Friday, September 24, 2010


lunchtime today, strolling by the Thames, when a small flurry of avian snowflakes appeared whirling over the river. A flock of Terns, tumbling and swooping around and under London Bridge. I counted 18 in total, a mix of adults and juveniles. I'd guess Arctic Terns, mainly because that's what I'd like them to have been.

Sunday, September 05, 2010


To Hanningfield Res today to get a few September goodies.

Late arrival due to infuriating Sunday Driving, so I dashed round to the Oak Hide. I was soon admiring 3 Black Terns, an imm Little Gull, a Greenshank, a juv Knot,and a couple of Common Sandpipers.

The point hide has similar but there was a Herring Gull sat down ...

... that morphed into an adult Yellow-Legged Gull when it stood up.

I was about to leave, when I gave the far shore another scan for the Buzzards and Hobby that had been reported earlier. They were absent, but there was this ...

... that on close inspection turned out to be this.

I spent the next half-hour watching this Osprey diving into the water in frustrated attempts to catch a fish.

I was just one annoying Sunday Driver away from missing it too, as I was overdue on my leaving time. I guess sometimes you just don't realise when someone's doing you a favour

Monday, August 30, 2010

Back to Weymouth

Bank holiday with the family and Dog.

Saturday I went to Ferrybridge in search of another mis-identified Little Stint.
Knot - 1 juv
Sandwich Tern 3
Barwit 2

lots of Ringed Plover, Dunlin, and Turnstone

Sunday D#2 had avoided going out all day so I persuaded him to go to Lodmoor:

Common Buzzard 1 put up:
Avocet 8 - first at Lodmoor for me.
Blackwit 4
Common Sandpiper 3
Yellow Wagtail 5 went South
lots of other common stuff.

Then Monday morning at the Nothe 2 Willow Warblers and a Wheatear. Sparrowhawk over the marina.

Radipole had a few Common Terns- spent time studying the juvs.

I dipped on Med Gulls - I think there's a few around, but mobile.

Monday, August 09, 2010

Alexander's Bands

On the way back from Weymouth D2 managed a photo of a rainbow. You can just make out the second rainbow with reversed colours and the slightly darker band between the two rainbows known as Alexander's bands.


Thursday, August 05, 2010

Dodgy ID's

Most of my birding I do by myself, so I’m constantly confronted by the limits of my own ID skills, particularly in Autumn when there’s a mix of plumages. I can’t seem to summon up the certainty of many other birders.

At the Common Tern colony at Lodmoor for instance, where there’s been Arctic Terns and a Roseate Tern recently, I was struggling. I’d only seen Roseate once before and had it pointed out to me in flight; would I be able to identify one sat in front of me without help?

The first visit drew a blank, just a mix of juvenile and adult plumages. On the second visit I found a juvenile with an all-black bill and an absence of the ginger shawl the juvenile Commons have, but otherwise apparently identical to the surrounding Commons. Was this the Arctic? Or perhaps the Roseate losing its summer plumage? I toured the reserve seeing little of interest and ended up at the bandstand looking over the tern colony again. All the terns went up and suddenly there, gleaming almost white, was the Roseate Tern. It settled on its own and was obviously different; easy to pick out with the naked eye; a black bill with a few splashes of red at the base, pale back and wings, bright red legs, and as I zoomed up was there even a splash of pink on the breast?

It seemed bored. All around were Common Terns engaged in a whirl of social interactions; squabbling juveniles, loafing adults, males offering fish to females, females refusing them because the female next door had been offered a bigger one. The Rosy seemed uncomfortable to be in such company, and eventually flew off. The wing-beats were faster than the Common Terns, so I should have no problems picking up a Rosy amongst Commons as they fly past the bill next spring.

The ID difficulties continued when I returned to work today. The Thames has a number of Black-headed Gulls on my patch by HMS Belfast, and they constantly deceive at this time of year. I’m forever spotting Little Gulls and Med Guls, but they always end up being bleached or moulting BHG’s. But today a Little Gull just wouldn’t turn into a BHG. The flying was consistently faster, and when it turned it seemed to flash some dark underwings. A clear-cut case one would think, but without binoculars it’s just so hard to be completely satisfied.

It seems I’m not the only one to have difficulty with ID’s. A Little Stint turned up at Lodmoor whilst we were in Weymouth. I decided not to go and drag the family round Lodmoor again, hence missing the opportunity to fail to spot that it was in fact this.

