Monday, 23 November 2015

Smew, Corsham Lake. Lifer in Wiltshire! 22/11/2015

Hi, after checking the local bird reports I noticed that the Smew that wintered last year on Corsham Lake had returned. These (inevitably) are a rare bird for an inland site, let alone Wiltshire. It was a female with a stunning coppery red head: pristine winter plumage.

Just before my footie match yesterday - Sunday - I informed my Dad of this treat ten minutes away, he was very obliging. Off we went 2 hours before kick off to enjoy the splendour of this diving duck.

As soon as we arrived I noticed it; the beautifully delicate build coupled with the incessant diving gave the bird a unique jizz. Surprisingly tame the bird drifted to within 4-5 metres of me which I'm sure is a very unique experience. Passers by were oblivious to its presence only interested in feeding the hybrid Call Ducks further down... This has spurred me on to visit this site more often as it's so close, previous records include all the Grebes apart from Slavonian which could set my target of finding the missing link although highly unlikely! However, it is a very public area therefore disturbance is a nuisance, but could work in my favour as birds could become (as the Smew has) very accustomed to our presence, allowing fantastic photographic opportunities!

Before you're displeased with my pixelated shots, take my word for it, I'll be back for more. Hopefully an hour session to get one magical capture.

Enough of this jibber-jabber let's see the star of the show, I present the Smew:

Comparison between a Great-Crested Grebe.

Great-Crested Grebe. Juvenile, or should I say 1st winter?

Tuesday, 6 October 2015

Caithness, a new adventure 6th-10th August 2015

I've had a fantastic time since I haven't been blogging and thought I'd catch up on a few things, this along with my well travelled, fellow naturalist Granny AKA "Mama"...

On the way up we enjoyed views of some great Scottish birds. Near Loch of the Lowes we received great views of an Osprey crossing the road, my best view ever, Red Grouse, Siskin and Yellowhammer followed. Later on we chanced across a flock of Lapwing, exactly 100 in total! It's a shame however this being classed as a highlight... We should have seen these post-breeding flocks regularly throughout the journey, but only one.

Once we got to the area of Caithness we entered the famous Forsinard Flows, which holds may of the special breeding wader records. Temminck's Stint, Wood Sandpiper, Whimbrel and Pectoral Sandpiper possibly! With the more common yet still scarce waders such as Dunlin breeding in incredible densities. We went round the perimeter but were able to see the incredibly flat, pristine blanket bog for miles. We decided to have a break at a small loch and encountered two lovely birds.
Distant, but a Red-Throated Diver stretching its wings.

A wet yet beautiful male Reed Bunting withstanding 'typical' Scottish Weather, bad stereotype.
In the evening at Scrabster, a pair of Peregrines strutted their stuff above our heads, sadly silhouetted...

The following morning I woke up early in the morning (in excitement) to be presented by a wonderful sunrise...
Just to the left of this shot I carried down along the path, only to have two diminutive Waders sway their way towards the rocks. I was expecting them to be some Turnstones, however had a nice surprise! Bobbing, brown, blobs (great alliteration)! 2 Common Sandpipers, a juvenile aged by scaling on its back and an adult. 

It was clear that they were migrants, very shifty, only allowing distant photos like these ones. But to eliminate the possibility of Spotted Sandpiper I managed shots of their wing patterns.
Unfortuantely still distant. Spotted Sandpiper (their North American species pair) would have had a less distinct wingbar, not joining with the tail feathers. Redshank and Dunlin, however, were far more co-operative.

Later on we visited Dunnet Bay, sheltered by the most northerly point of mainland Britain, Dunnet Head. 7 Great Northern Divers were using this bay, some in stonking summer plumage.
On the outskirts of the bay were loads of tiny Calidrid type Waders. Distressingly disturbed rather frequently by dog walkers/tourists. Totally oblivious to birds that may have travelled thousands of miles just beforehand. This was certainly the case for a flock of Sanderling, interestingly not whizzing along the surf but roosting on some rocks, possibly trying to escape the constant disturbance. These birds had either come from Greenland or any other high arctic staging ground.
The next day we went the full distance by visiting Dunnet Head. The most interesting bird or should I say birds. Was one fluffball and a pair of Red-Throated Divers. That fluffball was inevitably the chick, thick with down feathers to prevent the cool loch from getting to it.
This is my first ever sighting of a chick. So as one would expect, I was rather excited! We then drove back (south)! To Dunnet Bay and were glad to see our third species of Tern residing with some Black-Headed Gulls on the surf. A Sandwich Tern, adding to the previous Arctic and Common Tern sightings. My pictures I am very pleased with, as you'll hopefully agree with...

