Monday, 31 October 2011

Must try Harder

Up and out early this morning due to the clocks going back but unfortunately the birding did not repay the effort. The Bay was near deserted.
Around the estate all we found were a few gold crests and the odd fly-over siskin but other than that it was very quiet. A walk down to Chequers along the beach was similarly unrewarding - a few mippits and skylarks. The highlight of the morning was the curlew sand which remains in residence on Restharrow along with 15-20 common sign of the Jack though.
Curlew Sandpiper

After coffee and with the weather forecast promising a bright afternoon I went over to Grove to see the glossy ibis. It was there it took till 2 hrs for it to get reasonably close and by then (2.30) the light was going.
Glossy Ibis
The birding was quite good in the intervening 2 hours with 3 peregrines showing, one spending most of the time on the deck, at least 3 marsh harriers (juvvy, female and a male) and a male hen harrier showing several times – though always over by the river.
Juvenile (and distant) Peregrine
By 3.30 I was back on the Ancient highway and settled down to wait for the hope for short eared owl. I didn’t have to wait long because one soon appeared hunting over the golf course and giving stunning views - views that my photographs failed to duplicate. I should have upped the ISO because the slow shutter speed (only ~ 1/250) meant everything was blurred.

Short-eared Owl
This bird hunted down to the Chequers when I lost sight of it but a few minutes later it re-appeared working it’s way north over the Willow Farm (RSPB) area of Worth marsh.
A little later I spotted 2 SEOs over the rough pasture down by Dickson Corner so I moved down to there. One of the birds disappeared immediately but the other hunted in that area for the next 10 minutes or so  – though the light by this time was fading fast and even using ISO 100 I could only get 1/400 to 1/500th of a second.
Short-eared Owl
So brilliant views but rubbish my teachers would always say "Must try harder".

Sunday, 30 October 2011

This weekend at Sandwich

This weekend I broke with my normal routine and went over to Sandwich - though because time was short I didn’t go to the coffee shop on either occasion! The reason for the switch with routine was the report of a Pallas’s warbler in the Elms Friday afternoon.
To be honest I was a bit peeved when I read about the Pallas’s. As normal I had been at Sandwich most of the morning but on Friday our progress was particularly slow. Eventually we were rewarded with a yellow-browed warbler which was very active but if watched for long enough did give good if fleeting views. I did get the camera out but never got close to getting a shot. So despite being at the Bay for 3 hours I didn’t in fact make it to the Elms (I’m not sure what time the Pallas’s was found).
Anyway I was up with the bats (it was still dark and the larks were still asleep) and stopped off at Restharrow waiting for it to get light enough to search for the Pallas’s.  A quick scan showed the curlew sandpiper was still around as was one of the dunlin, plus teal and ~ 10 common snipe. After a few minutes I was joined by another birder (Steve Arthur – who I don’t think I’d met before) and I put him onto the curlew sand and in return he put me onto a jack snipe.  Eventually the snipe moved and treated us to the classic bobbing behaviour.
About 30 minutes later Steve and I let to searching for the Pallas’s.  There were already several other birders in the Elms but they’d had no luck...........and 90 minutes I had the suffered the same and gave up. About all I saw there was a fire crest. I told everyone I saw about the jack snipe (I had left my phone at home) including Steve Raynaert’s who made my day by getting some great shots of the little beastie.
Common Snipe
Today I went to the scrape again first thing – lots of snipe, the curlew sand, a water pipit but no Jack snipe. After that I walked to the Chequers across the golf course hoping for a Lapland bunting or a rare wheatear. As it was I got neither but I did spot a short-eared owl coming along the sea wall at about 30-40 feet. I think it had just come in-off because it didn’t seem to be hunting and almost immediately landed in some rough. A few minute later it was flushed by a dog and started coming in my direction but the excitement was short lived and it re-landed - I didn’t see it again.
From the Chequers I went to the sea wall then north to the Gullies seeing skylarks, mippits and a few linnets. In Big Gully I found a mixed flock of tits (LTT, blue and great) and a couple of chiffchaffs with a third heard. As I was leaving Little Gully I first heard then saw a small flock of gold crests and whilst looking at these move through the tree tops an equally small bird flicked across my sight showing a very pale yellow rump. I got nothing else on the bird but the only bird of that size I know with a yellow rump is a Pallas’s. Try as I might I didn’t see it again and within 5 minutes I’d lost the whole flock. I searched the Elms but no sign of them there either so I called it a day.
Short-eared owl coming into land
On the drive home I saw Steve Raynaert along the Ancient Highway and as we chatted we spotted a(nother?) short-eared owl high and heading west over Worth Marsh. After a minute or two it turned back and flew high overhead before coming down on worth Marsh just north of the caravan park (in the field where we normally see the geese). We couldn’t see it on the ground but had managed some record shots as it went down.
This afternoon I whilst watching goldfinch on the feeders a green woodpecker landed in the garden and provided the best shots of the day.........or even the month.
Green Woodpecker

