Monday, 30 June 2014

Week 11 29-06-2014 Birds Spotted 2

It was a relatively quiet week for birds, mainly because I've been doing a fair bit of work. The good news though is that I was able to spend a few hours in Arne, which enabled me to spot some new birds and get some better shots of existing ones.

One thing I am noticing though is that I'm having a nightmare taking long distance shots with my new lens. Even on a tripod I'm getting fuzzy images which is rather irritating. Bird in flight shots at anything other than directly in front of me feel like a complete waste of time at the moment as well. The new lens is proving to be a steep learning curve, far steeper than I was expecting. Anyway, let's get on with the show.

Never seen a Spoonbill in the wild before. I've seen them in zoos, but never in the wild. This isn't too surprising as they are typically found in Spain, North Africa and other hot climes. A few birds do tend to stay in the UK, and luckily, some of them are on my front doorstep. They get their unusual name due to their spoon-like bills, which are used to sift for all sorts of aquatic treats, from newts to crustaceans. There are only thought to be up to four breeding pairs in the UK at any one time, but they're typically seen at Arne, at most times of the year. These three were quite a long way, hence the heavy crop. Sadly they didn't do much, being content to simply stand around, rather than feed or do anything interesting. Oh well, there's always next time.

You can still make out their distinctive bills.

And here I am buggering around with the colour tints :P

I spent most of the morning at one of Arne's two hides, before meeting my wife at the small beach found on the reserve. She wasn't too keen on me going to the second hide, giving me only 10 minutes there :(
Luckily, 10 minutes was all I needed to spot this delightful little bird, meaning another name has been added to the list. The Redshank is a tiny little wader that gets its name from its red legs. They're relatively common throughout the UK and are typically found in groups, but this little fellow was on his own. At first I thought he was a sandpiper due to his tiny size, but a friendly passerby was able to confirm it and I double checked on the RSPB forum as well. Again this is a bird I've never seen before, so was more than pleased to spot it.

Here's a cropped close-up of the fella. Note the red legs.
Here's a comparison shot so you can see just how small he is.

So that's it for another week. I thought I saw a Whimbrel, but it was one of many Curlews and I've now missed the Cuckoos, meaning I'll need to wait a whole year for them to come back! Still, I've now hit 70 birds in total, meaning I only have another 202 left to spot. I don't think this is too bad for 11 weeks, but I have a feeling I'm going to have to be a bit more pro-active with my spotting if I want to keep on hitting this sort of target. I'll leave you with some other pictures from Arne.

I spotted this Curlew from one of the hides. It's sadly missing some feathers.
And here's another one having a little preen.
Oystercatcher flies in.
Shelduck goes for a swim.
A scruff pied wagtail gets curious.
A Grey Squirrel is too busy cleaning to care about me.
A far-off Linnet says hello.
A preening Shelduck.
A flying Little Egret, way off in the distance.
And another one fishing.

Monday, 23 June 2014

Week 10 22-06-2014 Birds Spotted 6

It was a pretty good weekend as I was able to head up to London with the aim of seeing some Ring-Necked Parakeets. The weather was fantastic and I visited Richmond Park via the River Thames. It was a long old tiring walk, but the upside was I saw a large number of birds, including 6 new ones, two of which were ducks.

Red-Crested Pochard
Many Red-Crested Pochards are escaped exotic birds. They rarely breed in the UK, with the RSPB suggesting there are only around 20 breeding pairs. They are typically passage birds, but a large number can be found throughout the lakes and ponds of London. These ones weren't pinioned (why a bone is removed to stop them from flying) and were instead happily flying up and down the River Thames. They're quite stocky diving ducks, with fantastic bright heads and a belligerent nature.

The males are easily recognisable.
The females less so, but they are still striking.
Having a wash!

Egyptian Goose
Another bird that has gone feral after being introduced for ornamental purposes. The Egyptian Goose is related to the Shelduck and is quite a striking bird. It's a fairly large duck (it gets its name for its goose-like appearance) that originally hails from Africa, notably the Sahara and Nile Valley.
It's a lovely duck, with a typically exotic look that immediately makes it stand out. We saw these ones on the Thames by Twickenham bridge, where they were happily mingling with Canada Geese.
They look like geese, but their close relative is the Shelduck.
This one was doing a balancing act!
Ring-Necked Parakeet
This was my reason for a trip to London and I wasn't disappointed. No matter how many time I see them I'll never get over the fact that you can get parakeets in London of all places. They are seen as pests by many London residents due to their raucous calls and the way they typically ruin fruit by taking a single bite and moving on to the next piece. As a visitor they're wonderfully exotic and my heart stopped every time one flew across my viewfinder. While they are firmly established in London (with over 6,000 birds in a single roost) they occasionally appear in other parts of the UK. It's unclear when they were introduced into the country, or why they're so hardy, but their colourful antics left a big smile on my face, with the highlight seeing a flock of around 20 fly by as I was heading home.
They can be quite hard to see in the foliage.
Parrots in London will never get old.

