Sunday, 1 October 2017

Cattle Egret - New lifer and tick for the patch.

Busy weekends have meant that I've missed the large influx of Sandpipers that have been knocking around Dorset this last few weeks. Still, there's always next year...

I visited Longham Lakes on 30th Sep as they were having an open day. It was amazingly bush, with a rammed car park and lots of friendly faces and it was my first chance to catch up with Dominic Cousins, who has been recording birds at Longham since 2002. He was there to take birders around and sell signed copies of his book, A Patch Made In Heaven, which I can recommend.

Just some of the Lapwings resting at Longham. I saw 28 birds, the most I've seen there.
I also met up with George Green who is one of the regular contributors to Longham's bird listings and Martin Wood who had annoyingly seen a Cattle Egret earlier that morning. It's only the third record of the bird since 2002 so it's a real rarity and I hustled off with Alice to find it.

It had been spotted in the rear fields at the back of the causeway but it had long departed when I got there. Crestfallen I headed off with Alice around South Lake, marvelling at the insane amount of birds that were congregating there. I counted close to 30 lapwings and about 50 Canada Geese, along with countless coots and mallards and a fair number of Shoveler. My first sighting of these handsome ducks for the year.

A fair few Shovelers as well as returning Wigeon.
Upon reaching the visitor's centre, Dominic mentioned he needed to take some birders out but was still waiting for Martin to return. I offered to look after his books and gear and chatted to a few other people who were eager to learn more about birds.

Martin returned and within five minutes had a text from Dominic stating the Cattle Egret had returned. Grabbing Alice were virtually ran up the causeway and desperately started scanning the fields. When I couldn't find it Dominic kindly lent me his scope and put me onto the bird.

A record shot of the Cattle Egret. My first ever sighting.
It's a fantastic looking creature with a somewhat stocky build for a small heron and a bright yellow bill. It was picking up food around a small group of cattle and began to attract a small crowd of admirers. Sadly, the bird was extremely far away so I have only strict record shots. It was a delight to see though and I believe it's my first three-pointer for the year.

I'm now on 85 birds for the year.
The Cattle Egret puts my photographed birds for the blog up to 154.
This crop isn't too bad.

A rather harsh crop.
And another of it foraging.

A final shot to highlight just how far away it was.

Friday, 1 September 2017

Ruff - A New bird for life and for the patch

Bird watching always feels like a race against time and I'm incredibly lazy when it comes to chasing birds. Nevertheless, when Martin informed me that a Greenshank was at Longham I knew I had to see it.

I saw it a few days later of course, after meeting up with Martin and his son. Luckily it was still there, but it was far out in the middle of South Lake, making me once again regret not owning a swanky spotting scope.

It's a poor shot of a Greenshank, but it's a first for Longham.
There were four Garganey on the lakes as well, but we couldn't find them for love nor money. With my youngest daughter getting impatient I decided to head home. 40 minutes later, Martin tweeted that they were on the lake. Balls!

I headed off to Longham for my birthday on the 31st of August, but aside from a fleeting glimpse of a Jay (my first for the year) it was relatively quiet. I watched a Kestrel hunt for a few moments, but a momentary swell of rain saw us all running for the car. The Garganey would have to wait.
Kestrel, hunting over the lakes. Lovely looking bird.
I headed off again on the 1st of September as Martin notified me that a Ruff was on the lake and that the Garganey were still there. I hunted through the crowds of Gadwall and Mallards, but those tiny ducks were nowhere to be seen.

I did find the Ruff though, as well as a Willow Warbler, which was another new bird for me.

Here's the Ruff, with some Black-Headed Gulls for scale.
I'm now on 82 birds for the year, which is a personal best for me.
The Ruff now puts me at 153 photographed birds for the blog :)

A rather fuzzy Wood Warbler.
One of several Chiffchaff I saw.

One of the farm cats was on the prowl.

Sunday, 16 July 2017

Last Year's Record Beaten - 78 birds

Well that's not bad, just over halfway through the year and I've beaten last year's record of 73 birds.

Of course it helps that I've been out a lot more this year, but I'm still pleased and there's only the chance it will grow as I pick up more migrants in the Autumn.

