Sunday, 14 May 2017

Brand new lifer seen on patch (07-14 May) 73 birds


On the 7th I headed off to my local patch.
I'd been invigorated by the many new birds that had been seen and was eager to find more so I took my 600mm prime lens as it gives me the best chance at record shots.

The car park was relatively full when I got to the lakes, but it didn't register really as I was quite late in the morning and model boat enthusiasts were normally there. Wondering around I casually walked up to a man and asked him if he'd seen anything of interest. "Well the Black Terns are over there".

Several Swallows and a House Martin on the right hand side.
"You what?" I replied, immediately excited because I'd never seen one before. He kindly let me look through his scope but as the birds were moving too quickly I couldn't see one. Quickly getting frustrated my rising anger turned to sudden elation when one flew straight past me.

Shaking with excitement (because it is exciting when you find a brand new bird I thanked the man for his help and hurried off to the far side of the lake, notifying my rival Martin as I went.

The Black Terns were resting on a bouy, but a high crop and heat haze stopped me getting anything better than this.
I found lots of Swallows resting on some branches in the middle of the lake, as well as my first Sand Martins of the year. Rushing around the side of the lakes were the terns were flying I finally caught up with some more birders. And that's were it all started to go wrong...

No matter how I tried I simply couldn't lock onto the birds with my camera. I couldn't work out whether it was poor technique, the dull weather or my lens, but I was struggling to get any sort of decent pictures.

Not the greatest of shots, but it does highlight what beautiful birds the Black Tern is.
Incredibly frustrated I kept taking snaps, eventually filling my card and decided to head home. I'm glad I saw the terns as they're relatively rare and incredibly graceful birds, but I was greatly upset that my gear had seemingly let me down.

Still I'm now on 73 birds for the year on patch and now have a total of 151 birds for the blog.

This juvenile Herring Gull highlights just how small the Terns are.
I headed back down to Longham on the 14th as a Bar-Tailed Godwit had been spotted the previous day, but I saw very little of interest aside from a singing Whitethroat and around 5 Cetti's Warblers.

Another shot of the Black Tern in flight.
I'm glad I have a prime, as I wouldn't have got this shot otherwise.

And here's a non-cropped shot to highlight just how far out they were.
I had no problem locking onto fast-flying Swifts in the evening, so I think the poor light was against me.


Sunday, 7 May 2017

Patchwork Challenge Trip 12 (01 Mayl) 71 Birds

Headed off down the patch again today as I heard that rare Black Terns had been spotted the previous day. I never saw them, but within moments of getting to the patch I heard my first Cuckoo of the year calling.

The reeds were absolutely thriving with singing Reed Warblers and Reed Buntings and I must have counted close to 20 birds of each as I spent a couple of times walking around the lakes.

Cetti's Warblers are a right pain. This is the best I could manage!
I found a Pheasant in one of the back fields and then I caught up with Martin at the far end of South lake and chatted with him and his son as we walked the remaining section lake. We didn't see anything of note, other than a fox carrying something which looks like a small badger from the photo I took.

Not the greatest shot, but it will do.
Once we reached the small island Martin found some Shelducks (my first at Longham) giving me three new birds for the day. I'm now very close to beating last years record so I'm going to make a lot of effort as I'm still missing a fair few relatively easy birds, including Kestrel, Sedge Warbler, and in total there's still 29 common to uncommon birds that I've not seen yet.

Total birds = 71

Here's the fox Martin spotted. Opinion is divided on what it's carrying.
A Carrion Crow trying to trick me into thinking it's a Raven.

I really like how elegant this Mute Swan looks.

Friday, 28 April 2017

Bonaparte's Gull On Patch! 68 Birds


The brilliance of bird watching is that you never know what's going to happen. Equally, a really shitty thing about bird watching is you never know what's going to happen.

Take this week for example. Longham Lakes is a solid patch with a great number of decent birds but it rarely (ho ho) gets anything that's astonishingly rare. Sure it's had some megas in the past, but in general it was starting to feel like last year's Great White Egrets were going to be the highlights of my patching there.

Common Sandpipers were still present. This is a heavy crop but holds up well.
I was wrong. Of course, I'm often wrong, but on Wednesday there was some excited tweets that a Bonaparte's Gull had been spotted at the North Lake. This is a big deal, as this small gull is typically an American bird, meaning it was a long way from home.

Frustratingly, I was carless as my daughter and wife were scouting universities whilst I looked after our youngest. Thursday was even worse as my competitor Martin not only saw the Bonaparte's but also a Red-Rumped Swallow of all things. Both are firsts for the site.

Another dull pic of the island. I thought this was a Yellow Legged Gull, but it's a Lesser Black-Backed Gull.
There's nothing worse than when you're sitting at work or at home knowing great birds are being seen on your patch and you're completely unable to do anything about it. Longham is too far to go by bus and too expensive to taxi so all I could do was hope.

