Friday, 20 February 2015

Birding All Around

It's been a strange few weeks, applying for jobs and not knowing quite what the future holds. It is all resolved now, and we are back to The Farnes for another season. Along the way, we have managed some top quality birds.
A while back now, we took our annual pilgrimage to Dungeness to catch up with the winter wonders that inhabit the wilderness of the peninsula. All the usual suspects were present, with Great Egret, Smew, Bearded Tit, Marsh Harrier and Tree Sparrow showing off nicely. Undoubtedly the highlight was sitting in the Scott Hide and watching a Kingfisher and sublime Male Smew fishing within metres of us. It was great to be able to catch up with the two Cattle Egret that have been resident all winter and the local Tundra Bean Geese at Scotney and Lesser Yellowlegs at Rye Harbour.

It's always a treat to observe these birds properly! Splendid Kingfisher

The most handsome duck of all? Smew

Cattle Egret, without cattle this time.

Having been able to also catch the Greater Yellowlegs at Titchfield a few weeks before, I believe I am now in real contention for the two worst record shots of Yellowlegs in the country this year. A prestigious title that I have long wanted to add to my collection.... Luckily the scope views of these smart American waders were much much better than the photographs suggest.

Greater Yellowlegs....

And Lesser Yellowlegs... Honest Guv
And now to fast forward a tad, and a trip to Northumberland for the Farnes interview via Devon to visit friends. What a beautiful part of the world, and we had a wonderful guided tour of the coastline, adding some more top quality birds along the way. Our first stop was Darts Farm RSPB, where you could be forgiven for thinking that the three Penduline Tit there were escapees and not bothered by human presence. Certainly the most enjoyable life tick I have had in a long while. These smart little birds are becoming increasingly regular, and they are certainly a contender for the next species to establish themselves as British breeders.

Cracking little Penduline Tit
Another target species for us both was Cirl Bunting, a bird I had never seen before due in part to the fact I had never visited that part of the Devon coastline before. This is a species that represents both the tragedy of our relentless drive to destroy as much of our countryside as possible for profit (mainly animal products), and also what can happen if conservationists and local landowners take action. Watching two males happily singing away was a strange experience, appreciating the beauty of these now rare (in British terms) Buntings and also wondering which species will be next to suffer in this way. When will people listen.....

Cirl Bunting, unaware of its own plight?
Along the way, we were also treated to spectacular views of this rugged coastline. This photo was taken in very windy conditions from Prawle Point, the most southerly point of Devon. Despite the wind, a cracking male Stonechat was clinging on to a piece of Gorse. We also stopped by the very obliging Snow Bunting that has been present for some time now on the sea wall at Turf in the Exe Estuary.

Delightful. Snow Bunting

Not a bad place to live!

And last but not least, two winter stunners that are much easier to catch up with on the East Coast than down in Sussex where I reside at this time of year. As we were in Newcastle, it would have been very rude not to make the most of seeing both Waxwing and Shore Lark, two birds that attract me for their beauty more than anything else (as I'm sure is the case for most people). Both were showy, the Waxwing at The Lea's in South Shields and the Shore Lark on Hartlepool Headland. The Shore Lark was in a particularly grotty area; obviously the food was good and the constant stream of dog walkers and the view were not enough to put if off!

Yet another gorgeous bird! Waxwing

And another... Shore Lark
So after a whirlwind few weeks its off to explore La Palma and its endemic subspecies for us next week! And then its back to the mayhem of the Farnes for another season. Could be worse.....