Thursday, July 31, 2014

Breeding UK Bee-Eaters

On the 28th July, news broke that a pair of EUROPEAN BEE-EATER were breeding on the Isle of Wight.  This represented only the sixth attempted breeding record for the UK.  Of these, only two pairs have successfully fledged young with the last being back in 2002 when a pair nested in Durham.  A number of spring sightings had been recorded around coastal areas but despite their gaudy iridescent plumage, they can be notoriously difficult to pick up in flight. Having only seen Bee-Eaters abroad, I was keen to witness a piece of ornithological history here in the UK.

The breeding site is on National Trust land that has been heavily potected from the archaic, covert and idiotic threat of potential egg collectors.  To neutralise this risk, the NT in co-operation with the RSPB have established a watchpoint allowing the public to enjoy these enigmatic birds from a safe vantage point.

They are doing a great job.

The personal challenge was to negotiate an epic journey to the site by public transport, and this is how it went;

Hackney Downs to Liverpool Street - Train
Liverpool Street to Bank - Tube
Bank to Waterloo - Tube
Waterloo to Brockenhurst - Train
Brockenhurst to Lymington Pier - Train

Lymington to Yarmouth - Ferry

Yarmouth to Newport - Bus
Newport to Whitwell - Bus
Whitwell to Site - Walk

I was impressed with myself, but when I met a gentleman from Tottenham that had done pretty much the same thing, I felt like I had been the first person to conquer Everest only to find out that someone had summitted it five minutes before me.  Ok maybe not.

The key to this was the cost, a wapping £38.80 for a return trip.  Cheap at twice the price.  So off I went.

Just over six hours later, I was on site and immediately observed an adult sitting on wires devouring an unfortunate butterfly so adroitly captured.  The sun was strong but the breeze was relatively cool compared to what we have experienced here in London town over recent days.  The heat haze veiled a shimmering curtain across the middle distance, the bird itself was sat along wires viewed over the brow of a ridge bedecked with wild flowers.  The colours, profile, and behaviour were unmistakable.  This is such a beautiful bird.

A Bee-Eater (it's in the photo somewhere)

During the three hours spent on site, the pair of Bee-Eaters were regularly observed hunting for butterflies and dragonflies, they were most definitely feeding young.  How many is undetermined, but parenting nonetheless.  The aerial displays wowed the assembled crowd, soaring, twisting, darting for prey, hanging against the breeze, demonstrating the full repertoire of their hunting routines.  These were gold medal performances from a garish competitor.

Now here's an interesting theory I heard.  Apparently there are three adult birds on site, the pair and a helper considered to be a male bird.  This third individual is conceived to be a sibling of the male parent bird that helps to rear the young.  This is a rare occurrence in Bee-Eaters but not uncommon either.  This is unsubstantiated but interesting nonetheless.

So there we have it, a breeding pair of Bee-Eaters in the UK, on the lovely Isle of Wight, overseen by helpful staff.

I have everything crossed that this pair are successful.

Tuesday, July 29, 2014

Walthamstow Reservoirs - Damselflies and Dreamliners

Sunday afternoon, it's another lovely summers day and a convivial lunch at a quiet pub with friends in Islington.  Ignoring culinary sensibilities on such a balmy day, the roast dinner served up hit the spot perfectly as did the chilled white wine that flowed far too freely.  In this hot weather, mild inebriation was setting in.

The afternoon passed with inane conversation, the volume of our utterings rising with each alcoholic sip.  We stumbled out of the pub by late afternoon.  A quick glass of wine at a friends house, sat around pondering our next move. The four of us evidently unable to make any sensible decisions.  Half an hour later we were singing kareoke at Lucky Voice on Upper Street, mics in hand, silly oversized wigs obscuring our senses, and our moment to destroy all of our favourite songs.

Monday was a grey day.

Around ten days have passed since I last visited the patch.  It was a new day, lovely, warm, and I felt good. The reservoirs were beckoning me in and so this morning, I cycled along the Lea to see what was about.

The highlight of the day were the Red-Eyed Damselflies with up to five seen on Coppermill Stream including a a pair seen ovipositing on a Water Lily by the overflow.  The best location however were the ponds by the Car Park with at least four seen here.  These were my first ever, and a thrill to see them on the patch.  Other odonata seen today were Common Blue Damselfly, Blue-Tailed Damselfly, Brown Hawker, and Emporer Dragonfly.

