Thursday, 22 September 2016

Red-backed Shrike

I was in two minds over going to see the juvenile Red-backed Shrike found at Tidemills yesterday. It sounded like a good bird and was showing well but there was the risk of a large scale twitch which I tend to avoid. In the end I did nothing, sitting at home until a tweet came through saying that it was still there.

Still some doubts, I already had good pictures of a juvenile plus some good shots of an adult male (see here). Finally I made a decision and set off, annoyed that I had not gone first thing in the morning to avoid the crowds.

When I got there it wasn't too bad. Only three people watching the bird and it really was showing well.

It came into a perch only 15 -20 feet from where we were standing and at at times was on the ground picking up bees only a few feet in front of me. Fabulous views and also good lighting, a rare combination.

I am usually happy with one or two good shots out of say two hundred taken. Today the success rate was more like 50% with half the pictures still to process

A great session but nothing is perfect. When I left an hour later the numbers watching had increased to around fourteen and it was getting uncomfortable. I am a bird photographer and I want to get close and get the best possible pictures but it takes time and effort.

Wait for the bird to come to you, rather than chasing it around the site. If it approaches you and feeds around your feet, it feels safe and you will get good shots. If its moving away from you and you chase it, your chances of getting a good picture are reduced.

I have to admit, this bird was difficult to flush but the pattern of its feeding changed during the time I was there. When I arrived it was using one perch. It stayed there for about fifteen minutes and was feeding close to the people observing it. Pictures were easy to get. By the time I left it was covering a much wider area moving from perch to perch every couple of minutes with a small group always in pursuit.

Don't stress the bird. You can get good pictures without trying to stick your camera three feet from its face. Make sure it stays there for other people to see.

Moan over. What a great bird.

Tuesday, 13 September 2016

Red-necked Phalarope

Monday, we spent nearly five hours sitting in a hide at Titchfield Haven, waiting for a Semipalmated Sandpiper to turn up - it didn't. Which is probably just as well, as I am not sure that I would be able to tell it from Little Stint even at close range.

The drive home after missing a bird is always a bit depressing but we didn't let it get us down. This morning we were up early and over to Pagham North Wall hoping to find something unusual - we didn't and to make matters worse there were no reports of any good birds in the area. Running out of ideas we decided to go over to Thorney Island to have a look for the Red-necked Phalarope and I am pleased to say this time we were in luck.

The Phalarope has been there for  a few days now but has been distant for a lot of that time. Today it was just out of photographic range for most of the time but did make a couple of short forays into closer waters. It was then a case of trying to get a clear shot through or over the reeds and hoping that the light was reasonable.

We got a few record shots but it could have been better. If you are going to have a look at it, the late afternoon sun will give you the best lighting. For us, today, it was just too hot to stand around for a few hours waiting for things to improve.

To find the bird, park up at the triangle at (SU757049), cross the road and follow the footpath west to the beach. Turn left (south) and follow the seawall footpath for about 200 metres to the Little Deep (SU752048)

On Sunday we walked from Reculver out past Cold Harbour Lagoon. A short stop for pictures gave me the birds below.



Bar-tailed Godwit

Spotted Redshank


and this looks like another Little Stint - white braces on its back clearer in other shots

A couple of shots from Titchfield, taken whilst we were waiting for the Semipalmated Sandpiper that didn't show.


Common Snipe

And two from last week at Pagham North Wall

Curlew Sandpiper and six Dunlin

Low flying Buzzard

The hot weather seems to have caused the autumn migration to stall. Am I alone in looking forward to the cooler and more productive days to come.

Wednesday, 7 September 2016

Wryneck 2

Following on from the last blog, on the Church Norton Wryneck, Dave an I made another visit to the Severals hoping for better picture opportunities. We spent a few more hours standing around waiting but the best we had were brief glimpses of it feeding on the ground.

I had really given up on Wrynecks for this year but then on Wednesday I took Sue and her friend Maggie over to the Seven Sisters Country Park for lunch and a gentle afternoon stroll. We walked into the cafe just before twelve o'clock and I knew it was going to be a good day when I just managed to get my order in for the full english breakfast with two minutes to spare.

After lunch (or in my case breakfast) they decided to go over to Beachy Head for their walk and so to avoid the worse of the crowds I parked up near Shooters Bottom. I confess that I had completely forgotten that there was a really obliging Wryneck at that location! That was until Sue spotted a group of people with long lenses, lurking in the undergrowth and suggested I go over to see what they were up to. Never one to argue I did as I was told. Suspicious looking characters they were but it was great to meet up with Paul Snellgrove and David Gardiner again.

Initially it didn't look too promising. Paul put me onto the Wryneck but it just stuck its tongue out at me and then flew off.

It then reappeared a short distance away feeding on the ground.

It obviously did not see us as a threat and was happy to come within about twenty feet of us.

Above feeding and below showing the long tongue as it searches for its main food source ants and for other small insects in the undergrowth.

It turned out to be a very productive hours birding and I came away with some great pictures. To cap a good day I found a couple of Small Copper butterflies, a rather rare species this year.

Thursday, 1 September 2016


A day of highs and lows, with hours spent standing around waiting for birds to show, a few memorable minutes when they did, some classic missed opportunities and a few good pictures.

