Sunday, 29 June 2008

Common Crossbill (Loxia curvirostra) & Spotted Flycatcher (Muscicapa striata), West Berks. 28/06/08.

Spotted Flycatcher

Common Crossbill has always been one of those problematic birds for me with only brief views of flocks flying overhead, I've never really had a decent view and I hoped to change that today with a visit to Roundoak Piece near Padworth. Local birder Peter Hickman had seen a small flock near the Oval pond on the previous day and after a call to Roy Rose arrangements were made to meet on site.

After meeting up we made our way towards Roundoak Piece, a few wrong turns and a few u-turns we finally found ourselves in the Spruce wood near Roundoak Piece, already we had heard Bullfinch, Chiffchaff, Treecreeper and Nuthatch along with the more common species. As we listened to the woodland singing I soon picked up on a Finch flock calling from overhead, It took a couple of seconds before a small flock of a dozen or so Common Crossbills flew over but they were soon lost to sight as they flew further into the woodland. We waited silently to hear where they had gone but to no avail, Coal Tit and Chiffchaff were all that could be seen and heard from the trees above so we headed on towards the Oval pond. At the Oval pond a pair of Little Grebes with one juvenile were busy on the east side of the pond but there was nothing else about so back to the Spruce trees we headed. We then wandered around some of the outer wood paths trying to look at the tree tops of any sign of Crossbill but with no luck, a Willow Warbler called from the trees next to the path and with the exception of Robin and common Tits it was quiet. Back where we began in the woodland we heard Crossbills flying over again and it was then I picked up on 2 unknown birds flying into the tree tops further along the path, as soon as I put my binoculars up I saw a male Common Crossbill sat in the tree preening itself. We watched it from the path below and was soon rewarded with a female sat at the end of the branch feeding on the Spruce cones as well, both male and female took it in turns to fed on the cones at the end of the branch before returning towards the trunk of the tree. This continued for awhile before they flew from the tree with another Crossbill and headed further down the path, we caught up with them again and managed to watch them for a further 10 minutes before 4 flew from the trees and off into the woods. On the way back to the car park I found a Slow worm that I almost trod upon , it was laid across the path and gave me enough time to get a quick photo of, nice to see as there not that easy to find anymore let alone to get a photo of.

Common Crossbill

Slow worm

Roy's having a good time with Spotted Flycatchers at the moment and an offer to go and see a family party in a private garden near Englefield was too good to turn down, we arrived to find a pair of Swallows sat on the overhead wires and I immediately saw a chance to digiscope at least one of the birds.


Spotted Flycatcher

It was soon evident that the Spotted Flycatchers were very close with the constant contact calls between both adult and juvenile and on cue an adult Spotted Flycatcher flew into view, it perched very close to us intently watching every insect that flew, hovered or crawled. It was soon off flycatching again and if you've ever stopped to watch one of these birds you will know how agile and acrobatic they are, with hungry mouths to feed they were continually on the hunt for food and very rarely stopped hunting. Although both adults were in view almost all the time the young were perched high in a nearby tree and very difficult to see as they sat in the top of the tree canopy and out of sight, while we watched the adults bringing food to the tree we saw a young Flycatcher drop down and sit in full view giving me a great chance to get a few photos. The adults were returning to feed their young every minute or so with a good selection of insects caught around the garden and surrounding fields and often perched on the fencepost giving me the best chance of some good photos. Roy's friend told us they had nested above their doorway and had 4 young which had left the nest the day before, this is the second year that they have bred in their garden which is very good news. The Spotted Flycatcher has been in a massive decline in recent years and has now become a RED STATUS species. A Hare was a nice end to the day as it appeared in the nearby field and came across towards us, It soon noticed us and headed back across the field and out of sight.

Young Spotted Flycatcher

Added To My Year List

194. Common Crossbill

Wednesday, 25 June 2008

Portland Bill, Dorset. 24th June 2008.

A visit to Portland Bill, Dorset today with the aim of catching up with a few seabirds. I was really hoping to see Fulmar, Shearwaters, Auks and Kittiwake and seeing as I haven't been to Portland for quite awhile I was looking forward to it.

