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

Saturday, 20 June 2020

Missing the Asian Warbler

Having stressed all week about the Asian Desert Warbler in Northumberland and should I go or not last night I decided I would try. I set off on my own as we can't car share presently with the Covid restrictions and decided on stopping off in North Yorkshire to await news of the Warbler on Holy Island before pressing on for the final two and a half hours of the journey.

Nosterfield NNR
My stop off was planned as I still needed Lesser Yellowlegs for a year tick so Nosterfield NNR fitted the bill and on arrival around 5am I found fellow Essex birder Dave B on site with exactly the same plan. We discussed the probability that the bird had moved over night whilst we enjoyed good views of the Lesser Yellowlegs with a guy from Newark that also had the exact same plan as us. Nosterfield NNR is a new reserve for me and very nice it is too.

Record shot of the Lesser Yellowlegs
With negative news finally coming through we both set off in different directions in search of year ticks. My first stop was a short drive down the A61 where I found Red Grouse in a spot I've visited before near Harrogate. I then headed off in search of the Red-footed Falcon that Dave had already seen down the A1 at Biggin. On arrival the bird was sat on the wires but soon took flight and was lost to view and I don't think it was seen again today. As I checked the news services I noticed that the Rosy Starling had been reported at nearby Collingham so I drove back just one junction and in no time I was watching a superb adult Rose-coloured Starling with the small group of birders already on site.

I had said to myself that if the Warbler is a no show I'd spend a big chunk of the day at Welbeck and this is what I did. I saw three Honey Buzzard from the watchpoint and one came quite close to reveal itself as a very dark male bird. It's been a while since I had any view of Honey Buzzard but this was close to my best views to date. I left late afternoon now feeling the early start but still found time to detour around Rutland Water to check out the Ospreys in Manton Bay for another year tick.

A good two metres apart at Welbeck.
What could have been a very disappointing day was rescued by a very good supporting cast and it's good to be out enjoying the hobby with like minded people again.

Year list now 221

Wednesday, 17 June 2020

Strange visit to Minsmere

I went to sleep on Monday well aware that many birders would be travelling to Holy Island over night hoping that the Asian Desert Warbler had settled down. For me its a 12 hour return car journey and whilst I could handle that I find it hard to justify the cost of that journey in a single occupied car. If we were permitted to share a car then a three way split with the Jims might have changed my mind but instead I opted to visit Minsmere only 90 minutes from home and always a good place to get some birding in.

Minsmere scrapes
The reserve has opened trails but the shop and hides remain closed. At the car park you are asked to park with greater distance between cars which makes sense and you are asked to follow a one way loop too. The Public viewing platform is open but the area is somewhat overgrown as you'd expect with the lack of attention lately. I enjoyed good views of Bearded Tits and more Dartford Warbler on the walk out to the hide and in the end found scanning from the sea wall a better option than using the public platform. I found a large group of Sandwich Terns to give another year tick and a Single first summer Little Gull but couldn't find any Roseate Tern among the Commons.  I only counted another five birders in my three hours on site so perhaps many still think it's closed.

Entrance to the public viewing platform
Dunwich Heath is also closed but does allow prior booked access which I didn't have so I made do with a walk around Westleton Heath. I heard Woodlark singing and found a couple of pairs of Stonechat before spotting my first Dartford Warbler of the year followed quickly by my second third fourth and fifth. The warblers were busy and had no time to sit still and all views were flashes of movement only and hardly any calling.

Westleton Heath
Before I left I headed down the entrance trap and heard the Iberian Chiffchaff calling as I got out of the car at Saunders Hill. I managed a couple of views as it moved around the branches but nothing very clear but it was a welcome year tick as I'd missed the local Ponders End bird during lockdown.

Year list now 216

Reed Warbler
Bearded Tit

Bearded Tit
I'd still like to see that Asian Desert Warbler and it's still pulling my twitch strings but the sensible me is so far winning the debate.

