Tuesday, 28 February 2012

Plucking Peregrine

I’ve not posted anything for several days because there’s not been much to say and absolutely nothing to photograph – not helped by having quite a heavy session on Friday night which put paid to the whole of Saturday.
Highlights of the last few days  were the  goosander on Newdowns reservoir (always the far end) and 12 snow bunting on the beach near Princes Old club house.
Today saw another slog from the Observatory to the beach then north towards the point where we gave up at the 100 acre field entrance. All we saw on the way out were a few mippits and skylarks – it was dead. The 100 acre field itself was little better with the highlight being ~200 stock doves. During the return journey we  concentrated on England’s performance against Wales (Rugby for the uninitiated) which, despite the loss,  was very heartening given the rubbish the England rugby team  turned out in the World Cup. We did find the snow buntings eventually - on the beach opposite St George’s. As far as I know they’ve not been seen this far south before. All in all not much to show for 3 hrs of walking.
I then decided to go and play with the peregrines. On my last 2 visits to Dover cliffs I had been pretty chuffed with the photos I managed of various birds in flight. Then Mr Ashton and Gutsell posted their stunning shots on the male perched on the cliff top.
I was pretty sure I knew where they had been sitting so I made my way there and as I was getting myself arranged up popped  the male peregrine.  Speaking to Steve later on it seems I was further away than he had been but by the sound of it I was in a somewhat less precarious position!

Who's a pretty boy
The peregrine clearly had blood on its breast and spent the next 10-15 minutes preening  before flying off only to return a few minutes later.  

This was repeated 4 times but on the 4th fly-about it returned with a small bird in its talons – which was quite amazing because it had been away from the ledge less than a minute for this last sortie.
I’m not sure what it was it had caught but I suspect it was a young pigeon – it was grey with pale underside but looked too small for an adult rock dove/feral pigeon. Whatever it was the peregrine immediately set about it tearing the feathers off then ripped off lumps of meat.

"Look what I've caught!"

Plucking peregrine

More plucking

Not for the squeamish
The plucking and feeding continued for about 10 minutes when a couple strolling along the cliff top came to ask what I was photographing. Whilst the bird seemed tolerant of me sitting there on the cliff top it didn’t like the couple towering over me and departed.  It hadn’t returned after a further half hour so I departed as well.

Thursday, 23 February 2012

Another Afternoon with Falco peregrinus

The day started with a walk around Newdowns  and along the river bank. As it happens this was pretty productive and a report of what was seen can be found on the SBBO web site. I left around midday (before the raptor fest) and since the sun had come out I went to Dover to have another go at photographing the peregrines.
I followed the same routine as before - standing south of Fan Bay and waiting for the peregrines to come by. My first sighting of a peregrine was actually of one on the ground on the other side of Fan Bay and one or other of the peregrines kept returning to the same area thoughout the afternoon:

Peregrine on North side of Fan Bay
As with my previous visit the birds spent some time on the cliffs, some of the time dive bombing each other and some of the time simply flying back and forth. Hopefully this series of pictures will give some idea of their antics:

One diving down on the other

Meeting the Challenge 

On several occassions one or other flew directly at me, passing  close over head:

The shot I really wanted though was of one going by below me. This proved to be elusive because  they tended to fly south just overhead then returned north at the desired altitude but always over the sea and into the sun.
Eventually my luck changed and the juvenile flew low into the Fan Bay hollow then out over sea below and to the north of my position:

Whilst  all this was going on I got some close-ups of the juvenile with the thin moustachial stripe.

Juvenile with thin moustachial stripe
When I left one bird was perched north of Fan Bay  ( in the same position shown in the first picture) and another was on a ledge south towards the harbour:
Looking south towards the harbour

Monday, 20 February 2012

Peregrines and wagtails

The day started very slow in that a circuit of the SBBO reporting area resulted in us seeing next to nothing. A few ducks on the scrape plus a fly-by ring-tail hen harrier, a few plovers on Worth marsh getting upset about a peregrine and that was about that.
In an attempt to find something to point the camera at I went to Russell Gardens/Kearsney Abbey hoping to find a grey wagtail – always a nice bird to photograph and it would be a year tick.
Things didn’t look good to start with as I couldn’t find one during my first circuit of Russell Gardens but a second circuit resulted in 2 being found on the nearly dry ornamental lake.  The dry lake bottom was in the shade but I cranked the ISO up and managed a few shots before they flew off to pastures new.

