Sunday, 27 November 2011

A Port in a Storm

It was very windy overnight and still blowing quite a bit this morning so I took in Dover Harbour hoping something might have blown in on the wind.
Wandering along the Prince of Wales Pier one of the first things I spotted was a Chiddy – he’d had similar thoughts.
From the pier we saw 9 Great crested grebes, 2  or 3 shags, a number of cormorants, the normal common gulls plus 3 med gulls and a kittiwake. Also on the pier were a few rock pipits and several turnstones.
Mark had earlier seen a guillemot hanging around the inner basins so we went and had another look. By this time the tide was coming in and there was quite a flow under the bridge and we had the pleasure of watching the guillemot fishing the channel between the inner and outer harbour from the bridge.

When the bird wasn’t fishing it was preening and after every preen it had a good flap – all the time being close to very close.

As always there was a catch – the light this morning was rubbish and the pictures obtained were almost universally of poor quality and the depth of field is likewise rubbish (I'm back to moaning again!)

As I was leaving the sun started to emerge so I stopped by the bridge just incase the guillemot was still there. It wasn't, it was down by the Lifeboat station however a kingfisher flew past which is a Dover Harbour tick and a nice way to end the session..
Overall, given the conditions early this morning, we had a decent selection of birds and trying to get some images taught me something – ISO 1000 and slow shutter speeds are not conducive to decent images (Don't be fooled; the above images only work at this size. Any larger and they are blurry).

Tuesday, 22 November 2011

Another Trip to Hythe

The forecast was for fog early on with it hopefully clearing as the day went on. A look in more detail at the Kent forecast suggested that the south coast would clear first. That made up my mind; I would go to Hythe and have another go at the rough legged buzzard.
I actually got to Hythe at 8.40 so I went to look for the purple sandpipers first. They were there and due to it being high tide they were a lot closer than I normally find them. The light was not good and it was still a little misty but since they were so close I could crank the ISO up to get a little shutter speed. It wasn’t enough to cope with them moving but I managed some very pleasing images none the less.

Purple Sandpiper
After 15-20 minutes I left them to their slumbers and went along to the Nickoll’s quarry.
For about an hour I just stood around waiting/hoping and seeing 2 stonechats, 2 green woodpeckers, a sparrow hawk, 2 grey herons plus a few reed buntings, mippits and goldfinch. At 9.50 the rough leg appeared on top of the grassy hill in the quarry (I assume it’s a pile of top soil removed to get at the shingle) and there it sat for 10 minutes or so until it disappeared. I waited another hour and at 11.00 it was there again.  
Rough-legged Buzzard
I actually have no idea whether it walks into view or flies there because it just appears. After another 10 minutes it flew down to the ground and was lost from view.  At 11.30 I saw it again but this time it was flying SW, parallel with the coast road and away from where I was standing.  That’s when my resolve finally failed and I gave up.
Whilst I was waiting around the mist had more or less cleared and the sun was out so I headed east wondering whether to go for the red breasted merganser in Ramsgate harbour or to have another go at short eared owls.  Unfortunately the further north and east I went the more foggy it became. Since by now I was in the Sandwich area I drove home along the Ancient highway where a SEO was hunting in the gloom.  I didn’t stay long – it was too foggy so I wasn’t going to get a decent shot.
SEO though the mist

Friday, 18 November 2011

Colour Ringed Rock Pipit.

Last week when I was up with the Eastern Black Redstart I photographed a rock pipit with a coloured ring on one leg and a metal ring on the other:

Rock Pipit AHP
I now have the details back from Norway:
Ring no : Stavanger 8E28148
Colour-ring: AHP ( Left tarsus : metal.  Right tarsus yellow ring engraved with three black letters ).
Age/sex: M2K+ (male, hatched  2010 or before).
Ringing date: 12.08.2011, 19 hrs.
Ringing place: Makkevika (Giske Ornithological Station) (62.30N-06.02E), Giske, Møre & Romsdal, NORWAY.
Ringer: Petter Birger Folkestad
Remarks:  Caught  in  walk-in trap. Wing 93 mm. Weight 24,8 g.

