Tuesday, 12 November 2013

A Week in Scotland

Last week I spent a very enjoyable week in the Dumfries and Galloway area, with endless green fields and rolling hills it really is idyllic, and has some great birding to offer as well. Our first stop was RSPB Ken-Dee Marshes and the Red Kite feeding station. While the latter doesn't provide the excitement of finding one of these stunning birds for yourself, it does provide a magnificent spectacle and the chance to see massive numbers of these often shy and distant predators. Some of the birds present were also wing-tagged as part of a national scheme to study their movements. In this first photo, the top bird has a purple tag on its right wing meaning it hatched in 2007 and a green tag on its left wing, meaning it was hatched in the Dumfries and Galloway area. At Ken-Dee, there was a lovely flock of Greenland White-fronted Geese, some of which had neck collars on that we were able to read and report back to the scheme.

Red Kite, Milvus milvus

Red Kite feeding frenzy

Greenland White-fronted Geese, Anser albifrons flavirostris

We also spent some time on the coast around Southerness, which has some beautiful scenery as well as some good birds on offer. Redshank, Oystercatcher and Turnstone were numerous and confiding, as was a single Snipe and three Red-breasted Mergansers. The highlight for me were four Purple Sandpipers that showed very well on a little rocky island, being very reluctant to leave and getting battered by waves.
The next few days involved a trip to WWT Caerlaverock and a bit of a twitch. At Caerlaverock we were treated to thousands and thousands of Barnacle Geese, a lovely flock of close in Whooper Swans, a drake Green-winged Teal and this moulting Greater Scaup, as well as plenty of other wildfowl, Fieldfare and Goldcrest.

Whooper Swan, Cygnus cygnus

Greater Scaup, Aythya marila

The twitch involved somewhat less attractive surroundings, the hotel car park (although the hotel was rather fancy) on the edge of Loch o' Th' Lowes in Ayrshire, where a Ring-necked Duck has taken up residence and had also been joined by a Long-tailed Duck. Looking out over the Loch it was a rather beautiful setting, we just had to forget what was behind us! This American vagrant is becoming more and more frequent in UK waters, although the origin of each bird is questioned as they can often escape from captivity. These ducks are also unusual in that they pair up during their spring migration. I love waterfowl, and this little stunner was well worth the short trip we made for it.

Ring-necked Duck, Aythya collaris

On our way back to Norfolk on Sunday we heard of the Pied Wheatear that had arrived at Collingham gravel pits in Notts. As this site is within a stones throw of the A1, we couldn't resist. The bird was showing well in poor light by the time we go there. It was a first winter/female type bird and as such wasn't the most exciting to look at, still a lovely little Eastern vagrant to finish off a lovely week away. There was also an adult Yellow-legged Gull present in the roost at the back of the pits.

Pied Wheatear, Oenantha pleschanka

Tuesday, 22 October 2013

Red Deer and Dungeness

To start with this time, the Red Deer at Minsmere RSPB reserve. It's that time of year again for the stags, and they are to be heard all day every day at the moment. I have been lucky enough to get some great views. The rut will determine which males will take control of the various harems that roam the reserve. There are around 500 of these animals on total around the reserve, so spotting them is not too tricky! This magnificent stag was certainly the pick of the bunch, and in fading sunlight was stunning to watch as he made himself known.

Red Deer, Cervus elaphus

It is possible to tell the age of a Red Deer by how many points it has on its antler; they shed every year and add a new point the following year. So by my reckoning this stag is 10 years old. It wasn't just the large males getting active, the younger ones were also practising, ready to one day try to win themselves a territory.

Red Deer, Cervus elaphus

This weekend I was at Dungeness, and caught up with some of the birds that appear to be becoming a regular fixture now. There were five Great White Egret, four Black-necked Grebes, a Raven, Stonechat, and a Glossy Ibis amongst the numerous wildfowl. A very pleasant way to spend a few hours on one of my favourite reserves. Below is a fairly poor record shot of two of the four BNG, one of the five GWE that was in a fishing frenzy with c30 Cormorants and a few Grey Herons and Little Egrets and the Glossy Ibis. Glossy Ibis and GWE are certainly heading the way of the Little Egret, and it shouldn't think it will be long before they are a far more common feature of wetland reserves around the country.