Grey Wagtail on the lake bed.
I returned to the car and just as I was getting I spotted a grey wag on the car park but now in the sun. Out with the camera and some more shots of it flicking through some leaf litter where it found an earwig (picture on my Flickr site).

Grey wagtail on the car park
Feeling much better I went off to my second Dover destination – the cliffs at Langdon where I hoped to find raven and peregrine..

It was much colder up on the cliffs and bird-wise it was totally deserted (other than herring gulls) but after about 10 minutes I spotted a peregrine coming from the north – flying into the wind and with the sun behind me.
It stopped coming south just north of Fan Bay and hung high in the wind until it put its head down, dived into the Fan Bay depression then tore out over the sea and past me at cliff-top height.
 I could still see the bird south of me, just hanging in the wind high above the Langdon visitor centre. Eventually it came back north and after hanging around flew back south right over my head – in fact it hung right overhead for several minutes and I found the easiest way to take pictures was to lay on the ground:

Hanging overhead
After a couple of circuits where this was repeated a second then a third peregrine turned up. 2 were very large compared to the third and I watched them swooping down at each other – this unfortunately mainly took place quite a distance south of where I was so no images I’m afraid.
The trio did on occasions come north of where I was standing and I managed to get a couple of shots (distant) where the relative size of the birds can be seen:

Male(right hand bird) and female peregrines

Male (rear) and female peregrines
After an hour or so of displaying they seemed to have disappeared but just as I was about to leave one came back and from north of me flew past at cliff top height close enough to get some reasonable images:
Then they were gone.
My initial thoughts were that it was a pair plus a juvenile from one of their previous broods however none of my images show a juvenile. There is certainly a male and a female though looking at the breast plumage on the other female it would seem it is either not a full adult or it's something else - a hybrid? Any thoughts appreciated

Breast markings don't look correct for a peregrine
All I saw other than the peregrines were herring gulls but I’m not greedy.... the ravens can wait for another day.

Sunday, 19 February 2012

Colour Ringed Med Gull - 3S14

On the 15th whilst watching the Kumlien’s with Steve Ashton a med gull came along to enjoy the bread. It was colour ringed - white 3S14 and I now have details of what it's been up to.

It was first colour ringed at Ardres, Pas de Calais on 3rd June 2006. Since then it has been recorded in the following places. You have to wonder where it got to between June 2008 and Last week.

White         3S14       v            03/07/2006  Zwijndrecht (Ineos complex), Antwerpen, BELGIUM  51,15N 4,2E  De Smet, Walter
  White       3S14       v            21/07/2006  Folkestone, Copt Point, Kent, GB  51,05N 1,12E  Henson, Raymond
  White       3S14       v            13/10/2006  Folkestone, Copt Point, Kent, GB  51,05N 1,12E  Henson, Raymond
  White       3S14       v            17/10/2006  Folkestone, Copt Point, Kent, GB  51,05N 1,12E  Henson, Raymond
  White       3S14       v            31/10/2006  Folkestone, Copt Point, Kent, GB  51,05N 1,12E  Turner, Daniel M.
  White       3S14       v            18/11/2006  Folkestone, Copt Point, Kent, GB  51,05N 1,12E  Henson, Raymond
  White       3S14       v            16/04/2007  Zandvlietsluis, Antwerpen, BELGIUM  51,2N 4,17E  Flamant, Renaud
  White       3S14       n           19/05/2007  Volkerakmeer, Hellegatsplaten, Zuid-Holland, NL  51,42N 4,22E  Flamant, Renaud
  White       3S14       v            18/03/2008  Zandvlietsluis, Antwerpen, BELGIUM  51,2N 4,17E  Wolf, Pim A.
  White       3S14       v            22/03/2008  Zandvlietsluis, Antwerpen, BELGIUM  51,2N 4,17E  Wolf, Pim A.
  White       3S14       v            22/03/2008  Zandvlietsluis, Antwerpen, BELGIUM  51,2N 4,17E  Muusse, Theo
  White       3S14       v            22/03/2008  Zandvlietsluis, Antwerpen, BELGIUM  51,2N 4,17E  Meulmeester, Ies
  White       3S14       v            23/03/2008  Zandvlietsluis, Antwerpen, BELGIUM  51,2N 4,17E  De Smet, Walter
  White       3S14       v            14/04/2008  Zandvlietsluis, Antwerpen, BELGIUM  51,2N 4,17E  Flamant, Renaud
  White       3S14       v            15/04/2008  Zandvlietsluis, Antwerpen, BELGIUM  51,2N 4,17E  Jacobs, Jos
  White       3S14       v            23/06/2008  Calais, Pas-de-Calais, FRANCE  50,58N 1,52E  Decory, Patrick
  White       3S14       p           15/02/2012  Dover, Kent, England, GB  51,1N 1,2E  Ray, Steve