Sunday, July 25, 2010


Dashed up to Hatfield Forest to see the Silver-Washed Fritillaries that are on the wing here in Lodge Coppice. There were a few records a couple of years ago that have mushroomed into people seeing ten plus butterflies.

I got a decent photo of a tatty male out of it, and if you were to look at my shot and some other folks visits then you might think the bushes of Lodge Coppice are festooned with SWF's sitting out in the sun waiting to be photographed. But they aren't. They were easy to see, but are strong fliers and seemed loath to settle. And I had the wrong lens - just a usual one, and my 100-300 mght have done the job better. Other butterflies - Peacock, Red Admiral, Brimstone, Ringlet, Gatekeeper, a blue, Meadow Brown, Large White, were out and some settled, but not so as I could get any decent shots.

Saturday, July 10, 2010

After-work birding

As its midsummer and the days are long, I figure I should get out after work and see some birds. So despite the heatwave (mid 30s plus humidity) I get the subway to Davisville, walk a block south, and uncharacteristically for me find an entrance to Mount Pleasant Cemetery immediately. The cemetery is a beautiful, peaceful place. It’s like a large arboretum, with manicured lawns, tarmac walkways and some very lavish memorials. Its well used by joggers, cyclists, and dog-walkers, but being Canada they have the world’s politest dogs that trot by without fuss.

Its obvious from the outset that this will be hard work. The lawns are no good for birds, so they will be up in the trees. Being in North America the subconscious filter that in the UK means I don’t bother following up most bird calls doesn’t work, so I have to follow everything, and as soon as I see something I have my nose in Sibley instead of on the bird. Nevertheless, there are Black Squirrels, Grey Squirrels, and Chipmunks running over the lawns, and a handsome Robin allows close approach. This is very exciting until I realise that just about every bird that sits out on a tree-top, flies between trees, or bounds across the lawn is a Robin. By contrast a pair of Blue Jay’s come over to have a look at this curious visitor.

Following my birder’s instinct I head for an area with overgrown banks, and a ravine with a stream. However, I see nothing but a pair of Mourning Doves, a Red Admiral butterfly, some streaky finchey things in a tree and above Chimney Swifts whizzing round the sky and Ring-Billed Gulls drifting down to the lake front. I give up and head towards the centre of the cemetery and things pick up. Eventually I realise that the over-size chicken sat in a tree is in fact a Red-Tailed Hawk. Then on to the Eaton Mausoleum and at last I find a tree chock full with birds. There’s nine Robins, and a reddish bird that is a House Finch. There are two birds chasing each other through the tree, and I get a clear sight of it and it’s a slate blue back with an all white underside – White Breasted Nuthatch. A familiar type of call and a party of Black-Capped Chickadees move through. Back to the tree and picking through the various birds there’s a stunning Male Baltimore Oriole. The Nuthatch is back, but its got a deep rufous breast and a stonking eye-stripe – Red Breasted Nuthatch. I try to get a better view, lose it, and then find it again, but now its got a black back with fine white barring; Downy Woodpecker.

Its getting late, and as I don’t fancy spending the night alone in a park with a few thousand dead people I leave and get the subway back to Union Station, walk across Front Street and go and sit at the Sushi Bar in Benihana in the Royal York hotel. I have a couple of Asahi beers some Sashimi and Sushi, and write this.

Thursday, July 01, 2010

Reggie the Hedgie

Elvis, normally a quiet well behaved dog, has recently taken to standing in various corners of the garden barking his head off. It took a while for the penny to drop - we have a hedgehog! Its only a small one - less than six inches long, and is normally to be seen curled up 6 inches from the snout of a barking dog, but once Elvis is removed he uncurls and waddles off.

The children were very excited to see a real live hedghog in their garden. The only other ones they had seen were on a road, and I think they had thought a hedghog was a flat dinner-plate shaped creature.

The excitment didn't last. They decided, strangely, that the hedgehog needed a name, whereupon the standard arguments started. D#2 decided it should be called Arthur. D#3 said no it was called Spike. D#1 said no I've already called it Reggie the Hedgie. D#2 said no that was stupid and it has to be Arthur. Meanwhile the hedghog had quietly waddled off into the undergrowth ..

Tuesday, June 29, 2010

some folks have all the luck

Graham Catley at the excellent Pewit blog is discussing his finding a Bonaparte's Gull and a Ring-Billed Gull on his local patch. He says finding rarities is "80% luck and 20% persistence". So I guess I'm just not very lucky.

But on further reading he says "have checked the gulls three times today", and then having noticed an odd bird writes "in the next three and a half hours it was asleep for 90% of the time".

