Sunday 28 February 2010

Fun, Fun, Fun

Thiswill havetobe                      short                         coz mekeyboardhas     broke!                               The                spacebar is havingawobbler!!
(that's what it would all look like if I didn't painstakingly correct it all :-( )

Amazingly I actually stopped on patch today and got out and about twice. What fun! At Seaton Hole this morning the fun comprised of seeing one Black Redstart (female), getting my feet soaked by a rouge wave while (for some inexplicable reason) I was looking at a Great Crested Grebe through my bins. Then a couple of Herring Gulls got me with a flyby pooping!!

This afternoon's fun in pictures for obvious reasons:

Gav found this  sub-adult Yellow-legged Gull on the estuary. 
It was very nice. But I was soon distracted by this...

....Crummy old wader, apparently?

Our resident Gadwall, who thinks he's a gull!!
 I was just about to leave the riverside when I noticed him swimming toward the near bank, I stopped to get a photo but he was soon onto me, leaving me with the classic...

Bum view  :-(

At home this afternoon terror struck in the shape of this beast running into the garden and snaffling all the birdies' bread!!

Where's your trusty Jack Russell when you need him?
Oh yes, usual. 
The crafty rat tried to convince me that he was in fact a bird. How?
By flying off of course!! Really!....

Look, proof, It's airborne!  ;-)

Wednesday 24 February 2010

Close Encounters of the Purple Kind

I felt like cheering myself up a bit today, and what better way than to go and look at some nice birds, really nice ones at that. Ones you know for sure you'll not only see but hopefully get really good close views of. The birds I had in mind were the Purple Sandpipers which reside all winter on The Cob at Lyme Regis, just a few miles down the road. It was approaching hide tide when I left home, which is the best time to see them because at low water they leave The Cob and it's immediate environs for the ledges offshore to the east of Lyme. The sea was quite rough when I got there with a brisk southeastery blowing onshore and large waves were periodically breaking over the southernmost end of The Cob. Ideal! I knew where to look for the Purple Sandpipers, and sure enough there they were nestled into the cracks and crevices of the wall behind the aquarium. There were eleven of them and most were taking a snooze. After a while they left their little cubbyholes to feed on the small beach below. I went down there too, sat on the cold, wet and uncomfortable stones in my 'stealth anorak' and waited. Sure enough they got closer and closer, enabling me to take a few photos. Even though they approached to within six feet of me I struggled to get any good ones because they are just so manic! They are really entertaining though scampering back and forth with the waves, they never seem to get caught out either! I love the little noise they make too, it's amazing that you can here it over the noise of the surf. Anyway here's a series of photos of them, hope you enjoy them as much as I did taking them. If not, never mind I'm sure I could muster up a few more Crossbills or even ( if you're lucky) a series of stunning close up waterfowl shots like on Sunday! ;-)

In their cubbyholes.


'Playing chicken' with the surf.

Well camouflaged on the beach. How many can you see? 

A few of my better efforts.

After about half an hour of feeding they flew back to the wall for a rest, as can be seen in this 'stunning' action shot
 (the S3 at its best ;-p)

Back in position.

Here too a short video showing how active they are, although the sound of the surf is very loud (you might want to turn your volume down a notch) you can just make out their little squeaking sounds. You can see and hear why they have been called the 'sea mouse'.

Sunday 21 February 2010

The Curate's Egg

It's been rather quiet on here of late I'm afraid, the reason being it's been 'Seaton pantomime week' which means I've had precious little time for any birding. I'm not in the pantomime myself but my daughter Martha is, which in turn means visiting family and all that that entails. More on the pantomime in a later post when I've got hold of some photos from Martha, one definitely worth seeing is of local birder Ian Waite dressed as a Bunny Girl!!
The only birding I've fitted in during the week was a trip to Trinity Hill with Rex on Friday when I again enjoyed excellent views of  a couple of Crossbills, but also fell my full length into a bog, which was nice!

