Saturday, September 10, 2016

Dungeness - Buff-breasted Sandpiper

I'll have to remind myself about the fortuitousness nature of this one and how it went some way to banishing the disappointments of recent failed missions.  A little late starting out after Friday drinks yesterday evening, the head was feeling a little tender, but the plan was to get out and see something new.

A Buff-breasted Sandpiper had arrived at Dungeness yesterday afternoon and was still present this morning.  The weather wasn't great in London but was agreeably pleasant on the promontory of Dungeness, warm sunshine coupled with a keen but warm southerly breeze.

I decided to head for the Makepeace Hide where the neartic wader had been reliably observed during the length of its short stay.  It was picked up distantly on one of the islands half way out on Burrowes Pit where it was evident that the bird was extremely mobile.  I decided to stay put while the other birders made for the Firth hide.

It was only after a couple of minutes or so when I picked up the sandpiper right in front of the hide.  Bizarrely, there was no one else with me to share the moment.  Predictably, it took flight and headed further along the pit where it fed voraciously along the edge of the shingle, had a quick wash, and then headed off high to the west.  It was not seen again!

Also on the shingle islands were a scattering of Dunlin and Ringed Plover, and at least one Little Stint.  Four Black Tern were present in front of the hide.

The walk round the reserve was a soporific one, no passerines of note, but three Great White Egret were present on Denge Marsh along with a Ruff, four Marsh Harrier, and 12 Common Snipe.

At Boulderwell Farm, the Cattle Egret finally showed itself as it perched up on a gate before flying across to the ARC Pit.  Three Little Egret completed the hat-trick.

Five Bar-tailed Godwit were roosting on islands from the Hanson ARC hide.

The NNR down the road was particularly quiet apart from two Northern Wheatear and two Arctic Skua past the seawatching hides.

Sunday, August 28, 2016

Baird's Sandpiper

Today was a mega day!  A day full of Waders.

The Baird's Sandpiper at Coldharbour Lagoon gratefully remained into the weekend.  A 25 minute walk from the Reculver Towers car park along the Viking Trail to a modest stretch of pools located between the path and the river wall.  En route, a surprise Great Skua flew west close into the shoreline momentarily dropping onto the calm waters before lethargically heading off west.

The Lagoons held a small selection of waders including six Ringed Plover, Redshank, Greenshank, Little Stint, two Dunlin, and of course our American friend.  The bird showed brilliantly despite the disturbance of passing cyclists and vocal birders that included myself and Adam Hudson whom I was thrilled to meet.

We both headed back seeing Yellow Wagtail, a single Northern Wheatear, and a Turnstone posing on the exposed rocks.

After a late lunch and cake in Margate with Kat and her friend, we headed over to Oare Marshes.  This place is insanely good.  A festival for Waders.  Waderfest.  The East Flood was packed with waders, everywhere, and with so much variety.

Most numerous were Black-tailed Godwit, but the highlight were a dozen or so Curlew Sandpiper, three or four of which were still holding onto their precious summer plumage.  Such little crackers.

Two Little Stint flew in, but the wader selection included conservative counts of 15 Avocet, single Green Sandpiper, crazy numbers of Redshank, maybe 20 or so Spotted Redshank, 10+ Ruff, 5+ Bar-tailed Godwit, 10+ Golden Plover, 20+ Dunlin, and a single Common Snipe.  This put my cumulative wader count over the course of the weekend to 19 species.

Then there was the little matter of the returning adult winter Bonaparte's Gull that was casually feeding on the shore left exposed by the receded tide.

Work can be a frustrating place to be when the joys of the natural world beckon, but the odd weekend like this can provide the perfect anti-dote to corporate incarceration.

Saturday, August 27, 2016

Rainham Marshes

A lovely but hasty walk round the reserve on a warm and humid morning yielded a couple of juvenile Sandwich Tern on the river which was a well overdue first for London.

The old landfill held three Northern Wheatear where two Yellow Wagtail flew over.  A Hobby then shot through low towards Aveley Bay.  A couple of Common Sandpiper called as they flicked low over the Thames.

There were plenty of waders.  At least 25 Black-tailed Godwit, three Ruff, a Wood Sandpiper, Green Sandpiper, four Greenshank, Redshank, and several Snipe.  A lone Curlew sat on the receding tide on Aveley Bay and there were at least two Yellow-legged Gull there.

A male and female Marsh Harrier were quartering the fields over Wennington, but I inexplicably missed a flyover Osprey.

Tuesday, August 16, 2016

Isles of Scilly

So some words about this trip.  The Isles of Scilly are magical and it was a joy to be back.  Someone did actually comment that I was there two months early.  Well my friend, I was bang on time because the place looked pristine in the radiant summer sun unadulterated by urban smog and the distemper of city life.  The highlight was a sun-soaked walk all the way round St Mary's with a convenient stop at Pelistry Bay to lie out on the golden sands and to remind myself that this was indeed the UK.

This time we opted to sail to the Isles as this time of year there are possibilities for rare seabirds and marine life.  The crossing was appreciably calm, and despite the overcast conditions, the sun was never totally hidden behind the thin veils of grey cloud.  It was a pleasant passage across, livened up with a pod of around 15 Common Dolphin flirting recklessly with the wake churned up from the boat.  A couple of Harbour Porpoise surfaced somewhere in the middle distance.  An Ocean Sunfish was also seen very close on the port side, but you had to be quick as the ferry made steady progress.

