Tuesday 28 February 2012

Birds and the Bees

Having been stuck indoors for the last week I was itching to get out, but not for too long, So when Liz said that she wanted to visit Waitrose  I cadged a lift to see if I could catch the Yellow-browed Warbler that has been reported in the centre of Worthing.  As I arrived a really friendly birder name Mike informed me that "you've just missed it" but reasured me that it would show again soon and that I would probably hear it first. Spot on!  It was calling loudly from a dense bush in Parexel's car park. Then a fleeting glimpse and finally a really good show, even the light picked up but the little chap wasn't going to sit still long enough for even a record shot. Then I met Leigh who had discovered the bird in the first place and broadcast on SOS - many thanks Leigh.

So on home and with the weather improving all the time I decided to do a tad of light gardening, risking yet another week indoors.  Over the weekend I had left the greenhouse door open and had inadvertently trapped several Bumble bees inside when closing down for the night. One of them was decidedly worse for wear, just managing a feeble crawl and for all the world was on the way out. I had read recently that you could revive an exhausted bee by feeding it with honey. So I duly mixed up a blob of Mr, Seggiano's finest chestnut honey with some rainwater and fed the bee using a cocktail stick. Well blow me - it works. After a couple of minutes I could see the bee taking up the honey and then searching for more. This went on for at least half an hour and following a crawl around the bush that I had perched him on, he spread his wings and flew off strongly.

The warm weather is also encouraging the amphibians resident in the garden pond. There are now three large blobs of frog spawn amongst the plants and several smooth newts getting very active. When we refurbished the pond last year I rehoused a total of 17 newts, I hope that they all return as they are fascinating to watch.

Tuesday 21 February 2012

Singing Skylarks

A quick trip around the local patch this morning, first a look at the old fort at Shoreham and then a stroll along the harbour arm in search of exotic gulls. The reality was that there were very few gulls to be seen at all. At the end of the arm 5 Razorbills were constantly diving but there was precious little else to be seen. On the return to the car I found 5 Purple Sandpipers on the wooden piles out in the harbour entrance. A further scan of the rooftops of the warehouses in the port revealed only the commoner species of gull so it was off to Widewater for a quick check.  Very quiet here too, though a very fine Pintail drake was a welcome sight.

Purple Sandpipers
 So home via the gull roost at Ferring, and you guessed it - very quiet - though there were both Black-headed Gulls and Common Gulls showing the early signs of their plumage change.

Black-headed Gull

Black-headed Gull

Common Gull
Having arrived home for an early lunch and with the sun still shining it was off to The Burgh. As soon as I parked at the triangle the Rough-legged Buzzard showed along with about 8 Common Buzzards and 4 Red Kites. There were plenty of small birds about but it was the Skylarks that were stealing the show, lots of them singing their heads off. A very cool westerly breeze sprang up and everything went rather quiet. Just the odd raptor flying at distance. Oddly enough there was plenty of ploughing being done and the air was filled with Gulls!



Thursday 16 February 2012

In search of Paddy

Arrrived at Pagham Harbour North Wall at 0700 in search of the Paddyfield Warbler and spent the next 5 hours staring at a hawthorn bush waiting for this rare stranger to show. Feeling the cold I decided to go on a long walk in search of Smew and that was fruitless too. Plenty of birds about, the highlights being 7 White-fronted Geese on the fields behind the Breech Pool, a Kingfisher in the sluice, three Ruff  and a host of Pintail in the channel. Unfortunately it was a grey old day with precious little sunshine so even photos were hard to come by.





Even the Teal look bored

So off home with two year ticks, fairly satisfied, probably more than the birders who had left Burnley at 0400 and departed without seeing this rarity and were moving on to the Parrot Crossbill at Blackdown.

Sunday 12 February 2012

The freeze continues

The cold weather prevails but with a hint of a thaw in the coming week. It was inevitable that the large population of birds congregating in the garden would attract predators and sure enough we have the attentions of a female Sparrowhawk. Several rapid dives through the garden have yet to result in a kill on our patch but it is only a matter of time - ah well everyone has to eat.

The Fieldfare population has risen to three, all of which squabble over territorial rights. Large Redwing flocks continue to circulate the neighbourhood and most berry bearing bushes are starting to become depleted on the upper levels.

I mentioned to my wife that it was odd that we haven't had a thrush yet and true to form, just as we sat down to breakfast, Liz noticed a Song Thrush in the front garden. Hastily grabbing the camera  I managed to record the 29th species of the year.

Song Thrush

Song Thrush

Friday 10 February 2012

It's an ill wind........

For the last week or more the wind has been in the North and temperatures have dropped drastically. Whilst  other parts of the country have had snow there has been very little where we are. However, the garden pond has been frozen over and it has been a daily task to provide fresh water into the bird bath. sometimes several times a day. It is also obvious that some birds are being pushed further south as this week we have had both Redwings and Fieldfares visiting. Another record today, the count of Goldfiches has reached 17 on or about the feeders at the same time.

Other birds are losing their shyness as we have had Collared Doves, which rarely land in the garden, looking for food. The male Blackcap has also become much bolder, feeding on the fat balls just outside the patio doors.

Nyjer seed creates a thirst!

Seventeen at one sitting
We have a crab apple tree which is usually the domain of the Blackbirds, but today it is inhabited by a single Fieldfare which is very territorial. He knows the threats and his place in the pecking order. He or she ignores finches and tits but will not tolerate the presence of the Blackbirds, driving them away with lots of tail cocking postures. When the pigeons arrive then that is a different matter he skulks away to the flowering cherry tree until they have had their fill of the small bright orange apples.


