Thursday, 1 October 2015

Yorkshire Birding mid September

A week back home mid September and the birding was varied and all right. Despite favourable winds the east coast wasn't on fire with rarities and scarcities given the time of year.

Caught up with the Black Stork in East Yorkshire (Yorkshire tick) as it flew into roost on the eve of Sat 12th after drawing a blank for several hours in the afternoon. Whilst waiting for the Stork a Marsh Harrier hunted Sunk Island and the crazy movement of Siskin into Great Britain included 2 flocks over, with 2 or 3 (ad/2nd w) Mediterranean Gulls following the plough amongst several hundred Black-headed Gulls. A trip to Spurn (Kilnsea) the day after produced flight views of the Black Stork en route mid morning and Kilnsea yielded Red-backed Shrike and at least 2 hunting Short-eared Owls in the evening.

The moorlands near Barnsley held Buzzards and Kestrels aplenty. An imm/fem Merlin zoomed by at Midhope late afternoon on Sat 19th and a male Peregrine drifting east from the same area on a cold Sun 20th, when 2 or 3 Ravens graced Pike Lowe. On the 'lower' uplands 2 Hobbies hawked Swallows in tandem at Ingbirchworth Reservoir just before lunch on Tue 15th. Lots of hirundines over the Res. on a couple of visits with Sand Martins still being seen. Loafing Lesser Black-backed Gulls moving between the res and nearby fields numbered 265 on Tue 15th and a moulting adult Yellow-legged Gull also present was nice. At least 750 Lesser Black-backed Gulls, along with similar numbers of Black-headed Gulls, roosted with 2 Yellow-legged Gulls at nearby Langsett Reservoir that evening. One of the 'Yellow-legs' looked like the Ingbirchworth bird of earlier in the day.

During the period Old Moor RSPB held the long staying Great White Egret with several Little Egrets, Black-tailed Godwits, Dunlin, Ruff and the seemingly ever present Green Sandpipers also in attendance. Barn Owl hunted one evening with a male Sparrowhawk sneaking by. The returning Lapwings and handful of Golden Plover roosted on Wath Ings and a juv. Garganey flew in from Bolton Ings onto the Willow Pool.

Twitched the juv. Woodchat Shrike at Nosterfield, North Yorkshire on Fri 18th and drove east to Flamborough Head for an afternoon/eve seawatch. The 'northerly' winds produced 3 or 4 Sooty Shearwaters north plus a single Manx Shearwater, a few Arctic Skuas and a noticeable movement of Red-throated Divers south (30 south 15:30 - 18:10). The seawatch was cut short to take in the male Subalpine Warbler (eastern type) viewable from Old Fall. Nice to jam in on this Yorkshire tick.

More photos at 'Latest UK Bird Photos'. Please enjoy.

Wednesday, 9 September 2015

Rainham 'colour-ringed' Black-tailed Godwits

The sign that autumn birding was on its way came in the form of the passage of waders through the UK over recent weeks. Rainham Marshes RSPB, London held a variety including a long staying Wood Sandpiper during August 2015 with Common and Green Sandpipers sharing Aveley Pools. Dunlin and LR Plover completed the small ones here and Greenshank, Ruff, Redshank and Black-tailed Godwits were bigger ones present. Not forgetting a handful each of Whimbrel and Curlew favouring the Thames shore or Purfleet Scrape.

Main focus on the 50 or so strong flock of Black-tailed Godwits roosting and feeding in the shallow water of Aveley Pools sporting a variety of plumages. A turn over of birds during August with at least 4 colour ringed individuals. It's been fun and a challenge at times to identify their combinations as the strong light, heat haze and distance to the flock proved problematic.

With thanks to the help of JG and JA - UEA, BP - Iceland, HTV and RB - Rainham Marshes RSPB, and apologies for any omissions,  here is a summary of the colour ringed birds with a couple of record shots thrown in. Check out the excellent work carried out by the ringers at

Bird 1 (Red Lime - Green Lime)

Debate about the lower ring colour. Looks like the above combination is favourite. Female ringed in Iceland in May 2010 wintering mainly in Sussex, UK with sightings in Hampshire, Kent, The Wash and the inner and outer Thames Estuary. Seen at Rainham Marshes RSPB in August 2015.

Bird 2 (Yellow Blue - Green Green flag)

Debate on combination as well, likely to be as listed above. Male ringed in November 2012 in Portugal, wintering there in subsequent years. Observed in Dordrecht, The Netherlands in March 2015. Seen at Rainham Marshes RSPB in August 2015.

Bird 3 (Lime Green - 'Dark')

Possibilities being considered. Await further details.

