Wednesday, 22 January 2014

Dover Harbour gulls

Dover Harbour is not the most picturesque birding destination but during the winter it occasionally turns up a few attractions; more importantly (for me anyway) these often present at quite close quarters.
A couple of weeks ago a small gull flew past and though I thought "little gull" at the time I didn't see it again so I dismissed it as wishful thinking and assumed I had just had fleeting views of a juvenile kittiwake.
Well on Sunday it was there again and sure enough it was a little also helped that Chidders had been watching it!.
Little gulls are not  birds I see very often (most likely due to the fact I don't do sea watching) but to have one within camera range meant that the stage was set for several days of little gull therapy. If only the weather had cooperated.
Sunday was actually ok in that whilst it threatened rain at times there were also periods when the sun shone brightly and the sky was blue. Monday, the cloud was thinner but the sun was rarely seen and Tuesday the forecast was excellent but the weather hadn't read the newspapers or seen the News because after 15 minutes the fog rolled in. Still there's always tomorrow.
The little gull performed best on Sunday where it was ranging along the PoW pier for long periods, Monday it showed pretty well but went AWOL for long periods but yesterday we only saw it a couple of times...... and it never came close.

On two of the three days we have thrown out bait to try and tempt the little gull into feeding below us picking at the water surface but to date it hasn't cooperated. Baits tried so far are floating fish food pellets and bread (white and brown!) so any suggestions of something easy to get hold of, floats and is not too stinky would be appreciated.

At times the bird came really close and even hung in the air 20 feet above my head but these overhead shots are never very pleasing.

One of the  close fly-pasts allowed decent views of the black under-wing patch  (I have no idea if these feathers have a technical name):

Kittiwake numbers are increasing at last with various stages of adult moult on show plus some juveniles.

Standard winter adult

Adult - nearly in summer plumage
Here are several shots of an adult where the primaries haven't completely grown. This makes the bird look really unusual in that due to the lack of primaries the wings appear very short and the wing has 3 black patches rather than the single black tip.

There are also several juveniles around:

The final birds of interest were the med gulls. There had been a 1st winter on every visit but on Tuesday there were also a couple of adults on show.

Adult med gull

1st winter med gull
The 1st winter med gull was the only bird to respond to bread yesterday coming down just in front of us and showing off the wing pattern brilliantly in the 5 minutes of sun we enjoyed.

Also around in the harbour are a few guillemots and razorbills with some of the guillies being in summer plumage. Grebes and divers however are conspicuous by their absence.

Wednesday, 15 January 2014

Just what colour is the Hume's/Yellow-browed warbler?

A couple of people have commented that my pictures of the Hume's/YB warbler show the bird to be brighter and more coloured than they have seen in other pictures and perhaps than they remembered it. I must admit that my initial impression was of a bird that was noticeably  duller than the other YBs I have seen (though there have not been many) so the colour/brightness of my shots were a bit of a surprise. I did have a lot of dull shots (un-published) but these were when the bird was in a sub-optimal position with respect to pose and light direction and possibly exposure.

I shoot (Canon 7D) using auto-white balance and more often than not I adjust the white balance to try and better match the colours in the image with those I remember (or to be closer to the colours depicted in my field guides). This can be done by selecting "daylight", "cloud", "shade",or choosing a temperature. (For the record  Canon daylight corresponds to something around 5200K whereas with my Sony daylight seems to be around 5600K).
When I processed these shots originally I chose to use 5200K as the reference temperature.
In the following images I have kept everything identical except the temperature so you can see the impact it has on the appearance of the critter.

As Shot

As originally posted (5200K)
At 4000K
At 4400K
At 4800K
At 5200K again
At 5600K

The picture was taken at 9.30 am on a bright sunny morning and the bird was in a near perfect position - about 10 feet up with the light directly behind me. The low level of the sun at this time of year will impart a yellow cast to the picture so the final representation is down to taste as much as anything.

To me the 4000 and 4400K shots are too cold given the conditions irrespective of what I thought the bird looked like - though I have to admit I like the look of the 4400K picture! To me the  4800K, "as shot" and  and 5200K all look acceptable though the "as shot" looks a little brown on the mantle for my taste. 5600K doesn't look that bad either but it's getting a little too warm.

I'm sitting on the fence wrt just what the bird is because I just don't have the knowledge /experience to do otherwise. I only post these shots to show that the "colour" of a bird can be pretty subjective. It will change depending on the lighting conditions and on how you choose to process it.

Who said the camera never lies!!!

Tuesday, 14 January 2014

Out and about around Dover

After twitching the phalarope, the Humes and going to Hampton for some purple sandpiper shots it was time to stay local.
Seeing as everywhere is under water I decided to keep my feet dry and start with Dover docks.
The inner harbour was almost bird free (I'm not counting the pigeons) but as I wandered out onto the Prince of Wales pier I found a few auks in the form of 2 razorbills and 2 guillemots.

Razorbill and guillemot

Another reassuring sight were the 9 gt crested grebes - still way down on normal but moving in the right direction. A few kittiwakes were drifting around but the star of the show was a shag.
3/4 of the way along the pier there are some step down to the water (fenced off) and because I've found purple sandpipers on them before I always check them out. Well today as I poked my head over the railings I was confronted with a shag.....on the third step from the top.
To get a full view of the bird I had to stand back a little and lean over the railings but I was looking out to sea hence shooting into the light; I also had to shoot holding the camera in portrait mode because that was the only way I could get the whole bird in. Still it was as close to a shag as I have been. To put things into perspective this shot is uncropped.

