Monday, 13 March 2017

Smew



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.



Smew










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.

Addition

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.






Friday, 24 February 2017

Corn Bunting




I failed to connect with a Corn Bunting last year, even though we had a couple of trips out towards the end of the year where it was the main target. I am not sure if it was a bad year for them or if they are disappearing from the local strongholds. More likely it was just incompetence on my part.

Two trips looking for them again this year, one at the Burgh and the other around the Steyning Bowl/ Nomans Land areas, have also drawn a blank. So today, when Short-eared Owls were the main target, it was a real bonus to find a Corn Bunting even if it was the only one we saw.



Corn Bunting


Better still, I had to close about 100 metres to get close enough for a picture and the bird waited patiently for me to get there and then to take the usual twenty or thirty near identical pictures. I wish all birds were so cooperative.



Half way there and a safety shot just in case it takes off


A slight variation in the pose!


The day had not started too well. We visited Pagham North Wall. There were thousands of birds out on the mudflats but nothing on the Breech Pool and nothing close enough to photograph. Selsey Bill was devoid of birds although there had been a few through earlier in the day.

A trip to Apuldram had given us sight of a lot of Yellowhammers in the barley field north of the horse paddock. They were impossible to count but there was certainly a lot of action. We wasted half an hour trying to get a picture but the results were a bit disappointing. Perhaps a hide and a bit of patience would deliver better results but I suspect you would just get a queue of dog walkers asking what you were doing.

Running out of ideas we headed up to the Burgh for a raptor watch, only to find tractors and muck spreaders busy at work in front of the viewpoint. Dave suggested a walk round to the dew pond to look for Short-eared Owls. I wasn't too keen, I had only seen one sighting report all winter and the idea of home and a cup of tea was beginning to grow.

Fortunately Dave prevailed, I got my Corn Bunting, we saw at least three Short-eared Owls, and a possible although distant Hen Harrier.



Short-eared Owl


The Owls were not quite as obliging as the Corn Bunting. They gave a few reasonable fly-bys but the hoped for landing on a post just a few feet away did not happen.






Still, great fun to watch and to photograph, we just need to find a Barn Owl now.






It has been very quiet around the area for the past week or so. There was a juvenile Eider in Shoreham Harbour for a couple of days and there has been a rather sick and scrawny looking Red-necked Grebe on Brooklands Lake. The Eider was worth a photograph but as much as I would like a close up photograph of a Red-necked Grebe I think the Brooklands bird is best left in peace.



Juvenile Eider






Tuesday, 14 February 2017

Snow Buntings




Tuesday was overcast and threatening rain. Picture opportunities would be limited so we decided to visit a few local sites and add a few ticks to our year list.

First stop was Pagham North Wall. We live in hope, but this was as disappointing as we have seen it. Two Coots, a couple of Mallards and a Shelduck on the breech pool. This used to be one of the premier birding locations in Sussex but not any more. There were lots of birds out in the harbour but nothing really unusual. Dave did eventually find a small group of Bar-tailed Godwits, a good year tick, but they were a long way off.

Next stop was East Head. There had been a Snow Bunting here since the end of last year but now a second bird was being reported. Strange how they always appear here. It's probably the seeds from the Horned Poppies that grow on the head that attract them but I like to think that they mistake the near white sand for snow.

Whatever, the snow idea worked for me. It was a dull day so over exposing to get a picture you end up with a scene something approaching snow. Perhaps it makes the birds feel at home



Snow Bunting on artificial snow!




and searching the strand line for food






There were a good number of Skylarks on the head with a number of them seeming to be pairing up and involved in territorial disputes. You just wish there were some way of telling them that they are wasting their time. This is dog walkers central and as the weather warms up the place will be overrun with our four legged friends.



Skylark






Next stop was Selsey Bill. We were hoping for a brief sea watch and sight of a few of the vast numbers of birds that have been passing the bill over the past few days. We were a little disappointed. Not only were there no birds but there were no sea watchers either. A most unusual occurrence.


We also drew a blank at the Coastguard Station. The target was a Black Redstart that had been in residence for a good few days. It had been seen that morning but had gone by the time we got there and has not been seen since. We did however get to see a Grey Seal that had hauled itself out onto the beach and seemed to be enjoying a siesta.



