Monday, 30 September 2013

Catching up again…

Just a few quick pics from the last couple of weekends, hoping that the next one might involve some more birds!

Two weekends ago, both days were pretty relaxed, given plenty of nice weather and not much happening on the bird score. Saturday morning involved a spot of pre-Shetland shopping (ditch-dwelling Sibes beware, I’ve got some new wellies!) on the way up to Suffolk, where we enjoyed great views of the 1st winter Lesser Grey Shrike near Sizewell, and of a rather sickly Arctic Skua on the beach. The latter was somewhat oiled and a bit scruffy from some angles, but was at least still feeding well in the usual piratic manner.

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Sunday kicked off at a pretty ungodly hour, in order for us to be at Snettisham for a big spring tide, and the resulting wader spectacular. Despite counting myself very much as a Norfolk birder, I’ve never actually enjoyed this experience before – it’s just a bit of a trek across there from the east coast. However, it’s well worth it – just the sound of thousands of Knot and Oystercatcher wheeling around and whooshing overhead is amazing. And the massed ranks of birds on the shingle over the highest part of the tide is well up there with the best wildlife sights in the country, for sure.

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And then this weekend featured a brief stop at Thorpeness (highlights: Willow Emerald damselfly and a couple of Firecrests) on the way up to my sisters’ place, and then a relaxed meander around a few sites in E Norfolk on Sunday. The only notable bird here was this typically uninspiring Rose-coloured Starling – it certainly has nothing on the adult from Wells in the spring!

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Monday, 16 September 2013

More of the Kilnsea Great Snipe

So, as promised – some more pics!

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But before I get carried away, a bit more on the background to the bird.

There have been over 600 accepted records in the UK – so why the big fuss, you might ask? Well, for a start, the vast majority of those are pre-1950, and relate to birds shot (or ‘obtained’, which is the same thing!). Not much use to the modern day twitcher! Of the records since 1980, over 60% were seen on one day only (probably many by the finders only), and many were on the Northern Isles. Even when a bird has hung around somewhere accessible for a few hours, or even a second day, views are pretty much always of a bird in flight that has been flushed out of cover. So… a tricky species to catch up with, let alone see well. And I should know – I’ve narrowly missed at least five, including one which must have flown past or over me!

And I nearly didn’t even go for it…

News broke late afternoon on Saturday, as I was driving home from a seawatching session in Norfolk (content with finding a smart adult Sabine’s Gull, since you ask). When the second message came through indicating that the bird was still showing, I stopped to consider my options. Certainly couldn’t make it to Spurn before dark – but I could get up there ready for dawn the next day. I’d stupidly forgotten to put the sleeping bag back in the car, though, and a £35 Travelodge room on top of petrol wasn’t as cheap as I’d hoped. And anyway, the weather forecast revealed a crystal clear night ahead with very light winds over the east coast, giving way to strong SW winds later on Sunday. Surely the bird would move on, and with little chance of anything else turning up, it seemed like a fool’s errand… and so I continued on south.

Back in London, I pondered having a lazy morning at home, waiting on the off-chance of positive news. But the best weather of the day was the morning, and it would be a massive waste of time to do nothing – my free weekends are too precious to pass up like this. Confident that Mr Snipe would be long gone, I headed across the river into Kent with Shaun to enjoy some commoner passage waders. But not long after we arrived, the message I’d dreaded came up… and was quickly made worse by stunning photos, obviously taken at point blank range. How long would a usually-skulking snipe continue to show before it was flushed, though? Not long, I reasoned, even telling the world: “decision made – I’m not going!”. But after a couple more positive messages leading to inward groaning, Shaun read my mind: “You want to go for it, don’t you?! I don’t mind… just drop me back home, and I’ll go back for the Red-backed Shrike at Canvey.”

After five minutes of agonising indecision, I caved in. Crazy or otherwise, it was Twitch On!

Racing the worst of the weather north up the M11 and A1, the news remained positive, including happy texts from friends from Suffolk and Sussex who’d been more decisive and got there well before me. The last half hour of the route, east of Hull, was complete torture with endless villages, 30 and 40mph limits, and worsening weather. Happily though, when I arrived, the rain wasn’t too bad… and there was a Great Snipe parading around just feet away from a baffled and delighted crowd of only about 40 people.

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Initial views featured particularly salubrious surroundings – note the cider brand placement and the remains of some birders’ packed lunch in the above pic!

