Archive for the ‘Spoonbill’ Tag

Birds and other things – March 2016   Leave a comment

This posts covers a few (mainly bird-oriented) events in March.

Pallas' Leaf W 2 feb 16 Nick Hull

The best bird in Dorset this month and arguably this winter has been a Pallas’ Leaf Warbler that was discovered in the village of Portesham in West Dorset. I went along with my trainee ringer Chris after a ringing session near Poole. We had good views, but in the afternoon the sun was in our eyes and my pics were rubbish. This photo and the next were taken by Nick Hull of Two Owls Birding  and is used with permission.

Pallas' Leaf W Feb 16 Nick Hull

Pallas’ Leaf Warbler is a rare but regular visitor from Siberia to the UK. Most records are in the late autumn, wintering is much rarer but is not unprecedented. Named after German ornithologist Peter Pallas who explored Siberia in the late 18th C, this tiny Phylloscopus warbler is little bigger than a Goldcrest. It is distinguished by the lemon rump, central crown strip, double wing bar, yellowish supercillium and long black eye-stripe. It is arguably the most beautiful of the genus. Photo by Nick Hull.

7F1A5982 RB Merg

I have recently bought a new digital SLR. I failed to get any usable photos of the Pallas’ but afterwards we went down to Portland Harbour where I used in the field for the first time – even so, these Red-breasted Mergansers were too far for a decent shot.

7F1A5972 Robin

I have debated for some time over the best way to photograph birds. My attempts at digiscoping have been pretty poor so I have dropped that. I used to have an old Canon SLR with a 100-400mm zoom lens but the sensor must have got damaged as spots appeared on the image that I was unable to remove. Since then I have gone over to using a bridge camera. Undoubtedly the SLR gives a better image (this one would be better still if I had upgraded my zoom lens as well and had photographed this European Robin on a bright day) but the main problem is weight. The bridge camera weighs 600g, the SLR & lens nearly 2.5kg. Add to that the weight of a telescope and tripod and I’ll be restricting my birding to a few hundred yards walk from the car. Also the bridge camera has a much greater telephoto capacity, 1200mm instead of 400, so four times the reach for a quarter of the weight. Bridge cameras however are useless in taking birds in flight, yes you might get the odd good image, but in general an SLR wins hands down in this category. With a couple of wildlife cruises coming up this year the choice was clear – buy a new SLR and my choice was the Canon EOS 7D MkII.

7F1A6008 Dartford Warbler

Even on a dull day I got a reasonable photo of this Dartford Warbler at Mordon Bog ….

7F1A6003 Dartford Warbler

…. but even with an SLR there is a limit to how far you can blow up the image before you lose resolution.

7F1A6019 Mordon Lake

However, although there were Tufted Ducks, Coots and Great Crested and Little Grebes on Mordon Park Lake none were close enough for anything other than record shots.

IMG_3829 Monties meeting

Several of us joined Paul Morton and Mark Constantine of the Birds of Poole Harbour charity for a drink in order to meet a number of British and Dutch ornithologist researching and conserving the threatened Montagu’s Harrier. Being free the next day I was able to attend their meeting which was held in the LUSH offices in Poole the following day.

IMG_3825 Montie's talk

There are only about a dozen Montagu’s Harrier pairs breeding in the UK and in spite of protection this number isn’t increasing. Certainly some birds have disappeared under suspicious circumstances (possibly mistaken for the similar and much persecuted Hen Harrier) but it may be that the wider countryside in the UK is unsuitable for this species. They are certainly much commoner on the continent as the Dutch speakers were able to demonstrate.

IMG_3828 Montie's routes

We were also told of the amazing results of a Europe-wide satellite tracking program which has shown that Monties winter in the Sahel to the SSW of their breeding locations. British birds, unsurprisingly, winter further west than others in western Senegal.

IMG_3835 Holton Lee

The Holton Lee estate (where I ring birds at the feeders) contains areas of heathland and foreshore currently managed by the RSPB.

7F1A6025 Holton Lee

It is great that I have these ‘wild’ areas on my doorstep, the houses in the distance are in Lytchett Minster, the next village beyond Upton.

