Tuesday, 27 September 2011

Backsand is getting very dry

Today I went down to Backsand again for the high tide (also went down yesterday). Again things were a little disappointing.
At high tide the bird population was similar to yesterday in that there was only really red and greenshanks present(33 and 9 respectively), the only small waders being 2 green sandpipers and a solitary common sand. 7 little grebes in residence but ducks were conspicuous by their absence – just 2 mallard and a teal.
The real reason for this post is really only to warn people that the camera fest one normally enjoys when down at Backsand is unlikely to happen. Today only a lone greenshank walked in front of the hide (yesterday it was a lone green sand).
The reason for this is the water levels - they are very low (as they are at Restharrow) and the birds either don’t want to or don’t need to come close to the photographic hide – the water is so shallow the greenshank can, more or less, walk (and feed) where ever they want.
 Here are a couple of images that illustrate the problem.

The view from the camera hide

The channel in front of the hide is still full of water but the birds are staying away – this includes the little grebe.

Saturday, 24 September 2011

Palid Harrier Twitch

23rd September:
I woke up early today which was just as well because when I looked at my email I found a message from Steve Ashton saying he and Alan Ashdown were going try to see the palid harrier at Burpham (near Arundel), departing from Sturry at 7.00. I decided to join them and drove off to Sturry. From there we picked up Mike Gould and Martin Casemore and off to jolly West Sussex we went. Martin had already been down to see the harrier so finding the exact location was not a problem.
On arrival we were told the bird had been seen twice already and in fact we had only just missed it.
It seems the bird roams the hills and valleys of the area but there was a stubble field with a strip of un-harvested cgame strip that it normally hunted along so we made our way to that, taking up position in a lane that runs alongside the field.
As always this position was not perfect and the discontent grew. Although it was the closest you could get to the game strip you were looking south into the sun. After about 20-30 minutes Steve, Martin and myself decided we would try and get round the other side of the stubble field. This was not a good idea. We had only gone a couple of hundred yards when there was a flurry of activity from the other twitchers on site – the bird had turned up – but by this time we were deep in a sunken road and could see absolutely nothing!!!!!!
We eventually found an opening at the top of the lane but the bird was long gone. Mike and Alan turned up a few minutes later in very good humour because they had had good views and Mike had managed a few record shots.
As for our new position, although it was better with respect to the sun it was actually too far away from the game strip so we went back to our initial position – helped on our way by a couple of the local game keepers!
It was now around 11.00am but it was everyones opinion that it would be back in 30 minutes so we weren’t too perturbed and settled down for the wait. We waited and waited and waited.
 It seems this area is very good for raptors and whilst waiting we saw a number of  kestrels (highest number at any one time being 4), a couple of sparrow hawks, 4 or 5 red kites and numerous buzzards – I think we reached 11 or 12 visible at one point. One of the buzzards did have the good grace to fly right over our heads and for those who weren’t ready with the camera it circled above us a couple of times before disappearing up the valley.
Common Buzzard
By 1.00 o’clock things were looking grim and we had a debate as to whether we should give up and go look for the sabines gull that was nearby or stick it out to the bitter end. I was certainly getting a little despondent and was ready to quit but we stayed and I’m glad we did because at 2.15 it finally reappeared!
The bird came in from our left (east) coming quickly down the hill and disappearing behind the trees that line the lane. It then turned towards us and started hunting the eastern end of the stubble field and the adjacent pasture. It was always very distant, flying very slowly then going into a hover before moving on. This continued for a couple of minutes when it dropped to the ground and when it took to the air it had a small critter in its talons. During this time we were all frantically trying to get a picture but most of the time it was too distant and the cameras would not lock on. In fact the only shot I manages was of it banking away with its prey firmly in its talons.
Palid Harrier with prey
This is where our luck really changed for the better because instead of flying off with its lunch it landed on the far edge of the stubble field directly opposite from where we were standing. It was distant (200yards?) but it could be seen and the markings/colouring appreciated. I did take a shot of it on the deck drawing on the hints and tips Phil Milton has been giving me on how to get a good picture of a bird:
Spot the Harrier
It is there!

It was a long way to go and the long wait did try our patience (especially mine!) but it was worth it in the end – it’s the first palid harrier Steve, Al and I had seen.

After ~ 30 minutes on the floor the bird took to the air and did a couple of passes along the game strip allowing brilliant views and some decent record shots. At 2.50 it was all over and we all went through our pictures to see how we fared. I’ll let you decide.