Birdlife was a little disappointing, but a couple of Storm Petrel were the best of seabirds.

This was the main reason for the Scilly trip, having booked a ticket on the Sapphire in the hope for some of our rarer seabirds.  The skipper headed out 11km southwest of the archipelago, cut the engine and the wait began.

Let's cover the sightings first.  A new bird came in the form of a juv Long-tailed Skua that flew round the boat a couple of times allowing Joe Pender to take some stunning photographs.  It's one of the many things he does best.  In addition, there were at least three Great Skua, a juv Kittiwake, and the imposing sight of two Blue Shark that were landed by the prolific fishermen.

The thing was, that I wish I could have appreciated it more.  What I discovered was that bobbing up and down on the choppy seas for three hours had a profound affect on my equilibrium.  I don't wish to labour the point but I hocked my guts out for much of our time there.  This was a little inconvenient, acutely embarrassing, and palpably frustrating.  At the time, I couldn't have given a flying fuck if a Wilson's had turned up.  In some ways, I'm glad it didn't - I'm not sure how much I would have appreciated it.  It was bad - I couldn't even bring my camera out to take any photographs without immediately feeling woozy.  Apparently this is normal for first-timers.  It was scant consolation.

Other sightings were ten Greenshank, a single Dunlin and Green Sandpiper on Porth Hellick, a couple of Willow Warbler on the Garrison, and two Northern Wheatear by the airfield on the island walk.  The Painted Lady above made an appearance on the final day.

Needless to say, I upgraded my ferry ticket to the comfort of a 15 minute flight back to the mainland.

Saturday, August 6, 2016

Minsmere and a Honey Buzzard

At long last.  It's only taken 24 years to see my first UK Honey Buzzard.  We returned back to Walberswick to the Westwood Lodge viewpoint, but today I felt positive that the bird would show.

Almost on cue at around 3.20pm, the HB was seen flying reasonably distantly being mobbed by a Hobby before flying left along the tree-line.  I appreciate that there is generally a degree of ID confusion between this and it's more ubiquitous cousin, but when you see it, it really is a different beast altogether.

Having lost it to view, the bird then reappeared much closer soaring with a Marsh Harrier before drifting off again.

Also on site was a Woodlark and a Red Kite.

Then it was onto Minsmere for a gentle stroll round the reserve where to the chagrin of many visiting birders, the Swamphen had disappeared overnight.  Typical of rare birds to do a bunk on a Friday night and I feel the pain of all the visiting birders hoping to connect with it.

From the North Wall, a pair of Stone Curlew were actively feeding a single young bird.

The skies were clear, and the warm sun coupled with a warm breeze made for a stunning afternoon.

There were plenty of common waders on the east scrape, with Black-tailed Godwit present in good numbers, accompanied by the Avocet, and around 15 Dunlin.  Also observed on site were seven Spotted Redshank, four Ruff, Green Sandpiper, two Common Sandpiper, Ringed Plover, three Little Ringed Plover.  At least 30 Little Gull settled on the scrape, many of which were seen flying offshore later in the evening.

Along the eastern shoreline, two returning juvenile Whinchat and a single young Wheatear were present.

Sunday, July 31, 2016

Minsmere - Western Swamphen

A lovely morning to have escaped the carnage of London for a day out in the wilds of the Suffolk coast.  We headed to Walberswick, taking in some fresh air with a walk along the beach and round the local nature reserve.  A Whimbrel was seen on the flashes by the beach and a Grey Seal was wrestling a decent catch a couple of hundred metres from the shoreline.

There was a target, inevitably, and the search for my first UK Honey Buzzard continues to elude me.  A bit late for the morning sighting, we returned mid-afternoon but with no luck which was particularly frustrating as it had been appearing around this time during the course of the week. A couple of Hobby were present here along with a juvenile Woodlark, and plenty of active Yellowhammer.

However, the 17th century St Andrews church in Walberswick really is an impressive building and was worth a wander round.

A few birders had assembled at the Westwood Lodge site (all waiting for their first HB sighting) when someone mentioned that a Western Swamphen had been seen at Minsmere.  I wasn't interested as it really didn't sound credible.  This potential first for Britain just a couple of miles down the road had to be an escaped bird, so I continued my search for the Buzzard.

During this time, I kept updating my Birdguides account and checking Twitter reporting regular sightings during the afternoon when around 4.30pm I caved in and headed round to the reserve.

There were plenty of birders there, and heading to a suitable vantage point, I immediately connected with the bird as it scampered across the back of the pool behind the South Hide and out of view.

A wait of around 20 minutes and it was then seen much closer in allowing a couple of panicked photos.  A really surreal moment, and funny how my luck swung round this time.

Quite an eventful day ended at the excellent Eels Foot where a Barn Owl hunted in fields behind the pub.

Saturday, July 30, 2016

White Stork

The White Stork had been present at Beddington Farmlands all week and what transpired to be two different individuals which really was an extraordinary turn of events.

My first White Stork for the UK was never actually observed on the ground having seen it first fly low over toward the landfill.  Later it reappeared but began to thermal and gain height before heading away south-east.  Bizarrely it returned a couple of days later.

These are the best of a really bad selection of photos.