Wednesday, 17 January 2018

Jack Snipe

Getting a picture of a Jack Snipe has been on the top of my wish list for a long time. I have probably seen them before but but only in flight and I could never be sure. There was always that nagging doubt that I was seeing what I wanted to see and not what was really there.

On Wednesday I finally nailed it, a photograph and the confidence to claim the life tick. To get it we ended up travelling into the centre of London, to the Greenwich Ecology Park. Not my favourite place to go birding but actually a little oasis of calm and tranquillity in the middle of a huge housing estate and industrial area.

The park  volunteers pointed us in the direction of the East hide and we duly spent some time  searching the reedbed and banks around the pool but without any luck. Fortunately the warden then arrived, opened a window on the side of the hide and after a bit of searching declared that it was there. Great, except that neither of us could see it. It was only fifteen feet from the hide but so well camouflaged that it took about five minutes and the use of binoculars before I could pick it out. Put the bins down and it just disappeared again, very frustrating.

It was sleeping most of the time but fortunately did move around a bit, it also did a bit of bobbing and at one stage was disturbed by a Water Rail. It was always in cover and picture opportunities were limited but I was happy. I have my picture and it is clearly a Jack Snipe.

I probably won't be happy for long. The picture below is really the one I wanted, minus the reed stalk of course. That's the problem with bird photography, there is always a better picture out there waiting to be taken.

Our quest finished by midday, we decided to call in to the Sevenoaks Wildlife Reserve on the way back home. A quick walk round to the far side of the East Lake and we had the Black-throated Grebe in view. Good views but unfortunately back lit by the sun.

Our first time at the Sevenoaks site and it was really quite impressive. We didn't have the time to explore it all but I think we will be going back for a good look around.

Wednesday, 10 January 2018

Red-necked Grebe

Wednesday and a promising start to the day with the mist clearing and the sun starting to break through. First stop was Warblington just over the border into Hampshire. The fields around the church are becoming a reliable area for Cattle Egrets. Only one so far this year but there were eight here at one point last year and also birds present for a couple of years before that.

Find the cattle and you can usually find the Cattle Egret. This time in the field just west of the cemetery at the end of Church Lane. There is a Little Egret roost close by and this morning five of them had joined in with feeding on the insects disturbed by the cattle.

Next stop was Church Norton to look for the reported Red-necked Grebe. This is a bird that I had seen a few times before but it had always been distant and my only record shots were poor. We were fortunate in meeting Andrew House when we arrived but the update he provided was mixed - Still there but distant. 

A walk along the spit and we realised we were in luck. The Red-necked was being aggressively pursued by a Great Crested Grebe and it was bringing it in closer to the shore.

It was not clear why this bird was behaving so aggressively, possibly protecting some food source, later we saw the Red-necked happily feeding alongside another Great Crested without any problems.

Fortunately things eventually quietened down and we managed to get a couple of reasonable shots.

There was not much to look at on the North Wall other than an idiot in a light plane (G-MZPJ) making a number of low passes across the harbour and seemingly intent on disturbing all the birds. Possibly practising forced landings but if so a poor choice of locations and lucky not to be involved with any bird strikes.

With little else of interest at the North Wall we headed off to the Burgh in the hope of seeing a few raptors and downland birds. Again nothing much showing. A distant Buzzard, Corn Bunting and Grey Partridge but no sight of the Red Kites and no Fieldfares or Redwings in the usual fields below Burpham Church.

Still, a good day out and a few shots of the Red-necked Grebe that are better than anything I had before.

Monday, 8 January 2018

Penduline Tit

I was in Bristol for a few days over the weekend and with a bit of time to spare managed a quick trip to Gloucester to see the Penduline Tit. Although globally classed as being of "Least Concern" with an increasing population and large range, it is still a rare bird in the UK and always interesting to see. 

The bird was to be found at the Plock Court Wetland Nature Reserve just next to the A40/A38 roundabout. It was showing well when I arrived flying between a hedge backing onto the busy A40 and a small pool where it was feeding on the Reed Mace.

I picked a spot near a stand of Reed Mace and didn't have long to wait before it flew in to feed. A really stunning bird and giving some great views.

It is amazing how every birder now seems to carry a camera. It only seems like a few years ago when Dave and I would often be the only ones present trying to take pictures. There are advantages, in that I now no longer feel like a dose of the plague when I turn up on site but there are also disadvantages. This bird had a clear flight path between its hedge and feeding area. So where did some of the photographers go and stand to get the best shots? I am all for getting a good picture but you still need field craft and some empathy for the bird's struggle to survive.

We also had another curious observer. This Stonechat had probably never seen a Penduline Tit before and spent some time following it around.

As twitches go , it wasn't too bad. There were about a dozen present. On a bright and sunny Sunday morning I had expected more. I would have liked more pictures but we didn't stay long. Slimbridge was just down the road and I wanted to pay a quick visit there to see the  Red-breasted Goose.

Well, it was there although very distant on the Tack Piece. It looks good, it is free flying and with wild birds but I guess the default position has to be that it is an escapee from somewhere rather than a genuine wild bird.

Lots of other Ducks and Geese out on the peripheries of the site. A couple of year ticks but most too far away for a picture. Although this Bewick's Swan was worth recording.

