would be that kind of a day. Turn up, see it, done. That joy was not to be. Try it more like this: turn up, hear it, search for ages, hear it again. Despite it tormenting singing with some regularity, it just didn't seem to fancy being seen. A Garden Warbler early on was our only consolation. It made one think fondly of finding a Cetti's Warbler.
 After three hours of canopy staring, it's trill finally began to come from lower down.  After a slightly tense few minutes where it managed to hide in a small patch of branches a small bird flew to the left into an Oak, where it finally showed, revealing that stunning yellowness of a Wood Warbler! Whoo, what a weight off the shoulders!  It showed for a good thirty or so seconds, so I managed to grab a couple of record shots before it disappeared.  Incredible bird, worth the wait.  It probably would have been quicker to go to Wales...

Saturday, 11 April 2015

Scotland (Part Two)

After successfully twitching the Harlequin duck  in Aberdeen, we drove down to Blairgowrie, where we'd be staying for the rest of the trip.  Having the next three days already planned out, my preparation was perhaps in vain.  Admittedly, being as we were, near to the highlands, I should have expected it. Weather - The spite of so many dreams.  Wind speeds exceeding 45mph and heavy snow forecasts meant travelling nearly one hundred miles through the Cairngorms was rather astray from the safe side.  So no Crested Tits, instead we explored an area near Amurlee for grouse.
It wasn't too far, and the drive did produce my first Grey Partridge for nearly three years, it was however, sadly, a rather flattened individual on the road.  If only it had looked before crossing.  The number of Pheasant I saw who had met similar unfortunate ends is just ridiculous, somewhere in the region of fifty I might guess? Crazy.
 Another mile or so further and I spotted three (thankfully) very un-flattened male Black Grouse in a sheep field off to my left!  They were fairly distant, but also pretty amazing, so I felt obligated to take a few photos. As the Black grouse began to slowly disperse into the rougher grass behind the field, a Red Grouse called from, umm, somewhere.  Somewhere distant. Although I don't believe it to be the same bird, after a few minutes I did find a Red Grouse, but far, far away.
 It was an excellent start to the morning, but I had my hopes up for some better views, so we continued on towards Amulree before taking a turn off down a road I'd read to be good for Grouse.  And as it turns out, it was. We drove it six times, and saw a further three Black grouse (including two females with their stunningly intricate plumage), about eight or nine Red Grouse, a Mustelid, either Stoat or a Weasel and a Short-eared Owl! And yes, the Grouse showed a lot better.

It snowed heavily on and off, and the Grouse appeared -or rather didn't- to go into hiding.  So we drove a little further along the main Amulree road, and saw a load more Black Grouse, including a group of nine males, taking the day count up to twenty-two! Exceedingly better than I had hoped for.
 The weather picked up briefly on the drive home, so we stopped by Loch of the Lowes, and straight away had the male Osprey from the hide!  He was on the nest, but then took off with a piece of fish and disappeared behind some trees.  An absolutely incredible morning, and all before midday!
 As part of the prize for winning the Junior Scottish Nature photographer of the Year in 2014, I had a day out photographing with professional nature photographer Lorne Gill. So on the 1st we met up with him, before heading north to Braemar to photograph more Grouse.  Lorne was a nice chap, and with his excellent local knowledge it was a successful day of photography.  We had another two female Black Grouse, numerous Red Grouse, Buzzards and even a few Red-legged Partridge. The Red Grouse showed well amongst the heather, but they just wouldn't sit up on the stone walls. No matter how nicely I asked.  Still, very beautiful birds up close!

After a fantastic few hours photographing the Grouse we decided to try and look for Mountain Hare and Ptarmigan at Glenshee Ski Centre.  The night before and most of this day had been heavy snow and strong winds, so we were doubtful we'd have any luck.  It was hard work getting up the mountain, in the first ten minutes you would overheat, and just a bit further on you felt as though your ears would fall off.  The snow was above my knees at point!  We got about two-thirds of the way up, and saw quite a few Mountain Hare scampering away in the distance, but beyond that, with the wind being what it was, it seemed perhaps foolish to try any further.  Getting down thankfully was a lot easier, and between us we only fell over a few times. So concluded another great day, and my last full day in Scotland.