Duck numbers have increased since my last visit with a rough total of 790 Tufted Duck counted across all the reservoirs (southern complex only), and 170 Common Coot on East Warwick.  A total of four Common Sandpiper were noted, with one on No.4, one on No.5, and two on East Warwick.  Hirundines were feeding in good numbers, 150+ Common Swift, 200+ Sand Martin, and 50+ House Martin.  Still no autumn Swallows.  There were two Grey Wagtail on No.5, and two Kingfisher seen in a dead tree at the north end of No.2, difficult to see whether any of these were juveniles fledged from the local nest site.

Young birds seen today were the Shelduck, Little Grebe, Common Pochard, and Little Egret, all on No.3, Common Tern on East Warwick, and Tufted Duck on No.5.  A Sparrowhawk was seen carrying prey south of West Warwick.

I sang all the way home.

Coppermill Stream

 Red-Eyed Damselfly

The rare sight of a Polish Airlines (LOT) 787 Dreamliner operating on LO281 from WAW turning towards LHR

Saturday, July 26, 2014

Rainham Marshes

A super hot day with plenty of wildlife on offer at Rainham Marshes.  Birding highlights were four Avocet, three Black-Tailed Godwit, a single Whimbrel, two Green Sandpiper, and a Greenshank.  A family of Bearded Tit were active around the Dragonfly Ponds with a couple of individuals seen darting in and out of the reeds.

Butterflies were plentiful with a Painted Lady that came to rest along the path towards the Woodland Discovery Zone, and a couple of Holly Blue preferring the shady areas of scrub.  Gatekeeper, Red Admiral, and Peacock, were active around the wildlife garden.

Dragonflies whizzed around the pools, Ruddy Darters illuminated the small ponds, Brown Hawkers zipped around the trees towards Woodland, and the Emporer Dragonflies ruled the reedbed.

A Grass Snake slincked through the pond by the Purfleet Hide.

 Mint Moth

Marsh Frog

Grass Snake

Ruddy Darter

Araneae sp. (TBC)

Monday, July 21, 2014

Oare Marshes - Bonaparte's Gull

Cycle to Stratford International, train to Faversham, cycle to the Oare Marshes.  Birding without a car is tiring, and not having secured my tripod properly, I was ready to throw the damn thing into a ditch as it relentlessly smashed against my knees as I pedalled like a mad bloke down to the reserve.  Arriving sweaty, blowing like a whale, I made my way up to the foreshore where the adult summer BONAPARTE'S GULL was indulging on a mudflat buffet, skipping along the swampy foreshore.  A lovely little gull complete with dark hood, white eye ring, an all dark bill, and diagnostically shorter-legged making it appear lower to the deck.  Very dapper.  Finally relaxed and happy to have made the journey tantrums aside.

Also there were four Whimbrel on the foreshore, and 93 Avocet, 450+ Black-Tailed Godwit, nine Ruff, Turnstone, Bearded Tit, juvenile Meditteranean Gull, and Yellow Wagtail all on the East Scrape.

A video of the gull eating spaghetti.

Thursday, July 17, 2014

Minsmere - Collared Pratincole

A super stunning day today.  It was warm with unrelenting sunshine and a refreshing sea breeze.  Just perfect.  Birding highlight was the COLLARED PRATINCOLE that finally gave itself up mid-morning flying across the scrape viewed from the East Hide, and then tracked high distantly where it fed voraciously on insects.  After around twenty minutes, the bird returned and inconveniently tucked itself behind one of the far islands.  An hour later, it was back up again and carried out an identical feeding sortie before returning back to the scrape predictably hiding itself once again.  A truly stunning bird with its chestnut underwing prominant against the brilliant light, the white leading edge clearly visible on long pointed wings as it flew erratically close to the hide.

Also on the scrape were a number of waders including 21 Dunlin, four Greenshank, three Green Sandpiper, four male Ruff, 50+ Black-Tailed Godwit, 50+ Avocet, five Ringed Plover, two Spotted Redshank, five Redshank, seven Common Sandpiper, a juv Little Ringed Plover, and a single Whimbrel.  There were also over 40 Little Gull present, most in summer plumage, eight Little Tern with young, and six Sandwich Tern.

