Friday, 11 December 2015

7/8th December -Broadsands and Cirl buntings

With my wife due to be having a week in Tenerife with friends I had been looking around for somewhere to go where I could photograph something interesting. Eventually by straining the brain I came up with Broadsands and it's cirl buntings. I have seen cirls before but only in Spain and the few pictures I'd taken were rubbish. The cunning plan developed consisted of me taking Angie and her friend to Gatwick and continuing on to Devon. However 24 hrs prior to departure the weather forecast looked lousy. On Sunday Storm Desmond was due to hit and the rest of the week looked like wall to wall rain as well. Even on Saturday morning the weather forecasts for the week ahead were not hopeful and the forecast for Sunday were downright dire so the plan was shelved and after dropping them off at the airport I came home.
By Saturday night the forecast for Sunday was still wet and windy but with it clearing up on Monday with some hope of sun on Tuesday and Wednesday. That was it decision made and late Saturday I booked a hotel for 3 nights.
The drive down Sunday was wet and windy and driven drizzle greeted my arrival. Still I drove to Broadsands to have a look around. Within 30 seconds of getting out of the car I had seen a firecrest (possibly 2), some goldcrests and a decent size flock of siskin. I wandered to the far end of the fenced off  car park and found a group of about a dozen birders that I thought were looking at crests but I didn't linger - one of them had a dog that stood 3 feet away and wouldn't stop barking at me. The owners only comment being  "He's normally very friendly" - not a sniff of an apology.
Anyway all in all he did me a favour because I went round the adjacent car park and found the area seeded for the cirl buntings. Even better news was the car park was open so I drove over there, parked where I could have the window open (and remain dry) and waited. The seeded area was owned by a robin who continually chased away the dunnocks and chaffinches who were trying to feed on the seed but eventually 3 cirl buntings turned up and he kept chasing them as well. All were juveniles/females so I started to have doubts as to whether I was looking at cirl buntings or yellowhammers. Still I had some reasonable pictures (albeit shot at heroic ISO) and I thought I could sort out the actual id later.

Cirl bunting (juv)

Monday morning and the weather forecast was not as good as they'd suggested 24 hrs earlier.
Still I got down to Broadsands at 8.15 to have a look around. The northern most car park was now locked so sitting in the car was not an option. I loaded up and wandered over. Almost immediately cirl buntings started arriving - including males so no doubts as to the id this time. Most of the time I had 4 males and 3 female/juveniles in front of me despite the best efforts of the robin.

I hung around there for a couple of hours and at times the light got good enough to drop to ISO 400-500. Most of the time the birds were on the floor and I only managed to get them in the bushes on a few occasions but all in all I was well pleased with the results.
The buntings seem very tolerant of your presence as long as you stand still or move very slowly. Any sudden movement even when quite distant put them to flight. My most successful tactics involved being on my knees and slowly edging forward This allowed me to get within 8-10 yards.(It was a bit tough on the knees though!) The light wasn't brilliant but good enough for slow moving birds on the deck and immobile one in the bushes.

Cirl bunting (female?)

Cirl bunting (male)

A couple of hours and 500 shots later I wandered off to look at the sea where I found 2 other birders (one of whom was guiding the group I saw yesterday in the car park) and saw 2 Slavonian and a black necked grebe and a very distant diver.
They told me of a yellow-browed warbler in the corner of the car park - this was what the dog and its owner was watching the previous day.
Anyway, several chiffchaffs, goldcrests, and firecrests later I finally saw the yellow-browed. At this point I wandered off to look for the siskins but they had disappeared.

Lunch called so I went into Brixham bagging a shag on a slipway then it was back to Broadsands with the sun shining!!!! It was not all good news though because by 1.30 the corner the cirl buntings  come to is in the shade at this time of year. Still I got a few shots of them in the sun..


I returned again to the beach where I could see a couple of very distant black necked grebes (I'd been told there were about 8 out there). I have decided black-necked grebes must be lousy at catching fish as they dive incessantly for hours on end. Also seen were a few gt crested grebes then right below me a razorbill swam past and circled the bay!


That was it. The sun hadn't shone very much but it was a good day.

