Monday, 30 December 2013

Arctic Invaders...part two. 29th December

Distant views of the White-billed Diver just aren't good enough. Not when you see stunning photos of it taken at close range. Dave Helliar, Andy Grinter and myself set off early to reach Brixham Harbour for first light and crippling views of the diver that had been seen swimming just off the replica of the Golden Hind, which is moored right in the middle of Brixham!

We arrived, surveyed the inner harbour but nothing. It was low tide and we thought a search of the outer harbour (and deeper water) might be more fruitful. We strolled out along the footpath to view the Breakwater looking north-west. After a few minutes we located a couple of nice black-throated divers and there were plenty of shags and turnstones flitting around but no white-billed diver. It had also been the clearest night for some time and was bloody freezing! I left Dave and Andy to return to the inner harbour, just in case it had reappeared there. Still nothing. A quick call to Dave and he said he thought he'd spotted it out on the edge of the harbour some distance away but it seemed to have vanished, I headed back to our viewing point. Some time later we thought we had it again and as the light improved we located it over near the breakwater between some yachts. It worked it's way closer to us without being noticed by the birders lining the breakwater, who seemed oblivious to its presence and showed very well for about ten minutes at a distance of 50 meters.

White-billed Diver: R. Harris

White-billed diver: R. Harris
White-billed diver: R. Harris
White-billed diver: D. Helliar
White-billed diver: D. Helliar
What a simply STONKING bird! Check out that bill.  Video to follow in the next few days.

We headed back to Broadsands and managed to pick up more Great-northern divers, a black-necked grebe a tristis chiffchaff and about 10 Cirl Buntings. Another great morning out.

tristis type chiffchaff: Andy Grinter
Some additional photos of some of the Great Northern Divers present by the Brixham Breakwater by Andy Grinter:

In between days...

So, Christmas isn't all about twitching for me and when duty calls I always try and spend some quality time with my family, which after the Brunnich's Guillemot, meant a day in Lyme Regis building sand castles on the beach with my wife and son. I love to walk the Cobb Wall around the harbour when I'm there and Saturday was no exception, though it was quite stormy when we arrived. Waves were crashing over the end of the wall so I decided to play safe and walk the lower section. Good job I did though as seven purple sandpipers whizzed by and landed by the beach, including this individual that settled 10 ft away:

Purple Sandpiper, Lyme Regis: R. Harris
Ok, I'd earned my brownie points - the following day Dave, Andy and myself were heading back to Brixham for some better views of the white-billed diver.

Arctic Invaders...

2013 looks set to go out with a bang! In the last 5 days there seems to have been a spattering of Arctic vagrants across the West. It all started with news that a White-billed Diver had been found in Brixham Harbour, south Devon on Christmas Day. What a great present for the finder! Boxing Day morning I wangled a few hours out and decided I had to try for it. It was there but distant and not showing as well as it had earlier that morning...darn!! With time slipping by, I had to leave it and head home but Dave Helliar stayed 'til 1pm with no further joy. My disappointment was soon forgotten though. On the drive back home news arrived of a Brünnich's guillemot in Portland Harbour!!!  Holy crap!!! The next 24 hours were tense to say the least. I couldn't get there until the following morning at the earliest and only if my in-laws didn't mind me disappearing again. Next morning though I had the opportunity to go and with my father-in-law and brother-in-law in tow (they wanted to experience a twitch), we set off to Dorset.

Dave H had managed to get to it from the White-billed Diver the day before but Andy Grinter was already there and understandably as surprised to see me as I was to be there. After a very tense half hour (it had been seen flying off and hour-and-a-half before) and some really bad weather, including gale force winds and sleet, it was relocated and then came back close to the shore to give excellent views:

Brünnich's Guillemot: R. Harris

Brünnich's Guillemot: Dave Helliar
Brünnich's Guillemot: Dave Helliar
Brünnich's Guillemot: R. Harris
Crowd shot on 27th December: R. Harris
Crowd shot on 27th December: R. Harris
It has been estimated that at least 1200 birders have now connected with this bird, the first really twitchable Brünnich's Guillemot south of Manchester. The Black Guillemot was still present too (seemed strange to see two scarce guillemots but not a common one).