Our train from Glasgow on the 2nd wasn't until half-past-four, so we had an hour spare in the morning, so.... we went looking for Grouse!  I'm sorry if you were looking for variety, but, Grouse are great.  Although this time it didn't seem like they would play ball, metaphorically speaking of course.  After driving up and back once along the road near Amurlee, we'd seen only a single hen Red Grouse, and no Black.  We pulled up for a while and got out to scan the moors, and did manage to find one or two distant male Red Grouse, and in the fields Lapwing were displaying, along with Skylark and Meadow Pipit.  A Red Grouse then flew across and landed just further back down the road.  Without much hope, I decided to walk back along and see if I could see anything.  As I approached I realised where the Grouse was, on a stone wall!  The wall was about sixty foot away, and I was a little worried it would fly the moment I left the road, but I used the heather as cover and crawled a bit closer.  The Red Grouse (a male) stayed, and continued strutting along the wall, and was soon joined by a female, who had been hiding in the grass to my left.  It wasn't quite as close as I would have liked, but I was buzzed to finally get the shot I'd been after for the last three days!  And in the final few minutes I had spare before heading back down to Glasgow.
 There ends my trip to Scotland, three lifers and a few hundred images, an awesome trip, I can't wait to go back now!
 If you have read this far, I honestly, honestly applaud you.  Give yourself a pat on the back!

Monday, 6 April 2015

Patch News!

Part two of my trip to Scotland is being temporarily put on hold, because (wait for it)... I have patch news!  I know, hardly believable.
 Having returned from Scotland the previous day, I was back on the patch on the 3rd. It was pretty quiet really, not much of note (as is the norm), but there was a singing Chiffchaff to put a bit of spring mood on things, although it was probably an over-winterer.  As I was beginning to head home I caught sight of a large bird flying over, pure white, heavy wingbeats and long extended black legs with yellow feet... In simpler terms, Little Egret!  A patch-lifer, I've been hoping for one of these to fly over the park for years, namely since I missed one which was seen in the canal after the park was reopened having been closed due to storms.
 Returning to the patch on Sunday, I took yet again to searching the old Pitch-and-Putt course for any Wheatears which decided Valentines look nicer than Wanstead. So of course it drew blank.  All was not at a loss though, as there came the distinctive call of a Meadow Pipit.  A moment of confusion followed, as I tried in vain to see it fly over with no luck, no wonder, as my father then found it sitting in a small tree! It showed nicely before flying down into the grass.  A second patch lifer in a week!
 Later that day, I even managed to find my second Great-crested Grebe for the patch this year! For now, the patch is good(ish).

Saturday, 4 April 2015

Scotland (part one)

Five hundred and thirty miles for one duck? No I'm not that bad, well, not quite. That said I did twitch a duck that distance from my home... In my defence I was in Scotland anyway, so it would have been rude not to go. And, it was a drake Harlequin Duck, that justifies it.
 I'd headed up to Glasgow on the Saturday (28th) and spent a couple of nights there before continuing the rest of my six day trip to Scotland by journeying a few hours further north to Aberdeen for the Harlequin Duck. We got to Seaton Park before 11am and although there was a ridiculously cold wind, it was a nice bright spring winter's day. Upon arriving at the river Don, three ducks flew by, the two at the back I have no idea what were, I was a little distracted by what was at the front. Yes, it was the Harley!!! It continued past and disappeared around a bend in the river. A mega warms even the coldest of days.  The day got warmer and warmer as we tried to find Papermill Drive, I then began then to regret the giant coat I was wearing, oh for that chill wind.
Papermill Drive has seemed a favourite spot for the Harlequin during it's long stay on the Don, and after about five minutes of searching here we had it showing reasonably well. I spent a couple of hours photographing it, and eventually got some great views. It's beginning to look rather nice now that it's moulting into summer plumage.  It'll be a hard duck to top!

 Generally it stayed mid-river, but on one occasion did come down to 15 foot, unfortunately the light was bad, and you know how it is when a mega pops up right in front of you, keeping your hands from shaking isn't easy!
 The Don is a great river, while I was there I also saw plenty of Goosander and Grey Wagtail and even an Otter swimming upstream!
The next four days of my trip to come...

Tuesday, 17 March 2015

Rich(ard's) Pickings

My, it's been a while since my last post! Have you missed me? No? Can't say I'm all that surprised...
Since my last post here in the blogger-sphere I can't say all that much had happened, well, despite a bucketload of dipping. And a big bucket at that.  You see, my annual late winter trip to Ireland wasn't quite the success I had hoped.  It resulted in the dipping of the following; Black Scoter, American Coot, Ring-necked Duck and Laughing Gull... Though some small consolation did come from a stunning drake American Wigeon.
 Yesterday morning I headed out for my first proper days birding since returning to England.  I met up with Liam Curson at Newhaven, before heading to the Ouse Estuary to look for the Richard's Pipit he had found a few days earlier.  After fifteen or so minutes scanning the grassy banks in the rain, we were heading to try a slightly different location when another birder found it up on a fencepost.  It gave great scope views here for a couple of minutes before dropping down into the grass. A great bird to start the day with!  We got some more views after it came down into the grass on a distant bank a little later on, and also had four Bearded Tits (Reedlings, whatever) in the reeds around it.

