Sunday, 24 June 2012

“Looks like a lot of sky to me”…

… said Suzanne while I was downloading today’s photos from the Wirral. Fortunately, closer inspection reveals some (not very good) photos of a very welcome UK lifer: a Little Swift! Far too tired now to write or post any more just now, so here’s the evidence…


Saturday, 16 June 2012

More gratuitous Little Bittern photography

There has already been a considerable surge in the number of Mistle Thrush Little Bittern photos on the net this weekend, due to the presence of a rather showy bird along the River Colne, near Rickmansworth on the edge of London. But I make no apologies for posting a load more – it’s a great bird!

Initially, views were largely obscured by vegetation, and even when you knew roughly where it was, it could seemingly vanish at will.


Several times, it would reach the edge of the reeds, almost showing in the open – before running across the gap and disappearing again!


On a couple of occasions, when a Moorhen swam past rather close, it stood stock-still with neck extended and bill raised – the “bitterning” posture.


Over the course of two or three hours, we watched it feeding voraciously on small fish and damselflies – on one occasion, taking a minute or two out to deal with a rather larger fish (perhaps Roach or Perch?) before despatching it:


And when it did occasionally come right out into the open, views were superb at no more than 20m distance across the river!


An excellent bird – and (given the lack of anything much else about) a fairly popular one! Cheers to Paul, Jono and Henry for company on a leisurely summer twitch, and good to see lots of familiar faces in the crowd: Dom M, Martin Reds, Messrs Croft & Fisher and Tony B, Roy W & Dave H, Adrian K & Andy F, Joan T, Mark R, Jake E, and I’m sure plenty more that I’ve forgotten…

Monday, 11 June 2012

This post sponsored by the letter ‘W’

Spot the difference:


Similar, no? One obvious conclusion for potential Woodchat Shrike finders is that you need to find a wire fence with wooden posts, on the east coast in early June!

The top bird is the first-summer female at Winterton North Dunes, which I saw with Nick late morning on Sunday. As we birded our way back home to London down the east coast, we were looking at a couple of Glossy Ibises at Minsmere when news broke of another Woodchat, this time at Walberswick, just up the road. It would’ve been rude not to go and have a look, no?


The Winterton bird is clearly a 1st-summer female (probably the most washed out I can recall seeing), given the pale orange-toned crown and nape, and the greyish mantle and scapulars. In the field, I reckoned the Walberswick bird was a 1st summer male (and it’s been reported as such elsewhere), given the much more richly toned crown – but without more reading, I’m not so sure how you’d rule out an adult female. If anyone has a definitive answer, please let me know.

Satisfied with a two-Woodchat day, and some pleasantly warm sunshine for a change, I confess to getting slightly distracted by this:


… and then, naturally, this:


… before continuing on homewards, stopping only to continue the alliterative theme with an excellent Wood Warbler at Sutton Common, near the site of last year’s Roller. It showed extremely well, calling and singing from relatively low perches.


Finally, >click here< for a recording of the bird singing. This was taken from a video on the 7D – I’m pleasantly surprised by the quality of the mic and resulting audio! Definitely worth remembering if I ever find anything good giving interesting calls…

Tuesday, 5 June 2012

A weekend of bits and pieces

Just a quick update and a few pics from a long weekend spent pottering around various sites in the south-east. It feels as though the spring may be fading out now, with very little being found on the coast despite my hopes for one more major rarity. Though the weather certainly doesn’t feel like June, the birding does! That said, I’ve been about a bit, and seen a reasonable amount…

Saturday morning had a slow (and somewhat fragile) start, recovering from a well-attended set of London Birders’ drinks at Tower Bridge the night before. However, the Marsh Warbler at Rainham offered a suitably straightforward place to start, and sang really well at times with a Grasshopper Warbler and Corn Bunting nearby. After spending a while there on two occasions, I’m amused by the number of people who are so desperate to see the Marsh, however badly! Apart from proving that it really is a bird, not a well-hidden tape, I can’t see what the big deal is: on a poor view (which is all you’re likely to get), you’re not going to conclusively ID it, and, let’s face it, a Marsh Warbler sounds a hell of a lot better than it looks. I really don’t understand the ‘can’t tick it if you don’t see it’ mentality with birds like this…

On a more serious note, it’s pretty sad to see that some of the ‘must see it’ brigade have ignored instructions asking people NOT to go into the vegetation, and blazed a trail in from the usual viewing area to get a few yards closer towards the bird’s favoured area. It’s all too predictable, and to be honest another good reason why these potential breeding birds could (should?) be suppressed in future. Apparently some twats have tried tape luring it up, as well. Schedule 1 mean anything to you? No, thought not…

However, returning to the bird’s glorious song, there’s a cracking recording of the Marsh Warbler >here<, recorded by Dave Smith at 1.30am a few nights ago. Enjoy!

