Saturday, 11 July 2020

Dipped the Yelkouan Shearwater at Portland

I drove down to Portland yesterday morning arriving at 7am planning a full day at this beautiful place and hoping to connect with the remarkable Shearwater that has been very well photographed over the last few days and stands a real chance of acceptance as a Yelkouan and not something I ever thought would be twitchable. I sat a good distance from the small gathering and tried alone to pick out the target but found only Balearic and Manx among the fifty odd birds rafting with the large gull flock.

I moved back towards the gathering to check nobody had the bird and we all agreed on a likely candidate sat on the sea but we really needed the bird to fly to check further. After a while the gull flock was disturbed by a boat approaching and took flight, the shearwaters followed but we managed to miss the bird we'd been waiting for. Later in the morning another flying group appeared to hold the Yelkouan and displayed all the attributes expected but it was only seen by three of us and we all decided we just couldn't be sure enough to call it. I relocated in an effort to find the group again but they were nowhere to be seen and later the Balearics gathered again but in smaller numbers so I'm left thinking I may have seen the bird but in no way did I see anything I could say with certainty  was a Yelkouan Shearwater so it remains on the dipped list. Interestingly it was reported by somebody else as lost to view at the Obelisk mid morning....our sighting was the other side of the Obelisk mid morning so I guess somebody else saw the same bird and had more confidence to call it although the majority of the thirty or so on site had not seen it or didn't know they'd seen it.

Balearic Shearwater
Scanning the Shearwaters 
Just a great place to sit and enjoy doing nothing
Guillemot and Razorbill flew up and down all day and occasionally the Gannets came in to fish. Fulmars glided along the shoreline and Shag was noted on the water at times. A single Whimbrel flew over the Bill early in the day and a small flock of Common Scoter flew west at lunchtime. A single Med Gull and a few Rock Pipits the only other birds of note.

At sea a Tui cruise ship is docked and stands as a reminder to the pandemic we still face and also of note was an RAF A400 Airbus which spent the day in what appeared a training routine overhead.

The A400 Airbus
The sad site of a docked cruise ship

Portland remains one of my favourite places to visit even if I missed the target bird.

Year list now 230

Wednesday, 8 July 2020

Dipped the Sooty Tern at Sizewell

This morning I was sat at home pondering over driving to Portland for the very probable Yelkouan Shearwater that's been reported and seems to be backed up by decent images which should help it get accepted. As I had just convinced myself to give it a go news came through of a Sooty Tern at Sizewell that had settled twice on the far rig and I thought this looked like a pattern developing and a real  chance of me seeing the bird so I set of to Suffolk instead of Dorset saving me around 140 miles in the round trip.  I arrived about half an hour after the bird had flown south but I assumed the bird would return as before to rest up on the rig with the breeding Kittiwakes. After three hours and with no sign of the bird the small crowd had all but dispersed so I decided to leave too and save my life tick for another day.

The small crowd at Sizewell
I picked up a year tick with two Whimbrel flying over calling and enjoyed watching a pair of Peregrine around the power station but otherwise the highlight was a nice long chat with a Kent birder named Raphael as we swapped stories of more successful days out. I find myself still contemplating a trip to Dorset in the morning though but lets see how the evening works out first.

Year list now 228

Tuesday, 7 July 2020

A relaxing morning at Oare marsh in Kent

Dad text to ask if I fancied meeting him at Oare marsh today and of course I agreed so I set off at 5am this morning and enjoyed a cracking morning with the Jims doing what we like to do.

We were of course hoping to connect with the Bonaparte's Gull that had returned over a month ago but had been difficult to find until this weekend when it appeared to settle back into a routine of feeding on the mud by the slipway and resting on east flood. We first saw this bird back in 2013 and I think we have seen it every year since. I scanned the gulls on the mud for two hours picking up a bonus year tick with a Little Tern coming in to the estuary to feed for a few minutes before flying back out. The gull wasn't showing so I took a walk down the road to meet up with the Jims.

Bearded Tit
Bearded Tit
Bearded Tit
On the way down I found a smart family party of Bearded Tits and grabbed a few images before walking around the marsh scanning the vast variety of birds on offer which included Spotted Redshank, Greenshank, Redshank, Avocet, Dunlin, Blackwit and Oystercatcher. A couple of Turtle Dove sat on the wires in the distance but could be heard calling and the place is alive with the calls of Whitethroat, Sedge, Reed and Cetti's Warblers. As we reached the hide at the far end another birder was scoping and he'd seen the Bonaparte's Gull so we joined him and very quickly had the bird in view for a seventh year running. It's very smart in full summer plumage and once you have your eye in is quite obvious to pick out among the many Blackheads.