Monday, 19 September 2011

Hard Work Again

I can’t help but think that I’m getting little reward for the time put in patch watching; twitching is getting more attractive by the day. If only petrol wasn’t so expensive.
Today was like the last few days – a lot of chiffchaffs around the estate but little else; just a few wheatears and whinchats. The highlight of the morning walk  the morning walk was the 30 grey partridge charging around on the turf field adjacent to Restharrow scrape. The lowlight was discussing England performance in the rugby – they’ve got to be better than that........haven’t they?
On the scrape were a little ringed plover, a little stint, 2 dunlin and a green sandpiper.
In the afternoon I walked down to Backsand so as to be there for the high tide (which isn’t very high at the moment).
When I arrived it was dire just 1 greenshank, 1 green  and 1 common sandpiper but as high tide approached a few more waders came in with the final counts being 6 greenshank, 4 green sands, 1 common sand and 28 redshank.

Green Sandpiper
When the redshank arrived they dropped in quite close to the spider hide and allowed a group shot before disappearing to the far side of the scrape.
Whilst waiting for the high tide a kingfisher alighted on one of the sticks but too distant to photograph and one of the young tufted ducks swam past the hide.
Tufted Duck
The most unexpected count however were the little grebes. I always have trouble arriving at a final number for little grebes because they are never all on the surface together. Well today I had got to 5 quite quickly but over the next half hour  managed to convince myself there were 7 so when they were grouped together I fired off a few shots. In one of the shots there were actually 8 of the little beasties though the shot attached only shows 7 of the 8 as the other was to far to the right to include.
Little Grebes

Monday, 12 September 2011

Another Stint Day

I wasn’t going to write anything today because the highlight was in the quality of the photos taken of a little stint but I’ve changed my mind and decided to share my day with you.
The weather in the morning was truly foul – wet and very windy. I managed a visit to Restharrow and saw the resident ruff, 2 little stints and 3 dunlin but they were always distant so I quickly withdrew to the obs for a coffee or two.
After that I did a brief sea watch from the car at Kingsdown but gave up after ~ 20 minutes as all I had seen was a dozen or so Sandwich and common terns.
Around midday the weather started to clear so I shot off to Backsand for the high tide. This was a  lot of effort  for little reward as all I found were 3 dunlin, 3 greenshank, 3 common sand, 2 little egrets, 5 little grebe and a few common ducks. I didn't even get the camera out of it's bag.
I departed at about 1.40 but decided to look for wheatears/whinchats south of the sailing club. As I wandered along the Ancient Highway the folly of this exercise became apparent as the wind whistled through. Between Dickson’s Corner and the sea (down by the golf course) I did see 4 wheatears and 3 whinchats but they disappeared too soon to get a shot – assuming I could have held the camera steady.
On the sea wall the wind was so strong it was difficult to stand so I dropped down onto the beach to get out of the wind a little and hoping to find some wheatears doing the same. Well I found one almost immediately but it soon disappeared but then I spotted some waders – 3 dunlin and a little stint – intent on getting some shut eye.
Only shot I managed with all 4 visible
I immediately fired off a few shots to check the exposure then started to crawl towards them. Eventually I was only 15 to 20 feet away and there I stayed for ~ 20 minutes snapping away happily. Most of the time the birds had their heads under their wings but now and again one would look up.
2 Dunlin

Dunlin and Little Stint asleep

Little Stint

Eventually I decdied enough was enough so I retreated leaving them where I had found them and continued along the beach. Up by the sailing club I found a Chiddy – his vivid blue T-shirt matching the colour of the now clear sky. Mark pointed out 7 wheatears sheltering in Sandilands garden and we had a chat and as always solved most of the worlds problems.
Mark went off to look for the stint and I returned to the car and back to Photoshop.
In all I was out from 8.00 am to 4.00pm and had 20 minutes of prime time – which for this year is a very good return.

Sunday, 11 September 2011

Farmoor Reservoir

We had to make a trip to Oxford this w/e but the overnight stay allowed me to pop over to Farmoor Reservoir on Sunday morning before breakfast. This was the first time I'd visited this western area of Greater Kent to go birding
Farmoor is run by Thames water and it hosts sailing and fishing but it is also locally renowned for its birdlife.  It’s the largest area of open water in Oxfordshire and regularly hosts black and white winged black terns. This year is no different and a juvenile white winged black tern has been in residence forthe last few days. It had an added attraction in that yesterday a citrine wagtail was found there.
I arrived around 7.00 and it was closed. However there are footpaths that allow one to get in when the gates are locked so I used one of them. Talking to the local birders it seems that getting there early is preferred because as the fisher and sailing folk arrive the bird disperse.
There was one local present when I arrived who put me onto the white winged black tern but it was always a long way off and out of camera shot. I spent most of the next hour or so searching with him for the wagtail but we had no luck though there must have been 30+ yellow wagtails around plus 2 or 3 times that number of pied wags – they were everywhere. I did find a couple of juvvy yellow wags that had strong wing bars but they were all yellow around the vent and the face markings were not correct.
As we walked the causeway, in part looking for the wagtail and in part to get a little closer to the tern, we found 2 dunlin and a little stint so I spent the next 15 minutes taking pictures of these. The sun was very bright and I struggled with the exposure flip flopping between being over exposed (the white of the stint being burned out) and under exposed (the white being ok but the rest of the shot was nearly black).  The other problem I had was due to the wind direction - the birds spent most of the time looking away from me. Why not go the other side you may ask – well if I did I would have been looking into the sun! Still I was reasonably happy with what a few of the shots.
Little Stint


