Thursday, 18 January 2018

The best of winter birding

In my opinion the period between Christmas and spring is when the levels are at their best from a birding perspective. OK so this winter hasn't been great for Short-eared Owl but the again one in every three or four isn't and there is plenty else to see. The now 3rd calendar year male Hen Harrier continues to entertain and delight allcomers, the supposed adult female was regular until the 6th whilst the first winter bird with the whiter outer tail feathers has not been seen since new years eve. On the 28th JE summoned me from my sick bed as he had two yellow billed swans flying over Lookers which turned out to be a patch tick in the shape of Whoopers, both birds were present until the 30th with the single bird pictured (or another) remaining currently. A single Great White Egret (left) has also been hanging around, along with 5 or so Little Egret. Water Pipits (right) are regular on the levels in winter and spring, however they usually provide the gross flying up from nearby calling views, so the bird that has been present along White Dyke recently feeding on the pennywort has been quite popular. All of the above together with Starling murmurations, Green Sandpiper, Golden Plover, Lapwing, Kingfishers, Water Rails, Marsh Harriers, Merlin (7th), Peregrine, White-fronted Geese (2 since 13th per CP), a stunning Tawny Owl along New Bridge road on the 11th, and last but by no means least Sparrowhawks that nearly take you out! What more could you want from your local patch.

The moth trap has not been on since the back end of 2017 so other wildlife has been made up of mammals with the small herd of Fallow Deer above near Wartling on the 6th. My first Brown Hare of the year was seen near Horse-eye farm on the 17th and Red Fox have been around as well, despite the best efforts of the local hunt who were seen in pursuit on the 13th. The hunt represents everything that is bad and despicable in our society and it requires the will of the law enforcement agencies to start enforcing the law and hold these vermin to account.
On a pleasanter note on New Years' day I took a little wander off the patch and headed to the res to year tick the GND which duly obliged. Before getting to the res though I stopped off at Arlington Church in the hope of bumping into a Hawfinch amongst the Yews there... Walking into the churchyard, bang, Hawfinch male straight away! Unfortunately, despite getting excellent views, the picture left was the best I could manage although there were at least 3 Hawfinch around contact calling and feeding in and around the Yews.
My other away trip was on the 14th when I made a late decision to head over to Dungeness on a cracking wintry afternoon. As it turned out this was a somewhat inspired decision with GWE at Camber, 2 Tundra Bean and 15 Whitefront at Scotney (in the Sussex part), Black-throated Diver, GWE, male Marsh Harrier, Chiffchaff, and gypo geese at Dengemarsh, Long-tailed Duck and Dartford Warbler at Lade, redhead Smew, GWE, and 8 or so Tree Spudgers at Boulderwall farm, and final stop the ARC where 2 male Goosander, 2 GWE, Firecrest, 2 Chiffchaff, and best of all 35 Bewicks Swans in the roost as the light was fading including 4 1st winters. There really is no better way to round off a winters day in the field than the sound of Bewicks as they greet one another. Pictures below of Egyptian Geese, Goldfinches, GWEs' (one with an interloper) and part of a record (for me) flock of 101 Cormorant on Horse-eye also from the 14th. Be kind.

Tuesday, 26 December 2017

Hen Harriers

The 24th of January 1982 was the date I saw my first Hen Harrier, a ringtail, drifting through the small clump of pines and quartering the hillside to the west of Camp Hill on Ashdown Forest. I still recall my excitement at the memory, now some 35 years in the past, and the species has been my favorite raptor ever since. The festive period has enabled me to get out and do my first WBS of the winter on my BBS transect so I managed to escape the pitfalls of sitting indoors or last minute shopping and instead, plodded around the patch on Christmas Eve. Happy days indeed, and made even more so, by seeing the ringtail Hen Harrier pictured left which had been reported earlier in the week, first quartering the flood between Lookers and Herstmonceux church and then over Horseeye where it consorted with the 2cym bird. Now, it may be difficult to believe given the picture left, but I did have this bird close on a couple of occasions and have put this photo in purely to emphasise the paleness of this birds outer tail feathers which make it very distinctive. In reality at close range the feathers can be seen to be extremely pale buff toned. I cannot recall seeing a bird with this striking a tail pattern. The 2cym bird has been regular on my forays recently including Christmas and Boxing day and on one occasion was watched mobbing a Kestrel, however Short-eared Owls have been tough to come by with only one present to my knowledge which I saw on the 17th and again on the 24th, on both days not until the light was fading fast.

