Tuesday 31 December 2013

Final Post of 2013

Well it's that time again when we say goodbye to one year and hello to another and in birding terms it means we say goodbye to one list and it all starts again tomorrow.

I finished in 12th position on the BUBO listings for the year which I suppose is a reasonable result considering my self imposed rules on travel time etc.

Congratulations to Lee Evans who looks to have finished as the top lister for 2013.

Paul Rowe who's company I've enjoyed on several twitches this year not forgetting a memorable Caper experience.

David Aitken who's company I have enjoyed both on the Isle of Wight for the Wilson's and in Hampshire where we both dipped the Brown Shrike. Congratulations Dave..Epic!

And Garry Bagnell who I have also twitched with a couple of times this year.

Apologies to the other top tenners but I've yet to bump into you.

good luck to you all in 2014

As for targets for next year.......I'm not setting anything other than I'd like to find the 15 lifers to take my Life list through 350 but I know I'm going to want to challenge this years year total of 285.......I just know it!
It'll all start tomorrow as we head out to tick the first Robin and Wren etc of 2014.

May the force be with you where ever you are as long as you're birding.

Sunday 29 December 2013

The ones that got away

I'm sitting here contemplating a mad trip down to Devon where a White-billed Diver has decided to winter.
It's 250 miles away, a drive of some 4 hours or more and would easily break my two hour rule.
It would mean setting off around 5am to be in Devon for about 9am and hopefully the bird is there and shows itself to us for our trouble. The risk of course with any twitch is that the bird "does a bunk".

250 miles from A - B
Of course I also need to consider the cost as 500 miles will set me back at least £80 in diesel.
Anyway while I continue with this current dilemma I thought I'd take a minute to reflect on some of the other great birds I've missed this year mostly due to my two hour rule which keeps a check on both the time and money I spend on the hobby.

Top 20 missed in no particular order but all leave me with some regret whilst I'm hopeful that I may be lucky enough to catch up with them in the future.

1) Bridled Tern in Northumberland
2) Ivory Gull in Yorkshire
3) Bailkal Teal in Lancashire
4) Harlequin Duck in North Uist
5) Surf Scoter in Dorset
6) Mourning Dove on the Isle of Rum
7) Needle-tailed Swift on the Isle of Harris
8) Orphean Warbler in Wales
9) Sardinian Warbler up at St Abbs Head
10) Hermit Thrush in Cornwall
11) Thrush Nightingale in Hartlepool
12) Rock Thrush in Yorkshire
13) Pine Grosbeak on Shetland
14) Cape May Warbler on Shetland
15) Great Snipe in Yorkshire
16) Short-Toed Lark in Lincolnshire
17) Collared Flycatcher in Northumberland
18) Pied Wheatear in Nottinghamshire
19) Rustic Bunting in Yorkshire
20) Little Bunting at Houghton-le-spring

I dipped a Brown Shrike this year down in Hampshire and a Bea Eater on the south coast but otherwise my trips have been pretty kind to me this year but I do wish I had more money and more time that would allow me to make the trips above and connect with some of these  wonderful visitors to our shores but having said all that 2013 has been a good year and the birding has been fantastic again taking me to some great places along the way.

I've also looked at birds seen this year that I didn't see last year and likewise the birds I saw last year but didn't see this year, made for an interesting read. (well it did to me anyway)

Now can I really make the trip to Devon before I go back to work....I doubt it but never say never!

"Lovely little Red head" SMEW on Connaught Water

Whilst waiting for the supermarket to open this morning I had a cheeky little walk around Connaught Waters in the middle of Epping Forest. A frosty start had frozen almost all of the lake pushing most of the birds to the few areas that had survived the sub zero temperatures of last night. Amongst the Mallards and Coots were good numbers of Teal and Tufted Duck along with a few Mandarins and Pochards. Shovelers hid under the branches of trees on the islands. Mute Swans, Canada and Greylag geese were present before I located a single male Pintail which never really came out of the shade for the camera. In the centre of the lake a nice pair of Goosander swam along before flying off to find a more suitable place to feed for the day. A Kingfisher flashed past before I noticed a splendid Red headed Smew which did occasionally come within range of my lens. A cracking little winter duck and a joy to watch for an hour or so this morning.

