Monday 22 November 2010

Hawfinches at Blackwater Arboretum

Up until yesterday I'd only ever seen one Hawfinch and that was way back in January 2009 at Felbrigg Hall in Norfolk. I really wanted to see more and although there'd been a couple of sightings in Devon in the last few days I decided it would be better to go to a site where they are almost a certainty; Blackwater Arboretum in the New Forest. The birds come in to the arboretum and also the trees on the surrounding Rhinefield Ornamental Drive to roost but before disappearing into the dense foliage of the enormous conifers they sit out on the topmost twigs, preen and survey their surroundings. We arrived at a few minutes past 2 o'clock walked through the gates into the arboretum and within about thirty seconds Bun had spotted our first Hawfinch. We saw seven or eight in total, there were seven birds in one tree at one point too. By 3.20pm they appeared to have all gone to roost as it was a particularly dull afternoon. I had only planned the visit for yesterday because the forecast had been for a fine afternoon with plenty of blue sky. That didn't happen though. Typical! Another quality forecast from the Met Office. It was only disappointing from a photography point of view though because you could see the birds well and the scope views were superb. The problem was that with the birds showing in the top-most-tippy-top twigs of the tallest trees it didn't matter how beautifully they posed they were always horribly backlit. I had a stab at it anyway though. I just can't help myself! I'll definitely be going back on a sunnier day because it's a wonderful place, as well as the Hawfinches we saw Crossbills, Lesser Redpolls, Siskins and Bramblings. There are Lesser Spotted Woodpeckers too. Allegedly. Then there're the trees themselves, some of the tallest and oldest Douglas Firs in the country grow here along with several Giant Redwoods (Wellingtonia) and Coast Redwoods. We didn't get to see the tallest trees because the trail was closed due to Rhododendron clearing after an outbreak of Sudden Oak Death.
The entrance track to Blackwater Arboretum .
 You can see all the lovely orange fencing marking the out of bounds areas. 
The three people in the distance beyond Bun are also birders, of which there were surprisingly few on site. Seven I think including us. There were scores of non-birding visitors though it's an extremely popular spot.

Typical views of the the birds in the top of a Douglas Fir.
(actual views were clearer than these naff photos would suggest, but you get the idea)
Coast Redwood
Apparently this tree is over 80ft tall! 
Just a tiddler then, because that makes it around 300ft shorter than the tallest Coast Redwood in California!

Here's the rest of it along with a taller specimen alongside.
This appeared to be one of the Hawfinches' favourite trees, with seven in it at one stage. There are two in it in this photo I've over-sharpened them so that they stand out if you view the full size photo. 
Closer view of the bottom bird. This was digiscoped from the same vantage point. Amazing reach! 

Because I didn't get the photos I'd have liked it gives me the perfect excuse to give another airing to the one I took in Norfolk  almost two years ago. I can still vividly remember the excitement and sheer joy of seeing my first Hawfinch especially so when looking at this photo.

Another remarkably uneventful dog-walk today, few birds seen and nothing of particular note. This afternoon I also popped 'next door' to have a look around the harbour. Just the one Common Sandpiper on show here catching and eating Ragworms although they seemed to be attempting to fight back!

This Ragworm kept wrapping itself around the birds bill, but it was eventually swallowed. I couldn't get an un-blurred shot as my camera simply isn't fast enough to cope with movement in the poor light we had this afternoon. Fortunately though after swallowing this tricky customer the bird had a bit of a rest....I grabbed my chance.