7F1A6072 Grey Squirrel

Heading back to the feeders I was able to use my new camera on a bright day for the first time. This Grey Squirrel posed nicely ….

7F1A6036 GS Woodpecker

…. as did this Great Spotted Woodpecker. After many ringing visits to this area nearly all the birds visiting the feeders bear rings. This is allowing us to obtain useful data on longevity, over four winters we have ringed 36 Great Spotted Woodpeckers and have had 49 occasions when one has been recaptured. This has indicated that the average lifespan of the birds here is relatively short, only 2-3 years, less than many of the Blue and Great Tits we have ringed.

7F1A6045 Blue Tit

Speaking of Blue Tits ….

7F1A6061 Goldfinch fem

….but it was this photo of a Goldfinch that proves to me how much better image you get with a SLR compared to a bridge camera.

7F1A6063 Goldfinch fem

Unlike the Bullfinch and Chaffinch, Goldfinches are not easy to sex in the field (and not that easy in the had either). The extent of red behind the eye and the relatively short bill indicates that this is a female.

IMG_3842 Goldfinch 6m

On the other hand this bird that we ringed at Holton Lee on another date appears to be a male, the bill is longer (and it has a long wing length) and the red extends further behind the eye. One feature that I find unreliable is the colour of the nasal hairs, said to be black in males and grey in females. They both appear to be grey so either that feature is unreliable or the red behind the eye is. I find Goldfinches hard to age and sex and try to exercise caution.

7F1A6090 Pied Wagtail

We ring quite a few Pied Wagtails at roost in the late autumn but even the adult males in autumn don’t look as smart then as they do in the spring. This bird was photographed on a subsequent visit to Portland Harbour.

7F1A6085 Helicopter and boat

Whilst searching for ducks, grebes and divers we saw this helicopter practicing landing a crew member onboard a boat.

IMG_3852 Lodmoor

The reason for Margaret and I were in Weymouth on 16th March was that we had agreed to lead a birdwatching walk for our friends in the Phoenix organisation.

IMG_3850 Lodmoor

I chose the RSPB reserve of Lodmoor for the walk because there is a decent, usually dry, path around the reserve and there are always some birds on show and we saw or heard about 50 species.

7F1A6105 Little Egret

Most of the birds we saw on Lodmoor were common species that I would see on every visit  like this Little Egret ….

7F1A6100 Spoonbill Lodmoor

…. but we did get excellent views of three Spoonbills that were well appreciated by the group.

7F1A6099 Spoonbill Lodmoor

There has been a real increase in Spoonbill numbers in the last decade or so with a small breeding colony now established in Norfolk. Most of our birds seem to originate from the Netherlands, some pass through on their way to and from their wintering grounds in Spain, others spend the winter with us – mainly in Poole Harbour.

IMG_3881 Kara

Unfortunately our granddaughter Kara has seriously damaged her knee (again) doing taekwondo, she has been out of action for several weeks and it will be some time yet before she is back to normal. We wish her a speedy recovery.

IMG_3855 ETO Don Giovanni

And finally on the 18th we went to the Lighthouse Theatre in Poole to see a performance of Mozart’s Don Giovanni by the English Touring Opera. Opera is not my favourite musical category but I must say that I quite enjoyed it, I had expected it would be sung in Italian but it was in English with screen displaying subtitles, so I was able to follow the ‘plot’.

Christmas Eve 2014 to New Year’s Day 2015   Leave a comment

This post covers our time in Essex. Sussex and Derbyshire over the festive period plus the New Year boat trip in Poole Harbour.

IMG_4056 sunset

The famiy spent this Christmas in Maldon, Essex with John and Anita. We traveled up on Christmas Eve but Janis and Kara arrived the day before. In the late afternoon whilst the family watched TV, I drove down to the nearby Blackwater River for a bit of birding.

IMG_4049 Avocets R Blackwater

Good numbers of waders and ducks including this flock of Avocets was seen.

IMG_4052 Avocets Blackwater River

Avocets on the Blackwater River.

IMG_4075 unwrapping presents

Christmas Day Morning – the present opening ceremony. Clockwise John, Anita, Amber, Kara, Margaret and Janis.

IMG_4067 Amber & Kara Xmas 14

Sisters reunited. Amber has been living and working in Essex with her aunt and uncle since June, whilst of course Kara and Janis still live 100 yards up the road from us.

