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.