Tuesday 25 November 2014

Hoopoe at Dawlish Warren, 24th November 2014

On my day tour in Norfolk on the 14th November we chatted about birds and on being asked what bird I would most like to see in the UK, I replied with hoopoe (Carl's was Siberian rubythroat). And in a bizarre twist of fate a hoopoe was found at Dawlish Warren the next day (15th)!

Hoopoe in Egypt 2013 - the view I was hoping for at Dawlish Warren in 2014

I wasn't expecting it to hang around but it was still being reported on the 22nd November and so on the 24th, my first free day to go and look for it, I headed off on the train to Dawlish Warren. It was a beautiful cold and sunny morning with a heavy frost, the first of the winter, and everywhere was looking white, not the best weather for a warmth loving bird to survive the night.

Having seen a flyover merlin from the train near South Brent I arrived at The Warren and had a look around the Buffer Zone where the hoopoe has been most often reported but with no luck. A look along the beach for the randomly reported Bonapartes gull also drew a blank so I headed off to the hide to view the high tide roost. The usual waders were on view - curlew, oystercatcher, grey plover, dunlin, knot, redshank and bar tailed godwit - along with shelduck, brent goose, wigeon and a lone redhead red breasted merganser. 2 water pipits were feeding in the saltmarsh by the hide with skylarks and rock pipits and gave some very nice views before being flushed by a birder walking past.

A snipe was flushed from a boggy area in Greenland Lake and a great spotted woodpecker was heard in the wood but it was out of bounds due to flood defence works and the area being cordoned off. A male bullfinch flew over, looking very bright in the strong sunlight, while offshore 2 great crested grebe and a lone common scoter were all I found in the flat calm conditions

I  then concentrated on the Buffer Zone again but with no luck and so I headed off to wander around the village where the hoopoe seems to spend most of its time in the gardens and out of sight. Again I was out of luck despite wandering around the quiet grassy areas of the caravan park. I decided to have a look from the railway platform overlooking the golfcourse and Buffer Zone but wasn't very hopeful, enjoying the sight of a red admiral flying around in the sunshine. However after a few minutes of scanning around I saw the distinctive black and white winged floppy flight of a hoopoe as it flew from the golf course to the construction site area, a brief and distant view and one I almost couldn't believe I was seeing. I headed off to the area where it landed but couldn't find it although a passing birder had seen it on the ground briefly before it flew off again.

And so I had seen my first UK hoopoe, not the views I had hoped for but a sighting none the less.

Hoopoe in Egypt 2012 - not the view I had at Dawlish Warren in 2014

Monday 24 November 2014

North Norfolk Birding and a Surprise Dusky Warbler

During my family visit to Suffolk I arranged a birding day in Norfolk with Carl Chapman who runs birding day tours with his company Wildlife Tours and Education. I arrived at Cromer railway station at just after 9 o'clock on Friday 14th November where Carl met me and off we headed west along the coast. It was just me on the tour but Carl was an excellent guide, very knowledgeable and easy going and very good company.

The weather forecast for the day was awful but it was dry on arrival at Salthouse near Cley. However it didn't last and within 20 minutes of leaving the car it bucketed down and did so for the next 3 hours. The forecast was for rain all day but by 1 o'clock it stopped and turned in to a pleasent afternoon. This obviously had an effect on the birds and birding but I did see some fantastic birds and had a great day anyway.

Starting at Salthouse we had a look for snow buntings but with the weather turning we had no luck. We headed off to Cley and birded from the car, getting some lovely close views of golden plover bathing in pools near the road. Looking for a black brant amongst the brent goose flock was unsuccessful but it was nice to see good numbers of juvenile brents in the flock. A short seawatch from a shelter on the beach at Cley gave some nice views of flyby red throated divers, it was interesting to see them lift their heads up occassionally as they flew by, something I haven't noticed before. There were plenty of gannets and gulls flying around and a few guillemots on the sea but in the rain and gloom we didn't find anything else so headed off towards Holkham.

We stopped in a layby overlooking the marshes at Holkham just as the rain cleared, disturbing 3 grey partridges feeding in the stubble. Another 6 were also found and gave some good views, it has been some time since I last saw grey partridge and I was very pleased to see them. A red legged partridge was also heard (another introduced bird!) along with a pure white pheasent (also introduced!). Pink footed geese were feeding in the stubble fields and flying around and gave some great views, my first close sightings ever, and very handsome birds to see.