Black-necked Grebe, Podiceps nigricollis

Great White Egret, Ardea alba

Glossy Ibis, Plegadis falcinellus

Monday, 14 October 2013

With winds they will come!

Well it has been an exciting past week here, with the recent storms and winds bringing in all sorts of goodies; some of which I've been lucky enough to see and some which I am yet to catch up with. The influx of Yellow-browed Warblers was fantastic, and to also catch a Pallas's Warbler at eye level while looking at a mixed flock of Goldcrest and a YBW was a real highlight. I've never used other peoples photos on here before, but I didn't have my camera to hand and they are such stunning birds (this was a lifer for me) that I feel one must make an appearance.

Pallas's Warbler
A few early mornings sea-watching have paid off and highlights have included Leach's Petrel, Manx Sheerwater and plenty of Skuas. The highlight so far though was last Friday, when at work at Titchwell I was able to stand in one spot and view a Long-eared Owl, Grey Phalarope and Green-winged Teal in one go! There are photos of all three below, however the owl is rather difficult to spot; I assure you it is there if you look hard enough.

Long-eared Owl, Asio otus

Green-winged Teal, Anus carolinensis

Grey Phalarope, Phalaropus fulicarius

That's all for now. As luck would have it I am off site this week learning first aid, vital but not at an ideal time. I'm hoping the few hours of daylight I have at the end of the day will allow me to pick up a few more vagrants before the week is out. I also have a weekend of ringing on the south coast to look forward to, and who knows what will turn up there!

Thursday, 26 September 2013

Back in Business

It's been a tough summer without having proper access to the internet, I've had to try and use birdguides on my ancient old nokia. However, I am now back up and connected to the world. I have also relocated to Titchwell on the north Norfolk coast where I will be over-wintering.
So I thought I'd just upload a few photos of some of the best birds of my summer, starting off with a visit to the Farnes to see the Bridled Tern. Being a bird of the islands of the Caribbean, Indian and Pacific Oceans, the north-east coast must have been a bit of a shock! A stunning bird in a stunning location though, and of course I couldn't resist getting a classic snap of a Puffin, which in my eyes are equally as impressive.

Bridled Tern, Onychoprion anaethetus.

Puffin, Fratercula arctica.

Another highlight for me this summer and somewhat more recent was the Lesser Grey Shrike that arrived in Suffolk. This was a lovely little bird and showed very well for us in the half an hour we had before it started raining rather heavily. I managed two grainy shots, the first showing the long primary projection characteristic of this species.

Lesser Grey Shrike, Lanius minor.

Lesser Grey Shrike, Lanius minor. 

My final bird of this blog is a Wilson's Phalarope which kindly turned up at Cley during my first week here. A slender an energetic bird, it never stopped frantically feeding in the time I spent watching it. Here it is with a Ruff for comparison.

Wilson's Phalarope, Phalaropus tricolour.

And finally, a nice picture of me with my ringing highlight of the summer, a Cetti's Warbler caught during a lovely weekend spent on the south coast!

Saturday, 8 June 2013

They're Back....

And not only did one Stilt return, he/she also bought along a few friends, so there were a suspected three on the reserve on Monday evening. And not only this, but they were showing down to 10 metres. What a spectacle!

Black-winged Stilt, Himantopus himantopus

The rest of the week also saw some cracking birds turn up; Pectoral Sandpiper, Little Stint, Temmincks' Stint, two Little Gulls and then to round it all off, three Black Terns arrived and this individual put on a stunning display for me from East Hide.

Black Tern, Chlidonias niger

Aside from the wonderful influx of unusual birds, the usual fair are also providing lots of nice sightings. The Turtle Doves are showing well every day, although often in unpredictable locations, and there are Avocet and Gull chicks literally everywhere (with some particularly keen to get into the hides). Little Ringed Plovers and Terns are still nesting although the latter remain very well hidden, apart from when they venture off to feed and provide cracking views.

