Tuesday 23 September 2014

Splish Splash - Chiffchaff

During this prolonged dry spell I have made sure that the birdbath is regularly topped up. Most of the garden species use it for a drink or a bath, the Blue Tits prefer to bathe alone, the House Sparrows and Starlings communally and the Wood Pigeons just make a mess. Whilst catching up on garden chores I was aware that there was a Chiffchaff flitting in and out of the garden, not least from his frequent calls. As always, I had the camera available and sure enough he came into drink and I duly snapped away. It appeared he was desperate for a bath but every time he started he spooked himself and took to hiding in the crab apple tree. Finally he plucked up courage to take the plunge, as it were, and had a thorough drenching. I am reluctant to anthropomorphise but whilst processing the images I had a distinct impression that he didn't really enjoy it.




Monday 22 September 2014

Red-backed Shrike and Dartford Warbler

Back on home turf, well nearly, as we started our day down in Hampshire looking for a Wryneck which, unfortunately, we couldn't find. A shame as on our local patch Trevor, the Pagham Birder was capturing some stunning shots - see here. In fact all we could find were a worn Small Copper ab caerulapunctata, several misplaced Redshanks and a wandering Grey Seal.

Redshanks on Budd's Sewage Farm
Small Copper, Lycaena phlaeas ab caerulapunctata - with small blue spots on the hindwing.

Then Martin unselfishly suggested we visit Sandy Point on Hayling Island for a Red-backed Shrike. He had seen this bird during the previous week but knew that I needed it for a year tick - so off we went. Locating the bird wasn't difficult but on our approach we were somewhat distracted by Stonechats and at least two Dartford Warblers. The nature reserve here is fenced and you have to rely on the birds coming close to you rather than the reverse. Consequently all the shots are from distance and are pretty heavy crops.

Finally we washed up on the North Wall at Pagham were we learned news of another Wryneck and made haste to where it had been found. Alas, the same old story - should have been here earlier. I suspect that we flushed it from the brambles on our way back to Breech Pool but no one got a clear view and certainly no positive ID

One more photograph - for Dave Shepherd, of the Dassault Falcon 20 (G-FRAI) which had been flying over Portsdown and Hayling Island during the morning. Serious amount of antennas and pods on the belly and wings.

Thursday 18 September 2014

Dulnain Dipper

I started the day before first light, a heavy mist hung over everything, not a good omen. However, being an optimist I made my way to Tulloch Moor just in case there were any Black Grouse about. The short answer is yes but I couldn't even see the lek with visibility down to less than fifty yards. I heard two birds but saw nothing. Another downside was the midges were about in numbers and yet again tormented me until a gentle breeze got up. I thought the breeze would clear the mist, not a bit of it, it got thicker and I have to admit I became totally disoriented. I had parked the car on the road and I was less than 200 yards away and I couldn't find it. Luckily I had reccied the venue previously and a familiar dead tree provided a clue. Embarrassed I found the car and the fear of the news headline "Senile Birder found wandering on moor" receded.

I had packed the makings for breakfast in the car so made my way over to Loch Insh to sit on the beach below Kincraig Church and dine in superb surroundings. I was hoping that the friendly Red Squirrel, discovered by Dawn and Jim, would pay me a visit. Unfortunately she wasn't in residence but another one gave me a cursory glance and refused my offerings of peanuts. As I left I flushed a Green Woodpecker from the graveyard, not a common bird in Scotland so I was happy with the tick.

Driving through Inshriach Forest I managed another life tick, a Pine Marten crossed in front of me and dived into the stone wall at the side of the road. A glimpse that lasted all of three seconds, perhaps the gloom generated by the mist encouraged him to continue his nocturnal activities into the day. On this road there is a place that you simply cannot pass, Inshriach Nursery and the Potting Shed. They have the best bird feeders in the area but not only that, the cakes and coffee are second to none. Even though breakfast had been just an hour previous, I found enough room for a small slice of chocolate and raspberry cake with a dash of cream - washed down with a cafetiere of superb coffee. Just pay a visit and you will see what I mean.

Visits to Tromie Bridge and  Feshiebridge failed to raise a Dipper so I made my way to the layby adjacent to the Dulnain River. Situated just west of Dulnain Bridge on the A938 it is an ideal venue for spotting Dippers and Grey Wagtails, and luckily both were present but of course on the other side of the river.

I sat on the stone wall and watched the Dipper preening, obviously having just completed a feeding foray. After a period of inactivity, the hunt for food continued, it spent lots of time with it's head under water, sometimes completely underwater and dashing to catch a caddis or stonefly larva. Then it emerged with a small fish which proved to be a trout, the bird then held the fish by the tail and beat it senseless against the stones. The dead fish was washed and then the bird attempted to swallow it whole, a fruitless attempt as the fish was plainly too large to go down. I then watched the bird spend the next five minutes battering its meal to a pulp on the same stones. Firstly the head came off, then the insides were greedily disposed off until finally the remaining torso disappeared. Absolutely fascinating to watch.