I always have mixed feelings after a visit to Slimbridge. I support the work they do but it always feels a bit like a zoo with even the wild birds being a bit suspect. It gets more crowded every time I go there, which is good for fund raising but not so good for birding.

Friday, 8 December 2017

Barred Warbler

I missed out on a trip to Titchfield Haven on Wednesday. Even when Dave reported back that he had photographed the Barred Warbler and got his life tick I wasn't too worried. I had seen one before and had a record shot, of sorts, to show for it. It was only when I looked at his blog, that I realised just how well it was showing. The one I had seen was skulking in the bushes and staying hidden most of the time. There was definitely an opportunity to get a better picture.

Thursday was rain and gale force winds but Friday promised better weather and I set off early for Titchfield. A good decision, I got there just as it was getting light and was able to photograph the bird with only four people present. It was happily sitting in a cotoneaster by the visitors centre eating the berries. By the time I left, less than an hour later, the crowd was building and the bird was starting to look more agitated, snatching berries and flying to an adjacent tree to eat them.

It is a juvenile bird but with good markings and showing really well. I assume that it's bulking up on cotoneaster berries before completing a late migration to Africa.

showing the undertail covert markings

and below the same bird but with a soft early morning sun looking more brown than grey

When the Visitors Centre opened I duly purchased my ticket and then took a walk around the reserve. Just as well the Barred Warbler was there or it would have been a total waste of money.

As it was, well worth the trip, giving me far better pictures than I had before.

Monday, 4 December 2017

Black Guillemot

The weather looked reasonable this morning so I picked Dave up and we headed down to Eastbourne to look for the Black Guillemot in Sovereign Harbour. I already had good photographs of some very obliging Black Guillemots up in Scotland and I wasn't expecting too much from this bird. It was a juvenile, out of position on the south coast, and had been in the same location for over a week. It usually suggests that the bird could be ill.

I couldn't have been more wrong. It looked good, it was very active, and was feeding and preening for the whole time we observed it.

Black Guillemots seem very tolerant of people and this one was no exception. It came within a few feet of where we were standing.

With very clear water in the harbour you could watch it swimming and fishing underwater. In this case coming up with what appears to be a Pipe Fish.

It had a bit of difficulty subduing and swallowing the fish. This was the only time it seemed to recognise our presence and kept its back towards us most of the time just in case we wanted to steal its prize.

With plenty of food available and a sheltered harbour to live in this bird could be staying a while.

Reluctantly leaving the Black Guillemot we headed off to Normans Bay to see if we could find the Snow Bunting that had been reported there. It wasn't too difficult, just search for the birders rather than the bird.

This is another bird that does not seem to be fazed by either people or dogs although this one seemed a little more wary than some I had seen. A pity really as it favoured feeding on the grass patches. Most seem to prefer feeding on the pebbles where they tend to blend into the background and make photography difficult.

On the journey out we had passed a massive traffic jam on the A27 with cars stationary all the way  from Brighton to Eastbourne. So with time in hand we headed north, looking around Horse Eye Levels, lots of Redwings and Fieldfares but no raptors or owls, and ending up at Warnham Nature Reserve.

Great views of a Sparrowhawk, for us that is but not for the unfortunate Great Tit that was its victim. It would have made a great picture but I didn't even have time to move before it was gone.

An obliging Treecreeper proved to be a bit slower moving.

We were surprised to find another new hide on the lake at Warnham. This has always been a good site but it will probably be at its best in a few weeks time when the temperature has dropped and more birds are coming into the feeders.

Thursday, 30 November 2017

Parrot Crossbills

Difficult decisions to make this week. Do I chase after a Sussex Tick with the Black Guillemot at Sovereign Harbour in Eastbourne or do I go looking for a decent picture of a Parrot Crossbill and a possible life tick in the putative American Horned Lark.

Unbelievable really. Having gone through nearly two months with little of interest in the Sussex area we get three good targets up on the same day.

It was a no brainer. The Crossbills and Horned Lark were a bit further to travel but either one was worth going for. Lets just hope that the Black Guillemot is a long stayer.

I would love to be able to show you a picture of the American Horned Lark. We did see it, feeding on the ground as we approached, about ten metres away, but it had flown before I managed to get the camera out. It returned later but this time to its favoured area of wall, on the western side of the  northern reservoir, about 200 metres away. You could make it out through a scope but there was no chance of even a record shot.

We were luckier with the Parrot Crossbills, a flock of sixteen or seventeen birds. They did at least give some close views although they seemed to be able to time it perfectly to arrive as the sun went behind the clouds and depart as soon as the light improved. We also had one spell of over two hours when the birds went missing. It was really cold waiting for them to return, take some extra layers if you are going to look for them.

The location was near Camberley at Wishmoor Bottom in the Swinley Forest, at the back of the Royal Military Academy. Park at the top of Kings Ride and follow the track north for about half a mile. When you see a black and white barrier on the left take the  right turn and walk about forty metres and then turn left. Another hundred metres on this track and you are in the right area. Look for the crowds around one of the pine trees.

Not so convincing as a Parrot Crossbill

A touching moment - pity about the light

Challenging conditions and difficult birds to photograph but these are better than anything I have managed to get in the past. It's just great to be amongst the birds again.

On the downside, no record shot of the American Horned Lark. That brings to nine the number of birds on my list of seen but not photographed.