Finding date  : 13.11.2011 
Observed  and photographed (distinct photo) : Palm Bay (51.23N-01.25E) Margate, Kent, ENGLAND.
Distance  1266 km SSW.   Direction:  195 deg. Time : 0-3-1  (3 months , 1 day)

If you notice any errors in the information, please inform us about  your corrections.

This information will be sent to Ringing Centre, Stavanger Museum, Norway and Ringing Centre, London, UK.

The returns from metal rings are so low I wonder why anyone bothers with these anymore - colour rings seem to generate a lot more info.

Wednesday, 16 November 2011

Twitching again - Rough-legged Buzzard this time

Today in true Baldric fashion I had a cunning plan. I would get to Dungeness early and have a few hours watching and photographing the desert wheatear, I would then go and get some pictures of the glaucous and possibly the yellow legged gull then around midday I would go to Hythe for the rough legged buzzard – easy peasy.
I arrived at Dunge around 8.00 am and it was deserted  – I was expecting  quite a few birders there and  avoid the need to find it myself. Undeterred I searched around the Moat, around the light house then started searching the area inland of the light railway. As time moved on more people arrived but by 9.30 it had not been found (nor was it all day) so I gave up. So much for the cunning plan.
At  9.30 I went to look for the glaucous by the boats. Needless to say it was not there though I did locate a/the yellow legged gull that only compounded my growing frustration because it flew  off as I was taking the camera out of its bag! I’ve never photographed a yellow legged gull.
I then went to the ARC to see what was happening – lots of ducks but all very distant, though given the light I don’t think I’d gave got a decent picture even if they were right in front of the hide. Out on the water were loads of wigeon plus gadwall, pintail, mallard, pochard, tufties and teal. I counted 6 goldeneye and I think I saw the female long tailed duck but it went out of sight before I could get the scope on it. Whilst in the hide I only saw little egrets and grey herons but as I was driving back down to the lighthouse I stopped to check the bottom end of the lake and saw a great white flying across it.

Down near the lighthouse I stopped to check over a flock of gull that were on the shingle quite near the road. They were mainly herrings and black backed but the glaucous was there – this saved a walk up to the boats and a search along the sea front. I grabbed the camera and slowly edged forward taking pictures as I went but eventually it judged I was close enough and walked away. I stopped at this point.

Glaucous Gull
After that it was off to Hythe and my luck seemed to be in because just as I arrived the pager went saying the rough-legged had been seen at Midday. I found the footpath between the sewage works and the quarry and spotted a guy with a scope on a bank – I don’t know if he had sent out the midday report but he had just seen the rough legged land and showed me where he though it had gone down. He then disappeared for his lunch and left me to it. I waited over an hour before I saw the bird but by now it was atop a huge gravel bank quite a way off.

Very Distant Rough-legged Buzzard
Despite the distance at least I had seen it so I waited. 15 minutes later I spotted it flying right but then it turned and flew straight towards me.....

....and disappeared over the tree lining the sewage works.  Absolutely brilliant views but the light was very poor and the pictures a disappointment.
So overall I missed the real prize - the desert wheatear -  but the rest of the plan worked (just).