Little Ringed Plover, Charadrius dubius

As far as Passerines are concerned, Corn Bunting, Yellowhammer, Whitethroat, Sedge and Reed Warbler can still be heard singing around the reserve, and I caught this Tree Sparrow still busy gathering nest material. Then again, they do like to line their nests with a lot of feathers!

Tree Sparrow, Passer montanus

On a final note, I was lucky enough to be shown a good spot for one of my favourite migrants, and one that is becoming increasingly more difficult to find; the Spotted Flycatcher. The site they have chosen is idyllic, set in some lovely Weeping Willows over a small river, and this individual perched out in clear view for a good few minutes.... Wonderful!

Spotted Flycatcher, Muscicapa striata

Wednesday, 8 May 2013

Migrants Migrants, Everywhere......

......Some are common, and some are rare! As in Black-Winged Stilt rare! Apparently the word had been around for a few hours on Birdguides before any of us knew about it, and it didn't take long for us to finish our jobs and get onto the reserve once the news filtered down. And what a cracking bird.... This is a UK first for me, and having seen them in Southern France already where they are common they look equally as spectacular here. As can be seen in the photo below, it towers above even largish waders like this Ruff! The bird was wonderfully showy in the evening as it made its way around the reserve feeding and being harassed by gulls!

Black-Winged Stilt, Himantopus himantopus with Ruff, Philomachus pugnax 

Black-Winged Stilt, Himantopus himantopus

There are also plenty of other migrants around the reserve at the moment, some here to stay and some just moving through. The two Turtle Doves are still purring away in the hedgerow and sometimes in the garden (!)  and a Cuckoo is heard most mornings, it must be said while I am lying in bed; what a luxury! There are at least two pairs of Common Terns around Frampton and plenty more at Freiston, and all our usual migrant warblers are in full voice. The odd Little Gull and Garganey are putting in appearances, as are Common and Green Sandpipers. Another nice arrival was the first Wood Sandpiper of the year at Frampton on Monday, another lovely little wader, which at this time of year I believe is best described as "Spangly." There is a very small breeding population in the Scottish Highlands, but most of them make there way to subarctic wetlands in Europe of Asia, so who knows where this one is headed!

Common Tern, Sterna hirundo

Wood Sandpiper, Tringa glareola

And now for some resident breeders that are both on the UK Red List for species of conservation concern, and both for the same reasons; Corn Bunting and Yellowhammer. While they may not be rare in terms of population size, both these species have suffered over a 50% decline in their breeding population in the last 30 years, due to agricultural intensification. Both species are ground-nesting farmland birds, and as such have suffered greatly at the hands of machinery and destruction of suitable nesting sites. There is potential for a brighter future though as agricultural schemes encourage farmers to spare a little land for wildlife, and where these schemes are in place the results are promising, like around our reserve! It is a real treat to be able to go out and see these birds singing away!

Yellowhammer, Emberiza citrinella

Corn Bunting, Emberize calandra

And finally, I was lucky enough to visit the Farne Islands on Saturday and get very close to one of the more remarkably adorned birds we have on our coastlines in this country, the Shag! What a beauty!!

Shag, Phalacrocorax aristotelis

Wednesday, 1 May 2013

Back on Patch

A Spring Lamb

So to begin with this time, a picture of (I hate to admit it) a rather cute lamb! Eponymous of Spring these little mammals are actually with us for a more scientific reason, although looking cute is a nice bonus! We use lambs and sheep on our reedbed because unlike other grazing livestock, they don't eat reed. As we try to develop our reedbed to eventually provide suitable habitat for Bitterns and Bearded Tits, we need it to be able to grow as freely as possible and with little competition, making these guys perfect!
Another sure sign that Spring is well and truly here is that everything begins to "court" so to speak. All over the reserve there are signs that everything is getting ready to begin mating and raising young. While one of our Barn Owl boxes is housing Barn Owls, the other is providing a nice home to a pair of Kestrel, and this female can regularly be seen sitting on her front porch! While Barn Owl boxes are not always occupied by the intended species, they are now considered essential for sustaining Barn Owl populations, and with Kestrel and Stock Dove (Amber listed in the UK) being the other species that usually take over, they are always beneficial!