Three and a half hours!!! Well, firstly I would have had just the one look through and found nothing, and then even if I'm with him at the start of his third look, its a good three hours after I've gone that he finally nails the bird.

So, as I suspected, its 50% skill, 50% persistence, and 0% luck.

Tuesday, June 01, 2010

Sunday, May 16, 2010

Local Minsmere

Yesterday I commented that the local high ground "wasn't Minsmere". this morning I took elvis down the Stort Valley just south of Sawbridgeworth to the scrape. And it is quite like a mini-Minsmere.

There's a strip of land roughly one-field wide along the Stort Valley between Harlow and Stortford that is almost permanently wet. There are areas of reedbed, marsyh fields, a lagoon, and lots of rough fields and unkempt hedgerows. There is one reserve and at least two SSSI's. The land is not farmed with any seriousness, and is a guide to what the countryside may have been like a hundred years ago. you can see in the photo above a flooded rough field, and then beyond a field of Rape.

Today I stood on the bank looking into an open area of boggy willow scrub. A Grasshopper Warbler was singing out in the open in a Willow Tree. Behind me I could hear the low clicking of our resident male Garganey. It remains glued to a pair of Gadwall. the relationship seems quite a fractious one; the Garganey gets picked on by all the other ducks, and even in flight they seem to bicker and squabble, but its still here after a month so I guess that's how life is for a Garganey.

Otherwise there were Whitethroats in abundance, singing Lesser Whitethroat, Blackcap, and Sedge Warbler. 3 Jays, a Kestrel, a few Lapwings, a Bullfinch, and a host of other birds. overhead a few Swifts, a Swallow, and back in Sawbo a flock of about twenty House Martins

Saturday, May 15, 2010

higher ground

Another evening run round the area NW of Sawbo. I did my usual 5 stop strategy.

Minsmere it isn't. The plus side of this area is clear views across a large area. The down side is for the most part its a large area with nothing in it. Its a struggle to get into double figures for the number of species seen. Most are heard and not seen.

Today there were Carrion Crows and Wood Pigeons, some Stock Doves, a few Yellowhammers, a few Whitethroats chuzzing away in hedgerows, a Corn Bunting in a tree, a Yellow Wagtail over, a pied wagtail, a swallow, and a Lapwing.

Saturday, May 01, 2010


In the midst of what seems to be a strong migration this year, managed to get out for a quick tour of the local high ground.

Yellow Wagtail 3, Wheatears 1f, otherwise Yellowhammers, 1 Lapwing, a distant singing Corn Bunting, and some Linnets. Mainly round Blounts Farm

Another pic down the scope.

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

couple of more attempts at video.

'll be surprised if anyone gets this one!

Surely its only a matter of time before someone eg Nikon produces a camera that screws straight onto the body of a scope and does this stuff properly.

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

New Camera - new disasters

I've bought a new camera. A Canon S90 powershot. So I'm back to where this blog started, stuffing a compact digital camera down the lens of the scope. So far its been excellent, with one exception...

I went down to SLRS to try and connect with a male Garganey that's been around. Any fears I had about connecting with it disappeared when three ducks standing on the river bank (Herts side!) in a wildfowl-collection-escape stylee turned out to be two Gadwall and the male Garganey. They flew off just as I was fiddling with my camera, but appeared later on the scrape allowing me to take a video with the new camera.

If you've looked at it, you'll have noticed something odd. It appears to be monochrome with the exception of green. That's because it is. The camera just would not get out of this weird and bizarre single-colour mode for videos.

Have you ever been about to take a photo or record a segment of video and found yourself thinking "this would be massively improved by taking it in monochrome except for just one colour"? Me neither. but some bright spark in Canon has not only put this on this camera, but made it the default option that is impossible to get rid of. Looks like I'm going to have to break the habit of a lifetime and read the manual.

Apart form the Garganey and Gadwalls, there were a few Teal, a Little Grebe, a couple of pairs of Bullfinches and a number of Blackcaps. There was what I'm 90% sure was a Garden Warbler, but it kept hidden in the middle of a bush, The clock was tcking, so it will have to wait.

Saturday, March 06, 2010

Garden Blackcap

Since the new year we have had a male Blackcap in the garden. It is often around, and sits quietly singing to itself. It disappears as soon as I make a move towards it, so I resorted to taking a photo through the French door today.