 Walking from here to Tide Mills produced a frankly ridiculous number of Snipe, probably somewhere around sixty. Oh and brief flight views of a jack Snipe as well!
 Tide Mills was pretty quiet, none of the hoped for Wheatears, but a Firecrest was a nice surprise.
 It was then on to Cuckmere, where Liam quickly found an adult Yellow-legged Gull.  A Scandi Rock Pipit, Yellowhammer and Pintail were a couple of other good birds as we headed down the river to look for the Great-grey Shrike which's been in the area for a while. And although it was still in the area having been seen earlier, we couldn't locate it.
 A possible Iberian Chiffchaff had been reported just a hundred or so metres away, so we headed up to see what was going on.  There were a few others there who'd had the bird earlier, and had taken some recordings of its song.  We then got to hear it in person as it appeared in a tree and begun singing.  How does one describe this bird? Hmm, I think weird is the best word. Yes, the bird was weird - No offence.  Most of the time it gave a song, slightly reminiscent of a Coal Tit with some little warbles, but yet it also did the standard 'Chiff-chaff', and seemingly the 'wheet' contact call of a Common Chiffchaff.  An aberrant Colybita is the current theory, and I would agree, though I'd be a long, long way out of my depth making an opinion on it.
An interesting end to a superb days birding, with a total seen and heard list of seventy species!

Thursday, 5 February 2015

Breakfast Decisions

I was up moderately late on Sunday, well, it was the weekend.  Or has that excuse all but dried up now?  Still, it was before nine.  While discussing over breakfast the plans for the day, we decided, sure, why not do two hours on public transport to Gunners Park? Ah, perhaps without adding the bit about Serin being there, it might seem a little weird.
 After the tedious and seemingly dragged out journey there, we were greeted at our destination by a biting cold.  Joining the group of assembled birders - or perhaps, twitchers - I spent an hour and a half scrutinising every Green and Goldfinch which went past.  Every one, and there were quite a few.  With nothing happening, we headed down to the sea for a while, year-ticking Sanderling, Turnstone and Knot. And still, there had been no sign of the Serin since much earlier that day.
 By now, we had only a couple of hours of light left to the day, so it was back to finch watch.  Another lengthy period of watching, with again, no results. Thinking it may soon be time to leave, I stood up to have a walk around, when I noticed a few birders looking into a tree.  Interests plucked, I started to walk over, only to have one of them wave to us, signalling they had the Serin - A brief sprint followed. Then I was watching two yellow-green blobs, yet undoubtedly the stunning Serin.  Approaching closer to the tree, we managed some fantastic views before the Serin flew down and landed in the undergrowth in front of me. Apparently rather deep into the undergrowth...They effectively disappeared.  It took about twenty minutes before one showed, and by now the light was fading, but quite simply, wow!  A truly beautifully little finch.

It continued to feed here for a while, before both birds flew off high over some houses. Mostly likely to a garden feeder somewhere, being passed off for a Siskin or an escaped canary.
 Truly well worth the trip, even with the two hour journey home in the dark...

Friday, 30 January 2015

A Most Egrettable Day

Well certainly not regrettable!
Up at the uncomfortable and undeniably cold time of 05:20 yesterday, saw me heading down to Kent for a days birding around the Dungeness area.  With such an early start, the sun was barely starting to rise as we approached Lydd.  A large white bird hovering along the roadside caught our eye, and revealed itself as we approached as a Barn Owl.... oh, at last!  One of my most long sought after life-ticks, which had avoided me (sometimes by fractions of a second) for about two years of looking!  It veered off over the trees as our car drove past, and unfortunately I couldn't get a look at its face.  A surprise start to the day, and perhaps a good omen?
 A few minutes later we were watching a field of around eighty Bewick's Swan, a second lifer before the sun had risen.  A single Whooper was in with the Bewick's and in the low light was fairly tricky to pick out.

 After we'd had our fill of the Swans (metaphorically speaking, of course) we moved on to Scotney Gravel Pits to try, and fail for White-fronted Geese, before heading to look for the recent stars of the show in Kent - Cattle Egret.  Despite there now being a lack of Cattle, we found both of them with relative ease around some farm buildings. Watching from the car, one of the two showed beautifully, sitting still for a few minutes in the sun - which, on a bird this white was rather harsh!  Three lifers before ten, pretty good going wouldn't you say?