Back at Thurso I sifted through a flock of Gulls, with my patience prevailing after picking out an Argentatus Herring Gull or Scandinavian Herring Gull. Named after its more northerly distribution. The darker mantle is of note and helps to distinguish it from our bog standard Argenteus type.
Right hand bird with Argenteus to the left for comparison. Just look at the mantle (back) shade, colder.
We went to St. John's loch the next day after picking up the shockwaves produced by the groundbreaking sightings produced at St. John's pool, coincidentally a Sandwich tern colony. The surrounding area was well searched by us. Whimbrel and Ruff was found! The Ruff was the first of (too) many, well you can't get enough of Ruff's can you!?
Whimbrel, note smaller size compared to Curlew, crown and for me darker wings with a sheen.

Ruff poking its head out of the tufts of grass! Male.
When leaving for our next adventure we encountered two Knot's. Supposedly just having come from the Orkney's fiddling around in the rocks.
Here you can see a summer plumaged individual
I have far better photos of Ruff and Knot to come, watch this space!

Tuesday, 4 August 2015

Rodborough Common, Gloucestershire 1st August 2015

Hi, 2 days ago I went to the National Trust site, Rodborough Common, which turns out to be famous for its Butterflies. The day started off slowly with us being sitauated along side at least 100 other people. Not giving a damn on what they might be disturbing!

Six-Spotted Burnet and Marbled White were the first few interesting species of the day, with the Six-Spots almost flying constantly in search of a mate. Roesel's Bush Cricket quickly followed with one nestled in between thousands of other Meadow Grasshoppers. While looking at thistles a moth popped up and after other people finding them and posting them on the internet I instantly knew it was, a Dusky Sallow, a first for me! One surprising find was a female Emperor quartering the grassland just in front of us, a bit lost I expect!

After having lunch we decided to walk it off by trekking round the less disturbed hill sides. This was when the first few Essex Skippers started to appear and a distant Blue started to take shape fleeting round at a pace.We carried onto the spot we took sight of it then suddenly loads started to come round. At first I believed it to be the generic Common Blue. However it came clear to me, we're on a hillside and it's made of chalk, chalk + hill + blue butterfly = Chalk Hill Blue! Finally one of my most wanted finds had arrived in force...

It has to be the most characteristic species of chalk hill landscapes... Out of the hundereds of Males we only saw 1 female sitting quietly by the side of the path, suggesting the other Females were hiding deep in the herbage surrounding us. I only had one thing I couldn't identify, this Beetle... Any help would be greatly appreciated!

One thing that brought a smile to my face was the lack of other paths spilling out from either side of the main one. Obviously people knew not to disturb the pristine habitat that was situated beside them.  Next year I have to come here earlier on in the hope of finding the Duke of Burgundy Fritillary, what a sensation that would be!

Pleasant walk and well chuffed to have seen the Chalk Hill Blue!

Sunday, 2 August 2015

1st August 2015 Ringing Swindon STW déjà vu!

unfortunately and rather frustratingly I have lost all photos from the second half of the week on Coll! Thankfully most of the action came from the first but still many memories lost :(

So after my posting being so abysmal recently, I have decided to start from a fresh and keep it up from now on.

Yesterday saw Matt, Anna, Noah (and his Mum), Simon (and his mate) take to the sewerage works for a CES session. This was to be my first of the year even though this is the ninth to take place. It is all down to me being available for Sundays and them being the day for Tree Sparrow nest boxes, which is by no means a bad thing! Today (for me) one bird stole the show and brought back déjà vu from when I was that age! That being a year ago, so not too unbelievable...

But this was where Matt had managed to catch one of the most trickiest birds in the book. The Green Sandpiper, but all of us round the ringing table had ringed it apart from the newcomer, and friend Noah! He started near enough the same time as I did, only a year later, and at this point as with me was when I first laid eyes (and hands) on a Green Sandpiper! Freaky but just shows you how affective Matt has become with catching these freshwater Waders.

Going back to previous events we also caught a Kingfisher which happened to fly into our nets yesterday as well, although two yesterday, highly peculiar! 
Matt educating Noah as well as me with his recently ringed beauty.

Trying to make the Green Sand look good without putting it in an uncomfortable position is a struggle!

One pose many Wader ringers utilise.

Kingfisher from this year, shame it was out of focus, all pics from phone.

My Kingfisher not best pleased with Paul!

Overall the day was great with some major catches of recently fledged juveniles. 2 Lesser Whitethroats was another highlight! 

Monday, 20 July 2015

Cuckoo Coll land, the isle of Coll 23-30 May 2015 part 2/3

Carrying on from the last post I had just seen a wonderful solitary Whimbrel fly by. What followed was a fantastic display by the local Wader population and migrants... Snipe, Redshank, Lapwing & Oystercatcher all put on a fantastic song and dance for Dad and I to enjoy with all calling and displaying at different points. After a display of a lifetime that I dearly miss we had to march through with the raucous calls of an unhappy Redshank!