The Black Guillemot has been performing well and entertaining birders and non-birders alike with its preening and diving activities in the clear Sovereign harbour water. Today (Boxing day) it was pottering around the inner harbour at lunchtime and there was a wp Guillemot (pictured below) just outside the lock gates.
Also in the inner harbour was the regular Common Seal, pictured below, which continues to attract shoppers with its curiosity.
Elsewhere locally Arlington reservoir has held some quality birds in the form of a 1st winter Great Northern Diver that I caught up with on the 21st, 22nd, and 24th, 3 Black-tailed Godwit that I eventually managed to see on the 22nd and 23rd, and a 1cy Glaucous Gull on the 21st that I failed to see, although I did manage to see an adult Yellow-legged Gull and adult Mediterranean Gull in the gull roost on the 23rd thanks to RJFs' diligence, and a wp ad Mediterranean Gull on the 21st and 22nd.
The levels are full of birds at the moment with at least 4 regular Marsh Harriers to sit alongside the Skydancers and Short Eared Owl, a Great White Egret on the 15th December near Lookers, many flocks of Lapwing, Fieldfare, and Redwing. If you visit please take care as the paths are getting sticky and deep but above all enjoy the spectacle.

Wednesday, 13 December 2017

WEBS and further afield

WEBS count on Sunday (10th) was, to put it politely, wild and windy as the angry skies over White Dyke farm, pictured above, testify. Not surprisingly birds were hard to come by with the highlights being sub adult male and female Marsh Harriers and one of the Peregrine, duck were limited to just 4 Mallard! Fortunately by the evening the weather had calmed down a bit and a session at Lookers resulted in a spell of grey ghost activity as the 2cym Hen Harrier came in to roost at 15.58 and had intermittent sorties until 16.15, a couple of times it chased off a young Kestrel, a behaviour I have not noted before from this or other birds on site. Nearby a Barn Owl was along the road just outside Downash.
A walk along the beach at Normans' Bay on the 9th was very quiet bar a couple of Song Thrush near the EA compound and a single Dark-bellied Brent east along the beach so I decided to pop over to Newhaven where a 1st w Great Northern Diver had been seen regularly in the harbour. I located the diver easily enough and watched it diving and roll preening, albeit somewhat distantly, before heading along the east pier to look for Purple Sandpipers. I quickly encountered the Turnstone pictured left, which posed nicely for a picture in the bright sunshine, and soon enough found 4-5 Purple Sandpipers feeding with a few more Turnstone on the piers' substructure. Purple Sandpiper picture below, as it is one of my favourite waders, along with a picture of a Shag also taken from the east pier. Stay safe.