This small video I put on Flickr gives the flavour of the action - Dulnain Dipper

The light under the trees was poor so the pictures are not the best quality but I thought well worth capturing.

Nothing like a good scratch....
...and a stretch.
There's food here somewhere.

Got one!!!
Post prandial posing and calm reflection


View from the layby

Wednesday 17 September 2014

Ptarmigan - a "lifer"

After the long day's pelagic I decided that a lie-in was in order, a lazy start to the day with no pre-conceived ideas of what to do. The weather on the east coast precluded sea watching - just thick clag obscuring everything. So, as dawn broke I was warm and snug under the duvet when I glanced out the hotel room window - thick mist - that means a clear sky on the tops. A quick check on the weather forecast on the BBC website and I was into gear. All the kit loaded in record time and a hasty but large breakfast, the energy was going to be needed.

Ptarmigan have been on the top of my wanted list for some time, the only problem is my worn out knees and dodgy foot, plus of course my advancing years and just a modicum of extra weight mean that mountain climbing has not been one of my major activities. Anyway with perfect conditions I decided to give Cairn Gorm a go. Dave Slater had informed me that I could pre-purchase a "down" ticket for the funicular before I walked up and thus save my legs on the descent. I arrived at the base station just after 0800 and dropped into the Ranger station just to check up on conditions, the Head Ranger was very helpful and informed me that 70 Ptarmigan had been seen two days previous at Coire Cas. Now numbers that big are unusual  so I decided to start up without waiting for the ticket office to open. With a glorious blue sky and virtually zero wind how could I wait for an hour in the car park? So off I went. It isn't really a climb or an "ascent", more like a very steep hill walk that seems never ending. Looking back down,the mist hung over Strathspey  and the sun was warm and bright on the tops.

Silver cloaked Strathspey bathed in early morning sunshine.
Just after the first funicular station I was seriously mocked by a Red Grouse. He sat on the snow fence and poured scorn on my sweaty and puffing progress up the hill. "Go Back - Go Back - Go Back" he shouted - so I took out my camera and shot him!

On and on, with just the occasional pause, I was beginning to doubt my abilities but when I reached the start of the Coire Cas arctic trail my spirits lifted.  I was a bit puffed and I had been shedding clothing at regular intervals - time for a pause, so I sat on a rock, removed my boots for a "sock adjustment". Suddenly from out of nowhere an unmistakeable "screwdriver" call of a male Ptarmigan. Hastily putting on my boots - on the correct feet - I looked over the snow fence and found three "coveys" of Ptarmigan, neatly ten to each group.

Trails divide here

Am I Fit?? You must be joking - but Ptarmigan are a big incentive

Coire Cas trail - the Ptarmigan were to the left of the trail - some picked up grit here. Boulder field to the right behind the ski lift

Having got over the shock I worked out a strategy for getting closer, firstly getting below them so I could approach uphill, and then getting the light right for photography. Ha!
I soon realised that if you stand up they move away, sit down and they stay still. So it was revert to the "commando" style again, creeping across extremely wet heather on my belly - thank God no one else was about.

No matter what manoeuvres I made they seemed very jittery and continued to move south west into the boulder field, naturally I followed, dropping downhill again and trying to head them off. At this point I realised that a conservative estimate would be 50 plus birds, given their ability to blend in with the stones there could have been many more. Staggering!

Always moving away
 Finally I nailed a male - sat on a rock and calling for all he was worth and unconcerned by my presence. I managed to get within 10 yards but the light was now fading and the interminable misty drizzle had started. At last he got fed up with me and took flight to join his mates who by now were on the scree slopes and getting higher by the minute.

Someone was getting some easy meals though I didn't see any raptors all the time I was up there.

The boulders provide perfect cover.
Time to go, down the hill the sun was shining and after all that excitement I needed a coffee.
Just as when I came up the Red Grouse jumped onto the snow fence to bid me goodbye - same old "Go back" routine.

The easy way down - perhaps next time when the snow is on the ground.

Cairn Gorm looking up from the start of the path - covered in cloud as usual
Having recharged my batteries I visited the Abernethy Forest in search of places to be checked on our winter visit. Plenty of birds to be found but none willing to sit and pose. The Capercaillie will be hard to find without inside knowledge but I am working on that.

Over in the distance the sound of a steam train reminded me that I must keep up the tradition of photographing a "choo choo" for Kevin. I arrived at "Glenbogle" with minutes to spare before the 1545 left for Aviemore, this time pulled by E.V. Cooper, Engineer. Sorry they are not the best composed shots - no time to get a platform ticket.