A couple of photos of the Trinity Hill Crossbills
 (Not as good as the last lot but I'm putting them on here because after today's events they may be the last half decent digiscoped images I'll get for a while.)

Come the weekend I was ready for some proper birding and so on Saturday morning I picked up (my twitching sidekick?) Bun and we set off to Hembury Woods near Buckfastleigh in search of the fabled Lesser Spotted Woodpecker. A pair of these elusive birds have been seen here on a regular basis in and around the car parking area, so I was hopeful of seeing one for what would have been the first time ever. Yes that's right, would have been. We saw just about every woodland species there is, except the Lesser Spot of course. I'm beginning to think they don't actually exist. On the plus side though we enjoyed superb views of at least three delightful Firecrests, which were just too energetic for my slow focussing S3 to mange a snap of. Still they were great to see and made the trip worthwhile ;-)

Today we were out again, this time doing a small tour of Cornwall, with the target birds being a couple of potential lifers for me. First stop was Coliford Lake near Bodmin where we were hoping to see the drake Lesser Scaup.
This time we were lucky and soon located it with a small group of Tufted Ducks. It's just a shame that it was on the northern arm of the lake, which is only viewable from a distant roadside vantage point. Viewing conditions however were in our favour, with the good light and a totally flat water surface making the scope views surprisingly good! Photos were always going to be a challenge though....Remember last June when we went to the self same spot to view the American Black Duck and you were treated to stunning photos like this...

 American Black Duck....  Hiding ( it ain't there!)
 Well, today I can bring you more of the same top notch stuff, like so...

Lesser Scaup... Underwater.
I did actually get a shot of the bird, but don't hold your breath!

Classic! Just look at all those clinching features!

While we were here a local birder arrived to view the bird and told us of a redhead Smew 'showing really well' just down the road at Sibleyback Reservoir. So although not on the itinerary we popped over there for a look. Here it is...

Now that's what I call 'showing really well' 
(Clue. It's in between the two drake Tufties)
Admittedly it was sort of possible to walk around the  lake to a closer vantage point, if you'd got a few hours to spare and were also preferably related in some way to a mud loving, wallowing animal such as a Hippo!!

Our next port of call was Maer Lake in Bude where we were hoping to see the Long-billed Dowitcher, that has been seen on and off this week. We dipped. My FOURTH Long-billed Dowitcher dip no less! We did see a superb male Merlin fly through though. Our final stop was back over the border in Devon, at Lower Tamar Lake, where again Hippo genes would have come in handy! We got very muddy but had some good views of at least six Willow Tits. Tamar Lake is one of very few places where they can still be found in Devon. It was good to hear them calling and singing too. Also here were a notable 24 Goosanders.

Why the Curate's Egg? Well, because with a lifer and several other nice birds 'in the bag' over the weekend it was indeed 'excellent in parts' but marred by a teeny weeny 'disaster'. I've broken my scope again! It's still usable this time though, just! Sometime while scrambling along the edges of the muddy paths at Tamar Lake, half  on the 'path' and half in the bushes I must have caught the end of my scope on something, resulting in the twist up eye-cup falling off. This means I'll struggle to hold my eye in the correct place to view and EVEN WORSE I wont be able to hold my camera to the eyepiece to digiscope. To compound matters I also noticed today that 'the blurred patch' is now very seriously ruining my view, with objects only being in focus in the bottom half of the FOV. Looks like the new camera's moved down a place on the things I'd really like to buy list! :-(

However, the massive highlight today was beating Bun in our 'competition of the day' - 9 cyclists beats 6 joggers. Yes GET IN! Excellent in parts, indeed! ;-)

Sunday 14 February 2010

Trinity Hill Crossbills and 'The White One'