Saturday 20 November 2010

Ulterior Motive

I've been laid up with a cold all week and just haven't had the motivation to get anything on here. Not that there's much of anything to get on here apart from last weekends twitching activity. Yes, I've been twitching and am now writing about it later! ;-) I wasn't really in any way shape or form tempted to drive up to Manchester to see the Pied-billed Grebe BUT  when I heard that Nick Page was going to drive up from Bristol I jumped at the chance to go. I drove up to Nick's with Bun and Joe ( everything's s**t) Ray and by around 11 o'clock we were at Hollingworth Lake.We saw the Pied-billed Grebe easily, plenty of room for everyone for a change and it was showing exceptionally well, catching and consuming perch of such a size you'd have thought it wouldn't ever be able to swallow them. I still don't know how it did! I'm pleased I went to see it now as it looked very different to a Little Grebe, nowhere near as similar as I'd imagined. I was surprised that Nick was so keen to see it having lived in the USA for many years, where he's seen 'thousands' of them, one on just about every pond apparently! He was also telling us how common American Robins were and gripped us off with his tales of a Varied Thrush on his back yard!! Joe was only there (I suspect) for the tick value alone, as he bemoaned the fact that it was the worst rarity he'd ever seen. He really moans a lot ! And with me being the mother of a 17 and an 18 year old  that says something! He called his camera ( a superb set up  that I'd give my high teeth to own) a piece of s**t and at the visitor centre the tea and bacon sandwiches got the same verdict.

I went on this twitch not primarily to see the Pied-billed Grebe, I had an ulterior motive....

Pied-billed Grebe
Founding member of The Pied-billed Grebe Appreciation Society.

What was my ulterior motive? I don't hear you cry. Well, 'going for' the Pied-billed Grebe obviously meant going up t'north and that's where these are...
We saw these on a scenic industrial estate in Leek, Staffordshire. There were twenty-four of them, moving between the top of an Ash tree on one side of the road and some small Rowan trees on the other. These berry laden trees were just a few feet away from us and we got superb views. The birds were too near and hyperactive to be able to digiscope them, which was a shame. I had to make do with more distant shots of them in the Ash tree. Still, just seeing them was the main thing. I suspect that Joe actually really liked these and he even got some nice shots of them with his 'piece of sh*t'. They were only my third ever Waxwings, I want to see more! I'm sure I'll never get tired of seeing (or hearing) them. There's a slim chance some will make it down to Devon later in the winter but if not I'm going to Staffordshire again soon to see the folks, so there may be some near Burton by then. Here's hoping!

I'm sorry to say I haven't been out on patch much at all apart from a few very uneventful dog walks. Last Saturday I was trying out my super-zoom camera on some waterfowl on the estuary I quite liked this snap of a trio of Wigeon, I reckon the female nearest the camera is having a real 'bad hair day'.

And finally, out of the archives a couple more photos of the lovely American Robin who it appears has now left us. I'm only putting them on to make myself 'look good' of course! ;-)

Thursday 11 November 2010

Gee Whiz!!

I thought a nice American euphemism would be an appropriate title for a post about the stomkingly gorgeous vision of loveliness that is the American Robin. It has been showing well on and off all morning near The Turf Hotel on the river Exe. I was very fortunate to arrive just as the bird was showing very well indeed just a few yards away in a hawthorn bush  and was thus able to get a few nice digiscoped shots. As usual I took a bit of video footage too but the bird flew after only a few seconds, so it's a real 'blink and you'll miss it' type one. Superb twitch with showy bird and only a small crowd. I could easily have watched it all day. It was so good the excitement of it all has brought on a migraine, I'm hoping to sleep it off before work now!
Star of the Show

Supporting Cast
(mostly Devon birders)

Don't ask what that guy in the centre-left is doing coz I don't know!

Wednesday 10 November 2010

Long-billed Dowitcher Photos

Went back to see the Long-billed Dowitcher early this morning and as I'd  hoped the light was very good for photos and the total lack of wind made for some nice reflection shots. Shame about the distance though.