Sunday, 3 December 2017

Winter is coming

A distinct chill in the air this weekend and some quality local birds heralding the festive season, the best of which was the 1st winter Black Guillemot found by Richard Bown in Sovereign harbour, Eastbourne. No need to panic on this one since I had seen the way back when Brighton Marina bird but still a very rare bird in the county, and what a confiding bird it was. I first saw it in the outer harbour at first light and it flew several times to the harbour mouth before flying in to the inner harbour where it proceeded to fish and preen regularly, occassionally at very close range. Unfortunately I am cameraless at the moment so the left and below images are digiscoped. Also in the harbour was a Common Seal which put in a brief appearance and a drake Goosander flew over heading west.
Nearby at Normans' bay there was a Grey Seal (two Seal day in Sussex!) fishing offshore and quite a lot of birds on the sea - 6 Shelduck, 8 Wigeon, 25 Teal, 20+ Great Crested Grebe, several Red Throated Diver, and a couple of Gannet.
A return to Normans' Bay for another walk this morning (3rd) yielded another Sussex scarcity in the form of a Snow Bunting found feeding on the shingle ridge on the sea side of the caravan park. Al Redman had found one in the same area about 3-4 weeks previously which had not subsequently been seen and his comparison of the photos of both birds shows they are different individuals. Also a single Razorbill and RTD offshore along with the Grey Seal, and 30+ Greenfinch. A quick look at the marina yielded the Tystie and Common Seal again before an afternoon walk around Horse-eye with excellent views of the 2nd calendar year male Hen Harrier, the resident female Peregrine, and 3 Marsh Harriers rounding off an excellent weekend.

Friday, 10 November 2017

Hawfinch and Crane...

...sound like a Dickensian firm of solicitors but are, in fact, the birding highlights, for me, of the past week. To start with the former I was beginning to despair of getting in on the Hawfinch invasion with the levels being a Hornbeam free area and my garden flyovers being limited to Goldfinch, Siskin, and Redwing at the moment, so when Charlie started to see a few in Abbots Wood I decided to take a wander over on the 3rd. Now Abbots is a big wood and the cover is pretty thick so I decided to head over towards a clearing Charlie had mentioned, however as I approached the lake I noticed a conspicuous finch atop the conifers. Sure enough, on raising the bins a Hawfinch! Not crippling views as the record shots below testify, but my first in East Sussex for a good number of years.

Sunday, the 5th, I took an early morning walk around the same area with Sharon and the dogs and had excellent views of 2 birds in the clearing near the main conifer plantation accessed from the car park, and a further 5 flyovers. In addition a Crossbill was in the main conifer plantation.
The levels have been pretty good with a 2nd cy male Hen Harrier being seen occassionally, by me on both the 22nd and 29th October, and my first SEO of the winter near Lookers on the evening of the 1st November. Undoubted highlight though was the juvenile Crane found by Mike Mullis on the evening of the 8th. Thanks to a text from Mike I was able to grab a very poor scope view in near darkness but as always with such things it was very unsatisfactory, daylight saving time has a lot to answer for! So it was that I arose early on the 9th and wandered out to Lookers pre dawn, as I stood there in the crisp morning air watching the first fingers of light reaching up in the east I became aware that the Crane was only about 100 yards or so from me rather than the half mile it had been the previous evening! Fortunately it didn't seem overly bothered by my presence and I spent roughly an hour watching it preening and stretching its wings before it decided to head off south towards the west of the wind farm. I managed to get quite a few digiscoped shots a few of which are reproduced below as well as the one above.

The bird was un-rung and there is a reasonable chance, as Mike and others have speculated, that it may have been a genuine wanderer rather than a re-introduced bird, either way always great to see and will hopefully settle into a pattern as others have done here in the past.
Finally to moths and, pretty much as expected, things have quietened down radically as the temperature has fallen, however there have been a few goodies. My second garden Gem appeared at the window on the 27th October, a putitive Pale November moth on the night of the 31st, and on the 3rd November a single Cypress Carpet (pictured below) and a Chestnut. Watchout! Winter is coming!