Also on the lake were 2 black necked grebes and a host of great crested, plus the common ducks and gulls.
On the way home today we stopped off at Christmas Common but the rain came down cutting short our stay.
Red Kite

Wednesday, 7 September 2011

Well at least it stayed dry

After yesterday’s wash out it was back to the normal routine today.....unfortunately with the normal return.
The day started with a wander around the estate. All we found were a few of the common warblers – chiffs, willow warblers, common whitethroat, blackcap and a lone lesser whitethroat and these were confined to just a few sheltered spots with most being seen along the Haven Stream. A check of the paddocks south of the sailing club revealed......absolutely nothing; the only wheatear being on the turf field close to Restharrow scrape.
The scrape itself had the 3 ruff plus a lone little ringed plover.
Dragonflies were, for this year, quite numerous especially common darters and migrant hawkers; the camera coming out for this one which posed in the sun by the entrance to the Elms.
Migrant Hawker
After a coffee I went down to Backsand. I know the tides were all wrong high tide being around 8.00 (I think) but I don’t think the weather is that great for the next few days so today it had to be.
I arrived at around midday and there wasn’t much about just 2 common sands and 2 greenshank but after a few minutes 8 dunlin plus something else flew around the scrape for a few minutes before the dunlin landed and the something else disappeared - which was a bit annoying. The dunlin stayed pretty distant though a few of them came a little closer.
A little later the greenshank numbers rose to a lofty 4, a green sandpiper turned up and around 1.00pm 2 spotted redshank appeared but quickly slipped off behind one of the islands never to be seen again – I can only assume they went to sleep because I’m sure they didn’t fly out.
Also on the scrape were 4 little grebes, the 2 young tufties, one of which is acquiring a very white face, 2 little egrets and an avocet.
I gave up about 2.00 but stopped off at Restharrow on the way home – the 3 ruff were still there as was the LRP but now a greenshank and green sand had joined them.
As I was leaving Martyn Wilson  arrived at the scrape and whilst we had a chin wag a hobby flew across the turf field – the last of the year?

Tuesday, 6 September 2011

The Stodmarsh Bitterns Spectacular

I couldn’t get out till late this morning so after an disappointing few days birding and with the camera I finally gave in and went to see the bitterns at Stodmarsh. At least there would be something to photograph. When I arrived there were already 4 cameras in the hide and 2 of the birds were showing intermittently (this was at 9.30am approx).

As it turned out this was as close as any of the bitterns got during the course of the session (other than fly-bys) and even this wasn’t close enough for a good shot. The birds slowly and in some case quickly moved away until 3 were together about 100 yrds away then there was a flurry of flying with, eventually, all the birds landing (well crash landing more like) in the reeds to the left of the hide and on the far bank of the dyke.

I watched the reed for several minutes hoping one would come out close to the hide but the next I saw of them was back out on the marsh as they made their way quickly on foot back to where they had started. The three youngsters then started moving left with a bit of purpose which quickly got more urgent  and ended with the three of them chasing what I assume to be mum around the marsh. Mum finally stopped running and there was a flurry of activity took place as they pestered her for food.

Eventually one of them got stuck in – quite literally as can just about be seen in this picture – the bird back right has its head jammed down the throat of the bird back left:

Calm was finally restored and they all stood around for a few minutes then mum flew off towards the Feast hide and the others dispersed either on foot or in the air.

It then went very quiet for a couple of hours with very few sightings though one flew very close to the hide and I failed to get the shot. This was very disappointing as you don’t often get an opportunity like this. Still Phil Milton will be proud of my incompetence as he claims I (and many others) have completely lost the plot with this desire to get sharp images. If you want to see how it should be done look at Mike Gould’s Flickr site.

During this period a heron showed an interest in 2 of the young bitterns but they disappeared back into a reed bed and the heron gave up and resumed fishing. Also around were a little egret, a male marsh harrier, a juvenile ruff, a couple of green sandpipers and a few snipe.
I’d been watching diligently for the return of the mother for about 2 hours when over to the far left a melee started with wings going everywhere. The views were poor as the reed/grass was pretty deep but eventually one of the bitterns emerged with a small bream. The female had returned unseen I assume along the river and coming in from the extreme left.

4 bitterns - 3 scrapping and 1 watching on

After a few minutes one of the birds flew into the right hand dyke (I assume the mother) and the other 3 skulked off into the reeds which is when I gave up.
A long session – I was there about 5 hours - but spectacle was brilliant with all 4 birds being seen together on 2 occasions as they chased around and were fed. It was just sad my performance with the camera was not equal to the spectacle.