Wednesday, 19 April 2017

Grasshopper Warbler

Each year I have to rely on my birding buddy Dave to find me a Grasshopper Warbler. Their reel is well above my hearing range. Fortunately Dave is still up to it and has an uncanny ability to track them down. Without his help I would have little chance of finding one. I then try to repay his help by taking a better picture than he does! Not so easy today. This bird had a territory centered on a low bramble bush surrounded by long grass.

Not too bad on the long range shots but when you try to crop them, the out of focus grass becomes more prominent. There is not a lot that you can do, other than use the lens wide open to put everything but the bird out of focus. Go any closer and you will flush your target.

The bird did actually come a lot closer to us. It was feeding mouse like in the grass and probably closed the distance to about twenty feet at one stage. You could hear it and occasionally see it on the long grass but it was impossible to get a picture.

Earlier we had completed a circuit of Pulborough Brooks picking up year ticks on Nightingale, Whitethroat, and House Martin. The Nightingales were at Fatengates, West Mead and in Adder Alley. Most were in deep cover and were just starting to use the subsong although one at Adder Alley was more advanced on its song and was showing reasonably well. It will probably be another week and a half before they really get going and give the picture opportunities that people are looking for. Here is one from last year.

Nightingale 18th April 2016

A number of other birds were seen including those shown below, Blackcap, Green Woodpecker, and Linnet.


Green Woodpecker


One of the best finds was our first Dragonfly of the year, Most years it would be the Large Red but this year it was a Hairy Dragonfly

Hairy Dragonfly

Also seen over the past week, Tree Pipits at Old Lodge and Orange Tip and Green-veined White butterflies at most locations.

Tree Pipit

Orange Tip

Orange Tip

Green-veined White

We also saw Sand Martins and Swallows to add to the year list and a possible Garden Warbler that we were unable to confirm.

All in, a good days birding.

Monday, 10 April 2017

No Large Tortoiseshell

Today we were out searching for a Large Tortoiseshell Butterfly. We didn't find one and I guess we were not too surprised, it was always a long shot. Three have been seen around the North Stoke area but you have to set that against thousands of hours that have been spent searching for them.

There are reports of Large Tortoiseshells found on the south coast most years. They are probably vagrants from France but to have reports so early in the year suggests that these could have overwintered here and may even be breeding here. The sceptics would say that someone is releasing them but with the climate warming we can expect a gradual northward drift of the butterfly species.

It would put my claim to have seen all the UK butterflies in jeopardy but it could be worse. I just have to find one butterfly. Patrick Barkham (The Butterfly Isles) will probably have to start again to be able to keep his record of seeing all the UK butterflies in one summer.

So, no Large Tortoiseshell, but it was good to get out on a first butterfly trip of the year and there were a good number of butterflies about.

Green-veined White

Green-veined White

Orange Tips Anthocharis cardemines on one of its main larval plants Cuckoo Flower/Lady's Smock Cardemine pratensis.

Orange Tip

Orange Tip (male)

Orange tip

Orange Tip (female)


Small Copper

Small Copper

Small Copper

Speckled Wood

The weather has been good and 2017 looks like a much better year for Butterflies than last year. Lets hope for a big recovery in numbers. As for the Large Tortoiseshell, well I may give it another go but the interesting time will be July and August when, if there is a UK population, a new brood should be on the wing.

Thursday, 6 April 2017

Blue Rock Thrush

News today of a Blue Rock Thrush, found just below the Belle Tout lighthouse on Beachy Head. I couldn't decide if I should go or not. I really wanted to see the bird but I am becoming more and more averse to any form of twitch.

I finished off a few jobs I had been doing, had some lunch, but in the end my curiosity got the better of me. I then did the hours drive over to Beachy Head thinking - stupid, you should have gone as soon as you saw the reports.

Fortunately the bird was still there and the twitch wasn't too big, probably around fifteen people. It was feeding on the ground, mostly in the shaded areas and then perching up in the surrounding trees and in particular in one favoured Ash sapling.

The light was good and the bird was showing well but the problem with any twitch is that you have to keep your distance. The bird did not seem to be that concerned about the people. One person, on their own and taking their time to approach, could have got some superb pictures without disturbing it.

So is this the Stow Blue Rock Thrush on its way back to the continent or a second bird in the country. I don't really know but the timing looks right, the location would seem to fit in with a route back to the European mainland, and the bird did seem to be unfazed by the people present. Perhaps it is used to having its picture taken.

Wherever it came from I am just glad I did not make the trip up to Stow. Beachy Head in the sun was a better location to see it than in a housing estate in Stow.

On the way home I made a quick stop to look at the Kittiwakes on the cliffs at Seaford Head.

Their nesting sites, on the narrow ledges of the crumbling chalk cliffs, always look so precarious.

I am pleased I went. Any doubts I had about the Stow bird not being a genuine vagrant have now been dispelled. Definitely genuine!!!!

