Monday 25 February 2013

Ticking Off

Today was about getting a few ticks under the belt as my compatriot is rapidly catching up with me. Time to put a few points between us with some bankers. First up was Selsey Bill where large movements of birds had been reported yesterday. Well, with an offshore breeze and little swell there were few birds to be seen, although I did manage Slavonian Grebe, Great Northern Diver, Black-throated Diver, Common Scoter and Red Breasted Merganser. 

I hung around for a couple of hours but nothing developed, it was ominous when one of the fishing boats making for Littlehampton was being followed by only three gulls. Andrew House turned up and despite scanning the horizon for several minutes failed to find anything - "Just the same as Saturday" he said. I can't believe that I dipped on a Red-throated Diver - where have they all gone??

Next up was Church Norton, all the usual suspects out on the water, several Goldeneye and a huge flock of Knot. The leucistic Curlew, even at a distance, stuck out like the proverbial sore thumb. I swear it's going a delicate shade of pink.

I dropped into the Visitor Centre mainly because I wanted to check the Ferry Pool for Avocets, none present but in the distance another banker - Stock Dove, they can always be found at the back of the pool or in the fields down the West side. Then a walk down the west side, no Beardies but over in the fields four Red-legged Partridge and finally right at the end of the creek , seven Avocets.

A long way off but still a welcome sight

On the way home I diverted to Drayton House, plenty of wildfowl including Gadwall, but nothing to make the pulse quicken. Finally a quick trip down the Warningcamp/Wepham road looking for swans and geese, on up to the Burgh which gave a close encounter with a Red Kite and the final tick of the day, a pair of Grey Partridges. So at the end of a morning birding the total was 62 species giving 9 year ticks - not bad for a cold grey day.

Friday 22 February 2013


On a day when most sane birders would be sat in front of the fire with a copy of The Gulls of Europe, Asia and North America  I was stood on the North Wall at Pagham. With an air temperature of 2 degrees and a brisk North Easter blowing right along the wall, birders were in short supply. In fact the only other person resembling an avian enthusiast was Andrew House, I assume he  is as brave (daft) as I am to venture forth in such conditions. Even Andrew's dog didn't seem to be relishing being out for a walk in "brass monkey" weather. I hunkered down behind the Salthouse hoping that something would turn up, the only action was two Grey Plovers contesting a forlorn piece of mud right in front of the sluice, a Redshank occasionally joined in but wasn't really committed to a territorial dispute.


Then the customary blue flash and things brightened up considerably, a Kingfisher doing the rounds of both sides of the sluice posed for a photograph. After several hours of being stood in the cold even this colourful lady couldn't keep me from returning home to a large mug of steaming hot tea - roll on spring!

Meanwhile back at home, Wilf, or more probably great grandson of Wilf, was tucking in to the sunflower hearts again!

Monday 18 February 2013

Penduline Tit

An early start as Martin and I trekked to the far end of Kent to "twitch" the highly visible Penduline Tit at Stodmarsh. This very small bird was on view from the moment we arrived although not always close, anyway we managed some shots and were very grateful for a rarity as a year tick.


The plan was to get the PT in the bag and then travel to Dungeness and the coast for several other specifically targeted birds. However, as always, a swift change of plan found us wading through heavy mud to the Marsh hide at Stodmarsh to get a glimpse of two very distant Water Pipits, apparently 30+ were reported over the weekend.

Two ticks and the rest of a gloriously sunny day to find more hidden treasures. At Dungeness on the way to the ARC hide we were treated to flybys of Marsh Harrier and Great White Egret. Out on the water locating the red headed Smew was relatively simple but it did manage a rapid disappearing act before I got the camera out. Two Goldeneye were doing the business in front of the hide and on completion of the nuptials the female came fairly close to the hide.


A quick glance at the fields behind Boulderwall gave just Canada Geese and a rack of Curlews, we couldn't resist a peek at the Tree Sparrows but alas they weren't really playing today, most of them deep under cover.

On, On they say and we made Scotney Pit by 3pm to find both the drake and female Scaup on the far side of the lake, susbsequent analysis of the maps show that these birds were actually on the Sussex side of the border, not only a tick but a Sussex tick, albeit on the eastern part of the county. Twenty minutes later we were on the roadside of Pett Level examining a flock of Greylag Geese and sure enough within the group we found the previously reported 4 Pink Footed Geese. Unfortunately no sign of the White Fronts


At least two of the Greylag Geese were ringed.

Ringed Greylag "H3L"

Ringed Greylag "Y3N"

So there we have it, a great day's birding with 5 year ticks and dry, warm and sunny weather to boot.

Saturday 16 February 2013

A Day of Two Halves

First light found  me at the sluice on the North Wall at Pagham, Dave Shepherd had phoned me last night to say that he had found an "odd" diving duck in the creek and was seeking help in trying to identify it. Given Dave's track record I had no hesitation in going to have a look.  In the grey light I managed to locate two small diving birds in the channel, the first proved to be a Little Grebe, the other much more distant bird, was a small dark duck with the appearance of being "half submerged". However it beat a hasty retreat and I couldn't get any more identifying features, very frustrating. I hung around for four hours hoping for a return but unfortunately no more sightings, not helped by two inconsiderate "birders" walking out to the edge of the creek.