Saturday, 21 October 2017

Immigrant moths, dirty twitching, and Greenland Wheatear

Where to start... October as always, has been busy, with lots of birding, mothing, and general mooching going on. The levels have been very quiet on the bird front with the WEBS highlight being 15 Snipe and 2 Water Rails, and the first Hen Harrier survey count of the winter producing just a couple of Marsh Harrier. To be fair I didn't expect any skydancers this early in the winter but patchwork can be tough at this time of year when stuff is turning up all over the place!
So without going too much out of my way, I have taken in a few bits and pieces further afield. On the 8th I spent a few very pleasant hours at Oare marshes where the Wilsons Phalarope (top pic) and Long-billed Dowitcher both put in appearrances, the former all whirligig mania and the latter frantic sewing machine action. Also at Oare were stacks of other waders including at least 6 Curlew Sandpiper and 10+ Little Stint, the former pictured below. The 11th saw me paying a flying visit to the folks in Devon and a flying detour to Lodmoor where the Lesser Yellowlegs put in a brief appearance enabling the record shot above left. A walk along the Otter estuary in the afternoon with Dad produced no birds of note but a few Grey Mullet were watched under the bridge there.
On Saturday the 14th Al Redman and I decided to pay a visit to Dunge where we mooched about with little to show for it other than a Merlin in off the sea before we "lucked in" bigtime with a Raddes' Warbler found by Dave Bunney in his garden. Big thanks to Dave for once again allowing access to his garden and, although it took several hours to get really good views, eventually the bird started to show regularly in the buddleia. Dunge tick in the bag, and my DB garden list is now up to about 6 with the other highlights being the Acadian Flycatcher and Dark-eyed Junco!
This week though proper madness took over with news of a Two-barred Greenish Warbler near Worth Matravers in Dorset. TBG is a bird I have always wanted to see so I took a day off work on the 18th and after sorting the moth traps headed west where this stunning little gem showed at close range feeding in Field Maple, Ash, and Sycamore on a number of occasions as the weather brightened up a bit, on what was generally a misty old day. Other bits and pieces included several Firecrest around the TBG quarry, and after sating my appetite in phylloscopus heaven I wandered over to Middlebere Farm on Arne, where a couple of Dartford Warbler, Water Rail, Green Sandpiper, 2 Curlew Sandpiper, and the juvenile Stilt Sandpiper were seen. The latter appears to be missing a leg however since it was my first since the Cliffe bird in the late eighties it was still very welcome. Also at Middlebere farm was a herd of 8 Sika deer including the 2 pictured below.
Todays' birding (20th) was again local and turned up a small gem, of what I am as sure as I can be without a ringers licence, was a Northern Wheatear of the Greenland race leucorhoa at Normans Bay along the fence line where the Desert Wheatear was first found last year. There are 3 images of this bird below, one perched on the fence where the extent of the brisk westerly is evident by its posture, although the picture captures the full extent of the apricot underparts. The other two are on the deck where the birds upright stance, Issy jiz, broad super, and long wings with 7 visible primary tips, are all evident. Also it was a big beast! I know this id is subjective, so if you have any other opinion please let me know.

On the moth front it has been a busy old month as well with national moth night over the weekend of the 13-15th and some warm airflows producing a few immigrants in the garden traps, and although nothing super rare, there were notable records for home. Delicates' get recorded in numbers along the coast at some sites but the ones I trapped on the 8th and 14th were only the 2nd and 3rd records for the garden, the latter is pictured above left. Other notable immigrants for the garden were a delightfully pink Vestal on the night of the 17th (6th garden record) and on the same night a Scarce Bordered Straw (15th garden record but the first since 2006), both pictured below.

More expected autumn residents were Merveille de Jour on the nights of the 9th, 13th, 14th, and 18th (2), Red-line Quaker on 8th, 15th, 17th, and 18th, an astonishing 6 Large Wainscot on the 17th, and only the 2nd garden record of Kent Black Arches on the night of the 13th. The obligatory autumn picture of a stunning Merveille below.
Finally to other insects and 3 Ophion obscuratus turned up in the garden moth traps, a single on the 12th, and 2 on the 17th. At this time of year I often come across moribund Bumble-bees. It only takes a drop of honey to revive them as it did with the queen Buff-tailed Bumble pictured below, refreshed she promptly flew off straight into a spiders web where she had to be rescued for a second time! Stay safe.

Wednesday, 6 September 2017

Bairds' revisited

 I couldn't resist seconds of this classy and confiding yank wader so took an early evening stroll with Rich and Hazel down to the meanders.
A European Corn borer was in the Heath trap on the night of the 4th - pictured below.