But that for me wasn't the highlight with the true natural spectacle hiding just around the meadows in some sand dunes... And this was it!

100s upon 100s of Waders that were feeding on short (sheep assisted) turf. It was surreal seeing so many on such a unique habitat called machair, there must have been at least 100 of each Ringed Plover and Dunlin with a light sprinkling of 15 or so Turnstone! It was simply incredible and of the experiences of my life! I did however, notice some very unusual behaviour... Some (likely) migrant Swallows were actually behaving as if they were waders by landing in the flock and walking... Sadly I was unable to get of them doing this, but the argument of them doing it for mud is floored as there was no mud around, just some extremely odd behaviour.

Only 3 minutes or so before we reached the magical Calgary Point. Terns surrounded us, from their breeding grounds on Gunna. However a few of their Coll counterparts may have joined in the feeding frenzy. While sifting through the large flock of Arctics, Littles and a few possible Common... I came across a large diving bird in pristine black plumage. The camera provided views as if from a scope to prove it's identity, I present you the Great Northern Diver (or Loon)...
We spnet 10 minutes or so enjoying the incredible views that are found all too often in Scotland!!! We later passed a few more beaches which included some wonderful Turnstones, Ringed Plovers and Dunlin.

4 Oystercatchers enjoyed their time on top of the rocks, while being beadily eyed by the young Ravens in the area...

Just past them, nearing the Crossapol sand dunes we encountered 4 Whimbrel feeding on the rich earth to the north of the isle.
My final favourite moment of the walk was enjoying the view of Feall bay, my favourite beach on Coll.
Just before arriving back at our accommodation we found some of the smaller less intrusive species of the isle...
Female Reed Bunting (presumably) escorting us away from her nest

Male Linnet calling for its partner

Male Sedge Warbler (told from it singing) patrolling a tiny patch of scrub e.g. 4x4 metres

Female Wheatear taking cover from strong wind and overcast conditions along with the Sedge Warbler

That's it, I'll thoroughly complete it tomorrow!

Saturday, 4 July 2015

Cuckoo Coll land, the isle of Coll 23-30 May 2015 part 1/3

I should be doing a blog on Cornwall that is from over a month ago, that's a first and a real shame, however, I have just finished mocks and an exam so have no excuses to stop posting!

Like the Derbyshire post I'll pick out the key species and experiences of the holiday. So to kick off, the journey... all 9 hours of it up to Oban, from 6 in the evening till 3 in the morning, it was nothing short of epic. The trouble was that I had to stay awake through the whole journey in case Dad had fallen asleep, not the most pleasing moments. After having realised that I had to be awake by 6 the following morning, I was shattered!

Anyway, the ferry as usual was fantastic way to begin the holiday of dreams. The view just from Oban was something to behold.
Here are the highlights from the boat trip...

one of 7 Black Guillemots AKA "Tysties" that were frequenting Oban harbour

Just a few of the bountiful amounts of Arctic Terns

One of a pair of Great Northern Divers that were calling on their way up to their breeding grounds 
In the same minute of seeing the Divers, this quartet of Whimbrel escorted us up the sound of Mull.

A rather late quintet(!) of Common Scoters in open ocean with 3 Females and 2 Males. Males being the darker ones at the front and back of the group.

Another GN Diver trying to fit in with bus loads of Guillemots. Surprisingly in winter plumage, non-breeder perhaps (1st summer?)

We  arrrived at the ferry terminal happy as can be awaiting an even more satisfying stay. On the car journey to our accommodation near Totronald (the RSPB reserve) we found our first special bird of the holiday, the Cuckoo.
Both genders got harrased beyong belief understandably by the Meadow Pipits 

I nearly caught this photo brilliantly, however, due to the shear speed of this action moment was too much for me to cope with!

As soon as we arrived I was off! Hugging the northern coastline towards Feall Bay. while studyng the ever characterful Ringed Plover I noticed a darker individual shadowing it on the rocks behind, so I decided to take a photo comparing the two subtly different subspecies. Them being the nominate and lighter form Hiaticula and the Northern form Tundrae...
The key differns from the Hiaticula race (front) and Tundrae (back) that I found was the bimoetrics, with the Tundrae being slimmer and seemingly weaker. Next was the shade on the mantle, clearly illustrated here with the Tundrae race being far darker. Finally, I noticed the face pattern wasn't as sharp as the Hiaticula and was rather diffused, however this identification maybe quite tenuous.

The following beach was the home of the Sanderling. Although there were two of them, I suspect they're not a pair but just two associating with ecah other as they're very sociable creatures. All the Sanderlings we encountered will be late migrants that are either non-breeders taking it slow, or a different group of Sanderling that have a different migration pattern, That rather than taking steady and stopping frequently on their way up north, may just do one big push towards their breeding grounds in the High Arctic. Little instances like this shows us the many different dimensions that make birding such an interesting hobby.

