Saturday, 2 June 2018

Rose-coloured Starling

Sometimes the stars are aligned and circumstances slot into place for a perfect storm. So it was on Monday the 28th of May when I took the opportunity of a bank holiday to do my second BBS transect of the spring. I had spent a couple of hours the previous evening searching the greater levels area for Starling flocks in the hope of finding a Rosy Pastor, due to the significant influx that has been taking place on the continent, with no joy. Ever since getting a copy of Thorburns' birds for my 12th birthday I have dreamt of finding one of these in spring so, as on commencing my transect it was obvious that there were plenty of Starlings around, I already had Rosy in the back of my mind... Then, as I scanned through a flock of around 200 Starling near Horse-eye farm, Bobs' your uncle a Rosy pops up on top of the bush. Cue instant gratification, reality from fantasy, find tick, patch tick etc!
 At this point the bird was quite distant so I decided to abort my BBS to spend some proper time with the bird and, whilst walking up the hill too the birds location, phone the news out. The flock is actively feeding so I see the bird in flight a few times, characteristically losing its place in the flock, but frustratingly not on the ground where the grass is longer. Then the bird decides to move into one of the bushes along the hedgerow where I manage some digiscoped images and get a proper look at it for the first time. Whilst clearly a stunning bird it is not an adult male and appears to be either an adult female or second calendar year bird. The mantle in particular has greyish feather centres and the head and wings while glossy black, lack the purple green sheen and obvious crest of an adult male. On close inspection the wings have very narrow brownish fringes. The underparts however are bright pink, as is the rump, and the legs and bill are also bright pink, the latter with a black base. Geoff has arrived by now and sees the bird as well, so I head off to complete my BBS. Later in the morning I watched the bird feeding in the sheepfields nearby but it was not seen from late afternoon. An extrememely rewarding morning!
On the moth front the past week has seen a quality return from the garden trap with several new species for the garden and lots of variety. The undoubted highlight was the Shore Wainscot pictured below on the night of the 31st. An Nb species, in Sussex it is restricted to the dunes of Camber and the Witterings, so was a bit of a surprise to put it mildly.

On the same night a Grey birch was also new for the garden, the previous night had produced new for the garden Obscure Wainscot, and the 28th had produced new for the garden Rustic Shoulder-knot. All in all a bit of a purple patch, the latter two moths are pictured below.

Finally a few butterfly pictures from nearby and further afield. Firstly Small Pearl-bordered Fritillary from the 26th at Park Corner and finally Duke of Burgundy from Mill Hill on the 16th. Keep it real.

Tuesday, 27 February 2018

Lead us not into...

temptation, so says the Lords' prayer or the 80's track by Heaven 17 dependent upon your leaning however some birds are just too tempting to resist! The news of a Ross's Gull around Weymouth happily coincided with Mrs Leveller needing to pay a visit to relatives in Bournemouth so needless to say an early start was called for on Sunday (25th) to enable me to get a little piece of larid heaven.
Dropping in at Lodmoor first thing proved a wise move as the bird was there from 7.20 to 7.50 before flying out to sea, given the runaround it has been giving some observers this was a touch of luck. It gave cracking views on the west scrape but was quite flighty, always graceful with long wings and wedge shaped tail, before moving off. My own images are shamefully poor so big thanks to Paul Chapman for allowing me to use a few of his images from yesterday when the bird was at Radipole.
A Marsh Harrier and a few Meds were the best of the rest at Lodmoor so I pootled off to Radipole where the bird was not present, and, rather than stand around in the bitterly cold weather I decided to head off to Ferrybridge where the bird had been found earlier in the week. No birders at Ferrybridge but the Ross's was sitting out on the mud preening so I pinged the birds presence to RBA and then settled down for about ten minutes of the bird to myself. Eventually other birders arrived and the gull decided it didn't fancy being looked at and flew off over Chesil beach at about 8.50.
Heading back to Bournemouth to do the family thing you may be surprised to learn that I now discovered the long staying Stilt Sandpiper I had first seen last October was only ten minutes from the brother in laws! A quick visit seemed very reasonable to me and the bird was performing in exemplary fashion, enabling me to get a few digiscoped images, along with a single Spotted Redshank.
Needless to say that was not the end of the birdfest since after visiting had been concluded we had to speed off to High Wycombe to collect youngest leveller and enjoy some cracking Red Kite action.
Meanwhile out on the levels things have been pretty subdued of late, the Hen Harrier has been very hit and miss with my last sighting over Manxey Level on the 14th, and Shorties remain at times good and at times non-existent. On the 15th I watched a Shorty at Lookers hunting for around 45 minutes during which time it managed to catch and eat a single Vole, however I have not seen any in the past few days...
WEBS and SWBS surveys were done on the 18th with the best birds being a single Water Pipit on Down, and the Lesser and Greater Black-backs pictured above. One of the highlights for me on the 18th was hearing Skylarks and Reed Buntings singing again, and watching a pair of the local Buzzards displaying, the male closing his wings and plunging groundwards, a sure sign that spring is on the way. A brief walk this evening (27th) near Lookers produced the local Buzzards and a couple of Snipe but little else of note.
Finally to another away day on the 11th when Al persuaded me to finally go and see the Horned Lark at Staines. Oh Happy Days! Staines causeway in winter BRRRRR! Fortunately the girl was present and showed well whilst we were on site, along with a drake Scaup and a sp Black-necked Grebe. All in all not a bad February on the birding front, Stay safe.

