Tuesday 30 March 2010

Lesser Kestrel.

I couldn't believe it when on Sunday afternoon news broke about the Lesser Kestrel at Minsmere, not that the bird was there obviously,  but that for a change the timing was perfect for me. Monday's my day off work and so I didn't have to think about whether to go for it or not for long! We (Bun and me, as if you hadn't guessed) set off from Seaton at 3.00 am and arrived at Westleton Heath at 8.30. We had heard that the bird was showing distantly, off and on. We were also told that a few people were already there looking -  A few! More like a few hundred! Definitely the biggest twitching crowd I've seen ( but then I don't do much twitching). The bird was spotted after a few minutes and continued to show well, if VERY distantly, for the two and a half hours we were there. It was really much better than I'd expected it to be, very colourful compared to a Kestrel, the blue of the head especially so, and really striking in flight too. I was amazed how Shrike-like it's behaviour was, flying low over the ground from one vantage point to the next and periodically dropping to the ground to catch insects (I presume). It was just such a shame it never ventured any closer. It had chosen a very peaceful spot on a piece of inaccessible fenced off heathland, a conservation area for rare breeding species I think. Great bird to see though and worth the drive :-)

A couple of shots of the crowd, one from each end.
In the bottom one the  lone figure at the back looking at the ground is Bun. You can see he knows an outstanding bird when he sees one! ;-)
A couple of  photos (?) of the Lesser Kestrel ( You can tell what it is though)
Excellent close views were obtainable if you happened to be a Red Deer
Or were able to go into that shed which looks suspiciously like a hide!

A twitcher's eye view.
The red arrow is pointing at the shed.

We left the Lesser Kestrel at around 11am, so plenty of time to see something else, what though? Just twenty minutes up the road there was a Pallid Swift, but we hadn't heard any news of it during the morning, there were two Alpine Swifts a few minutes further north in Lowestoft, but we decided against them, having seen one on patch at the weekend. There was also the female Two-barred Crossbill over in Bedfordshire. We decided to go for this. Firstly because it was 'sort of' on the way back and would break up the journey home nicely and secondly because it was a Crossbill and I really like Crossbills! In case you hadn't noticed... ;-) It was a good call  giving the Swift a miss because we would have definitely dipped it AND it's back today.

It took two hours to drive over to RSPB HQ in Sandy, Bedfordshire, where the Two-barred Crossbill has been seen. When we arrived the news was that the Crossbill flock hadn't been seen for several hours. I wasn't worried, Crossbills are my speciality. We walked from the car park onto a footpath which leads out onto the new heathland area and almost straight away the Crossbill flock flew in, circled around and landed in a lone spruce tree right in front of us. I got my scope out and very quickly picked out the Two -barred Crossbill,  I couldn't see the wing-bars at first but knew it wasn't a Common Crossbill as soon as I set eyes on it. Let's face it I've seen a few! We spent a couple of hours here having a look around and we saw the Crossbill flock on several more occasions, once they were feeding on buds in a deciduous tree and giving great views. It was a shame the sky was so grey, (it hardly seemed to get light properly all day) it made taking naff photos a cinch!
Another first for me here was a singing Woodlark to add to two brilliant lifers, what a day! ;-)

The 'new'  (non existent at the moment?) heathland, with sparse trees.
Much easier to spot Crossbills here than at Trinity Hill Woods.
Showing well with a couple of gorgeous male Common Crossbills.

Two-barred Crossbill.

Enough of all that dross, here's the best bit. Yes, a couple of new moths for the garden on Saturday night.. I didn't have time to post the photos on Sunday evening.

Dotted Border.
Pale Pinion.

Sunday 28 March 2010


When I saw that the forecast rain hadn't arrived by daybreak and wasn't due until mid afternoon I made a decision; a decision to do what I've put off doing several times this week already, that being  to go back to the lovely environs of Langton Herring ( of Bufflehead fame) in Dorset to see the Hoopoe. I asked Bun if he would like to go and was surprised that he said yes, coz he's seen LOADS of Hoopoes! Perhaps you can't see too many? We parked at Moonfleet Manor Hotel again and made the mile and a half walk towards Rodden Hive, the bird has been seen feeding along the coastpath here. Progress was unusually slow because the conditions underfoot were horrendous, a mile and a half of almost ankle-deep mud! 
 It made for some amusing 'fancy footwork' at times though...

About a third of the way there I realised I'd left my digiscoping camera in the car (yes again!!!). I had got the S3 though so a distant record shot was on the cards at least. That wasn't to be though because as we rounded a bend on the path there it was! It was no more than twenty feet away from us, allowing me to actually get a decent shot or two. We had a few good flight views too as it kept flying around approaching walkers. It seemed quite settled and just wanted to feed on the muddy path. Great bird and definitely my best ever views of one! ;-)
Confiding Hoopoe on path in front of onlooker.