Monday, 3 April 2017

Common Redstart

Monday and we were out looking for a potential five year ticks. Top of the list was the Black-winged Stilt, on the Posbrook Floods, just south of Titchfield. It wasn't there and nor were most of the others that we were targeting but we did at least get to see the Barn Owl roosting in the split tree.

Barn Owl

A combination of bad timing and farming activity resulted in none of the other birds being present but the day was rescued by finding this stunning male Common Redstart in the church yard at Church Norton.

Common Redstart

You just need one good picture opportunity and the whole day looks a lot brighter.

Fortunately we had made the right call on the Black-winged Stilt and had moved on after about an hour of searching. We were concerned that it could be roosting in amongst the reeds or perhaps have moved down stream into Titchfield Haven but it does not seem to have been relocated for the rest of the day. If we had stayed we may well have missed the Redstart.

Thursday, 30 March 2017

Ring-necked Duck

The last few weeks have failed to deliver any good bird photography opportunities and very few good birds. There have been one or two in the area migrating through but they have not stayed long and I have failed to connect with most of them. Meanwhile my birding buddy Dave has been off in Tenerife filling his memory cards with Blue Chaffinch and other endemics (see here).

All a bit depressing really. So today I decided on a trip down to Dungeness with the main target the Garganey reported on Cook's Pool. "Should have been here yesterday" - there was no sign of the Garganey all day. However, I did get some decent views of the Ring-necked Duck. I had taken pictures of it in January and had seen it a couple of times since but it had always been distant. This time it was close to the front edge of the pool.

Ring-necked Duck

I then set off on a walk around the RSPB Reserve searching all the pools and headgerows. Lots of birds but nothing unusual and all a bit distant. Although from the reports there was an Osprey through just after I left the area.

I did think about going down the the lighthouse area to look for Black Redstarts but in the end decided to spend the afternoon at Rye Harbour. A chance for a nice long walk and some more very distant birds. It is clearly the place to go if you like Black-headed Gulls but there were also good numbers of Mediterranean Gulls, Avocets, and Ringed Plover amongst the other birds. It's strange how we just take Avocets for granted these days but they are a really elegant bird.



Black Redstarts seem to have been around in good numbers this year. The bird below was taken in the churchyard at Church Norton.

And a Long-tailed Tit, always nice to photograph.

All a bit quiet really. I am begining to remember why I always look forward to the start of the Butterfly and Dragonfly seasons.

Monday, 13 March 2017


With nothing much happening locally we decided on a trip along the coast to Dungeness. It offered a couple of year ticks and there was always the chance of something unusual turning up.

We stopped off at the Camber Ponds and Scotney Pits on the way but it was clear that the majority of ducks and geese had moved on. There were a few birds about but we could not find anything unusual.

At Dungeness we called in at the RSPB Visitors Centre to see what was about. Three birds looked interesting, a Ruff on Burrows, Black Redstarts at the lighthouse gardens, and best of all a Drake Smew on the New Excavations.

Drake Smew is a real prize. It is a bird that usually keeps its distance. I have a few good pictures of them but all taken of the captive birds at the Arundel Wetland Centre. It would be good to throw them away and put some real pictures in their place.

We had a quick look for the roosting Long-eared Owl but it wasn't showing out in the open so we didn't stop. A quick search from Makepeace gave us the Ruff. It was too far away for a picture but still a good bird to see. There haven't been many waders about this year.

On to Christmas Dell hide and the Smew was visible out in the middle of the pool. A few minutes of silent pleading from us  and it turned and headed towards the hide. I couldn't believe our luck. It wasn't perfect, I could have done with the light coming from behind us, but these would be better shots than I had before.


Unfortunately he didn't stay in front of the hide for long. He ended up being pursued across the pond by an amorous redhead.

They spent a few minutes feeding together but her thought were clearly on other things. She then went into display mode giving him every encouragement - but he just wasn't interested.

We waited, hoping that they would come back towards the hide but they stayed distant and eventually something spooked him and he flew to the far side of the pool. I would have liked longer photographing him but I can't really complain.

A walk round the rest of the reserve gave us sight of a couple of Bearded Tits but we were keen to get down to the lighthouse to look for the Black Redstarts. They were easy enough to find, sitting out on the lighthouse garden wall. We counted four, possibly five, but they were all staying inside the garden wall or up on the roof. Easy to watch but just that bit too distant for a good shot.

There were reports of Wheatears on the beach but we couldn't find them and also of juvenile Iceland and Caspian Gulls on the patch. We didn't even try for these. I have enough trouble identifying them, when they are on the ground in front of me. My chances of picking them out in the swirl of birds above the patch were next to zero.

The journey home was also a bit disappointing. Still nothing on Scotney or the Camber ponds and a search of the Pett levels and a couple of brief sea watches from Camber and Pett failed to add any excitement to the day.

Overall though a good day and a couple of reasonable pictures of the Smew to remember it by.


Wednesday morning and my first Wheatear of the year, in the fields behind Goring Gap. My thanks to Nick Bond for the tweet. Rather distant but I didn't want to trample the farmers crop.