Saturday, 14 December 2013

Torn apart in the harbour

Today I had a trip to the docks. Bird-wise it was rubbish but in the Wellington Dock (the Debradelie warf part) there was a sea eating a huge flounder. I spent about half an hour watching it devour the flounder from the union road bridge but I'll let the pictures do the talking.

The picture of innocence

Nearly finished

I've never seen a seal in the inner docks before.
Out on the POW pier there were a few gulls and 2 kittiwakes but still no sign of any of the normal winter visitors.


Sunday, 8 December 2013

Dungenss and Herons mainly

Friday 6th

With the sun set to shine till after midday I got the passport out and went down to Dungeness.
I started at the fishing boats hoping for the caspian or a glaucous but no such luck. I wandered around for an hour or so checking the various gull roosts but only herrings and black backed were on offer. Along the beach I found a juvenile kittiwake and a few black headed gulls which were interested in some revolting looking entrails but they enabled me to get close and try for a few flight shots, though I have to say my skill with flight shots still leaves a lot to be desired.

kittiwake with the entrails

Black-headed gull
Mid morning I went to the ARC. From the Hanson hide I could see tufties, a lone golden eye, teal to go with the gadwall and pochard I'd seen at the southern end and a flock of ~ 50 widgeon dropped in.
Whilst checking out the ducks at the top (northern) end of the pit I saw something white in the reeds. I assumed it was an egret but as it moved into view it turned out to be a grey heron. Normally this would be of little consequence but as it wandered to the right (as I looked at it) it disturbed a bittern that was ~ 8 yards away. I spent the next half hour watching the antics of these two.
For quite a long time they tried to ignore each other but eventually the bittern decided it wanted move left (towards the heron). To avoid a confrontation it went deep into the water and  looked as if it might actually have been swimming if not it was wading in very deep water.
As it moved past the heron the heron turned it's back to it as if pretending it wasn't there.
Once past the heron the bittern clambered out.

If I ignore him perhaps he'll go away
Oh bugger....he's coming towards me
What should I do........

I know...I'll look away. 

I'm not looking.......
They refused to look at each other for another 10 minutes until the heron had had enough and it flew.............and landed right in front of me!
I had earlier joked with a RSPB volunteer that I was hoping the heron would scare the bittern over to me but I had to make do with a heron.

 Whilst these two acted out their little drama a great white egret was also on show to their right though it kept disappearing into the reeds/scrub between the main lake and the viewing screen.

Normal view of a great white egret
Once the heron had flown off I went round to the screen to see if I could get better views of the egret but when I arrived there I found another RSPB volunteer sweeping out the screen and cleaning the glass window totally oblivious to the great white egret walking across the front of the hide. With all the commotion (plus me opening a shutter) the egret moved behind the left hand reed bed and started fishing - so there it was only 25 yards away but I could only see it through the reeds.
After a few minutes of window cleaning the egret took off and landed 25-30 yards away to my right .....but I now was looking right into the sun!

Great white egret

It started fishing so I hoped that it might return across the front of the hide now the window cleaner had gone but it didn't.  A heron flew up from just in front of it and up it went, flew across the front of the hide and off down the lake.

Flying south
I only had time for  4 or 5 shots and whilst the light direction was not ideal the fly past was the closest  I've been to a great white egret.

And that was that. Nothing unexpected but a very enjoyable morning.

Sunday, 1 December 2013

Sandwich and Dover in the sun

At last some sun though trying to decide where to go with so few birds around was been a bit of a problem. In the end I settled for a walk along the beach at Sandwich on Saturday and the Prince of Wales pier on Sunday.
As normal for a walk along the beach at Sandwich I parked by the poly tunnels at Newdowns but beware - at the moment the area is a mud bath due to the engineering work on the pumping station and traffic to the Sandwich flood defences.
From the poly tunnels I took the footpath towards The Lodge but the walk to the sea was more or less birdless – just 13 rooks and 5 starlings. The walk along the beach was similarly bird free but eventually a couple of skylarks were kicked up and the flock of snow buntings (13) flew past and disappeared north towards the point. I don’t know where they came from or how far up they went but I never saw them again.
Alongside Princes clubhouse I found 3 sanderling and spent some time with them:

Add caption
As I continued north I found a mixed flock of waders; bar-tailed godwit, grey plover, knot, dunlin and sanderling but they didn’t like me approaching so I backed off and left them there. When I got home and looked at the shots I took of the waders one had very yellow looking legs. I can’t see the rest of the bird so I assume it is just a knot where the light has caught the legs at an angle that shows up their yellow colouration though it must be said that all the other knot photographed seem to have black legs.

On the return leg I found a pair of stonechat and 2 reed buntings but little else. I don’t think I saw a finch during the entire walk – where are they?