Bonaparte's Gull

A lovely six hours enjoying the delights of Oare marsh again and a joy to be out and about again.

Year list 227

Oare marsh at 5.30am this morning

Tuesday, 30 June 2020

Saal Digital review

I was asked by Saal-digital to order and review one of their professional line photo books and was glad to accept that invitation. 

The front acrylic cover (sorry my iphone pics don't do it justice)

Saal market this product as the "Photobook with the WOW factor". so I was interested to see if it lived up to this. I'm used to ordering photobooks as I put them together for family for birthdays and Christmas presents and to date have been happy with my current supplier but I was more than happy to use the promotional voucher Saal provided.

My first step was to download their design software which concerned me a little but proved a real asset as it made for a much quicker upload of images. The software if very user friendly and allows for simple and advanced editing. 

The Professional line offers varying sizes from a standard 210mm square to a portfolio sized  400 x 300mm. I opted for something in the middle with a 300 x 210mm landscape book. I chose to have an acrylic image as the cover which gives the book a heavy feel of quality with the thick acrylic really a stand out feature compared to other books I've ordered in the past. The print option gives you the choice to have your images as glossy or matte and there is an option to have the book delivered in a lovely presentation box but I found that option a bit our of my budget at £40 a box. I selected the mid range option of 52 pages but ended up adding a few extras as you do in these things and this meant I ended up paying a good bit towards the book as my promotional voucher didn't cover the full cost.

The book arrived in under a week and communication was excellent from point of order to delivery through to customer service interest post delivery as is normal in todays world.

I am delighted with the product, the print quality and colour representation is superb although I made a point of only using high resolution images that the Saal design software recognised as "very good" in it's upload remarks. Without the promotional voucher I might have chosen different options to keep the cost within my budget but I cannot fault the finished product and would highly recommend the company for the product and the service provided.

Overall verdict = ten out of ten.

Covid Year list update for the end of June

I popped into Hertfordshire to listen to some Quail singing in the week and as usual I struggled to see any but did hear three birds doing their thing accompanied by Corn Bunting and Skylark in what was an enjoyable couple of hours not far from home.

Quail fields in Baldock Hertfordshire

The quail lifted the Covid affected year list to 225

The recent lifting of lockdown restrictions has opened the door for birding trips again in England apart from the fact that many reserves remain closed to the public and I still can't get in a car with the Jims as I'd very much like to again so we can enjoy a good days birding together. We are not yet allowed to cross borders to the rest of the UK and I miss those excursions. I find it strange that we can travel to Spain again but can't go to Scotland or Wales for a bit of birding but maybe they have it right and in time we'll reflect on Spain etc opening the doors so fast.

When out birding recently I've seen different levels of concern over infection and different levels of social distancing and this isn't defined by a specific group as you'd think the younger guys would be happier to break the two metre rule but its usually the older guys that are happy to get up close and personal and at times you'd be hard pressed to think we are in the middle of a global pandemic. I have on more than one occasion found myself backing away from a birder that has encroached my self defined safe space.  As I write Leicester has just been told to Lockdown again due to a local outbreak and the virus seems to be growing in many countries so I remain under no illusion that we are over the hill with this dreadful bug but getting out in the fresh air is good for my spirit (mental health they call it now) and I'm glad we currently have the freedom to enjoy the hobby again even if I am going solo and still being a bit picky about my days out. I guess we all have different ways of dealing with stress and anxiety but for me it's all about Bird Therapy!

I find myself sitting on 225 species seen this year where as at the end of June last year I was on 264 so I'm 39 off that pace but on a positive note I've seen the following seven birds this year that I didn't manage to see at all last year..........

Gull-billed Tern at Dungeness and so far my only LIFE TICK of 2020
Desert Wheatear
Honey Buzzard
Marsh Warbler
Richard's Pipit
Rose-coloured Starling

During lockdown I missed some migrants including these relatively easy annual ticks

Pied Flycatcher
Arctic Tern
Black Tern
Wood Sandpiper
Grasshopper Warbler

I'd like to think I have a great chance of connecting with these guys on the way out in the autumn and I should state too that no Wales and no Scotland to date means I'm missing a dozen or so that these trips would usually deliver and there's still time for the devolved governments to open the doors to the English again in time to add these ticks but more importantly allow me the chance to see the wonderful sites they have to offer as I collect the ticks.

