Sunday, April 13, 2014

Heathland Birds

As most of us know, or maybe, in my opinion, should I say; Heathland birding can be pretty dull. I have spent many hours plodding around this unique habitat and more often than not - its pretty un-birdy. A Stonechat off in the distance, maybe a glimpse of a skulking warbler and if your lucky, a churring Nightjar in the right month. I am painting a bad picture of course, but, as with anything, timing is key. Today my timing was perfect. In fact, it has been one of my most 'happiest' birding days that I can remember. No massive species list, 29 to be exact. And no mega rarities. Just killer looks at some very cool birds.

I'll try keep the waffle down and let the pictures do the talking, however, I should give you the basics. Ash Ranges is just outside of Pirbright in Surrey. Though this land is used by the military; when the red flags are down the public have access. Though I had heard of this place I had never actually birded it. It was on my friend, Dave Baker's recommendation that I was here today and I am very grateful for his advice. On arrival I had Willow Warbler, Chiffchaff, Coal Tit, Dunnock, Goldcrest and Robin before I got out of the car. On entering the heath, right on Que, as Dave said; a male REDSTART was singing. This species goes into my 'candy bird' category - bloody stonking birds! Got great looks at this individual and tallied 3 in total.

Before walking up the trail I picked up Tree Pipit, new species for the year.

About 15 minutes later I was finally getting good looks at a bird I have loved and admired since childhood: DARTFORD WARBLER. This notoriously skulky heathland specialty allowed me some fleeting views into its secretive world..'it can't get any better than this?'...I was wrong...

Further up the trail a few Linnets crossed my path along with a singing Woodlark!

At this point I was completely content and wished for nothing more. 20 minutes later a Cuckoo landed in a snag opposite me and began to call...

After ogling the recent African arrival I headed back to the car, picking up my first Swallow of the year.

To round things off, as if I hadn't been spoiled enough, I got got killer views of a male Stonechat.

Now that was a very good day...

Monday, March 31, 2014

Baikal Teal

It didn't take me too long to make a decision based on choice. Stay at home and assemble Ikea furniture? - Or drive 2 1/2 hours north to Cambridgeshire for two rare wildfowl. At 06:30 am (5:30 am really as the clocks went back) Dave Baker and I headed out for a double-twitch agenda. Our first stop was at Fen Drayton RSPB reserve, where after a short walk, we connected with a stunning male Siberian rarity: Baikal Teal! This mega rarity was reported to Rare Bird Alert on Saturday but, apparently, had been around for two weeks. 

As you can see from these pictures, the bird was on the other side of Moore Lake. Regardless of quality, it was great to see this mega and get a few record shots. After this we headed to The Ouse Washes RSPB where we connected with a male American Wigeon. Though this bird was slightly closer than the teal, it didn't allow me to get any photos as it grazed; only popping its head up from time to time. Other species of interest included: Bittern, Cetti's Warbler, Marsh Harrier, Goldeneye, Whooper Swan and Red Kite - seen M1 en-route home.

Thursday, March 27, 2014

Birding Local

Boldermere Lake - Ockham
Instead of racing around the country twitching other peoples rarities, I decided to challenge myself to see as many species as possible within an hours drive of home. I didn't go crazy, I just plodded around a few sites and had a fantastic day. I birded from 07:00 am to 7:00 pm and recorded 78 species. My day started with a walk along the canal from Tannery Lane to Papercourt Lock - Walsham Gates; adding 19 species. I already got 14 before I got in my car and 5 en-route. Of note: Little Owl, Mandarin vocalizing at the entrance of a nesting site, female also present. Stock Dove and Ring-necked Parakeet squabbling over cavity rights, a pair of Kestrel displaying together, Stonechat holding territory, Mute Swan on eggs and many other birds in song. 

Great Grey Shrike
A quick pit-stop at Manor Lake and Papercourt Lake added a few more species but not as many as I hoped. Thursley Common was next on the agenda. A very worthy stop with 7 cool species including Great Grey Shrike. 40 minutes down the road I hit Pulborough RSPB reserve and though it added 11 species I felt a little waders except Lapwing. 

My final efforts when back in Surrey was a fly-by stop at Boldermere Lake in Ockham where I added Coal Tit before heading back to Papercourt Water Meadows: here I got Barn Owl, 70 Golden Plover fly over and fantastic calling Tawny Owl as I was about to leave. A thoroughly enjoyable and rewarding day. Highlights included The Mandarin Duck, Great Crested Grebe dancing together and a cracking look a male Bullfinch.

The Perks of Pulborough RSPB Reserve

1. Mute Swan
2. Greylag Goose
3. Canada Goose
4. Egyptian Goose
5. Shelduck
6. Mandarin
8. Teal
9. Mallard
10. Pintail
11. Shoveler
12. Tufted Duck
13. Pheasant
14. Cormorant
15. Little Egret
16. Grey Heron
17. Little Grebe
18. Great Crested Grebe
19. Goshawk (undisclosed)

20. Buzzard
21. Kestrel
22. Moorhen
23. Coot
24. Golden Plover 70
25. Lapwing
26.Curlew (Thursley Common)
27. Black-headed Common
28. Common Gull
29. Herring Gull
30. Rock Dove
31. Stock Dove
32. Wood Pigeon
33. Collared Dove
34. Ring-necked Parakeet
35. Barn Owl
36. Tawny Owl
37. Little Owl
38. Green Woodpecker
39. Great Spotted Woodpecker
40. Great Gray Shrike (Thursley Common)
41. Magpie
42. Jay
43. Jackdaw
44.Carrion Crow
45. Rook
46. Raven
47. Goldcrest
48. Blue Tit
49. Great Tit
50. Coal Tit
51. Woodlark (Thursley Common)
52. Skylark
53. Long-tailed Tit
54. Chiffchaff
55. Blackcap
56. Nuthatch
57. Wren
58. Starling
59. Blackbird
60. Song Thrush
61, Mistle Thrush
62. Redwing
63. Robin
64. Stonechat (Papercourt Water Meadows)
65. Wheatear (Thursley Common)
66. Dunnock
67. House Sparrow
68. Pied Wagtail
69. Meadow Pipit
70. Chaffinch
71. Greenfinch
72. Goldfinch
73. Linnet
74. Lesser Redpoll
75. Common Crossbill
76. Bullfinch
77. Yellowhammer
78. Reed Bunting