As Chiddy reported yesterday Dover harbour is devoid of any of the normal winter visitors though the brent goose was feeding on the weeds growing on the hover pad. At the end of the pier I popped into the loo and when I emerged was faced by a greater black-backed gull on the narrow walkway!
I moved away to get the camera out and then got a few shots of it near the steps back down to the pier proper – a walker kindly waiting whilst I took the shots. It was clear it had a length of fishing line around it’s legs so I assumed I was injured.

When I stepped aside the walker went along the walkway forcing the gull to drop down onto the pier where it started walking shore-wards past the fisherman……..I followed.
Several times the gull had to stop it’s shore-wards journey and back-track towards me due to walkers coming along the pier but each time, after the walkers had passed, it resumed its journey all the time the fishing line seemed to be working loose.

Eventually it reached one of the gates that lead to the steps, went under the gate, and after a couple of minutes flew across to the Admiralty pier; so it would seem no harm done.

Fishing line has gone!

Sunday, 17 November 2013

Lac du Der

Last week (13-15th November) I joined Phil Smith and Pete Wells on a jolly to Lac du Der to see the cranes and hopefully a few of the other local specialities. Lac du Der is just south of St Dizier which in turn is south west of Reims. To get there takes around 3.5 to 4 hrs driving from Calais so it’s not too far for a midweek trip or long w/e.
We arrived there just after lunch on the Wednesday and went straight to the W/SW bank of the lac to see what was happening.   Out on the lake you could see a line of cranes on an island and overhead there was a constant movement of cranes – it seems these were taking advantage of the sunny weather to move on. In amongst all the toing and froing a few cranes flew past at close quarters but most of the time the cranes are high and/or distant:

Whilst my main interest was in the cranes there were a number of great white egrets around one of which kept walking to just in front of us (30 – 40 yards away) though once there he lost his nerve and flew off a couple of hundred yards only to walk back to in front of us again.

Great white Egrets
In the meantime Pete was scoping the lake finding a 30 odd strong flock of Bewick Swans and a small flock of goosander:


The only downside of the afternoon was the spectacle of the cranes returning to the lake for the night time roost – it didn’t occur; well it did occur but all the birds came in from the north of the lake – the opposite side to where we were. None came past us.
Still it great day.
Thursday was going to be our only full day in the field and was going to be spent around the Foret d’Orient and associated lakes searching for woodpeckers ( black and middle spotted) and hawfinch.
The day started very overcast but on the way to the Foret we crossed an arm of the Lac du Der just south of Eclaron on the D 384. The sight there caused us to stop and walk back to bridge – the river, which was about as wide as the Stour,  was full of herons/egrets and cormorants. Phil made it 44 great whites egrets, 1 little egret and 3 or 4 grey herons and hundreds of cormorants. They started flying off downstream as we approached but the sight was amazing:


The most GWE  I could get in frame at one time. Also a few coromorants.
As we drove on we kept on encountering flocks of cranes feeding but normally they were distant and when they weren't they would fly off if you stopped:

Sadly as we reached the Foret d’Orient the rain started and continued all day which effectively ended the birding though we did visit a hide over-looking the lake and got a few more trip ticks.

Our last day (well half day) was spent in the forest just north of St Dizier near Trois-Fontaines. Again it started over cast but slowly the sun started to emerge. The forest can only be birded from the logging tracks as there are no paths though it though we were lucky in that hunting wasn’t allowed on Thursdays – I was told it was boar hunting that occurred there.
First off things were very slow with only buzzards and marsh tits being found but eventually we found 3 woodpeckers ……unfortunately all were great spotted. Finches were in short supply though a couple of fly-by probable haw finches were seen. What was not in doubt was the id of the male hen harrier and peregrine falcon that flew overhead.
A move to slightly close to Trois-Fontaine proved to be very  beneficial in that a flock of finches came out of the wood and landed in a nearby hedgerow – it contained at least half a dozen bramblings. Whilst watching the finches a nuthatch was heard calling in the wood.  A small bird flew across to the hedgerow and I was expecting it to be the nuthatch but it wasn’t …… was a lesser spotted woodpecker:
Brambling and Chaffinch
Lesser spotted woodpecker
A few hundred yards away as we were walking another logging track Phil spotted 3 haw finches (as I got on them they flew off),  then moments later Phil found certainly 1 and probably 2 middle spotted woodpeckers. I spent what seemed like several minutes trying to get on it/them and the moment I did it flew off……..bloody typical.
That was that really as it was time to go.
So quite a productive trip even though birding was pretty much restricted to the first afternoon and the last morning. Whilst the cranes may not be there in the numbers we saw a trip in early spring when the woodpeckers are drumming would certainly be worthwhile – it should make them a little easier to locate.

So thanks to Phil and Pete for inviting me along, to Pete for doing all the navigation and Phil for sleeping quietly in the back of the car.