Saturday 27 March 2010

Alpine Swift

This morning Bun and I left Seaton quite early to go to see some Mandarin Ducks  in South Devon. Although I have seen Mandarins before I can't for the life of me remember if they were wild ones or not, they could have been in a park or even  in a 'collection'. The four we saw this morning were I believe wild, they were certainly very wary, and didn't like being looked at in the least! This is why I only got this appalling snapshot of one of the drakes.
 Mandarin: Belatedly on my life list.

While we were here news was breaking of an Alpine Swift on patch, in the Musbury area. Oh well, we thought, 'you win some you lose some'  and weren't  all that fussed about rushing home. On the way back we heard that it hadn't been seen for over an hour, but just as we were approaching Seaton it was refound, in much the same location as before. We went straight there, (well, after a quick detour to pick up Phil) and were soon enjoying 'good'  but very distant views until the bird appeared to drop down out of sight towards Bruckland Ponds. We relocated to the ponds ( along with many others) and immediately got some much better views with the bird making a few fairly low passes over the ponds. Most of the time though it was viewable distantly over the Musbury Castle area.

Patch, Devon and even Somerset birders enjoy the Alpine Swift at Bruckland Ponds

 I didn't think I stood a chance of capturing it at all with my super slow focussing S3. In the end I only managed to take two shots 
This one was more than a bit naff...

...This one wasn't.

Whilst the Swift wasn't showing, I was distracted by this boring old Mute Swan, the lovely catkins of the 'pussy willow' and the singing Willow Warblers.

A tranquil spring scene, you'll have to imagine the Willow Warblers though.

Wednesday 24 March 2010

Summer Plumage

The Black-tailed Godwit flock was brightening up a rather grey and drizzly Coronation Corner this morning, they looked so lovely I just had to stop the car and admire them. Some of them were in full summer plumage and  just crying out to be digiscoped. My scope was in the boot, so I would have to risk flushing them in order to get it, I needn't have worried though because although as soon as I got out of the car all the Black-headed Gulls spooked and flew, the Blackwits just nonchalantly looked at me and carried on,  well, doing what Blackwits do I suppose. Most of them were asleep but while I was scanning though them looking for my 'victim' they suddenly all became very alert and jittery. I couldn't see what it was that they had spotted but something told me it was directly overhead.... 
77.77 % of  these Blackwits, that's what!!

Three photos of the smartest summer plumaged one
Very... Erm...Orange!

While I was busy taking these photos the flock was infiltrated by an imposter, He doesn't really have summer plumage, as such. He does a good line in breeding plumage though.
Usually a 'nightmare' to photograph, gloomy conditions actually help with these :-)

Highlight of the day were some superb if very brief views of one of the Otters this morning at Seaton Marshes, unfortunately it chose to do a spot of fishing in the ditch right outside the hide at exactly the same time as Dave, the East Devon District Council countryside ranger, arrived to clear the vegetation from it. Still I enjoyed watching it for the minute or so that it took him to drive near enough to scare it off!  Any view is better than nothing though and well worth getting soaked out in the rain for too! Talking of which, the weather has taken a very unspringlike turn recently. I've had to turn the central heating back on. You definitely won't be seeing me in anything approaching summer plumage any time soon!... Perhaps by August ;-)

Sunday 21 March 2010

Fourteen Hours and Five Minutes

After a dismal day weather wise yesterday I was pleasantly surprised to see that the forecast was for a lovely fine, sunny and still morning today. I had a splendid idea, why not give Hembury Woods one last try? After putting in fourteen hours of (mostly) fruitless searching for Lesser Spotted Woodpecker over the past few weeks, what harm could a few more hours do? Besides I just had a feeling that my luck was going to change. I made Bun an offer he couldn't refuse and at 7am we were on our way to the edge of Dartmoor yet again! Once there a mere five minutes is all it took, we wandered a few yards from the car and as I was casually looking up into a tree, a Lesser Spot just flew into it and landed, right in front of me! In the end it's all down to chance! I got my bins on it and I could see it was a female, I called Bun over and we both enjoyed some good views. About time too! :-) She moved around between a few trees and we were able to relocate her by her drumming, yes she was drumming! I didn't realise females drummed, but they do. After I'd enjoyed some good views I decided to have a stab at a photo, she had moved a bit higher in the tree by now but I managed to get a couple of  recognisable shots. I'm so glad our perseverance paid off at last, but I didn't let it go to my head, I was the very epitome of self control as you can probably imagine!  Oh YES!!!! ;-)


After all of half an hour at Hembury we were on our way to Alysebeare Common to try for Dartford Warblers, I'd seen a very showy male here last Monday in similar weather conditions, so chances seemed high, and  we were definitely feeling lucky now. Rightly so too because  before very long we were looking at a very obliging pair of Dartford Warblers, the male especially so. He was showing so frequently and so well that I decided to go back to the car to get my scope. I returned only to hear that he had gone to ground, but not for long because I soon lured him out with my uncannily accurate Stonechat impression (I can't do Dartford Warbler) which seemed to do the trick, causing  him to perform a spot of song-flight before perching in a prominent tree nearby. I grabbed the opportunity to digiscope him, like so:
Dartford Warbler

We decided to round off our very successful morning by returning to patch to check out Beer Head where we almost immediately stumbled upon a gorgeous male Wheatear, one of two and the first of the year for us both. He was on a sheep path that I was walking along, and so I  took a quick snap of him with the super-zoom before he was inevitably flushed.
My First Wheatear of the year.
Amazingly he stood his ground though and I was able to get within about fifteen feet of him before he casually flew around me. 
Very Nice Indeed! 
First one's always the best.