 I relieved the tedium of waiting by trying to get a shot of the very active Kingfisher which gave several flybys. In the rife there was a reclusive Water Rail which I tracked back into Breech Pool, quite a dark plumaged bird. On the pool itself there were the usual suspects plus two pairs of Shovelers and a single Snipe. The Wigeon that had relocated from the harbour went walkabout as if on cue.

One day I will get perfect light, distance and composition all at the same time!

Walkabout Wigeon

If you recognise yourself - thanks you inconsiderate *******

The second half of the day found me sat in the garden in pleasantly mild conditions with hazy sunshine. Just a few days of warmer weather has got the birds active. The Blue Tits are sparking and our nest box has been claimed but I am not sure of the tenants as there appear to be three at the moment - one will have to go. We have had a visiting pair of Coal Tits throughout the winter and as I sat on the patio they came to the feeders less than ten feet away. I have no idea of which is male or female but there appeared to be a pecking order, what I assumed to be the male visits the feeder first whilst the other bird perches a few feet away, moving in to feed when the other leaves.

The Goldcrests have reverted to their normal feeding behaviour, foraging for insects in the Christmas tree. The suet feeders definitely being a second preference, at least they have been sustained for almost four weeks since the snow came.

Thursday 14 February 2013

Snow Bunting

A mid-afternoon posting by Nick Bond on SOS of a Snow Bunting on Ferring Beach had me bundling the camera into the car and going hotfoot to Groyne No.4. I say hotfoot more hobbling as I am incapacitated at the moment through a careless accident.

I parked on the sea front road and there in the distance were Dorian Mason and Dave Smith, a sure sign that I was in the right place. A most obliging bird - a year tick and a record shot just so I have the necessary proof. Thanks Nick - lovely bird.

I did my best to alert Martin but I suspect that he was off "owling"

Tuesday 12 February 2013


Today's plan was simple, as the weather forecast was for grey clag all day with nary a hint of sunshine,  best to use the day to get a tick of a bird where there is no hope of getting close for photography - wrong again!!

So we opened up at Lakeside, Eastleigh for an oft reported and oft missed Hawfinch. No sooner had we arrived than a bird flew into the tops of the birch trees next to the path that runs from the miniature train terminal to the visitor centre. Its stay was short lived, in fact I didn't manage to get the camera out before it left. At least Martin got a record shot.

After waiting a few minutes for it to reappear we decided to cut and run to Mercer Way in Romsey where there had been reports of a flock of birds. Within minutes of arriving we had located several birds, in fact it was impossible to miss them as there were so many present. I reckon that 30 would be a conservative count, probably more, Whilst these birds are fairly skittish and mobile they do come down from the tree tops to forage in the leaf litter and drink from the puddles. There are also large amounts of Chaffinches and several Bramblings mixing with the flocks. When we took our lunch in the car, two Hawfinches came to feed within 15 feet of the car, of course the cameras were in the boot.

A great shame that the weather was so dull, pushing the limits of the camera doesn't help as most of the shots are noisy or not sharp, however I have posted them as it was such an unusual day. If you have a burning desire to see Hawfinches then this is the place to go.

The usual view of a Hawfinch - up in the tops.
....and another.

Much better to see them on the ground.......

....and in the bushes.


Birds everywhere!!

Thursday 7 February 2013

Barn Owls

It was like Torvill without Dean, Smith without Wesson and Morecambe without Wise, or as my wife said unkindly Tweedledum without Tweedledee. Unfortunately Martin called me this morning and said he was indisposed therefore I was on my own (get well soon - I miss the banter). First problem - What to do?? We had planned to visit some Sussex Commons and then on to Waltham Brooks for another shot at the Barn Owls. Finally, I  decided to stick with the plan and made my way to Ambersham Common; to say it was lifeless would be an understatement, hardly a bird moving, though the Chaffinches are finding their voices. The lack of birds gave me an opportunity to explore some of the common's flora but I soon became bored and decided to move on.
I wasn't hopeful that any other common or heath would be more productive so I decided to make an early start at Waltham Brooks, giving me a chance to call in to the SF where Martin had previously found plenty of birds. I soon located a couple of Chiffchaffs who duly obliged, most odd ticking that box so early in the year.

I was concentrating on getting some Long-tailed Tits in the viewfinder when I was aware of a much bigger bird flying by - Barn Owl  - at 1300 precisely. I eventually located him sat on a fence post by the railway line, too distant for a shot.

Photographing owls is one of the most self delusional pastimes available to the birding photographer. Low light, high ISO, mobile and largely distant targets are a recipe for soft and noisy captures. The self delusion comes from the view you have on the LCD screen, what appears to be the action shot of the year on downloading to the computer, becomes another discard. Presented below are what I managed to rescue - and I thought I was doing so well.

There are definitely four owls present, probably five as I disturbed one on a fence post in the car park. On the way back to the car park an added bonus as I flushed a Bittern from the bank of the old canal.