Friday, 31 December 2010

Wandle - last visit of 2010

High tide visit, not particularly planned – I just forgot to check the tide times before I left. High tide visits can sometimes work out – there's a better chance of Kingfishers and I guess a high tide could be better for bringing some birds further upriver. Generally though it means fewer birds. Today paid off in an unexpected way with my highest Jackdaw count to date – at least 24 birds. Just a few years back Jackdaws were pretty uncommon here but over the last year especially they've become a permanent winter fixture – presumably attracted by the tip from the local populations around Barnes or Richmond Park. Also good numbers of Gadwall (at least 14), 1 Grey Wag feeding in the bushes above the delta, 7-8 Teal, 6 Common Gull and two of the Pochard still present.

Monday, 27 December 2010

Quality patch day

Duck bonanza on the patch today: over 150 Tufties on short stretch of river by the mouth of the Wandle, at least 24 Teal on the Wandle (maybe 27 but flushed by doggy walkers). Whichever, a site record for me. Also 3 Pochard (a year tick for me for this part of the patch). Also c20 Mallard, 8-9 Gadwall, c12 Jackdaw. Walking along the daylight path suddenly had a flock of around 45 finches fly overhead (presumably from the development plot behind the path). All the ones I could get onto (about 40 of the 45) were Linnets. I usually just get ones and twos of Linnets - record flock!! The flock headed over the Thames to the Fulham side, briefly perched on a house roof and then disappeared onto some rough ground.

Sunday, 26 December 2010

Wandsworth Common Siskins

Short trip out with the family. Siskins calling from the railway line just north of the North Pond, 6 Shoveler, 2 Egyptian Goose plus Canucks, Tufties, Mallard, Coot Moorhen.

Tuesday, 7 December 2010

Beddington Crane

The lure of the juv Crane currently at Beddington eventually proved to strong and I headed down to catch up with this London/ Surrey mega. The advantage of looking for 3 foot tall birds is that they often stand out so a 1 second scan of the lake with bins quickly showed the Crane on a gravel island.

Out of interest the first two shots are digiscoped, the rest DSLR.

Spent some time scanning the gulls but nothing out of the ordinary - although what seemed to be a quite a relatively high percentage of argentatus Herring Gulls.

Also around a number of Tree Sparrows at the feeders and surrounding bushes, 2 Reed Buntings and c12 Lesser Redpoll in the bushes by the footbridge.

Sunday, 5 December 2010

Barnes still on ice

Trip to London Wetland Centre with the boys - eldest off his reins to hard to get any birding done while keeping him out of ponds and ditches. Although warmer than recently all the small bodies of water are still iced over and even the larger ones are half covered in ice.

At least one Chiffchaff still on site (by entrance lake) also Shelduck, c200 Tufted on Main Lake, a flock of around 25 Redwings behind the Sheltered Lagoon, Bittern at the back of the Reservoir Lagoon, half a dozen Snipe, c50 Wigeon and circa 200 Teal.

Below: London Wetland Centre usually supports a flock of around 50 Wigeon from autumn to early spring.

This Bittern was taken at around 900-1000 feet which (partly) explains the poor quality of the shot.

Saturday, 4 December 2010

Dip in Wells

Day trip up to Norfolk to try and catch up with Coue's Roller and Hume's Warbler in Wells plus hopefully some good birding on the Norfolk coast. Still a lot of snow on the coast.

Turned out poorly with roller and Hume's dipped (although I'd seen the Titchwell and Fairlop birds respectively so not even a Brit tick at stake). Did get a number of other redpolls including around half a dozen Mealies, a couple of Woodcock flushed from the cut between the woods and the chalet park, loads of Pink-feet and this Goldcrest hovering against the snow.

Saturday, 20 November 2010

Bizarre habitat management at Barnes

As part of the WWT's continuing commitment to making Barnes as bird unfriendly as possible they've decided to cut down a couple of trees near the WWT hide that were favourites of finches in winter (especially Siskin).

Birdwise 1 Shelduck, 56 Wigeon, 180+ Teal, 3 Pintail, an increase in Shoveler numbers to over 100, singing Cetti's and calling Chiffie.

