Monday 31 August 2009

It always happens....

You go away on holiday, see a heap of new birds, and have a great time. Then you come back to hear that one of the species you saw all over the place on holiday has turned up in the UK, where you've never seen one.... But despite the pile of dirty laundry, the obviously you've still got to go and see it, haven't you?!

If this sounds in any way a rational activity, then you are surely a birder. And probably a birder that keeps lots of lists, as well. Otherwise, you should probably seek medical help. Do not buy a pair of binoculars or look at birds, either. It's a slippery slope.

Anyway, the bird in question was a juvenile Blue-winged Teal, which reappeared in Hampshire this morning, and which I went down to see with JL this afternoon. Not even a particularly good bird to look at: ducks aren't many people's cup of tea (a work colleague remains convinced that they aren't birds at all!), and as a youngster, this one was essentially brown and unexciting. It's only partially redeeming features were the strikingly blue forewing panels, as shown in these pics...

So, assuming that it doesn't reveal a penchant for Mother's Pride any time soon, that's another new bird in the UK. In fact, according to BUBO Listing's stats, it was the most likely addition to the list (or alternatively, the commonest bird I hadn't seen in the country). Next on the list should be Black-throated Thrush, Semipalmated Sandpiper and Unmentionable Pipit (dipped seven of these so far).

Given a few more months or years, though, I may look back on today in an even more favourable light: it will probably become a two-tick day, thanks to the American Black Tern I went to see first thing this morning. (No, I hadn't seen hundreds of these in Canada). This time, the diesel-sharers were Howard and Paul, and we all enjoyed pretty good views of a surprisingly obvious bird alongside single White-winged Black and European Black Terns, all juveniles. I'm led to believe that this is likely to be 'split' from European Black Tern as a separate species at some point in the not-too-distant future, giving me the second tick.

No photos of the tern though, since it was always too far away! Also noted was an adult Yellow-legged Gull, and 3+ Swift - getting a bit late for the latter by now.

Sunday 30 August 2009

Back from Canada

We're home! Rather jetlagged, and a bit overwhelmed with hundreds of photos to sort out (watch this space!), but very, very happy with our holiday in British Columbia. August is certainly not the best time for birding in the province, but we still saw 160+ species, and the mammals were superb. Watching a dozen transient orcas on a trip out of Victoria was an amazing experience, to pick just one:

... and then there was the jaw-dropping scenery:

Lots more photos to come, but first: SLEEP!

Monday 17 August 2009

Update from BC

Just a couple of pics from Saturday... don't think any of these will be seen in SE England while I'm away!

Tuesday 11 August 2009

"I'm REALLY looking forward to the birding"....

.... said Suzanne this evening, referring to our trip to British Columbia which commences with a tediously long flight on Thursday morning. Admittedly she did then hold her head in her hands and mutter despairingly, "Oh no!", but I'll gloss over that - it's a step in the right direction.

Anyway, suffice to say that there will be distinct shortage of blog activity on this site for the next couple of weeks; we'll be back in the UK, laden with gigabytes of photos and horribly jetlagged, on 30th August. See you then!

Sunday 9 August 2009

From Skippers to Spiders, via Pugs and Petrels

This will be a very mixed bag of photos from the last few days, covering a rather wide range of habitat (and indeed the UK)!

Thursday morning saw me, John and Vince departing from Newquay on a pelagic organised by Steve Rogers, a Cornish birder - he'd advertised the trip on his blog, and we'd jumped at the chance to try something different. Given the recent glut of Wilson's Petrels from the SW Approaches, western Ireland, and several in north Cornish waters from similar trips, this was definitely the target species, but as with all pelagics, you just don't know what's out there until you start looking! The weather forecast was also very good, with only a very light breeze and sunshine throughout the day... rather different to the very Scillonian trip last year where most people were seasick in choppy conditions!

Our skipper for the day was Chris Lowe, owner of the Atlantic Diver. This proved to be an excellent boat for the purpose, a really fast catamaran, and with easy viewing for the 12 birders all around. We reached our destination 20 miles offshore in just under an hour, leaving us loads of time to chum, and to watch. At one point we spotted a trawler with a large group of attendant seabirds in the distance, but given the boat's speed we could get over there to check things out very quickly and easily.

To cut a long story short, we didn't see as much as we'd hoped for, though! A Sooty Shearwater showed well behind the trawler, the Balearic shown above drifted around with us for much of the day, and I guess we saw approximately 50 Storm Petrels (though very hard to get precise numbers on these). Despite our best efforts, we just couldn't find a Wilson's. Skuas were represented with a single Arctic and a Bonxie.