I took Rex along to Trinity Hill Woods for his walkies again this afternoon hoping to get a better view of the Crossbills that I've been regularly seeing there. The weather conditions were ideal with just the lightest of winds meaning that I could spot the tell tale sign that Crossbills were feeding nearby, that being the falling seed wings from pine cones and as soon has I got to the usual spot this is what I immediately saw. A quick scan through nearby pines with my bins and there they were, not quite out in the open but visible enough to attempt a few photos There were at least four again and two of them were males. Whilst I was watching them a small flock of Siskins flew in and started feeding in trees recently vacated by the Crossbills, it seemed that they were taking advantage of the Crossbills efforts and searching the ready prized open cones for any remaining seeds. I really have a soft spot for Crossbills and can't imagine ever not being delighted to see them! :-) Rex however, thinks they stink. He was so-o-o-o bored with me standing around looking at at a tree that he walked back to the car without me in disgust!

Siskin looking for an easy meal.


The male was playing hard to get and didn't once come out fully from behind the branches.
One female was showing well though...

... like so.

Later in the afternoon Gav spotted the unidentified white gull on the river, this time it was by the Tram Sheds so was much easier to view and take photos of. I rushed over there for a look not having seen it before. As soon as I did see it, especially when close up through the scope, I was certain it must be a leucistic Herring Gull. Why? Well, it just looked like one. Although somewhat small it had a mean brutish look about it, one that I've never seen in Iceland Gulls. The jizz just cried out "Be afraid, be very afraid, I'm after your chips!" And apart from that I also used the tried and trusted Robin-stroker's method of ascertaining whether or not it was an Iceland Gull, not by measuring the bill to primary projection ratio or contemplating the gonydeal angle, but by asking the question "Do I want to take it home?"  I didn't, it looked scary!

Leucistic Herring Gull or Iceland Gull?
Actually in  most photos, as seen here, the Herring-gullishness doesn't seem to show up as well as in the flesh (or feather?)

Check this one out though.
 Although it's a bit blurred (that eyepiece problem again) you can see the bird looks 
mean, mean, mean!

So it's Herring Gull (or Lesser Black-backed) for me. Then again I'm no expert, on gulls or anything else for that matter. Oh wait, that's not true! I am an expert on microscopic wood  anatomy. So why am I  cleaning a chicken oven for a living?

Saturday 13 February 2010

Another Spoonbill and a Small Tantrum

I've been really busy all day today, I hadn't any birding time planned but on a trip to Axminster I couldn't help but notice that the Spoonbill that's been knocking about for the last couple of days was fishing in the estuary and was close enough for photos. On my way home, back past the estuary, it appeared to have gone but when I had a free half-hour a short while later I popped down there for a look, just in case I'd overlooked it. I saw Gav parked up on the riverside just north of the Tram Sheds, he was intently looking at something, I approached and  said "Spoonbill?"  He said something like "Uh!"  Five seconds later... "Oh, there it is!" I enthused. It was feeding  about 100m away on the far bank but Gav was so keen on looking at the gulls he hadn't seen it. He simply hadn't looked that way yet; the draw of thousands of Black-headed Gulls being what it is!
Anyway I tried to get a few digiscoped photos while Gav snapped away with his new camera. I kept my intense camera envy well under control ( only sixty more oven cleanings to go!! ;-)). 

Most backwater birders were called into action this evening for the reserves Wet and Wild Weekend, acting as local bird experts on some tram trips along the river. Some however weren't even asked! I'm obviously too much of a Robin-stroking, tree-hugging dudette for that kind of accolade. I'm keeping my pathetic bitterness well under wraps though. ;-(

Bucking The Trend. 
This Spoonbill was a real 'Speedy Gonzalez' 
Making getting a good shot hard as it legged it around on the mud.

Then it posed beautifully, but most inconsiderately kept putting its head in the blurred part of my field of view, caused by the coating coming off my eye-piece.

That's better.

Thursday 11 February 2010

Not What I Was Expecting

Whilst walking Rex along the River Coly this morning I saw a white blob. It was a fair way in the distance, in the water on a stretch of 'rapids' ( well, by River Coly standards anyway). I understandably  assumed I was looking at a Dipper, but I wasn't for when I lifted my bins for a better view I could see that  it was  in fact one of these....