Saturday, 13 June 2020

Catching up at Abberton

Having missed a few migrants during the long period of intense lockdown I decided to try to catch up a bit if I could whilst still maintaining some self discipline and a level of control over my actions as I continue to run mini risk assessments every time I leave the house.

Abberton looking beautiful in the early morning light
Today I kept the birding to my home county of Essex with a morning at Abberton where the reserve is still closed as is access to the farm but the two causeways are open and the screen that overlooks Wigborough bay is also accessible. I didn't have to worry about other people as the place was very quiet and being closed to the public helped.

I spent the morning scanning from outside the screen at Wigborough and the causeways and also spent some time at Abberton Church scanning with the sun behind me which was a little easier and for my trouble I picked up three year ticks with Garganey, Yellow Wagtail and Little-ringed Plover all firsts for the year. Other highlights included Cuckoo and Marsh Harrier but little else of note although the number of Egyptian Geese was a little unexpected.

Year list now 212
I think I'll do well to reach 250 in this climate but time will tell.

Little-ringed Plover

Friday, 12 June 2020

Red footed Falcon at Fen Drayton

Having broken my lockdown twitch duck with the Marsh Warbler I succommed again today as news came in that the Red footed Falcon was still at Fen Drayton. The journey was less than an hour from home and a venue I've seen Red-footed Falcon before. I pulled up by the bridge over the river and walked north along the river bank for about half a mile. (you could use the main car park and walk back along the busway) I saw the falcon pop up hunting in the distance as I walked along the river but carried on to the busway where other birders had gathered.

One of us is socially distancing
I stopped a good few metres from the small group and scanned the fenceline at the back of the field to find the Red-footed Falcon sitting on a post and managed to get the scope on it for decent views before it took flight again but kept itself distant. As I walked back down the river the bird was seen again hawking the fields in the company of Hobby and Kestrels.

Red-footed Falcon at Fen Drayton
Year list now just  209

Thursday, 11 June 2020

Sedge Warbler

Sedge Warbler
Sedge Warbler

Sedge Warbler

Sedge Warbler

Sedge Warbler

Wednesday, 10 June 2020

Spotted Flycatcher gets noted

Birdguides gave my Spotted Flycatcher image a noteable tag this week and I'm always pleased with these small moments of recognition.

Here's the image............

Spotted Flycatcher

Monday, 8 June 2020

A moment of weakness

I was happily painting the ceiling this morning when Jim rang to say he was going for the Marsh Warbler at Ware. He had good directions from Matt M. and just wanted me to have them in case I also fancied it which I didn't until he did and then I did.

I washed up and drove the 15 miles to Ware parking in Myddleton Road and walking along the river to find a couple of other birders staring at a distant bush. The Jims arrived shortly after and pretty soon we were enjoying the song of the Marsh Warbler and in the next hour managed three decent views. Good to see the Jims out birding again and glad they managed to get me up for the trip too as you don't get to see too many Marsh Warblers.

Nothing but a distant record shot of the Marsh Warbler
The Warbler bush.....social distancing wasn't a problem.
Coot (still yet to get contrast right on one of these)

Year list now 208

Sunday, 7 June 2020

Cemetery birding

I drove down to Oare Marsh this morning arriving at 6am with a view to just getting in some quality birding and hopefully a year tick or two. Napoleon has been seen this week and a couple of Garganey had been reported but I found neither on this visit.

I did enjoy some time with a very showy Sedge Warbler and had a pair of Cuckoo for company as I walked the reserve. A couple of Stock Dove sat on the telegraph poles but I didn't see or hear any Turtle Dove. Bearded Tits and Cettis Warblers showed well before a Marsh Harrier started to hunt the reedbeds. The reserve was quiet so I was quite comfortable in my space but left before the dog walkers took over.

