Monday 30 November 2009

Serins at Rainham Marshes.

Yesterday we went on a family outing to London.This had been planned months ago because Martha, George and a friend were going to the Collectormania event at Olympia. We were going to have to drive as there were no trains from this part of the world which would have got them to London in time for the opening. Typical! Rob and I hadn't decided what we'd do while in London, but  on Saturday I came up with a splendid idea, which could, possibly involve a teensy weensy little twitch! "Rainham Marshes" I said, with my best pathetic 'spaniel eyes' look, "That's not too far from central London is it?  There are a couple of Serins there, which would be a lifer for me".  Rob failed to come up with a better suggestion and so Rainham Marshes it was. Nestled between the crystal clear waters of the River Thames and the scenic A13, it was indeed an exquisite spot to spend a relaxed day. Seriously, I was amazed at the numbers of birds they have managed to attract to what is, to be honest a ....erm.....How can I put it?  A severely aesthetically challenged landscape! Don't suppose the birds mind though....

The RSPB have a state of the art visitor centre with shop, cafe and superb picture windows with extensive views over the reserve, so we'd easily be able to spend a day here in some comfort. The weather was atrocious - cold and windy with some extremely heavy downpours, there was very little shelter away from the visitor centre and the 'Serin Mound', the place from where the Serins are usually seen (obviously !!) was a good kilometres walk away, so we spent much of the time in abject discomfort instead. This discomfort was compounded by the  gripping news ( in my case at least) that Leach's Petrels were passing by Seaton at last! That was until 1.05pm exactly when one of the several birders present spotted a Serin in flight with a flock of Goldfinches, luckily it landed quite close to us on some teasels, enabling superb views and even a few digiscoped photos. Several minutes later the second Serin flew in, it was noticeably drabber than the first without any obvious yellow in the plumage. I also managed a photo of this one along with a bit of video. I was so pleased to see them I soon forgot how horrible the weather was!
 :-) Serin photos coming up after these  few scenic shots.

The funky modern, or if you prefer (I do) hideous RSPB Visitor Centre.
It's like a little fortress with metal gantries cut off by drawbridges when the centre's closed.

Looking from the visitor centre over the reserve towards the A13.
Best birds on show out here were Pintail and Golden Plover.

'Serin Mound' can be seen right in the centre of this photo complete with a few 'hopefuls' standing on it.

The view from 'Serin Mound'.
Looking east towards the River Thames and the Queen Elizabeth II Bridge.

Looking west from the mound an observer is treated to the beautiful site which is The Enchanted Dagenham Ford Plant, complete with its lovely little wind turbines, strategically placed so that in the event of  fog they can mince the incoming winter geese flocks. The rainbow was a nice distraction though.
A view over the Thames towards the town of Erith.
The sky was getting very threatening, but  fortunately we'd already seen the Serins and made it back to the car before this downpour hit the reserve.

The first Serin which had yellow in the plumage on the breast and around the eyes.

The second bird was a bit duller but only in colour! What a little sweetie!

Here's a video of this bird too, it was very windy so turn the sound down!!

If I hadn't gone to see the Serins, I suppose I could have gone into Collectormania with Martha et al, which would have been great actually because she got to meet, amongst others, John Barrowman off....well....erm... everything on the telly really!!

Lucky Martha! I'm quite envious actually, John Barrowman's gorgeous!
Would I rather see a Serin though?
You bet I would!!

Martha didn't want me to be left out and got me a surprise gift. A personalized signed photo of David Soul! I loved Starsky and Hutch (especially Hutch!!!) when I was about 30 years younger! They were my 'pin ups' I think David's something like 65 now, I feel OLD!!

WOW! What I'd have given to have this when I was 13!!

Saturday 28 November 2009

Spotted Sandpiper

Another lifer for me today, with good views of the Spotted Sandpiper just down the road at Topsham. It's certainly not easy to spot the differences between Spotted Sandpiper and Common Sandpiper, especially at some distance but once seen close up and well they are all too apparent (today I wasn't convinced until I got a closer view). The yellow legs the most striking feature, the shorter tail, rather plain tertials, pinkish bill and short wing bar (surprisingly difficult to discern in flight I thought). Another very obvious difference was the silence. In my experience Common Sandpipers almost always call when they fly off, this bird never made a peep. Anyway I got a few photos before the rain set in this afternoon. Nice bird, VERY educational. It would be great to see it overwinter and begin to get it's spots in the spring. There's that optimism again! :-)

Don't know how I managed to focus on the bird in this one.
I almost always get the branches nice and sharp in this situation.

Head on it doesn't look quite as 'squashed' as a Common Sandpiper to me.