Anyway, I headed down to Longham in the hope of seeing the Common Terns that Martin had spotted on the Friday. While they were no longer on the North Lake, the fledgling had moved to one of the buoys on the south lake and I was able to take a few photos of it, as well as the adult fishing.

The juvenile was quite far out, but I'm pleased with this image.
I then met Steve Smith who runs Birding Poole Harbour & Beyond. He was out looking for the Lesser Emperor and other dragonflies and stopped for a little chat about why there had been so much interest this year at Longham for the insects.

The adult landed briefly on the closest buoy, allowing for a nice shot.
Leaving Steve to his search I walked up the causeway seeing the usual Reed Warblers and Reed Buntings, but very little else. There were Coots, Tufted Ducks and Mallards on the North Lake and a large number of Coots and Canada Geese along the back.

Coots and Canada Geese taking it easy.
The island on South Lake was empty aside from a Mute Swan, Lapwing and Grey Heron, so I moved to the back of the lake where I saw 4 Greenfinches, a lone patrolling Kestrel and several more Reed Warblers.

Mute Swan and Grey Heron enjoying the quiet of the South Lake island.
It was otherwise quiet so I headed back along the causeway stopping to take some photos of a Green Woodpecker. As I got to the end of the causeway I heard a commotion in the sky and saw a Sparrowhawk being mobbed by Swallows, my first view of the raptor this year.

Sparrowhawk being mobbed by Swallows. Next time it will hopefully be a Hobby.
I then caught up with Steve who was heading home and Martin, who was just arriving and had watched the Sparrowhawk from the car park.

So I'm now on 78 birds, which beats last year's record by 5. Let's see how many more I can get.

Green Woodpecker on the causeway. The Great Spotted still eludes me.
Massive crop of the Common Tern hunting.
Another heavy crop, but it's an unusual pose which I like.

Sunday, 9 July 2017

Hobby Spotted At Arne + Patch Update

4th July
Yup, it's that time of year when I'm swamped with work and I simply can't find time to get out. It also doesn't help that my local patch is incredibly quiet at this time of the year.

Still, I'm on holiday this week and I kicked it off by going to Arne as Ospreys were regularly showing there. I arrived with my wife eager to see the birds, only to be told that they don't tend to show up until the afternoon. Damn.

Olly Frampton identified this as a Black-Tailed Skimmer.
Sadly it was a pretty quiet day and there were few birds around. We reached the first lookout point where the ospreys could be viewed from and started scanning the area, but there was nothing to see. My wife then pointed out a bird to me and said, what's that?

It was too small for an Osprey but I excitedly blurted out Hobby. I couldn't tell because the light glare was so harsh, but I couldn't think of what else it could be. I started having doubts that it was a Kestrel, but the wings didn't look right.

My first ever Hobby, such a handsome looking bird.
We walked down to the hide where we saw a pair of Sika Deer and a large number of Shelduck, but it was otherwise quiet and we headed back and went to Wareham river. It was relatively quiet there as well, although I saw plenty of Reed Warblers and around 20 Swallows that were perched in a bush in a bid to escape the rising heat.

One of the deer we spotted from the hide.
Swallows are a lot easier to photograph when they land!
Several of the Swallows that were resting. A bad pic as sun was directly in front of me.
5th July
I headed to Longham in the late afternoon, but it wasn't the best time of day as it was absolutely sweltering. It was also a pretty unexciting walk around the lake, although it was nice to see a large number of baby Tufted Ducks on the two lakes.

Highlights for the day was a glimpse of my first Kingfisher of the year, around 70 Starlings that were hanging around the industrial site and a lone Sandwich Tern, my first record at the sight, which was a rather pleasant surprise.

A very distant Sandwich Tern and my first seen at Longham.
6th July
I went down to Poole Park today because I'd seen a Swan Goose and wanted to get better pictures. It's a weird looking goose and very distinctive due to its large heavy bill. It's typically found around China and Russia, so this one was most likely an escapee. The big surprise is that as I was watching it blend in with a small flock of Greylags and Canada Geese it was soon joined by a second!

One of two Swan Geese that I saw at Poole Park.