Sedge Warbler at Oare Marsh 
Sedge Warbler
On the way home I stopped at a local cemetery and found a pair of Spotted Flycatchers so pulled out the camera to catch a couple of images. I spent a couple of hours at the cemetery as it was really quiet and I with the flycatchers for company the time flew.

Spotted Flycatcher

Thursday, 4 June 2020

June birds

Accepting that things are a little different this year and it's difficult to get out and about and with twitching almost out of the window I thought I'd take a minute to look back at previous June birds and reflect on happier birding times.

Common Rosefinch at Tottenham Marshes, a nice local twitch with a few familiar faces.
Blue-winged Teal at Berry Fen Cambridge

Squacco Heron on Hookers pit at Dunge

Marsh Warbler from Serin mound at Rainham
Little Bittern on the river Colne Rickmansworth
Purple Heron at Dunge

Black Kite at Selling in Kent
Pacific Swift at Trimley marshes in Suffolk
Roller at Edgefield
Black-winged Pratincole at Shellness in Kent
Wilson's Phalarope on the Isle of White
Melodious Warbler at Tiln in Notts

Spectacled Warbler at Burnham in Norfolk
Short-toed Eagle in Ashdown Forest

Hudsonian Whimbrel at Pagham Harbour

American Golden Plover at Rye harbour
Great Knot at Titchwell

Elegant Tern at Church Norton

Bonapartes Gull at Oare marsh in Kent

Black-headed Bunting and a Subalpine Warbler at Flamborough Head
Lesser Grey Shrike at Horsey
Black-winged Pratincole at Frampton marsh
Little Bustard at Slimbridge

Be great to see days like this again soon

Remember those socially social days we used to enjoy
So the month of June delivers for sure and most of the above were life ticks for me as highlighted so it's a really good month to be out and about.

Stay safe guys.

Wednesday, 3 June 2020

End of May review

So as per my previous post we know I had 63 birds on the list at the end of May last year that aren't on the list this year but I thought in my obsessive way I'd break this down a little to see if it was all Covid related and again excuse my thinking out loud here.

June 2019 was a good month for me but I doubt we'll see scenes like this again for a while.
So the obvious birds missing I could have got this year without lockdown include....

Grasshopper and Dartford Warbler
Wood Sandpiper
Arctic, Black and Sandwich Tern
Arctic and Great Skua
Little Ringed Plover
Little Gull
Yellow Wagtail

Then there's the family breaks I would have taken which would have bagged most of the sixteen birds I saw last year whilst in Scotland.

Add the twitchable birds I may gone for like.....

Iberian Chiffchaff at Ponders End (no doubt I would have gone for this but it came a bit too soon after lockdown for my liking so I left it alone)
Squacco and Purple Herons would have had my attention for sure without lockdown
Whiskered Tern would have had me jumping in the car for sure and then there's Temminck's Stint and numerous twitchable Red-footed Falcons or perhaps one of the passage Dotterel would have attracted my attention.

I tried before lockdown for Lesser Spotted Woodpecker and Long-eared Owl and failed but would have tried again I'm sure but for the restrictions we faced. So probably I'd still have a few of the 63 missing but even without Covid birds like Great Spotted Cuckoo, Great Reed Warbler, Baikal Teal, Ortolan Bunting, and White-winged Scoter would still not have given themselves up again this year for me even if I could get out to see them but we can also add the birds I would have twitched if it were not for the restrictions.

Collared Pratincole only a couple of hours from home
Any one of numerous Red-backed Shrikes around
The Chew Valley lake Laughing Gull and I may have been tempted by the Ross's Gull back in March when I was isolating
I would have tried to connect with the Short Toed Treecreeper at Dunge but again I was isolating and this one hurts most as I've never seen one before.

So I'm now left to consider which of the 63 I might still connect with....
Obviously some are here all summer so I may get the chance to find them
If we're allowed to visit Scotland I may yet add a dozen or so from that trip
I'd like to think a couple of days in Cornwall is still possible and that might connect me with a few birds later in the autumn but I have to concede that this year will be a low list year and I'll just make the most of the days out as they come.