Saturday, 10 February 2018

Bluethroat and Buffalo

The cyanecula Bluethroat at West rise marsh has been, typically for the species, elusive, so after brief flight views on Thursday (8th) I headed back to the site yesterday (9th) to be greeted by LGRE walking away having failed to see it. However as soon as I got to the birds favoured area it started to perform, moving in and out of cover, for a period of about 30 minutes enabling all those present (some of whom had been there all morning) to see it well. Also at the site were Water Pipit and Water Buffalo, the latter on the footpath which made for a slightly nervous walk!
On the levels the winter birding has continued to be excellent. Following a spell of 10 days when he appeared to go absent, the 2w male Hen Harrier was again present daily from the 27th January until at least yesterday evening when I took the images above left and right. Last night (9th) he was hunting from 16.05 continuously until 16.28 before moving to the north and then returned to roost at 17.11. It has been good to see a lot of people on site through the past few months whom have all, with the exception of one photographer, behaved impeccably. Other levels highlights have been the continued wintering Great White Egret (present to at least 4th), Water Pipits, a jill Merlin watched hunting from gateposts for twenty five minutes on the 4th, SEO (until at least 6th), and the resident Peregrines, Little Owls, Cettis etcetera.
Slightly off the patch spring passage of Common Gulls appears to have started with a flock estimated at 300 near the Old Loom mill between Hailsham and Stone Cross yesterday.
Even further afield is Dungeness where I spent another enjoyable days birding with Al Redman on the 28th of January. Starting at North point pit we worked our way east picking up a cracking male Black Redstart at Jury Gap and the 2 Tundra Bean Geese at Scotney before pitching up at the point to look for gulls. On a normal day the highlight may well have been the cracking 1st winter Caspian Gull pictured left, however when we moved to the fishing boats it was clear that the sea was literally covered with birds, nothing rare, just an awesome sight with Razorbills streaming past at an estimated 60-80 per minute and Guillemot at a ratio of about 1 in 20 to Razors. Gannets were moving through as well and along with the hundreds of Cormorant, including any number of immaculate sinensis types, it really did make for a fantastic spectacle and my highlight of the day. The picture below captures the feel perfectly!
Tearing ourselves away from the point we headed to Lade where we enjoyed good views of the Long-tailed Duck and 11 Goldeneye, with the 3 males present displaying, before heading to the RSPB reserve where we saw Slavonian Grebe, male and redhead Smew, another 5 Goldeneye (2m, one pictured above left), Tree Sparrow, Marsh Harrier, and of course the ubiquitous GWE from Christmas Dell and at Boulderwall. Our final stop for the day was of course the ARC and this again came up trumps with Black-throated Diver, Bittern, Firecrest, 2 Chiffchaff, and best of all 19 Bewicks (still inc the 3 juveniles) into the roost at 17.05. A quality ending to a quality day, Take care.

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.