I headed down the lakes again this evening but it was another dull day, most likely due to the insane heat. Highlights were 9 Lapwings on the small island (the most I've ever seen there) and around 120 Starlings in the car park when I first rolled up. I also saw 5 Song Thrushes bounding around the car park.

I love how natural this Song Thrush looks.
7th July
Another trip and this time I went with Martin Wood, who also has his own blog. It was easily the quietest trip out of the three, with the only real excitement being provided by a Roe Deer which was grazing in the bushes at the end of the causeway. Oh and we saw a Tufted Duck with a staggering 17 chicks.

I've had a pretty quiet week, but that was through my own choice. I was tempted to got to Nottingham to see the Bee-eaters, but travelling around the UK for birds is a dangerous game that I'm not prepared to play just yet. I'm simply happy pottering around Dorset.

Whitethroat hiding in the reeds at Longham Lakes.
I quite like this reflection shot of a Great-Crested Grebe.

Sunday, 14 May 2017

Brand new lifer seen on patch (07-14 May) 73 birds

On the 7th I headed off to my local patch.
I'd been invigorated by the many new birds that had been seen and was eager to find more so I took my 600mm prime lens as it gives me the best chance at record shots.

The car park was relatively full when I got to the lakes, but it didn't register really as I was quite late in the morning and model boat enthusiasts were normally there. Wondering around I casually walked up to a man and asked him if he'd seen anything of interest. "Well the Black Terns are over there".

Several Swallows and a House Martin on the right hand side.
"You what?" I replied, immediately excited because I'd never seen one before. He kindly let me look through his scope but as the birds were moving too quickly I couldn't see one. Quickly getting frustrated my rising anger turned to sudden elation when one flew straight past me.

Shaking with excitement (because it is exciting when you find a brand new bird I thanked the man for his help and hurried off to the far side of the lake, notifying my rival Martin as I went.

The Black Terns were resting on a bouy, but a high crop and heat haze stopped me getting anything better than this.
I found lots of Swallows resting on some branches in the middle of the lake, as well as my first Sand Martins of the year. Rushing around the side of the lakes were the terns were flying I finally caught up with some more birders. And that's were it all started to go wrong...

No matter how I tried I simply couldn't lock onto the birds with my camera. I couldn't work out whether it was poor technique, the dull weather or my lens, but I was struggling to get any sort of decent pictures.

Not the greatest of shots, but it does highlight what beautiful birds the Black Tern is.
Incredibly frustrated I kept taking snaps, eventually filling my card and decided to head home. I'm glad I saw the terns as they're relatively rare and incredibly graceful birds, but I was greatly upset that my gear had seemingly let me down.

Still I'm now on 73 birds for the year on patch and now have a total of 151 birds for the blog.

This juvenile Herring Gull highlights just how small the Terns are.
I headed back down to Longham on the 14th as a Bar-Tailed Godwit had been spotted the previous day, but I saw very little of interest aside from a singing Whitethroat and around 5 Cetti's Warblers.

Another shot of the Black Tern in flight.
I'm glad I have a prime, as I wouldn't have got this shot otherwise.

And here's a non-cropped shot to highlight just how far out they were.
I had no problem locking onto fast-flying Swifts in the evening, so I think the poor light was against me.

Sunday, 7 May 2017

Patchwork Challenge Trip 12 (01 Mayl) 71 Birds

Headed off down the patch again today as I heard that rare Black Terns had been spotted the previous day. I never saw them, but within moments of getting to the patch I heard my first Cuckoo of the year calling.

The reeds were absolutely thriving with singing Reed Warblers and Reed Buntings and I must have counted close to 20 birds of each as I spent a couple of times walking around the lakes.

Cetti's Warblers are a right pain. This is the best I could manage!
I found a Pheasant in one of the back fields and then I caught up with Martin at the far end of South lake and chatted with him and his son as we walked the remaining section lake. We didn't see anything of note, other than a fox carrying something which looks like a small badger from the photo I took.

