Tuesday, 13 January 2015

Snow Bunting

This morning I popped over to Turf on the Exe Estuary to have a look at the Snow Bunting that's been around there for a couple of days now. It was beautiful and sunny when I left Sidmouth but with heavy showers forecast. By the time I reached the bird one of the showers had arrived. It absolutely thrashed it down and I got soaked. The Snow Bunting didn't seem to mind the rain at all though and just sat there out in the open toughing it out. Instead of simply waiting until the shower passed I decided to take some shots of it in the rain and I'm really pleased with how well they came out considering the lack of light. I thought the rain had set in and made my way back to the car but once there it began to clear up and when my friend Dave arrived I decided to go back with him and take a few more shots in the better weather. The sun even came out for a while. The bird was really very confiding as Snow Buntings often are and gave some lovely views.

It was that close I could even get it in this photo taken with my phone. It really liked sitting on the sea wall alongside the estuary and periodically came down onto the footpath to feed.

Dave's in this one to show just how close the bird would come.
It's the nearer bird of the two the other is a Pied Wagtail.


Something tells me someone has put some sunflower seeds down for it!

Monday, 12 January 2015

Penduline Tits ....Second Helping

Knowing that the three Penduline Tits that have been visiting RSPB Darts Farm rather erratically over the last few weeks have now started to stay for the majority of the day, I decided to pay them a second visit. Although they haven't been arriving there very early, I still decided to get there for 9am yesterday morning, the reason being I was concerned that being a Sunday the car park would soon be full. I wasn't the first to arrive and the hide was already quite full of birders who were all looking at the Black Brant. I stood outside and to the side of the hide and as luck would have it I didn't have the long wait that I'd expected. At exactly 9.08 the three Penduline Tits flew into the tree beside me and then dropped down into the reedmace to feed. Everyone from the hide moved out and enjoyed superb views for just over and hour before the birds flew off high to the north. Half an hour later they were back and were still feeding in the reedmace when I eventually tore myself away at 1.30. They were very entertaining and easy to photograph. It was great to see Roger, Dave and Andy (Chard Birders) there seeing them on their fifth attempt, they looked quite happy. See Roger's write up and superb video footage here.

Penduline Tit incoming.

All three in this one...well just!

..and two here

Some of the many happy birders, one of whom had driven up from Dungeness overnight!

I've tried to get photos of each of the three birds to see if I can tell what sex /age they are, but I think it's a very hit and miss affair. Initially after having seen and photographed them on December 30th I thought there were two females and a first winter. None looked well marked enough to be an adult male. Yesterday though, the most well marked bird with the biggest mask did look a bit different than it had 12 days previously, I still thought it was a female though until I looked at my photos when I got home. I now think this one is a male and that it's slowly developing into a more striking breeding plumage. The bird which looked like a first winter bird with a barely discernible mask on the 30th of December now looks very much like the female bird having developed a much more defined mask in the 12 days since I last photographed it.

The male bird.

There are some very colourful russet patches forming on the mantle, which I didn't think were as prominent last time I saw the bird. The black around the eye also seems to be getting broader.

In these two front on views there is also a very noticeable russet patch on the forehead and a few russet coloured spots on the breast are beginning to show. 


 I think this might be an adult female due to the black but less extensive (straight sided) eye-mask and drabber colouring.

First winter bird

This bird has a much less clearly defined mask, but still looks quite similar to the bird above. 
It is however the same bird I photographed on the 30th of December when it looked like this....

Obviously the same individual but the mask is much duller and more grey than black.
In fact in some lighting conditions on the 30th this bird looked like it had no mask at all, as seen here...

The mask is all but invisible, especially from a distance.
Therefore this bird is highly likely to be a first winter bird which is now developing an adult's mask.
At no time yesterday did the bird appear not to have a mask whatever the light was like.

It was also very fascinating to discover what the birds were feeding on. It would be easy to assume that they were feeding on the seeds from the reedmace (which they may well do) but  they were also finding and eating the larvae of Limnaecia phragmitella, the Shy Cosmet Moth (or Bulrush Cosmet Moth).

There are lots of seeds available but the bird is digging after the juicy caterpillar hidden within the seed head.

Nearly there...

Got it!

Dave and I were wondering how the birds detected if there was a caterpillar in the seed head. We wondered if they listened for them. I suspect so, because it certainly looks like what is happening here.....

There were also several Chiffchaffs and a pair of Stonechats in and around the ponds. It would have been rude not to photograph them too especially as they kept posing nicely and were by and large ignored.

Fed up with being ignored this Chiffchaff tried the photo bomb approach.

Last but not least the ubiquitous and ever obliging Stonechat.

Saturday, 10 January 2015

A Bit of Luck on Aylesbeare Common

After spending almost all the daylight hours available on Tuesday at Aylesbeare Common and only getting a brief view of the very elusive Great Grey Shrike, my luck changed somewhat yesterday morning when I got superb views not long after arriving there. On my way to the shrike's favoured area (if indeed it really does have one, because it's usually very mobile) I heard the familiar scratchy call of a Dartford Warbler and started scanning the gorse bushes for him. After a minute or to he unexpectedly popped up right beside me. I managed to get a few shots of him before he realized his mistake and made for cover.

A bit of foreground gorse bush in the way on this one but I like the position he has his legs in, 
 looks most uncomfortable!

After this delightful encounter with the Dartford Warbler I walked on to have a look in an area where I've been lucky enough to see the Great Grey Shrike in a particular tree on a couple of previous occasions. At first I couldn't see it and my attention was taken away momentarily when I spotted the small herd of ponies which graze on the common. I hadn't seen them around for a while and whilst I was was standing there admiring them I glanced back at the tree in question and there it was, the shrike! It hadn't been there just a moment before... it really is very mercurial. Fortunately it didn't seem at all bothered by my presence even though I was nearer to it than I've been on previous occasions. I think because I was in amongst the group of ponies it just saw me as one of them. I got some nice shots of it but the strong light/low morning sun caused a few blown highlights as I was taken a bit by surprise and didn't have time to alter my camera settings. Still I'm pretty happy with them.

 It soon flew off to a much more distant tree where it stayed for a long while. I watched as first a Chaffinch and then a Meadow Pipit tried to mob it. When it moved trees again the Meadow Pipit shrewdly followed it and sat in an adjacent tree. I fancied it was thinking along the lines of  "The closer we are to danger, the farther we are from harm." as said by Pippin in The Lord of the Rings.

A more typical view of the bird. 
It stayed in this tree for a good twenty minutes.

Amazingly a few minutes later I stumbled upon it again sitting in a tree on the edge of one of the main tracks and again I got reasonably close to it, not as close as when I had ponies for cover! The light was  a lot better though.

 It then flew low into some gorse where I'm pretty sure it caught something, before flying out again and into thick cover. It was too quick for me to see what it was though... I'm betting it wasn't that canny Meadow Pipit... and I'm hoping it wasn't a Dartford Warbler.