Tuesday, 13 June 2017

Twitching by Train eventually Terned out nice again

Back in 2002 I dipped the putative/possible/probable/definite Elegant Tern at Dawlish Warren, with my first sightings of this enigmatic species occurring on a Birdfinders tour of California (USA) some 10 years later. The finding of a colour ringed adult Elegant Tern on the British south coast this June was therefore very tempting from both listing and learning perspectives, especially given the news that this individual was identified as one of the summering birds found in European tern colonies over recent years. See the excellent Birdguides article, amazing records considering they are even rare on the Eastern Seaboard of the USA, e.g. there's only one accepted record to date in New Jersey. Keen to learn more on these 'carrot-bills', familiar with Caspian Terns in Europe and North America as well as a couple of UK sightings, many (American) Royal Terns from trips to Cape May and California, a couple of Lesser Crested Terns in the UK in the 1990s, as well as the Elegant Terns nearly 5 years ago now, in California.

The weekend unfolded by 'playing it by ear', the bird seen briefly Friday afternoon. I did the usual Rainham RSPB birding on Saturday, and on this day the Elegant Term had now found its way to the Tern colony at Pagham Harbour RSPB, West Sussex, and seemed 'twitchable'. Checked out the travel options and a twitch by train, tube and bus was on the cards.

Sunday morning - arrived early at London Victoria after 45min travelling north to south across London via train and tube to then catch a train to the south coast shortly after 0800. All going well so far but a third of the way in the train was unexpectedly terminated at Three Bridges. Bemused passengers left to wait on the platform for the next train nearly one hour later, along with another birder
heading for the Elegant Tern who also had to leave the cancelled train. Despite the travelling hassles the countryside was pretty smart, crossing the picturesque South Downs and the view as Arundel Castle came into sight being particularly noteworthy. After arriving at Chichester (over one hour late) we got a taxi to Church Norton with the last half a mile being a walk down a gridlocked lane, reminding me of the scene on approaching the East Yorkshire Little Bustard twitch on its first afternoon a year or so ago.

Joined the crowds watching the Term colony from the base of the churchyard and had brief looks of the Elegant Tern within a few minutes. This was my only sighting of it on the deck, the colour, distinctive shape and length of the bill reminded me of the birds seen in California. Soon moved down the line of twitchers for a different angle in better light and over the next hour saw the bird several times in flight before watching it head out over the seawall when the local Peregrine paid the terms a visit (1240). Before being spooked it spent nearly all of its time out of sight, and when not focussing on the area below the 'silver car', 'pink house' or the 'basketball hoop' (or was it a satellite dish?) the "cawwing" Mediterranean Gulls were a nice distraction, but they very much played second fiddle on this occasion. Bit of an understatement to say that the Elegant Tern was a nice bird to see, it's not yet sunk in as to how rare this sighting was, perhaps a first for GB given the difficulties of getting this species accepted.

The journey back by similar transport means except for catching the bus from the reserve entrance back north to Chichester. Made time to look at an adult Peregrine devouring a pigeon at Chichester Cathedral before the train back to London town.

Sunday, 4 June 2017

UK Red-veined Darters (Norfolk)

I've taken more of an interest in butterflies and dragonflies when out birding in the summer months especially since using a Lumix FZ45 'bridge' camera over the last few years. Focus will always be on birding and seeing any Lepidopteta and Odonata in the vicinity will be a nice diversion should the opportunity arise. However, a few times I've deliberately twitched them, the last being this Spring Bank Holiday weekend. Inspired by Penny Clarke's Norfolk update on the Friday eve noting several Red-veined Darters in Norfolk, I took in Kelling Water Meadows the following day on the what you could say indirect route home for the long weekend in Yorkshire. I've come across this species in Cyprus and Germany, but always wanted to see them as a UK 'rare'. Not to be disappointed as on this sunny yet windy Saturday afternoon at least 2 males sunned themselves sat out of the wind on favourite thorny snags by the path skirting the northern end of the big pool. This was not a million miles away from the bush that held my only Radde's Warbler to date, way back in October 1991. The scarlet visitors put on a good show, as can be seen below, unlike that skulking Phyllosc.