Roy Rose and i arrived at Portland Bill and from the car park Skylark, Swallow, House Martin and Swift were soon seen followed by Starling, Linnet and of course Herring Gull perched on the Lobster Pot Cafe roof, lets face it if there's a free meal going there's sure to be a Herring Gull nearby.

Portland Bill Lighthouse

We had a quick look inside the Lighthouse visitor centre and were delighted to see the cameras showing Guillemot and Razorbill on the West cliffs, we made our way to the Bill and looked out to sea. Below on the waters surface bobbing up and down were small groups of both Guillemot and Razorbill and lots of individuals flying in and out to sea, Cormorant, Herring, Lesser & Greater Black-backed Gulls were also soon seen. Roy quickly picked up on a lone Manx Shearwater passing by and while I tried to locate it picked up on a passing Gannet, I finally caught up with the Manx and we soon found another closely and watched as they skirted the waves before we lost them over the sea. A Rock Pipit called as it passed overhead before settling on the rocks nearby, giving us just enough time to view it before it flew off out of sight lower down the cliffs. We made our way towards the West cliffs soon finding a pair of Rock Pipits and a small group of Linnets washing themselves in a puddle just inside the MOD base, good views considering obscured views through the fence. Throughout the day we encountered both Rock Pipit and Linnet along the sea path.


Viewing the sea next to the West cliffs we soon saw our first Puffin of the day as a single bird bobbed up and down on the waves next to the cliffs, it was soon followed by a Fulmar which soared round the cliffs towards us and then drifted back round the cliffs. A single Oystercatcher sat in full view on the side of the cliffs and below us in the water 2 Shags were fishing, the odd Gannet passed by and again the Rock Pipits taunted me from behind the MOD fence and knowing the moment I'd get my camera out they would fly off, I didn't bother, yet.

Another check out at sea produced more Manx Shearwaters as they flew passed, we watched them for as long as possible often losing them to sight as they flew behind waves, their black upperwing and white underwing standing out like crosses as they tilted their wings as they glided passed. We then picked up on a Shearwater flying in from the sea, it was difficult to pick up at first due to it being head on but amazingly it flew very close to the coastline and landed on the water, I was delighted to be watching my first ever Balearic Shearwater which was now bobbing up and down in the sea alongside a guillemot. It gave an excellent chance to see some of the key features which separates it from Manx Shearwater close up rather than being seen flying out at sea, a few birders were now watching it and we were amazed to see it joined by another Balearic which came from somewhere below us. They remained on the water until we lost sight of them as they drifted round towards the lighthouse. I had hoped to see Manx but to see Balearic Shearwater and at such close views I was delighted, Brilliant. Out at sea at least 6 Kittiwakes were in a small flock on the water and a lone bird on the water below us in the sea gave very good views.

Herring Gull

A Rock Pipit perched on the fence and gave me a one photo chance and then flew off, a pair of Stonechat were busy feeding around the car park as was a Herring Gull that took a liking to the chips we purchased from the Lobster Pot, it made a very good subject and I didn't mind trading a few chips for a couple of photos, probably the best of the day I hasten to add. House Sparrow, Starling, Linnet, Meadow & Rock Pipit along the coastal path towards the Observatory.

Rock Pipit

We stopped off at Ferrybridge near Chesil beach on the way home and decided to have a wander along the beach in the hope we might find a Little Tern, a Little Egret was seen flying off as we pulled up. Leaving the car park I was disappointed to see a family ignore the signs asking people to keep their dogs on their leads because of breeding birds in the area, they simply walked passed the sign ignoring it letting their 3 dogs run riot around the area. Alright I don't want to sound as if getting on my soapbox as we can all be liable to make mistakes from time to time but it really got my back up.

There was little to be seen at the Tern nesting site, infact there was only 2 Terns to be seen and they seemed to be Common Terns which only gave distant views. We walked back down to the mudflats at Ferrybridge spotting both Meadow Pipit and Linnet on the way and then scanned the flats. A few Herring Gulls were sat at the waters edge and scanning across the mudflats 2 pairs of Ringed Plovers were busy feeding, it wasn't until we walked further along the shore that the 2 closet Ringed Plovers got excited and started showing us their distraction technique.