On the way home we also stopped off to see the glossy ibis that was wandering around a flood pool on a playing field in the middle of Weymouth. What a great way to end the day...

Glossy Ibis, Weymouth: R. Harris
Glossy Ibis, Weymouth: R. Harris

Addtional images:  Andy Grinter returned for a second viewing of the Guillemot on 31st December and managed some much closer photos:

Brünnich's Guillemot: Andy Grinter
Brünnich's Guillemot: Andy Grinter
As well as this stunning adult Med gull at Raddipole in Weymouth:

Mediterranean Gull: Andy Grinter

Sunday, 22 December 2013

What's black and white and red down under...?

Today was the day to get out. Yesterday was pretty wet and miserable, tomorrow is suppose to be a wash out with gale force winds thrown in for good measure. Today was beautiful and sunny, for the most part. Following sightings of a black guillemot in Portland harbour yesterday, I decided to head that way in the hope of connecting with it and it didn't take long to see it. It was giving great scope views as it lingered off a group of buoys out in the Harbour off Portland Castle. The harbour was quite lively with well over 50 red-breasted mergansers, a female eider, a juv great northern diver, 2 razorbills a little grebe, with slavs and black-necked grebes close by off the yachting club.

The black guillemot was a great little bird though and actively fed along a stretch of water about 150 meters away, each time it dived its brilliant red feet could be seen flipping into the air. It was a bit far for photos but I just about managed a record shot after finally timing it right (the first 10 pics all seemed to catch it as it disappeared below the swell):

It was there, honest! Next to the buoy in the circle...
Testing the SX50 to its max capability and then some.
and a bit of crap video just to round it off....

Saturday, 14 December 2013

Desert Wheatear...

Earlier in the week a report came in that a male desert wheatear was showing well at Severn Beach in south Gloucestershire. After seeing great photos on various sites over the last few days I'd made the decision that if it was reported yesterday (Friday), I'd give it a shot this morning. I picked up Andy Grinter at 06:45 so that we could be there for first light. It took a while to appear and when it did it seemed to favour a block of open plan garages under a small block of flats/houses just by the sea front. It spent several minutes at a time hopping around the vehicles in each bay before finally coming out into the open. When it did, it showed very well indeed, at times approaching birders and photographers to within a few feet! Despite reports yesterday that it appeared to be on it's 'last legs', this morning it seem pretty chipper to say the least. Most of the time I had a job to keep up with it on the video camera and it seemed to be feeding often, so hopefully (fingers crossed), it will be fit for its onward journey, wherever that may be.

Desert Wheatear, Severn Beach: R. Harris
Desert Wheater, Severn Beach: R. Harris
Desert Wheatear: Roger Harris

And more cracking pics from Andy Grinter...

Desert Wheatear, Severn Beach: Andy Grinter
Desert Wheatear, Severn Beach: Andy Grinter
Desert Wheatear, Severn Beach: Andy Grinter

Sunday, 8 December 2013

Great Grey...ghost...

By far the best bird locally for some time is a Great Grey Shrike currently residing in fields at Hambridge in Somerset. Both Andy and Dave managed to catch up with it over the weekend but despite two visits I just haven't connected with it. I'm hoping it'll be third time lucky as I love these birds. Andy Grinter did manage a photo but the bird never came close:

Great Grey Shrike: Andy Grinter
POST UPDATE: I tried again and it was third time unlucky yesterday. So frustrating when you know the bird is still around. I'm going to have to give it another go when I have a bit more time on my hands to search for it.

Horner Dippers and Seaton Black Red...

