Sunday, 31 July 2011

Hawk Conservancy Trust

My wife, Angie, was given a tank driving experience for a birthday present as a consequence we were down in Winchester this w/e.  
I had looked for somewhere to do an hour or twos birding Friday afternoon but there was nothing local that tickled my fancy however I did find the Hawk Conservancy Trust at Andover. Now I know it’s not the same as seeing them in the raw but honestly, am I really going to see a Stella’s Sea eagle in the wild ? - I can’t see me having a birding holiday on the north east coast of Asia.
Due to traffic jams on the M25 we actually arrived a lot later than I had hoped but we saw some of the displays and most of the birds in the cages/aviaries.  To be totally honest so many of the birds were unknown to me and I am still struggling to identify some of the pictures I took – I should have photographed the signs as well as the birds. I tried to photograph everthing I saw but many of the pictures are utter rubbish due to light being very poor shutter speed very slow coupled with a decent sprinkling of incompetence.
When we arrived the “Valley of the Eagles” display was on which didn’t feature too many eagles but did allow you to see black kite, yellow billed kite (juvenile – and a species very similar to the black kite) and hooded vulture.
Black Kite

Hooded Vulture

Yellow Billed Kite
They also flew in 2 African fish eagles that they release a couple of miles away but they have to get permission from the local flight controllers – the day we were there the flights were delayed by a few minutes due to an air ambulance flight.
Another display is of woodland birds – this takes place in a thickly wooded area which on an overcast day makes photography totally impossible. Here they flew eagle owl, barn, little owl, brahminy kite (a stunning looking bird) with the latter plucking food from a pond.
Brahminy Kite
The rest of the day was spent wandering around trying to get some pictures. With the birds that are in cages you can (just about) get a reasonable image if the bird is at the back of the cage and you can get the camera lens very close to the wire.
One none raptor they have in the collection is the great bustard. They had 4 birds which are “donated” by the Great Bustard  due to the birds being injured in some way. All the birds originate from Russia.
Great Bustard
Here are a few of the better images I managed as I wandered around and if anyone can id the grey raptor I would be grateful!
Stella's Sea eagle

Red-Backed Hawk

Snowy Owl

No Idea!
Saturday morning we were off to the tank place. One thing was very quickly apparent – it’s easier to get pictures of tanks/drivers of tanks than it is birds. Here's an image of Angie doing her best to immitate Tank Girl

Tuesday, 19 July 2011


Golf is now over though the clear up continues and looks likely to take several weeks. So although you can now get to the Obs and the surrounding area you still face the problem of getting round parked lorries everywhere.
Since high tide was ~ 3.00 pm I took the opportunity of going to Backsand arriving at 12.50. Water levels continue to drop (despite the rain) and several  islands are now showing.
On arrival there were 5 green sandpipers, 8 green shank and one little ringed plover in residence but these were supplemented by another 4 greenshank and 8 redshank as the tide came up. I had seen common sandpipers on the river bank but none showed up at the scrape whilst I was there.
To start everything was pretty distant ( for Backsand) but eventually both greenshank and green sandpiper came close to the hide. The redshank just put the heads under their wings and didn’t move.
Green Sandpiper

The LRP was active most of the time but never came close.
Little Ringed Plover
There were a few ducks around – mallard, tufted mainly but a female wigeon dropped in close to the hide and a juvenile shelduck put in an appearance.

Juvenile Shelduck
So nothing spectacular but it was nice to get out after the wind rain and golf.

Wednesday, 13 July 2011

Grove again

It was Grove or Dungeness and since I couldn't be bothered to drive all the way to Dunge Grove it was.
Today was very much like Monday but there were a few exceptions. Today I didn't find a green sand anywhere though 3 greenshank were on Harrison's as was a little ringed plover. Later on Marc Heath had a woodsand on there but I couldn';t be bothered to walk back.
5 little egrets from the ramp today plus another 2 from the marsh hide.
The gropper was in the bush along Harrison's but not showing well - in fact hardly showing at all. I only really saw it once in the hour I was there..........not very rewarding really.
No sign of the night herons today though a couple of sleeping juvvy cormorants had me going for a while.
I saw a bittern again from Marsh hide today. It came out of the ditch that runs past the hide about 30-40 yrds to the left, flew more or less along the dyke towards the river until I lost sight of it behind the bushes. It didn't seem to land nearby so no repeat performance from the marsh harriers though they did show some interest in it at first.
Due to the strong wiond everything was keeping it's head down so no pictures. Took some of bumble bees because no dragonflies around but they are a bugger to id.

