Monday 31 January 2011

Americans in Cornwall and The Earth's Shadow

Yesterday, after having taken note of the favourable weather forecast we ( Bun and me) had planned to go down to Cornwall to see a few nice birds from 'across the pond'. Good cloud cover and little to no wind were going to be ideal conditions to see the Pacific Diver out in Mount's Bay off Marazion. However, on venturing forth at first light I was a bit disappointed to see a cloudless sky. "Never mind though" thought I, "It may well be cloudier in Cornwall".  (A tip for the government: Don't bother selling/leasing all  of our state owned forests and woodland just get rid of the Met Office, it would save a fortune and we could just rely on our own 'best guess'. Or as Bun suggests, just pay an old bloke with a piece of seaweed to do it!) First stop was on Bodmin Moor to look for the drake Lesser Scaup on Dozmary Pool. We'd both seen this duck last year but it was very distant on Colliford Lake so we were hoping to get better views this time because Dozmary pool is relatively small and easy to view. When we arrived it was absolutely freezing ( yes, no sign of the forecast cloud cover here either) and we were greeted by this..
Bird-less and frozen solid! 
Better chance of seeing Torvill and Dean here than Lesser Scaup!

We had a quick look over the road at the distant Colliford Lake but this was almost entirely frozen too.  We decided  there was nothing to loose by having a look on the way home and so we returned at about 3pm to find the pool still solid, with nowt but a few gulls roosting on it. A quick look over the road revealed a small group of ducks, on a small patch of unfrozen water, on the Loveney nature reserve area of Colliford Lake. One of these was the Lesser Scaup and so we enjoyed views every bit as crippling as last years! 
There's Colliford Lake about a kilometre away!!
... and there's a Lesser Scaup! Don't just take my word for it though, it's clearly visible following  along behind the equally clearly visible Tufted Duck....Okay, take my word for it then!!

At Marazion conditions were NOT the flat calm sea and cloud I'd been hoping for but glaring winter sun and a very cold stiff northerly breeze making the sea pretty choppy as well as hard on the eyes. Bun spotted the Pacfic Diver though when it gave it's location away by having a bit of a flap about, and then stayed in view for a good ten minutes or so preening as it slowly drifted into the shimmering glare to be lost forever! (Well it's not there today apparently (Update: Oh yes it is!!!)). Not the most exciting lifer I've seen. There wasn't much else in the bay, except for a nice Long-tailed Duck which I saw briefly before that disappeared forever too. It would have been rude to have visited Marazion and not at the very least have cast one's bins over the marsh. So with this in mind we crossed the road and had a quick look over the reedbeds. We had timed this to perfection and were just in time to see a Bittern walk out of one reedbed saunter casually across a cut ride, pose for a few seconds( not long enough for me to get my camera though) before disappearing into the reeds on the other side. Brilliant! Only my second ever views of Bittern on the ground that!

Next port of call was St.Gothian Sands NR near Gwithian to look for the third American visitor, a Ring-necked Duck, a smart drake too. We were very impressed with this reserve where there were lots of ducks on a nice small easily viewable pool, nine species in total. The Ring-necked Duck was showing really well and it wasn't asleep! It was continually diving making getting a photo via digiscoping a bit of a challenge. I managed it though.
The main pool, St Gothian Sands NR.
It would be nice to have some good diving duck habitat like this on patch, then I wouldn't get so excited about seeing the likes of these....
and ...
... these. 
I really like a nice drake Pochard even though they're common 'dross'.
Most of my photos of the Ring-necked Duck looked like this. 
I managed to get him a few times though.
On the last two shots you can see why it's called a Ring-necked Duck.
This purple ring isn't always easy to see.
With a Tuftie drake for comparison.

So, all in all a good day's birding. It's not often you get to see three American birds in a day (unless you live in America obviously) Just a shame views of two of them were poor. Hopefully there's still plenty of time to give them another go if the mood so takes me.
On arriving back in Seaton I noticed that there was a beautiful sunset over Beer Head and stopped the car to take a photo thus..
Beautiful and attention grabbing...but have you ever looked at the opposing horizon during a glorious sunset? If you have you'd have seen this...
This is the phenomenon of the Earth's shadow and the anti-twilight arch
( or 'Belt of Venus') The shadow is still very slight in this photo as I was at sea level, it is best viewed from some height. The Earth's shadow is the dark blue band and the pink layer above it is the anti-twilight arch.
The dark band gradually rises from the horizon as twilight deepens. 
It is the Earth's shadow cast upon the atmosphere.

Finally. This morning there was another hard frost and Martha called me from the kitchen, where she could see lots of House Sparrows on next doors' garage roof. "What are they doing?" she asked. I didn't know until I watched them for a moment, there were about twenty of them all lined up along the plastic fascia. They were scraping the frost off the plastic with the sides of their bills and eating it. I've seen birds eating snow before but not scraping a surface like this. It's little wonder they're really thirsty the amount of seed they're getting through!!
Scraping technique in action! 
Shame the photos are a bit naff ( super-zoom through window... yes, a dirty one too I'm afraid)

Monday 24 January 2011

Shovelers and Great White Egrets Galore!

It's been quite an eventful weekend, with cannon netting at Seaton Marshes on Saturday and a trip to the Somerset Levels on Sunday. The cannon netting was especially exiting as we caught no less than EIGHT Shovelers! That's more than half of the birds present on the estuary at the moment. Iv'e never seen Shoveler in the hand before having missed the session when the group's first two were caught. There were too many ringers and trainees present for me to have been able to ring one of these eight though :-(  I did ring a lovely female Teal and a couple of Shelduck though.
This is the female Teal. Take a close up look at her bill...
... what a beautiful marbled effect. I hadn't noticed this before.
 Enough Shovelers for everyone? Not quite.

