Sunday, 19 March 2017

Patchwork Challenge Trip 7 (19th March) 56 Birds

After a whole month away I was finally able to get back to the patch at Longham. It's a great time to potentially get new birds, as migrants are already on their way and they appear to be getting earlier and earlier.

Due to having no phone, I decided to record everything on paper, something I haven't done for ages. The bracing wind made it quite cold, but it went well and I began to list a large number of birds.

Just a few of the Mediterranean Gulls that were on the lake.
I was really hoping to see grebes in courtship, but I'd clearly missed the boat as nothing was happening with the few pairs I saw on the lakes. Coots were building nests however and there were a large number of Reed Buntings about. In fact, I saw around 8, which is a large number myself.

As I got to the corner of north lake I noticed that most of the winter ducks had long departed and only a few Tufted Duck were swimming around with the coots. Heading to the thicket I stood on top of the stile and spotted Blackbirds, Song Thrushes, Wrens, Dunnocks, Robins and my first Bullfinch of thee year and my second on patch.

One day I'll get a half-decent shot of a Bullfinch. One day...
The walk along the back of the fields yielded Great Tit, Blue Tit, Long Tailed Tit, Goldfinches and more Blackbirds and I heard the unmistakable sound and saw the back end of a Cetti's Warbler. My second new bird of the day.

Upon reaching the second stile I hopped over to check the empty fields. I saw around 37 Mute Swan and, surprisingly, three Redwings. I scoured the bushes desperately for the Fieldfares I'd missed earlier in February, but had no luck.

Nice to see the Redwings are still about. 
I received a surprise when I saw that one of the Great White Egrets was still around, awkwardly perched in a tree above the small pond at the end of south lake, but otherwise my walk was relatively uneventful. Walking towards the visitor's centre I thought I saw a Wheatear on the path, but I was unable to identify it as I lacked my binoculars.

The small island on south lake had a lone Shoveler and a large number of Teal, Gadwall and Tufted Duck, but all in all it was a pretty quite day. I'm still missing lots of obvious birds like Kingfisher, Rook, Kestrel, Common Sandpipe, Common Gull and Lesser Black Backed Gull to name a few, so plenty more to find.

Will never tire of taking photos of this bird.

My best Reed Bunting shot of the day.

Thursday, 16 February 2017

Chasing Waxwings

My second twitch of 2017 (150 Birds seen)

I've always had a fascinating with Waxwings, ever since first discovering them in my books when I was a younger birder. It's arguably my second favourite UK bird, after the Hoopoe and I've always wanted to see one.

When I was a youngster I would desperately crane my neck skywards whenever I went out bird watching, not realising that both birds are fleeting visitors to the UK and normally seen at very specific times of the year.

The Waxwings were high up in the trees, making photos quite a difficult task.
So when I heard that Waxwings had been spotted a short drive from my house I knew I couldn't pass up the chance to see them. Nomadic by nature, they typically move around in large flocks, breaking up into smaller groups as food becomes more scarce. Annoyingly, the birds where nowhere to be seen the afternoon I had off, so I missed my chance to see them.

As I've been off on holiday this week I decided I was going to head off to Weymouth in search of the Bitterns that had been spotted at Radipole Lake. I changed my mind when I found out that a small group of six Waxwings had been spotted at Corfe Mullen, some thirty minutes from my home.

A half decent shot, took from the other side of a busy road. 
I set off early in the morning (well 8 is early for me) and located the birds relatively easily thanks to great directions from the ever helpful Ian Ballam. There were a small group of photographers there when I arrived, so I quickly set my camera up and waited for the birds to move.

They were flitting between two locations, staying to peck at berries for a few minutes, before heading off to a larger tree. Sadly, the light was atrocious so it was extremely hard to get shots that would do the birds justice.

All the shots were with my 600mm prime lens and 1.4 TC. Expensive, but worth it for getting close.
And they really are quite magnificent to look at. Beautifully coloured and with amazing erect crests, they get their name from the small red marks on their wings that look like candle wax. They have a weird, almost sculpted look to them compared to many other birds, giving them a very unique looking appearance.

