Sunday, 28 December 2014

Christmas break...

Well, things have been a bit quiet for me over the Christmas holiday. Plenty of R 'n' R with the family, which is great and how it should be. I managed to get them all down to Lyme Regis for a walk on the 27th December - an opportunity for me to check out the Purple Sandpipers for the first time this winter too. Haven't noticed any reports of them this year and was beginning to wonder if any had been seen but a walk along the Cobb Wall soon put that concern to rest as I found ten birds huddled just under the top of the wall.

Purple Sandpipers: R. Harris
Purple Sandpipers: R. Harris
9 of the 10 Purple Sandpipers: R. Harris
No sign of any Black Redstarts around the usual places in the town though, only a handful of Rock Pipits and a Grey Wagtail near the river mouth.

Grey Wagtail: R. Harris
My father-in-law suggested going out again today as he fancied getting some fresh air so naturally I suggested a drive down to south Devon for my annual Cirl Bunting trip. They didn't disappoint either with 20-25 birds present along with a couple of reed buntings - despite a brisk, cold, easterly wind.

Cirl Bunting, male: R. Harris
Cirl Bunting, male: R. Harris
Cirl Bunting, male: R. Harris
Always impressive birds to see.

Didn't connect with the Yellow-browed Warbler, Firecrest or Sibe Chiff that have been around recently but neither had anyone else I met so I didn't feel to bad about that. A brief sea watch produced a single drake Velvet Scoter, a red-throated diver and a few gannets drifting through the bay but little else. Great afternoon to be out and about though.

Monday, 15 December 2014

Twite in Somerset!

Twite in Somerset is a very rare treat indeed and at the moment there appears to have been a small influx on the north Somerset coast. Initially four were present on the salt marsh at Brean Down but since then the tally has risen in the area to include up to eight reported in one flock and at least another five close by! The weather on Saturday was superb - a bright, clear, crisp, sunny winter's day so  after I received a text from Dave Helliar asking if I was interested in going up for them, we were soon heading off to Brean to try and find them for ourselves.

As soon as we arrived we could see a few photographers lined up in the distance and a birder returning to his car confirmed that the flock of four were still showing well. Ten minutes later we were at the spot but there were no Twite to be seen and the small group of people had scattered in different directions leaving us to wonder whether we had just dipped them!

We stayed put though and the birds returned about 20 minutes later and sat up on the fence along the edge of the salt marsh giving fantastic views in beautiful conditions. They are smart little birds with bags of character and always nice to see:

Twite, Brean Down: Dave Helliar
Two of the four: R. Harris
Would have been nice to get them a bit closer but they seemed a little skittish so we kept our distance. I did get a short video as well:

Satisfied we'd nailed the Twite, we then made our way over to a shingle ridge on the edge of the salt marsh where a snow bunting has been hanging out for the last week too. We soon located it and had great views:

Snow Bunting, Brean Down: R. Harris
Snow Bunting, Brean Down: D. Helliar
Snow Bunting, Brean Down: R. Harris

As we left the Snow Bunting and made our way back to the path, we kicked up a short-eared owl - a first for the winter! There was also a Water Pipit in the area but that one didn't materialise for us. By the time we returned to where the Twite had been seen earlier a handful of birders and photographers had assembled and I left Dave there to go and look for a showy male Black Redstart back near the car park. WRONG decision. Fifteen minutes later I still hadn't found the Black Red but Dave and the others had connected with a flyover Lapland Bunting that had been seen earlier in the week! I didn't go back but Dave and I met up shortly afterwards and the Black Red finally put in an appearance just as we started to loose the light and what a beauty it was:

Black Redstart, Brean Down: Dave Helliar
Not a bad afternoon's birding considering we'd only had about three hours to see everything. If only I could have a few more days like that...

Friday, 12 December 2014

Barred Warbler...

It's a a while since I've successfully got to grips with a Barred Warbler and the temptation to go and see a very showy young bird frequenting the Bird Observatory garden at Portland, finally got the better of me this morning. There have been some amazing photos of this individual coming out on social media in the last week or so (and I certainly don't include mine in that category). They are normally extremely skulking birds, so this was a real treat. It was very overcast, which helped get pics of such a pale bird but on the flip side the ISO makes them quite grainy:

1st winter Barred Warbler, Portland: R. Harris
1st winter Barred Warbler, Portland: R. Harris
1st winter Barred Warbler, loving the apples: R. Harris
1st winter Barred Warbler, Portland: R. Harris
It was very defensive over the apples that have been put out by the bird feeders and frequently called and saw off any other contenders interested in them. Managed to get a bit of video too - apologies for the 'breezy' conditions, sounds like concord taking off at times:

Don't forget - if viewing the video in YouTube you can click on the settings option below the video and select 1080p to see it in its original HD quality. Warning! this doesn't necessarily mean they'll be any better!