Tuesday 9 November 2010

Long-billed Dowitcher

Long-billed Dowitcher has been a bit of a bogey bird for me, I've dipped three (one individual twice) and a long staying individual on the Scillies last year p***d off the day before Bun and I arrived there. It was well and truly in pole position on my list of enemies and deservedly so. I was all set to toddle off to Radipole Lake in Dorset today to have yet another attempt at seeing one but the news early on  was that yesterday's bird had gone. I guessed there was a slight chance that it could possibly turn up on our patch next. That would be nice! I figured that if it did pass through here there'd be no way it would get past Steve, no way at all! It didn't. I got a call from him at just after 3 o'clock this afternoon and was soon looking at my first ever Long-billed Dowitcher. At last! A first for the patch too possibly? A much smaller bird than I'd imagined it to be and very entertaining to watch. When all the birds were spooked by a passing Peregrine we got superb flight views as it circled around the field with a flock of Dunlin. It was much too gloomy to get any decent photos of the bird, hopefully it will stay  until tomorrow when the weather promises to be a lot better. I tried to get a video too but the passing traffic and keen wind made this even worse than the photos I got. If you can imagine such a thing!
Surprisingly not that much bigger than a Starling.

Well you can see what it is, can't you?

Sunday 7 November 2010

A Sure Sign It's Nearly Winter

I'm suffering with a 'flare up' of my arthritis at the moment, it's in my neck and I obviously aggravated it on Wednesday in the American Bittern scrum. A twitching induced injury - serves me right! I haven't been able to get out and about much but today I popped down to Colyford Common (twice) hoping to see my first Water Pipits of the season Ian M having seen a couple here earlier in the week. This morning it was cool and cloudy and the Pipit flocks were very restless. Hoping for a photo opportunity I returned at around midday and was rewarded with great views of one feeding just in front of the platform. We always have at least one Water Pipit overwintering here, sometimes many more. We tend to take them a bit for granted I suppose, well I know I do sometimes. Same with Black Redstarts, I had one in my garden last Sunday, one of two which were in Trevelyan Road that day. They both appear to have moved on now but I'm sure there'll be more. There's usually at least one on Trevelyan Road for the whole winter. I'd swap 'em both for some Waxwings though!! Hope some make it to Staffordshire to coincide with my Christmas visits to relatives. Talking of Christmas, I couldn't believe my eyes when I went into a leading supermarket today and they'd got their tree up already! How repellent! I wonder why when it finally gets here I'm sick to death of the whole thing?

Here's some Water Pipits, never too early for these.

Thursday 4 November 2010

Sardines Anyone?

I haven't had anything to blog about for quite a while, in fact I don't think I've been out birding more than once since I last wrote on here. I've been doing a spot of reading having recently bought five new books, I'm halfway through the third already ( history in case your wondering, I love it! It's so much better than anything the soap operas have to offer and it's true! Well, mostly because one should never forget that history is always written by the winners). I've been looking in on the old interweb though, and reading about the 'scandalous goings on' at the American Bittern on Trewey Common near Zennor, which makes me think that unlike history, posts on Birdforum threads aren't written by the winners (those who've seen the bird) nor the losers ( those who've dipped) but mainly by those who weren't even there! I wasn't there. So I wont comment except for to say that it didn't appeal to me in the slightest. When the bird relocated to Walmsley Sancuary near Wadebridge and was showing on the ground I became more inclined to want to go and see it. I went for it yesterday, along with Bun (who'd already seen the bird  in flight at Trewey, being the filthy twitcher he is) and one of Weymouth's finest, Brett Spencer. Bun and I hadn't met Brett before but Steve arranged for him to give us a lift there. After leaving Seaton at five-ish we arrived on site nice and early, not nearly early enough though as the hide was already full. We heard that FIFTY(!!) birders were in the hide; I doubt that it can actually hold that many though. We spent a fair while in the smaller 'public' hide, which before we got there contained a grand total of one! We didn't see much from here but the boredom was staved off a bit by a Whooper Swan and a nice overhead movement of Fieldfare. We eventually learned that the Bittern was being seen periodically from the tower hide, so we went over there to wait our turn. When we got there people were still waiting to get in because even though those inside (and at the front) were getting intermittent views of the bird it didn't look like any one of them was going to be leaving the hide any time soon!! Patience was going to be needed and in spadefuls! I did become a little worried because we didn't have the luxury of time at our disposal with me having to be back for work. This also makes me feel guilty about those travelling with me missing out, thus adding to my anxiety.