Scram - it's my tree




Revisiting "Old Friends"

I hadn't visited the Widewater since the end of last year and I really wanted to add the Snow Buntings to the year list and, if possible, get some more shots. Also the cold snap might just have brought something unusual into the lake. The weather was very cold but there was some weak sunshine, definitely not forecast by the doom laden media who turn 2cm of snow into a major natural disaster of biblical proportions. On arrival there were several species of wader present - Knot, Dunlin and Redshank two of which were recorded on camera. A leisurely walk from the car park to the Sailing Club resulted in nothing except for noting a large raft of Great Crested Grebes on the sea moving west with the incoming tide. On the return I met a kindly birder who pointed out the birds, apparently they had moved to a new feeding station provided by local birders. The birds are very approachable and I managed several shots. Obviously the feed put down had been found by two pigeons who were having a feast.


Feral Pigeon

Snow Bunting

Snow Buntings - a real pair

Another scan of the lake revealed nothing of interest so in the strengthening sunshine I made may way to RSPB Pulborough Brooks. As soon as I got out of the car at the visitor centre I heard the unmistakable chirp of a Crossbill, sure enough a bright red male high in the tree above me. What I really wanted was a flock coming in to drink in the fairly scarce unfrozen water that collects in the wheel ruts of the tracks through the heath - not a sign. I met another birder in search of a Crossbill as a lifetime tick and for an hour it seemed a wasted journey for him. Then as if on cue they turned up in the Corsican pines just south of the mound, 10+ males and females high up in the pines. None in range for a camera shot but just standing listening to them as they cracked the pine cones was something special.

In the same area of the reserve there was a Wood Lark, it seemed to be attempting a song but it sounded as if it was a half-hearted attempt as he was only firing on one cylinder. He finally flew a circuit and three birders had visual confirmation.

On the way back to the car park I had another unsuccessful attempt at quality Treecreeper shots but again none of any worth. I decided to go into the visitor centre, mainly to get warm and as I arrived "Wal" the animatronic Water Rail put in an appearance so I duly recorded the event. This bird must surely be the most photgraphed Water Rail in the United Kingdom. The constant provision of dried mealworms has allowed him to overcome his shyness and he puts on a display several times a day.

Water Rail
Water Rail

Tuesday 7 February 2012


Reports of a Bittern showing on one of the lakes at the Arundel ATT were enough to mobilise me after several days inertia. Not only that, the BBC weather forecast was completely wrong. Although temperatures were low and the biting north easter cut through everything it was bright and sunny. Arriving at the visitor centre a tad early and embarassingly rattling the doors I made my way to the Scrape Hide.  Oddly enough when I arrived there were three birders already staring out over the frozen wastes looking for any sign of movement. Not sure how they got in before me. After about an hour and a half I was sufficiently cold enough to need a brisk walk so visited the rest of the reserve in the hope of finding a friendly male Bullfinch posing in the morning sunshine.

Needless to say that I couldn't find one, so I made my way to the exit but couldn't resist unshipping the camera for some shots of three resplendent Smew, all of which had got spring on their minds.

Outside the main door a birder was photographing - you guessed it - a Bullfinch. Unfortunately none of the photos I took were of good quality - just too far away and when I tried to get nearer it spooked.






“ Which of my photographs is my favourite? The one I’m going to take tomorrow."  – Imogen Cunningham

Thursday 2 February 2012

Warnham LNR

If you would like to get up close and personal with the birds then Warnham LNR is the place to go. Prime location is the Woodpecker hide as copious amounts of feed are provided here and the tit flock is of serious proportions. There are Blue Tits, Great Tits, Long-Tailed Tits, Coal Tits and even Marsh Tits coming freely to the feeders which are positioned only feet from the hide.

 Plenty of finches too, Goldfinch, Greenfinch, Chaffinch, Siskin and Redpoll. Several Nuthatches regularly visit and of course the hide's namesake the Great Spotted Woodpecker. Supporting cast provided by Reed Bunting, Robin, Blackbird and Dunnock. Pheasants, Moorhens and even a Water Rail are seen regularly. Of course all this activity attracts the local Sparrowhawk who often perches above the feeders, especially if his pounce results in no kill.

Marsh Tit




The ubiquitous Blue Tit

Great Tit

The Robin, of course

Great Spotted Woodpecker

Greenfinches galore!


And of course hundreds of gulls



Wednesday 1 February 2012

Down to the woods today

But no surprises. In fact Lavington Plantation and Common were very quiet today, several flocks of Crossbills but none prepared to stop and drink at the track pools on the Plantation side, although the odd pair perched in the morning sun but at fairly long range. The usual tit flocks were absent, probably the very cool North-easterly breeeze deterring them from coming out to feed. Back at the car park on the Common side there was a flock of 30+ Redwings rooting around in the leaves and stripping the last of the holly berries. Just in the woods there was a Treecreeper sounding off so I found him and managed a record shot, still not enough light.

On the way back called in at Burton Mill but again very quiet and I didn't want to hang around for the Bittern so headed for home. However, on reaching the turning for home at Bury I decided to see if I could find some geese in the field above Greatham Bridge - not a bird in sight. Two birders on the Brooks waiting for the SEOs.  Finally ended up in the overflow car park at Pulborough Brooks hoping for a Bullfinch shot. However, yet another flock of Redwings (40+) in the woods behaving in the same way as at Lavington, very skittish though.

Common Crossbill



Really liked this quote : "The easiest way to improve your photos is to adjust the loose nut between the shutter release and the ground."