More photos of this ilk updated at the 'Dragonflies' page and other updates at this page and also at 'Butterflies' are of images from a recent trip to Cape May, New Jersey. Birding trip report to follow but some images uploaded including Swamp Darner, Common Buckeye and Red-banded Hairstreak. Enjoy.

Saturday, 20 May 2017

What's that Black-headed Gull mobbing?.. an OSPREY!!!

Walking back down the river wall a couple of 100 yards from the visitors centre at Rainham Marshes RSPB. We got split up into two groups on this last part of the circuit due to different pacing, the significance of this was that all of a sudden all hell was let loose. I picked up a Black-headed Gull mobbing a bigger brown bird about 20 feet above the Thames just off the mud bank and say at the same distance to the visitors centre. The target of its displeasure was an Osprey!

We had cracking views as it flew past us heading upriver before turning north over the reserve. We tried to shout to our friends in front in vain, but unknown to us and equally unknown to them was that both parties had picked up the bird at the same time as transpired from rushed phone calls. The cracking fish eater departed high to the NE and I believe several birders and visitors connected with the Osprey thanks to the local radio network kicking in. A couple of record photos below.

Wednesday, 5 April 2017

Germany Part 2: Early Spring Birding

Back over in Karlsruhe visiting friends Chris and Sue over a long weekend Thu 23 - Sun 26 March. Nice bit of Spring sunshine and early warmth (high teens), most days with a freshening yet welcome NE wind. A day in the Black Forest (Fri) was colder around 5C rising to low teens in sparse sunny periods. Probably to be expected as we were in the clouds at 1000m.

Waghäusel the excellent marsh between Karlsruhe and Mannheim was productive, this being my first visit here so early in the season. We made 2 visits (23rd and 25th). Bluethroats were back in for the summer, yet remained elusive with 2 males seen and possibly a couple of others heard as well but at distance. A Water Pipit showed well along one muddy edge with at least 3 GW Egrets hiding in the marsh which also held a variety of duck including Garganey and 3 smart yet unexpected drake Scaup. 3 types of Grebes (many Black-necked and a couple or so Little and Great Cresteds), but no Purple Herons as yet. Plenty of White Storks overhead included a group of 11 (23rd). The sky was the place to look. Several​ Swallows headed north over the two visits with the last one producing a Sand Martin. Early season Black Kites were seen on both visits as were Red Kites, lots of Buzzard and Kestrel. A female type Goshawk soared over woodland (23rd). The star was an Osprey that spent time hunting over the reserve (25th). Chris glimpsed it pass over the northern perimeter of the marsh but it was lost behind the trees and after finding an opening​ we could not locate it heading north. However, a brief view of an adult male Hen Harrier flying north was a surprise. We headed back towards the central track and had an even nicer surprise when I spotted the Osprey hovering over the eastern side of the marsh. It spent the next 15 minutes actively hunting the marsh, where it delighted German birders and photographers before taking its fish tea over nearby woodland and out of sight.

Birded several sites in the Black Forest about 20km east of Achern, namely around Hotel Schliffkopf (HS), Siebelsecke (SIE) and Ruhestein (RUH). The biting NE wind low temps and visibility caused by the clouds rolling down the upland passes made for testing birding! The weather was worst at HS where we dipped out on Citril Finches and Ring Ouzels. A Redwing sheltered from the elements. The weather had hardly improved at RUH - the ski slope drenched in cloud, but a local mentioned that Citril Finch had disappeared from the areas we were birding. The cafe at SIE beckoned where the local "Cherry Cake" was top notch. On leaving the weather had improved and a walk up the partially snow covered ski slope produced a few Mistle Thrush and a couple of Black Woodpeckers sounded off in the surrounding woods. Of note were 3 or 4 groups of Chaffinches totaling ca. 100 birds moving north through the upland passes as we ourselves inched our way down the side of the slope back to the car park. Decided to return to RUH and the cloud had lifted so we birded the ski slope and woodland at the summit bordering the Wilder See. More Chaffinches moved north many out of sight and a lone Brambling 'dweezed' it's way overhead. The ski slope area produced the best birding, a pair of Nutcrackers gave prolonged views as did several Crossbills. The stunning 'Continental' race Coal Tit was present and a singing Crested Tit 'trilled' its little head off! Mistle Thrushes ever present in this habitat with one bird sharing the slope with a male 'torquatus' Ring Ouzel.