Saturday, 13 November 2010

American Robin, here? Really?

Another twitch makes this my twitchiest year since the late 80s. I'm not sure why, or whether this is a good thing or a bad thing. Or just a thing. My relaxed approach to twitching saw me roll into the Exminster Marshes RSPB car park a little after 8.30 to find all of the car parking spaces full except the disabled bays. After a split second crisis of conscience, I drove around to check out other places to park and eventually ended up going back to park in a space outside the pub - less than 10 minutes walk away from the car park.

At this point they'd been no reports of the Robin showing so I assumed this was probably going to end badly, but (along with a local guy I'd met on the way) we bumped into someone coming back who'd already had good views. Walking down the track we were confronted with the second worst twitch scene - a whole bunch of people walking back indicating that great views had been had by all but that the bird had now buggered off.

What seemed to have happened for most people (from what could be heard from snatches of conversation) was that it had been in one of the roadside hedges and everyone had piled in so that most people had seen half an eye here, a couple of GC there but it had been like pin the tertials on the turdidae.

After checking out some of the further away hedges (which contained c20-30 Redwing but not much else) the bird was relocated back towards the hotel. At this point the group of birders split into two with one group walking up the bank and the other staying on the road to view the hedges and small fields to the west of the track. Since the Robin at this point was some way back into the fields it was a pretty 50/50 decision. Most people were on the road but I decided to head up onto the bank partly because it was a bit further back from the hedge but mainly because it looked likely to give a better view across the field system. At this point the guys on the road weren't crowding the bird in any way. The Robin showed really well in the Hawthorns and other bushes in the hedges with occasional flights out to a puddle under the hedge to drink and a small tree in the middle of the field.

Below: not the best photo but shows the pale edges to greater coverts, tertials, secondaries and primaries and (just) the white tail tips. Median coverts were also pale edged but aren't really visible here.

Later on a few people who'd entered the fields started to wander around and stand under whichever tree the Robin was in.

After watching the Robin over the course of about four hours of it mainly showing, I wandered around the rest of the site and picked up a few things. Good numbers of waders on the river along with a few Red breasted Mergansers. Viewing the flooded fields produced a lot of Blackwits, Wigeon and Teal with a few other waders. Suddenly a small goose flew over that didn't feel like a Brent. Bins up - Red breasted Goose - obviously free-flying and I couldn't see any rings. I managed to grab the camera and get a few shots, although I had to manual focus as I'd left the 1.4 converter on from the photos I'd taken of the Robin.

Being a bit cautious asked the next guy I bumped into whether there had been any reports of RB Geese locally and whether these were plastic or not. Apparently there'd been a red-ringed bird hanging around the area for a month or so. Although I couldn't see any rings on the bird it was in flight which always makes it hard so I assume this was the same bird as the presumed escaped already seen.

OK, it's an escape, but great looking bird though.

After Exminster I headed south to Dawlish to hunt for a Velvet Scoter that had been mentioned by one of the locals at the Robin twitch. Found a decent sized scoter flock. This had a few GC Grebes mixed in that occasionally wing flapped white and raised hopes, but despite this no sign of any Velvets.

Last stop of the day was at the Otter estuary where, just north of the cricket pitch was a flooded field with a whole bunch of duck (Mallard, Teal, Wigeon) and a Glossy Ibis. By this time it was late afternoon and the bird was fairly distant so the photos are pretty poor.

Sunday, 7 November 2010

All quiet on Wandsworth Common

Quick trip out with the boys. Not much around: around 20 Mallard and only 4 Tufties.

Saturday, 6 November 2010

Wandsworth, dimly

A late trip out with the boys in fading light didn't produce that much. Highlights were 4-5 Grey Wags around the delta, 2 GC Grebes on the Thames and another 2 on the delta. Only low numbers of Tufties (3) but good numbers of Mallard (c70 up to Wandsworth Park), 3 Mute Swans and 2 Herons. Few gulls around as it's not far off of high tide.

Low light levels made getting any photos a bit tricky: this one at ISO6400 and 1/200.