IMG_4081 family at Xmas

Merry Christmas from the Lewis/Dreosti family.

IMG_4084 Kara's prom dress

Kara shows off her new prom dress.

IMG_4092 Wallasea Island

On Boxing Day morning Margaret and I drove to the new RSPB reserve at Wallasea Island, about 45 minutes to the south from Maldon.

IMG_4107 Wallasea Brent's

It was a grey day on the saltmarshes with the temperature hovering around freezing. There were many birds on the reserve, large flocks of Brent Geese were to be expected but it was the large numbers of Corn Buntings and Stock Doves (both relatively scarce in Dorset) that impressed me. We also saw up to four Marsh Harriers, a Peregrine, Merlin, Sparrowhawk, Short-eared Owl, Common Buzzard and several Kestrels but not the hoped for Rough-legged Buzzard.

IMG_4105 conveyer belt Wallacea

The reserve is undergoing a major development. Using  spoil from the Crosslink rail project the land is being raised whilst basins are being created elsewhere. When completed the seawall will be breached in places allowing the basins to flood, so producing a mosaic of tidal lagoons, saltmarsh and rough grazing. The conveyor belt in the photo above is where the spoil extracted from beneath London is brought ashore from barges.

IMG_4108 Burnham on Crouch

Across the river from the reserve is the town of Burham-on-Crouch. Whenever I see that name I am reminded of the excellent, if saucy song ‘Billericay Dickie’ by Ian Dury ‘Oh golly, oh gosh come and lie on the couch with a nice bit of posh from Burnham-on-Crouch’

 

On the 27th we left Essex and headed north to my brother’s place in Duffield, near Derby.  On route we stopped at two sites in Suffolk, the RSPB reserve at Boyton and the famous archaeological site of Sutton Hoo. My reason for going to Boyton was to see the two Trumpeter Swans that have been present for the last couple of weeks, one of just five waterfowl species in the world that I have yet to see.

There has been some discussion at to whether these birds are wild or escapes from captivity. Arguments for them being wild are 1) they are unringed 2) the species is increasing rapidly in numbers in the USA due to re-introduction schemes 3) the species is partially migratory 4) there have been severe storms on the east coast of the States which may have induced dispersal out to sea 5) when they first arrived some staining, possibly iron oxide, was seen on the head, something that has been noted on Whooper Swans from Iceland and 6) another large bird from USA/Canada has occurred in the very same area – a Sandhill Crane in 2011. Arguments against are 1) they are adults, the vast majority of vagrants are first years 2) although the species is partially migratory, no really long distance movements have been noted and the swan is not found on the American east coast. The nearest population on the Great Lakes only makes short distance movements to ice free areas in winter and 3) they have arrived on the east coast when you would expect vagrants from America to arrive on the west coast or in Ireland, 4)the comparison with the Sandhill Crane is not really valid as that bird was a first year and had already made landfall in Scotland before moving south in stages, a pattern shared by the previous Sandhills in Britain.

There is almost always a case for and against a particular American vagrant being wild. If we were to give Chimney Swift, an undoubted vagrant, a score of 10 and Harris’s Hawk, a common falconer’s bird and a frequent escape, a score of 1, then I would allocate the Trumpeters a score of 4. Am I going to add them to my British list or my World list – no, am I glad I went to see them – yes, but only because I was in the area anyway.

 

TS LGRE

In spite of the wind and rain I had great views of the Trumpeter Swans but then realised I had left my cameras SD card back in my laptop. The following photo was taken earlier in the month by LGR Evans and is used with permission. See http://bbabirding.blogspot.co.uk/2014/12/trumpeter-swans-in-suffolk-and-review.html

IMG_4119 burial mound

By the time we reached the nearby Sutton Hoo archaeological site of Sutton Hoo the weather had improved. In the late 30’s burial mounds on the site were excavated, many had already been plundered by grave robbers but one was intact and proved to be a ship burial of a Saxon noble, probably King Raedwald who died about 625 Ad..