Anyway, nothing ventured, nothing gained! I think these type of pelagic trips off mainland Cornwall have definitely got considerable potential, and they're certainly cheaper than a trip to the Scillies. As already mentioned on the net, the most difficult part of the package to organise is good, effective chum for seabirds. Chris was used to chumming for sharks, but compared to the foul concoction used on the Scillonian this didn't seem to result in a significant oily slick on the surface, and we never really had decent number of Stormies in view simultaneously. Perhaps a more liquid mixture is required, but I certainly wouldn't claim to be an expert...

To see some much better photos from the trip, take a look at Steve's blog - recommended!

Friday was back at work, followed by a quick dash out to the lovely Canvey Island with JL for a juv Kentish Plover. We knew the odds were against us, since the bird had been found over high tide, but had then moved out onto the mudflats as the water dropped. On arrival, waders were scattered thinly over a huge area, so we just scanned through as many birds as possible in the limited time available. Fortunately Jono found the bird, albeit at considerable distance, and reasonable views were obtained at 60x in the clear evening light.

Saturday morning started with some butterflies, at Colley Hill near J8 of the M25. My target here was Silver-spotted Skipper, one that I've never seen before. We eventually found about 10-15 of these fast-flying little insects on the lower slopes of the SE side of the hill, though none posed particularly well for photos. A single worn Chalkhill Blue was also seen here, and I couldn't resist photographing a couple of lovely fresh Commas.

The afternoon was back at Canvey, hoping for better views of the plover together with a small group of local birders. Sadly, this wasn't to be, but we did see good numbers of Med Gulls (including numerous juvenile birds, as photographed) and a few Black and Little Terns.

In the evening, the birding pace slowed as everyone went into socialising (AKA drinking) mode at a birders' BBQ hosted by Martin and family. This involved lots of quality banter, some appalling double entendres (which I've fortunately forgotten), general piss-taking of year-listing twitchers (who could they be?!).... and some moth trapping! The highlight was definitely a Red Underwing (photo courtesy of Hawky, in a rare sober moment), while the other photo is a Grey Dagger... probably.

Finally, I spent this morning at Rainham, largely prompted by news of a Sabine's Gull heading upriver past Tilbury. However, the gull wasn't forthcoming, so I switched to a spot of spider photography - an obvious move, really. Here are some Wasp Spider photos - attractive and impressive beasts!

Wednesday 5 August 2009

Gambia Trip List - part 10

I'm off on a bit of an excursion tonight, hoping for some good birding tomorrow.... will explain, hopefully with some gripping photos in a day or two! So, while I wait, here's yet more of the Gambia - again, a bit light on photos for this section.

140: White-crowned Robin-chat - quite common, several around the hotel grounds, and easy to see at Abuko, for instance.

141: Snowy-crowned Robin-chat - only seen at Abuko, though I believe these may still occur occasionally around the Senegambia
142: African Thrush - common, easily seen around the hotel, and at numerous other sites

143: Olivaceous Warbler - one seen at Abuko; we had more spectacular things to look at!
144: Melodious Warbler - again, one at Abuko
145: Singing Cisticola - several at Tujering, in company with Red-winged Warblers
146: Whistling Cisticola - two or three at Tujering
147: Zitting Cisticola - paddyfields near Kotu Creek
148: Red-winged Warbler - small group at Tujering, and also seen at Faraba Banta
149: Tawny-flanked Prinia - seen well along the Casino cycletrack, plus other sites with open grassy habitat

150: Green-backed Eremomela - seen at Bijilo and Abuko
151: Northern Crombec - one of the more bizarre looking birds seen (basically a warbler with no tail), at Bijilo and Abuko
152: Yellow-breasted Apalis - seen at Abuko, after a bit of a struggle to get on a rather elusive individual
153: Green Hylia - one at Abuko, apparently quite a difficult species to catch up with. Rather reminiscent of a Radde's Warbler with strong supercilium (though even more strongly marked eye- and crown-stripes) and heavy bill
154: Common Wattle-eye: a great looking bird, seen well at Abuko several times

155: Senegal Batis: one seen fairly well in large trees out on the bush track at Faraba Banta
156: Northern Black Flycatcher: a couple at Abuko, plus one or two elsewhere
157: Red-bellied Paradise Flycatcher: several seen at Abuko, but very difficult to photograph well in the shady understorey.

Also seen at Abuko was this interesting bird.... it's doesn't match the (Barlow / Wacher / Disley) field-guide illustration of an African Paradise Flycatcher, since it doesn't have a black belly, but it does have the extensive white in the wing and an exceptionally long tail. Possibly a hybrid, or just un-illustrated form of Red-bellied? The guide does mention that some of the latter can show white coverts and flight feather edges, in conjunction with a longer tail... which would fit. Opinions welcome, though!