I then tried to get on it with the light behind me. That meant shooting over the top of the railings and due to the angles and how close I had to get (~4 yards) I could only get it's head in. Again these are uncropped shots.

You are probably going to ask just how sad could someone be but have you ever looked at a shags feet before. Well I hadn't until today. The outer toe is far longer than the others. I always assume the centre toe is the longest but that's not the case. Just thought I'd share that with you!!!!

That was it for the pier.
Next stop was Langdon Hole. The cliff tops down here are pretty grim at the moment but if anyone wants to see corn buntings and yellowhammers visit Langdon Hole - there's a mixed flock of 60+ birds there on the rough pasture immediately north of the Hole. There's not a lot else but it's brilliant for these. I just wish they were a bit more approachable.

Corn bunting


There were about 10 skylarks chasing each other around but I only saw 1 meadow pipit.
On the cliffs no sign of the peregrines today but a few fulmars are back in town.

Monday, 13 January 2014

Thanet Wanderings

Today I was mainly in Thanet.
My morning started at the Ramsgate cemetary. I tried to resist but with so little around to point the camera at I failed. Anyway when I arrived I was alone and couldn't find it though I did find a firecrest. It took several minutes to id the crest because it was deep in ivy and all I kept getting were glimpses of a wing bar. It was a bit of a let down when it finally came out into the open.
After that I went back to the 2 pine trees near the chapel and waited - I was working under the assumption that these were the trees that had featured in a lot of the pictures posted over the w/e. This standing around doing nothing strategy worked brilliantly and within a few minutes the Hume's/YB appeared.
I was expecting a very mobile bird but when in the pines it was still for quite long periods quite as it searched for food. That's not to say you could get any pictures because most of the time it had it's head buried in a forest of pine needles but eventually it showed well enough:

It then moved into the ever-green oak and got very difficult to see and when it did come out it was in the bare trees and moved about very rapidly. After an hour of trying to improve on the shots I already had in the bag I gave up.
This was without doubt the dullest "yellow browed" I have seen with the wing bars and supercillium quite subdued. The wing bar on the median coverts is very small and the legs look dark - all of which is consistent with it being a Hume's......However the lower mandible is undoubtedly yellow - which is a feature of a YB..
On the call front it did sound less harsh than the few YB's I have heard and seemed to be consistent with the calls I listened to on Xeno-canto. Conclusion.....a strong maybe for a Hume's!

Next stop was Foreness and the snow buntings - these are a lot easier to id. As I arrived at the clifftop I could see Mike Hook stalking the waders. I scrambled down the cliff and as I was walking towards him I flushed the snow bunts from the grass whereupon they flew up to the clifftop.

Mike and I spent the next 15 minutes trying (and failing) to get close with the flock repeatedly flying from the clifftop to the grass and back again - most of the time without us moving!

Eventually we gave up and went back to the waders - ringed plovers, sanderling and purple sandpipers(5). These were a little more cooperative if you approached very slowly and on your knees -well the sanderling and purps were; the plovers had long disappeared towards the pump house..

Rimged plovers


Purple sandpipers

After this little session Mike went off for the Hume's (successfully) I went home via Restharrow where I saw (unsurprisingly) loads of teal and several gadwall....some of whom were getting very amorous.


Thursday, 9 January 2014

Dungeness - Bird of the day was a newt

Today (8th Jan) I went to Dungeness. I was full of good intentions but as normal I got distracted and only visited the RSPB sites.
My day started at the ARC in the Hanson hide. From the hide I could see most if not all of the common ducks plus 6 goldeneye (3 males and 3 females) and 4 red headed smew.
In front of the hide, fishing, was the heron and 3 marsh harriers were moving about in the distance - one a really heavily marked female.

On several occasions one of the red heads looked as if it was going to come close so I waited, and waited .....and waited. It didn't. This was the best I managed.

Eventually I gave up and set off to the main site. There were about 20 tree sparrows around the farm and a couple of hundred yards further on a great white egret could be seen (the only one I saw today).

At the Firth hide I was told there was a goosander (female) patrolling between the Firth and Makepeace hides so I sat and waited, and waited.....and waited (there's a pattern here). This time it did get pretty close on several occasions but never actually coming in front of the hide so the views of it were always into the sun.

I did try for it  from the Makepeace hide but it never went down there. I also looked in on the Scott hide but other than a smew at 100 yards everything was miles away.
On the walk back to the Firth hide I found a newt galloping across the gravel path. This is by far the earliest (or latest) newt I have seen. I just hope we don't get a sudden frost. Rampaging newts on a coldish day are a lot easier to photograph than birds though a 400 mm is not the best kit for doing it.

Back at the Firth hide the goosander continued to tantalise but whilst there a goldeneye came within 50-60 yards and 4 chiffchaffs were feeding in the waterside scrub.

I was told by several people that a black necked grebe could be seen (at extreme range) from the Dennis hide but I ccouldn't find it, the only grebes I found were of the great crested variety.

By now it was around 1.30 pm (where had the time gone?) and it was clouding over so I gave up and went home. Not disappointed but not quite as elated as I was driving home on Monday.