Monday, 24 October 2011

Unexpected Finds at Dover Harbour

Today looked as though it was going to be similar to the last few weeks at Sandwich (or should I say 6 months) plenty of sun, plenty of wind, but almost no birds.  There were 6 or 7 snipe on the scrape, a few crests in the Elms and Middle field, and a few siskin, redpoll and goldfinch flying back and forth but that was about it.
With nothing showing I left resigned to spending the rest of the day doing chores. After lunch I took a trip to Dover B&Q but on the way I decided to give the harbour a look in the hope that the brisk SE wind might have blown a few things in.
I had only gone about 30 yrds out on the pier when I spotted a tiny grey bird on the water, I raised the bins and yo!!!!! A grey phalarope - only the second I have seen! The tide was quite low and the bird about 40 yrds from the pier but I fired off a couple of record shots....just in case it disappeared.
Grey Phalarope
As I was alerting some of the local pensioners to the phalaropes presence I noticed some terns that were patrolling the pier wall plucking food from the surface.
The next 10-15 minutes were spent trying to keep half an eye on the phalarope whilst trying to get some decent images of the terns to aid id.
Tony was the first to arrive (he was already in Dover though stuck in traffic) and when he joined me I had to admit I had lost the phalarope! Phil soon turned up and they soon refound the phalarope about where I had last seen it but by now it was quite close to the pier wall – I’d been looking too far out in the harbour. It being close should have improved the quality of the pictures but it didn’t because now the bird was in the shadow of the pier and it was pretty choppy down there.

The next hour was spent continuing to take pictures of the phalarope and the terns. There were 4 or 5  terns in the harbour but two seemed to like patrolling the sea wall. One still was very brown on it’s back but the other was a lot greyer though both appeared to be young birds and their calls did not sound like common terns (they were clearly not Sandwich – even I could work that out).

Arctic terns - juveniles
Phil had alerted some other local birders to the presence of the phalarope one of which had just found a purple sandpiper over towards the car ferry end of the harbour so we all went over to see if we could find it. This we managed and a few photographs taken.
Purple Sandpiper
So what started out as an awful day ended very well – I’m just glad I had to go to B&Q!!!!!!!!!

To cut a long story short we (Tony Morris and myself)  have agreed they are arctic terns. The beak is quite short, the secondaries are pale showing no sign of a dark bar and they didn’t sound like commons. Here are some of the pictures; you can judge for yourself:

Wednesday, 19 October 2011

Today I will be mainly seeing Crossbills

It was cold but still when we went out this morning (~ 7.30) and the pattern was similar to the last few weeks – crossbills (186), siskins(300), goldfinch and redpolls(160). Some of the siskins and redpolls landed in the Elms/Middle field/ Whitehouse before moving on but never came down from the tree tops to have the photo taken.
This year’s migration has been the best ever at the Obs for crossbills (~800 recorded at Sandwich since the 1st Oct) and today’s total is the highest ever recorded in a single day.
There have been a steady stream of photographers trying to emulate the stunning achievements of Steve Raynaert but to my knowledge they haven’t landed again in the Ems – and if they have I certainly haven’t seen them. For those who haven't seen Steve’s crossbills pictures take a look at:
In the afternoon I decided on a walk along the beach to the Hundred Acre Field. The beach was devoid of dog walkers but it was also pretty devoid of birds too. There were a few skylarks and mippits, dunnocks, a lone reed bunting and 3 stonechats (opposite Prince’s Club house) - quite a rarity in the area after the last few winters.

There is quite a flock of starlings building along the beech, I estimated 300 but theirs calls tend to drwon out anythoing else that may be around.
KWT have put up a bright new sign asking people to keep away from the beach up towards the point – though I doubt whether anyone will take any notice; they didn’t bother to heed the last one.

Thursday, 13 October 2011

Have we upset the man up there?