 See! Obviously NOT a Dipper. Can't tell what it is?...
.... Have a stunning close up then.

 A Green Sandpiper.

I've seen a few of these along The Coly in the winter before but normally in the pools, backwaters and muddy margins. I've never seen one out in the fast flowing water like this. Still, you live and learn. I'd rather have seen an elusive River Coly  Dipper though! :-)

Tuesday 9 February 2010

Home and Away

I haven't really had much to write about of late but haven't been totally inactive, well not quite. On Sunday I indulged in a spot of filthy twitching. Although I'd been very tempted by the scrummy  female Black-throated Thrush, who has been 'strutting her stuff' on the same garden in Yorkshire for about a month, I'm just not a hardened enough twitcher to drive the 13 hour round trip to see her. However, when Nick said he wanted to go and see  her and would drive from Bristol I naturally jumped at the chance. So at 3.15 am on Sunday morning I picked up Bun and Joe Ray and we drove up there to meet him, by 10 am we were in Newholme, North Yorkshire and by 10.15 we were looking at the bird. It showed well, off and on for the hour and a half we were there, moving between one of the gardens and a nearby field. The bird was very aggressive towards the Blackbirds in the area, a real little virago she was! I tried to get a photo but whenever she was still for any amount of time, it was while semi-obscured by branches in one or other of the small trees in the garden (see disastrous results below). We also had great views of a couple of Willow Tits on the feeders, exciting stuff for Southwest birders don't you know? Especially Nick as they were a lifer for him.
On the way home at the insistence of Joe, we stopped off in the West Midlands to look for a Green-winged Teal. We dipped. In fact Joe wanted to set off for the Teal about 30 seconds after seeing the Black-throated Thrush, and at the time he'd only seen its head! I don't know, the exuberance of youth eh? I don't mind admitting that although I enjoyed the day, I was shattered when I got home. Well worth it though, definitely!

Little Miss Bossy

I feel somewhat ashamed of my lack of effort on the patch birding front of late, I've done little more than walk Rex at Trinity Hill Woods this past week, although I did see several Crossbills here on three occasions. I haven't managed to 'pin them down' in a tree yet, but will probably go back there for another look soon. I'm getting really fed up with the cold weather now, Winter just seems to drag on and on....

After reading about the male Black Redstart at Seaton Hole on Gav's blog this morning I made a special effort to haul my lazy carcass down there this afternoon, because male Blackreds are definitely 'worth the effort' . After I'd  returned home I read  on Steve's blog  that he'd seen FIVE Blackreds there this morning. There were only the two again this afternoon but fortunately one was the stunning sexy male. I hid amongst the boulders of the rock armour, cunningly camouflaged in my 'rock coloured' beige anorak and waited for him to approach close enough for me to get a photo with my ancient old Canon S3 super-zoom. Talking of which, brand spanking new super-zooms seem to be the flavour of the month with Steve and now Gav, acquiring the latest models. I've been longing to upgrade my S3 for Canon's flagship super-zoom the SX1 for over a year now but every time I save up enough pennies I end up having to spend them on 'essential stuff' you know, like bills! :-( 

Never fear though, I have a cunning plan, which I've started to implement this very evening. I'm doing an extra hour a day at work, cleaning the chicken oven....Oh what joy!! I only have to clean it another 64 times and the SX1 is mine!

Anyway here are a few photos of the Black Redstarts taken with my trusty old 'living on borrowed time/soon to be seen on Ebay' S3. 

The confiding female, they are always much less wary than males.

The gorgeous male. 
Would he fall for my disguise? Would he come a little nearer?