I managed to spend 30 minutes with the birds before they flew off. We headed over to a second location where they had been feeding previously, but they were nowhere to be seen. After waiting for nearly two hours, the general thought was that the birds had found a more suitable food source and were feeding there instead.

I love the bottom bird shown here.
I'll try and connect with these birds again this year, but it's been a particularly busy season for them, so it's unclear if we'll see anywhere near as many this coming winter. I'm certainly glad I made the effort to see them, even if my shots weren't the best. 

Oh and it's my 150th bird since starting my blog nearly three years ago, so that's worth celebrating, too.
I wasn't fast enough to get good shots when they were on the berries.
And here's a shot showing off how the Waxwing gets its unusual name.
I've whacked up the vibrancy here, I don't think it ruins the shot too much.




Patchwork Challenge Trip 6 (14th February) 54 Birds


Valentine's Day saw me getting up early for two things: flowers for the wife and a chance to spot the Fieldfares that had been spotted by Martin at Longham Lakes.

I headed right over to the usual spot, spying one lone Great White Egret, around 21 Pochard and a small group of Tufted Ducks and Great Crested Grebes, but very little else.

See if you can spot the two rarer gulls here.
It was quite windy and there wasn't a lot of bird song around. As it turned out there weren't any Scandinavian thrushes either and despite checking several key areas for extensive amounts of time I found nothing other than Blackbirds and the odd Song Thrush.

Martin's gap has been slowly increasing over the last few weeks so as I walked along the back of the lakes I was scouring the reeds and the skies for Water Rails and Falcons of any description. I came up short and the back fields were also light on action, with a large group of Carrion Crows being the only notable action.

A harsh crop showing the different between the two gulls. The Mediterranean is far white with no black on the wingtips.
I found my new birds over the far side of South Lake but I really had to work for them. Martin had already seen some Mediterranean Gulls, so I scoured the large group of gulls that were floating around and causing a ruckus. I counted 127 Black-Headed Gulls, two of which were Mediterraneans, Success!

New Bird Total = 54


Sunday, 5 February 2017

Patchwork Challenge Trip 5 (05th February) 53 Birds

Pursuing Pintails

I'd already missed the first lot of Pintails that had appeared in January, so when Martin mentioned that he spotted more on his Saturday visit I knew I had to try and find them.

I arrived at Longham the following day at 8.20 and was greeted to a largely deserted car park and even fewer birds. A few blackbirds and carrion crows were wheeling around but it was otherwise quiet.

The island was pretty disappointing with just Cormorants to be seen.
Heading to the large island on South Lake where most of the exotics and waders are typically found I saw no sign of the Pintails, although I did spy what looks like the last two Great White Egrets (the other appears to have flown off now).

As I got to the back fields I saw that everything had flooded, pushing all the geese and swans further away than usual. I tried to scan the large groups with my bins, but it's a folly without a telescope so I gave up.

A Great White Egret and Grey Heron fishing.
I walked along the back of North Lake in the hope of spotting Water Rails but saw nothing other than one of the Egrets and a Grey Heron, a small number of Great Tit and a flock of around 17 Pochard. Other than that it was pretty quiet so I headed back to South Lake.

Halfway along the back of South Lake I saw the Pintails, they were right in the middle of the lake, so my shots are pretty poor, but you can still make out how dainty and charming they are.

Not the greatest of shots, but you can see how dainty these ducks are.
Other than the Pintails my walk was pretty uneventful with the only new bird being a Green Woodpecker that was flushed by a pair of joggers.

TOTAL BIRDS SEEN: 53

Monday, 30 January 2017

Patchwork Challenge Trip 4 (22nd January) 51 Birds

I was unable to get out this weekend due to work, so here's an update from last weekend instead.

I'm going to keep it short because there was very little of note to report. It was absolutely freezing, but not enough to tempt out any Water Rails, so I feel I'm rapidly missing my chance to see them until Winter.

The Egrets were too far away for good shots, so here's a Grey Heron.
There were the usual assortment of geese and gulls on the fields and the three great white egrets were still to be found. Annoyingly I saw no trace of the Fieldfares that Dominic had spotted earlier in the week and I couldn't find Mediterranean Gulls either. I scoured what felt like hundreds of Black-Headed Gulls, but couldn't spot any at all.