Female Kestrel, Falco tinnunculus

As I said before, in our other Barn Owl box we have a pair which can often be seen hunting at Freiston early morning an evening. The long grass on the edge of the tracks and hedgerows provide essential hunting grounds for these graceful predators. The Barn Owl is a Schedule 1 species in the UK, making it a criminal offence to disturb or persecute them. Their demise can be attributed to many things, the destruction of natural nest sites (woodland and old buildings), the use of pesticides that enter the food chain through their prey, and also the destruction of suitable long grass meadows for them to hunt over. However, with a lot of hard work, things are looking up for this magnificent creature!

Barn Owl, Tyto alba

It's not just birds that are showing the signs either; I found this pair of Common Toad making their way toward a body of water, the male clearly thinking it was too far for him to hop! Toads are incredibly faithful to their breeding grounds and will often return to breed at the pond where they were spawned. What normally happens is that the males gather at the breeding site and remain there for a few weeks, while the females stay for only a short period. However, this male clearly hadn't read the plot and had intercepted this female before she even reached the water! It is said that male toads are rather keen, and have been know to mount inanimate objects and even each other in a breeding frenzy. This makes it a stressful time and mortality is often high. The mounting of the male on the females back in know as Amplexus, and the two toads will remain in this state for a few days as the female makes here way around the pond laying her eggs while the male fertilizes them!

Male and Female Common Toad, Bufo bufo

And finally for this post, it is that time of year to dust off the moth traps! We have begun trapping in the garden over the last week, and while catches have been very small (maximum haul 3 so far), we have had one interesting (ecologically it must be said) species for Lincolnshire, in the form of the scarce-for-the-area Pale Pinion. We have also been catching Hebrew Character and Common Quaker so far, which i are more interesting to look at! Moth trapping is very easy, a good moth book is relatively cheap and it is a fantastic way of getting close to nature and practicing ID techniques; however the one question that trumps all others still remains, why exactly are moths attracted to light? More research to come.....but for now, the Pale Pinion in all its glory!

Pale Pinion, Lithophane hepatica

Wednesday, 24 April 2013

A Reserve First!

Not a new bird, but a new reserve for me this weekend; RSPB Minsmere in Suffolk. It was a glorious weekend and I can whole-heartedly recommend a visit! As the weather was spring-like, so were the birds, with Blackcap, Willow Warbler and Chiffchaff and Sedge Warbler all present and in full voice. Some rather more unusual spring sounds were heard in the form of squealing Water Rails, a singing Nightingale and booming Bitterns, the latter of which seemed to be present all day and with the boom capable of travelling over 5 km audible wherever you are on the reserve. Not only were the Bitterns noisy, they were also visible, and I was awarded cracking views on two occasions; one evening was spent watching an individual hunting for around 20 minutes, never further than 30 metres away!

Eurasian Bittern, Botaurus stellaris

Eurasian Bittern, Botaurus stellaris

Continuing further with the spring theme, Bumblebees were out in force and these Great Crested Grebes were beginning their elaborate mating ritual.

Bumblebee, Bombus spp.

Great Crested Grebes courting, Podiceps cristatus

There were also plenty of passing migrants around with Arctic Tern, this sub-adult plumage Little Gull, two Spoonbill and a Ferruginous Duck all present on the Saturday.

A pair of Spoonbill, Platalea leucorodia

Little Gull, Hydrocoloeus minutus, with Black-headed Gull, Chroicocephalus ridibundus for comparison

Ferruginous Duck, Aythya nyroca

What a weekend, I left with the feeling that spring had well and truly been welcomed in, and I couldn't wait to get back to the patch and see what had happened while I had been away!

Sunday, 7 April 2013

A Touch of the Med!

