Monday 10 December 2012

The hornemanni twitch… a few more pics

A few more photos from yesterday’s trip to Aldeburgh. The redpoll was a cracking bird, but it was also great to see a number of friends enjoying really good-natured, fuss-free twitch.

Well, almost fuss-free: after washing the car on Saturday, and leaving London with it spotless (at least on the outside) it would appear I need to do it again! Parking next to a muddy puddle on the carpark approach led to this artistic polka-dot paintjob, presumably thanks to a nervous twitcher arriving at speed:


The crowd wasn’t ever that big,though, no more than 100 at one time enjoying the bird at close quarters…


… some of whom utilised stealthy fieldcraft (and especially camouflaged headwear) to gain closer views with state-of-the art equipment, whilst scattering surplus optics on the surrounding shingle…


… and others employed somewhat simpler technology.


Crofty, already a veteran of multiple Shetland Hornemann’s, appeared casual and relaxed throughout. Here he is, striking a sultry pose for the Wanstead winter collection…


… and here, hoping for the ultimate shot of flyover hornemanni undertail coverts.


Cheers to all the guys shown here, and everyone else we spoke to, for making a memorable day out!

And finally, lest anyone forgets what the point of the whole crazy exercise was… here’s a video of ‘the boy’:

Sunday 9 December 2012

Hornemann’s Arctic Redpoll, Aldeburgh

Ok, I’ve seen a few of these before on the Shetlands, but it was still absolutely awesome… hopping around, unconcernedly, no more than about 8 or 10 feet away. Beautiful little bird, mega rarity, huge distance from its home, and not far from ours. Excellent!

Here’s my selection of the many, many photos taken on the beach today. As usual, click any to view a larger (1280px) image.


Saturday 8 December 2012


Or, for those that still speak proper, “Oh, my goodness! A Red-necked Grebe on the King George V Reservoir!”

The grebe was a pleasant surprise this morning on the first scan across the south basin, initially out towards the middle, but then later on significantly closer in towards the south bank once the sailing club had got themselves mobile. I think it’s only the third I’ve seen in London (after Wraysbury in May 2004, and then Staines in October 2009), and about the 20th in the UK. In the scope, views were superb and although the photos don’t really show it, the bird still has a little bit of colour on the neck. Hopefully this one won’t be troubling the local records committee for long!


This Grey Wagtail was also really smart and confiding, though by the time I reached its favoured shore on the north basin, the light had taken a turn for the worse, and I didn’t quite nail the crisp shot I’d hoped for.


KGV is a funny old place, two enormous concrete sided basins surrounded by industrial estates on one side, a main road on another, and relatively open countryside on the remainder. It’s not watched all that much these days (or, at least, that’s my impression), but has turned up plenty of good birds. Despite the somewhat gritty suburban location, once you’re on there it’s pretty quiet and pleasant, and to be honest I should probably get over there more. Gotta be a chance of something like a Ring-necked Duck or a Lesser Scaup one of these days…


Anyway, just after the wagtail had bombed off ahead of me, I got a call from H at Rainham to let me know about 3 Bewicks Swans that had arrived on Purfleet Scrape. I’d been wondering about somewhere to grab a coffee, so that sounded perfect and off I went. After fighting my way through ridiculous traffic in Woodford, I eventually arrived to find the swans still present, coffee, sandwich and cake available, and Messrs Vaughan, Croft and Harvey loitering for a chat. All good!

I finished up the day down at the west end of the site, where two Short-eared Owls showed rather poorly – though the peace and quiet, and the sunset were more than good enough for me.


Before I sign off, just one more quick photo – the female Long-tailed Duck from Grange Waters at South Ockendon last week. An excellent find by Paul H, and well worth negotiating the commando-style obstacle course I faced to get access… birders laugh in the faces of ploughed fields, watery ditches, barbed wire, hawthorn scrub and trail bikers!


Sunday 2 December 2012

What, no birds?

The area where Suzanne grew up is only just over the border into Wales along the beautiful Ceiriog valley; it’s not a particularly well-known area for tourists to visit, but I’m always struck by how great the scenery is around there – it feels like you’re suddenly in another world as soon as you turn off the A5 at Chirk.