I may still twitch if a suitable bird comes along but where I usually have considerations of time, money, chances of connecting etc I now need to add the risk assessment attached to the current Covid situation. Anyway I'm sure the year will still give some good birding and I look forward to autumn passage more than ever before and amazingly I still have the excitement of my first Wheatear to come.

Happy birding guys and stay safe out there.

Monday, 1 June 2020

Day at Acres Down

Readers of my blog will know I'm a keen year lister and this year had started quite well until the lockdown arrived for me earlier than most on 9th March. I isolated for a few weeks without leaving the house and filled my birding obsession with garden listing and then with a short walk from the house each day where I managed to tick 55 species but only added three to the year list in this time with my first House Martin of 2020 flying over the garden on 20th April, a Whitethroat on my short walk from home on 23rd April and a Swift over the garden on 6th May. When the first relaxation came into play allowing us to drive again I started to make the short drive to Lee Valley a couple of times a week. I walked the valley at 5am to avoid contact with others but enjoyed the lovely dawn chorus and managed to pick up another 8 year ticks between 14th and 24th May. I picked up a Hobby whilst on a socially distant visit to my brothers in Woodford but I have been itching for a field trip.

In these times you've more to consider than just wanting to do something. Firstly I'd usually take the Jims and this obviously isn't an option at the moment. Then I consider the basic risk associated with filling the car with diesel and luckily my local BP is quite well set up, they have bags attached to the pump so you don't touch the handle and with contactless payment the risk is minimal. My next concern is a breakdown and causing somebody else trouble by my action but again I consider that a manageable risk. The biggest consideration was could I keep to a social distance at the chosen venue and this is why I chose the New Forest.

Perfect isolation
Acres Down..lots of trees, lots of birds....not many people!
I drove down to Acres Down yesterday arriving at 6am to find a single car in the car park with a gentleman asleep in the passenger seat. I walked the forest for a couple of hours and enjoyed wonderful views of several Common Redstart and a single Tree Pipit, lots of Treecreeper and Nuthatch plus a calling Cuckoo.  At around 8am I walked up to the viewing mound and at this point I'd only seen one other person. Arriving at the mound I was again alone and settled down to enjoy the view before being joined by another guy at around 9am who sat about thirty feet away.

I stayed until midday and left as the mound got busier peaking at seven people who all observed good distancing from each other including me thankfully. In my four hour watch I saw a number of Common Buzzard and some excellent views of several Goshawk with some sitting to give good scope views. I had a couple of distant birds that could have been Honey Buzzard but they remained too distant to clinch. I had what appeared to be Turtle Dove fly across the valley which I'm told would be a local rarity. A single female Crossbill flew over the mound and several were heard calling in the woods.

I had another hour before leaving for home so walked the woods again and managed to find my first Willow Warbler of the year, a Spotted Flycatcher  and a calling Wood Warbler. By now the forest was a little busier but the pathways are wide which made keeping a distance easier and more comfortable.  I continue to show restraint in everything I do and I have resisted twitching even the most local birds in order to ensure social distancing isn't breached but these days out are not without risk and need careful consideration and planning in order to stay safe and keep others safe too. I'm certainly not ready for larger crowds and my next outing will be with the same or even more isolation in mind.

I'm sure the year list will reflect the isolation we've endured as by the end of May last year I had 63 birds on the 2019 list that aren't yet on the 2020 list and It's already cost me at least one new bird with the seemingly twitchable ST Treecreeper at Dungeness whilst I was in isolation before the lockdown began but I have found a new balance in my life which I'm currently enjoying although I do still long for some good birding trips like the Highlands and Pembrokeshire etc but let's be thankful to be here and still have the prospect of more birding, some less fortunate don't have that luxury.

Year list now 207

stay safe guys and enjoy your birding however your getting your fix right now