From the South Hide a surprise Ruddy Duck was my first for a couple of years.  Along the tracks, parties of vocal Bearded Tit were seen well with young, and a single moulting drake Wigeon fed on the scrape.

Highlights were far from restricted to avifauna, moreover the diversity of lepidoptera and odonata provided  personal affirmation of the abundance and diversity of wildlife within this area.

An impressive total of 21 species of butterfly including my first PURPLE EMPEROR - actually a couple active over the tops of oaks seen occasionally gliding between the wooded fringes.  A White Admiral was seen briefly on the road out of Minsmere disappearing into the woodland, with Purple Hairstreak, GraylingSmall Copper, and Essex Skipper the other highlights.  Sadly no Scarce Tortoiseshell but I imagine more appearing over the next few days now that identification has become clearer to the untrained.

Ruddy Darter and Common Emerald Damselfly were odonata highlights on Minsmere.

Black-Tailed Godwit 

Flock of Dunlin 


Track towards visitor centre 

 Puss Moth Caterpillar

Small Copper

Tuesday, July 15, 2014

Breydon Water - Great Knot

Natural born twitchers.  This is perhaps one of the birding categories I don't fall into.  I am inclined to get on my high horse about the obsessive nature of twitching, the dark side of birding, listing, ticking, not appreciating what birds are part of.  Recognising the bigger picture.  It's a vice that grips and grips tight.

Check pager/phone, panic, few phone calls, drive, walk, anxiety, despair, bird, elation, tick.  It all appears to be a little perverse, but it is horribly addictive, and I am loathed to admit, that I get it.

Today not for the first time this year, I was involved in the chase.

The morning started early, the usual routine, wake up, grab phone (what have we become?), and a cursory glance at the early morning bird news.  I don't have a pager, as it doesn't serve my passive approach to chasing rare birds, so my birdguides app suits me fine.  Monday morning, three bold red exclamation marks, GREAT KNOT, Breydon Water, nice.

Flirting recklessly around the periphery of the twitching fraternity, and being awkwardly immobile in not owning a car, a mega bird sighting is usually met with a little sigh, a tinge of self-deprecation, before getting on with my day.

But then there's The Prof, kindly offering me the opportunity to see these rare birds for myself, for which I am extremely grateful.  For the time being, it is a relief not having to live vicariously in the pursuit of these ornithological anomalies.

So there we have it, a bird that breeds in the tundra of northeast siberia, and winters as far away as New Zealand finds itself pursued by hundreds of twitchers in Great Yarmouth.

Check pager/phone, panic, few phone calls, drive, walk, anxiety, despair, bird, elation, tick.  Beautiful!

Great Knot (courtesy of: Paul Whiteman)

Breydon Water

One or two excited twitchers

(other birds seen on Breydon Water, 100's of Avocet and Black-Tailed Godwit, half a dozen Bar-Tailed Godwit, eight Whimbrel, seven Dunlin, summer plumaged Golden Plover, Ringed Plover, two Spotted Redshank, Common Sandpiper, and six adult summer Mediterranean Gull).

Saturday, July 12, 2014

Walthamstow Reservoirs

A different kind of day today, warm, sunny, humid, lovely.  Birding however was just a little mundane.  A single Kingfisher, half a dozen juvenile Black Headed Gull over, a Kestrel, and Peregrine were about as much as I could find.  A pair of Mute Swan with a single cygnet was new.  Family groups of Blackcap and Common Whitethroat were feeding busily along Coppermill stream.

Outside bets for a Wood Sandpiper, a Spotshank maybe, but this is patch birding, and stuff like that never happens.

Friday, July 11, 2014

Walthamstow Reservoirs

Dull, oppressive, and dank describes well the guy that oversees the access to the reservoirs at the gatehouse, and the weather today was much similar.  It turned humid later on in the late afternoon for my walk round the southern complex where Sand Martin once again were feeding in numbers with an increase in House Martin.

Each visit is turning up a few oddities.  A leucistic Ring-Necked Parakeet over No.4 failed to add much needed colour to the grey skies whereas the Kingfisher by it's nestsite did at least add technicolour to the monochrome.

A Jay appeared out of a tree adjacent to East Warwick where a Lapwing flew over, a bird that I don't connect with very often around these parts.

East Warwick also had a notable increase of Coot with 110 counted here.  A family party of Common Whitethroat chased insects along the railway line, and a total of 15 Common Tern were counted over the Wawricks.