Wednesday, 10 December 2014

Dawlish Warren..

Last Sunday morning found myself and Andy Grinter heading off to Dawlish Warren in Devon in the hope of picking up one or two good birds that have been present during the last week. The hoped for Bonaparte's gull didn't materialise but a drake Long-tailed duck was great to see. Despite good numbers of Brent Geese there was no sign of the Black Brant that's been moving around the estuary again this autumn either. We did connect with the water pipit, which showed in front of the hide at a distance along with good numbers of Dunlin, Blackwits, Grey Plover and a few sanderling.

Then the Tweet came in that three Penduline Tits had been seen at Bowling Green Marsh 20 minutes up the road! We soon abandoned the Warren and trudged back along the sand dunes to the car. We arrived to the news that they hadn't been seen for an hour-and-a-half and unfortunately that was to remain the case. What a great find though!

Is a log? Is it a pebble? No, it's a poor phone-scoped
shot of the water pipit: R. Harris

Gray Plovers in the early morning gloom: Andy Grinter
Brent Geese: Andy Grinter
Brent Geese: Andy Grinter
Little Egret: Andy Grinter
Redshank: Andy Grinter
Curlew: Andy Grinter

Wednesday, 3 December 2014

Red Crested Pochard...

Dave and Andy caught up with the Devon Red Crested Pochard yesterday, a female that has been lingering around the Budleigh Salterton area since 16th November.

Red Crested Pochard: Dave Helliar
Red Crested Pochard: Andy Grinter

Good numbers of Avocet nearby on the River Clyst too:

Avocets on the Clyst: Andy Grinter
Avocets: Dave Helliar
And adding a splash of colour to the early winter days is Spindle (Euonymus europaea) - putting on a great display at the moment.

Spindle: Dave Helliar

Monday, 1 December 2014

Richard's Pipits...

Yes, Richard's Pipits!  Three in fact...and in Somerset too!  Great find by Julian Thomas on Saturday, initially a single bird, which was then joined by a second and a possible third present too. Roger Musgrove confirmed three present early on Sunday and so a trip to the North Somerset coast was in order. Didn't expect to connect with them as easily as we did and they showed well...for Richard's Pipits. Though never much closer than 30+ metres they did at least sit up on the tussocks and nearby fence a few times. The light was behind them the whole time but Andy Grinter managed to get a couple of shots and I got some video for the record:

Little 'n large - dwarfing the meadow pipit: Andy Grinter
Richard's Pipit, one of three: Andy Grinter
Richard's Pipit: R Harris

Friday, 21 November 2014

Didn't expect to see one of these today! ...part deux.

Got a message from my brother Duncan this afternoon to say he'd seen a "massive lizard in the field approaching the Lordleaze Hotel". I nipped over there quickly to take a look, half expecting to see a Green Iguana, which are frequently kept as pets. I met Duncan close to the sight who then guided me back to the spot where he'd seen it. Sure enough, it was still there but unfortunately it was dead and it wasn't a Green Iguana but a 2 ft Savannah Monitor (Varanus exanthematicus)! It looked to be a female in pretty good condition judging by the girth of the tail, so had presumably not long escaped from someone's collection - a real shame, such a lovely reptile.

Savannah monitor: R. Harris
Savannah monitor: R. Harris

It hadn't been dead that long and I think the temperatures last night would have been enough to kill it.

Thursday, 20 November 2014

Portland Pallas's...

Technically speaking this post should have gone up before the Dusky Warbler but best laid plans and all that stuff. Didn't get down to Portland to see this little beauty myself but Dave Helliar did and soon found the limitations of the bridge camera. Pallas's Warblers are active little chaps and Dave had his work cut out just keeping up with it:

Pallas's Warbler...nearly: Dave Helliar
Pallas's Warbler: Dave Helliar
Pallas's Warbler: Dave Helliar
At last, a whole bird and beauties they are too.
Dave Helliar
Littl Owl, Obs Quarry, Portland: D. Helliar

Closer to home Dave also caught up with one of the local dippers (no not me - the bird):

Dipper: Dave Helliar
Dipper: Dave Helliar
Dipper: Dave Helliar

Saturday, 15 November 2014

Nearly Dipped a Dusky...