 After a while it started to move off along the line of a fence, so a little reluctantly we left for the ARC hide at Dunge. Everything was, as expected, rather distant, but it was still nice to see Bittern, two Great-white Egret, Smew and a couple of Marsh Harriers. When things died down at the hide, we stopped for the Tree Sparrows, and then went to the coast for a spot of seawatching. It was ridiculously breezy on the beach, at one point my scope toppled over... Despite this, we did manage Razorbill, Guillemot, Common Scoter and Red-throated Diver, not too bad a haul.
 With time left, we went back for the Cattle Egrets and had more fantastic views.  Perhaps slightly better than earlier, as they fed on insects in the fields and then paused for a while on a hay bale.  Oh for some clouds!  Exposing them correctly was incredibly tricky, but the views were somewhat awesome.

Another stop back at Scotney on the drive home got us Black-necked Grebe, and a load more Tree Sparrow to end a superb day's birding (well, technically it wasn't twitching). Fantastic birds, three lifers and I got my year-list up to 102, a personal best this early in the year.  A long but successful day.

Friday, 16 January 2015

Year in Review 2014

That time of year has come again (and pretty much gone, I'm a bit late!) for the Year-in-Review post.  2014 was another great year, and one which involved more twitching than I care to admit. That's not to say though that given the opportunity I wouldn't have twitched more... I know, what's wrong with me?  It wasn't just a year of twitching though, I visited the patch probably close to a hundred times, became obsessed with Lepidoptera, and well.. that's my whole year.  Unless you want a bit more detail?  Ah, go on then!


January started out with a trip twitch down to the South-Essex coast for Spoonbill (lifer) on the 3rd. It gave good views, if a little distant, before doing what Spoonbills do best. Sleeping.
 On the 6th, news came in of a Grey Phalarope (lifer) in Hove showing ridiculously well.  After talking to people who had been, and being told "Go, now!", I walked the five miles there - of course, it ended up staying for few weeks.  It showed like a dream, giving amazingly close views!  On the 8th I went for the Phalarope again, and got even better views, perhaps less than a foot away at times!  Definitely up there with my top birds of the year.
The 11th saw another local lifer, Cetti's Warbler at Fisher's Green, the views of this weren't quite as good.


Ah, February, the month of Gulls, or so it was for me.  Caleb was over from Ireland on the 8th, so a trip to Newhaven was due on the 9th.  A stunning male Black Redstart and Purple Sandpipers showing well made the day.
On the 12th, I set off for Ireland.  But winds of 110mph in Cork meant no planes were flying out, 5 hours in the airport, then it was just back home.  The next day things were back on track, and I reached Ireland! In the end it was worth it.
 The 15th was just a visit to a local beach, but we found a Little Gull, a 1w Glaucous (lifer).  Then came the 16th, spontaneity was the key that day. A sudden decision to go for a female King Eider had us rushing to get packed. On the way even, we managed some lifers - at a pull-in we saw Yellow-legged Gull (lifer), another Glauc, and a flyby Ring-billed Gull (lifer). Then on to Cahermore where we got distant views of the Eider (lifer).
 The 20th, saw us watching Ross's Gull (lifer) at close quarters, and finding ourselves a Kumlien's Gull.   Throughout the rest of the trip we had a four more Ring-billed Gulls,  two Iceland and a few more Glaucs.  See, lots of Gulls!


Spring began to set into action in March, with a few Chiffchaffs on the patch and even some Goslings.
The 30th began the start of perhaps a small addiction, seawatching. The early starts, the distant birds, wha'ts not to love?!  I don't jest.  I had a 100+ Common Scoter, 10 Red-throated Divers and 100's of Brent Geese.  In all fairness it was a bit early in the year for good seawatching.
 In March I was also pleased to find I was named the Junior Scottish nature Photographer of the year.
 This Kestrel at Kew Gardens was the photography highlight of March...


A pair of Common Scoter on a London reservoir were nice to see and started off a great month.
 On the 11th Caleb was over from Ireland again, so, we headed out for a days birding in Suffolk. Our first stop at Cavenham Heath got us Woodlark and Stone Curlew (both lifers), before heading on to Lynford for Crossbills.  A few hours there gave us Common Crossbill, and Brambling, but just as we were leaving, the male and female Two-barred (lifer) showed up!  Sitting at the top of a pine tree showing really well.  The car-park here also held Firecrest and Marsh Tit.  We finished the day off with a Crane (lifer) and a few Marsh Harriers at Lakenheath Fen.
Seaford Head on the 14th, gave us a couple of cracking male Redstarts, 3 Wheatear, and a Spoonbill.
 The 18th was undoubtedly one of my favourite days of the year, nothing rare, but a day of photographing fledgling Grey Wagtails at close range!
 It was back at Seaford for the 21st, for an incredible session seawatching.  Sightings included Whimbrel, Razorbill, Guillemot, Red-breasted Merganser, Med gull, Arctic Skua (lifer), Bonxie (lifer), Black-throated Diver (lifer), Red-throated Diver and a Short-eared Owl in off the sea. A Shorelark (lifer) was another surprise in off the sea! A female Mandarin (lifer) and Black Tern (lifer) were added here on the 29th.


