Monday, 28 October 2013

Bye bye and give us a ring

With the weather starting to look pretty blustery we may have seen the last of our Osprey. I saw it briefly yesterday morning but then no one saw it for the rest of Saturday. Ignoring the clock change we got up before dawn today and wnet down Maple Lodge and gave it about two hours or more but no sign. If I had tyo guess I reckon its half-way to France to now, and good luck with the hurricane forecasted for tonight.
To keep us busy there was the usual selection of ducks and the little grebe, and I tried a few arty shots. I do like the pochard with a very impressionistic background! There was also a lot of jays flying around, two kingfishers chasing each across the lake and a sparrowhawk zooming around till it was chased off by two magpies!!!

In the afternoon I nipped out to Wilstone for the juvenile ring-necked duck. Due to total incompetence it took over an hour to get it, needing another birder to put us onto it. Really dull, drab bird but stood out from the others. Good spot if you weren't looking though. Also had red-crested pochard, golden plover, black-tailed godwit and snipe. There was a very good number of teal, I would estimate in the hundreds. Slowly building the year-list, up to 212 on BOU or 214 on 400club rules, still way behind last year!!! 

Thursday, 24 October 2013

The best of times, the worst of times

For the last week or so, there has been a juvenile osprey down at Maple Lodge. It fishes the lake opposite Long Hedge hide and roosts in the trees surrounding. I went down on Tuesday night to have a look with Judith and it was showing quite well, sitting in a tree for about an hour getting beaten up by crows and magpies. Eventually a low-flying helicopter scared it off.
Yesterday I went down in the afternoon but it didn't show.
So, this morning Judith and I decided to go along in the early morning when I  has been fishing. Got into the hide about 9ish and it was sitting in the same tree. Hide was pretty full with the usual suspects - Geoff Lapworth, Steve Cater, Paul Lewis and a few of the other locals. After an hour or so it did a quick fly by and landed in a much better tree directly opposite the hide in beautiful sunlight. Another 20 minutes or so and it relocated again. All the time it was scanning the lake surface. Then eventually it dived into the lake. Motor drives fired like mad and it came back up with a fish and flew directly over the hide. Wow. I've never seen one catch a fish like that so well before and certainly not a mile from my house!!
So, if that was the best of times, what was the worst. I was surprised on holiday that a lot of our otter photos weren't as sharp as they could be, and the ones in poor light on Tuesday were a bit sub-optimal, but I put it down to conditions etc. Checking the camera back today I was concerned my photos looked very poor compared to everyone else's. Getting home it was clear they were rubbish. The lens seems to have a fault and is giving me a double image. Not a sharp image there. I really could cry. The best set of photos in this country of one of our favourite birds and I really should delete the lot.
Below are some of the more salvageable ones, including a set of the dive and recovery with the fish, which apparently is a 4 to 6 ounce roach..... Ah well.    

Tuesday, 22 October 2013

That's got the family

Not a bad year really. I've now managed to tick not only a new species but complete another family. Early this morning I nipped out (if that's the right word for a two hour drive!) to Hemstead Forest in Kent where a flock of 6 parrot crossbills have been showing well. I timed the drive well, arriving about 15 minutes after first light. Two other birders on site already. Had been in the clearing no more than 5 minutes, with many common crossbills flying over, when 6 birds with a distinctive contact call  flew over. This was probably enough to id them, but they stopped in a tree about 100 yards away and even in the poor early light you could see the enormous conk on them really well in profile.
Seemed like a nice site, with lots of crossbills, the parrots, a two-bar around somewhere, bramblings calling overhead and some redpolls in the trees as well. So, that means I've now got all 4 of the crossbills currently split by the BOU, and all of them in the last month give or take a day.
After that, I drifted down to Dungeness to see if there was anything around, but both land and sea were pretty quiet. There was still a good movement of swallows out from the coast numbering in the hundreds in an hour, arctic and sandwich terns moving along the coast and a couple of arctic skuas (or parasitic jaegers to our cousins!) pestering them. One little gull on the patch by the nuclear power station was nice. On the land, lots of linnets and a late (over-wintering?) blackcap was all I could find.
Still, that takes my life list to an almost respectable 322 and year-list to 212. Aiming for 330 by the time I go back to work on Dec 2, but that could be a stretch target at over 1 a week.

Monday, 21 October 2013

Caper capers

part 3 of our Scottish holiday, this time on speyside.
For the last 5 days, we were in Speyside staying at the Boat Hotel in Boat of Garten, very well placed for most of areas around. The weather was starting to turn, but it was still pretty mild although th mornings were misty!!
As well as the stunning scenery around our main targets were the Speyside specials - crested tits, capercaillies, red and black grouse, ptarmigan and Scottish crossbills. Eagles would always be nice, although having already seen them they were less of a priority and we didn't figure on getting anymore otters.
Apart from red grouse, which were plentiful and confiding, particularly on the Farr road out of Findhorn. Here we had them about 20 feet from the car, quite curious and I presume destined for the pot!!!