Awful photo but it does show the extent of the white wing bar, the clinching feature, as if those bright yellow legs weren't enough!

Thursday 26 November 2009

Unringed and Wary? .... And The Best Dip Ever!

I'm pretty late getting this blog post on here, so much so that most of you (those who've read Gav's blog) will already know all about where I went and what I saw yesterday, therefore I'll try and keep this brief. Yesterday morning Bun and I popped along to East Budleigh to look at the Red-breasted Goose which has taken up temporary residence in a quarry there. For this foolish act we have been ribbed and ridiculed not least by Steve, who said (several times) and I quote (minus the profanities obviously) " What did you want to go and see that ******* piece of **** for?!" If that's the way he's been referring to his beloved 'pet goose' Geraldine, it's no wonder she's upped and done a bunk! I have two reasons (or excuses, if you prefer) for going to see it, firstly I haven't seen one outside of the confines of an enclosure in a collection/zoo. Secondly, I really wanted to see for myself the curious anomaly which is an unringed and WARY  (!) goose in a working quarry!! When we arrived at the quarry edge we could immediately see the goose standing on a small island oasis in the middle of a vast wasteland of clay and gravel, with people and working machinery in the close vicinity.

The island in question is there right in the centre, massive dumpsters were working around that large heap in the background, there's one just visible in the photo.

The Red-breasted Goose was definitely unringed, but wary? I don't think so! It  made Sunday's Scaup look positively hyperactive. It stood still, preened and slept and when a large bang rang out (sounded like a small explosion) I jumped but the goose didn't. It didn't even wake up!! I'm not saying the fact that it looks very relaxed and also that it is alone point to it definitely being of captive origin. ( If the same bird was on the Exe Estuary with the Brent Geese we'd  most probably all consider it wild, wouldn't we?) I think in a lot of cases it's pretty arrogant of us to think we can easily judge. For instance we had a lone Brent Goose on our patch in March this year which was also pretty confiding, but the rings it was wearing proved it had been part a wild flock travelling between Iceland (where it was ringed) and Ireland. Without this evidence it would no doubt have been judged as 'plastic'. Wrongly.

 A very nice bird indeed even if very distant, Red-breasted Goose.
It's on my list, right next to Ruddy Shelduck ;-)

After arriving home at 10 am, I'd just sat down after putting the kettle on for a celebratory cuppa when Gav phoned. I nearly fainted when I heard, NOT the news of a White/Black-bellied Storm Petrel but the fact the Gav was asking me if I fancied a twitch! This was indeed a rare occurrence and so I immediately acquiesced, probably against my better judgment as I'd be pressed for time having work later in the afternoon. I relayed the news to Bun who had just arrived at work, ten minutes later I was picking them up! The news on the pager looked grim as we made our way to Gloucestershire but I wasn't too concerned because I was pretty eager to get my first ever views of an animated Leach's Petrel; my only other one being a particularly moribund cat attack casualty in a box! As you  probably know there was no more sign of the W/BB Storm Petrel but we did indeed get superb (and at times really close) views of a Leach's Storm Petrel and also an absolutely stunning sub-adult Pomarine Skua. Brilliant stuff! Best dip ever! Here are some photos from Severn Beach.

The twitching elite.
Devon birders, Dave and Brian (on the left) plus a few others

This photo shows something I've noticed which is even brighter than Gav's neon hat. See it? Right in the centre of the photo below the railings. It's the ultra brilliant white socks of Lee Evans. He noticed me pointing the camera at him I think, (he's looking at me) so I didn't zoom in!

Gav checking his camera for little black specks after attempting to digiscope a Leach's Petrel. I also very optimistically tried this technique, but amazingly I did manage to get identifiable birds on a few shots. I think this was down to setting the camera to continuous shooting mode, but I didn't half have a lot of images of  brown waves to sift through to find anything.
Stunning I know :-) You can tell what it is though.

The New Severn Bridge, which I find quite aesthetically pleasing for a bridge especially with the refection of the setting sun on the water....  Whoops, no my mistake! It looked a zillion times better with the magnificent Pom Skua gliding above it though. What hat? Where? I never said a thing ;-)

Tuesday 24 November 2009

Quality Buying Experience!?