Garden Warbler was a nice local lifer at Wanstead Flats on the 4th, along with my first Swifts of the year! Always enjoy it when they come back.
 My lens ended up useless in May, due to a broken image-stabiliser.  I had a few dips here and there, and I struggled and failed to get Willow Warbler for the year-list.


My unlucky streak somewhat continued into June, dipping a Marsh Warbler on the 1st. The 12th, however brought tidings of joy. Three year-ticks at Rainham, including a Bearded Tit, and on the 13th I finally got Willow Warbler.  About time.
 The 19th... a twitch down to Ashdown Forest for the Short-toed Eagle, started and ended terribly!  But going back the following day was a great move, I got stunning views of the Eagle (lifer) perched, and got Tree Pipit (lifer) and Redstart in the surrounding area.  The Tree Pipit was also my 200th British bird!
My lens came back from repairs near the end of the month, and on the 29th I had good views of two Tawny Owlets in Kensington Gardens.


July started quite slow, but I was out in Ireland again on the 15th for five days.  Being able to watch Natterjack Toadlet's was by far the highlight of this trip, and quite a surprise to find.  Then all my attention turned to Butterflies, before transitioning rapidly to moths! Highlights include Pine Hawkmoth, Poplar Hawkmoth, Pale prominent... there were too many to name.
 A trip out to Minsmere on the 28th was a nice break back to birds, with Bittern, Bearded Tit, Spot-Redshank and Avocet, followed by 5 Dartford Warblers (lifer) at a nearby site.


In August I was off to Ireland, again, yet another successful trip.  On the 10th we headed to Brandon Point for a spot of seawatching, it wasn't as easy as Seaford I can tell you that!  But I did end up with Great and Sooty Shearwater, both lifers!
Several nights which turned into the early morning while mothing produced some good results, Early Thorn, Lesser Swallow Prominent, and Pink-barred Sallow were some favourites.  Oh, and I don't want to forget a Long-billed Dowitcher (lifer) on the 25th!  A crazy twitch, practically halfway across the country!  I also got hen Harrier and my first Red Squirrel, so worth the drive.


On the 8th I was back at Seaford, for an amazing day of birding.  We started off with c.4000 House martin flying around the cliffs, sometimes right over our heads! Then continued to find 30+ Yellow wagtail, 30+ Wheatear, Redstart, Whinchat, and a basking female Adder!  Certainly a memorable day.
 I didn't do much more birding in September, except a couple of visits to the patch, where I found that the female Kingfisher had returned for the winter.


I finally found a Patch Gadwall on the 1st, two males and a female on the main lake.
 The 5th had me finding a Firecrest in my garden, and, on the 15th I headed to Wanstead Flats for Ring Ouzel (lifer), we managed to see two males.
 The next morning a Lapland Bunting (lifer) was reported on the Flats, so we were over there quickly, and managed some great views of this smashing local bird!
 An early start the next day, had us off to Richmond Park to photograph the Red Deer rut.  Although we didn't get the sunrise we were hoping for it was a good day of photography.
 I'd been debating upgrading my lens for a while now, and I decided that it was time.  And on the 22nd I became the owner of a Canon 400mm f5.6, a beautiful lens!
 The 24th held my first Yellow-browed Warbler, an active little bird at Regent's Park. And a fantastic visit - sorry twitch - to Beachy Head on the 27th was for the most stunning of Siberian migrants. A male Red-breasted Flycatcher.  And a showy one at that!


Things slowed down again in November, and it was really just a month of patch birding.  Still a great month though, with lots of great views of Kingfisher, Med Gull and Grey Wagtails. I got a lot of photography done, although the Wagtails and Med Gull seemed to like coming too close to the camera!


On the 8th (the day after my 15th birthday) I headed to Newhaven with Caleb, where we were lucky enough to find ourselves a Snow Bunting!  A winter plumaged (naturally) male, who showed supremely well for the four or so hours we photographed him. What a treat!
 Throughout December the Grey Wagtails continued to show wonderfully on the patch, at times I believe down to just four-and-a-half foot.  A great end to a great year....

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