Monday, 14 November 2011

Twitching Locally

For much of this year I have tried not to twitch other people’s birds but to find my own (or at least hang around with people who often find decent birds). There is no doubt that this approach can lead to some pretty poor birding however today managed to combine both.
It was cold and very misty when we set out today across Worth Marsh (a sea watch was completely out of the question as visibility was so poor and everyone has given up on bush bashing). The first mile or so was pretty much birdless but as we approached the “shooters pool” a bittern took to the air and landed in amongst the reed bed. At some places bitterns have been 4 a penny this summer but they are a pretty scarce commodity in the SBBO recording area so this lifted the spirits immensely and ensured that whatever happened next it was still a decent day.
 The rest of the walk was still pretty quiet but with did hear 5 Cetti’s warblers (getting more numerous in the recording area I think) and spot a kingfisher disappearing down the north stream. The most significant concentration of birds being along the Worth Track which was alive with thrushes – blackbirds mainly but also song thrush and redwing and a lone fieldfare.
As we arrived back at the Obs the pager went – a grey phalarope had been seen at Pegwell - so Ian got his passport out and I drove him out to Pegwell – for Ian this is a major twitch.
We found the phalarope almost immediately and  could (just about) see it from the road but we went out onto the hover port to get a closer look and take a few record shots. There was no cover around so we didn’t try get too close in case we spooked it.

Grey Phalarope on a grey day
Back at the Obs (for a coffee) I was told that a jack snipe was showing at Restharrow so I went and twitched that too. It was pretty distant (over on the right hand side by the reeds) and the light was indifferent (or should I say crap?) but it bobbed its way around the reeds giving good if distant views. Most of the pictures are complete rubbish – the shutter speed not being able to cope with the bobbing but you can see what it is in a few of the pictures.

Jack Snipe
There were 3 other optimists in the hide with me and when they departed I was wondering whether the bird would come closer (with the hide being quieter) when everything took to the air – ducks, ~ 25 snipe and the jack so that was the end of that. As I got to the car I saw a flock of snipe going into land and a lone wader following them – so I assume they were all returning. Hopefully it will be there tomorrow and more cooperative.
So a self found bittern,  twitched jack snipe and grey phalarope and all in the recording area on the same day, so not a bad return;  though I did miss out on the long eared owl flushed from the Elms.

Sunday, 13 November 2011

Eastern Black Redstart

Today I went a-twitching arriving at Palm Bay at 7.30am. I must admit with the clear night I was half expecting the eastern black redstart, which was first reported on Friday, to have disappeared.  Anyway on arrival I could see a couple of guys peering through scopes at something and when I arrived it was hopping around the tables outside the jet ski centre.
Almost immediately it went up onto the roof so it was out with the camera for some record shots...just in case it disappeared.

I needn’t have worried and within the hour there were about 20 birders present and an impressive array of photographic gear. Whilst the bird did go up onto the cliff face to rest on a couple of occasions most of the time it was in full view and it was  just a matter of deciding whether to follow it with the camera or to stand near to where it was known to feed and wait for it to come to you. I did both getting got shots from either approach.
This shot was from the follow the bird technique the bird remaining on the hand rail of the slipway for several minutes.

On the other hand we were chatting and watching the bird when it landed close by and allowed this shot.

This picture caught the bird at the point of flapping and shows the underwing - I didn't know they were orange under there as well but then again there are very few birds where I know the underwing.

Also around were a couple of standard black redstarts but these proved more elusive than the immigrant – the best place to get pictures being the roof of the jet ski centre.

 Normal Black Redstart
Several rock pipits spent most of the morning searching through the sea weed and these are a lot more tolerant of people than those we get at Kingsdown though in truth I didn’t spend much time on them. The colour ringed rock pipit yellow ring with black  APH is still around.

Rock pipit

Wednesday, 9 November 2011

Winter Visitors Arrive.