Tuesday was a lot brighter so I started with the cirls again. My intention was to concentrate on birds in the trees/bushes as I had a load of  shots of them on the floor. Almost immediately I had 3 females/juveniles in front of me along with several dunnocks and chaffinch. I'd only been there a few minutes when a male sparrowhawk shot past grabbed a dunnock less that 10 yards from me, talons scraping on a car park tarmac and disappeared behind the bushes with it's victim. That was the last I saw of the cirls though I did see the sparrowhawk fly past again so it may be it was in the vicinity all day. Over the next 5 hrs I returned several times but not a sniff of a cirl.
The rest of the time I was either trying to get some pictures of the yellow-browd or wandering around the bay and along the low cliffs to the south.

Yellow-browed warbler

Both endeavors were successful(ish) with some shots of the yellow-browed and distant views of a number of black headed grebes (I was told 8 were around but I only saw 4), a slavonian and the razor bill again. No sign of any divers though.

Slavonian grebe (honest)

Black-necked grebe with pipe fish

I did think about having another session Wednesday morning but decided to give it a miss and leave for home early. The failure to get any shots the second day made my mind up.
I most birds I saw around was 7 though one of the locals said he'd had 10 (It's possible I missed some in the bushes). This number seems to be well down on normal but the low numbers were thought to be due to the mild winter to date with birds still finding enough food on the fields. I was also told that in some breeding areas numbers have dropped due to farming subsidies to leave stubble fields over winter having been withdrawn.

I'm still puzzling a bit of separating juvenile cirl buntings from yellowhammers and will try to do a post on the number of plumage variation I photographed.

Sunday, 1 November 2015

October (odds and ) Ends

The weekend has mainly been about watching rugby but I have enjoyed a few short sessions with the oiseaux.
Friday I was expecting overcast conditions but awoke to sunshine so I dropped down onto the seafront to check out the scrub. Fortunately as I arrived a flock of tits and crests were moving through with one of the firecrests showing very well for about 2 minutes.

The flock soon moved on so I left to check out the red-breasted merganser at Dover Harbour.
It seems this RBM has been there for a number of weeks but I only heard about it this week - not having a smart phone the only tweets I hear about are from the birds themselves. Anyway I arrived, it was there, it came close but overall despite trying all sorts of camera settings the shots were a disappoint. This may have been due to the dull conditions, slow shutter speeds, the need for high ISO settings or the general problem I have of getting decent shots at the harbour. Overall the outcome of this session was a lot of pictures to delete.
Saturday was a lot brighter so I returned to the harbour for another go. Better shutter speeds this time and lower ISO settings but again a lot of the shots were disappointing - I'm sure the reflected glare from the water as you look down on the bird is the main cause of the problems because if you ever get the opportunity to take some shots from one of the pontoons (ie at water level) they are far better. Anyway I at least I managed a few acceptable images.

Sunday dawned quite bright at Kingsdown with the forecast suggesting it would cloud up as the day progressed. Needing some exercise I thought another walk along the beach at Sandwich to look for snow buntings, shore larks and Dartford warblers could be rewarding. This plan lasted all the way to the Cinque Ports Golf Club which was where the fog began and got steadily worse as I approached the Observatory.
It was so bad at the Obs I didn't even get the gear out of the car.
The fog cleared as I drove south so I decided to go to South Foreland to look for the Snow bunting that had been reported there.
I must admit my expections were dampened as I arrived as there were a large group of party goers on the approach track - seems they had pulled a haloween open-air all-nighter and were all a bit the worse for wear. The good news was none of them had actually reached South Foreland light house .......and the  sun was shining.
I'd only gone 50 yards along the track when I spotted the snow bunting feeding on the track. It let me get to around 20 yards away then held that distance. If I stopped it stopped. If I approached it hopped along at the same rate. Hmmmm what now.

After a while I spotted some dog walkers coming towards me from the other side of the bird. So I got low and waited hoping they would drive the bird in my direction. But no. These were considerate walkers and when they spotted the bird they put the dog on a lead and moved into the field to get past it and not disturb my "fun". Once past they came back to me and we had a chat and chuckle about what had just occurred.
Then a jogger came along from the same direction. I knew this wouldn't be any use and it wasn't. The bird flew out over the field but came back to the path south of me.
Eventually Steve Raynaert turned up and I pointed the bird out to him. Since I had a few shots (though none were that good) I told him to wait where he was and I'd get behind the bird and shoo it towards him. This was working quite well until it decided it didn't want to go any nearer to Steve and allowed me to approach much closer than I'd managed before (it obviously preferred me to Steve!).