Looking over the marsh and a few buzzards were perched on trees and fences, looking very bedraggled from the rain, and one distant bird had a very pale head and dark belly. A rough legged buzzard has been seen around the area for a while but with the distance and mist we weren't sure and it flew off without us seeing its tail pattern. There were quite a few pale common buzzards around which looked very rough legged buzzard-like in the gloom but all lacked the distinct white rump and dark tail band in flight.

Marsh harriers were noticeable and mobile over the marsh and we also picked up a distant short eared owl hunting over the marsh, my third owl species of my trip, and at one point it mobbed a passing by marsh harrier.

Marsh Harrier at Holkham

Heading on to Lady Anns Drive and Egyptian geese were seen in the roadside fields, looking a little more natural in the wilds of Norfolk rather than a London park but still exotic looking and out of place in the UK in November. We had even closer views of pink footed geese with 2 birds having neck rings - checking the details later revealed they were ringed on the same day in Iceland in 2000 (maybe related?). Amazing to think they were 14 years old and the thousands of miles they must have flown.

 Pink Footed Geese

 Pink Footed Geese

Pink Footed Geese

A walk around Holkham Pines and we heard a yellow browed warbler calling amongst a goldcrest and mixed tit flock but we couldn't find it amongst the trees. Offshore a smart great northern diver was close to shore and a few red throated divers flew past doing their characteristic head lift. Carl found the male surf scoter amongst the common scoter flock offshore but the views were distant and difficult in the choppy sea and gloom. It was asleep in the flock but its white nape patch was very noticeable and I had a brief head view just before it dived.

The weather continued to improve and we headed off to a nearby saltmarsh where I had a brief flight view of a female/juvenile merlin, my 4th of the year. 3 hen harriers were flying around as the sun began to set, a ringtail and 2 very smart males, and brent- and pink footed geese flew over calling as they headed off to roost, a perfect end to a brilliant day.

Having missed out on seeing snow buntings I managed to persuade David to drive out to Landguard Point in Suffolk on Sunday 16th to have a look for 2 reported birds. I was out of luck but ended up seeing a dusky warbler instead which had been found that morning, I hadn't known about it being there when we left home so it was quite a pleasent surprise and a new bird for me. It was typically elusive but gave some nice but brief views, not surprising considering the amassed birders chasing it around the bramble patches it was frequenting - I really hate twitches, I want to see birds the same as any birder but I don't agree with harassing birds to get a view. I stayed in one place at a slightly elevated spot and managed some decent views as the bird flew around, flitted about and called in the large bramble patches, most birders were missing it as they ran from place to place to try and see it.

Dusky Warbler, Landguard Point - photo courtesy of Felixstowe Birding Website

Finally, a black stork was seen at the nearby Trimley Marshes that day and so the following day we went for a walk there to have a look for it but with no luck - it had moved on to north Suffolk - but I did see 2 muntjac deer and a fox and I heard another yellow browed warbler calling amongst a goldcrest and tit flock but again couldn't get a sighting.

A male Feathered Thorn - a new moth for me, found by a night light at my nephews boarding school in Suffolk but with a damaged wing from getting wet

And so it had been a very good trip to East Anglia  with some great bird sightings, a British life tick and a yearlist now on 211 species. And I would really like to do a whole weekend birding tour of North Norfolk, maybe next year.........

Saturday 22 November 2014

Plastic Year Ticking in London

A sunny but breezey walk at Bellever on Dartmoor on Sunday 9th November was relatively bird free with a flyover siskin, redpoll and great spotted woodpecker being the highlights. I thought I heard a crossbill flying over twice but couldn't be sure over the noise of the breeze and David yapping.

I did find some yellow stagshorn amongst the conifer tree plantation,  a very pretty fungus that grows on coniferous wood.

 Yellow Stagshorn

Yellow Stagshorn

On the way back to Plymouth we stopped off for a very tasty cream tea at the Two Bridges Hotel. In the car park were a few feral geese with one bird having angelwing. I had never heard of this condition until I began following an excellent blog about the birds of Kensington Gardens in London, written by Ralph Hancock. I have never knowingly seen it before but may have just not noticed it before, it occurs in young birds fed on a very rich diet and is common in wildfowl, especially those fed on bread in parks. The condition occurs at a certain point in their growth, causing the wing joint to turn outwards and rendering the bird flightless.