Scotland....Please open the door to English visitors again soon

A late summer trip to Cornwall would still add a few ticks if I can justify the travel in time and expense but I would love to get down for a sea watch if at all possible again his year as I really enjoyed it last year with the Jims.

Some of the 303 birds I saw last year will I'm sure evade me though and I'm thinking here of the megas from 2019...

Little Bustard
Eastern Olivaceous Warbler
Black-eared Wheatear (pending)
Black-headed Bunting
Brown Booby
Great Snipe
Baikal Teal
Red-eyed Vireo
White-winged Scoter
Ortolan Bunting

Lockdown has cost me two lifers with the Short-toed Treecreeper at Dunge and the Greater Sand Plover up in Scotland that may have tempted me if the border was open to us. I also delayed going for the Asian Desert Warbler until the day it departed which I'll regret until the next one comes along but thankfully I only travelled half way before negative news arrived. I should have connected with Blyth's Reed Warbler but for some reason couldn't get myself to twitch one of the numerous possible targets and a similar story with the handful of Savi's on offer. Whiskered Tern at Dunge would probably be on the list if  the reserve wasn't closed. The Laughing Gull at Belvide has grabbed my attention although I'm not convinced the journey for it is justified in this climate but if I'm honest I may have a different attitude if it were a life tick which I suppose doesn't reflect too well on me.

On another positive note I still have the chance of connecting with lot's of great birds from last years list like any of the Skuas and Shearwaters along with Little Auk on passage. Phalaropes are still possible as they head south and I suppose we still have the chance of an unexpected rarity or two.

I expect to see a big difference in the final list for 2020 with all we've been through this year but I'll keep getting out there and hope to make the difference as small as possible but at this point my family has come through stage one without too much drama so I'm grateful for that and will remain focused on safe birding throughout the rest of the year whilst trying to add a few more ticks.

Here's to a better second half to 2020 

Stay safe guys and enjoy your birding time.

Wednesday, 24 June 2020

Gull-billed Tern at Dungeness

I had a feeling this year was going to be my Gull-billed Tern year and when news came through last night regarding one on ARC pit at Dungeness I thought this would be my chance to finally add it to my life list. I left early but had to divert as the road down to the M25 was closed apparently due to a murder enquiry but I still arrived before 7am. The bird had been seen to leave the roost at 4am but hadn't been seen since and I had to wait until 9.30am before I saw it flying in from the Tower end where I'd already found a Black-winged Stilt. The small crowd were more than happy when I put the shout up and as the bird moved closer and closer I was glad it proved to be the target and not a Sandwich Tern which did run through my mind as I called it.

Gull-billed Tern

I watched the bird until 10.30am when it flew over Burrowes pit to rest and I decided to have a quick look at the sea. The only thing of note here was a RNLI lifeboat picking up a group of people and delivering them to the Border Force patrol. I had another go at seeing the Tern and after an hours wait it flew in again and gave a decent display to the handful of birders for the afternoon shift. As I stood waiting I picked up a large raptor coming in toward the pit and as it got close enough I could confirm it was a Honey Buzzard which again delighted me and the other guys on site.

View over ARC pit

Border force doing what they do 
The Honey Buzzard 
The year list nudged forward to 224
The life list now sits at 412 with my first new bird of the year

Gull-billed Tern

Gull-billed Tern

Gull-billed Tern

Tuesday, 23 June 2020

Nightjars in the Brecks

I arranged to meet the Jims in the Brecks last night for some socially distant Nightjarring. We are well aware of the risks of sharing a car even with the Covid risk seemingly at a much lower base rate now so set off separately with the Jims going early to search for Stone Curlews before meeting me in the Kings Forest at 9.30. Between 9.30 and 10.30 we had numerous close encounters with Nightjars churring, wing clapping calling and flying around us. Tawny Owls were calling throughout too and with the barking of the deers it made for quite an atmosphere as it got dark and provided a very enjoyable evening far better than staying home watching TV.

Nightjar country
Nightjar shot on the iphone

Year list now 222