Monday, March 17, 2014

Great Spotted Cuckoo

There are certain species that simply set your pulses racing! Of course, its all relative, but this species did it for me. Admittedly, I didn't think I was 'actually' going to go for it, as it was in south-west Wales! I just wanted to. It was found on Tuesday 11th and by Saturday the 15th I decided (i got the green light from a very kind and understanding wife) to go for it. This great news was unfortunately interrupted by the fact that the latest update stated it had flown across the ocean and was gone. This actually felt relieving, as I could stop thinking about it. This was short lived; early evening the bird was back at the original site. I was going.

A 4:30 am departure put us on site (ssw ofTenby) at 8:30 am; and by 8:39 am I was looking at my lifer GREAT SPOTTED CUCKOO!! While there the bird spent most of its time on the ground, foraging in the bracken and successfully locating caterpillars. At the same time the local Meadow Pipits made this intruder feel less than welcome. A worthy twitch for a fantastic bird....

Tuesday, March 11, 2014


Admittedly I didn't go out to photograph this bird. I actually drove from Woking to Sandwich Bay in Kent on Sunday (9th March 2014) in hope of connecting with another missing tick on my UK list: Shorelark. My day started well; birding with the Tice's Meadow crew for the morning in Surrey. Then a rather boring drive out to coastal Kent; first stop Sandwich Bay. Two reported Shorelark were on my agenda, though, alas, they remained out of sight for my duration. That's consistency; I've missed them in Norfolk, Suffolk and now Kent. It did, however, give me an opportunity to get up close and personal with one of my favorite and iconic farmland birds: Skylark. This chunky songster is more often heard singing from the heavens than foraging feet away from greedy birders. 

These shots were taken with my Iphone through my spotting scope using a Kowa adapter and cable release shutter. After nearly two hours of searching for Shorelark, I headed north to Ramsgate Cemetery for Hume's Yellow-browed Warbler. Another hour vigil and not a peep. Went home. Beautiful Spring sunshine all day, no regrets on missed birds; maybe next time. :)

Sunday, March 2, 2014

Little Owl

Nice views of one of my favorite birds; Little Owl, today down on my local patch. Though the light wasn't great for photos, I was happy with the results.

Lesser Spotted Woodpecker

Nemesissomething that a person cannot conquer, achieve, etc.: The performance test proved to be my nemesis. That about sums up my relationship with the Lesser Spotted Woodpecker. Shameful as it IS, I have failed to connect with this bird in the UK. How can someone have Dusky Thrush on their British List and not Lesser Spot? Its possible; cos I did it. However, that is now longer the case. While hiking in the Brecon Beacons on Saturday 22nd February 2014, i got a text from my birding pal Dave Baker informing he had found a pair. Great news! So, after a 2 1/2 hour drive back from Cardiff Sunday morning I met Dave at a private location in Surrey. Here we got TWO males and a female. Had absolutley fantastic views and it really was worth the wait. Thanks Dave!

View from Fan y Big looking back at Cribyn, Pen y Fan and Corn Du in The Brecon Beacons Wales

My only contact with this elusive species was in 1999 when we caught and ringed one at the biological station in Rybachy Russia.

Monday, February 10, 2014

Red-flanked Bluetail

Had an amazing start to the weekend with a cracking Red-flanked Bluetail in Gloucester. This individual had been found earlier in the week but I wasn't able to try for it until Friday. I packed my scope and bins and took them with me to work; 12:30 soon came and I was on the M4 heading west. 2 1/2 hours later I was slipping on my wellies and heading for the bird!

There were birders walking back to their cars, triumphant and casual as I clumsily panted my way up the hill. There claims of 'no need to run mate, its showing well' were ignored as the only time I was going to slow down was when I connected with this bucket list bird. To be fair, they were right. As soon as I arrived I immediately 'got on the bird', and started to adjust my heart rate. 

This individual was moving in between two trees, occasionally dropping to the floor to collect meal-worms left by some birders. The drive and effort was well worth it! That is more than can be said for the gong-show on Saturday. I clocked up 400 miles target birding in Norfolk. Two hours walking sand dunes in Great Yarmouth for Shorelark - dipped. 1 1 /2 hours south of Holt waiting for Parrot Crossbill - nothing. Forty minutes in brutal wind looking for Richard's Pipit on the coast - drum roll......nope. Good job Friday was success!

Sunday, January 5, 2014

Glossy Ibis - in SURREY

Connected with a GLOSSY IBIS today (5th January 2014) near Frencham Village in Surrey. This bird was first reported on the 2nd but I didn't try for it until yesterday afternoon. My efforts went unrewarded but that doesn't matter now. This morning Lori and I headed back to Frencham where we met with lots of happy looking birders and yes, Glossy Ibis!

This very cool and rare bird to the area was feeding and preening on the other side of a flooded meadow. I believe this is the first twitchable Glossy Ibis for Surrey. The other record was in 1833 I think; hence its popularity with Surrey County listers. A good trickle of people were coming and going including a few of the Tice's Meadow crew - taking a well earned break from work party duties - good to see you Dave Baker and Rich Horton!

Tice's Meadow Crew

Tufted Duck - Frencham Great Pond