Saturday, 29 September 2012

Departure of the Pectoral Sandpiers

Friday 29th (Now with pictures!)

There are several expressions that extol the virtue of continued endeavour - "Persistence pays", "If at first you don't succeed try, try, try again" well I can tell you on good authority they are rubbish.
This last week I have been on a quest to get a close-up pictures of the Backsand pectoral sandpipers. Each morning I have diligently trekked down to Backsand optimistic in the expectation that eventually, due to the rise in water levels,  one or both of the birds had to come close (or at minimum closer) to the hide than they had been before. Well today the quest ended, not with the a fanfare of success, but because the birds have departed. I have taken the odd image of them during the week but in reality they have been little better than those I got when they were first found. So what saying should be invoked??????? "If at first you don't succeed give up" seems more appropriate.

Pectroal Sandpiper
Pectoral Sandpiper
My time down there hasn’t been entirely wasted though. High tide this week have been (relatively) early in the morning which meant I was down there by 7.30 or so.  Egret numbers have been good this week with normally 5-7 being present with the highest count of 13 being seen on Thursday. The egret fly out in dribs and drabs as the mornings progress irrespective of the state of the tide so by late morning they have all gone.

Some of the little egrets
Greenshank and redshank numbers, most of which come in on the high tide, have been around 20 and 40 respectively and lapwings have also been up in the 40’s. The only other waders seen all week were a lone green sandpiper (on Wednesday I think) and a black-tailed godwit (today)
Duck numbers are now increasing with the teal count being 40-50 and wigeon number increasing through the week peaking today at 15 and the little grebes seem to have raised a brood with 4 being seen most days.
The photographic highlight has undoubtedly been a female kingfisher. Normally Backsand does not enjoy the presence of kingfishers but the last few days has seen one move into the area and what is more it has found the post just outside the “photographic hide” allowing some cracking shots to be obtained. One also turned up last autumn but was only around for a few week and never posed for the camera. Let’s hope this one sticks around for a few weeks. Is there a saying to account for the kingfisher shots - I think there is "Better to be lucky than good".

Today, after Backsand I popped into the Elms to see if I could find something to photograph - few goldcrests and decent numbers of chiffs and blackcaps have been present this last few days. Well I failed to get a shot of any of those but I did find a pied flycatcher. That too refused to come out and pose for me so all I got was this record shot. Still, "Better than a poke in the eye with a sharp stick"!

Pied Flycatcher

Tuesday, 25 September 2012

Possible Marsh Warbler at Grove

As I was leaving Grove after the bearded tit session I noticed a couple of warblers moving though the reeds. One was easily recognised as a sedge warbler but the other, on first glimpse, looked more like a chiff (round headed) than a reed warbler. As I watched it a little longer it was clear that it wasn’t a chiff but it also didn’t look quite right for a reed warbler in that it had pale yellow legs and the beak looked too short so I followed it as it moved through the reeds towards me hoping for a picture or two.
It actually got quite close and a couple of times was in the open and I managed 2 shots that were of reasonable quality. I have spent the last few days poring over these pictures and scouring the interweb trying to decide whether it was a marsh warbler that I had seen.

Marsh Warbler?

As I said earlier first impressions in the field were round headed, short beak and pale (yellow) legs all of which are consistent with marsh warbler but I was searching for some corroboratory evidence because everything I read suggested these features could be unreliable.  Also marsh warblers are more associated with scrubby areas rather than reed beds.
Marsh warbler also have longer wings and longer primary projection than a reed – all very good but to decide these “relative” proportions as a bird is flitting through the reeds with only a sedge warbler for company is, for me, difficult AND subjective. Marsh warblers are also reported as having white tips to the primaries - a feature clearly visible in top shot.
Searching the interweb provided found an entry on the Portland wed site which suggested  2 features that can be used to separate a marsh from a reed warbler in the hand – the length of the notch on the 2nd primary and similarly the length of the emargination on the 3rd primary.  See
A quick look at the images I took meant that the notch length was not going to be of any use because I didn’t have a picture that showed it, however one of the pictures did show the emargination on the 3rd primary. In a reed warbler the emargination stretches almost down to the secondaries whereas in a marsh warbler it is much shorter only stretching about half that distance.
Emargination of the 3rd primary

Whilst it would be easier to see from a side shot I believe this picture shows the emargination of my bird falling well short of the secondaries and being consistent with a marsh warbler.
So there you have it. I think it looks good for a marsh warbler but I'm no authority on this so comments appreciated
The same pictures will appear on my Flickr site.