A small flock of Long-Tailed Tits was the highlight of the walk. They were everywhere!
The only stroke of luck came from finding a pair of Shovelers on the lake which I discovered when I was processing my photos. The highlight of the walk was discovering a flock of 20 Long-Tailed Tits that were feeding along the path on the far side of South Lake and a Buzzard getting mobbed by a Carrion Crow.
It's an awkwardly lit shot, but I still quite like this Buzzard image.

It's a heavy crop at long distance but the chestnut patches of the Shovelers are easy to see.

And here it is being mobbed by a Carrion Crow.



Sunday, 15 January 2017

Patchwork Challenge Trip 3 (15th January) 50 Birds

New bird blow out!

Birding is all about opportunities. Sometimes they are fortunate, sometimes they are happy and other times they big, but every now and then they are missed and fleeting. Sadly, this falls squarely in the last two examples...

I was in town shopping with the family when Martin Wood tweeted that he'd seen a large number of Pintails over at Longham. If you're not aware, Pintails are incredibly dainty ducks, which are typically identified (on the males at least by they're long tails). "I'll go tomorrow", I told myself and thought no more of it.

There were plenty of Teal about on the lake but no Pintails.
I reached Longham around 8.20 on Sunday morning and paid little attention to the car park as I wanted to find those ducks.I reached the south island and eagerly scanned it for the large number of Pintails that had been spotted there the previous day. Damn, nothing. Oh wait up, there's a small group of Wigeon mixed in with a small group of Teal. Bird one of the day.

Walking up the cause I paused briefly to marvel at 12 Little Egrets which had been flushed by a dog walker. Joining them was a Great White Egret , making it the largest flock of Egrets I've seen here in the last few years.

No Pintail, but I did spot some Wigeon.
I scoured the bag area of the fields where there was a large number of Mute Swans (30) and around 60 Canada Geese with the odd Greylag thrown in for good measure. I tried scouring the flock for rarities, but my binoculars weren't really up to the task. I crossed the stile and tried to get a little closer and saw a Dunnock, my first of the year. I then found a small flock of Long-Tailed Tits, with a straggling Goldcrest following them. I excitedly went to take a picture of it but I couldn't focus as it was too close. Darn.

I walked around the back of North lake in the hope of Water Rails and Bullfinchs, but despite careful searching I found neither. I did flush a Wagtail, but it was too low to see what sort it might be. As I approached the style that leads to Green Lane two Collard Doves alighted on a telegraph pole. I then located the wagtail and was delighted to discover it was a Grey Wagtail, so that was another new bird.

I saw plenty of Wood Pigeons, as well as these two Collard Doves.
I approached the open field by the boathouse, hoping for a Green Woodpecker, but the pastures where relatively empty. I did spy a Buzzard on one of the fence posts on the second field, making it my first raptor of the year. It had been lightly raining all morning and I began to head back to the car park, but something made me head to the causeway again. I passed blackbirds, great tits and chaffinches and spotted the odd Magpie and Carrion Crow, but saw nothing out of the ordinary.

I had a moment of excitement on the causeway as I thought I had located a Water Rail moving along the bushes, but after much scanning it turned out to be a Song Thrush. I checked the island again, but the Pintails were still nowhere to be seen, so I continued my walk and found a solitary male Reed Bunting halfway up the causeway.

A poor photo of a well-hidden Reed Bunting.
As I reached the back field I found a pair of Stonechat and willed them to fly closer so I could get a half decent picture. Sadly, they did not oblige. After a while I strolled across the back of South lake where I spotted what I think are Roe Deer. I've never seen them before and didn't even realise they were  local, which made for a nice treat. There was a small group of herring gulls on the lake, including a couple of Great Black-Backed Gulls, my tenth and final birds for the day.

As I headed back to the car park a small duck flew over me which may have been a male pintail but it flew too far out into the lake for me to check it with my binoculars. I really need to consider saving up for a scope of some description...