Their compatriots the black grouse proved a lot harder to pin down. Out of the lek they didn't seem
easy to get at Tulloch Moor, but we finally got a very distant view from the Coire na Ciste car park. This came from a tip off from Speyside Wildlife, more of whom later. In the same area we got our only miss, as the weather proved too intractable to get onto the tops to go for ptarmigan.
Having had only really poor views of a very distant capercaillie last time we were up, in the spring, we set out to try and track them down. After a couple of abortive self-found attempts in the forest around Loch Garten we got a tip from a Heatherlea guide that "walking up to Rothiemuchus lodge" might be a good idea. So, we set off on what is a decent track/ road up to the load by Loch Morlich. Didn't seem that good, as cars kept coming past us. Quite soon after getting into the wooded area though I heard a distinctive call and a flock of Scottish crossbills arrived in the pines near us. It was a group of about 10 birds including at least a couple of smart males. After walking for another 30 minutes we then heard a much more musical, trilling call. I got Judith to get out her iphone and on playing crested tit we got a very smart pair come down to check us out. So, two targets we didn't expect but not the one we did. We walked all the way to the lodge without any sign of capers. Coming back down we scanned what looked like suitable areas and played caper calls but nothing. We were almost out of the forest when suddenly there was a tremendous noise and crashing from high up in the trees to our right. Two or possibly three) large shapes were flying or rather battering their way through the pines - capercaillies. We ventured into the woodland a few feet and in the distance you could see a male fly off. Distant but definitely a caper!! Not wanting to just chase them we waited for about 20 minutes but they didn't return. Happy, we set off down the road and about 5 minutes later a huge bird flapped across a clearing - another male caper, this time beautifully viewable. Mission accomplished!!!
What else was good? Findhorn valley was spectacular but didn't yield much apart from one lone golden eagle floating really high on the tops. There was large numbers of red deer though on the hillside, and when we arrived early morning they were bellowing and jousting away on the hillsides. The Moray coast was really blowy but we got large numbers of long-tailed ducks as well as little gulls, velvet and common scoter, common eider, red-throated diver and lots of gannets.
Red squirrels were a bit shy this time, but we did get a couple of god views down by Loch Garten.

One night we went to the hide run by Speyside wildlife. This is basically a large, but heated, hide in the woodland near Loch an Eilean where badgers and if you're lucky, pine martens come to food. Although the weather was foul we were lucky and got quite a few badgers and one pine marten. The photos aren't great as you're looking through glass, with some artificial light and no flash!

Mainly though it was about the scenery and the landscape with some great skies and perfect reflections in the lochs.

Saturday, 19 October 2013

Do 2 semi-p's make a whole one?

News on the wires from Thursday of a semi-palmated plover at Hayling Island. Flew off, but was back again and well twitched on Friday. so, the choice was basically work-party or a mega on the south coast!!! Early start had me at the viewing point about 8.20 with about 20 other early starters. The bird was showing at high tide, which wasn't till about 12 or later so settled in for a long wait. For those who don't know, the semi-p is VERY similar to our normal ringed plovers, and this one was hanging out with them, and there were lots of them. So, as these things do, we merrily spent 2 hours desperately trying to convince ourselves (and bt 10.30 there were about 300 on site) that juvenile r-p's could be the bird. We mulled over sizing differences, beak size and shape, plumage variation and comparisons to photos already posted and at least 4 birds were seriously considered.
AS time went on as well as people more birds arrived. Eventually there was a flock of a few hundred birds - dunlin, sanderling and r-p's. No one made a convincing case thought for a candidate.
Then about 10.35 or so the whole flock took off for a quick tour of the sand spit and as they were coming down one bird announced itself with a piercing redshank-like call. This was how it first got id on Thursday and everyone immediately scanned the birds as they came down and very quickly we all got onto it. A much smaller bird, softer in appearance, shorter beak, plumage spot on, and the call clinched it. It only stayed for about 5 minutes though before the whole flock departed, much to the chagrin of those arriving late for the high tide!! It was relocated later though further down the beach.
So, a real mega and my first year-tick back from Scotland with the tail end of the migration still available.
and the title of the post? Well, that makes both semi-palmateds this year (this plover and the sandpiper at Abbotsbury, so can you add them together to make one fully palmated bird???

Skye's the limit

or part 2 of our Scottish wanderings.
The trip to Skye from Mull took us most of the day and required two ferries as well as a nice scenic drive. The weather was continuing to be incredibly warm. On the way we stopped off provisions at a great little shack on Oban pier, known as the green seafood shack. It really is that, a green hut, near the ferry terminal but it sells really great seafood - lobster, crab, prawns, all ready to go, really fresh and cheap. They also do cold bags, as a lot of people stock up for their self-catering!!
Anyway, we arrived safely to our new abode, in the south of Skye at Ord. If you don't know the island, it is much more mountainous than Mull, and also about twice the size, at least in drive time from top to bottom. As with Mull it has a good population of both eagles as well as otters. It is also a bit more "touristy" with coach parties arriving from the mainland over the new Skye bridge.
Our week wasn't as focused on one target - the otter - as it was on Mull. Most days we managed to get out and tramp the hillsides. Particular highlights were:
Coral beach & Dunvegan Castle. The two are close together in the north of the island. Dunvegan is good, and in the summer has seal trips but they were finished for the season. The coral beach is actually covered in maerl, a type of crystalline algae. You can find a few bits here and there but the big lumps are already gone. We also had a stunning view of a white-tailed sea-eagle that flew right over our heads - and we ONLY HAD ONE CAMERA WITH A WIDE ANGLE LENS ON IT!!!! Never mind eh....

For those of you who know your history, Skye is famed for being one of the places Johnson (he of the dictionary and Blackadder fame) & Boswell visited in the 1780's. We've been before, but there is a lovely beach as Talisker Bay where they climbed a small hill!! It's a broad, wide, sandy bay with great opportunities for arty water/ tide/ sand photos.

Another great trip is to the small island of Raasay, about a 20 minute ferry ride. There is a permanent settlement there of I would guess about 50 people but its basically a mountain in the middle of the sea. WE had two superb walks - one to a village deserted during the highland clearances, another to a deserted beach near Brae. Weather was superb and we had excellent views of a juvenile sea-eagle.