Saturday, 23 October 2010

Barnes Peregrines perform

Morning trip without kids with Barnes WWT. I didn’t have much hope of connecting with the three Goosanders reported yesterday on the Main Lake. They’re normally either flyover birds or one-day wonders (although there was a long staying bird five or six years ago) and this group were typically absent today. Highlight of the day was a pair of Peregrines that performed brilliantly over the site.

Other birds included a couple of Meadow Pipits that flew over the site and briefly dropped into the Loosestrife on the Wader Scrape, a Water or Rock Pipit that flew over the Grazing Marsh calling, Wigeon numbers have increased to c35 (although 50 reported here just a few days ago), Teal have also increased to around 90 birds (mostly on Wader Scrape), a juvenile GC Grebe still hanging out with its parents (presumably anyway), a female Sparrowhawk over the Reservoir Lagoon mobbed by Magpies, 2-3 Cetti’s singing at various points and over 20 Jackdaws.

Tuesday, 19 October 2010

Bittern thoughts

I was having a think about the likely origin of the Barnes Bitterns. I assume that the birds we get at the start of the season are from Scandinavia or Baltic states whereas when we get individuals later in the year these are either displaced by hard weather from elsewhere in the UK or from the continent. I did find some interesting info on just how widespread Bitterns are in winter compared with the highly localised breeding population.

Below: winter distribution of Bitterns.
Sites where Bitterns were recorded between October 2009 and March 2010 (Source: RSPB)

This compares with the breeding distribution of confirmed booming males (left, blue dots) and confirmed nesting attempts (right, purple dots). Source: RSPB.

The 2009-10 winter was pretty hard so this may exaggerate the difference - with more sites reporting Bittern than usual.

More info on this article from Birdguides.

Sunday, 17 October 2010

Newhaven Rose Bowl - Rose coloured Starling

Despite having seen half a dozen juvenile Rose coloured Starlings I’ve never seen an adult. Since one has been hanging out near the coastguards at Newhaven on the south coast that's the target for today’s day trip. Pulling into the car park at the Fort I could hear quite a lot of activity – a small tit flock moving through (Blue, Great and Long tailed) and few Blackbird feeding among the bushes. After a walk uphill and then west round the coastguards I was soon looking down into a bramble filled depression facing the sea. I could see two other birders on the seaward side looking into the centre so gave it a quick scan – 5-6 Chaffinch, 8-10 Robins and a few Blue Tits. It looked like the other birders were looking at the other side of some bushes not visible from where I was standing so moved round to where they were standing and almost immediately the Rose coloured Starling popped up on the side of one of the bigger bushes.

Really stunning bird still with a very strong pink wash across underparts and mantle, pink bill with a dark base, blue iridescence on wing coverts and tertials and purplish on primaries and secondaries.

Perhaps it’s just the Magpie/ Hoodie type pattern but the deeper and heavier bill could make the Rosy look more corvid than Starling like.

A walk west along the clifftop didn’t produce that many more birds but a Peregrine gliding along the tops, loads of Mipits, at least 30 Robins along the stretch (including those in the ‘rose bowl’), a few Skylark (but the place is surrounded by fields so just as likely to be local birds as migrants), plus c20 Curlew and c15 Oyks feeding in some rocky pools at the base of the cliffs.

Drove over to Belle Tout wood at the back of Beachy Head to have a look for the Pallas’s that's not been seen for a day or so. Did connect with the Goldcrest flock that was quite good value in itself and also had contained a Firecrest. When the sun came out walked the seaward (sunny) side of the wood and bushes and added around half a dozen Chiffchaff, another (or probably the same) Firecrest with a mixed tit and warbler flock, male and female Blackcap feeding together, and a dozen Goldcrest.

Saturday, 16 October 2010

Barnes Bittern new in

I'm trying to get the Saturday morning trip to London Wetland Centre with the kids built into the weekend routine. I’m keen to make this work since it creates some extra birding time in the week which is otherwise quite limited. The eldest boy is nearly two and the youngest is 8 months, which means the time available for the trip is pretty short after food, sleep times and getting the kids ready and loaded into the car are taken into account - factor in London traffic and we’re talking about not much more than an hour on site.