Tufted Duck, Goosanders, Pintail and Coot
Note to self: Visit Connaught Waters more!

Saturday 28 December 2013

Brunnich's Guillemot in Portland Harbour

News broke boxing day of a very rare visitor being found in Portland Harbour and with family commitments I had to wait until today for my first opportunity to make the trip. The 168 mile drive was achieved in two and a half hours as we arrived in the car park at 7.30am. A number of birders were already on site and had started the search in the darkness but as we made the short walk towards them the bird appeared in the dim light and was quickly ID'd. As the morning progressed the twitch built up to a point when several hundred birders lined the length of the harbour in a joint effort to relocate the bird which dived regularly coming up a good distance from where it was last seen which made the job of photographing it more difficult but eventually I worked out a good spot to sit and wait and it duly obliged with several shots.

Brunnich's Guillemot
Brunnich's Guillemot
Brunnich's Guillemot
Brunnich's Guillemot
Brunnich's Guillemot
Great Northern Diver
Also in the harbour today were three Great Northern Divers, a Black Guillemot (my first in England and first in winter plumage), Guillemot, a couple of Razorbill, a Kingfisher, several Shags and twenty plus Mergansers. Two Red-throated Divers flew over too before we left. A couple of miles away we stopped at Radipole Lake where the visitor centre has suffered storm damage but remains open. We were informed of a Glossy Ibis in Radipole Park so made the 800yard drive parking by the swing park to find the Ibis feeding on a flooded football pitch and from the hedge line we managed to get a couple of pictures and watch the bird feed for an hour or so.

Glossy Ibis
Glossy Ibis
Glossy Ibis

Last stop on our trip was Walpole Park in Gosport where a Ring-billed Gull has wintered for a few years now. On arrival a local was busy feeding waffles to the gulls and amongst them was our target and a rather smart Med Gull too so again we managed a year tick and a couple of pics although by this time the light had all but gone so we jumped back in the car and started our 120 mile journey back up the A3.
A nice day with a great bird slightly  bending my 2 hour twitch rule but well worth it and moving my year list to 285 with a lifer thrown in for good measure.

Ring-billed Gull
Little Egret

Great Tit
Great Twitch (Mirror this for the length of the harbour wall)

Tuesday 24 December 2013

Butterflies of 2013

Whilst most of my time is consumed chasing birds now and again my attention can be drawn to butterflies and this year has seen me connect with a few firsts here too.

At Strumpshaw Fen I found my first Swallowtail and was fortunate enough to grab a few photographs of it.

Swallowtail Butterfly
In Kent the warm weather brought out some Long-Tailed Blues and again I just about managed to catch one on the camera.

Long-tailed Blue
And it seemed as though Clouded Yellows were everywhere this summer.

Clouded Yellow
My very first Purple Emperor
Hoping I can add one or two more to my butterfly list in 2014. (Of course I have a list!)

Sunday 22 December 2013

Mammals of the year

The year gave me my best views ever of wild Otters whilst watching the Dark-bellied Dipper at Thetford.
A couple of Otters would swim along the river as I sat waiting for the dipper to show. I hope they had a good year.

Otter at Thetford
Stoat at Weeting Heath
The above Stoat entertained me early morning as it danced along the path towards me sitting bolt upright as it noticed me lying on the path in front of it.

The Hare above was seen running along the edge of the road as I travelled along the Findhorn Valley in Scotland. I stopped the car and lie on the floor next to it, luckily the Hare kept on running in my direction giving this opportunity.

The Badger shot above was taken at the BWC where I was lucky to find this magnificent beast out in the paddock during the day. A captive creature which chose to show for my camera.