Monday, 11 July 2011


Today I went to Grove, birding being off limits at Sandwich due to the Open (restrictions on getting there and the Observatory is closed so I can’t get a cuppa).
A slow wander around the whole circuit provided everything I’d hoped plus a surprise or two.  During the walk all the expected warblers were seen or heard though they were quiet to start with and Cetti’s were  quiet all day (only heard half a dozen or so). Sedge and reed warblers were fitting about all over the show carrying food though a few were still singing. Also in good voice were the blackcaps and several chiff chaffs.
Not much was seen from the ramp – 1 green sandpiper, 2 great crested grebes and 2 little egrets but as I made my way to the Feast Hide I heard then saw 2 bearded reedlings – a year tick! So a pleasing start.
Not much could be seen from the feast hide but later in the day the reeds/grass in front of the hide had been cut and some weed dragged from the dyke (though the dyke is still choked with the stuff). They were going to strim the island but several reed and sedge warblers seemed to be nesting on it so that was put on hold.
Up to Harrison’s and another green sand, a greenshank and 3 more little egret.
From there I went ot the river and heard the grasshopper warbler (a year tick) reeling away in the distance but I couldn’t locate it. I could also hear it from the river bank so it was probably 100+ yards from the Harrison Drove.
As I was getting near the water meadows pool a barn owl came up from the reeds and disappeared towards Stodmarsh. It was 8.38 and not something I'd expected to see. All I could see on the water meadows were a few ducks and lapwing; no sign of anything more interesting.
Along the river a pair of banded demoiselles showed well and landed close by.

Banded Demoiselle
As I approached the tower hide I could hear a turtle dove and later I saw another flying past the Marsh hide.
From the tower hide I eventually located the 2 night herons which is the first I’ve seen of them and another year tick. Otherwise I only saw what you would expect – a variety of ducks, common terns and great crested grebes – one family swimming past with 3 large chicks.
From there I went to the Marsh hide where I had the best photo-opportunity of the walk when a bearded reedling flew towards me and landed about 15-20 feet away. Eventually it moved into the open and I fired off a few shots.

Bearded Reedling
I spent the rest of the time in the Marsh hide hoping a harrier would fly past but no such luck.  There were 2 juveniles on display sporting those disgusting wing tags – surely there is a less intrusive way of marking the birds. ( Number 91 and 92 for anyone interested). A adult male seemed to be doing all the hunting and made a couple of food passes. I had the briefest of views of a bittern (my first summer bittern at Stodmarsh/Grove) and it landed very close to the harrier nest. The male was most disgruntled by this and dived on the now hidden bittern several times driving it off.  I don;t know why it was so angry because the young were in one of the bushes nearby. Still it was an interesting few seconds in an otherwise uneventful hour. All I saw from the Marsh hide was lapwings, greylags reed and sedge warblers.
And that’s about it. Some decent birds seen not much to photograph - though I did photograph some bumble bees but I've still to identify them!

Saturday, 9 July 2011

Old Lodge, Ashdown Forest

 Old Lodge, Ashdown Forest was drawn to my attention by Mike Hook (who managed some cracking photos of restarts and tree pipits) so having the whole day to go birding  I went there today with Pete PW.
It was overcast and  little breezy when we arrived  but we soon found a group of juvenile stonechats but they wouldn’t stay still and we failed to get a shot.
A little further along we saw our first redstart, a female, but like the stonechats she disappeared over the horizon pdq.  At this point we started seeing mistle thrushes - there were loads of them flitting about from wires to tree tops and having a good go at the rowan berries. At the same place later in the day we had 25 fly past – that’s about a years worth in East Kent.
Moving on we heard the hew-eet of a redstart and found a male perched up high but it too disappeared after a single shot. (We went back to the same area a little later and again had brilliant views but always too distant to photograph).
 Down on the ground there were ~ 4 juveniles diving in and out of the bracken but they too quickly moved off.
In total we saw 8-10 female/juvvy redstarts around the reserve but never managed to get closer than 30 yrds. We didn't see another male.
Moving onto a more open area we found our first tree pipit singing high up and we continued to see these throughout the morning. Most were seen as they were flushed from the ground  as they were feeding in the heather but we did find another singer. After a while it moved to another tree but lower down allowing better shots:
Tree Pipit

It then dropped to the ground to feed. Luckily there was a dead bush between me and the pipit and I got pretty close:
Tree Pipit
In all we saw about a dozen tree pipits.
In the trees we found nuthatch (just one,) tree creepers, blue and coal tit plus goldcrest but they were always very high and moving though the canopy.
There were a lot of great spotted woodpeckers around and a lone green wood. The only raptors we saw were a sparrow hawk and a kestrel.
Finally as we made our way back to the car Pete spotted a deer – well 2 actually, a foal and it’s mum. These are the first fallow deer I’ve seen.

Fallow Deer
So what of Old Lodge – it has a good head of redstarts and these are a heck of a lot closer than Mid Wales and a lot more tree pipits than I’ve ever managed to find at Kings Wood. I just wish they would let you get a little closer.
All in all well worth a visit.
After Old Lodge we went down to Rye but most of the terns and gulls have fledged so it was pretty quiet. The little terns seem to have left their nesting area but we did see a flock of about  20 of them over the beach.

Wednesday, 6 July 2011

Returning Waders

This morning  I started and finished at Restharrow because my camera has finally given up the ghost.  It wasn’t the locking into manual focus that ended up being the problem but the mirror jammed in the up position. Anyway I wanted to get it sent off so I restricted myself to Restharrow and a coffee at the Obs.
At Restharrow there were 2 little ringed plovers plus a common sand though Martyn had had 2 wood sands, greenshank and green sand earlier....and I mean earlier. The oyster catcher chicks are still around and the 2 lapwing chicks are still hanging in there. Today they were on the bank in front of the hide having been pushed off the islands by the cows.
I did take some pictures using my old camera – the Sony A200 – this is very much an entry level camera but it quite good considering it's cost.