My nan always used to say 'never air your dirty linen in public'  but I just have to share this with someone. Just to get it of my chest really. Several months ago I sold a Nikon eyepiece that I couldn't get on with via the Birdforum classifieds. I sold it to a lovely lady in Sussex and the whole experience was extremely easy and friendly to boot. So needing a new eyepiece ( Nikon Zoom) at the moment I thought I'd look on there to buy one. I saw one for sale at what seemed a good price but really should have seen the warning signs in so much as the seller stated on the thread that his scope sale had 'fell through' three times! We exchanged e-mails on Sunday morning, I asked a couple of questions including "do you accept Paypal payments?" He replied that he would but only if I would cover the Paypal charges! So would I find out how much they'd be, how much the postage would cost, do the maths and make him an offer. I hadn't got time to do all this straight away as I was off to Dorset to see the Scaup. I was out all day and spent most of the evening writing my blog.  I'd reply to him on Monday morning I thought. BUT early on Monday morning a mere 23 hours after our first communication I have this in my Private Message inbox.
this week 
sorry to hassle u, but i dont have the luxury of time on this.
I have to pay for an item on weds night, that i bought on ebay.
SO will need decision on this zoom within 48 hrs

home we can come to a mutually beneficial deal!

I don't think I was 'out of order' to find this a bit pushy, especially the title, and politely said so, adding that I would buy from elsewhere. After all I'd only made an enquiry. Later that day I received this rather charming e-mail message;

maybe if u just werent so bloody lazy and had got off ur ass, then this could have gone through smoothly

keep taking the medication though

I think I have a sneeking suspicion why he hasn't managed to sell any of his gear!  What a nice guy! I was quite upset by this uncalled for insult and had to go and look at pictures of puppies for a bit. Oh yes, and take my medication!! ;-)

Sunday 22 November 2009

Duck Action!

Today, feeling in the mood for a bit of excitement I decided to pop over the border to Lodmoor in Dorset to have a look for the four Scaup that have been there for a few days now. Scaup is a gaping hole in my life list which I should easily have filled before now. Amazingly despite the foul weather when we left, it didn't rain once whilst Bun and I were there (yes I asked Bun if he'd like to join me, I mean, who could refuse such an offer!? Scaup, how exiting!!) and we saw them (well some of them) without much difficulty. As soon as we got out of the car and lifted our bins to look at the lagoon, there right out in the open were a small gang of  Ruddy Ducks!! Where were they in September when we were looking for them?  Hiding obviously, with good reason too! A couple of these were actually moving around a bit which is more than can be said for the rest of the ducks present, all just feathery blobs floating about in the breeze.

Some ducks... being exciting.

A sitting duck? I hope not.
Scaup doing what they allegedly do best.

   A thrill a minute

While I was taking these photos in a freezing gale, Bun had retreated to the car, I can't imagine why. Anyway after we'd (both) tired of the scintillating duck action we dropped in quickly at Radipole Lake. Well, just the car park actually, for a bit of gull spotting. To get a nice photo of a Mediterranean Gull on our local patch you need to be patient and reasonably skillful with your digiscoping kit as a rule. But at Radipole you just cruise around the car park, spot your 'victim' , wind down window, point your 'point and shoot' camera, et voila! Here's a couple of results from this 'drive by shooting' technique, shame about the tarmac:

 Gorgeous adult (everything was asleep today) one of several ringed birds.

First Winter

After arriving back in Seaton I couldn't resist popping up to Beer Head to look at the two late Ring Ouzels, Bun could and did. Wise choice perhaps. It was freezing up there and the wind made it almost impossible to use the scope. I saw the birds immediately but only brief views as they kept disappearing into the hedgerow for long periods. I wasn't really in the mood to wait for them and the light was rapidly fading. I was about to give up when I spotted a man approaching dressed in a most vivid scarlet coat, "Ah!" I thought "Tis a student of Gav's friend, the famous scarlet clad American Bird Charmer, Chip". You know? If you don't, read about him here.

The Ouzels were bound to show well once they saw this approaching.

They didn't  come out to greet our red friend, surprisingly!? I gave up trying to get a photo and left.  Some very nice photos of the Ring Ouzels are available for viewing here.

I still hadn't had enough of a battering by the elements though and went down to the Yacht Club to see if  any Little Gulls were about. There were two of them again today an adult and a lovely first winter. I tried to get a photo of the first winter one to go with the adult and second winter that I got on Wednesday. The spray was quite extreme and the beach looked more like the aftermath of one of those 'foam parties'. Look.


 The sun was rapidly setting behind Beer Head so I'd need to be quick.

First winter Little Gull. 
A stunning little bird. And a great end to an enjoyable day's birding :-)

Wednesday 18 November 2009

Another Good Day on Patch.