From Dulverton Hide the newly arrived Bittern was showing moderately well (for a Bittern). I’m still pretty stunned by just how regular a site for Bittern Barnes has become. Considering this is a pretty small patch of reeds in the middle of London it’s amazing that Bitterns are now annual here – at times there have been four birds present simultaneously.

The Bittern's there somewhere

There it is

There have also been other arrivals – Wigeon numbers are up from under 10 to around 16 birds, and Teal have increased from around 40 last week to around 60 this week. 3 Common Gulls. While Lapwing, Shoveler, Gadwall, and the rest of the ducks seem to be on around the same numbers.

Numbers of Wigeon are up slightly this week

But Gadwall numbers are unchanged

Over the site a flock of four Linnets, one or two Grey Wagtail, a Great spotted Woodpecker over high. Local bird taking a short cut or a migrant? I guess the odds have to be on a local bird but interesting nonetheless. There are still a few Chiffchaff around – 4-5 in the southern half of the site that I covered today so probably a dozen or so across the whole site.

Saturday, 9 October 2010

Barnes White fronted wonders

Trip out with both the kids which usually makes birding hard work. The trip out today paid off though - just after 10am saw a small party (6) of grey geese circle the site and first assumption was that they were Greylag, but something in the back of my brain made me do a quick check with bins: White fronted Geese!! Patch tick!! They circled the site twice fairly low then I lost them behind the trees by WWT Hide - they were later seen heading downriver and over Beddington. Couldn't get a firm bill colour so certainly not conclusive, but these birds had big long bills and heavy barring on at least three of them - do this and the date point to Greenland White fronts?

A little earlier I'd had at least 2 (probably 4) Mipits over (2 calling, the other 2 pipit spp that were probably Meadow). Elsewhere numbers of Shoveler were up from last week (to around 45), slight increase in Teal (50-60), although Wigeon still only in high single figures.

Sunday, 3 October 2010

Another wagtail post

Yet another wagtail themed post - this time a Yellow Wagtail at Barnes. This is my second of the year here, and this one, like the first in the spring, was also feeding around the feet of the cattle as they kick up insects. This time, though, it's feeding in longer grass so you can only see it every 10 minutes or so when one of the cows gives it a kick (or just gets to close) and it flies up.

None of the other recent goodies around - the sites had small numbers of Ring Ouzels moving through over the last few days and I've only been able to get her eon the days when they haven't been seen.

Also good numbers of Black headed Gulls (c190) with a couple of Common Gulls and small numbers of HG and LBBs around.

Wigeon numbers are still fairly low (9-10), likewise Lapwing numbers are a llittle down from usual levels at 35-40 birds, also c30 Gadwall, c20 Shoveler, around 8 Snipe, although they're being a bit skittish so hard to count accurately, Peregrine over the river, approx 4 Chiffchaffs including one doing a fairly flat 'weet' call. Just like a few days ago there are reasonable numbers of hirundines around: 25+ Swallow and 30-40 House Martins.

Since it's a bit quiet I thought I'd try an experiment and do a three way lens comparison. This means comparing the results of (1) the 400mm f5.6 lens with (2) a 560mm (400mm plus a 1.4 teleconverter) and (3) a digiscoped shot through the scope using a 50mm lens and using the 20x on the scope zoom. In theory this should give around 1000m but in practice it looked a little under, more like 980-990mm (assuming the 400mm focal lengths are right anyway). I’ve tried to pick out the best shot from a fairly short burst on each of the three options as a fairly rough n ready comparison.

This photo gives an idea of the distance - full shot from the 400mm
Baseline shot: 400mm f5.6, 1/640, ISO 16000

The following three pics are crops from the 400mm, 560mm and digiscoped shots. As usual these are cropped but nothing else.

Crop 400mm, f5.6, 1/640, ISO 1600

560mm (400mm + 1.4 MkII Canon), 1/250, ISO 1600

Digiscoped 50mm f1.8 (at f5.6) through Swaro 20-60x (at 20x), 1/200, ISO 1600

I think I'm getting a bit more detail (and better colour) from the 560mm shot than either the 400mm or the 1000mm digiscoped shot. The other take out seems to be that the 400mm is slightly forward focusing (the Mallard seems to be in better focus on the autofocused 400mm shot than the Wigeon).