Stunning iridescent blue and green on the wings.
 the shovel ...
... with built in sieve. 
 Here the team are ringing Shelduck. This year we're fitting them with Darvic rings... so. 
Hopefully some will be noted as breeding birds in the valley this summer. Or perhaps our breeding population winter elsewhere? We'll soon find out.

Steve breaking the ice in the lagoon. Purely the ducks' benefit, obviously!!
Why else!! ;-)
The large and happy team pose for maximum comedy effect (well I did!).
The AERG are always joined by many visiting ringers when cannon netting.

So to Sunday. Bun and my good self drove up to the Somerset Levels to see the six, yes SIX Great White Egrets, which have been seen there this week. We looked on the Ham Wall side first where there were an impressive five birds. We then saw the sixth bird on the Shapwick Heath side. What an incredible gathering. I wonder if any more will find their way to this great reserve during the remainder of the winter. Surely some will breed in Britain somewhere this spring/summer. In just one day I tripled my Great White Egret total from just three to NINE! Unfortunately there wasn't an opportunity to get a photo of a  large group as four of them remained in amongst the reeds. I took a couple of shots of the one out in the open on the lagoon though. We both had a few more nice year-ticks here too. Mine being Marsh Harrier, Siskin, Gadwall and Pochard (yes really) Missed out on Lesser Redpoll, Bittern ( usually a dead cert here), Whooper Swan and most frustratingly Great Grey Shrike, which  didn't put in an appearance until the afternoon ... After we'd left! Grrr... Dipped the Alyesbeare one about three times this month too!

Two year-ticks in this photo: Great White Egret and Gadwall!

To finish, here's my attempt at photographing a nice Lunar Corona I saw a few nights ago.
Must try harder... You get the idea though.

Thursday 13 January 2011

Black Redstart at Seaton Hole

I popped over to Seaton Hole today to see if the male Black Redstart which Bun found there on Tuesday was still around. He was. What a stunning little chap he is too.

Wednesday 12 January 2011

More of the Same.....But Getting Closer

Nine Waxwings in Axminster this morning, which is only a couple of kilometres off 'the greater patch'! In all probability the same nine which were seen all too briefly in Seaton, (though not by me unfortunately) on January 1st. Steve and I went over to see them and they were showing superbly just a shame about the gloomy weather, again!! They were feeding on rose hips occasionally but were mostly fly-catching, something I haven't seen them do before. They're amazingly agile for their size.
 A 'big twitch' for Axminster.
Typically scenic Waxwing territory..
They were eating these wild rose hips, which are really quite huge.
It was almost making me gag every time I saw one swallowed!
Adult female.
Bad 'Hair' Day
 Shame about the bad light today, although the sun broke through and hazily shone for about 20 seconds or so allowing for a couple of ( slightly) more colourful results. Sorry for yet more Waxwings but they are a real novelty down 'this neck of the woods'. We can't get enough of 'em. Well I can't anyway :-)

Wednesday 5 January 2011

Chattering Silktails

Firstly I'd like to belatedly wish all my readers, followers and groupies "A Very Happy New Year"  I just haven''t been able to find the time to blog lately. I was going to put on a long rambling review of the past year but I've sort of left it too long now really. Also to be honest I'd find it quite difficult to pick out the highlights because I had a fantastic year, seeing forty-three new bird species, four new butterflies and several new plants too. I thoroughly enjoyed every minute of it ( well, I suppose with the exception of the 'American Bittern Experience') If 2011 is even half as good I'll be happy, very happy! I can pick out one bird though as overall 'Bird of the Year' and it's not even one of the 'lifers' .... it is for the second year in a row!!..'The Whistler of the North'

White-throated Sparrow...What a bird! What a song! What a winner!

Martha had asked me to pick her up from college in Exeter today, which was good because it gave me the perfect excuse to pop over to the Marsh Barton Trading Estate and see the flock of 29 Waxwings which are feeding on some ornamental rowan trees outside a couple of massive car dealerships. A horrible place brightened up beautifully by these gorgeous chunks of loveliness. I watched them for 85 minutes before leaving to pick up Martha, during this time they flew to the berry trees  just seven times (so once every 12 minutes) and were only feeding for a maximum of fifteen seconds each time before returning to a small ash tree in the adjacent road. So in almost an hour and a half they were only actually feeding for less than two minutes! Whilst sitting in the ash tree waiting for an opportunity for their next 'sortie' they gave superb views and their constant trilling was just delightful. It's very easy to see how they got their scientific name Bombycilla garralus (Chattering Silktail) It was raining all the time I was there and the skies were leaden but it didn't dampen my spirits and I had a stab at digiscoping them all the same. It would have been rude not to! It's always worth a try - never say die. Turned out quite well in the end. I'm back at Marsh Barton tomorrow getting the car serviced so I might see some more.
The tree in the foreground is the rowan that the birds were feeding in. 
Notice how the ornamental white rowan was obviously grafted onto a wild rowan rootstock which is growing in the natural state with red berries from ground level. The Waxwings prefer the little white berries though. Some of the birds are visible in the ash tree behind the leftmost yellow flaag.

Soggy Waxwings
Actually they are exceptionally water repellent you can see the tiny water droplets on them in these photos if you look closely)