Wednesday 18 December 2013

Ivory Gull at Patrington Haven

Long distance twitching in winter is a bit like old skool 80s twitching. You have to leave on no news with only blind optimism to make you get out of bed - any wait for news and there's no way you'll have time to get there before it's too dark to see anything. For some reason today I had a vague premonition of dip so I was surprised to see the bird reported first thing, and less surprised to see the dreaded sad face of 'no further sign' as I struggled through a major traffic jam in Hull. I parked the car, checked my phone and had a huge dose of relief and adrenalin when I saw it had returned to the rocks.

The Ivory Gull spent most of its time perched on rocks south(ish) of the site so that viewing it meant looking almost directly into the sun. You could still see a lot of plumage detail, but it was possible to get better (although more distant) views when it flew onto the mud.

It was only late in the day that we got some amazing views of it. It flew over our heads, initially landing on the pumping station (where it did look a bit like a pigeon) then flew around again before going to the fish that had just been put out for it.

Wednesday 19 June 2013

Barnes Black necked Grebe

Picked up late news of two Black necked Grebes at Barnes so headed off as quickly as possible and, when I arrived, started scanning from the Obs and then the hides along the South Route without seeing anything of the grebes. Apparently they'd been seen by the original observer (David Widdowson) at around 11am but not since. I did get a couple of juvenile Lapwing, and at least one ‘near juvenile’ Redshank – presumably a survivor of the original brood of four. It will be really exciting if this survives until it's ready to leave the site - the last successful Redshank brood was in 2007 when one juvenile was raised and was still present into July.

Went round to the dreadful new Headley Hide and scanned around, eventually noticing two grebes hiding under the tern rafts – sneaky Black necked! After a short while they came out swimming and feeding across open water, which should have provided great views. But this is the Headley Hide, so it didn't. From the hide, this part of the main lake is only visible through the big glass windows which make everything look blurry and makes taking even record shot photos extremely difficult. Then the grebes made their way towards the reeds and other vegetation in front of the Headley and hid themselves in it so they were out of sight. Thinking they might be visible from the other hides, I dashed back to the other side, trying first Dulverton then WWF, with one of the birds being visible from the latter, but very distantly. Really smart birds in full breeding plumage, and a patch tick for me!

Saturday 15 June 2013

Kent: gull and kite

On Monday I had a chance for a half day trip out to Kent where Black Kite and Bonaparte’s Gull are present within a few miles of each other. The Birdguides directions for the kite were a bit vague but I got lucky and managed to find the site fairly easily. About a dozen people were staring across a valley where the bird had been seen an hour or so earlier, nothing showed except a couple of Buzzards for another 20 minutes or more, then some guys turned up saying that the kite was perched up on the other side of some trees we’d been looking at. A short walk down the hill and the Black Kite was a bit distant but giving good scope views in a tree. After a while it took off and circled closer to where we standing then drifted off out of sight.
The Bonaparte’s had been commuting between Oare Marshes and Elmley RSPB on Sheppey. There was no news today but it seemed sensible to take a look since it was so close. I arrived to hear it was showing and a quick scan of the scrape and islands revealed a 2CY gull smaller than the neighbouring Black headeds with smudgy charcoal grey rather than brown head markings. It did nothing for ages then a crow put up all the gulls on the islands and the Bony’s settled down to feed on the water with a fast picking Little Gull action (almost like a phalarope). The light was really awkward: mostly dull, but constantly changing. The nearly white water and a pale gull causing problems for my (and other people’s) autofocus. I managed to get a few shots with the exposure more or less right using manual and messing about with the exposure compensation. It was some way out on the scrape so the following shots are mostly with a 2x converter and fairly heavily cropped. It was much easier to pick up on the water, looking tiny compared to the Black headed Gulls (even those of the same age) so perhaps this is a female? The grey nape wasn't always particularly conspicuous, but shows up well in the second shot below.