The farmland/woodland edge at Blankenloch nr Karlsruhe characterised by its quilted pattern of smallholdings was birdy. Raptors overhead on the morning of Sunday 26th March included several Buzzards, Red Kite and a pair of Sparrowhawks. Serin and Black Redstarts were back in low density but the song of many returning Chiffchaff dominated the woodland, when not being drowned out by many singing Nuthatches. Several Woodpeckers included nice looks at a pair of Middle Spotted ones. Hawfinch and Firecrest shared a shady corner and Chaffinches were everywhere. Not a bad tally from a morning's walk.

The switch in weather over a period of a week in the lowlands from grey, cold and drizzly in Cologne (not a million miles away) to warm sunshine further down the Rhine was very apparent. Spring was finally here!

Many thanks to friends Chris and Sue for their kind hospitality, looking forward to returning soon. For further details including more pictures please see the additions in blue to the trip report at the first Germany pdf file at the section 'Birding Trip Reports - Other'. Enjoy.

Tuesday, 28 March 2017

Germany Part 1: Twitching the Bundesliga

Our near annual European football trip took place this March (17th - 19th). We journeyed out of that there London early morning on Friday 17 March on the Eurostar to Belgium (Brussels) followed by an ICE train to Germany (Cologne). We were based in Cologne for the long weekend taking in FC Köln on the Saturday after watching Borussia Dortmund on the Friday eve. The weather was cold and grey throughout but the rain was restricted to overnight Friday and then again Saturday afternoon until early Sunday morning. This didn't dampen our spirits.

Train from Cologne to Dortmund throughout the Friday afternoon rush hour wasn't pleasant, it was rammed during the 75 mins or so journey stopping at Bochum, Essen and Dusseldorf and elsewhere en route. Despite being delayed we had a fair amount of time to follow the hordes to the cracking Westfalenstadion stadium, and joined over 81,000 fans who saw Borussia Dortmund stumble to a 1-0 win over Ingolstadt in the Bundesliga. As witnessed a few years ago the atmosphere was electric, but we were let down by the standard of the footy on this occasion. The opposition wasted many chances and a stronger team could have easily embarrassed 3rd placed BVB, who had to rely on a well worked early strike to take the points. Back at about 2am in Cologne, as more delays were experienced on the train.

The twin-towered cathedral in Cologne is the city's centre of attention and we had a look around this striking place on Saturday morning before having a pre-match beer (Kölsch - don't think the locals serve owt else!) in one of the excellent Brauhauses. The heavens opened on leaving the tram at Cologne's RheinEnergieStadion but we were soon inside for the 3.30 pm kick off. A much better match than the previous evening with FC Köln taking a deserved 3-0 half time lead over Hertha Berlin. The visitors raced out of the blocks in the second half pulling one goal back, and should have had a second, but FC Köln broke away for a clinching fourth goal only for Hertha to once again pull one back. The match finished 4-2 and 6th placed FC Köln closed the gap in the Bundesliga on their​ 5th placed​ opponents.

Sunday morning allowed for a walk along the Rhine and a bit of birding. A couple of singing Short-toed Treecreepers were noted as were a pair of Peregrines over the city centre. The Tiercel wanted to display but the Falcon thought otherwise. Several gulls on the Rhine included a couple each of Herring and Yellow-leggeds. A Ring-necked Parakeet was a surprise flyby back near the hotel.

Sunday, 26 February 2017

Extremadura May 2016 - rain, rain, rain, a bit more rain and snow - but fantastic birding!

You will be pleased to know that I'm not going to break into song about 'The rain in Spain stays mainly on the Plain'. However, it bloomin' well rained most days on or around the Trujillo Plains when birding there for a week in early May 2016. Nevertheless, birding was good. Here's the preamble to my trip report, now uploaded at 'Birding Trip Reports - Other'. Also, please check out birding video from this trip at my YouTube channel.

Birded Extremadura for a week in early May 2016, based in Trujillo, spending most days exploring the nearby plains as well as making multiple trips to Monfrague throughout. Also, single trips further afield to the north just over in Castile y León (Sierra de Gredos Mountains) and to the south (Vegas Altas).

