Sunday 25 October 2009

A Consolation Twitch

I was pretty gutted not to have been able to go and see the Eastern Crowned Warbler on Friday or Saturday, due to work. Today I was free but was also pretty certain the bird wouldn't be there for a fourth day so didn't bother going. It wasn't. Instead I went over to Stanwell Moor, Surrey to see the Brown Shrike, which has obligingly stayed put for a whole two weeks now. Bun kindly accompanied me, even though he'd already been to see it earlier in the week ( I wish I worked for Beer Parish Council ;-) ) We arrived there just after first light and one of our first sightings was a flock of around a hundred Ring-necked Parakeets, the first ones I've ever seen; we saw and heard loads more during our visit too. I think they're superb, noisy yes, but a noise preferable to the constant drone of the motorway traffic and airplanes which is prevalent in the area. They certainly brighten the place up! On arrival Bun spotted the Brown Shrike almost immediately, it was always quite distant but not too distant for great scope views. I attempted a few photos but it was difficult due to the distance involved and the bird often perching in front of foliage, thus making focusing very tricky. It did sit out on the end of a twig a couple of times though allowing a couple of okay attempts. It wasn't all good news today though, because whilst walking back to the car I somehow managed to drop my scope (yes, again!) and inflicted another massive dent on it. It seems to be working okay at the moment though. Fingers crossed!

Staines Moor. The Shrike was showing on the bushes in the distance and to the right of the river.
There were still plenty of birders coming to see it even after two weeks; there were around 20 or so when we left, with more arriving!

A typical Staines Moor Brown Shrike photo,
exactly like most of the others you'll see on the web.

 I tried a closer shot, the sky behind helped, but the great distance means that there's no depth of field whatsoever! More like a painting. Mind you, I like it. :-)

Wednesday 21 October 2009

The Scenery's Nice

Yes, we're back from our week on the Scillies, the quietest week bird-wise for decades on the islands as it happens but it was still great fun nevertheless. Because we're both relatively 'new' we were still able to pick up a few lifers each. My five were (in no particular order) Richard's Pipit, Rose-coloured Starling, Little Bunting, Radde's Warbler and Common Rosefinch. Other nice sightings were, Yellow-browed Warbler, Black Redstarts (loads of), Whooper Swans, Wryneck, Spoonbills, Ring Ouzels, Jack Snipe, a Lapland Bunting, Basking Sharks, and a Minke Whale, which was a real thrill being my first ever view of any whale species! Also the 'famous' Scilly Stick Insects (yes it got that bad!!) Although we spent quiet a while in cafes (some of us sampling very expensive cake and others charging their mobile's batteries) we also spent endless hours in the field, walking miles. So much so that by Friday I had to buy an emergency pair of replacement shoes because I had blisters and bruised toenails!!  I bought fur lined Crocs, they're unbelievably comfy, like wearing slippers, sorry I digress. Camping was okay at first but became a bit of a chore as the week progressed. Far too cold at night, even with my hot water bottle! I'm getting too old for that kind of thing obviously. :-( There weren't  that many 'birders' around the islands generally, perhaps just a couple of hundred. It really appears to be out of favour these days, which is a shame. We did meet a few Scilly stalwarts who've been visiting every October for many, many years and were pleased to hear that they have no intention of stopping anytime soon.  Even so, I can see that it's going to get quieter and quieter as the years go on, as far as  the numbers of visiting birders is concerned, but I'll definitely be going back because there will be more chance of finding something for yourself won't there! We managed to visit all of the Off Islands, I liked St. Martin's best, I'm not sure why. On Tresco I didn't feel quite posh enough! They're all idyllic though it has to be said, birds or no birds, which is good coz generally there were no birds! What was my highlight? It's difficult to say , I didn't get very good views of the Little Bunting,  Rosy Starling or Radde's and the Richard's Pipit was, well a Pipit. So it seemingly would have to be the Common Rosefinch, which showed beautifully, gorging itself on blackberries. Many call them a Grotfinch, but I don't think they're grotty, if that makes me dude-ish or indeed a Robin Stroker then so be it. Guilty as charged. BUT wait, in my defense I'd like to mention the occasion where I was admonished by a fellow birder for foolishly saying "Oh, it's just a Yellow-browed Warbler" very undude-ish behaviour, no? The best bird of the trip for me wasn't a lifer however, it was the Lapland Bunting which we saw on the Tresco coast path near Cromwell's Castle. Why? Well it was tame, you had to be careful not to tread on it! It seemed fit and well and preoccupied with feeding on seeds. It probably hasn't seen humans before. We enjoyed incredible views of what was a charming little bird. It was like a lifer too really because my only other Lapland Bunting was one briefly in flight earlier this year. The low point was dipping our second Red-breasted Flycatcher of the week on Tresco, having arrived moments too late, this hideous little bird is now firmly in place on my 'list of enemies' right there in second place just below the equally vile Great-spotted Cuckoo. Ok, now I'll just show you 30 or so photos (lucky old you) of some of the scenery (very nice too), glorious weather, birders (dudes, robin-strokers, weirdos etc.) birds (not that many unfortunately) and other creatures (well, just Stick Insects basically)

First nice birds of the week were these Whooper Swans,
two here of the ten that were on Porthellick Pool. It was nice to get such close views.