When I set off on a twitch I'm always optimistic. I think most of us are, we probably wouldn't bother otherwise.  But I have to confess that setting off to see a very skulky Dusky Warbler on Portland at 12:15 on a mid - November afternoon,  knowing there was a chance of showers and only a few hours of daylight left was pushing the limits of my enthusiasm. Nevertheless Dave Helliar picked me up and we set off to give it our best shot.

Upon arrival it looked bleak. Only a handful of people were present and it seemed only one or two were serious birders, all of the locals having seen the bird over the previous three days. I don't mind photographers but they have a very different agenda to birders, often where conflict occurs at twitches. We heard it call almost immediately and then nothing. One guy who'd seen it earlier in the day insisted on talking to another guy present at an irritatingly loud volume while some of us strained to listen for the bird above him and the passing traffic. He'll never know how close he came to being told to STFU! A long hour passed and it began to take on all the hallmarks of a major dip. I decided to check out another field behind the group and while I was gone Dave picked it up moving along the back hedge of the paddock calling.  Amazingly only one other birder recognised it (or seemed to care) and a few of us moved around to where it had last been heard.  It called a few more times and I had brief distant views before it flew into a large bramble patch in the middle of the field. 

It spent a lot of time in here...

It called again and we moved back to our original location as it looked like it might be doing a circuit.  Sure enough, it 'tacked' a couple more times and then hopped out in the open in front of myself,  Dave and one other birder! It was only on show for three or four seconds about 10ft away before flying into the hedge to disappear yet again. In fact it had the ability to move without been seen and could pop up just about anywhere. By now we'd been there for two hours and didn't anticipate getting better views so decided to call it a day. We also had two black redstarts there.

On the way back we called in at Portland Castle as the light faded to look for the (returning? ) black guillemot that had been reported in the week.  Sure enough, there it was about 250 m away, a lovely bird in flat light and mill pond conditions - best views I've had in a long while.  It even hauled itself up onto a flat buoy giving a brief phone scope opportunity.

Black Guillemot, Portland Harbour: R. Harris

What a great way to end what turned out to be a few hours of great birding.

Wednesday, 12 November 2014

White-fronted goose at Abbotsbury

Andy Grinter was in the right place at the right time on Sunday when this white-front showed up at Abbotsbury in Dorset with some Canada geese. Not so fortunate was the dead gannet found on the fleet close by.

White-fronted goose, Abbotsbury: Andy Grinter
Deceased gannet: Andy Grinter
Deceased gannet: Andy Grinter
There were also reports of scaup, long-tailed duck and firecrest but unfortunately the swannery was closed.

Monday, 10 November 2014

Franklin's Gull...

After a busy week away in the 'Big Smoke' I really wanted to get out birding yesterday and decided to try for the long lingering Franklin's Gull, which has been coming in to roost most evenings at Blashford Lakes near Ringwood in Hampshire. I picked up Dave Helliar and we headed out (somewhat later in the day than usual), to try our luck.

We arrived at the Tern hide overlooking Ibsley Water at around 13:30 and it was pretty full even then! A long wait ensued with the bird not expected until just before dusk but at least there were other things to watch including a couple of black-necked grebes, a few goldeneye, gadwall, shoveler, pochard, teal - loads of greylag geese and  a mixed flock of several hundred distant gulls to pick through. As the clock neared half-four and the light started to fade the Franklin's was picked up 600 metres away towards the back of the lake!

They are surprisingly easy birds to pick out once you get your eye on them, the dark mantle and diagnostic head pattern make it 'pop out' but locating it in the first place among so many gulls isn't so straight forward. These are my best shots, taken in fading light on max magnification (x200) - which is why they look more like Renoir paintings if inspected too closely:

Franklin's Gull, Ibsley Water: R. Harris
Franklin's Gull, Ibsley Water...yes, just behind
the other gull: R. Harris

I've seen plenty in Canada but only one previous in the UK so pleased to have connected with it. Nearly up there with Meds and Laughing gulls in terms of looks for me - love 'em.

Slightly more obliging Little Grebe - they
even swim uphill here!: R. Harris

Snow Bunting...

Dave Helliar managed to see the snow bunting that's been kicking around the Dunster/Minehead area for much of the last week. Confiding, as is usually the case, Dave apparently nearly trod on this one before it moved and showed itself! Cracking little birds and always good to see.

Snow Bunting: Dave Helliar
Snow Bunting: Dave Helliar

Also a showy Skylark present too...

Skylark: Dave Helliar
Dave also saw the Dunster Hoopoe but it was such a flighty bird he couldn't get a pic. Also local birding produced Ring Ouzel, a singing dipper and a number of Clouded Yellow.

Helice form of Clouded Yellow: Dave Helliar