Not the greatest shot, but it will do.
Once we reached the small island Martin found some Shelducks (my first at Longham) giving me three new birds for the day. I'm now very close to beating last years record so I'm going to make a lot of effort as I'm still missing a fair few relatively easy birds, including Kestrel, Sedge Warbler, and in total there's still 29 common to uncommon birds that I've not seen yet.

Total birds = 71

Here's the fox Martin spotted. Opinion is divided on what it's carrying.
A Carrion Crow trying to trick me into thinking it's a Raven.

I really like how elegant this Mute Swan looks.

Friday, 28 April 2017

Bonaparte's Gull On Patch! 68 Birds

The brilliance of bird watching is that you never know what's going to happen. Equally, a really shitty thing about bird watching is you never know what's going to happen.

Take this week for example. Longham Lakes is a solid patch with a great number of decent birds but it rarely (ho ho) gets anything that's astonishingly rare. Sure it's had some megas in the past, but in general it was starting to feel like last year's Great White Egrets were going to be the highlights of my patching there.

Common Sandpipers were still present. This is a heavy crop but holds up well.
I was wrong. Of course, I'm often wrong, but on Wednesday there was some excited tweets that a Bonaparte's Gull had been spotted at the North Lake. This is a big deal, as this small gull is typically an American bird, meaning it was a long way from home.

Frustratingly, I was carless as my daughter and wife were scouting universities whilst I looked after our youngest. Thursday was even worse as my competitor Martin not only saw the Bonaparte's but also a Red-Rumped Swallow of all things. Both are firsts for the site.

Another dull pic of the island. I thought this was a Yellow Legged Gull, but it's a Lesser Black-Backed Gull.
There's nothing worse than when you're sitting at work or at home knowing great birds are being seen on your patch and you're completely unable to do anything about it. Longham is too far to go by bus and too expensive to taxi so all I could do was hope.

Hoping only gets you so far and when I went into work the next day there were already reports that the Swallow had long gone. So then you sit there thinking 'what if the Bonaparte's goes as well', 'will I know what it looks like', 'what if I never see one on patch again'. You convince yourself of the worse and the day drags for an eternity.

A quite frankly awful shot of a Reed Warbler. Still, it's a new bird for the patch this year.
Reaching Longham carpark I was dismayed to see no cars there. The Bonaparte's is a pretty big deal and you'd typically get a fair few birders wanting to see it, but the lot was empty. Panicking I set my lens and tripod up as quickly as possible and sprinted across the green.

"Have you seen the Bonaparte's?" I asked, a little desperation creeping into my voice. "He was over there a minute ago," was the reply. I looked over there and I didn't see it. I looked again and there was nothing. I desperately scanned the skies and the North Lake but all I saw were the black heads of summer Black-Headed Gulls mocking me.

What a cracking bird. The Bonaparte's Gull in all its glory.
I walked up the causeway and stopped. Was that it? I couldn't be sure because my id skills for gulls is about as good as my bass playing is. Terrible. It looked like the bird, but I couldn't be sure. I knew it was smaller than the Black-Headed Gulls, but couldn't remember how small. I'd seen one through a scope a year or two back at Blashford but I couldn't be sure. I needed to be sure.

"I called out to another fellow birder who was also scanning the gulls. "That's the Bonaparte's right?", I literally whispered. "That's right, the pink legs are the giveaway," can the wonderful reply. "I soaked the bird up, marvelling at its colouration and the thought that the little bugger had crossed the North Atlantic Ocean to get here.

A comparison shot with a Black-Headed Gull. The Bonaparte's is on the right.
It was a great addition to the patch, but I was greedy. I wanted the Red-Rumped Swallow as well. Hell, I'd even take the Osprey that had been seen earlier that day. I was hungry for new birds and now I'd consumed the Bonaparte's I wanted more.

I didn't get it, but I did see five Reed Warblers, another new  bird for the patch, as well as several House Martins hawking after the midges that swarmed the area. Plopping down next to another birder who was looking for the Swallow, we explained pleasantries and he informed me that I'd just missed four Shelducks. Bugger...

I'm now on 68 birds. Getting very close to passing last year's target.

It's a fair crop, but still looks nice :)

Bonaparte's Gull in flight. The underneath of the wings is a good way to distinguish it from the Black-Headed.