  We stumbled upon this small crowed as we walked along the coast path near Giant's Castle.They're homing in on a Wryneck, can you see it? Slight clue added for your convenience.They flushed the bird and it landed on a bramble right next to us, allowing a digiscoping opportunity thus...

The same bird was still drawing the crowds five days later, one photographer has gotten closer than everyone else, see him near the boulder on the left. I zoomed in to see this..

... Do you think he got it?

Another picture of the Wryneck watchers, here taken from across the bay on Penninis Head.
It shows the infamous 'Yellow Man' He's brighter than the windsock even! Take a closer look.

He even got a mention in the Log at the Scillonian Club. The log caller said " Is the Wryneck at the windsock still? Ask that bloke in the yellow if he's seen it!" He certainly wasn't too popular.

A piece of expensive but nevertheless lovely chocolate cake at The Tolman Cafe. Puts me in mind of a song from Mary Poppins, how does it go now? Oh yes, " Feed the birds. two pounds fifty a slice...."

Thirty seconds later!!

Tuesday, and the first successful twitch of the week saw us looking at this Richards Pipit, near the campsite on Bryher, which showed really well despite being in longish grass most of the time.

Waiting for the boat at Bryher quay, what an enthusiastic looking bunch. The bloke in the white cap was the finder of the bird too! Note glorious weather!

Now for a few photos of the 'massive' twitches we saw, massive considering the species involved anyway.
Little Arthur Farm, St. Martin's, in foreground, a small portion of the Radde's Warbler hopefuls, and behind them the densely packed bunch looking at the Little Bunting. This bird was showing down to a few feet at times in some nettles but getting a clear enough view for a record shot was impossible. Nice weather again, see!

 Common Rosefinch twitch on St. Mary's. Amazingly if you look closely you can see several young(!) birders in amongst this lot.

Old Town Churchyard, what have we here? Yellow-browed, Radde's again, Firecrest maybe, they look excited don't they, no it's one of these...

 A Stick Insect, one of three species naturalized in the Churchyard, I liked these pink spiny ones the best, huge beasts too, about 5-6 inches long.

Tucking in.

I didn't get photos of the Little Bunting, or the Radde's and the Rosy Starling on St. Mary's but I was fortunate to get a couple of snaps of the Rosefinch with the S3, shame they were badly lit though.

Naff but not at all grotty.

Let's see ,what else have I got? Oh yes, some scenery shots...

Bishop Rock Lighthouse from the Garrison, note fabulous evening weather! ;-)

Sunset from Penninis Head.

Two regular Scilly sights. A beautiful deserted sandy cove, seen here on St.Martin's.Also a familiar individual seen every October I'm led to believe. Take a closer look, no kids it's NOT Santa on his hols!

Ring Ouzel on The Garrison...

... and again

And finally bird of the trip for me the Lapland Bunting

Watch your step Bun!

So close even Bun takes a photo!

 Very Nice!

Here's a video too showing it feeding oblivious to my presence.

And finally, finally, here's a couple of candid shots of the protagonists of this tale of a week on The Scillies, looking suitably overjoyed I think!
 I took this photo using the hitherto untried self-timer facility on my camera whilst it was balanced on a rock. Don't we look thrilled! The camera objected to taking this picture by throwing its lens cap into a gaping chasm in the rocks. At least the lens didn't crack though! Oh, and note the lovely weather! ;-)

Another scintillating moment on St. Agnes!
Perhaps next year? :-)

Sunday 11 October 2009

Off To Scilly...

Tomorrow Bun and I are off to the Isles of Scilly for a week. I've never been before and from what I can see on Birdguides and have read elsewhere it looks like we've picked a fine year to be going! Apparently so far it's been the worst October for rare/scarce birds for twenty years!! Typical! Oh well, it can only get better I suppose. I must also point out that although it's my first trip to Scilly and I haven't been 'birding for donkey's years' like some, I will still be trying very hard to find birds myself, as will Bun I'm sure. We wont be sitting around in tearooms, waiting on the pager. I'm taking along THREE mobile phones, with fully charged batteries (coz we're camping) and if the batteries hold out I'll post a few progress reports on here via Twitter, well if there's any progress to report that is....