Little Ringed Plover

Lapwing chick
Also on the scrape were 2 yellow wagtails (1 adult and 1 juv) and 2 pied wags (juvs).

This afternoon, after posting the camera,  I went down to Backsand so as to be there for the high tide.  In the dyke outside the scrape there were 3 little egrets and on the scrape itself there were eventually 6 green sandpipers, 1 common sandpiper (that disappeared immediately), 4 greenshank and 2 avocet.

The islands are now beginning to show but the sandpipers stuck resolutely to the shallow water. One of the greenshanks however did come over to the hide and I managed some reasonable shots.

The greensands did cause me some concerns as to whether I was missing something because  – the one of the left having quite diffuse breast  markings. Physically and behaviour wise it was just like the others. If I’ve got it wrong I sure one of you will say.

Green Sandpipers
Other than that it was only the normal linnets, skylarks, warblers and buntings though on the way back a sparrow hawk attacked a flock of ~ 400 starlings and despite 4 or 5 attempts failed to make a kill – it was very dramatic though.

Sunday, 3 July 2011

The Skomer Festival

The last few days have seen us exploring the far western region of the Greater Kent area – Skomer.
As normal the other crew for the mid-summer jolly were Steve Ashton, Alan Ashdown and Mike Gould. We normally only go for 3 nights but this time we went for 4 so as to get 3 day birding in. Also staying at the same place as us were Les, Sue and Pete.
Day 1 was spent travelling down departing at ~ 3.00pm Sunday and staying overnight at Llanelli. Day 2 we completed our journey taking in the Welsh Wildlife Centre near Cardigan and day 3 and 4 we had on Skomer.
How was it ? To say that the Welsh Wildlife Centre was a disappointment would be an understatement. It has a very plush building that the locals think is a white elephant and has nearly bankrupted the organisation but that was closed. As for the reserve it consists of mainly reed beds and a few hides and all we saw were a few reed and sedge warblers, some reed buntings and a few goldfinch. Highlight of the visit was a buzzard that kept circling the car park.
Common Buzzard
We didn’t stay too long and completed the journey to Dale early afternoon. After a cuppa at our digs we went to Wooltrack Point to find out the procedure for getting the boat to Skomer and to look for choughs.
Near the entrance we found a family of stonechats, linnets, mippits and swallows and soon found our first chough - a juvenile that allowed us to get very close:
Juvenile Chough
 Also from the point we saw a few very distant Manx Shearwaters and over on Skomer we could see puffin, guillemot and razorbill.
Continuing around the point we found the rest of the chough family in the form of 2 adults and 2 young.
That evening we dined at our digs – Slate Mill Lodge and very good it was too. This however set a bad precedent and contributed to our overall disappointment but more of that later.
Tuesday morning Steve, Al and I met up early (5-ish) on the bridge just outside Slate Mill and it was at this time we realised this was not the best place to do our normal pre-breakfast birding session – narrow lanes though mainly arable farming. We decided to go to Wooltrack point to see what was going on and found out that pre-breakfast birding was actually going to be out of the question.
To get onto Skomer you have to buy a Landing ticket. These can only be booked on the day, on a first come first served basis, and when 300 have gone that’s it. When we got there at ~6.30 people were already beginning to queue. Al joined the queue whilst we went for back breakfast and collect Rip Van Winkle.
When we returned at 8.00 there already were 41- cars in the car park and over 70  people in the queue! Since there are no restrictions on how many tickets an individual can buy I suspect some of those queuing did not get tickets at all. On the second day Steve and I did the queuing and the first 4 people in the queue (Steve and I being 2 of the 4) bought 16 of the tickets! Again I suspect that getting there at 8.00 would have been too late.
Once you have your ticket you can push off until your sailing time – 9.30 till 12.00 at 30 minute intervals but you can chose your sailing time if you are there early.
On our first day on Skomer we went walk-about hoping to see the short-eared owls reported on Spring Watch but dipped. We continued to the north coast of the island where we saw a peregrine and 5 chough (distant) but little else other than pipits (meadow and rock), a few swallows, a lot of gulls. Out at sea we could see puffins, guillemots and razorbills but all too distant to photograph. After 3 hrs I don’t think any of us had taken a picture and I for one was getting a little dispondant! Due to the walk-about we didn’t actually reach the Wick – the main puffins site - till after midday and the sun was pretty much in our face so the resulting picture quality was not impressive.
I wandered off to the landing stage and got some razorbill and guillemot shots just so I’d have something to show for the day.
 The second day we went straight to the puffins and spent the morning photographing them on the ground and in the air (well trying to). As the sun came round into our faces we stopped for lunch up at the Old Farm (and hoping the SEO would come out to play) then went over towards the landing stage and tried again to get some puffin flight shots – again not very successfully on my part.
Puffin and puffling
And that was it for Skomer.