Anyway, post-warbler, I had a wander around the reserve – or tried to, before a Red Kite interrupted me almost immediately. It headed in from the north, almost flew directly over the visitor centre and then loafed around over Crayford way for a while. I ran back through the centre to stay on it, possibly scattering a few scones and lattes in the process… The rest of the loop was far less eventful, with just the regular female Peregrine of note.

Sunday morning was pretty foul weather-wise, and I spent a couple of hours back at Rainham checking the river. In general, there was next to nothing moving – but a couple of Sandwich Terns came through a few minutes after a timely text from Dave Mo via Rich (the latter not even having seen them!)

Late that evening, news came through of an adult Rose-coloured Starling in Gillingham – not far the other side of the bridge. It had apparently been there since 1030 that morning… so much for sharing news. A call to one of the news services would’ve cost, ooh, at most five-pence. Howard was especially pleased, given that he lives less than ten minutes away (and reports everything from Rainham, to many birders’ benefit). Needless to say, there was no sign when we looked the next day, and having reached the limit of our tolerance for housing estate birding, headed down to Elmley. The weather wasn’t great (grey skies, with a cold northerly blowing), but we got off to a good start with a Quail calling immediately from the carpark – bonus! And of course, the entrance track is great for good views of breeding birds – this female Lapwing posed particularly well:


Like those at Rainham, the pools in front of the first three hides all had pretty high water levels, but hopefully this means they’ll be in good nick for the return wader passage later on. We did note ten or a dozen Black-tailed Godwits – presumably Continential limosa birders lingering through the summer, though we didn’t get good views. A couple of Short-eared Owls are also still knocking about, one showing fairly well along the seawall. That evening, after dropping Howard back home, I popped back into Rainham, where a Black Tern was showing distantly over Aveley Pools from the Serin Mound while the Marsh Warbler sang vigorously.

And that brings us on to today! I didn’t make a particularly early start, but still opted for Lakenheath and a spot of oriole-hunting. Arriving around 9am, it didn’t take me long to hear one of the males singing – but in increasingly breezy conditions, they were playing hard to get, and I didn’t get views this time. Not to worry – the birding backdrop was excellent for a few hours, as usual, with a Bittern booming and giving a couple of flypasts, heaps of Marsh Harriers and a few Hobby, all the reedbed warblers and close Cuckoos. Those who knock the RSPB would do well to visit Lakenheath at dawn in the spring…


Next stop was the nearby Weeting Heath NWT reserve. To be honest I only stopped to grab a cold drink, but having got out of the car, decided I should really have a bit of a look round! A pair of Stone Curlews were showing from the West Hide, but passerines in the pines were much more photogenic. A family party of Marsh Tits were really noisy, and one or two occasionally showed quite close.


A Spotted Flycatcher also showed more fleetingly, darting around near the approach to the West Hide.


While watching these, I got a useful tip-off from another birder, who’d been photographing a pair of Redstart at a site nearby. Following it up during a rare sunny interval, I spent a pretty relaxed half-hour sitting around out of the wind, listening to the male sing and both birds feeding – cracking stuff, far more entertaining than any of the jubilee celebrations!

Sunday, 3 June 2012

Mystery Raptor

Since it’s a pretty miserable day out there, I’ve been tidying up a few photos from recent trips. In the process, I stumbled across this bird (from Bulgaria a few weeks ago), which provoked some discussion in the field at the time, and never conclusively got identified. The shots aren’t great, against a rather murky grey sky, unfortunately.

However, given the limitations of the pics, what do you reckon it is? I have an idea, but am not convinced. So, leave me a comment with your ID, and explain why!