It's been generally very quiet locally from a birding perspective so nice to see some photos from Andy Grinter of a dipper at Horner Water on Exmoor and a smart male Black Redstart at Seaton from Dave Helliar taken in the last week:
Dipper: Andy Grinter
Dipper: Andy Grinter
Black Redstart: Dave Helliar
Black Redstart: Dave Helliar
Black Redstart: Dave Helliar

Monday, 2 December 2013

Lyme Regis

Still no black redstarts at Lyme Regis this autumn but dipper, showy rock pipits and purple sands make up for it. Thanks to Andy Grinter for supplying the images below:

Rock pipit, Lyme Regis: Andy Grinter
Rock pipit, Lyme Regis: Andy Grinter
Purple sandpipers, Lyme Regis: Andy Grinter
Purple sandpiper, Lyme Regis: Andy Grinter

Wednesday, 27 November 2013

False widow...

Despite the change in the temperature recently, there are still a lot of insects around, particularly red admirals. ..and spiders. When I opened the front door to head out at the weekend I found this one letting herself in to my nice warm house - the largest Steatoda nobilis I've ever seen. She truly was an impressive spider, even if not the most well marked example I've seen:

Steatoda nobilis: R. Harris
Birdwise things are still pretty quiet. The pair of stonechats are still present close to the house but the black redstart has not put in another appearance unfortunately. I spent some time yesterday watching the meadow pipits as they foraged around a manure heap in the field next to my house - they are such lovely birds when you get a chance to stop and really study them.

Meadow pipit: R. Harris

Monday, 25 November 2013

Western Orphean...

Pleased to say Andy Grinter managed to get to see the Western Orphean warbler in Pembrokeshire at the weekend. In his own words:

Only managed one photo. Bird was at very close quarters at times but the garden was full of apple trees and I couldn't focus, so frustrating! Very well organised, 40 birders a time allowed into the garden and after all had seen it the next 40 changed over. When I left it was said only 120 birders had turned up as no more were queuing and photographers were allowed back in again. All simple with parking in the nearby field.

Western Orphean Warbler: Andy Grinter
What a pity all twitches aren't that civilised! Not only that, Andy also managed to see one of the male two-barred crossbills in the Forest of Dean on the way back!  Cracking weekend I'd say.

Friday, 22 November 2013

Redhead at the res

The res has been heaving with numbers of birds recently including good gull counts (up to 400+ black-headed gulls), good great-crested grebe counts (40+), large numbers of mandarin (at least 10) and a fine immature redhead goosander that' been occupying the northern end of the res since 18th November:

Goosander: Andy Grinter
Goosander, Chard res: R. Harris

Another nice local surprise was this black redstart feeding around a manure heap in the fields close to my house this morning. Poor quality frame grab from about 5 seconds of video:

Black redstart: R. Harris

Wednesday, 20 November 2013

Better late than never...

Back in September I led a group (on business) out to Nova Scotia. It's a stunning place but unfortunately there were no birding opportunities on this trip so I had to make do with what I could grab on the go. Although I notched up a surprising number of species, I didn't have the photo opportunities that I normally get because the group was quite large = constant monitoring and mass disturbance everywhere we went. I thought I'd post a few dodgy shots that I did get though, rather than leave them to gather dust on the hard drive:

American Herring Gull, Nova Scotia: R. Harris
American Herring Gull, Nova Scotia
American Herring Gull, Juvenile, Nova Scotia
American Herring Gull, Juvenile, Nova Scotia
American Herring Gull, Nova Scotia
Adult Am Herring Gull, Nova Scotia
3rd winter Am. Herring Gull, Halifax, NS
Hermit Thrush - one reason I didn't shoot off to
Porthgwarra a few weeks back: R. Harris
Arse-end view of a Song Sparrow!
Black duck...
Cedar Waxwing
Double-crested Cormorant
Humpback whale, Bay of Fundy
White-tailed deer, Kejimkujik Nationa Park
The trip into the Bay of Fundy was spectacular with incredibly close views of humpbacks next to the boat. If I get time I'll upload a short vid of one of them coming up next to me. Also several hundred great shearwaters, some within just feet of the boat but unfortunately they were there and gone before I could snap them with the bridge camera.