After a while feeding in the base of the ditch, the bird emerged onto the bank, heading straight for me:

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… before walking past no more than two feet away. Crazy!!! It clearly hadn’t read the script, and continued to show blindingly well just below the assembled birders.

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On a couple of occasions, once after an especially energetic preening session, it popped its bill under its wing and settled down for a lengthy nap – in full view!

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Later on in the day, it emerged once again onto the grass verge, scattering birders out of its path, before settling down to feed again, just yards away.

What an utterly amazing bird! As far as I know, there has never been a Great Snipe that’s showed like this in the UK before, and I don’t know anyone who’s seen one like this abroad either… so quite possibly a once-in-a-lifetime experience!

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Sunday, 15 September 2013

A Great Snipe indeed!

What a superb bird; certainly up there with the very best experiences with rarities that I’ve ever had. The fact that it was a lifer, after at least five dips in the past (two Norfolk, two Suffolk, one Shetland), made it all the sweeter.

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Too tired to sort out the rest of the photos tonight – plenty more to come tomorrow. And if it’s still there, and you can go for it – don’t hesitate!

Monday, 2 September 2013

Serra dos Tucanos: garden hummers

So, I reckon, these deserve a post in their own right – what do you think?

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Yeah, I know, pretty awful, no?

The garden at Serra dos Tucanos features around ten hummingbird feeders, topped up regularly with sugar water, and these attract a more-or-less constant stream of birds. The commonest, and dominant, species is the Sombre Hummingbird, a Brazilian endemic:

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… though both Violet-capped Woodnymph and Brazilian Ruby are pretty regular too – shown below in near-identical poses!

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The Brazilian Ruby above is a female bird – quite distinct from the male’s iridescent plumage illustrated below, and at the top. I never did get a shot showing the ruby-coloured throat patch, though; this is only visible when the bird is completely head-on, and the light is on the throat.

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Another couple of species were also seen around the feeders less frequently – a handsome Black Jacobin that I never caught with the camera at all, and the Atlantic Forest endemic Saw-billed Hermit. I only managed a very dodgy flight shot of the latter – enough to show the impressively long bill, though.

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Flight shots were difficult, unsurprisingly… though borrowing another guest’s external flash for half an hour was an interesting experiment. If I’d known what I was doing with it, things might have got quite productive! As it turns out, this shot is probably the best I managed – taken with natural light only.

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Sunday, 1 September 2013

Serra dos Tucanos: Atlantic Forest garden birds

So… after a busy week with little time for blogging, it’s back to the apparently never-ending photos from Brazil.

As mentioned previously, one of the highlights of staying at Serra dos Tucanos is the range of stunning birds that visit the various feeders in the garden. You can sit in comfort on the veranda with a cold drink (Caipirinha, anyone?) in one hand, binoculars in the other, and take in some of the amazing species shown here as they feed on discarded fruit. There’s also a little photo hide overlooking one of the bird tables, where although the strongly dappled light is tricky, views are very close indeed!

First up, iridescent Green-headed Tanagers Рone of the commonest species at SdT, though endemic to the Atlantic Forest nevertheless. Far too easy to get blas̩ about these!

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Another relatively common species with a somewhat similar colour scheme: Blue-naped Chlorophonia. One of our guides suggested that this should be adopted as the national bird of Brazil, given that it features all the colours of the flag…

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…and has got to be better than the comparatively common and drab Rufous-bellied Thrush (the current title-holder)!

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Returning to the luminously bright colour-palette, this immature male Blue Dacnis was a smart bird in very obvious moult…

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… heading towards the utterly stunning adult plumage!

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Green Honeycreeper is another bird to make you go ‘Wow!’ the first time it appears, though like the Dacnis, fairly regular around the garden:

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The final bird in the ‘blue’ theme is a Sayaca Tanager – we did also see the similar (rarer, and bluer) Azure-shouldered Tanager in the garden, but they didn’t hang around long enough for photos.

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Before you start thinking all tanagers feature blue plumage… here’s the counter-example, a Brazilian Tanager:

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And finally, this rather more sombrely attired little guy is a Chestnut-bellied Euphonia – still pretty smart!

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I should also make mention of the range of other birds seen in the garden, but not photographed. These included Channel-billed Toucan, Slaty-breasted Wood-rails (under the feeders at dawn and dusk), Plain Parakeets, Blond-crested Woodpecker, and Sharp-tailed Streamcreeper!

You might be wondering about the absence of a particularly smart family of birds that are often seen on feeders in the Americas… they’re coming next time!