Walmsley Sanctuary. There's an American Bittern out there somewhere. 
Somewhere near that brown stuff in-between that green stuff.

A small crowd began to gather below the hide too, where there was screening which we could look through  A few people were talking and a guy turned up who had an unusually loud voice. This eventually caused someone ( I believe it was Josh Jones)  to shout down from a window of the hide "Can you keep the noise down down there." Not an unreasonable request in itself but delivered in a voice which would have put Brian Blessed to shame, and could probably have been heard as far away as Wadebridge, the irony was not lost on me, I thought it was hilarious. Of course no one was likely to volunteer to actually leave the hide and quietly ask for quiet, now were they?

An opportunity eventually ensued when a mega, an American Kestrel came through on the pager and a small band a slavering desperadoes burst forth from the hide and rushed back to their cars. At last we'd be able to get inside to see this!
Crippling view.
This is with the camera up held over my head. This wasn't going to be easy.

It was most frustrating listening to people describing where the bird was and not knowing where to look. It's by the Juncus was the most popular direction, there were acres of of the bloomin' stuff out there! Mind you, even getting a clear view of a window wasn't easy! One guy decided to leave and Brett kindly pointed out the soon to be vacant seat to me, I was poised to get into it when a guy sitting alongside the guy who was leaving just moved along and spread out, which was nice of him! Another thoughtful gentleman was giving a running commentary of what the bird was doing as he was watching it through is scope and when someone desperately asked if they could just have a really quick look at it down is scope he said " No, I don't think so" What!? He did the same thing on at least two occasions, I didn't think I was naive but I was shocked at how rude and selfish some people can be ( the main offenders were some of the older contingent, old enough to know better I'd have hoped. ) That's definitley only some people though because after I packed up my scope and was walking out of the hide resigned to having to give up, a guy who was also leaving obviously noticed my pitiful countenance and asked if I'd seen it. When I replied in the negative straining to hold back the tears, he set his scope back up and because he knew where the bird was, got back onto it straight away and from right at the back of the hide near the door. I was impressed. " There you go" he said " Take as long as you want" The bird was right there in the middle of the scope right out in the open. I was very relieved and thanked him, again almost tearfully, but I managed to hold 'em back. It wasn't so much seeing the bird as his kindness which was in such contrast to the majority there. What a nice guy, for a few seconds I was utterly in love with him! Thanks again whoever you are! ( Not that I throw myself at just anyone who lets me look down their scope I hasten to add! ;-)) I only watched the bird for about 20-30 seconds though because I could sense someone standing next to me who was equally desperate and I relinquished the scope to him.

Once outside I met Roger Treeby a fellow Devon Birder (in fact the 'Devon Birder') and pointed him in the direction of my hero and he too got to see the bird. As it happened the bird remained visible for the next half hour or so and we were able to get several more scope views firstly through the screening below the hide and later when Brett managed to find a space to set his scope up in the hide.  I tried to digiscope a couple of souvenir photo's ( it's never easy with a different scope than the one your used to) and a very short video clip too. 
The Tower Hide, featuring Bun, Roger and Brett (on stairs). Notice the guy on the left admiring his distant brown blob photos, well if they were anything like mine that is :-)
Getting some real good views. 
Seriously though, it was surprisingly easy to see through the small gaps using your scope.
The bird was almost impossible to spot with just bins, here's a typical scope view.
 It's there look, by that Juncus
The view in the end was much better than my lame photos would have you believe.

And the video, it does move a teeny bit at the end.

The bird was well worth the stress (would have been so much less stressful without the time constraint) The company was also great, I'm not usually so neurotic Brett, honest! All in all a very enjoyable morning if you like playing sardines! Glad you had to go to the dentist now Gav, I bet!? :-)