Hoping only gets you so far and when I went into work the next day there were already reports that the Swallow had long gone. So then you sit there thinking 'what if the Bonaparte's goes as well', 'will I know what it looks like', 'what if I never see one on patch again'. You convince yourself of the worse and the day drags for an eternity.

A quite frankly awful shot of a Reed Warbler. Still, it's a new bird for the patch this year.
Reaching Longham carpark I was dismayed to see no cars there. The Bonaparte's is a pretty big deal and you'd typically get a fair few birders wanting to see it, but the lot was empty. Panicking I set my lens and tripod up as quickly as possible and sprinted across the green.

"Have you seen the Bonaparte's?" I asked, a little desperation creeping into my voice. "He was over there a minute ago," was the reply. I looked over there and I didn't see it. I looked again and there was nothing. I desperately scanned the skies and the North Lake but all I saw were the black heads of summer Black-Headed Gulls mocking me.

What a cracking bird. The Bonaparte's Gull in all its glory.
I walked up the causeway and stopped. Was that it? I couldn't be sure because my id skills for gulls is about as good as my bass playing is. Terrible. It looked like the bird, but I couldn't be sure. I knew it was smaller than the Black-Headed Gulls, but couldn't remember how small. I'd seen one through a scope a year or two back at Blashford but I couldn't be sure. I needed to be sure.

"I called out to another fellow birder who was also scanning the gulls. "That's the Bonaparte's right?", I literally whispered. "That's right, the pink legs are the giveaway," can the wonderful reply. "I soaked the bird up, marvelling at its colouration and the thought that the little bugger had crossed the North Atlantic Ocean to get here.

A comparison shot with a Black-Headed Gull. The Bonaparte's is on the right.
It was a great addition to the patch, but I was greedy. I wanted the Red-Rumped Swallow as well. Hell, I'd even take the Osprey that had been seen earlier that day. I was hungry for new birds and now I'd consumed the Bonaparte's I wanted more.

I didn't get it, but I did see five Reed Warblers, another new  bird for the patch, as well as several House Martins hawking after the midges that swarmed the area. Plopping down next to another birder who was looking for the Swallow, we explained pleasantries and he informed me that I'd just missed four Shelducks. Bugger...

I'm now on 68 birds. Getting very close to passing last year's target.

It's a fair crop, but still looks nice :)

Bonaparte's Gull in flight. The underneath of the wings is a good way to distinguish it from the Black-Headed.








Sunday, 23 April 2017

Patchwork Challenge Trip 10 (23rd April) 65 Birds

Eagle-eyed readers will notice that there are two missing entries. That's because I had very little to report other than a small group of Rooks and a Lesser Black-Backed Gull, which I initially mistook for a Yellow-Legged Gull.

Work has also been a nightmare lately, so I've had precious little time to get down the patch. During my absences Martin has picked up a cracking number of birds, including Shelduck, Egyptian Goose and Willow Warbler and is currently on 83 for the year, which is a great number for the site.

A pretty dull view of the island with nothing of note there.
I actually caught up with Martin this morning, just as I was arriving at 8.30. He informed me that there were Common Sandpipers and a summer-plumaged Dunlin about so after about 10 minutes I went off to look for them.

Before I even reached the island a lone Common Sandpiper flew past me. Upon reaching the island I saw no sign of the Egyptian Geese but I did see a number of Mediterranean Gulls, Tufted Ducks and Canada Geese. There were no other small waders to be seen though.

A Dunlin in summer plumage, the first I've seen at Longham.
After making me way past a group of annoying midges, I managed to get a better spot of the middle part of the island, no small task when hand-holding my 600mm lens. After about five minutes another Common Sandpiper appeared and then I found the lovely Dunlin hiding in the undergrowth. As I was taking photos screaming Swifts caught my atttention and I looked skywards to find five of them wheeling through the sky.

Powering up the causeway I reached the end of the fields where I scanned the brambles for any passing migrants. I saw and heard plenty of Great Tits, Read Buntings, Blue Tits and Gold Finches, but very little else. I looked skywards at the pylon where Cormorants always roost, and seeing none, scanned it more closely. Amazingly, there was a lone Peregrine Falcon perched up high. My first ever on patch and a nice two pointed for me. A singing Whitethroat and Blackcap then appeared in rapid succession, moving to fast for me to take photos.

Another site first for me! This time a magnificent Peregrine Falcon.
I scanned the horse paddocks where a Yellow Wagtail and Wheatear had been spotted the previous day but after 15 minutes of searching I decided to head home to do some work. It was at that moment that a lone Swallow darted past me and flew across the lake. All in all I was only out for just over an hour, but added seven new birds. Here's hoping I can pick up a few more summer visitors next weekend.

I'm now on 65 birds for the year, which is 10 more than I managed this time last year.

A poor crop as I couldn't get anywhere close to this Common Sandpiper.
Here's my original image of the Peregrine.

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