Ringed Plover

One ran across the front of us and scampered up the pebbles drawing our attention away from where we were standing, it was of course leading us away from 2 very young chicks that were on the edge of the flats with the other nearby adult. This was an amazing sight and showed just how these little waders protect their young from predators. My thoughts soon turned to the unleashed dogs that were now chasing Crows and Gulls across the flats and realised just how vulnerable these little chicks were. A summer plumaged Dunlin appeared from behind a rock a began searching for food in the mud giving good views until I got my camera out, I finally managed to get a few photos before my attention was drawn to the family heading back towards us. I feared for the chicks that were now just at the edge of the mud flats and surely within sniffing distance of any dog. Incredibly the chicks sat motionless and the numbskulls passed by leaving the Ringed Plover parents to gather their young and scuttle off along the mudflats.

Fantastic day.

Ringed Plover Chick


Added To My Year List.

185. Guillemot
186. Razorbill
187. Manx Shearwater
188. Rock Pipit
189. Shag
190. Puffin
191. Fulmar
192. Kittiwake
193. Balearic Shearwater

Added To My Life List.

302. Balearic Shearwater

Wednesday, 18 June 2008

Corncrake (Crex crex) - Hurst, Berks. 17th June 2008.

Okay I'm just settling down to watch the European Championships and still deciding whether to watch Italy vs. France or Holland vs. Romania when I receive an email informing me of a very rare sighting in the county of Berkshire. Well let's face it, it's a rare sighting over many parts of the UK and the majority of birders will probably have to travel to Scotland to have a better chance of finding one. So the email tells me a Corncrake has been heard calling from a field near Hogmoor Lane in Hurst, Berks (SU794745) so I called birding buddy Roy Rose and arranged to meet at Hurst. I arrived and met a group of the Berks regulars standing on the edge of a Wheat field and quietly joined them, Roy told me the bird had been calling very close but hadn't shown, it immediately started calling again and the grating "crek-crek, crek-crek" calls seemed only a matter of feet away. This continued and it was decided we should move away from the set-aside in the hope that the bird might show itself at the field edge, it continued to call on and off for at 30 minutes before it slowly moved out into the field. We scanned the furrows in the hope that we might get a fleeting glimpse but with no luck, after an hour or so it had moved well away and into the centre of the field without the slightest glimpse or even moving crops as it passed through them. It must have been about 9pm when listening to the Corncrake calling sporadically as it moved further across the field when all of a sudden a bird jumped up from the field and straight back down again, the six or seven birders standing next to me all saw it but only through the naked eye so I knew I wasn't seeing things but was it the corncrake?, no Pheasants or Partridges had been seen or heard so it certainly was a mystery. Minutes later the same thing happened and it certainly was in the area of the calling Corncrake which was now on the far side of the field, we headed off to meet up with a group of birders which were standing on the side of the field who told us they had seen the same thing and identified it through binoculars as the Corncrake. By 9.30 the Corncrake was in good voice and heading back across the field towards us and within 15 minutes seemed like it was on the side of the Wheat field again, we moved closer and stood at the set-aside and could hear the corncrake calling from nearby but still no sighting, a lady from a nearby house came out looking for her dog and told us she had heard the Corncrake calling 2 weeks ago whilst walking her dogs by the field and that she often hears it calling in the early hours, you have to feel sorry for the poor fella as he's obviously looking for a mate and isn't going to find one. Everybody left at 10pm with the Corncrake calling every now and then.

Corncrake are incredibly elusive, and as I learned tonight can be only a matter of feet away calling and still remain out of sight. They are also a RED STATUS species.

Added To My Year List

184. Corncrake

Added To My Life List

301. Corncrake

The Hurst Corncrake

Red-backed Shrike (Lanius collurio) - Burton Mill Pond, West Sussex. 15th June 2008.

Red-backed Shrike

Roy and I headed off to Burton Mill Pond, West Sussex today to catch up with the long staying male Red-backed Shrike, on arrival we soon spotted the Shrike sat in the hedgerow near to Shopham bridge. It showed fantastically well as it searched for food around the paddocks, after each sortie it perched in full view for a couple of minutes before continuing to hunt. this is my first ever sighting of a male in breeding plumage and a sight to behold. He continued to hunt and on occasion plucking a number of large insects from both air and ground and then resumed back to a number of perching points along the hedgerow and fence.Once a common and widespread breeding bird in Britain the Red-backed Shrike has gradually declined in the UK and in 1989, for the first time ever none where found breeding on these shores, in 1999 the last successful breeding occurred but now is no longer an annual breeding species in Britain.