Saturday, 18 February 2012

Snow Bunting on Deal Prom

I didn’t have much time today so I decided I’d have an hour on Deal pier. I was quite hopeful due to the reports of some movement off Dungeness during the last few days but it wasn’t to be and what little was about was miles out.
I had about 50 gannets going north with a dozen or so coming south – the southerly birds being a bit closer thankfully.
 There were 5 gt crested grebes just sitting around and I noted 10 divers (red throats I assume) all moving north.
The only ducks I saw were 2 teal – again going north and there was a kittiwake hanging around the pier.

When my time was up I walked north past the Royal Hotel to check out the gulls on the beach before going to the florists (loving husband that I am) but the gulls were forgotten as I heard a snow bunting. Frantically scanning around eventually I found it on the prom just north of the Royal.
I grabbed a couple of shots but couldn’t get closer because there were promenaders  and dog walkers everywhere.

Snow Bunting
Due tothe disturbance the bunting flew up and down a couple of times then it gave up and flew off over the sea towards the pier and that was that.(Other than getting the flowers).

Sunday, 12 February 2012

....and a Slavonian Grebe to end the w/e.

On Saturday I check out Dover harbour – the thinking being that with so mucf on the inland waterways ice locked perhaps something interesting would turn up in the harbour. Well it didn’t.  All I found were 2 tufted duck and a little grebe in the marina but that’s where the search ended because the PoW  pier was locked. I couldn't be bothered to walk to the Admiralty pier.
With my remaining time I was  a bit of a loss what to do so I returned to Kingsdown and visited the old rifle range to play with the camera. I was half way along and hadn’t seen too much when I noticed what I thought were ducks (very distant) out on the sea and when one of them flapped I could see white in the wing and got excited. I was returning to the car to get my scope but as I got near to the car the “ducks” were now close enough to id – they were great crested grebes . The lesson here - not everything you see on the sea with white in the wing is a velvet scoter. In my defence most of the brids had their heads tucked down so I hadn't been able to see the long necks.
It wasn’t a complete waste of time as a kestrel flew onto the cliff face and a couple of minutes later a peregrine flew north (very high).

Kestrel on the rocks

I didn’t think flight shots of either were very good (camera shake as the birds were directly overhead) so I spent 10 minutes practicing on the fulmars.

After that it was home but whilst I was waiting for the Italy England match I noticed a few birds in the garden with a song thrush posing very nicely in the sun.

