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....

Friday, 9 January 2015

Wanstead Water Witch

After several days of patch birding, a day out at Wallasea and of course, after all the new year celebrations, the third was intended as a day in.  These intentions however were very much gone by the afternoon. As I absent-mindedly scrolled through an endless stream of tweets, I saw a report from Wanstead of a Black-necked Grebe. A 'wow' was uttered. Hmm, Black-necked Grebe, a local mega, just a twenty minute walk away... what to do, what to do? Don't you just hate these hard decisions? Well, a few things came up, but an hour later I decided to try and see it in what remained of the  daylight.  Not that it was ever really light that day - a particularly gloomy winters day. But by now the reports had changed, it was re-identified as a Slavonian Grebe. My enthusiasm was not hindered, Slav Grebe is an equally incredible bird locally.
 Initial views after reaching the park were pretty distant, but it was there, standing out with its bright red eye and white flanks. Apparently it had been showing close-in earlier on, so we hung around for a bit. Eventually, after coming under the hassle of Black-headed Gulls, it began to work its way towards us. To cut a relatively short story shorter, it came to within just about 10 foot away, where, after realising I'd set the focus limiter to 8.5 metres, I managed a few noisy images.

I wasn't quite happy with the shot, so duly the next morning it was back to Wanstead. Again the light was rather, well, horrible, and the Slav didn't show quite as well.  Having a limited amount of time to spend there I had to leave with nothing better than the previous days'.
 But yes!  Luck was with me - makes a change- and the grebe was still there come Thursday. So this morning I went back for thirds, and with some actual light!
 Ah, but now it had decided to be tricky. Finding it took a small while, and getting close to it took near on an hour.  It eventually got settled in under some fallen trees, where lurked an astounding abundance of small fish. Despite often prolonged close views, getting a clear shot wasn't easy, and when there weren't branches in the way it was either just too far for a shot or in the shade.  Thankfully, there was one lucky moment where it suddenly popped up in good light and close. I got a couple of frames and then it was under again.

A fantastic little bird, I mean look at that eye! A first for the park, and a lot easier to connect with than the last Wanstead mega I got.
 Now, if only it would come to the patch....

Saturday, 3 January 2015

Wallasea About That Then

It's been a while since I've used quite so bad a title, may I have your forgiveness?
With the forecast set for sun all day, we headed to the Essex coast yesterday to look for an oversized Kestrel. Wait no, a Rough-legged Buzzard.  Namely, the Wallasea Island bird which has been present for about a month now.  After dipping one in Cambridgeshire last month I was glad for another attempt.
 Most of the raptor activity was told to take place later on in the afternoon. So a couple of hours trudging along the seawall brought in a few year-ticks. Nothing too mentionable, but it was nice to see an abundance of Corn Bunting, with flocks of at least thirty birds around. The estuary held a few waders as well as Teal, Wigeon and Shelduck with the occasional spectacle of several thousand Brent Geese in flight.
 At about two it was sufficiently late in the afternoon to start the raptor-watch from the carpark. Well, maybe still a little too early - it was quite a slow start with just a distant Marsh Harrier to keep us company. But given time the Marsh Harrier was joined by two Kestrel, and a stunning Ring-tail Hen Harrier.
 After half and hour had passed (and while trying to relocate the Hen Harrier), I had another large raptor fly into scope view.  As it flew it showed off long wings and a white black tipped tail. If this wasn't enough it even began to hover! Readily ID'able as the Rough-leg despite it staying in the far, far (maybe even further) distance.  Our goal was achieved, and although the views were somewhat underwhelming, it was a great bird to continue a great start to the year.
 With the sun now getting low in the sky, we drove just a couple of hundred metres down the road to get a better view of the fields. And with this, there would hopefully come good views of Short-eared Owls. A single bird in the distance started things off, and when the light started to get bad counts went up to at least five! They showed magnificently for the scope, and did occasionally come closer. Of course, the light made getting a decent picture impossible.

They were very vocal and seemed eager to fight, one taking on a Marsh Harrier, while a Hen Harrier flew below them. What a sight!  We watched them until it was becoming too dark to see them, and then left for home.
 There was a slight bit of misfortune on the way home, I foolishly managed to miss seeing a Barn Owl by half a second as it flew by in front of the car.  Embarrassingly Barn Owl's still a lifer, which just makes it a bit more painful! A vocal Little Owl at the top of a tree provided silver linings, to end an incredible day's birding.

Thursday, 1 January 2015

Starting the Year

With 2014 now gone, I'd just like to wish you all a happy new year!  May 2015 bring plenty of good birds to London... please!
 It's already started out pretty good. After last night's celebrations - sitting at home watching television - it was time for some serious patching to get the year-list going.  It was unsurprisingly not the earliest of starts, there wasn't even time for breakfast. Devastating. It was a traditionally uninspiring bleak looking day. At least it wasn't raining, yet.
A couple of Mistle Thrush and a handful of Redwing were a nice start, and working through my admittedly tired eyes, I then got three Cormorants on the lake and, amazingly, a pair of Gadwall!  Only my second ever record for the patch, after the one-day-wonder trio back in October. Encouraging, especially when this was followed by brief flight views of a Sparrowhawk, a tricky bird to see in the park.
 Valentino the Med Gull was hunting for worms in the Cricket field, there were a couple of Shoveler on the second lake and the Kingfisher was actively flying up and down the canal.

 Two and a half hours passed in no time, for a change the patch was shockingly good. By half twelve we'd racked up an impressive (for Valentine's) forty one species. Beating my previous patch day record by four!
 A nice achievement to start the year!
Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...