Monday, 28 December 2015

Winter Wonderland...not

There's little doubt about it, the current run of unseasonally warm weather is having a huge impact on our wildlife. The lack of cold weather has seen dozens of plant species in flower that shouldn't be out yet, a lack of birds in gardens as supplementary food supplies aren't needed and a general lack of the usual winter bird species we all expect to see. A visit to Axmouth in Devon yesterday produced just a single Mediterranean Gull among the mix of gulls on the river as well as a black redstart near the yacht club but little else of note. It has been very quiet indeed.

Med Gull, Axmouth: R. Harris

That said I finally got a chance to take a look for the long-staying Dusky Warbler at Ham Wall this morning and couldn't wait to get out there. I picked up Dave Helliar and we arrived on site at 10am to learn that it hadn't been seen (or heard) since around 08:30....Hmmm, starting to smell like a dip already!

We stood there for three hours looking at this:

Hoping to see one of these:

But instead only saw a few of these...

...and not much else :-(

The last half hour helped alleviate the frustration when the Glossy Ibis put in an appearance and a couple of Great White Egrets flew across the reeds in the distance. As Dave pointed out, 20 years ago we would have been more than happy to see either one of those. Although great to see they are almost expected today, particularly the GWE's. How times have changed. A male Marsh Harrier also put in an appearance.

About 100m away but it saved the day.

A little more surprising was this Perez's Frog Pelophylax perezi still showing well on the ponds by the car park.

Perez's Frog Pelophylax perezi : R. Harris
What was slightly gutting was the Tweet Dave read out on the way home 'Dusky Warbler again at Ham Wall at 13:15'...a full 12 minutes after we'd given up and left. Ah well, where would be without the ups and downs of birding, it's all part of the reason we do it. Maybe next time...

Friday, 11 December 2015

Great White Egret...

Great discovery by Dave Helliar yesterday at Chard Res. It showed briefly at the North West end of the reservoir with Little Egrets before relocating to the south. Present again this morning before being flushed by the reserve warden and not seen since.

Great White Egret with Little Egrets, Chard Res.
:Dave Helliar
Great White Egret: Dave Helliar
Great White Egret: Dave Helliar
Great White Egret: Dave Helliar
Great White Egret: Dave Helliar
Great White Egret: Dave Helliar
Somerset is easily the best place in the country to see these magnificent birds but it's still a very scarce bird in South Somerset and always good to see this locally.

Wednesday, 9 December 2015

Local Lull....

Things have definitely quietened down locally but a quick jaunt to Budleigh Salterton on business today allowed me the opportunity to make a brief stop at Seaton and Axmouth on the return journey home. Although pretty quiet it was the first cold, sunny day we've had in a while and I was rewarded with a Sandwich Tern close in to shore feeding in the bay and a nice adult winter Med Gull among the Black Headed Gulls on the river.

Sandwich Tern: R. Harris
Sandwich Tern: R. Harris
Mediterranean Gull: R. Harris
Same bird as above: R. Harris
plus a few of the regulars...
Curlew: R. Harris
Oystercatcher: R. Harris
Redshank: R. Harris
Little Egret: R. Harris
These two were definitely competing with
each other: R. Harris

Monday, 23 November 2015

Surf Scoter...a first for Somerset!

Long predicted and long awaited, this young Surf Scoter appeared off Blue Anchor in North Somerset about a week ago. Dave Helliar managed to get some very reasonable shots of it last Monday and I'm hoping it hangs around so that I can get up there to see it too. Still present until yesterday at least:

Juvenile Surf Scoter, Blue Anchor: Dave Helliar
Juvenile Surf Scoter, Blue Anchor: Dave Helliar
Juvenile Surf Scoter, Blue Anchor: Dave Helliar
Juvenile Surf Scoter, Blue Anchor: Dave Helliar
Up until a couple of days ago the weather had been unseasonably mild too. Locally Dave found a Painted Lady still on the wing as well as a few good birds.

Painted Lady - tatty but still on the wing: D.Helliar
Med Gull: D. Helliar
Lesser Redpoll: Dave Helliar
Lesser Redpoll: Dave Helliar
Mandarin Ducks: Dave Helliar
Pair of Mandarins: Dave Helliar
Thanks to Dave for sharing his photos from the last week.