Our next bird is yet another escapee, although it's quite possible that this one wasn't wild, as I didn't see it fly. Mandarin ducks are one of the most spectacular around, thanks to the male's brilliant colours and ornate plumage. Sadly, I didn't see any males anywhere, with both my encounters being females. It's an East-Asian perching duck that has spread throughout the UK. There are now over 2,300 breeding pairs and a good 7,000 are thought to winter here. I saw this one on a smaller pond in Richmond Park, where she was generally getting harassed by the larger ducks :(
A female Mandarin, the white stripe on the eye is a dead giveaway.

Great Crested Grebe
As I was walking along the bank I saw a Grey Heron. After taking a photo I immediately saw a Grebe, but it dived down before I could take a shot. I wanted for it to resurface, but as I discovered they are fantastic divers and I didn't see it for the rest of the morning. They were out in force in the afternoon however, allowing for plenty of great shots. These water birds are absolutely stunning and immediately noticeable thanks to the tufts on their heads. While clumsy on land due to the far back feet, they are amazing in the water, being powerful divers that will happily plunge into the depths in search of prey. They're very maternal as well, often carrying their young around on their backs. I sadly didn't see any young, but the adult birds are so striking I didn't really mind.
Absolutely beautiful.
Unlike diving ducks they rarely come up in the same place.
Sadly, I didn't see any with a recently caught fish.

This final bird is all thanks to an RSPB member. It came to my attention after I noted its distinctive call, which I don't recall hearing before. I took a photo, but the sun got the better of me and it was cast in dark shadow. After lightening the image up in the trial version of Light Room, a member suggested that it's posture reminded them of a ChiffChaff and asked about its call. ChiffChaffs are extremely similar to Willow Warblers and almost impossible to tell apart, especially at a silly distance like this. Luckily, after hearing the bird id, it was indeed a ChiffChaff, allowing me to scrape by with one more bird for the week, even if the image isn't the best!
Here's the original image!
It's now bleached of colour, but still allowed for an accurate reading.

So that's it for yet another week. We're slowing getting through the list and I've now spotted an impressive 68 birds, leaving me with 203 left to find. I'll see you next week, but in the meantime here's some of the other birds and wildlife I saw this week.

There were lots of angry coots about.
Herons were everywhere as well. Taking off...
Deer plays peekaboo.

This was not an easy shot...
lazy Mallard.
Fallow Deer
Tufted ducks
Herring Gull
Baby Mallards
Mute Swan preening.
Deer herd
Red Deer

Sunday, 15 June 2014

Week 9 15-06-2014 Birds Spotted 7

I'm starting to realise that if you want a good chance of seeing birds you need to go where they are. This week saw me returning to Radipole Lake and Lodmoor. There were a good 50-odd birds I could have potentially seen, but my final tally was nowhere near that. Still it gives me a good reason for going back again. It was also an opportunity to test out my new 400mm lens that I had bought to help with this project. The feelings with it have been mixed, mainly because it's a lens outside my scope as an amateur. I took some terribly blurry shots, so I need to work on my technique. I did manage to get a few crackers though and one terribly blurred shot of a new bird, so let's get that out the way first shall we?

Great Black-Backed Gull
There was a ridiculous number of Herring Gulls at Radipole Lake. Fortunately, it did mean this fellow was easier to spot as he instantly stood out compared to everything else on the lake. This is our largest gull and is notable for its bulky beak and darker legs. It's quite a bulky gull and a frequent breeder here with around 17,000 pairs. This particular fellow was living up to his reputation, generally bullying the smaller gulls so he could snatch some easy meals. While he's a resident throughout most of England's coast, he's otherwise a winter visitor to other parts of England, particularly the east side of the country.

Reed Bunting
I've never seen the next bird, and was instantly attracted to its striking song. To the untrained eye it looks like a small sparrow, but you soon notice its all black head and its dropping moustache. Like many of the smaller birds at Radipole Lake, it likes to hide in the dense reed brushes, which can make them a bugger to spot. Luckily for me, this male wanted to share his song with the world and hopped up onto a nearby tree allowing me to get him in my sights. Reed Buntings are actually quite numerous and breed throughout the Uk. In fact there are over 250,000 breeding pairs according to the RSPB, which makes it rather amazing that it's taken me 40 years to actually see one. I was clearly looking in the wrong place!

He looks like a House Sparrow, but the black head soon gives him away.