Family groups included a brood of Little Grebe, and Tufted Duck all with young recently fledged, and Shelduck with slightly more mature young on No.2.

Wednesday, July 9, 2014

Walthamstow Reservoirs

A cool partly cloudy morning with a brisk breeze blowing across the reservoirs.  The were plenty of Sand Martin feeding low over No.4 maybe around 70-80 birds there with good numbers of Common Swift.  A few House Martin were mixed in with them.

A Peregrine flew low over No.3 that appeared to have a broken leg but it safely landed onto one of the distant electricity pylons.

Three (2 adults and one cub) Red Fox were seen around the complex, one which sat low sheltering from the breeze.

A single Common Sandpiper fed along the edge of East Warwick.

On returning back towards the gatehouse, a female Red-Crested Pochard was seen roosting near to the large island on No.1.  A welcome patch first.

Tuesday, July 8, 2014

Walthamstow Reservoirs - Radiohead

The lull continues.  Standard patch birding with no surprises.  A warm morning with a few fluffy clouds, just the birding was a bit of a let down.  I can't really complain as these days I am feeling fitter happier, just need everything in its right place.  I do feel sometimes that I've been left high and dry.

When that morning bell sounds, there's just one place I want to go to start my day, with flowers still in bloom, and a courteous morning mr magpie before a languid creep round the patch.  Any time spent indoors these days would have me climbing up the walls.

Today I was optimistic.  There were greater numbers Sand Martin and House Martin noted, while Common Swifts were still around in good numbers.  A Kingfisher hunted for weird fishes on No.1 and a Peregrine was seen hunting west of the Warwicks before giving a good lesson on how to disappear completely.

Feral Canada Goose have been present in large numbers along the banks of East Warwick, where Reed Warbler and Sedge Warbler continued to sing.

All I need is a patch tick but little by little, I have a feeling that one of these days I'm going to get lucky...

Saturday, July 5, 2014

Walthamstow Reservoirs

A cooler and fresher day compared to the previous three days of warm sunshine.  The clouds were heavy and grey and the threat of showers wasn't too far away.

A Cetti's Warbler sang near to the bridge near to the gatehouse and over 200 Common Swift were forced down because of the low cloud base, scudding around No.4.

The heavens then opened, and I got an old fashioned soaking.

From the island on No.5, three Kingfisher were seen while two Grey Wagtail flew over.  A Lesser Whitethroat rattled from the causeway between No.1 and East Warwick.

At least one maybe two Common Sandpiper remained on East Warwick where a single Ring-Necked Parakeet flew over.

A family of Little Grebe were on No.3 with newly fledged young where a Great Spotted Woodpecker flew over.  A juvenile Green Woodpecker fed along the causeway between No.3 and No.5.

Sedge Warbler, Reed Warbler, and Blackcap were still in song.

Friday, July 4, 2014

Walthamstow Reservoirs

Another warm sunny morning but there was a notable increase in the strength of the wind, an autumnal breeze on a summers day.

A Grey Wagtail flew over No.4 and a pair of Kingfisher were active on No.3.  The Common Sandpiper remained on East Warwick, and a Great Spotted Woodpecker flew into trees there.  A male Sparrowhawk flew over No.2 as did a male Kestrel.

A moribund Gatekeeper flapped helplessly along the banks of East Warwick.

Thursday, July 3, 2014

Walthamstow Reservoirs

Another beautiful sunny morning with a few cirrus clouds hanging furtively against a brilliant blue sky.

Much like yesterday, the Common Sandpiper remained on East Warwick with the rafts of Tufted Duck.

A pair of Kingfisher were active at the traditional site on No.5.  Seen initially back in May, it was great to see that nesting has been successful and who knows, they may well be into their third brood.  An adult bird was later seen flying across No.1.

A Peregrine was seen soaring high over No.4 and an adult male Sparrowhawk flew low over No.1 carrying prey.

Wednesday, July 2, 2014

Walthamstow Reservoirs

A warm morning with light winds and blue skies.  There were plenty of Banded Demoiselles on the wing with Common Blue and Blue-Tailed Damselflies.  A couple of Brown Hawkers were hunting along the river tributaries.

Blue Tailed Damselfly

On East Warwick, a Common Sandpiper fed along the shoreline where there was an impressive number of Tufted Duck with around 210 counted.

East Warwick