Sunday 2 August 2009

Rainham and Elmley

To compensate for yesterday's splurge of text without any picture, here are some photos from today, and I'll shut up! (I know what my audience wants, and it's not me talking!)

Edit - actually, having just checked the blog's statistics, it appears that what people really want right now is "Great Spotted Cuckoo Weybourne photos", or, more bizarrely, "Green Turacos for sale". Now there's a market I never thought of targeting. Hmmm.....

There were loads of warblers around the cordite store at Rainham, particularly young Chiffchaffs. This one was presumably sunbathing, stretching its wings for several seconds at a time...

At Elmley, the waders were rather disappointing, though this Common Sandpiper came quite close. At one point it actually sat down on an island in the shade of a tall plant... it was pretty warm and humid down there!

But this was definitely the star of the show...

Saturday 1 August 2009

Swings and Roundabouts

A day or two ago, someone on BirdForum commented that twitching rare birds was all just 'swings and roundabouts'.... some you see, some you don't. Some your mates see, some they don't.

For the last few weeks, it's felt like I was constantly on the swings.... the ones that dip very frequently! River Warbler trip didn't happen due to bad weather; BC Bee-eater didn't stay; Cory's Shear went past Sheringham after I'd predicted it, but felt too ill to get up early and look; GS Cuckoo didn't show up last weekend.

Well, you'll be pleased to hear that all feels like ancient history now - I've had a superb 24 hours birding (well, not all 24, there was actually quite a good night's sleep in there as well). Here's why I reckon I'm back on the (magic?) roundabout:
  • I drove up to Norfolk on Friday, coming past Norwich early evening. No recent news on the Pacific Golden Plover on Breydon, but I decided to give it a go. Wandered round past the hide to the tern rafts, and found the bird showing really well at close range. Only two other birders there, we had a good chat, and enjoyed a cracking (and educational) bird.

  • Early doors today, Dad and I popped out to Hickling Rush Hill scrape. There had been a Pec Sand (sorry, that's Pectoral Sandpiper if you're not a birder!) on Swim Coots the day before... but there's no way to view that without a boat. However, as we walked out the door, the pager announced "Pec Sand still at Hickling now on Rush Hills". OK, it would've been nice to find it there independently, but just strolling down there and watching it, miraculously on the front edge of the scrape (unusual for anything good on here) was very pleasant all the same. Plenty of other waders there to search through as well - Little Stint, several LRP, Greenshanks, couple of smart Whimbrel, you get the idea.

  • Then, as we were wandering back to the car, the pager kicks in again: "Great Spotted Cuckoo at Weybourne"... i.e. almost exactly where it was just over a week ago! Where's that been hiding for all that time? We spent ages searching out along Meadow Lane towards Salthouse late morning, before Dad had to head back home to make a prior commitment. As a last attempt, I headed up onto Muckleburgh Hill, to get a wide view over Weybourne Camp, more in hope than expectation. However, RBA to the rescue again with another report from the RAF station, where I'd been earlier. The guy who'd relocated the bird beckoned me down the hill, and described where he'd seen it; we split up to get better coverage, and after a while, there it was in flight! Great Spotted Cuckoo, on the British List! Only took a combined total of about 10 hours searching... It showed really well, hopping around on the ground, perching up on bushes and fenceposts, eating caterpillars, just generally looking superb. I like to think it's just reward for putting in the time and effort with this bird - good things come to those who wait and all that jazz.

  • However, after enjoying this spectacular bird for a while, I decided to have a stab at seeing one more rarity on the way home - White-rumped Sandpiper at Welney. Traffic wasn't too bad, so I made good time getting there and arrived at about 5.15pm. Now I knew that Welney stays open well into the evening in the winter, for floodlit swan feeding, so I'd assumed that with long daylight hours in the summer the same opening hours would apply. Not so - a sign informed me "Reserve closes 5pm, last entry at 4.30pm". Oh dear (or some other similarly short word)! However, this is a blog post about not dipping, so there's a silver lining to that apparently very black cloud. I popped my round the door of reception to find one of the wardens still there, apologised, grovelled, paid the entrance fee, and was let into the reserve! So, if you ever read this, Lee, a massive thankyou for being so helpful - I got great views of the sandpiper (a rather smart adult bird, like the Pec), feeding, preening, in flight; all the better for being an experience shared only with a load more passage waders and no other birders.
Anyway, I've probably waffled on long enough now (and apologies for the complete lack of pictures). To sum up, then: this may have been essentially another day of twitching (though I did see a heck of a lot more birds than those mentioned above), and therefore some people may look down their nose at it, but what matters to me is how much I enjoyed it. Isn't life great when everything just drops into place and goes your way?!