Friday, 21 September 2012

Bearded tits at Grove

Yesterday I went to Grove to try and get some bearded tit pictures. I got some but the session was cut short when I got a text from Phil Smith saying there was a rose coloured starling at Samphire Hoe. My tit session (so to speak) was cut short and off I went to see the starling:
Rose coloured starling (juv)

Today, being calm saw me return to Grove for a second attempt at the beardies.
Looking into the sun from the ramp all I could see were eclipsed ducks so I didn’t linger and as I walked towards the Feast Hide a party of 7 beardies flew past. At the hide there were 2 green sandpipers, 2 spotted redshank, 3 snipe, a little egret and a number of ducks who remained uncounted.
Spotted redshank
On the mud and alongside the reeds there was another party of 4 beardies.  I didn’t stay long and progressed to Harrison’s Drove and it was silent; no sign of yesterdays beardies, so I wandered back and forth assuming they would turn up sometime.
After 15 minutes and as I returned to the junction with the main path Mr Ashton appeared and like a miracle so did the bearded tits........lots of them. I don’t know what it is he wears but it really does attract the birds (well at least the feathered variety). Due the birds constantly flitting around it was impossible to do a count but there were at least 60-70 present. I’d like to say they sat there posing for us but they didn’t. At times they were only a few feet away but in general they were out of sight or heavily obscured.
One of the interesting sights was seeing groups of them drop onto the path and peck at the ground – I assume they were taking in grit to aid seed digestion but I don’t have any proof of this.
Bearded tits
The closest I got to a one in the open was this juvenile who landed very close and decided it was time for a preen – my experience has been that once a bird decides to preen it gets a lot more approachable; they’re obviously not very good a multi-tasking.

Juvenile bearded tit

Adult birds were always a bit more alert and the shots a little more distant but today’s efforts were a lot better than I managed yesterday.
Bearded tit

Mike G and Bill G joined us a little later but by the time they arrived the birds were drifting away - they seemed to be retreating back into the middle of the reed beds.
Still an enjoyable session.

Tuesday, 18 September 2012

2 Pectoral Sandpipers still at Backsand

Despite my concern yesterday about the pec sandpipers at Backsand being scared off it seems they were back on the scrape late yesterday afternoon so the decision about whether to go down there was easy and made easier by the dearth of birds around the estate.
On arrival the 2 pec sands were directly in front of the hide – still distant but in front and there they stayed for some time allowing one to have a good look and get some more shots.
What was immediately obvious was they were different colours (one duller/greyer than the other) and significantly different sizes with the duller bird being the larger. Both birds look to be juveniles due to the broad pale fringes to the feathers. I’ll let the pictures do the talking:

Having only seen 2 or 3 pec sands before I have no idea what the normal size and colour variation is, or whether males are bigger than female or what. If anyone can add some scholarship to this question please add a comment - I can't be the only one in the dark........can I?

Monday, 17 September 2012

Yesterday the house martin migration was in full swing with thousands moving south along the cliffs at Kingsdwon and I read the same was going on at Sandwich though those birds were going north! Today was completely different with hardly a house martin being seen in our walk around the estate. In fact today was hard going with only a few chiffs (~30) remaining around the estate and 4 wheatears on the beach south of the sailing club. The most interesting find was a roost of small waders on the shingle south of the sailing club which comprised of 49 ringed plovers, 15 dunlin and 5 sandling – good numbers for the estate.
I had intended breaking off early and going down to Backsand (again) as 2 pectoral sandpipers were in residence yesterday but that plan had to be shelved because the Conservation team had decided today was the day they had to do some work down there................and I there was me thinking the Obs and the reserves it controls were there for the birds/bird watching. I'll have a look down there tomorrow but it's probably the end of the pec sand fest.
In the end I decide to walk the beach up to the 100 Acre field and IT WAS RUBBISH.
Along the Newdowns track to the sea I found/heard afew chiffs and tits but little else and the beach was more deserted. On land all I found was 1 chiff (in the sea buckthorn), 2 skylarks and 9 mippits whilst on the shore I found a moulting grey plover and on the return leg 2 ringed plover with 2 dunlin. A pretty poor return for the length of walk.
I spent ages trying to get close enough to the grey plover for a photograph but it walked 50 yards in front of me for miles. In the end I had to go inland to close the gap then crawl across the sand o get close enough:

Grey Plover

Dunlin and Ringed Plover

On the way back to the car I found a pair of gold crests in the Plantation – that made 3 for the day; another sign of autumn.