Bird 4 (Red White 8 - Yellow Red)

Adult male ringed in Iceland in July 2010. Wintering on the Swale Estuary, Kent, UK since. Seen at Rainham Marshes RSPB in August 2015 (and still present on 05 September 2015).

Sunday, 6 September 2015

A secretive big Egret, slow East Coast birding and Moorland Raptor magic

August Bank Holiday saw me twitching in Yorkshire:

To the south I connected with the long staying Great White Egret in the Wath Area, 'Wath tick' number 186. It was hiding away in the eastern corner of Wombwell Ings, a ridiculous feat in itself in this flood basin.

Two trips out east 1) 'Spurn' produced Red-backed Shrike at Kilnsea and Little Stint, Spotted Redshank and Black-tailed Godwits near the main Beacon Pond. Passage slight, nice to see a couple of Spotted Flycatchers. 2) A late afternoon/early evening seawatch at Flamborough once the rain had cleared was slow on Bank Holiday Monday despite the wind having turned NNW overnight. A lone Manxie, 3 or 4 Arctic Skuas, several waders including Whimbrel south were highlights.

The best to last as on Tuesday 01 September 2015 'skywatching' on the South Yorkshire moors saw my dad and I connect with 9 species of raptor, the star being an Osprey slowly gliding south over the moorland edge drifting towards Sheffield (11:35-11:45) at our first stop. Earlier a passage 'cream crown' Marsh Harrier lingered for a while. Buzzards, Kestrels and a Sparrowhawk were present and an immature Peregrine was perched up at distance. Joined by DS at the second stop early afternoon and as the air warmed more raptors took to the sky. At least 4 Buzzards regular around a peak with attendant Kestrels. A Hobby skimmed the tops of the heather for insects occasionally catching them at height as well, eating them on the wing. A stately Peregrine glided by not flapping once. A 'speck' persistently mobbed it. This was a feisty Merlin and was ridiculously tiny when side by side with the wanderer. It persisted with its dive bombing for several minutes before exiting stage right in a fast glide down towards 'Terra firma'. Just before leaving the Red Kite shown below gave us a fly past heading away from the moorlands. Fantastic to see a variety of raptors in an area that has suffered from a decline of these stunning birds. No doubt the change in weather to a partly sunny day, warmer than the weekend and a light NW wind prompted a bit of passage.

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To come: Black-tailed Godwit 'colour-ringing' sightings from Rainham Marshes RSPB, London, UK. Watch this space!

Wednesday, 12 August 2015

Oxford Street... it's got a Circus (cyaneus) and a Lush (skydancer)

Next door to Vision Express east of Oxford Circus in old London town is Lush. It caught my eye as I ventured into Vision Express for an eye test this evening. Never been in Lush before but this time it was with purpose for a purchase. A skydancer bath bomb to buy after the eye test

Where would it be, would it be like looking for 'Fly Fishing' by J R Hartley? It was nothing of the sort, there they were pride of place by the entrance. Very pleasing to hear the staff in Lush talk about the significance of this item, very knowledgeable about the plight of the Hen Harrier. Go on, go and buy one... or two... or three.

Here's a record shot of the purchase.

What's the fuss? It's all about Hen Harrier conservation -

Tuesday, 4 August 2015

To Cornwall, back to Rainham and then a diversion to Pitsea (Late July/early Aug 2015)

Late July saw me in the south west primarily to join the celebrations at friends wedding in a stunning coastal location, and also gave me the opportunity to continue to the far corner of Cornwall for a seawatch at Porthgwarra on Sunday 26 July 2015. I love seawatching and overnight heavy rain with strong southerlies changing early morning to a blowy southwesterly as the front cleared the area mid morning had thoughts of a push of a few seabirds into Cornish waters. Cory's and Great 'Shears' already being seen over recent days in British and Irish waters. Whilst it was nice to see loads of Manx Shearwaters at close range, with a couple of Balearic Shearwaters thrown in, no large Shearwaters were seen between 09:45 and 12:00. A Great Skua and mid distance Storm Petrel plus lots of Gannets, Fulmars and Kittiwakes added to the variety. I find it difficult to know where to focus on a seawatch at Porthgwarra. On this occasion it was easier to scan through the Manxies using bins as opposed to through the 'scope as the majority flew by just off Gwennap Head. When the front cleared the strong sunlight made viewing difficult on the 'silver' sea. It was instructive to see how the light changes the look of the Manx Shearwaters as they changed from clear cut black and white to a dusky brownish hue. Before the weather improved the Scillonian passed by making light work of the choppy crossing to Scilly.