The omens looked good – the weather had moved into the east, it was overcast, so today was the day to be in East Kent .......NOT.
Kent did enjoyed the pleasure of a couple of yellow browed warblers and a similar number of ring ouzels whereas Suffolk had great grey shrikes in every bush, a woodchat shrike, a red flanked blue tail, a host of YBWs oh yes and an Isabelline wheatear. Someone up there doesn’t like Kent.
Enough of the rant.
 I only had an hour this morning so I stayed local and did a sea watch from the rifle range at Kingsdown. From the off there was a good movement of Brents (680 all told south and 37 north).
Brent Geese
A few ducks were seen – a shelduck north, 2 teal south, 2 wigeon south and 12 scoter (6 s and 6 n). There were also a number of ducks I couldn’t id. I also had 3 little egret south first thing, 2 divers south (assumed to be red throated) and there were a few gannet way out. Bird of the day was a grebe but I’m not totally sure what it was. It was not a gt crested or a little grebe that’s for certain. It had a white on the trailing edge of the wings and this was confined to the secondaries - it did not extend into the primaries.  However I didn’t notice any white on the leading edge of the wing. Whilst there was no other birds near the grebe  it did appear quite large and was flying strongly and rapidly south. Overall I think it was a juvenile red necked but I’m not totally certain (the other possibility being a juvenile slavonian though I think it was too large for that).  For once I actually tried to look at the bird rather than take a picture but I’m now regretting that decision.
I did see about 20 passerines going south low ever the water but not sure what they were – mippits was my best guess.
Nothing was seen or heard moving on land though I was at the bottom of the cliff and any movement along the cliff top would have been invisible. A peregrine did pass by overhead and buzzed a crow a couple of times but the light was crap (or should I say the dark was incomplete?)

After lunch I ventured out again looking along Undercliff for warblers then along the cliff top to Hope Point.
Nothing much seemed to be moving on the sea by this time but there was a steady movement of goldfinches (230 counted between 1 and 3pm) – all going north in flocks of 20-30. The only other miggers were a few pied wags.
All I found in the bushes were chiffchaff (~15), a few blackcaps and 5 goldcrests and at Hope point a lone female stonechat.

As I made my way back to Kingsdown a 2 kestrels were hanging in the wind over the cliffs occasionally diving to below the cliff edge. After one such dive one of them reappeared right in front of me but I was too slow with the camera............
Rear end of a Kestrel
A peregrine also drifted slowly north over the top of the kestrels - they took no notice at all..
And that was that....there’s always tomorrow I suppose (though I'd rather have it today and take my chance with tomorrow).
I’ve just seen that a Pallas’s warbler was found at Reculver and a grey phalarope at Pegwell but it's my blog and I’m not going to retract my rant!!!

Tuesday, 11 October 2011

When will it improve?

It's been quite some time since my last update. Whilst I've been out most days I have found little of note and to make matters worse I have struggled to get any worthwhile images. On top of that both Saturday and Sunday morning was spent watching the rugby..... but the less said about that the better.
The first part of Monday (10th) was spent around the estate at Sandwich watching the migration – siskins mainly, but a decent number of crossbills moved through (~60) some coming through quite low overhead - close enough to see their colours. I packed up at ~ 10.00 to go down to Backsand for the high tide. Phil at Pegwell had reported decent wader counts the previous day so I was hopeful about getting a good variety and number of birds on the scrape..........wrong!!!!!
On the wader front the totals were 6 greenshank, 3 redshank, 2 green sandpiper and a lone snipe - it didn't take too long to count them. The duck count took even less time as there was only 1 duck there (a teal) though the little grebes are still around (5) and made life as difficult as possible. For the camera only a green sand came in front of the hide the rest stayed steadfastly over the far side of the scrape.
Green Sandpiper

A curlew threatened to land and give me something to photograph but decided against it and disappeared over towards the river. I'm not sure I've ever seen a curlew on Backsand - I assume they don't like the enclosed feeling the surrounding bund provides.
 Today (11th) again started watching the viz mig and again it was similar to yesterday – mainly siskin(170) and crossbills (~90) but also redpoll, chaffinch and goldfinch plus a few hirundines. Today however I decided I’d try and get some crossbill pictures. Some of the flocks came right over head but it was impossible to lock on to these but a flock of ~ 20 moved past at about 60 yards in a pretty tight group (in the view-finder) and I managed 3 shots – this is the best.
Not brilliant but at least you can see they are crossbills – in this case mainly males.In my last 3 days at the Bay I have seen approx 250 crossbils – not bad seeing as prior to this I had only ever seen 6 or 7 in my life!
I tried to get pictures of the other finches but failed – the flocks were too loose and individual birds too small for the camera to lock on. The only other picture I managed was of a sparrowhawk.

Eventually we gave up on the viz mig and walked the estate but in reality it was pretty dead – the only bit of life being a mixed flock of long-tailed tits, chiffchaffs and gold crests in the Elms and a couple of kestrels. Let’s hope the easterlies promised later in the week bring something in.