Also on Beer Head we saw an Adder and this pristine looking Comma butterfly.
Later in the afternoon Bun found a drake Garganey on Black Hole Marsh, which unfortunately gave him the slip while he was answering his phone. It was relocated some time later though on Colyford Marsh and although quite distant, scope views were good. The bird was obviously very hungry and was constantly feeding, I tried to get a photo but it didn't lift its head out of the water once. Also saw my first two Swallows of the year this afternoon, always a most welcome sight.
Today's Garganey, distant with submerged head.
 So in true Blue Peter fashion " here's one I prepared earlier"
Garganey: Circa 2007
Always a brilliant bird to see, absolutely stunning and a great way to round off a perfect day's birding! =D 

Thursday 18 March 2010

March Moth and Yellow Horned

March Moth
Yellow Horned.  (Thanks for the ID Ben ;-))

Wednesday 17 March 2010

Spring Moths

Last night was the first (successful) outing of the year for the moth trap, on Bun's garden not mine, because I shouldn't think there's much in the way of moth activity in the concrete jungle of Seaton seafront yet. Anyway eight moths of four species were caught and seeing as we didn't start moth trapping until fairly late last season they were all new ones for us. They were, in order of increasing loveliness, Common Quaker, Hebrew Charecter, Grey Shoulder-knot and Oak Beauty.
Common Quaker and Hebrew Character 

Grey Shoulder-knot

Oak Beauty.
I was especially hoping to catch one of these gorgeous beasts.

Monday 15 March 2010

Lesser Spotted Woodpecker....

That's a bird I've never seen, and the way things have been going  I don't think I'm ever likely too. Over fourteen hours of staring up into trees have been put in so far this spring and my poor arthritic neck's about had enough of it, even if  I haven't. I have heard them, both drumming and singing, but SEEING them, well that's another matter! Bun saw one on Saturday while we we at Steps Bridge with Steve, I had heard it tapping high up in the canopy but was looking the wrong way when it flew out and perched on nearby trunk for a nanosecond. I was a little bit gripped!

Yesterday we decided to go to Bellever Tor and look for the Great Grey Shrike which has been wintering there and because this was on Dartmoor I thought it would be a good idea to indulge in a bit of masochism and go there via Hembury Woods,  another prime Dartmoor Lesser Pecker spot. Well when I'm not there it is! Enough said.. =(

At Bellever Tor, we left the carpark and took what was obviously the wrong track because it took us over half and hour to actually find the Tor, yes really!  No mean feat bearing in mind it's a massive outcrop of granite rising to over 400 meters in height! If we couldn't find that,  how the dickens were we going to find a bird which had been described as mobile and elusive? Well once we  had found the Tor it was a doddle. We first saw it on the west side in some small conifers, but it moved around all sides in the hour or so we were there. We enjoyed some superb scope views, not the closest ones I've ever had of this species but certainly the most prolonged, we even saw it disgorging a pellet, which was nice.

Obviously I tried some digiscoping but excuses for poor results abouded, the sun was fierce, the heat haze considerable and the bird keeping its distant whilst swaying in the breeze on the thinnest of twigs.
Bellever Tor. 
As you can see it was a beautiful day weather-wise.

Spot the Shrike
They're just so obvious!

Spot the Shrike  No. 2.
Not so easy this time.

A closer view of the Great Grey Shrike  actually on the Tor.

A couple of my better efforts at a close up, not really doing  justice to such a fine bird.

This morning the wind had dropped considerably and the weather was fine and sunny, which prompted me to pop over to Aylesbere Common in the hope of seeing a Dartford Warbler.  After getting there I had to wait over an hour  before any birds really started stirring because  there was lingering fog in the area. Once the sun was out though a lone male Dartford Warbler put on a fine show delivering his scratchy little warble from exposed perches and also in flight. I've never seen a Dartford Warbler in song-flight before, it's very reminiscent of a Whitethroat I think. Unfortunately every time the bird  perched it was with the sun behind him, not really allowing for any photos. In the end I decided to take one anyway, I'll just have to call it artistic :-)

Dartford Warbler shaped bird.

When I first arrived at Aylesbere,  I noticed this in the gloom and thought that I must be in Mordor .

Fortunately though, 'The Dark Lord  Sauron wasn't in today.