Thursday, 19 November 2015

New Nockies for Next to Nothing...

If, like me, you regularly find yourself wishing you'd brought your bins out with you (usually when out with the family and 'not birding' - no, we never actually switch off do we). Then you may also have considered keeping a spare pair in the car so that you're never caught out. The advantage of this is that it doesn't wind-up my better half - leaving the house for some quality family time with your bins swinging around your neck never really cuts it with the spouse and offspring and is invariably met with groans of displeasure.

It was with this in mind that I decided to purchase a cheap pair of bins to keep under the driver's seat for emergencies. Having spent a bit of time researching what was out there I decided to take a chance on a pair of Tom Lock 2 8x42's priced at an incredible £99.00....yes, that's right...£99.00! I'd read some very good reviews about them and just had to see what the fuss was about. I also happened to have a £20 Amazon gift voucher to sweeten the deal even more so for just £79.00 I secured a pair and tried them recently at the Pallas's Warbler gig at Brean. Well, to say I was surprised was an understatement. I've never been able to afford top brand optics, with a young family to think about (and fund) they are way out of my range and let's face it, we've all met birders with £2000.00 bins dangling round their necks who couldn't tell a coal tit from capercaillie - it's certainly not the rule that expensive optics are going to improve your fieldcraft or ID skills! So anyway, here they are:

Very average looking but punch
well above their weight.
Tom Lock 2 bins. A steal at £99 and
worth a punt.

I won't waffle about how sharp the image is or how decent the contrast is or how light they are in the hands and fully waterproof etc. That's all been said here. No, they're not perfect and if you were to compare them side-by-side with a pair of Swaros, Leicas or Zeiss of course you'll notice a difference but I don't think you will see £1800 worth of difference! Believe me for £99.00 you can't go wrong, these are nearly 'chuck away' bins - if you drop them you won't spend too long crying about it. But they will bring a smile to your face and you'll be just under £2000 better off t'boot. In fact I'm so impressed that they've become my main pair, relegating my Bushnell Legend HD's to the 'under driver seat' position. Now I'm just waiting for them to bring out spotting scopes.

Note: I have heard the Tom Lock 2 10x42's don't have a great field of view compared to more expensive models but the 8x42's are great. The above ramblings are based entirely on the 8x42's.

Sunday, 15 November 2015

Caspian on the Axe...

I wasn't suppose to be birding today but as chance would have it I managed to jam a couple of hours in before I was needed at home. I seized the opportunity and immediately jumped in the car and headed to Seaton to spend a brief hour checking the river. Yesterday Steve Waite had a superb find of two Caspian Gulls and a Yellow-legged there, so things were looking promising. That said it was only an hour after high tide this morning, never normally a good time to see anything much on the river and I didn't expect to see anything other than wigeon.

When I arrived I could see about 50 large gulls loafing on the river half way between Coronation Corner and the bridge. A thorough scan with the scope revealed nothing other than a few Common Gulls and handful of Lesser-black backed among the Herring flock. Then a first winter Med popped into view on the far bank with a dozen or so Black-headed gulls, better than nothing and more than expected!

I returned to the flock on the water and almost immediately hit upon a 1st winter Caspian Gull bathing among them (presumably the same bird as yesterday - haven't had time to compare pics with Steve's bird). What a cracking bird, all the usual features easily seen with great scope views. Bit overcast for decent photos but you can see it clearly enough.

Caspian Gull, Seaton: R. Harris
Caspian Gull, Seaton: R. Harris
Caspian Gull, Seaton: R. Harris
Caspian Gull, Seaton - check out the size
compared the Herring in the foreground: R. Harris

Again, showing how big it was compared to
the Herring Gull in front of it: R. Harris
Classic wing pattern for Casp: R. Harris
And underside for good measure: R. Harris

1st winter Med (centre behind BHG): R. Harris

Friday, 13 November 2015

A Spitter in the House...

As I went to move my coat off the bannister a few mornings back, I noticed a small spider walking across it. Thinking it was going to be one of the regular species I decided to catch it nonetheless just to move it out of harms way. It was only then that I got a closer look at it and immediately recognised it as Scytodes thoracica, a species I'd seen a few times but mostly in the south-east. I'd never encountered one locally before.

