Saturday, 29 May 2010

Malawi – the return!

Sadly, this isn’t a post full of photos from a second visit to Malawi. I’ve not been back, but I have remembered that I never finished posting the best shots from our trip. So here they are…

african mourning doveAfrican Mourning Dove – note also the adjacent Acacia spines; having inadvertantly brushed past some of these while taking photos, I can tell you they’re razor sharp!

boehms bee-eater Boehm’s Bee-eater – a beautiful confiding species, often seen in the shade around Mvuu Camp during the hottest part of the day.

brown-breasted barbet

Brown-breasted Barbet – one of the rarer species we saw; these two were self-found in Mvuu, much to Abasi’s amusement (since we didn’t know what, or how good, they were!)

cardinal woodpecker Cardinal Woodpecker – quite a common bird, but very smart nonetheless

african pied wagAfrican Pied Wagtail – this one was perched on the lamp outside our hotel room by Lake Malawi!

g-h bush shrike Grey-headed Bush Shrike – I spent a long time trying to track down this individual, as it called constantly from thick vegetation. Would’ve been a better shot if it had emerged from the shade, but this is still a decent record.

red bishop Red Bishop – our trip was timed to coincide with Bishops and Whydahs being in full breeding plumage – stunning!

Sunday, 23 May 2010

Dukes and Ladies

A very sunny trip to Kent today, with Jono and Hawky. Started at Dunge, sadly a bit too late for three Poms that had gone east earlier. The herons weren’t showing either (not really surprising at the moment), but waders saved the day with smart Curlew Sandpiper and Little Stint on Denge Marsh with some Greenshank and educational tundrae Ringed Plover.

Up towards Canterbury, we saw a few Hobby and Buzzard plus at least one Red Kite, before heading into Denge Wood for butterflies in the heat of the day. At Bonsai Bank (approx TR107513) we found about eight Duke of Burgundy, a few tatty Dingy Skippers and a beautiful array of (what I think are) Lady Orchids – tell me if I’ve got these wrong, please! For now, though, I can’t be bothered to type more, and I think a cold beer is calling – here’s some pics before I open it!

 duke1 duke2  orchid2 orchid1

Saturday, 22 May 2010

The butterfly season begins…

With the birding scene looking rather quiet in hot weather under a high pressure system, I decided it was time to break out the macro lens again today. Rather than chase around a number of sites, I decided to spend a decent amount of time looking for some scarce species in one area – near Dunstable, in Bedfordshire. After just 45 minutes in the car, I arrived at my first stop: Bison Hill (near the Whipsnade Animal Park, if you hadn’t guessed!).

[Access details: large car park at approx TL000185, by the B4540 west of Whipsnade village. I walked NW down some steps by the road, and then headed N and gradually uphill on a path in a cutting, passing east of the Icknield Way Farm shown on the map. The butterflies seemed to get better the further I went!]

Common butterflies were much in evidence as I walked from the carpark – Common Blue, Orange Tip and Brimstone providing plenty of colour. There were also several Green Hairstreak… over the course of the day, I must’ve seen at least 30 of these – probably my highest count.


After a while, I reached a sheltered area of scrub at the foot of chalk downland – this was particularly good for Grizzled Skipper and Duke of Burgundy.

duke_of_burgundy grizzled_skipper 

Continuing along the same path, with great views to the NW, I came across a few fresh Small Heath, and a rather smart Mother Shipton moth.

small_heath mother_shiptondownland_view

After a spot of lunch, I headed the short distance across to Totternhoe Quarry. [Access: free carpark signed from the minor road through Totternhoe village, approx SP986218. Climb steps out of the back of the carpark, turn right for 20 yards, then left for 50 yards, then right again along a track – ultimately heading north west. When the arable fields on the right give way to scrub, go through a kissing gate and explore the chalk grassland]

Species seen here included at least 5 Dingy Skippers and 10 Small Blue – the former were a complete nightmare to photograph, since the sun was now really high and hot and they were hyper-active! One Duke of Burgundy and more Green Hairstreaks also showed well. To cap a really enjoyable day, a Turtle Dove was purring around the scrubby bushes – my first of the year.

small_blue dingy_skippergreen_hairstreak2

Sunday, 16 May 2010

Of Woodchat, Windmill and Wheatear

(and Corn Bunting, Temminck’s Stint and Oriental Pratincole… but they’re less alliterative!)

Just back from a very relaxed and enjoyable weekend at my parents’ place in east Norfolk. After a rare weekend lie-in on Saturday, I headed the short distance down the road to Winterton South Dunes, where the 1st-summer male Woodchat Shrike showed quite well.

woodchat1 The bird alternated between perching in full view and then periods when it was much more elusive. However, it eventually gave itself up in a lone bush on the east side of the valley, for all to enjoy. I also checked out Hickling Rush Hills scrape, but without much success – just a couple of Greenshank and a Little Gull.

That afternoon, Dad and I took a walk out to an RSPB reserve without hordes of Tilley hatted robin-strokers: Berney Marshes, on the west side of Breydon Water. We didn’t find anything amazing, though a smart male Wheatear, three late Golden Plover and a selection of Yellow Wagtails kept us interested. [Photo credits to my Dad – I took my scope instead!]

wheatear berney_mill Today started in more twitchy fashion with a trip across to Frampton Marsh, a new RSPB reserve. Although it was rather crowded due to a certain Glareola, we were very impressed – the carefully landscaped scrapes look superb, and there’s bound to be more good waders found here in the next few years given the location adjacent to The Wash.