TOTAL BIRDS SEEN = 50

I've had a few requests about not finishing the post with a long list of every bird seen so far, so I'll look at a new way of doing this going forward.

Sunday, 8 January 2017

Patchwork Challenge Trip 2 (8th January) 40 Birds

Chasing more birds

Martin Wood, who also takes part in the Patchwork Challenge at Longham is ill at the moment so it's given me an opportunity to potentially pull ahead of him. I generally need it, as he's an excellent bird watcher who spotted 95 species last year to my 74. Get well Martin and I'll see you on patch shortly.

The weather was absolutely lousy when I reached Longham and plenty of mist was rolling across the lake, making any identifications at long distance rather tricky. The car park was relatively quiet but I did see Blackbirds, Blue Tits, Chaffinch and other small passerines. There was nothing in the adjoining fields though.

I purposely used a low shutterspeed on this Great White Egret to create a sense of movement.
I immediately spotted one of the Great White Egrets fishing and decided to walk around North Lake,. leaving the causeway for later. I spotted a second great egret fishing with some little egrets and flushed a grey heron which was on the other side of the boat house. I checked the horse fields but saw nothing unusual.

I stopped to chat to some of the local fisherman and discussed the Egrets with them. They also mentioned they were trying to get access to the second lake, which is the first I've heard of this news. I feel there's enough room on this one for them, but I'm not a fisherman, so didn't push the point.

Little Egrets are always common around the lakes and are dwarfed by the Great Whites.
Walking to the corner of the lake I scanned for Bullfinches but again saw nothing. The hampreston fields behind the lake were also devoid of birds, with not even a Rook or Carrion Crow to be seen.

By now I was on the back of the lake scanning the ditches for snipe, woodcock and godwits, but aside from a sizeable flock of Wood Pigeons, found nothing of note. In fact the back fields in general were surprisingly quiet with only a small number of Mute Swans (15) and no geese or gulls. The fields aren't really flooded either, which might have explained the lack of birds.

I spent ages watching this Great White Egret fish. This is my favourite shot by far.
I stopped for a good twenty minutes to watch one of the Great White Egrets fish and then carried on my trek. I heard Blackbirds, Magpies and Robins, and saw plenty of Wrens, tits and finches, but nothing I hadn't already seen. In short it was proving to be a bust.

The causeway was equally quiet, so I made my way down to some viewing spots of the large island on South Lake. I was immediately rewarded with a small flock of Lapwings. I find viewing of this island very difficult as you really need a scope, but I can at least check pics with my camera.

I could really do with a scope to view the birds on this island. You can see the Lapwings though.
There were a large number of gulls on the railings, as well as a Great White Egret, which was rather odd to see, but they were all Black-Headed. I didn't bother checking South Lake as the rain was starting to come down again, but I did notice a general lack of gulls when the lake is normally heaving with them.

The front fields yielded a large number of House Sparrows, making them my second new bird of the day. Feeling a little invigorated I once again walked along the path by the boathouse, hoping for a Green Woodpecker in the nearby field. I didn't spot one, but I did flush a Moorhen, which flew off to the far side of the lake, making my third bird of the day, and the 40th of the year. It's going well so far...
House Sparrow were my second new bird for the day. I'm not far behind you Martin!

Lots and lots of Black Headed Gulls. I shot at f11 to get as many in focus as possible.
I love how photogenic Great White Egrets are.
An unusual resting place for one of the Great White Egrets.

The Birds Of Longham 2017
Robin
Carrion Crow
Mistle Thrush
Blackbird
Great White Egret
Magpie
Coot
Little Grebe
Great Crested Grebe
Tufted Duck
Mute Swan
Cormorant
Little Egret
Wrens
Great Tit
Chiffchaff
Blue Tit
Wood Pigeon
Feral Pigeon
Mallard
Pochard
Redwing
Long-Tailed Tit
Starling
Chaffinch
Song Thrushes
Canada Geese
Black-Headed Gull
Herring Gull
Jackdaw
Gadwall
Teal
Snipe
Pied Wagtail
Coal Tit
Goldfinch
Greenfinch
Lapwing
House Sparrow
Moorhen