Never say never though, it only takes one bird! :-)

Today we had another Merveille Du Jour in the moth trap, a really nice fresh specimen too. Here it is in all it's finery:

And here in glorious close up.....

Eww! Not so beautiful now eh?

At Coronation Corner this afternoon Gav found a stonking adult Yellow-legged Gull, a gorgeous brute with a stupendous bill! I haven't got any photos of said beast because I only had me bins on me ( I'd only popped out to show Gav the Merveille Du Jour), they were enough to enjoy good views though because we'd found a nice close vantage point. Gav got some nice shots of it though, which should appear on his blog later, most probably sometime in the wee small hours!

EDIT: Scratch that last sentence, they're already on Gav's blog as I write, there's a first time for everything!! ;-)

Early night for me now.

Tuesday 6 October 2009

'Wonder of The Day'

Another new moth for the garden today, and what a moth it was! The Merveille du Jour!! What a stunning creature. We actually caught two of them. Not a rare moth but a very nice garden tick to get. Definitely one I've been looking forward to. It certainly lives up to its name 'wonder of the day'.

A nice Green One.

Its colours blend well with the lichen on this twig.

Also had a Four-spotted Footman in the trap, a bit late for these now according to the books, but then they probably don't read them! This was our eighth individual this year too, so not as scarce as the books say either!?

A well known illiterate moth, The Four-spotted Footman.

The sea has looked excellent for a bit of seawatching today but I haven't done any. Partly due to having too much 'other stuff' to do today (because once I start seawatching I find it hard to stop) and partly because I'm so excited about my imminent trip to The Scillies (and after seeing the fantastic moth this morning) I didn't think I 'd be able to stand stand any added excitement;-) I'd have had some too probably because I have heard reports of Bonxies, Little Gulls and even a Pomarine Skua! Who am I trying to kid? Gripping! :-(

Monday 5 October 2009

At Last....Chew Valley Lake.

Seeing as it's so very quiet on patch at the moment, the much put off visit to Chew Valley Lake seemed a good option on Sunday. Yes, the Long-billed Dowitcher hadn't been seen on Saturday but there would still be other stuff to see, lots of nice ducky stuff. Splendid!

After a nice lie-in I popped round to Bun's where I had a quick look at some of the night's moth catch and then, after Bun had finished eating his gourmet breakfast (don't ask!) we set off for North Somerset. It took just over an hour and a half to get to Chew Valley which wasn't too bad. We didn't need to enter any of the permit only areas as most birds were easily visible from the public viewing areas.

What was there? Well, hundreds and hundreds of assorted ducks, 'millions' of Coots, a few Grebes, ( unfortunately only Little and Great Crested though) and like many places at the moment just a handful of waders. These consisted of a couple of Common Sandpipers, a few Lapwings, five Blackwits, a Ringed Plover and absolutely no Long-billed Dowitcher! :-( There was however, an ample sufficiency of ice-cream vans, they were everywhere! I wonder if they're a year round phenomenon?

I did get to see the bird I was hoping for here, several of them in fact and very, very nice they were too! Here's a shockingly bad photo of three of them hiding amongst 'the dross'.

Ruddy Ducks - the 'Marmite' of the UK Duck scene.
Personally I love 'em and hope they don't 'disappear' from Chew Valley Lake any time soon.

Live long and prosper!

We also saw a Chew Valley Lake standing dish, the drake Ferruginous Duck. He was deep within the midst of a massive flock of Pochard and Tufted Ducks, which were all sleeping, making him even more difficult to spot. He did wake up and 'show well' for a whole five seconds at one stage though, which was nice! He was way too distant for a decent photo, so to save me publishing another one as bad as the first in this post, and by 'popular demand' ( i.e. no demand whatsoever) I've done a little painting of him instead.

Uncannily accurate representation of a Ferruginous Duck.

Whilst driving up to the carpark at Woodford Lodge, we were surprised to see two Muntjac Deer (both does) running about out in the open in broad daylight. They must have been recently flushed from some scrub I suppose. Best views ever of this species for us both :-) Amazingly one of them stood still for long enough for me to stop the car, find my bag, take out my camera, adjust the settings, point it in the right direction through the open passenger side window and shoot. I got one shot before she melted away into some bushes. It came out rather well considering.

Muntjac Doe

Finally another couple of new moths for the garden, both coastal species, L-Album Wainscot, which is long overdue really because Steve's caught several of these over the last few weeks and his traps are only around 200 yards away from ours. Also Feathered Ranunculus, I think?

L-Album Wainscot

Feathered Ranunculus

Friday 2 October 2009


Three new species of moth in the trap last night, another Sallow, the Barred Sallow and a couple of nice Chestnuts, the Beaded Chestnut and the Flounced Chestnut.

Which is which?



Thrilling eh!?