IMG_4118 Sutton Hoo treasure

The grave was full of the most wonderful treasures, which are now in the British Museum, but replicas of some are on show at Sutton Hoo. Saxon’s are often thought to be uncivilised people from the ‘Dark Ages’ but these burial goods have shown they could produce the most wonderful artifacts like this gold and enamel purse ….

IMG_4117 Sutton Hoo treasure

…. the fabulous metalwork of this sword ….

IMG_4115 Sutton Hoo helmet

…. or this helmet.

IMG_4113 ship burial replica

The visitor centre had a recreation of the ship that the king was buried in. His body was laid out surrounded by the goods that he would want to use in the afterlife.

IMG_4120 Edwardian House

One floor of landowner’s Edwardian Manor House has been preserved as it was at the time of the excavations.

IMG_4277 Cromford

When we arrived in Derbyshire we found that the rain we experienced in East Anglia had fallen as snow further north. The following day we drove north into the Derbyshire Dales and found a picture postcard landscape.

IMG_4195 Carsington

Our destination was the scenic Carsington Reservoir where we saw some great birds, a pair of Bewick’s Swans and a flock of 300 Pink-footed Geese flying between their wintering grounds in Norfolk and Lancashire.

IMG_4186 Dunnock

With the cold conditions plenty of birds, such as this Dunnock, were coming to feeders.

IMG_4198 Willow Tit

I was particularly pleased to get views of Willow Tut, a species that has long been extirpated from Dorset.

IMG_4204 Willow Tit best

These two photos show several of the subtle features that separate Willow Tit from the similar Marsh Tit. Willow Tits have a duller crown, thicker neck, a pale wing panel, a more diffuse border to the bib, a subtle gradation from the cheeks to the side of the neck, lack of a pale patch at the base of the bill and a smaller difference between the length of the longest and outermost tail feathers. In spite of all these fine pointers the best ID features remain the vocalisations.

IMG_4230 Tree Sparrow best

Another bird that we seldom see in Dorset but which is delightfully common at Carsington, is Tree Sparrow.

IMG_4282 Cromford canal

Later we went to the nearby Cromford Mill, a site where Hawfinches are often reported but are never there when I visit. This actual mill is considered to be the birth place of the industrial revolution. The canal which once brought materials to and from the mill is now a pleasant place for a walk or a spot to feed to feed the ducks.

IMG_4295 Di, Steve, Nigel, Margaret

During our time in Duffield we spent some time with my brother and his family and also visited several of my old friends. We picked up my old school and Uni mate Nigel (sat next to Margaret) and visited friends from school and also Di who was at University with me and her husband Steve.

IMG_4305 fireworks on TV

We didn’t do anything to celebrate New Years Eve and just ended up seeing the New Year in by watching the Queen concert and the fireworks on the telly.

IMG_4321 bird boat

We are very thankful to Mark and Mo Constantine for putting on their annual bird boat around Poole harbour on New Year’s Day. About 65 birders took up their kind offer and we had a good social as well as some good birds. Only a few are in this shot as most are upstairs enjoying the birding upstairs.

IMG_4306 raft race

Poole Quay was busy and parking places hard to find due to the crowds watching the annual New Years Day raft race which seemed to involve all contestants getting thrown into the water.

IMG_4319 Spoonbill

It was a very low tide and the boat couldn’t get around all the islands as a result we didn’t visit the area to the west of Brownsea which often holds interesting ducks or Arne where most of the Spoonbill flock hangs out. However we did see this Spoonbill near the boat near Ower Quay. Not being able to complete the circuit was to our advantage as when we retraced our steps we came across a Black Guillemot near Brownsea Castle. This is the first time I’ve seen this species in Poole Harbour. I didn’t get any photos but some along with another account of the bird boat have been posted on Steve Smith’s excellent blog at http://BirdingPooleHarbourandBeyond.blogspot.co.uk

IMG_4325 Purps

After the boat docked Margaret and I drove round to North Haven and the mouth of Poole Harbour where in spite of the crowds going for a New Year’s Day walk these Purple Sandpipers were dodging the incoming waves.

IMG_4336 Purple Sand

An arctic breeder ‘purps’ winter on rocky shorelines, in Dorset this means they are seldom seen away from Mudeford Quay at Christchurch, the North Haven in Poole, Portland Bill and the Cobb at Lyme Regis.