Grey Seal


Church Norton gave us sight of the over wintering Whimbrel that had eluded us on the past couple of visits. The sky was really turning grey by now so the picture quality is not very good. However you can at least see the crown stripe.



Whimbrel


Heading for home, we called in at the Burgh. Scanning from the triangle we had hoped for a Grey Partridge or perhaps a Corn Bunting. No luck with those although we did have three or four Red Kites flying close and a rather large Raven on the manure heap. I fired off a few dozen frames in the hope of getting a half decent record shot but the light had gone and the pictures all ended up being deleted.




Monday, 13 February 2017

Twite



I have seen lots of Twite in Scotland but a Twite in Sussex is something unusual so it was worth the effort to go and see it. It seemed to be showing regularly but it actually took us three days to connect with it. The first day, late morning onwards, nothing at all, the second day mid morning onwards, we missed it by ten minutes, then no sign at all. The third day we were there just after dawn and it eventually showed up late morning and then only for about sixty seconds. Not much return for hours spent standing in the cold but at least we saw it and got record shots of its presence.



Twite


The bird was seen on the east bank of the Cuckmere about half way between the Cuckmere Inn car park (Golden Galeon) and the sea. Grid reference TV516985. Twite are usually a flock bird and are found in Scotland and on the North Sea coast so it was unusual to see one by itself on the south coast. We can only hope that it finds its way back to its breeding grounds in the spring.






We waited a while but it did not look as though the Twite would return so with a high tide due we headed off down to Newhaven East pier to look for the Purple Sandpipers.

They can often be found on the structural supports below the pier but they are difficult to see and to photograph. The secret is to be there on bright day just before high tide. Wait at the end of the pier and as the tide comes up the birds are forced off the horizontal supports and have the choice of balancing on the diagonals or coming out onto the top of the pier. If you are at the end of the pier you will have the sun behind you.

First up was a Turnstone. The Puprple Sandpipers seem to enjoy dodging the waves and they have to be at serious risk of being swept away before they will abandon their feeding area.



Turnstone


They eventually made an appearance and they are well worth waiting for. A beautiful bird and full of character.



Purple Sandpiper


There is only one problem, that is the yellow lichen on the stonework they stand on. You have to get the angle right to avoid your picture being swamped by the yellow glow.






Unable to feed until the tide goes out the Sandpipers will often settle down to roost only a few feet from where you are standing.






On the way back to the car we called in to take another look at the Tide Mills Serin. It was there but with a number of people watching and taking photographs there seemed little chance of improving on the pictures we already had and we were only adding to the disturbance around the birds feeding area.

A quick distant record shot and we headed for home.



Serin






Tuesday, 7 February 2017

Wood Duck




Eyeworth Pond near Fritham is always worth a visit. The birds are fed regularly and are nearly tame and there are always picture opportunities. This year there was the added bonus of a resident Wood Duck. It may well be an escapee but it is living in the wild, and it looks good, so it is worth a picture. What we hadn't realised was that there was a female on the pond as well. Next year we could be going back to photograph wild british born Wood Ducks.

If this happens you would have to question why their status should be any different to that of the british born Cranes from the reintroduction program.



Wood Ducks



Wood Duck


Female Wood Duck


We did initially have a bit of confusion over the female. We had not expected to see it and she looks very similar to the Mandarin Duck female, picture below. However, she does shows the diagnostic darker head, more white around the eye, black nail, and different markings around the base of the bill.
They are quite different when you see the two side by side.






The male Mandarins were also in attendance and there was a small group of Goosanders, one male and four females but as ever they were keeping their distance. Still, not a bad slection of ducks for a small pond.



Mandarin Duck



Mandarin Duck



Goosander with three of his four ladies


We had started the day at Blashford Lakes. It's not one of our favourite sites but the Bramblings are reliable on the feeders outside the Woodland hide. I would have liked to put a picture of them on the blog but you could barely see them through the windows in the hide. The "glass" is badly scratched and fogged and you have difficulty making out any colours on the birds.

Brambling duly ticked we moved on. We did have a quick look out from the Tern Hide but the birds as usual were so far away it was almost like doing a sea watch. The Ivy North Hide does give you a good chance of seeing a Bittern but you have to look at it through heavily tinted blue glass. We gave that a miss. The site has so much potential but seems so poor on delivery.


Eyeworth Pond, however always delivers on the small birds as well as on the ducks and there is no blue glass to get in the way.