Sunday, February 21, 2010

Half-term list

February isn't anyone's favourite month in which to spend one's birding vouchers. But its half term and I'm in Weymouth. And we have a dog, so now I have to take it for a walk first thing, so its a new challenge and a new list- Birds I've Seen Whilst Walking The Dog!

Friday am I took Elvis (yes that is his name) round Radipole; a trip noteable for being the least number of interesting bird I've ever seen at Weymouth, not even a peep from a Cetti's Wabler. Then Friday mid-day we hit the beach, and a scan over the perfectly flat Weymouth Bay produced a few Great-Crested Grebes, a distant Great Northern Diver, and an even more distant pair of Mute Swans.

Saturday morning I took Elvis to the Nothe. Again, the sea was perfectly flat. This is a mixed blessing; you can see further, but the birds have often disappeared out to sea. About a mile away in the habour by Sandsfoot Castle was a small flock of Black-Necked Grebes. Of course, I couldn't positively eliminate confusion species such as Slav Grebe, Little Grebe, Razorbill, any duck, GBBG, but they were in a small flock, and Slav Grebes don't flock like that in my experience. Slightly nearer was a Black-Throated Diver, which turned to show off a nice white thigh patch - birding made easy! Other birds were some Shags out to sea, a couple of Chiffchaffs, a Turnstone, and a few Redwings.

Finally, took D#2,3,4 and Elvis to the play park and then a homeward trip round Radipole. The RSPB is about to spend pots of money "improving" Radipole. Cleaning of ditches and dykes prevents silt build up and makes for better habitat, and better hunting for Bitterns and Marsh Harriers. A Sand Martin Bank, a field cleared of scrub for waders such as Snipe, Lapwing, etc. I'd like more scrapes for passing waders, but they feel Lodmoor does that better. The plan makes sense I guess, and is already paying dividends with a few Bitterns this winter and breeding Marsh Harriers. And where else do you get the chance to walk out of your front door and see three male Bearded Tits just twenty yards away, sat out in the sun devouring seeds on the heads of Rushes, as we did on the way back?

Close up #2

... and then we went to the beach where the usual group of Carrion Crows was present.

Saturday, February 20, 2010

Ready for your close up pt I

D#4 is still young enough to enjoy throwing bread at birds. First we went to the Boating Lake ...

Sunday, February 14, 2010

Unlikely Birders No 1

Mrs D mentioned she'd seen something in an Obituary of the fashion designer Alexander McQueen. so I googled and found an old article from The Guardian

"McQueen is the son of an East End cab driver; as a teenager, he joined the Young Ornithologists' Club and whiled away the after-school hours birdwatching from the roof of his block of flats. He retains to this day the mentality of an outsider."

So there we have it. He was a birdwatcher, therefore he was an outsider.

Saturday, February 06, 2010

Garden Birds

A couple of Long-tailed Tits drew my attention. The Male Blackcap appeared, and the usual House Sparrows. I got the camera and, of course, the birds disappeared as soon as I went into the garden. I snapped the Sparrows, and then a Coal Tit which appeared.

Sunday, January 24, 2010

I always make the same mistake

Rainham RSPB has been having a purple patch. I turned up at 10 ish and whizzed round the reserve. It was a case of "should have been here yesterday" for the absent Bean Geese and Whooper Swan, and "should have been here two minutes ago" for the juv Glaucous Gull that had flown back from the Target Pools and was now invisible. I got distant Peregrine and some nice Pintail but it wasn't quite what I'd hoped for.

I left the reserve and started west on the river-side path, and immediately my luck changed. Some locals pointed out a distant Ruff. I got as far as the Mound at the West end and had distant but clear views of a stonking 1st winter Glaucous Gull, resplendent in luminous pale cinnamon plumage. It stretched, it waddled off to a pool to drink, it flew, pretending to be chased by a Herring Gull, it did all you'd hope for. The Glaucous Gull is the King of the gulls, and it was a real joy to see one again.

There was a distant Common Buzzard, then back to the centre and miraculously the two Bean Geese had been found in the centre of the reserve. The clear white feather edges were a give-away, and we had the cracking views as they fed, looked around, and fed again. I clocked a Black-Tailed Godwit and then left.

My mistake was, again, to go onto the actual reserve itself. Its great for close-ups of birds, but the undulating terrain means your field of view is limited. You don't see too many locals on the reserve; they all stand on the sea wall or the mound, where you get extended clear view over the Thames and the reserve and environs.

Rarity chasing in Cambridgeshire part 2.

Last post left you on the edge of your seats as your intrepid birders ticked off the first of three potential rarities and headed off in sea...