I wanted to avoid using the phrase "spring is here," as firstly I suspect that it has become somewhat overused recently and secondly because the weather has been so unpredictable of late! When we met in the car park at Frampton at 7am today, the car thermometer was reading -3.5°C and there was frost on the ground, but without the biting easterlies it felt very pleasant indeed. By mid morning, it was (I hate to say it) positively spring-like! With the weather being somewhat improved, there was hope that the first migrants of the year might have arrived. There was a lovely Mediterranean Gull in full summer plumage on the islands in the reedbed, being hassled by a few of the hundreds of Black-headed Gulls that have decided to make Frampton their home this year.

Mediterranean Gull, Larus melanocephalus and Black-Head Gull, Croicocephlus ridibundus

Mediterranean Gull, Larus melanocephalus and Black-Head Gull, Croicocephlus ridibundus

Migrants were solely represented by this lovely pair of Little Ringed Plovers. In the last few weeks these tiny birds will have crossed the Sahara Desert, travelling from tropical Africa to their breeding grounds somewhere in Europe. Hopefully there are a pair or two aiming for Frampton as their final destination this year! This photo shows nicely the two key ID features to look for when separating these birds from the Closely related Ringed Plover; the bright yellow eye ring and all-black beak!

Little Ringed Plover, Charadrius dubius

Also around the reserve were a good selection of raptors; Merlin, Sparrowhawk, Peregrine and Marsh Harrier were all causing havoc among the waders and wildfowl. The Little Owl was in the dead stump by his usual hang-out, there was a record count of 120 Avocet, at least a dozen Ruff and a very smart Black Brant associating with the Brent Geese.

Tuesday, 2 April 2013

A Weekend on the Wash

I'm willing to bet that there weren't many other people that spent their Easter weekend thigh deep in freezing cold water catching waders... If there were, I think we would get on very well! As the group convened on Friday evening to plan the weekend ahead, despite the cold there was a sense of optimism as c3000 Knot had been seen on Snettisham beach that morning around the area we would be catching in! They were also there at 4.30am the next morning as we gathered in the dark on the beach to wait for the tide to bring the birds in. As the sun rose, the snow began to fall and a Barn Owl appeared and hunted within 100m of me for around 20 minutes, one of those "moments." Alas, the Knot weren't so obliging  and just as the tide was about to put them into the catching zone, they suddenly took flight and headed to Snettisham Pitts. However, left behind were 60 Oystercatchers, some Common Gull and a Few Bar-tailed Godwits, all of which were caught successfully. This first photo is of me and my first Oystercatcher in the hand, what a lovely pair!!?


After catching up on some much needed sleep, we spent the following two nights mist netting at two different salt marshes around the southern area of the Wash. This time the catch included Dunlin, Knot, this lovely Summer Plumage Redshank and some more Bar-tailed Godwits.

Common Redshank, Tringa totanus

The Bar-tailed Godwit can present a bit of challenge when being separated from the similar Black-tailed Godwit, especially in winter. The following photo show off a reliable technique in separating the two species; bill shape. The Barwit has an ever-so-slightly upturned beak, whereas the Blackwit shows a very straight bill. When on the deck, Barwits also look dumpier and a lot less graceful when moving around as the "knee" joint is much higher up the leg. If close views are not possible, the Barwit shows pale fringes and dark centers to the feathers on the upperparts, whereas the Blackwit has a more uniformly greyish appearance to its upperparts . Another useful identification point (the clincher if you will) is the absence of the obvious white wing bar that Blackwits show in flight. In summer, the Barwits orange breeding plumage extends almost over the entire belly, whereas the Blackwits is restricted to its chest, making ID pretty simple. The second photo below also shows the big difference in size between male and female Barwits, the smaller male being in the foreground.

Bar-tailed Godwit, Limosa lapponica

Bar-tailed Godwit, Limosa lapponica

Sunday morning was glorious and we spent some time doing colour resightings on Holme beach, where we found a mere three colour ringed Sanderling. These sort of sighting are vital for the research that the Wash Wader Ringing Group and many others carry out, so reports of any birds, dead or alive are always encouraged. 

I returned home about 1am on Monday morning, and awoke (mid-afternoon) to find this Whooper Swan in the field opposite my house. The bird has apparently been around all weekend, and we will be keeping a close eye on it over the next few days.

Whooper Swan, Cygnus cygnus