Thursday, May 28, 2015

Twitchfield Haven - Greater Yellowlegs

I was giddy with the prospect of connecting with another rare.  I had a car, and this opportunity just had to be maximised.  So I headed down to Titchfield Haven where an enigmatic wader had been in residence for, well months actually before disappearing into the ether for a while.  Until recently that is when it re-appeared allowing many to observe it from close quarters from the coast road.  The Sunday trip was extremely spontaneous, but unfortunately there was no sign from mid-afternoon despite searching all the pools from within the reserve.  A Mediterranean Gull sat with the hundreds of Black Headed Gull on the islands and there were plenty of Avocet feeding on the shallow pools.

Spot the Greaterlegs 

I couldn't give up.  The next day I headed down early.  Hackney to Titchfield in two hours.  I had to work a little harder this time by driving through the village and parking up at the north end of the reserve.  The Titchfield Canal path led to two large pools where a group of around hundred Black-Tailed Godwit were present.  In amongst them was a very twitchy GREATER YELLOWLEGS that gave great scope views, but did nothing for getting any shots of it.  While the Godwit fed without any fuss, the Greaterlegs looked particularly edgy, stomping around like a belligerent child, disappearing into the reeds, before appearing again.  Very mobile as later that afternoon, it had flown back toward the fare-paying part of the reserve.

Saturday, May 23, 2015

Suffolk - A Little Bitt of luck and a little Sandpiper...

It has been four years now since I owned a motor car, and it is taking it's toll.  Sites such as Minsmere, or Dungeness feel more out of reach now than the global outposts of Monrovia, or Dhaka.   And as such, my inner monologue now manifests itself with audible obscenities at the arrival of a rare that I am just unable to reach.  The motor car, an invention that has mobilised birders throughout the decades fattening up lists as well as bellies in motorway service stations.

So thanks to mum, I had a car for the weekend, so we raced up to Suffolk for a day-out with plans to grab two newbies.  Checking the news en route, we made headway up to Southwold parking by the harbour and then heading along the riverside to the pools where the BROAD-BILLED SANDPIPER had thankfully booked a one-night stay and was showing well along the near shore-line.  It was feeding actively with a group of fine summer-plumaged Dunlin that emphasised its diminutive size,  more like Broad-Billed Stint.  Clean white underparts contrasted with flecked dark upperparts, an all dark bill that was slightly de-curved at the tip, and those diagnostic pale crown stripes mirrored by the pale supercilium.   Really neat.

Despite the brilliant light, a good selection of waders were seen well in favourable conditions that included a dozen Dunlin, three Sanderling, three Ringed Plover, around hundred Black-Tailed Godwit, seven Avocet, and a few Oystercatcher.  Bearded Tit pinged from reeds alongside the river.

After dining at a pub, we headed over to the west-end of Suffolk to Lakenheath Fen.  This really is a magnificent site.  Heading west along the gravel path, a Bittern boomed from the reedbed, where three Marsh Harrier quartered the area, busy in preparation for breeding.  A male Cuckoo was seen flying with haste, falcon-like, before perching on top of the reeds, parasitic prospectors over nesting opportunities.

The path led to the west end of the reserve where the LITTLE BITTERN was immediately heard barking from deep within a reedbed but not too far from our vantage point.  The vigil for a brief glimpse of this gaudy heron can stretch to hours, however, within fifteen minutes, the bird went silent.  Movement perhaps.  Then it flew, out of the reeds and across another pond.  Camera!  No!  Bins!  Just watch it!  What a stunning sight, great views of a short flight before plopping itself down into the reeds once again - a landing that totally lacked grace and style, but one that enraptured the onlookers.

A really great day from start to finish, and admittedly, one that was graced with a bit of luck.

Saturday, May 16, 2015


A pleasant morning which felt good for something.  There was a decent Hirundine moverment with a few Swallow and Sand Martin mixed in with plenty of  migrating Swift.

On the Marshes, there were at least three Lesser Whitethroat rattling, and a Cetti's Warbler called from the back of the rear paddocks, and at least eight singing Sedge Warbler.

On the Ressies, it was pretty quiet.  Two Common Sandpiper were on High Maynard and there were a few Common Tern around Lockwood.  The water level along the relief channel has dropped considerably with the hope of a wader, three Little Egret were present on the section between Lockwood and Banbury.  

Looking east, a Hobby drifted into view and then flew low south before dropping down low somewhere over the Maynards.  A male Kestrel also flew in.

It was great to see numbers of House Sparrow on the northside of the Lockwood.

A female Banded Demoiselle was my first of the year, a Common Blue flashed through on the breeze, and my second Painted Lady on High Maynard was a surprise.

Saturday, May 9, 2015


The Puffin.  Such personality.  Sitting low on a wooden bench overlooking a sheer cliff face where the cacophony of boisterous seabirds echoed through the ravine.  Kittiwake, mouths full of claggy mud extracted from a nearby pond flew low overhead onto their negligible area of rocky scree, a ledge where home would be, where broods would reach maturity, where fledglings would make their first nerve jangling flights, where the future of our seabirds endure.


Guillemot and Razorbill, in their communal huddles, co-existing is such dramatic and harsh surroundings, cliff dwellers that defy logic, gravity, and social sensibilities.  No magic, just nature.


Fulmar too, a little more savvy with their nesting choices, opting for a spacious penthouse, majestic fliers, but raucous neighbours.  Raven choosing real estate wisely too, tucked away in the cavities, early nesters with mature young.