As mentioned in the last post, we were over there last weekend and after a night of pouring rain, the weather was glorious on the Sunday morning so I headed out with the camera. First stop was on the back road over the top to Llangollen. The second of these two shots is looking across towards the Panorama – a spectacular limestone outcrop, and a well known landmark.


Then I retraced my steps down into Glyn Ceiriog, and took the road further up the valley to Llanarmon Dyffryn Ceiriog and over the top again towards Llanrhaedr-ym-Mochnant (couple of good place names there for the student of Welsh pronunciation). Again, the views aren’t too shabby:


And then finally, I reached my destination: Pistyll Rhaeadr, the highest waterfall in Wales, at 80m. After a few days of heavy rainfall, it was in spectacular form!


Taking these and posting them up here, has reminded me that I really should take more landscape and scenic photos, given the quality of the places I visit regularly. Maybe there’s a new year’s resolution coming?

Saturday 1 December 2012

A day in north-east Wales

Last weekend, Suzanne and I went across to see her extended family for the usual pre-Christmas meal and present-swapping extravaganza over a lovely relaxed Sunday lunch in the Britannia Inn, just down from the Horseshoe Pass outside Llangollen. That morning had clear bright blue skies, and hopefully there are some nice landscape photos of the area to come in a future post – watch this space! Unfortunately, the Saturday wasn’t so good weather-wise, but I headed out fairly early and managed to find some good birds to the north of Glyn Ceiriog.

First destination was the area around Denbigh, where a large flock of 200+ Waxwings had been seen on an industrial estate the day before, so I was hoping for some photos if the birds were still around and would come down low. I didn’t get that far before finding the target, though, since I stumbled across two smaller flocks (maybe offshoots of the original group) by the roadside between Ruthin and Denbigh. On this occasion, they didn’t show particularly well for photos, staying high up in trees against grey skies… but something tells me I might get a few more opportunities at Waxwing photography this winter!

While watching the second flock, I noticed a bird song that I’ve not heard for years and years – a Dipper singing under the road bridge! Creeping up a bit closer, in fact there was a pair, with the male singing persistently and even displaying at times. Although the light was really poor, the Dippers were more paying more attention to each other than to me, so I managed to get fairly close for a series of photos. Check out the white eyelids!


These are just brilliant little birds, really smart and characterful. A real shame I don’t see them more often, though I’ve already made a mental note to return to that bridge on a brighter day next year and try to get some better shots!

While putting stuff away into the car, and wondering where to go next, news came through of a Desert Wheatear on the seafront at Rhyl – not really that surprising given that a Wheatear had been reported there the day before, which although not unprecedented, would’ve been very late. Given that I wasn’t too far away, and that rare wheatears often show well, it was an easy decision to go and take a look.

The Wheatear showed pretty well, though with quite a few cyclists, joggers and dogwalkers going up and down its favoured stretch of the coastline, it was fairly mobile and generally not as confiding as the recent Abberton bird. A good bird for Wales, though, I think only about the sixth record ever.


From here, I spent about half an hour scanning a large and mostly distant flock of scoter off Llanddulas, hoping to pick out one of the three Surfies, before bailing out of that and going searching for Chough above Aber Falls. No joy here (though stunning scenery), and by mid afternoon the weather had taken a turn for the worse, and it was back down the A5 in the rain.

Better late than never…

So, it’s time to bring the blog back to life with a series of posts to recap on a few very busy weeks.

What seems like ages ago, but in fact only two weeks back, a glorious sunny day took me down to Dungeness with Jono, and Monkey and Shaun putting in a rare appearance too! The Pallas’s Warbler present for a couple of days previously had cleared out (though many folk seemed to take an amazingly long time to cotton on…), but the Glaucous Gull was showing well on the beach north of the fishing boats.


This blog post from almost the same date serves to illustrate how it’s changed since last year.

While we endured a tediously long wait for a still-not-really-that-good breakfast, news broke of a Desert Warbler not far away at Samphire Hoe, between Folkestone and Dover. Given that it would be a new British species for all of us, we ended up spending the rest of the day with a surprisingly small group of other birders trying to relocate it… no joy, but pleasantly warm sunshine for the time of year, and a decent site to wander round.