Here's one of the two in winter plumgae moulting into summer plumage. Surprisingly a few Sanderling we saw were in full winter plumage, non-breeders perhaps?

Later on I walked round the beautiful headland of Ben Feall which layed home to the first Orchid of the trip, but please don't ask me the name of it!
Early Marsh being a complete guess (don't take my word for it!) Below the cliffs edge Shags surrounded me along with the tubular-nosed Fulmars. As soon as I arrived onto the beach ((Feall bay which is one of the best in the world in my opinion, can anyone disagree?)
I found jackpot, but a seemingly poorly one, with a suspected broken leg which may have hindered its migration... May I present the White Wagtail, Motacilla Alba Alba...
I labeled it as a Female (only to make it more confusing) due to the diffused transition between the pale grey and black behind the head. But firstly what makes it a White compared to our Pied? Well Male Pieds are completely out of the equation as it's mantle colour (back colour) is far too dark, almost pitch black. However, the trouble begins when you have a female Pied Wagtail, however, again the mantle decides whether it's the real deal or not. If it was a female Pied Wagtail the mantle would be dark grey and rather blotchy with a few darker patches intermixed. While a White Wagtial would be clearly paler and have no blotches coupled with the diagnostic plain grey pattern. Although you should take precaution when labeling it as you should only decide so if experienced with the other. In other words learn common, then pick out the rarities, as the rarities normally get down to the nitty-gritty!

To a similar rairty degree as the White Wagtail and to a similar migration pattern (with most seen in spring when migrating north.) I found one male Greenland Wheatear that was very shifty and therefore I left with no photograph :(.

 I circled back round towards our place by walking across Crossapol Bay.

Yet more Sanderlings were picking up scraps from the dead seaweed. It still makes me wonder what the urge is for those tiny little birds to want to travel to an area (Greenland, High Arctic etc.) to breed.  Why not breed on these island or somewhere else secluded I'm sure they'd be able to rear chicks, it baffles me!

Once I got back home I noticed a family of Stonechats ironically chatting away to each other, some very young chicks soon revealed themselves and became a very regular thing to see while staying on the island. However unusually I noticed that one Female Whitethroat must have been very fond of their calls and seems to had been following them, have any of you heard of this behaviour before? 

That was it for the day... In the evening my Dad and I discussed where to go the following morning, we decided that it'd be the best port of call to go via Calgary point which faces towards Gunna and Tiree. 

The day was fantastic, with bird after bird after bird. Our first exciting encounter of Waders was made today...
Here you can see a mixed flock of Dunlin and Ringed Plover (and just for the pernickety people out there Tundra Ringed Plover as well!) This is what drew me to Coll at this time of year seeing what you'd recognise as a coastal bird grazing in beautiful meadows AKA Machair along with the local sheep, just brilliant! There were around 50 Ringed Plover and 25 Dunlin sifting throught the Daisies and in British farming respects, weeds! Croftland like this is some of the best and most fertile in the world due to the nutrient rich sands getting blown in from the Atlantic. This is the reason why most of the Western palearctic Waders channel through this gap looking for the large bay and croftland. The Gulf Stream I'm sure will have another positive affect on the Waders who are searching for the route further North or are looking to breed. If you want to have the best wader experience I'd suggest travelling to Coll, it's magical! John Bowler from the neighbouring isle of Tiree says this wasn't even the peak time of migration for Waders, being two weeks earlier, I could only imagine the numbers passing through. but to put it into perspective on Tiree (which is watched far more meticulously) has over a 1000 Dunlin in one bay in early May, so if you correspond that to the number of bays there are you'd be into 10s of thousands! All I'm thinking about is cannon netting ;)

In the following field we found a lone "Curlew", thanks Dad... Shortly to be reidentified as a Whimbrel, even before this Pagham harbour bird seeing one Whimbrel does give you some sort of tingling, only to present a bright white rump!
Another example of how fanastic it is to see such a wonderful bird in such a unique habitat! Following on from that we turned right and entered the grand Crossapol bay where our Wader compatriots decided to check on us again...

Sadly it was raining while we enjoyed watching these beauties, so couldn't spend to long on this shelterless beach. However, another large flock of waders flew in and formed a lovely formation with this Sanderling squadron. here was them all together...

As you can tell the variable weather took a turn fo the better with the sun forcing its way through the clouds! A little way down the beach was another Sanderling but this time had a highly welcome visitor!

It was a very snugged up Little Tern. These are a very local breeders in the UK and of course very special to the Hebrides... As you can see, quite small! After getting off the beach we encountered yet more beautiful shell blown meadows as well as another lone Whimbrel! But again Eurasian!

I'm sure that's enough to keep you occupied for the time being, I'm carrying on tomorrow!