Feral Goose with Angelwing

With a trip to Suffolk to see family on November 12th I decided to stop off in London on the train journey to Ipswich to have a wander around Kensington Gardens, having been inspired by Ralphs blog.The journey up was very pleasent and I managed to see a kingfisher and 2 greenshank along the River Exe, 2 roe deer and around 20 red kites in the sunny conditions. Most of the kites were distant but a few were very close to the train as we sped by and were my first "plastic" birds of the day, having been reintoduced to England through a captive breeding programme. I also saw plenty of pheasents in the countryside, another introduced bird.

Arriving at The Serpentine in the Park I quickly found my first target birds - 4 male red crested pochards roosting under branches with pochards and only occasionally waking up to have a squabble with each other before going back to sleep.

Red Crested Pochard with Pochard on The Serpentine

Also seen were tufted duck, 2 pairs of shoveler, great crested grebe, common gull and grey heron, all giving amazing close views due to being quite used to the disturbance from people using the Park.

I could hear my second target bird squawking in a tree nearby and eventually found it hidden amongst the leaves - a smart ring necked parakeet looking a little out of place in London in November. I saw and heard quite a few more birds as I walked around the Park as they investigated holes in trees and chased each other around calling noisely.

 Ring Necked Parakeet

Ring Necked Parakeet

I saw a pair of birders intently watching the top of a tree and wandered over to find they were looking at target bird number 3, a male little owl, hidden amongst the leaves. I probably would have struggled to find it on my own so was very glad that I met them and they very kindly walked me to another nearby tree to show me a female tawny owl, target bird 4, roosting in the tree top. I have never seen tawny owl so well, I have only seen them flying amongst the leaves of trees and never perched. I have only heard them this year so it was nice to see one for my year list and again I probably would have struggled to find it without the help of the 2 birders.

 Little Owl

 Little Owl

 Tawny Owl

Tawny Owl

A quick walk around the Round Pond and I found target bird 5, a pair of Egyptian geese with 5 goslings. There had been 8 goslings but I only saw 5, I assumed the missing 3 had been predated but a few days later all 8 were seen together so I don't know where the missing 3 were hiding on my visit.

 Egyptian Goose

 Egyptian Goose with 3 Goslings

Egyptian Goose

And so within 1 hour I had seen 4 (or 4 and a half) year ticks, but the 4 year ticks were all "plastic" (introduced) birds ( little owl was introduced to the UK in the 1800's). However they gave some fantastic views in the bright sunshine and calm conditions and seemed quite at home and appeared to be thriving in the centre of London.

Thursday 6 November 2014

Two trips to Wembury

With 2 night shifts looming I headed off to Wembury on the bus on Sunday 2nd November for a quick walk. It was the last day of the half term holiday and very breezey but sunny so I expected it to be busy but it wasn't too bad.

With the strong breeze viewing birds was difficult and the highlights were a feeding flock of gannets offshore, a pair of stonechats and a female kestrel along the coastpath and a feeding flock of black headed gulls hovering over the surf as it crashed onto the beach, picking at items of food disturbed by the waves. The best though was a merlin flying low over the water along the beach before swooping up over the cliff by the wheatfield before it was lost from sight. I couldn't refind it but there were small groups of meadow pipits flying around the wheatfield in complete panic so it must have still been in the area. It was very fast, looking small and dark in the sunshine, and is my third merlin of the year and third for Wembury.

After getting through my night shifts I headed off to Wembury again by bus on Wednesday 5th November and the weather was a total contrast - sunny, cold and calm, although the breeze did pick up later and it soon warmed up. The sunshine and warmth coaxed out a few butterflys and I had some nice views of red admirals and at least 3 clouded yellows including an helice type. A common darter was also seen flying along the stream in the valley to the beach.

 A tatty Red Admiral basking in the sun
 Clouded Yellow
Clouded Yellow

Arriving at Wembury at 09:30 and walking down to the main beach I heard skylarks calling overhead and on looking up saw 3 lapwings heading West along with a flock of 200+ woodpigeon and at least 1 stock dove, also heading West - there has been quite a movement of woodpigeons across Devon in the last few days and over the course of the morning I must have seen 1500+ birds moving West. The largest group was this first group I saw with subsequent groups totalling 30-100 birds but by 13:00hrs the movement stopped. I managed to find another stock dove amongst a flock of woodpigeon and also saw a flock of 8 stock doves flying over on their own. A single stock dove was also flying around the pines at Wembury Point before being disturbed by a low flying helicopter.