On our way back we stopped off at RSPB Church Wood near Hedgley, Bucks, in the hope that we might get a glimpse of Lesser-spotted Woodpecker. Unfortunately there was no sight or sound of any but we did find 4 very young Wren chicks hiding in a bramble thicket, I hate to use the cute phrase but they were very adorable and undoubtedly mother nature at her best, a truly memorable sighting. Elsewhere in the wood plenty of Blue & Great Tit chicks, Nuthatch and 3 good views of Treecreeper, chiffchaff calling and another catching insects by the Redwood trees and we found a very small Woodpecker feather which I'm still trying to identify.

Last stop was Ferry Lane at Mill End, Bucks so Roy could get his first year sighting of Ring-necked Parakeet, as we drove down the lane 2 flew along the river and after turning the car round and driving back up the lane 1 flew over the car roof giving great views through the handily opened sunroof.

Added To My Year List.

183. Red-backed Shrike

Nightjar (Caprimulgus europaeus) & Woodcock (Scolopax rusticola) - 14th June 2008

A visit to a Nightjar site on the Berkshire border gave excellent views of both Nightjar and Woodcock as dusk drew in, approaching the site a Willow Warbler called from a nearby Oak tree shortly followed by Hobby being spotted sat in the top of a dead tree. By the time I had arrived at a regular viewing point a number of Woodcock had passed over on one of their many roding runs through the woods and by the end of the evening I had seen them at least 7 or 8 times as they passed overhead, the "twissick" and grunting/croaking "wuhg, uhg-uhg" roding calls being heard long before they flew over. I didn't have to wait long to hear the first Nightjar "churring" and following the call I found a single bird perched in the top of a conifer tree, it soon flew off and headed deeper in to the copse and began churring again but out of view. I walked around the wood getting a number of views of both Nightjar and Woodcock including a fantastic view as a Nightjar flew overhead and would estimate at least 5 churring Nightjars dotted around the site.

The Nightjar is currently a RED STATUS species due to the destruction of many of it's nesting sites, they are nocturnal and best seen and heard at dusk in their favoured Heathlands and conifer plantations whilst they search for Moths and insects.

Added To My Year List

182. Nightjar

Monday, 9 June 2008

Icterine Warbler (Hippolais icterina) - Wilstone Reservoir, Herts. 08/06/2008.

Icterine Warbler
Icterine Warbler
Icterine Warbler
Icterine Warbler
Icterine Warbler
Icterine Warbler

News broke mid-morning that a Melodious or Icterine Warbler had been heard singing in the cemetery corner of Wilstone reservoir in Hertfordshire by Roy Hargreaves, I waited to find out if the bird would remain and contacted birding pal Roy Rose to let him know the news. By 4pm we were on our way to Wilstone Reservoir to see the now confirmed Icterine Warbler, if seen this would be a first for both Roy and I. We arrived at Wilstone Reservoir car park and were soon redirected to the east side of the reservoir about 400yards past the garden centre/tea rooms where we managed to find a space to park and wandered back down the road to meet a gathering dozen or so birders eagerly looking for the Warbler. A familiar face in Berkbirds webmaster Marek Walford informed us that there had been no sight or sound during the 30 or so minutes of his wait and both Roy and I believed we might be out of luck, a scan over the hedgerows towards Wilstone reservoir gave brief views of a single Black Tern amongst Common Terns feeding on the reservoir, and at least 2 Common Whitethroat could be heard singing before one gave good views in a hedgerow in front of us. After a wait of 15/20 minutes somebody proposed playing a short Icterine call to see if the bird was still present and after asking everybody present if they had any objections the call was played, within a minute the Icterine Warbler was calling back at us from an Elder bush (SP909135) and everybody was either delighted to hear this almost beautiful song or relieved to know the bird was still present. Within minutes the bird flew over our heads and across the road to the large tree on the roadside, it remained singing from the tree but was elusive and didn't show until it dropped into the bushes below the tree. It was here we got our first sighting of this Hippolais Warbler as it sat in the top of the bushes singing before dropping down into the bushes and out of sight, again it showed in the bushes before flying back over the road and into the Elder on the reservoir side of the B489. It remained in the Elder and out of sight for sometime, continuing to sing with snatches of Blackbird, Song Thrush & Sparrow in it's repertoire of melodic Warbler song. Eventually it showed again in the Elder bushes on the Wilstone reservoir side giving good views and just enough time for me to get a few photos before it again disappeared in to the bushes and out of sight, this continued on and off until the bird showed incredibly well at the front of the bushes snapping up a few passing insects as it sang and then catching a large insect which it devoured in full view, brilliant views and certainly worth waiting for. It did another circuit of the trees and bushes singing from each perching point and finally ending back in the Elder bush on the Wilstone reservoir side.