Song Thrush
Sunday I decided to park up at Hacklinge and walk out to Roaring gutter from the inland side – don't ask me why I just wanted to do something different and I knew the north stream was ice free.  Things started pretty quietly with, chaffinch, greenfinch, blue, great and long tailed tit in the trees near the main road  plus a few blackbirds and song thrushes but as I got out on the marsh I started flushing a common snipe from the track side ditches (10 in total).  I kept looking and hoping then as I approached Roaring gutter up popped a jack snipe which almost hovered as it looked for somewhere to land a few yards further along then thought better of it and flew off along a side channel in silence.  My luck didn’t stop there because a few minutes later up popped a green sandpiper then a redshank.
I did get to Roaring gutter but it was duck free, just a lone little grebe but I gave up then because it had started snowing quite heavily and I return to the car. On the return leg I found a couple of redwing and flushed the green sandpiper twice more.
I’d only been home 30 minutes when I got a text from Chidders alerting me to a Slavonian grebe at Dover. On with the coat and out the door to be greeted by ................rain – I think I prefer the snow I had earlier.
I parked up and immediately spotted the grebe down towards the Union road bridge, so I went to join it. I spent the next 40 minutes waiting for it to come closer and it did get quite close on occasion but not close enough to make up for the poor conditions. I took pictures with both the Canon and the Sony with the Sony producing more decent shots but that may have been because it got closer more often when I was using the Canon.

Slav Grebe - this looks painful!

Slav Grebe looking for the Kumlien's Gull
What was interesting was how the Auto White Balance of each camera coped with the conditions. Here the Sony was a clear winner with the Canon giving the grebe a very red tinge.
Sony's attempt

Canon's best effort

These 2 pictures are unedited just reduced in size for the blog. I didn't find correcting the red of the canon shots very easy and wasn't totally happy I have got the colours right but that may be down to my inexperience with the Canon software.

Friday, 10 February 2012

Sandling, snipe and snow buntings

I overslept today so only had a short session today - I parked up at Newdowns, walked to the sea and back again.
Newdowns reservoir had coot(26) and pochard(30) whereas Prince’s reservoir had a bit more variety in the form of coot(11), pochard(25),tufted duck(6), shoveller(51) but nothing more exciting (eg goosander). Along the track there were the normal tits, robins and finches but none are very numerous though greenfinch numbers reached the lofty height of 5 – a world record for this year.
As I walked through The Plantation (the pines by the golf course) I flushed 2 of the 4 woodcock seen today though I didn’t tramp around the Newdowns pool – they’ve been disturbed enough this week – though a snipe came up out of one of the ditches.
A short stroll along the beach towards the sea front car park allowed me to see the snow buntings (12) but I never got within 100yrds of them – well that’s not strictly true I did get closer but only when they flew past me.
Snow Buntings
I’m not actually certain I flushed them as they landed then were off several times in quick succession.  The SBBO ringers have caught and ringed about 10 in the last week so it may have made them very wary of anything on two legs.
I was about to depart when I saw some sandling (5) charging around on the sea front  so I got fairly close then allowed them (with some help from the incoming tide) to come to me:
They got reasonably close whilst feeding in their normal frenetic way but when within 20-25 yards or so they sprinted past me then started feeding again when they’d put a similar distance between us.

Whilst playing with the sandling a couple of ringed plover flew past but other than that it was quiet – there were quite a few dog walkers on the beach so that may have been partly to blame.
Time was soon up but since I had the camera out I decided to keep it at the ready for the return leg. This turned out to be fortuitous as when I walked past Prince’s Reservoir a snipe flew up and I managed some flight shots – not brilliant but the best ones I have ever managed.

Without a doubt the Canon 7D plus 400mm f5.6 locks on really fast and holds onto the bird well – far better than the Sony did.

Tuesday, 7 February 2012

Woodcock and Kingfisher

Yesterday we wandered the southern part of the Obs reporting area (Oasis, St Georges bushes, Elms, Gullies) searching for woodcock and were very successful finding over 60. Today we repeated the exercise this time searching the northern half of the reporting area (Newdowns, and the tree lined fields north towards the 100 acre field up to the edge of Prince’s GC).
It was slow at first with only 4 or 5 woodcock being seen around Newdowns new pool (next to Princes GC reservoir) but in the trees going north of there the woodcock came thick and fast.  With the sun shining and the Canon in hand I was hopeful of some images but unlike yesterday where the woodcock, once flushed, flew in a circle around us today they simply flew off, almost invariably away from where I was and always keeping the trees between me and them.
Of the 40 odd woodcock we saw the only shots I managed were from the birds flushed from the Pines that line the northern edge of Princes golf course:

Also being flushed with the woodcock were snipe – we saw 15-20 of them but and whilst these did fly out on my side of the trees my skill with the camera was such that I failed to get a shot.
Having the camera at the ready did pay dividends as a merlin flew past and this I did manage to lock onto though it was very distant by that time.