Whilst watching the bird feeding station at Dungeness RSPB hoping for a Tree Sparrow to come in to feed the above Fox came out of the trees and sat watching the feeders with me for a while. I think we had ulterior motives.


2013 has seen my birding appetite continue with a new high year list of 285 beating 2012 by 6 birds.
I managed to see 23 lifers including the Brunnich's Guillemot at Portland, Dusky Thrush in Margate, The Caspian Tern in Staffs, Cirl Bunting, Lesser Yellowlegs and Pied-billed Grebe in Devon, my first Dotterel was seen in Berkshire, whilst Scotland delivered Ptarmigan and Capercaillie. The year delivered Scottish, Parrot and Two-barred Crossbills, Black Kite was another first whilst I enjoyed my first Savi's, Melodious and Dusky Warblers. Roller made an appearance on my list for the first time along side Lesser Grey Shrike. The Pacific Swift at Trimley presented me with another rarity and a trip to the Isle of Wight delivered good views of my first ever Wilson's Phalarope. I was lucky enough to get down to Kent just in time to see the Black-winged Pratincole back in June and one of only a handful to connect with this rare visitor moving my life list to 335. If I had to chose a best bird from the above I think I'd pick the Capercaillie as the encounter was just magical.

I've visited many counties again and some wonderful reserves. My Holidays have taken me to Wales and Scotland again and the bird encounters will live long with me and the Jims.

The local patch work didn't really get going as I just can't help getting to the coast at every opportunity and find birding in Kent and Norfolk far more rewarding than on the local fields etc. I can't see this changing much in 2014 if I'm honest. I invested in new camera kit this year and have enjoyed some nice encounters with all manner of wildlife and been lucky to capture some of those moments in mega-pixels.

I include here a few of my favorite bird photographs of 2013.

Red-backed Shrike
Long-tailed Tit
Long-eared Owl
Stone Curlew
Black Redstart
Rose-coloured Starling
2013 Lifers
Wishing everybody a happy Christmas and healthy 2014 with some excellent birding thrown in for good measure.
(Updated on 28th December)

Saturday 14 December 2013

Black-throated Diver in Princes Park Eastbourne

Black-throated Diver
With a juvenile Black-throated Diver deciding to spend a few days on the small pond in Princes Park on the East Sussex coast down at Eastbourne we thought the trip was worth a try and hoped that the bird had stuck and the weather would be reasonably kind to us. We arrived at 8.15 am and spotted the Loon swimming in the centre of the pond straight away. It was busy feeding on stickle backs and dived continuously often coming up quite a distant from it's previous location. I sat on the bank and managed a few shots although to my disappointment the bird never really came within range for my 400 lens and when it did I found contrast to be a real challenge.

Black-throated Diver
With the weather not really offering any encouragement we left and made the short drive along the coast to Tide Mills where we hoped to find the Spoonbill that'd been entertaining the locals all week. A search of the tidal pools and a walk along the estuary gave up nothing but Redshank, Lapwing and Curlew. The journey home was miserable with the roads moving really slow and each mile seeming to take forever. Not the best days birding of the year but nice to get reasonably close to a Loon for once.

Sunday 1 December 2013

Sanderling Sunday

In a repeat of last weekends trip we headed down to Wallasea early this morning where we were lucky to find both Marsh and Hen Harrier hunting the marsh. Three Peregrines came close and were even heard calling as they flew around our heads between chasing  Lapwings.

Marsh Harrier
After Wallasea we moved down to the sea front and quickly found a large flock of around fifty Sanderlings feeding on the beach with a few Turnstones. We also noted Dark-bellied Brent Geese and a couple of Med-Gulls in with the other gulls waiting to feed on any scraps left by the people walking the promenade.

Sanderling at Southend
Sanderling speed skate off
Juvenile Med Gull
Brent Goose  a real Essex bird!

Another cracking morning in Essex.