Monday 1 February 2010

Black, Red and White

I was very disappointed a couple of weeks ago when I had to call off my planned trip to see the Black Kite in Wales. Fortunately though it's still there ( why wouldn't it be) and yesterday I was finally able to make the much anticipated journey to Gigrin Farm. The weather forecast had been very unfavourable predicting heavy snow showers for southern and central Wales, but I just couldn't put it off any longer and decided to risk it. Even though Bun had already been once he kindly agreed to accompany me, which was nice! :-)

Having got all the way into mid-Wales without  so much as a sniff of snow we started to get a bit smug,  and tempted fate by saying such stupid things as " Ooh look at all this terrible snow everywhere!"  With thirty minutes of the journey left it started to snow, and it just got heavier and heavier, the gritted roads were even beginning to get a covering and progress became rather slow. It was the heaviest snow I've ever witnessed and the largest snowflakes too, they were huge! "As big as Greenfinches" Bun was heard to say, a very strange analogy that. How does his mind work? They were definitely the size of Goldcrests though., definitely! ;-)

We were very relieved to reach the driveway to Gigrin Farm but it was covered in several inches of snow and was all uphill. We slipped and skidded along as far as the carpark of the Brynafon Country House Hotel where we parked and walked the last one hundred metres or so to the farm itself. This proved to be even more dangerous than trying to drive as we had to leap out of the way of of a couple of  out of control vehicles! The amount of people who insisted on driving all the way up to the farm was staggering, most of them had to reverse back of course. It's not as if it was that far to walk.

The snowy scene at Gigrin Farm, looking  toward Brynafon Country House.

We had arrived about an hour before the Farm officially opened but were welcomed and were able to have a look around.  A few Red Kites were already loitering in nearby trees. At one o'clock we were allowed to go into the hides where we spent the next two and a half hours, although the time seemed to just fly by with so much to see, Crows, Rooks Ravens, Buzzards, Kites and Grey Herons all increased in numbers as the two o'clock feeding time approached. Once the meat was scattered in the field in front of the hides and the tractor had left Kites just flooded in, seemingly from everywhere, it was mayhem. After about fifteen minutes the Black Kite put in a brief appearance, it was surprisingly easy to pick out amongst the reds. It left empty taloned after being robbed by one of the Red Kites only to return several minutes later, whereupon it gave a superb display of aerobatics before leaving with a morsel of food. What a stunning bird it was, a lifer for me too! ;-) The very striking leucistic Red Kite also showed briefly but I fluffed my one attempt at a photo of it. The Red Kites were just breathtaking, much, much better than I'd imagined they'd be,  a lot closer too. If you were lucky enough to own a digital SLR camera and long lens there would be absolutely no excuse for not getting great photos, as can be seen from all the stunning shots of the Black Kite all over the internet at the minute. I haven't got  any such luxury myself,  still  I was able to get some 'quite pleasant' results with the old point and shoot superzoom, I had great fun trying anyway! All in all I can state that it was without a shadow of a doubt the best £4 I've ever spent! If you haven't been, go, you wont be disappointed.

The gourmet meal is dished up by the shovelful.

The eager diners arrive 'en masse'.

Some ( well okay, lots of) Red Kite shots.

They never actually land, they just swoop down and pick up the meat with their talons to eat either on the wing or elsewhere 

Not the clearest shot but I like the composition with the 'little' Kite in the background.

 A few were  tatty looking.

Quite a few were wing tagged too.

This was my sharpest Red Kite shot.

Black Kite
That's him dive-bombing on the left.

An awful photo but you can see why we didn't see him again. 
He's managed to grab a fair sized chunk of meat.

Black Kite - What a bird!

There were plenty of Buzzards feeding too.

You don't often get this close to a Buzzard.

Black and Red; my favourite shot of the day.

I took some video  footage too which gives a better idea of the 'feel' of the place. The second portion of the clip was shot when very dark storm clouds were gathering, making the Red Kites look  even more stunning I think.

Finally here's a photo of the feeding field and the hides from the top of the hill.You can see three of the five hides in the distance and a few Kites still knocking about.. You'll notice Bun is looking particularly cheery, I have a suspicion it's because he assumed that I  was taking a photo of him just to gratuitously stick it on my blog  at a later date...... I mean..... as if?