The Puffin though is just a magical creature.  There are approximately 22,000 of these enigmatic Auks on Skomer.  Watching the birds fly in, extremely wary, syncopated head movements, then that comical waddle toward their burrows.  A bill in pure technicolour contrasting pale cheeks, the delicate facial patterns, that red-orbital eye ring, the yellow 'petal' at the join of the mandible, you just couldn't drag yourself away from them.  The whiskey only heightened the senses.

The camera shutter clicks, but it does nothing to capture the personality, sound, and pure comedy.

The trip started in Cardiff, meeting with great friends, it wasn't long before the Ale and Whiskey were flowing.  It just led to a tardy start the next morning, up early, and on the road in atrocious weather conditions.

Arriving at 'port' it was cool, but the rain had gratefully ceased.  Jumping onto a small vessel we sailed round the rugged coast, a precursor to the sights and sounds to be experienced on our one night stay on Skomer.  A single Shag loitered on the choppy waters, as did a few Gannet, but the number of Auks were increasing as we approached the island.  Arrow like flight, avian missiles circling the boat.  Guillemot, Razorbill, Puffin, all increasing in number.

Alighting on the island, our bags were transported onto a farm tractor to the lodgings while we made our way on foot through the centre of the island.  Our first male Northern Wheatear seen, one of many to be observed and one of around fifteen breeding pairs across the island.

Northern Wheatear

At the Farm House, we settled in and prepared ourselves for the day.  The skies had cleared and the sun was out, appreciating the times when things go in your favour.  We also set ourselves a target, fifty species in a day.  Manageable we thought, plenty to see.  Heading toward the north side, a male Stonechat sat atop the scrub, while Sedge Warbler sang within it.  There were plenty of Common Whitethroat around too.

We headed onto the top of the cliffs, the sweet charrr of Red-Billed Chough flew past, four in total, wings folded in before floating round the cliff face, how beautiful a 'black bird' can be.

In the distance, Grassholm Island was visible, inhabiting one of the largest Gannet colonies in the world, 40,000 pairs.  The Island was completely white on one side.  Not guano, just birds.

Heading round the island, the views were stunning, around the rocky headlands and out to sea.  The sun became more milky during the day, it felt like a thin canopy had been lowered, and nature was just for us to appreciate.

There was also a target.  Fifty.  A nice round number and it was close.  Three drake Shoveler were seen on various ponds, and a sole White-Fronted Goose looked a little forlorn on the North Pond.  Most likely a wild bird.  Hirundine movement was apparently the best it had been this year with Swallow, House Martin, and Sand Martin all moving through in good numbers.  Small groups of Common Swift were the first to be seen on the island this year.  A female Peregine flew purposefully from one of the small islands.

Even female Mallard, female Blackbird, Moorhen, and Feral Pigeon, heralded micro-celebrations.  Maybe we were a little too fixated on this.  At least four Spotted Flycatcher were seen close to the farmhouse, a mini-arrival perhaps due to the weather.  A single Whimbrel flew east as we headed back to the farmhouse.

The evening closed in.  We drew a blank on both Little and Short-Eared Owl, but dining on a cheap packet pasta dinner overlooking the island in the low light was hardly a reason for consolation.

Then the night-time came, a bit more whiskey, warm clothing, and a torch.  Heading out into the darkness, the eerie sounds of sea-faring Manx Shearwater returning from their pelagic retreat echoed all around.  Dark shapes flashing past.  By torch-light, these immense agile fliers hit land, their ineptitude for ground movement awkwardly exposed allowing close views of a bird usually observed out to see at distance.  With an estimated 300,000 breeding birds on the island, this represents the largest Manx Shearwater colony in the world.  Such a privilege to be in such close proximity to them.

Manx Shearwater

At least two Harbour Porpoise were seen by the boat on our way back to the mainland.

We hit our fifty target - hardly a thing - but what a treat to have spent time here.  A natural experience that should not be missed.  Each to their own I guess, but I personally wouldn't have it any other way.

Thursday, May 7, 2015

When a plan doesn't come together - Red-rumped Swallow

The Bank Holiday weekend and the few days preceding it was a bumper time for twitchy birders no doubt apologetically sloping off from family commitments to race cross-country with the aim of bagging birding gold such as Great Blue Heron, Hudsonian Godwit, and Red-Throated Pipit.  I predictably was on shift and couldn't even bear to check the bird news such was my utter incredulity of being incarcerated within the four office walls.  Willing for time to fly, I in anticipation, booked a hire car in advance for Tuesday - a day where I would start early, dash around the country, and pick up whatever was left of the rarity-fest that everyone else was enjoying.

Well not to drag this out, the short of it was that in the hope that the Red-Throated Pipit was still present on the periphery of the Peak District, I made haste up the M1.

The weather was dire, strong winds, driving rain, and nothing showing up on the rarity radar.  No sign at all.  There was however a bird I needed in Hull.  Yes Hull.  I had a car and time.  So I made a rather sudden handbrake turn before heading Hull.  Yes Hull.

I arrived in Hull.  I walked into the East Park. The sun was shining but it was blowing an absolute gale.  There were a few birders present as were a good number of Hirundines.  While the assembled were straining their watery wind-slapped eyes into the wind, I looked in the other direction.  Over a small island on the lake, a Red-Rumped Swallow flirted in the wind with it's more familiar cousins joining together over this East Yorkshire park where the wind was but a minor convenience, more so, an opportunity to display such aerial dexterity in challenging conditions.  Well challenging for me anyway.

I was only there for half an hour, before heading back - a new bird - but the price was high both cost and time.

RRS just out of shot