Icterine Warbler is very similar to the closely related Melodious Warbler with the main difference being the Icterine has dark grey/blue legs, longer primary projection, a pale panel in the wings and a sloping forehead. The Icterine's loud song rolls quickly and continually with brief slow repeated notes much like the Song thrush, often melodic with the odd scratchy note thrown in. It feed's mainly on insects and breeds in dense scrub and bushes and around woodland edges, a scarce passage migrant to the UK but widespread through east and central Europe during breeding season before it returns to sub-equatorial Africa for winter
If you go to see this fantastic bird please VIEW ONLY FROM THE ROADSIDE & DO NOT ENTER THE FIELDS.

Added To My Year List.

181. Icterine Warbler

Added to My Life List.

300. Icterine Warbler

Sunday, 8 June 2008

Red-footed Falcon  (Falco vespertinus) - Woolhampton Gravel Pits, Berks. 31/06/2008.

This Spring/Summer has seen an influx of Red-footed Falcons visiting our shores and many counties in the UK have been lucky enough to have hosted a number of individuals. Friday night I was planning a trip to see the closest Red-footed Falcon which happened to be Stewartby in Bedfordshire when an unexpected email arrived informing me that a pair had been seen at Woolhampton gravel pit's in Berkshire. The plans for Stewartby went out the window and should the pair remain at Woolhampton on Saturday I would make my way over to Woolhampton to see them. My first and only sighting of this fantastic Falcon was a 1st summer female which stayed from the 9th to the 19th of July at Moor Green Lakes near Eversley, Berkshire.

Arriving at Woolhampton early afternoon I parked up and made my way towards the pit's at the far end of the complex, a number of birders leaving the site let me know that the male had been seen and was associating with a number of Hobbies that were feeding around the pits and over the trees in the west of the gravel pits. My first year sighting of Turtle Dove was brief as a single bird flew over towards the old worksite hardly giving me time to see it through my binoculars.

I reached the location (SU566658) and it didn't take long before somebody spotted the male Red-footed falcon feeding up high with at least 8 Hobbies on the west side of the gravel pit's, finding it in the scope was an altogether different task as the sky was grey and overcast making it difficult to track amongst the Hobbies. It was soon pointed out that the Red-foot had one or maybe two central tail feathers missing which made it slightly easier to find. It continued to feed on the wing for over an hour sometimes being lost to sight behind a number of large Chestnut trees and reappearing moments later. It continued to show on and off for most of the afternoon and on one occasion flew overhead giving brief good views before disappearing around 5pm. Throughout the afternoon Red Kite, Buzzard and Kestrel all put in an appearance in the field next to us and with both Hobby and Red-footed Falcon added to the raptor experience. Skylark, Yellowhammer & Reed Bunting also putting in an appearance.

It was later whilst waiting for the Falcon to re-appear that I finally met one of Berkshire's premier bird photographers Jerry O'Brien, Jerry has an exceptional catalogue of Photos many of which can be found on Berksbirds and his own website Birds of Berkshire. It was great to finally meet Jerry as he has helped me with the creation of the TABCG website by allowing me to use some of his excellent photos taken in the Theale area. It was while we were chatting that another Turtle Dove flew over in the distance followed shortly by views of the Red-footed Falcon which Jerry spotted as it briefly showed feeding with the Hobby clan over the western pit before again being lost to sight.

Despite waiting till after 8pm the Red-footed Falcon was only seen briefly on a couple of occasions as it flew overhead and sadly it was impossible to digiscope.

Added To My Year List.

179. Red-footed Falcon

180. Turtle Dove