Then another walker came along from behind Steve. Now this one didn't stop and ask what was going on until after he had flushed it. Even this was not the bad news it might seem because with me one side and Steve and the flusher the other it flew a few feet into the field very close to where I was standing. It didn't stay there long but the light was brilliant.

Just a shame England didn't make it to the world cup final.

Sunday, 25 October 2015

Blue tails and Dartford warbler

I seem to have spent the last week chasing round after the red-flanked blue tail which continues to be caught in the ringers nets.
The bird was first caught on the 20th and I went to the Obs to get some shots and watch it's release. After release it flew into some bushes and within a few minutes had disappeared despite half a dozen people watching said bush.

Later that day it was caught another 2 times.
The next day ( 21st)  I went to Sandwich again and arrived just as they were about to release the blue-tail....again.

Again it managed to disappeared almost immediately but it was re-caught and released again later in the day.

Also on the 20th this juvenile great grey shrike was caught:

In between then and now I have spent quite a long time trying to find the blue-tail around the Oasis field and even in the trapping area but no luck. Not a sniff.
Today the blue tail was caught again despite it's previous release being some way away from the trapping area - I think it must like getting caught!

Most of the crests and warblers seem to have disappeared from the areas I frequent so this morning I decided to walk from the Obs along the beach towards the point. A lot of Dartford warblers have been found in the last few days so I thought the sea buckthorn around Price's Golf club worthy of a look. It's also about the time snow and lapland bunting could start turning up so they were also on the menu.

There was very little on the beach/grass between Kings Avenue and the end of St George's golf course but there were reasonable numbers of mippit and skylark from the start of Prince's. More noteworthy however was the number of reed buntings. I must have seen 40-50 with the birds mainly feeding on the seed heads of the coarse grass that grows on the beach up there (no idea what the grass species is).

Once I reached the buckthorn I stopped every 50 yards or so and waited for 10 minutes to see whether a Dartford warbler would show or call.
Opposite the main club house my efforts were rewarded when I spotted a small dark bird flitting between buckthorn bushes low to the ground. It was moving about in an area about 30 yards wide so I took up a central position and waited.
At first it seemed more intent on feeding and showed only fleetingly and low down but then it started showing really well and even perched in the open to have a sing several times; a couple of times very close to where I was standing.

Whilst it was in the open and singing I'm sure I heard another one call 30-40 yards south of where I was standing.

Eventually it was time to go and as I headed off south I found a wheatear and was trying to get close to it when a Dartford warbler  showed and called around 100 yards  south of where I had been watching the previous one reinforcing the idea there were two of them.

Monday, 19 October 2015

Pallas's warbler

Another dull grey day on the coast but at least the wind was not too strong today.

As normal I started at Kingsdown with the intention spending the rest of the day at Sandwich trying to re-find yesterday's great grey shrike.

Other than chiffs (~10) and goldcrests (~ 7) things were pretty quiet at Kingsdown though I did spend a few minutes trying to photograph a totally un-cooperative brambling and the only redwing seen was flushed by a dog.

I moved on to Sandwich but on the way it started raining. I had 15 minutes in the hide looking at teal and gulls (black headed and herring) but without even a snipe to look at I soon tired of this so returned home to do some work.

I was just settling down to lunch when Ian Hodgson phoned informing me of a Pallas's warbler on the Cinque Ports golf course and whilst I didn't have any great expectations I was off.

On arriving Ian was still present and told me where the bird had last been seen so Gerald Segelbacher and myself went in search. It soon "showed" but only fleetingly but getting any kind of picture was proving a little challenging. The few times the bird appeared to be in the open it was either partially obscured or facing away:

Another complication was the presence of 4 or 5 goldcrests. Several times I confirmed the id of the Pallas's only for it to have gone before I'd even fired off a shot. In the end I photographed anything that remotely showed after all it's easy enough to differentiate between them..

Eventually Gerald had to go but I stayed and had some reward.

By 3 pm the light was fading fast, the bird was showing increasingly infrequently and it started to rain - it was time to go. I'll try again tomorrow. One final thought. I was there nearly 3 hrs and it didn't call once.