We had a good smattering of the normal hedgerow birds – blackbird, redwing, song thrush, green and gt spotted woodpecker, chaffinch, green finch and there were a lot of great tits. By way of variety we also found around half a dozen goldcrests in the pines alongside Princes.
The fields up near the point were mainly snow covered but on the exposed ridges the snow had been blown off and was frequented by lapwing and golden plover; at one point the latter were so preoccupied with feeding that we walked past ~ 180 of them at a distance of no more than 50 yards. A sign they are feeling the strain?
On the walk back a mippit flew past and we were joking that it was the first mippit flock we seen today when Ian spotted another on the deck just beyond a robin. A closer scan of the field revealed about 60 of them! I wonder how often we just wander past these inconspicuous little brown jobs only noting those that take flight as we approach?
Back  in the warmth of the Obs and after a welcoming cup of coffee Ian and myself were invited to a members house to see the kingfisher that fishes in the stream/drainage dyke that marks their garden boundary. The dyke itself is frozen solid but an area under the perch they have erected is freed from ice every morning and the bird spend a lot of the day there.
When we arrived the bird was already on the perch and although it flew off a couple of times it returned quite quickly to resume its watch of the open water. We were told it had already caught 6 small fish that day!

Kingfisher - though you probably had worked that out.
So a superb hour with all the comfort of home and all thanks to M and N.

Saturday, 4 February 2012

Kumlien's at last

Today I had another trip to Dover harbour to try and connect with the Kumlien’s gull. The gull was first seen on Sunday afternoon and I think this was my forth attempt to connect with it – needless to say my other efforts had been fruitless. This had been especially frustrating as everyone and their brother had been telling me they had seen it either before I arrived or after I’d departed and had been posting pictures of it on Flickr to rub the point in.
I arrived about 8.15 and could see Steve Raynaert walking out onto the Prince of Wales Pier just ahead of me. As we were walking  out the Bockhill crew were  returning – they had seen the Kumlien’s flying about and were going to the Admiralty Pier to try and get a better view.
Being lazy Steve and myself continued out on the PoW in the hope it would come to us and checked the gulls on the hover pad. It wasn’t there but we did see 3 species of wader – dunlin, knot and grey plover; you don’t often see waders in the harbour. We spent about 10 minutes  looking at the gulls flying about in the harbour but reluctantly gave up and followed the Bockhill mob onto the Admiralty.
When we found them they were looking at the Kumlien’s which had been feeding (on bread) just below where they were standing but needless to say it flew off just as we arrived.
The next couple of hours was spent wandering  back watching the gull and trying to get some decent pictures.
At first the light was so poor I used my Sony outfit and although it kept locking up I did eventually get it to work and managed a few pictures. The light was very difficult being a near white sky as was getting it to focus on the gull as it flew past.

Kumlien's gull taken with the Sony
As the light improved I started using the Canon (set on manual because I don’t find the exposure compensation very easy to use on the Canon); the light was still a problem though focussing was not an issue.
Whilst the gull was away from the pier(it kept disappearing) we managed to amuse ourselves with general birding watching.  On the water were razorbills and shags (we’d seen 3 together from the PoW pier) and flying past very close were kittiwakes. There was also a movement of ducks with gadwall, shoveller and wigeon being seen (the latter by Chidders) plus  a small flock of brents.


Common Seal
Chidders had been on the PoW pier but after a chgat on the phone had come round to the Admiralty to join us. This proved to be a stroke of luck because literally the moment Chidders turned up so did the Kumlien’s but Chidder’s had come prepared.....he had a loaf.

Kumlien's Gull (Canon)

Kumlien's Gull (Canon)
Out went the bread, down came the Kumlien’s and snap when the camera – the best shots of the day by a long way.