Marsh Tit - white spot on upper mandible 



Marsh Tit



Nuthatch



Coal Tit

On the fields driving away from Fritham a flock of forty to fifty Redwings



Redwing


Below a couple of shots from earlier in the week. A rather wet and bedraggled looking Great Grey Shrike at Waltham Brooks. A bit like me that day. He wasn't going anywhere but there was a lot of wet and sticky mud between me and him. I thought better of it and headed off to Arundel Wetland Centre for a cup of tea.



Distant and rather wet Great Grey Shrike


And the Wetland Centre delivered yet another good Kingfisher photo opportunity. There are at least two on the site and they appear very tolerant of people. The only problem is that they are attracting more and more photographers to the site. Good for the WWT funds but not so good if you want the bird to yourself.



Arundel Wetland Centre - Kingfisher








Friday, 27 January 2017

Water Pipit 2




I was a bit disappointed with the shots I took of the Water Pipit. The lighting was good that day but I just did not manage to nail it, so Friday afternoon I went back for another go. It looked OK when I left home but by the time I got to Apuldram the light had gone and it was starting to rain. I took a few quick shots but lack of contrast or dull lighting conditions, meant that when I got home I found that the pictures were not really sharp.



Water Pipit - nice grass but the bird is a bit soft


It looked like a wasted trip but then it's always worth checking every shot. Sometimes when everything seems wrong you just get lucky and I ended up with the shot below. A Water Pipit with attitude.







Earlier in the week we had a day looking for Geese at Scotney and Pett Level. They were all a bit distant for photographs but we did have a successful day for year ticks. White-fronted, Pink-footed, Greylags, Canada, Barnacles, Emperors, but we missed out on the Bean Geese. We had seen the Taiga the week before and only needed the Tundra at Scotney for the full set. We thought we had them but blowing the pictures up on the big screen when we got home they looked more like a couple of juvenile White-fronted than the Tundra Bean Geese we were looking for.

The day also gave us year ticks for Black-throated Diver on Scotney, Red-throated Diver on a pool at Camber, a Bittern on the ARC Pit at Dungeness, and Bearded Tits at Pett Level.



Bearded Tit



Bittern on the far side of the ARC Pit


Red-throated Diver


The picture of the Red-throated Diver was taken at a distance of  of about 230 metres and then heavily cropped. It's not good but it is the best image of this bird that I have ever managed to get.


I think I might be going back for another go at the Water Pipit.





Thursday, 19 January 2017

Serin



After six hours standing in the cold on Tuesday with no sightings of the Serin I am not sure if I was pleased or not when it was reported again on Wednesday evening. There was little choice, I had never seen a Serin in the UK, so I had to have another go. Dave picked me up at 0800 and we headed off down to "Turd" Mills.

Success - we only had to wait about fifteen minutes and it flew in.






It spent much of the time in the undergrowth feeding but did move around a lot and on occasions perched up in a small tree or on one of the old walls.






The best views were obtained early on with less perched up shots being offered as the morning wore on. It also made occasional forays out of sight eastwards but always returned a few minutes later. The flight seemed fast and direct and was always easy to pick up as it approached.





I am told that it was also calling and singing but the sound is beyond my range.





A fantastic little bird and well worth the hours spent waiting for it in the cold.






By late morning the number of birders was beginning to grow so we decided to move on, but where to go. We had a look for Purple Sandpipers at the end of the east pier but with the tide out there were none present.

In the end we decided on a trip up to Crawley to see the Rose-coloured Starling. This is a bird we had avoided until now. Standing in the street scanning people's back gardens with camera and bins does not really sit comfortably with me but as my header says - once the crowds have died down I might give it a go.

In this case the crowds have died down, there was no one there. The garden was easy to find, it was full of birds, and the starling flock soon put in an appearance with the Rose-coloured easy to spot. It was difficult to get a shot where the bird was not obscured by branches but I ended up with better than I had expected. I just wish I could have said thank you to the people that own the house.



Rose-coloured Starling


I have seen a Rose-coloured Starling before but that was a rather washed out nondescript looking juvenile. This one is starting to show some coloured plumage and the promise of some really good photographic opportunities to come.














Two great birds in a day and they could both stay around for some time. The Rose-coloured in full summer plumage could well convince me to go back for a few more pictures.