As the wind had gone pretty much round to the south sea watching was off the menu so we decided to walk to the point – the first time in ages.  On reaching the sea and turning north we were immediately rewarded with 2 snow bunting 30-40 yards north of where the footpath from the Obs reaches the beach.  The rest of the walk to the 100 acre field was very quiet however with only a lone stonechat and a few mippits and sky larks being seen though a flock of ~ 25 brents flew south.
When we reached the point we took to the footpath inland of the beach so as not to disturb the wader roost and was immediately rewarded with  a merlin and a few minutes later we had a marsh harrier (female) then a ring tailed hen harrier.  Also seen were ~ 5 little egrets, 2 grey heron, ~ 15 curlew (spooked by one of the harriers) and right up on the point itself there were several rock pipits along with the mippits. At the very end of the footpath we could see ~25 seals hauled up on the river bank and as we retraced our steps a flock of 40-odd redpoll flew over.
The return leg was uneventful (i.e. pretty  birdless!) until we got close to the footpath back to the Obs where we found the 2  snow buntings had grown in number to 14.
After a coffee I went to the Chequers to check out the beach and the Cinque Ports golf course.  Walking north from the Chequers I found another flock of snow buntings (~20) but as I was getting  close enough to consider some photographs  3 more flew over. Needless to say these didn'ty land with the other 20, no, the whole flock took to the air and followed the 3 south. I gave up at this point as it had started drizzling again and to be honest it was so dark it was stupid to even consider a photograph.
The 9th started with a heavy drizzle so we took refuge at Restharrow for the first hour. The curlew sand was still there as were 2 dunlin and 20+ snipe – no jack snipe though.

Curlew Sandpiper
Once it stopped raining we walked the Ancient Highway to the Chequers and back along the beach.  As we crossed the golf course a twite went over (calling) and on the sea front we found 25 snow buntings up toward the sailing club.  Again they were very skittish and couldn’t get close enough for a decent picture. As we walked the beach there was a steady trickle of goldfinch going south plus a few groups of siskin and one group of crossbills. The Cellars and the Elms produced 1 woodcock a piece, the latter in particular giving great views as it flew past me some 15 feet away.
After lunch I went back to try for some snow bunting pictures but the first thing I found was a pair of wheatear – unfortunately only northern wheatear.  

The 2 Wheatear
I eventually found the snow buntings south of the Chequers and had a couple of goes at getting some pictures.

Snow Buntings
As always the best approached seemed to be  to sit sat on the beach and hope they would come close. Well they got pretty close on a couple of occasions most of the time they were obscured by the beach vegetation and overall my pictures were disappointing. When disturbed ( dog walkers, beach combers, cyclists) they flew several hundred yards out to sea the back to the beach a long way off so beware - if you go looking for them it may involve a lot of walking.
After that I had a look for the short-eared owls but none had shown by 3.30 so I called it a day. (I did however see a marsh harrier out on Worth marsh).
Still it was good to see the winter visitors – both the snow buntings and the twite were year ticks.

Sunday, 6 November 2011

Pier-ing into the Gloom

Saturday was a bit of a wash out until the phone rang – it was Chidders telling me that there were 2 guillemots at Dover and one was near the sea wall. Not one to look an gift-auk in the mouth I went down for an hour in what proved to be about the only dry(ish) part of the day.
The guillemot was out of camera range when I arrived but true to the assurances of Chidders it did come close on a number of occasions allowing some shots to be obtained despite the appalling light.

Despite the light I managed to get shots different stages of a guillemot dive - for those who don't know it dives by flapping its wings to go down and flies, like a long winged penguin, under water.
Whilst we were standing around waiting for the guillemot to return a wren flew from the seaward end of the pier and landed nearby - I assume it was a migrant but I didn't know wrens migrated.

Ocean going wren
Sunday dawned (just about ) with the wind in the north and a light drizzle so I sat in the car at Kingsdown and watched the ocean between 7.20 and 8.00.
There was quite a bit of movement with gannets (157 north) and dunlin (87 north) being the most numerous but I also saw 2 divers (assumed red throated), 3 guillemots, 17 lapwing, 18 shelduck, 11 wigeon and another 60-odd ducks further out that I couldn’t id. A few brent geese were moving but I’m not sure in which direction – 17 went north and 20 south. Highlight though was a bonxie that went north at 7.34.
At 8.00 I went up to Deal pier in the hope that a few things might be flying close enough to get some pictures.  The first bird I saw on reaching the end of the pier was a red throated diver flying north only 50 yards out and which sadly was the only one seen; needless to say I didn;t have the camera out.  Gannets were moving north for most of the session as were brent geese with the distant ones predominantly going south in large flocks (50+) and the close in ones going north in groups of about 20.
There was also a good movement of ducks out there with mallard, gadwall, teal, wigeon and shelduck all being seen as well as a lone eider - though most of these were quite distant.