The day started on the Arun River, at the marina, just south of the Littlehampton bridge. We had gone there to look for the Osprey. We didn't have to wait long. Just as we got out of the car it passed over our heads probably no more then forty feet away. Great views but the cameras were still packed away in the car boot. 

We chased it down river, only to find that it had circled round over the golf course, to head back to where we started from.

Back to the bridge and we set up to wait for its return and for some picture opportunities. Two hours later and we were still waiting. With nothing happening, boredom was setting in so we decided to head over to Pagham Harbour to look for the Wryneck. Cameras packed away, we started down the bank, only for the Osprey to reappear and make another low pass over us. Another great view but by the time we had a camera locked on it was disappearing into the distance.

The Wryneck was a lot easier. We arrived at the Severals to find it sitting out on the top of some brambles. It had its back to us most of the time but these were far better views than you usually get of a Wryneck. We were also told that it had been showing well for most of the morning.

After a few minutes it flew into cover but this looked really promising. We settled down expecting the bird to put in regular appearances and to give us some great picture opportunities. Two possibly three hours later we were still waiting. We had occasional glimpses of the Wryneck feeding in the long grass or flying between bushes but nothing out in the open.

Eventually we tired of this and decided to head back to Littlehampton for another try for the Osprey.  As a result, yet another hour was wasted with nothing to look at.

If we were just birders we could have moved on, happy that we had seen the birds and got our year tick, but as a bird photographer there is always a better picture waiting to be taken. Eight hours standing around waiting for those better picture with just a three or four minute slot actually taking them. It sounds a bit extreme and it's not for everyone, but hey, I look at the pictures now and for me it was all worthwhile.

All I have to do now is catch up with that Osprey.

Friday, 26 August 2016

Yellow Wagtails

With the autumn migration getting under way, I managed to add a few year ticks this week but pictures opportunities have been limited. Pagham Harbour, in particular, has provided some good birding but the key target, Curlew Sandpiper, has proved to be a bit elusive.

The best photographic opportunity came this afternoon when we found a flock of 200 plus Yellow Wagtails.

They were feeding in amongst cattle in the fields just to the west of the Breech Pool. Initially the flock was only around thirty birds and we could not get close to them. However, by standing in the middle of the herd we managed to get some good close up views.

We then had other flocks coming in and joining the cattle. It was impossible to do an accurate count but we estimated at least 200 birds.

The only problem was that the cows were curios and soon came closer to investigate. I don't mind being licked by them or having them attempt to eat my shirt but licking the camera and blocking the view of the wagtails was a different matter. We eventually had to make a strategic withdrawal with the cattle in pursuit and still managing to block our view.

Still, we had some good picture opportunities with the Wagtails seeming happy to come closer as the cows had accepted us as part of the herd.

Back on the Breech Pool there was a small flock of five Little Stints. I had only ever seen them in ones and twos before.

Two of the Little Stint

Sowing the prominent white lines on their back

The white markings on their back are very distinctive but earlier I had been left somewhat confused by a Dunlin showing similar markings. Fortunately, when you see the Little Stint along side the Dunlin the size difference ensures that there can be no confusion.

Other sightings included Wheatear, Whinchat, Kingfisher and earlier in the week Yellow-legged Gulls and Lesser Whitethroat.


There were also a good number of Clouded Yellow Butterflies at both Pagham Harbour and Medmerry

Clouded Yellows usually mark the end of the butterfly season but there is always the chance of a rare migrant turning up. Last year we had Long-tailed Blues. Perhaps this year it will be a Camberwell Beauty - dream on!

Monday, 15 August 2016

Pied Flycatcher

Today, was a chance to get back to birding. Migration has started and their are a few good birds being reported. Best of all we visited Pagham North Wall and, for once, there were lots of birds there. The Breech Pool and the area north of the wall had been our favourite birding site but over the past year it seems to have been abandoned by both the RSPB and the landowner. The water levels have not been controlled and it has fluctuated between flooding and drying out. Consequently the birds slowly disappeared.

Today it looked good. Just the right level of water, plenty of mud and still some fish to be had. Waders were back in good numbers, Redshank, Spotted Redshank, Greenshank, Green Sandpiper, Black-tailed Godwits, Little Stint, Dunlin, Common Snipe, Lapwing, and Avocets. We also had Canada Geese, a single Greylag and two Bar-headed Geese. Add to these a couple of Grey Herons, two squabbling Kingfishers, two Common Terns, a Sparrowhawk, assorted ducks, Hirundines and a couple of Buzzards that put most of them into the air and we had plenty to look at. I just wish I had some confidence in it staying this way.

You would think that with all these birds I would have some good pictures but the back of the pool, especially in this strong contrasty light is just that little bit too far for the smaller birds.

Juvenile Grey Heron

Avocet  -  unusual on the Breech Pool

Common Tern


Next stop was at Church Norton where a Pied Flycatcher had been reported the previous day. It had been a clear night so we were doubtful on finding it still there. In fact there were two and possibly even three of them around the church yard so we spent the afternoon trying to photograph them.

One of the Pied Flycatchers was ringed so we were hopeful of being able to piece together sufficient information to find where it came from. Nearly but not quite. After a lot of work analysing pictures  Dave came up with a possible Z49592 but unfortunately this does not look like the complete number.

It was great to be back birding again - bring on the birds.