Monday, 12 October 2015

Oodles of Ouzels

The last week or so I have been visiting Langdon Hole looking for ring ouzels and hoping against hope that one will let me get closer than 50+ yards. I had seen some (ones and twos) but on every occasion they had disappeared as soon as I'd found them. Today my luck changed.

I'd started as normal at Kingsdown but it was cold and pretty blowy and only a few chiffs were found amongst the resident tits.

Approaching the Hole from Reach Road I decided to take the footpath along the top of Harbour Field and found 2 ring ouzles immediately. I was looking into the light and they flew off towards the sea and disappeared. I walked toward South Foreland thinking they had gone that way but nothing.
I turned back towards the Hole and as I was coming down the east side of Harbour Field two ouzels flew out of the only bushes there; then a third, a forth and then a fifth. It quite amazing just how difficult they are to see when in bushes. The birds all flew to just below the gate into the Hole (where the path get very steep). I could see 4 of them; the question was how close could I get.

I spent a few minutes watching them and pondering my next move. 4 were in sight but one of them looked strange - it seemed to have white on it's head?

Close up of the shot above

After a while, and having nothing to lose I moved down the path to where it forms a narrow gully and where I was partially hidden by bushes and set up shop hoping they would come to me.
One did - a young female with almost no cresent on her chest.

Another followed clacking away and landed to my left but out of sight. I remained patient.
I was just think wouldn't it be good if one landed on a bush that was only a few yards away and pondering what camera settings would be appropriate when it did!!!!!

Not only was it less than 10 yards away but it was the strange looking bird with white on it's head - I'm glad I'd been fiddling with exposure setting!

After a minute or so the bird flew off to the right but was still within camera range (just):

My fun ended when 3 walkers came by and decided they wanted to look at the sea from where the remaining birds were. The birds flew off into the bottom of the hole....I followed.

It was clear there had been a significant influx because there were around a dozen birds clacking away in the bottom of the Hole.

Again I watched trying to identify a place where I could hide and hope they would come nearer.
I was successful (sort of) in that I found a place and one came and sat on a bush 25 yards or so away for several minutes but it was the only one.

Eventually I gave up and was leaving when Phil Smith showed up. He'd been watching a similar number of birds over the ridge from my group making 20+ birds.

Also seen were several song thrushes, a few chiffs and a few goldcrests. Linnets, yellowhammers and goldfinch (over) were pretty numerous and a pair of stonechats were around. All in all a good morning.

Thursday, 1 October 2015

Yellow-browed warblers

Over the last few days there has been a significant influx of yellow-browed warblers to the Sandwich area. I suspect there are more elsewhere. I've tried to look at my normal haunts in Kingsdown but because these are on the sea front the wind precludes seeing and hearing anything.
At Sandwich the main areas of wood/scrub are set back a little from the sea front so miss the full force of the easterlies with YBWs being found in the gullies, The Elms, and along the Ancient Higway close to the junction with Kings Avenue. In these 3 areas there were probably 7 warblers yesterday and up to 5 today with additional birds being caught in the Whitehouse area by the ringers.

Yesterday my attempts to get a shot of one of these little gems were pretty unsuccessful. I waited around the Kings Avenue area for several hours but whenever one showed it was deep in the scrub, or if it was in the open I couldn't get on it (well I could have if I'd pushed some of the others out of the way). The only shot I managed was when one showed briefly high up in a bird tree:-

Today when I arrived there was only a couple of people around Kings Avenue and one of them left almost immediately leaving just 2 of us waiting - John Ball and myself.
The bird was again keeping low most of the time but came into a partial opening in the scrub a couple of times resulting in some OK shots but where the bird was partially obscured by leaves/stems etc.

John and I  then did some "gardening" clearing away the worse of the offending leaves/stems and leaving us with a narrow opening into the scrub around 2 feet wide.
Whilst we waited a couple of YBWs flew into the scrub and others flew out along with 2 or 3 goldcrests.
Several times a bird came close without staying into the opening but eventually one did (just after John had disappeared for a cup of tea!) but sat on a branch facing away from me!

Not the view of a YBW I wanted!

Eventually my luck changed and one came in and sat for a few seconds looking one way then the next.

The bird then dropped down to within a couple of inches of the ground and worked it's way along the base of the hedge away from me.
At this point half a dozen people turned up so I called it a day. A good day actually!