The weather was unseasonably wet throughout with blocking high pressure back home in the UK diverting low pressure systems over the western side of the Iberian peninsula. Only one full day of rain but most were showery with cracking late afternoon thunderstorms engulfing Trujillo. It was battered most days from 5pm and continuing into the evenings, you could set your watch by it! Never higher than mid teens (Celsius) meant for comfortable birding throughout, a fleece needed, but there was an increase in temperature on the turn of the weather on my last day.

Birding was fantastic, the crossroads half way from Trujillo to Monroy mentioned in the invaluable Gosney Guide (Site P4-4) was a must for raptors and grassland specialities. Nearby a Golden Eagle was unexpected yet most welcome site as it was pestered by a pair of 'tiny' Common Buzzards. However, the stars of the show were the territorial Spanish Imperial Eagles. Please see the full trip report for a day by day breakdown of the birding. The daily summaries were written at the end of each day, you might gather that I was getting a little fed up by the rain as the week progressed. The photos below offer a taster for the birding and the cracking scenery. Lots more in the report. Enjoy.

Please click on 'Birding Trip Reports - Other' - last report (pdf) in the Spain section.

A short video highlighting some of the fantastic birding is also available at my YouTube channel
The Spanish Imperial Eagles were breathtaking!

Tuesday, 14 February 2017

Early year birding in London and Yorkshire

Several weekends birding Rainham in January and February produced the typical winter returns. At least 2 Marsh Harriers hunted the Silts whilst Common Buzzards looked on and a lone female Peregrine a top a pylon looked huge even at distance as it surveyed Wennington Marsh. Not forgetting the ever present Kestrels and big female Sparrowhawk that buzzed the area on several visits. A couple of Short-eared Owls patrolled Aveley Bay/MDZ on two visits. A Water Pipit was often seen feeding along the pool edges at the Shooting Butts hide whereas the wintering Rock Pipits on the foreshore seemed to be scarce this winter. Wintering wildfowl were evident especially as the reserve took on seasonal water and included a good variety of dabbling ducks, with double figures of Pintail. 5 (Russian) White-fronted Geese flew onto the reserve to roost (11 Feb) flanked by Greylag Geese. A group ranging from a dozen to thirty Avocets took a liking to Aveley Bay throughout., with Lapwing plentiful on both sides of the Thames but Golden Plover eluded me. A Grey Plover looked lonesome on the Thames shore with several Curlews, but Black-tailed Godwits roosted together on the reserve (150+ on 04 Feb). Lots of Stonechat around the reserve, Cetti's Warblers winding up their 'vocal chords' throughout, and a Waxwing entertained all in late January as it fed by the visitor centre.

Gulls on the Thames included the regular '5'. Also Yellow-legged Gulls seen at Rainham and up river at Thames Barrier Park (TBP). An adult Mediterranean Gull joined roosting gulls at Rainham's Coldharbour Point (14 Jan).

One 1st winter Caspian Gull at TBP from three Sunday visits was a low return given the numbers of Caspos present in the area, but of attraction were the colour-ringed gulls.

Lots of local (Rainham/Pitsea) Black-headed Gulls (yellow rings) and Herring Gulls (orange/red rings) with a couple of Danish (white VH37) and GBB Gulls (black JWR26) noted. Scandinavian argentatus Herring Gulls are usually ten a penny back home in winter, but the Thames shore is and was dominated by argenteus examples. The brute of a 'Scandi' Herring Gull shown below dwarfed some of its British cousins.

Elsewhere connected with the pale/grey Stonechat early in the year at Richmond Park and a visit back home saw me and my dad twitch the Pine Bunting near York. A cracking Yorkshire tick, we were lucky to relocate it early in the afternoon (28 Jan) when wandering round the muddy field edges (after spending 3 hours in the rain staring at a hedgerow!) A group of 31 (Russian) White-fronted Geese was a fine sight at Ingbirchworth Res., South Yorkshire (29 Jan) even so as they 'yapped' in flight, not at all familiar with their call. A bit of a goose fest going on there as a flock of 8 Pink-footed Geese stopped off to join the White-fronts, Greylag (160) and Canadas (275).