Noted at Porthgwarra on the landward side were a pair of Choughs, a pair of Ravens, a pair of Carrion Crows and then the Jackdaws broke suit as a dozen flew over the cafe. Before driving back to London I caught up with the 1st Summer Ring-billed Gull and at least 20 Mediterranean Gulls roosting on RSPB Ryan's Field, Hayle Estuary.

Moving forward a week I was back at Rainham Marshes RSPB on Saturday 01 August 2015. On the long walk from Rainham railway station a nice look at a Garden Warbler in scrub at the SE corner was a nice find. Good to catch up with the gang at the reserve and the six of us (RB, BC, PS, VW, PD and yours truly), comprising members of three '2015 Rainham Marshes bird race' teams, were treated to 7 Hobbies, several Buzzards and passage waders including Black-tailed Godwit (18), Greenshank (12), Whimbrel (4), Dunlin (4), Common (4), Green (2) and Wood (1) Sandpipers and LR Plover. Over 100 Swifts moved through.

Having heard about Southern Migrant Hawker dragonflies showing at Wat Tyler CP, Pitsea over recent summers I twitched them on Sunday 02 August 2015 joining RB at this popular CP. We had stunning views of a confiding SM Hawker (aka Blue-eyed Hawker) by the Marina Kiosk pond, which would have an occasional 'barney' with another one who dared to enter this airspace. A walk around the CP produced 2 more SM Hawkers hunting along a path and at a small pond just west of the RSPB centre. Cheers to HV for advice in spotting them, check out HV's excellent photos and blog post.

More photos of this stunning dragonfly at the 'Dragonflies' tab accessible via the top of the page.

Back to Rainham Marshes RSPB where similar number of waders were still on Aveley Pools, hoping to nail the colour-ring combinations on a couple of passage Black-tailed Godwits. More on them in due course.

Sunday, 19 July 2015

A big Red bird, a little Red damselfly and a very smart dragonfly from the south

Typical summer pickings at Rainham Marshes RSPB on Saturday 18 July 2015 with passage waders present in the form of singles of Black-tailed Godwit and Whimbrel flying onto the reserve with the afternoon rising tide. Before this a walk to the Serin mound in the morning was quiet with a few Common Terns working Aveley Bay. The birding soon livened up as a couple of Buzzards circled the Silt Lagoons / Wennington Marsh, and then a glance upwards produced a nigh on immaculate Red Kite gliding west. It started to circle Wennington Marsh, quickly gaining height before changing to a fast glide following the Thames up towards London at 10:30. Departed Serin mound with a Hobby zooming through onto the reserve.

Back on the reserve dragons and damsels were the order of the day. A smart looking Southern Hawker patrolled a part shaded area of the woodland boardwalk before resting allowing for further study and photos. Black-tailed Skimmers and Emperor dragonflies shared the Dragonfly Pond and Small Red-eyed Damselflies were present along the southern boardwalk channel. Vying for attention were Marsh Frogs who got noisier as the day warmed up.

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Video of the Red Kite as well on Surfbirds linked to at 'UK Birding Videos (Surfbirds)'.

Saturday, 11 July 2015

Emperor trumps Ratty at Rainham

Autumn bird migration is starting though not obviously in full swing. A couple of Avocets, a handful of Black-tailed Godwits on the reserve at Rainham Marshes RSPB with Whimbrel roosting on one of the poles by the Thames from the visitors centre - Saturday 11 July 2015.

A cracking view of a Water Vole at the far corner of the northern boardwalk deserved more attention than I gave it as news broke (early afternoon) over the radio of a Lesser Emperor Dragonfly present at the Dragonfly Pond. A nice find by Jerry H. Possibly a site first? We were soon at the Pond where it wasn't on show but luckily it flew in and around us after a couple of minutes where it remained on show on and off until 13:20. One of the first looks before it established a circuit of the pond was seeing it perch briefly on a twig by the platform, observers reached for cameras and guess what, it flew off and didn't appear to land again whilst it was on show. A distinctive Dragonfly characterised by the blue abdominal segment that stood out like a lantern at most angles. In flight it did spar with a female Emperor Dragonfly and Black-tailed Skimmers. It's disappearance coincided with the larger male Emperor Dragonfly showing up. Would the male Emperor Dragonfly have shoved it off? Although it was also getting windy, could that have been a factor?

My 2nd sighting of this rare visitor to the UK from Europe, having seen one in the 1990s whilst twitching a Squacco Heron in Cambridgeshire which may have been one of the first UK records? Saw several in Cyprus (Oct 2014) and Germany (June 2015).

Whilst it was clearly doing a circuit of the Dragonfly Pond it was impossible to follow with the camera. I tried a couple of shots and I believe I've got a very poor record shot of the Lesser Emperor Dragonfly shown below, next to the photo of 'Ratty'.