Very uncharacteristically I was slobbing round the house in my dressing gown at 9.50 this morning (pathetic I know) when I got a text from Gav saying that the Snow Bunting was still on Beer Head, after having been reported there yesterday. Incredibly for me (coz I'm such a ditherer) I was on site a mere ten minutes later. It was very, very windy indeed on Beer Head, so much so that due to carrying (a lead lined? I'm sure Nikon stuck a lump of lead in it when they repaired it!!) scope I found it difficult to walk in a straight line! Fortunately the bird was very confiding, allowing us to approach quite closely, on our hands and knees most of the time. Even hunkered right down it was impossible to get adequate shelter to prevent serious scope shake, mine was even blown over once! The windy conditions are my excuse for having to take 240 photos just to get a few in focus. About 5% were I'd say. It was a young male bird and was very smart.Snow Buntings are definitely one of my favourite birds. Here are a small selection of  the photos that were in focus:

Here's one without the scope to show how near it was at times.

Gav trying to scare it with his 'famous' bird friendly hat.
 Very blurred, but it doesn't distract from the effect of the hat does it?!!

Buntings all look so weird head on, like they're wearing goggles!

I don't know what I altered on the camera for these next two shots (I was accidentally pressing all sorts due to the buffeting I was getting) because they've come out with a very different colour tone, although I think I remember the sun coming out briefly.

Gorgeous and most very welcome on patch.
Hope we don't have to wait another three years for the next one.

This afternoon the good birding continued when Steve spotted two Little Gulls over Black Hole Marsh and a short while later Gav spotted the same off  The Axe Yacht Club. When I found out that  they were close inshore I just had to go down to the beach and try for a few photos. I've managed to photograph Little Gull close inshore here before, but on that occasion it was the only bird on view. Today the two Little ones were in amongst a large feeding flock of mixed gulls, easy enough to spot with the naked eye, but through the awful electronic viewfinder of the S3.... I don't think so!! I wildly pointed it at anything that might be one of the Little Gulls and hoped for the best. A few worked out okay-ish and one I'm really quite pleased with, considering! ;-)

Here are a few snaps from the beach this afternoon then:

 An atmospheric shot of Beer Head, where I hear the Snow Bunting was nowhere to be seen this afternoon.

After all the rough weather we've had recently I wasn't in the least surprised to see loads of these on the beach. Although it was almost three years ago now, crap from the MSC Napoli is still regularly washed up here, like this massive ball of yarn and BMW headlight unit. A man from the council was picking up hypodermics too. :-(

Rex wasn't in the least impressed with his walk. " I might be blind in one eye and have tunnel vision in the other but I can't see at all in this wind mum!" He was even less impressed moments later when we were caught out by a massive wave; it knocked him over and I got soaked from the waist down! I must be bonkers.

Anyway here's some of the slightly shonky results of my endeavours.

The second winter bird.

The adult bird.
Little Gull is definitely my favourite gull. I love 'em!

And finally here's the photo I was pleased with getting, totally by chance, coz I couldn't see exactly what I was pointing the camera at! The 2nd winter Little Gull, a Common Gull and a Black-headed Gull all in a line and in focus!!

Cool :-)

Tuesday 17 November 2009

A Lovely Lutrine Interlude

Today I have mostly been doing housework, including taking on the mammoth task of cleaning out the pantry. I found lots of weird and 'unwonderful' stuff, including, I'm ashamed to say, several items of 'food' which were at least three years out of date!! They just sort of worked their way into to the deepest darkest recesses and hid there, honest! Anyway, just as I was finishing one of my many tea-breaks I got a text from Steve, informing me that Doug Rudge was watching an Otter on the Borrow Pit. I knew that  'going for it' was probably gong to be a bit of a long shot but I felt like getting a bit of fresh air anyway and so around five minutes later I was at the Borrow Pit. I was delighted to see that Doug and Dave, the East Devon Countryside Ranger, were still there watching it. We had some superb views of it hunting for small fish, and devouring them on the surface. I'd brought my S3 along and took a few dodgy photos, it was extremely difficult to get anything at all because the Otter was always on the move and kept on diving just as I was pressing the shutter. I really could do with a faster camera (wishful thinking). Doug and Dave were building a new bridge on the Borrow Pit footpath, and shortly after I'd started watching the Otter they had to resume work. The hammering and drilling which followed (probably) soon caused the Otter to submerge and stealthily slip away. I'm not complaining though I'd had some great views and had to get back home anyway. Many thanks to Doug for putting out the news, and to Steve for passing it on. :-)

Most of my attempts looked like this, 'Otterless' but eventually I got lucky...


I like the fact that in this photo you can see the shimmering layer of trapped air on the back and the tail, which keeps the fur dry. Amazing!
Last but not least a  blurry close up shot of it chewing up a tasty morsel. Look at those fangs!