A mere 17 years after seeing the long-staying Gimingham individual, our main target was an Oriental Pratincole. It was initially skulking around on an island, keeping out of the wind, but then perked up a little before showing distantly in flight. No photos from me, but there’s some crackers elsewhere – Graham Catley’s selection are superb.Supporting cast included Wood Sandpiper and Temminck’s Stint amongst the commoner waders, but the best photo opportunity came from a singing Corn Bunting… sadly all too rare a sight these days. Comedy moment of the day goes to a typical Sunday twitcher who suggested that one of the Western Pal’s leading listers had mistaken displaying Little Ringed Plover for the pratincole…


And finally, here’s another mystery mammal photo for you, taken near Potter Heigham church.

ears Whose ears are these?

Monday, 3 May 2010

Upupa, purpurea, daurica…

Another cracking afternoon’s twitching today, this time in the very fine company of Mr ‘Monkey’ Blow. We left Hornchurch heading for Suffolk, where a Wryneck / Red-rumped Swallow / Temminck’s Stint combo was on the cards… but that plan was left hanging when the first two disappeared in short order. We considered our options briefly over another delicious pasty at Rainham, and decided that Kent was worth a visit, starting with the Hoopoe near Lenham Heath. This showed well immediately on arrival, before it too did a bunk. My digiscoped photos are astonishingly bad (obviously due to the windy conditions, not my skill level), beneath even the low standard I usually set on this blog!

Continuing on, we headed to Dungeness, where a pair of Purple Herons have taken up residence on Denge Marsh for the last few days. The weather was typical of Mayday Bank Holiday… i.e. freezing cold, with rain and occasional hail showers, and a biting northerly wind. Fortunately, the herons didn’t mind, and put on a great show. Here’s some rather distant pictures:

purple heron purple heron2Also noted here was a smart male Marsh Harrier, another 10 Bar-tailed Godwits and a couple of Yellow Wagtails. Speaking to a couple of other birders, it sounded as though the sea was rather quiet (not surprising for this site in a NNE wind), so we opted to grab a warming coffee, and then head for home. Just before reaching the Dartford crossing and the predictable 10 minute delay, a message from Essex caught our attention: “Red-rumped Swallow Gunners Park at 4.50pm”. Check the clock: it’s 4.51pm, sky appears murky enough over the Essex coast to keep hirundines down low, so let’s go…

And boy am I glad we did! The swallow was still showing very well on arrival, hawking low over a small pool with about 20 House Martins, coming to within about 25m at times. It was tending to favour the opposite side from the small group of birders, though, so after a while a few of us moved round to this area. Now the views were truly stunning, several times down to 3m – too close for the camera, no need for binoculars, just watch and enjoy.

The following are heavy crops and certainly aren’t great shots, but given the difficulty of getting anything at all, I’m well enough pleased. The experience of this bird whizzing around our heads will live longer in the memory than the photos though – a superb end to the day!

redrumpedswallow redrumpedswallow2 redrumpedswallow5redrumpedswallow3 redrumpedswallow4

Sunday, 2 May 2010

What a tern out!

[Sorry about the title – obviously the range of diabolical puns on other nameless birding blogs is rubbing off!]

Had a great day’s birding in some terrible weather today – from the moment I stepped out of the car at Aveley Bay and found 11 Bar-tailed Godwits (most in brick red summer plumage), I had a good feeling despite the pouring rain. On arrival at the visitor centre, I picked up a couple of cracking Black Terns (thanks for the heads-up, Dominic), followed by three Arctics heading upriver (apologies Dom!).

blacktern2Tern passage then dwindled to nothing, but news of an American Golden Plover at Barnes had us heading for the car. As it turned out, my enforced detour past home to play chauffeur for Suzanne was ideal, since I hadn’t got too far when plover departure news came through… leaving Little Tern on KGV the obvious target. Two minutes away, and a phone call from Paul mentioned a Pom Skua, also on KGV – bring it on!

By the time I caught up with it, the Pom had been reidentified an Arctic – still a great bird for London, nonetheless – before it headed off high up the Lee Valley. With the rain still bucketing down, the reservoir was absolutely carpeted in birds: many Common Terns were accompanied by 15-20 Arctics, single Black and Little Terns, and huge numbers of hirundines and swifts. The Little Tern was a long overdue London tick for me – I always seem to miss them on the odd few days when there’s a ‘Little’ passage. While grilling terns (not literally) with Dom, Jono and Ruth, news of a singing Wood Warbler came through from Fishers Green – just up the road, and yet another new bird for me in London. We found it fairly quickly after arrival, thanks to a couple of quivering bursts of song, and I even managed a couple of record shots:

woodwarblerBy now, lunch was calling, and Rainham’s sheltered riverwatching balcony seemed the obvious place to find it. A sausage sandwich showed well, though briefly, as a few groups of waders flew past. More Barwits, a few Knot, and some Grey Plover – all decent birds away from the coast – were noted, before we set off to see some fantastically showy Black Terns on Aveley Pools. The light was pretty abysmal, so these aren’t great shots, but I love just seeing these graceful and handsome birds – great stuff!

blacktern1 blacktern3 blacktern4