Assorted ducks
Lapwings continued to go past throughout the session as did dunlin.

Part way through the session I was joined by Steve Raynaert who earned his corn by spotting a little auk splash into the sea south of the pier then immediately take to the air and fly out to sea. I grabbed the camera and managed a couple of shots that show Steve was not delusional!!

Little Auk

By posting shots like these I will have to stop making fun at Phil’s pictures.
So 2 days mainly spent on piers but reasonably productive and most importantly I didn't get wet

Tuesday, 1 November 2011

Better to be lucky than good

The last few months have been pretty tough going both on the birding front and my (in)ability to get a reasonable photograph. Well today I’m pleased to say my fortunes took a change for the better.
For a change we went round the Sandwich circuit in the reverse direction.
The walk down to Restharrow scrape resulted in 40-odd fly-over crossbills (going south) and whilst the scrape only held common snipe, the curlew sandpiper and teal several of the snipe walked out right in front of the hide so despite the poor light some reasonable pictures were obtained:
Common Snipe
From the scrape we walked the Ancient highway to the Chequers then back along the beach. Not much was seen, a couple of stonechat, 40-odd mippit and a number of skylarks so it seemed we were continuing in the doldrums but things were about to take a turn for the better.
When we were opposite the sailing club Ian pointed out some swallows but as I looked at them something different slid into view.  My first thought/call was “swift”, then I said “no it isn’t” – the wing tips were blunt and the wings the wrong shape,-  then I decided it was and called “yes it is”.  I think Ian then said “pallid swift” because I stopped looking at the bird and dived for the camera. Unfortunately  it didn’t hang around long enough for me to get a shot off. Ian in the mean time was studying the bird as it disappeared south with the swallows never to return.
For the next 15-20 minutes Ian recorded what he saw and remained  convinced it was a pallid swift. My thoughts in this don’t really matter because I’ve never seen one hence didn’t know what the critical features were (though I do now!) . My contribution is really limited to the blunt wings and a large pale patch on the throat!
The rest of the walk was quiet with only a few gold crests to show for our efforts but in reality our thoughts were still on the swift.
After lunch I went back to Restharrow but the snipe were all sleeping and the only thing to fly in front of the hide was a kestrel.

At about 2.00 pm I went along the Ancient Highway hoping the short-eared owls would put in another visit; with the sun shining I was hopeful of some decent images.
Whilst I was there Martyn turned up as did several other people. Eventually the SEOs showed down towards  Dickson’s Corner  but unlike yesterday there didn’t fly along the verge of the Ancient Highway so we moved closer.
By the time we had stopped near the Lapland bunting track the SEOs had decided to quarter the field south of the sailing club. Some of us moved on to Dicksons corner - so one of the SEO went north and directly in front of the hide at Restharrow scrape and the other started hunting the sea wall alongside the golf course. Great views in the sunshine but no shots.
Our final position was back by the Lapland bunting track and there we watched the birds cruise past where we had started out and past Dickson’s corner........but they stayed away from us.  It was now getting late (nearly 4.00pm), the sun had disappeared  behind a cloud and it was clearly too dark for decent images so we packed up to leave.
Martyn drove off just as 2 things happened – the sun reappeared and one of the SEOs started flying towards me. It didn’t come very close but it was close enough and resulted in some good images. 5 minutes later I went home happy with my afternoons work.

Short-eared Owl
I know they say you make your own luck but do you?  If we hadn’t walked the circuit in the reverse direction and stopped at the scrape to photograph snipe it’s unlikely we would have seen the pallid swift.  If I’d left 1 minute earlier (i.e at the same time as Martyn) I wouldn’t have got the SEO shots.
I suppose my luck had to change some time but it does make you think - “Better to be lucky than good”.