Another shot of him, singing away.

At first glance the Shoveler looks like a Mallard, but he has a bulkier head and an extremely large bill. It's an interesting duck, choosing to migrate here from warmer climes and also stay here the year round. I saw my first at Radipole Hide but I was struggling to get a clear shot. I managed some better images at Lodmoor. Sadly, the birds I saw were quite drab looking, as if they were already moulting. They remain interesting looking birds however and their large beak (used for sifting around for food) really do make them stand out. They're quite a small duck as well, as you can see from the shot I've put up with a Shelduck.

Blurry shot at Radipole.

Much better images at Lodmoor. Note the big wide bill.

I always like to catch reflections when I can...

The comparison shot I mentioned.

Black-Tailed Godwit
I've already spotted a lone Bar-Tailed Godwit at Lodmoor and this time I was rewarded with its relative. At first glance they look extremely similar, but the Black-Tailed has a white belly. It apparently only winters here in my part of the UK, so maybe I got lucky with this pair or my RSPB database needs updating. It spent pretty much all its time combing the flats for invertebrates, and as a result constantly had its bill in the ground. I think this is a male and a female (I mistook the female for a Redshank, but have been assured by RSPB members that it is a female). Less than a handful actually breed in the UK, meaning many of the birds are wintering, or flying through on passage.

Heavily cropped as he was a way out.

Because they have longer bills than Pipers they can reach different invertebrates.

And here's the happy pair together.

Cetti's Warbler
You'll seldom see a Cetti's Warbler (pronounced Chetty) as they love to skulk in reeds. You will hear them however as they have amazingly explosive songs, almost as loud as a Nightingale. They are resident along the south coast and are fairly recent settlers, having first set up their nests here in 1973. Cetti's Warblers are incredibly hard to distinguish from other warblers as they can all look so familiar. In fact, if I hadn't seen it singing myself I wouldn't have been able to tell it from Adam. I actually spotted this Cetti's as I was leaving Radipole. I heard it behind me as it had been disturbed by another passing birder. Luckily, it flew right into my sights, allowing me to get a couple of shots of this elusive bird.

As you can see, it's quite a nondescript looking bird.

It's song is incredible however and once you hear it you never forget it.

House Martin
I've already spotted Swallows and Swifts, so it was only a matter of time before this other summer migrant flew into my sights. The House Martin is a delightful little birds, smaller than a Swallow with a white underbelly and rump and blue wings. Sadly its brilliant colouring is lost in this shot at the weather was so overcast. It's an incredibly quick bird and really made me work for a shot, but I'm happy with the one I was able to take. Like the Swift and Swallow it likes to spend as much time as possible on the wing. You'll often recognise its nests, as they can usually be found under the eaves of houses (little pellets of mud stuck together). Spotting this House Martin means I just need to find some Sand Martins now. I actually know a good location from when I was a youngster, so I might head over there in a couple of weeks to see if they're still around.

I didn't have to travel anywhere to see the last bird of this week as it appeared in my own back garden. My younger daughter excitedly told me about it and in true fashion it had gone before I could get my camera out. Fortunately for me Jays are quite nosey crows and it soon headed back looking for some easy snacks. I've seen Jays quite a lot since starting this blog, but never when I have a camera to hand. Therefore it was quite a treat to see it in my own back garden. It's an absolutely magnificent bird and my favourite British crow. Ironically they can be quite hard to see, despite their fantastic colouring as they tend to be quite shy birds, keeping high up in the trees and rarely hanging around for too long. Hunger must have gotten the better of this one as I was able to get quite close before he flew off.

So that's my round-up  for yet another week. It was pretty good, with a large number of spottings, many of which I've never seen before. I was particularly pleased with the Cetti's and the Jay was a nice surprise as well. My running total now is a decent 62 birds spotted, which leaves me with 210 left to find. I'm heading off to London next week, so hopefully I'll be able to bring my total down to 200. Here's hoping. In the meantime I'll leave you with some of the other birds I spotted at Radipole Lake and Lodmoor.

Common Terns breeding at Lodmoor reserve.

Mallard you are cleared for landing.

A Tufted Duck looking cold.

A young Coot looks for its parent.

A gorgeous looking Mute Swan.

Herring Gulls were everywhere at Radipole Lake.

In the sky...

On the water...


This Grey Heron wasn't in the mood for fishing.

This Little Egret was though.

Sadly, I didn't seem it nail a fish.

An Oystercatcher does a flyby!

A Coot spends a tender moment with a youngster.

A Carrion Crow gets to close to a Black-Headed Gull nest.

A Green finch in poor light :(

A female Mallard in better light :)

A Moorhen out for a swim.

Time for a rest.