Friday 14 December 2012

Buff-Bellied Pipit

After yesterday's failed attempt to get to Queen Mother Reservoir, I was able to leave as soon as I got the kids to nursery. I threw everything into the car and made a dash for it but didn't bother with waterproofs since it was dry when I left and I'm too stupid to check the forecast. It started tipping down on the way there and when I arrived I found a soaked looking Lee Evans manning the gate so that the day permits could be issued. Once on the reservoir wall I could see a group of people looking this way so stopped and scanned and found the pipit, at that point quite distant, feeding in the grass on the path. As the rain got worse it vanished for an hour or so until refound further south round the reservoir. The bird worked its way round towards us until it was feeding on the concrete reservoir bank just a few feet from us.
I found getting decent pictures challenging. It was such a dark day it was a real balance to get the ISO higher enough to give a decent shutter speed without making it too soft. Extremely smart bird with an amazingly long and dagger-like bill. It had a really striking face pattern, with pale lores (although it could show a darker loral smudge from front-on), a strong eye-ring but not especially marked super. The mantle was fairly plain, with the background colour matching that of the head, nape and rump. Legs black or charcoal grey depending on the light. It also called a couple of times, quite unlike Water or Rock Pipit calls, a single fairly flat and un-squeaky 'tsit'. I've heard them make squeakier calls in the US but only heard this call today.

Thursday 6 September 2012

Get Shorty

The Long billed Dowitcher reported at Lodmoor on Monday only raised a few eyebrows as a bit early for a juvenile, but by Tuesday some pics were available and Rich Bonsor noticed the tertials looked a bit stripy. Just before midnight the word went out that it had been ‘conclusively identified’ as Short billed from new photos. Since I’d been out the night before, and I hate dipping, I waited until positive news on Wednesday morning and set off through the London rush hour for Dorset, arriving around 10am. It had last been seen around 8am and I had a long wait until it eventually showed for a few minutes in a little channel between patches of juncus (or something like that, there was a big discussion on whether it was juncus or something with a longer name – as you can tell I know nothing about plants). After a few more views as it worked its way around the channels it eventually flew and started feeding in open water giving brilliant views.
The shot above shows the internal stripping on the tertials and greater coverts and a bit of the tail pattern with the white and black bars of around equal width. You can also (just) see the relatively long primary projection (at least compared to typical Long billed) which is shown better in the following shot.

Thursday 12 July 2012

Spoons and Shrikes: two ticks

OK, not Brit ticks, but a patch tick and a London tick. First, news that a Spoonbill had reappeared at Barnes had me running for the car. I’d missed it (presumably the same bird that has spent most of its time at Rainham) last week, when it turned up just before the reserve shut, so a second chance was really welcome. A quick scan from the Obs showed the Spoonbill sitting on the shingle bank favoured by the loafing gulls. It was, predictably, asleep. I went round to Dulverton to find Johnny Allen already there and watched the bird for a while, during which it woke up briefly a few times to preen. Water levels were high throughout the site and there were no waders around, but the young birds included two Pochard chicks, one Gadwall chick (down from two a week ago) and four Common Tern chicks.
Next up was a run out to Hayes where a male Red backed Shrike had been seen yesterday evening and again this morning. The M4 is closed so I went round in a big loop to avoid it and didn’t run into too many holdups. The shrike was showing less than a hundred yards from the car park – originally buried in a bush but often showing well as it hunted for prey on the ground. Absolutely stunning male and a London tick. I don’t list in London but I do keep a list of birds I've seen there (confusing I know). It’s the kind of thing I had half assumed I would have seen in the London area before, but I hadn’t. Double tick!

Friday 6 July 2012

Barnes WWT - No Spoonbill

A Spoonbill had been seen at the London Wetland Centre yesterday evening just before it shut, so I headed over this morning in the hope of it still being there. No luck with the Spoonbill and not that much else around but numbers of winter duck are starting to build up with 11 Teal and 3 Shoveler around the site. One Redshank on site – another year when they've failed to fledge young. Four Common Tern chicks with many of the adults fishing on site – some pics below.