Wednesday, 12 September 2012

Pec Sand at Backsand

I decided that today was going to be a scrape day as the last couple of days, walking the estate, had been pretty dire.
I stopped off at Restharrow on the way to the Obs and had 7 little egrets but the shoveller seen earlier by Martyn had moved off and only teal (~25) were on show. I couldn’t even find the snipe and green sandpiper.
At the Obs I told Ian of my plan and he decided to join me because he too was bored with the normal route and we drove to Newdowns parking at the poly tunnels. We didn’t see much until we got to Newdowns new pool (up by Prince’s Reservoir) where we found a mixed flock of tits and warblers – mainly long tailed tits and chiffs but there was a willow or two plus a few blue and great tits. From there we walked north along the farm tracks which eventually lead to Backsand . There wasn’t a lot to see but the headland areas of several fields contain mixed flowers and had attracted mippits (~10) and linnet (~35) and several great spot and green woodpeckers were heard. Somewhere along the route (I can’t remember where) we flushed 7 grey partridge and found another 7 by Backsand itself.  
At Backsand we went to Geoff’s hide (the one next to the “photographic" hide) arriving at 9.30 (about high tide). The green (19) and redshanks(38) were in the normal place and doing their normal thing – sleeping . Other than that there were 4 snipe, a lone green sandpiper, a little ringed plover and some teal. Another wader was seen flying over then it returned and landed with the shanks. It’s id was being debated when it turned towards us – a pectoral sandpiper! This was rather pleasing not just because finding a pec is always pleasing but the main reason for having a “scrape day” was that pec sands were being reported all over the country and I thought we must be in with a chance.
A sparrowhawk flew over putting everthing up and the shanks plus pec sand wheeled around a couple of times before flying across the front of the hide as they went back to the roost.
Pectoral Sandpiper with redshank
After a while the pec left the roost island and flew over to the “island” in front of Geoff’s hide but stayed on the far bank. After 10 minutes or so it went back to the roost and Ian departed at that point. I stayed hoping it would come a little closer and hopefully get some reasonable shots.
Eventually it came back to the island in front of the hide and made its way along the far bank past the hides then slowly retraced it steps. It was never close, 30-40 yards? but a lot closer than it had been and I got some pleasing shots.

Pectoral Sandpiper
Whilst watching the pec sand a spotted redshank appeared which was another year tick. Again with so little water at Backsand it was always distant (as were the snipe and greenshank that were feeding).
Spotted Sandpiper
I finally gave up at 1.00pm because the pec had returned to the roost island and appeared to be settling down for a sleep but my good luck wasn’t finished.
During the walk back a hare appeared on the track 60-70 yards in front of me. I dropped to the floor and got the camera out and laid there hoping. I didn’t have to wait long as it started running along the track towards me! It stopped again about 30 yards away and I was sure it would see what I was and scarper but it didn’t – it ran towards me again not stopping until it was 5 or 6 yards away! It was so close I couldn’t get much of it in shot. Hopefully the sequence below will give a feel for what I saw. These shots are not cropped, they are just squared off the full height of the pictures which were shot in landscape (some are not very sharp but should still give a feel for what I saw).
Starting to run towards me.

It stopped about 30 yards away and had a look around

Coming towards me again

Too close to get it all in shot now!

Final stop - this was all I could fit in.

It finally decided I mught be a threat and ran off across the field. I couldn't take any more shots as the card was now full.
Why can’t every day be like today?

Monday, 3 September 2012

September and things are begining to look up

On Saturday (the 1st )  I had intended to walk along the beach at Sandwich up to the point but as it was overcast I thought there was a chance of a fall of migrants so I walked the cliffs to Hope point and.................. it was useless. Just a few willow warblers, some passing hirundines and 2 yellow wags going south. This was in total contrast to what was going on at Bockhill where they had a shed load of good birds – grasshopper warblers, spot and pied flys, whinchat to name but 4.
On the 2nd I did do the beach walk. I  parked up at Newdowns and immediately contacted a decent flock of small stuff – willow warblers, blue, great and long tailed tits and whilst trying to count these I found a spotted flycatcher. The count was abandoned as I watched the flycatcher. After 10 minutes the tree tops were suddenly devoid of birds so I resumed the walk.
As I reached the beach there was a flock of mippits (~30) and I spotted 4 whinchats in the buckthorn. Using all my will power I ignored the whinchats and walked down to check Prince’s practice green but only found 2 wheatears and another whinchat so I started north towards Princes club house. During the stroll north I flushed ~6 sky larks then re-found the whinchats only by now their number was 10! I tried in vain to get close but they were having none of it so I had to be content with some distant record shots. Also along there was another wheatear and a sedge warbler.

The return leg I saw 3 lesser whitethroats, 2 common and ~5 reed warblers by Princes Reservoir and and a little grebe on the res itself.
Monday I walked the circuit with Ian and true to the last week or so most warbler activity was around the Obs car park. The warblers really do like the hedge row by the maize. Willow, segde and reed warbler plus chiffchaff were in residence this morning.
Middle field, the Elms and Gullies were all very quiet but on the sea front by Sandelands we found a decent flock of whinchats. These were mainly in Sandelands garden but also along the fence lines between there and Dickson’s corner – around 25 were seen. As you would have guessed I tried to get close for some pictures but yet again failed. Whinchats have never been easy to get up close and personal to but this year they are impossible. This was the best I managed:
Back at the Obs I was told there were 3 spotted flycatchers and a dozen whinchats along by St George’s bushes so off I went to try for the whinchats again. Failed! But the spot flys were a little more obliging.

Spotted flycatcher

In the afternoon I went down to Backsand – high tide being ~ 2.00pm. The shank counts were pretty reasonable – 48 redshank and 29 green – but they stayed right over by the reed bed and never moved. This has happened on the last 3 visits; I think they just don’t like the water level being so low so roost on the only small island remaining but go back to the river bank to feed.
The only other waders present were dunlin (2), green sandpiper(1) and lapwing (7).