It was low tide but along the beach were a few oystercatcher, 3+curlew, a little egret, mallards and gulls. A chiffchaff was feeding in reeds at the cliff base near the sewage pipe with another 2 seen at the horse stables. A pair of kestrels showed well with the male bird noisely mobbing a buzzard perched in the pine trees by the horse fields. 2 pairs of cirl buntings were seen with 1 male heard singing briefly, and later 2 males were seen singing at Wembury Point. A male great spotted woodpecker was also noisely knocking on the pine trees at Wembury Point and a coal tit was heard calling but not seen.

 Robin - very noticeable along the walk at Wembury and quite tame at times
Robin, Wembury

With pomarine skuas being reported from Berry Head on the 5th November I thought about taking a trip there on the 6th but the weather was a complete contrast to the 5th with very wet and very windy weather forecast - probably good for sea watching but it is a bit late in the autumn and I was feeling knackered so I gave it a miss and went for a walk around Plymouth Hoe instead. Just 17 mute swans were around Sutton Harbour, usually the numbers are approaching 30, but 2 little grebes were busily diving for food amongst the boats. A few shags and gulls (black headed, great black backed and herring) were seen in the wind and mist and rain but the biggest surprise was a brown rat which ran across the path in front of me near Fishermans Nose.

Saturday 1 November 2014

Ring Ouzels in The Mist and a Lesser Yellowlegs in Cornwall

Thursday 30th October and we headed off to Shipley Bridge for a walk up to the Avon Dam where there have been recent reports of ring ouzels. It was half term but a grey and cloudy day so it wasn't as busy as I expected but walking up to the Avon Dam and it became very moist and misty and dull, not great for birding, but in the gloom I did see a goldcrest amongst a feeding flock of blue tits and long tailed tits, and a nice pair of bullfinches.

A distinct call heard in the mist had me quickly searching around and I managed to just about see a ring ouzel flying in to a hawthorn bush before 3 flew out of it and off in to the mist - not great views but a year tick none the less (number 199). Walking further up the valley and the distinct call was heard again and 6 ring ouzels were seen flying up over the bracken before landing in a tree on the hillside. Eventually 2 birds flew down towards the footpath, a male and a juvenile, giving some nice views as they fed on hawthorn haws before flying back up the hillside. The birds were very mobile and flighty and vocal and joined by a few redwings and blackbirds, the most I saw at any one time were 6 but there must have been more than this present with at least 2 juveniles. Lovely birds and the most I have seen together despite the poor visibility although annoyingly the weather cleared by the time we got back to the car. 

Ring Ouzel, Avon Dam - photo courtesy of Devon Birds Website ( I forgot my camera!)

Saturday 1st November and I headed off to Hayle in Cornwall on the train (half the price on a Saturday compared to a week day ticket). The viaduct at Hayle is being closed for maintenance work on the 8th to 23rd November and travelling arrangements will be a lot more complicated with trains stopping and starting at Truro and so it seemed a good day to go and have a look for the recently reported lesser yellowlegs. It arrived after my visit on the 16th October (when I saw the whooper swan), having arrived after the remnants of Hurricane Gonzales swept across the Atlantic on the 20th.

It has been showing on Copperhouse Creek in Hayle, somewhere I haven't visited for ages as I usually visit the Carnsew Pool, Ryans Field and the Hayle Estuary when I go birding here. I soon found it on the incoming tide feeding with a redshank but by the time I had got my telescope set up it had flown off! I soon refound it feeding with a group of around 20 redshanks when it was surprisingly easy to lose sight of despite its smaller size, more delicate and tapered build and obviously yellow legs - my third lesser yellowlegs and year tick number 200. I had some nice scope views but with the distance and light my photos weren't that great.

 Lesser Yellowlegs (centre), Copperhouse Creek
 Lesser Yellowlegs (left)
 Lesser Yellowlegs (upper right)
 Lesser Yellowlegs (upper middle)
Lesser Yellowlegs (right)

With the tide coming in and rain forecasted for later in the day I headed off to Penzance on the train for a look around. I walked out along the seawall path which has now reopened to have a look around the Sainsburys area for the rose coloured starling but drew a blank despite it being seen daily since my visit on the 16th. I had a scan offshore in the strengthening wind and there were large numbers of gannets diving for fish, mostly adults and with a few birds quite close to shore. A few kittiwakes were also seen with herring and great black backed gulls and a Sandwich tern. A nice surprise was a male eider, presumably the male that over wintered last year, and a female common scoter with both birds close to shore and enjoying the more sheltered waters provided by the harbour quay.

Heading home and the train was delayed due to a technical fault and it was also busy with lots of families heading home after spending half term in Cornwall but at least I arrived home before the rain did.