Scytodes is unusual in that it is the only species in the UK that actually spits its venom/web cocktail at its prey, sticking it down and allowing time for the spider to walk in and bite it properly. It's also unusual in having such a large domed thorax, almost rotund in appearance. This one was around 5 mm in body length, they're not big! They are always strikingly marked with bold black markings too, though not that noticeable until you zoom in close to them.

Scytodes thoracica: R. Harris

Scytodes thoracica: R. Harris

Scytodes thoracica: R. Harris

It's nice to still find new species for the house list at Whitestaunton!

Thursday, 12 November 2015

Cattle Egrets...

Thanks to Dave Helliar who went to see and photograph three Cattle Egrets that turned up in Devon recently. Always great to see them, what a pity they haven't colonised yet!

Cattle Egrets, Teingrace, Devon: D. Helliar
Cattle Egret, Teingrace, Devon: D. Helliar

Dave also tied in the long staying Serin at Exmouth, often a difficult bird to see in the open let alone get onto with a bridge camera:

Serin, Exmouth: Dave Helliar
Otherwise pretty quiet locally at the moment. Thanks to Dave for sharing his photos.

Monday, 26 October 2015

Spot the Sandpiper...

Late last Saturday Dave Helliar picked up a 'Common Sand' on his local patch but alarm bells immediately rang as a) it was very late for a common sandpiper, b) it looked very short-tailed and c) its legs looked yellowish. Bear in mind this was at considerable distance and even with his scope on full 60x magnification, it was too far away to see any detail on the bird or be sure of its ID. He sent me a text which mentioned the words 'spotted sandpiper' but as the light had gone and it was so distant I shelved the idea of taking a look and thought no more of it.

Skip forward to Sunday. Dave was back on his patch first thing when news of the Pallas's Warbler broke. While phoning him he mentioned that the bird was still present and the legs still looked yellow but it was still fairly distant and moving around against a background which made it difficult to judge the colour accurately. Do I go and have a look now or do we head off to see the Pallas's Warbler? Well, the Pallas's won out as you can see from the previous post. No regrets there, it was a cracking little bird.

On the way home we decided to try and connect with the sandpiper, hoping it would be closer for better views. A quick scan of the area it had been frequenting revealed no sign of it at all. A few expletives later and we'd written it off as a 'maybe but we'll never know' and moved on to view another part of his patch. Within minutes Dave had picked it up walking amongst grass along the waters edge and yes, it certainly had bright yellow legs when viewed in sunlight against a green background! It was incredibly active and quite skittish but after a patient wait it came to within 50-60ft and we managed photos, video and excellent views that confirmed it was indeed a Spotted Sandpiper!

Hindsight is a great thing and had we spent the day getting better views of this one rather than going for the Pallas's, we could have got news out about it sooner (should be noted though that up until this last visit on Sunday afternoon, the bird had been on private land with no general access anyway). Unfortunately a thorough search of the area today was unsuccessful in relocating it and it has presumably moved on. A superb find by Dave and a fantastic bird to see locally. Look out Seaton it could be with you soon!

1st winter Spotted Sandpiper: Dave Helliar
1st winter Spotted Sandpiper: Dave Helliar
1st winter Spotted Sandpiper: Dave Helliar
1st winter Spotted Sandpiper: Dave Helliar
1st winter Spotted Sandpiper: Dave Helliar
Spotted Sandpiper: R. Harris

Spotted Sandpiper - showing classic features
of short tail and yellow legs: R. Harris
You can see that the tertial feathers appear very plain and the overall tone is much greyer when compared to the two Common Sandpipers further down the page.
Spotted Sandpiper - as close as it got on full zoom. 
Shows the dark breast-sides not forming a complete 
band. Usually more extensive on Common Sand: R. Harris
For comparison purposes, here are a couple of Common Sandpipers taken at Chard Res which conveniently show the longer tail, greenish legs, more complete breast band and well marked tertials. Spotted sands have a subtly different head shape too, which helps contribute to their characteristic jizz.