Friday, 19 September 2008

Local Sightings.

We've had an influx of birds in the garden recently, Greenfinch numbers have been slowly building since the beginning of September with a maximum count of 16, both adult and juvenile. A single Goldfinch has been seen on the feeders and I'm sure it will only be a matter of time before it's joined by others. 2 Coal Tits have returned once again to the garden and are either seen on the feeders or in the evergreens and surrounding Ivy, 3 Goldcrests present most days and more than often in the evergreens next to the garden. Joining Great and Blue Tits on the feeders are Nuthatch, Chaffinch and 2 female Pheasants, stupid as they may seem on roads and country lanes they have adapted well to using my squirrel guard as a perch while they eat from the feeders. A juvenile Great-spotted Woodpecker has also been seen on a number of occasions using the feeders. Up to 6 Mistle Thrushes have been seen regularly around the cottage and seem to be roosting in the trees nearby.

The start of September also brought a number of Bullfinches in to the garden, male, female and juvenile all occasionally feeding on Honeysuckle berries next to the living room window, one occasion both female and juvenile showed incredibly well only inches away from the window. Numerous sightings from the surrounding lanes of male, female and juvenile birds in family groups from the end of August through to the present time.

A single Marsh Tit has returned to the garden much earlier than I recall it did last year, it seems to be very vocal at the moment and can often be heard long before it arrives at the feeders. The "pitchoo" call almost seems to drown out the rest of the garden birds usual chatter and moments later it arrives on top of the feeder pole, a few more calls and a quick view round the garden before it drops to the feeders, after plucking a sunflower heart or peanut granule from the feeder it disappears over the hedge before returning and repeating the process again.

Marsh Tit.

Chiffchaffs have started passing through the garden, normally only seen in small numbers during spring and autumn as they pass through on migration this autumn seems to be an exception with good numbers turning up daily since the 7th Sept. Often arriving at mid-day and staying till mid-afternoon before moving on, I have been surprised at the amount that have been turning up, with at least 1 on Sunday 7th Sept, 3 on the 9th and 3 on the 10th. This has continued with at least 2 or 3 birds turning up on a daily basis. 2 more today(17th) with one individual tapping on the living room window whilst perched on the sill and another showing extremely well as it preened on a garden bench. Due to the fact they just don't sit still for long it can be extremely difficult to get good photos/video clips of them so I was delighted when this individual sat and preened at length in full view, both birds remained around the garden until late afternoon. With the arrival of 4 Spotted Flycatchers and Willow Warbler in the garden on the 10th September my 2008 "birds seen in the garden or from it" list now stands at 50.

Chiffchaff Video

The first weekend of September brought a fair amount of Hirundines through often moments before rain showers started, Saturday 6th mid-day saw 100+ Swallows and House Martins feeding low over the fields during bad weather and throughout the week small groups have been passing through.

Tawny Owls have been calling in the evenings again fro over 3 weeks now which includes presumably our regular chimney pot hooter who seems to get active at about 4am, another called from a nearby wood today at 4pm(17th) and After a spell of obscurity they seem to appearing on telegraph poles all around the hambledon Valley. My first Barn Owl fro awhile was seen on the 16th at 19:00, driving past Arizona Farm towards Skirmett I spotted a Tawny Owl perched on a telegraph pole viewing the fields next to the road, I slowed down to watch it and noticed a ghostly white figure quartering the fields next to the farm. Driving 200yrds down the road I soon found a Barn Owl perched on the fence post by the Skirmett village sign and by luck I had remembered to take my binoculars with me. I parked up and watched it as it quartered the fields next to the road, it made a number of shallow dives before dropping in to the field and out of sight. I've been worried about our local barn Owls this year due to the extremely wet weather, their breeding success depends on good weather in order for them to hunt and successfully raise a brood of chicks, they aren't keen on wet weather and this summer being incredibly wet would have done them no favours.

A Fallow Deer and her fawn have slept in the paddock on a number of occasions recently and a number of small groups have passed through the garden. Badgers have been very active recently probably due to the wet weather, one of their favourite foods being worms which surface in wet weather is too good to miss and many of the surrounding lawns have been dug up. I watched 2 trotting out of the garden and in to the fields late evening on the 4th Sept. 4 separate sightings through August in different locations including one sighting of a single badger taken windfall under an apple tree along Shogmoor Lane.

Monday, 15 September 2008

Wryneck (Jynx torquilla) - Prestwood, Bucks.14th Sept 2008.

On Friday the news broke through the bucksbirders email group that Mike Collard had seen a Wryneck in his garden, whilst his son Ross, was eating his lunch he noticed a strange bird sitting in the back garden, alerting his mum Rose and moments later Mike, they soon discovered they had a Wryneck just 8ft away. It was seen briefly again Saturday and despite searching for it later in the day it couldn't be relocated.

Sunday lunchtime and the bird had reappeared again, Mike got the news out quickly through the email group and I was soon getting in the car and heading off. Arriving at Prestwood I made my way to Mike & Rose Collard's house and was given the news that the Wryneck was still present but elusive, it had been seen and photographed in a neighbouring garden. I waited patiently with Mike & Rose, Lee Evans, Rob Andrews and a few other birders in the hope that I might catch a glimpse of the Wryneck, it's all too easy to give up and later find out you missed the bird moments later, I was determined to wait and see my first ever Wryneck however long it took.

A few small groups spread out along the lane keeping an eye on some of the gardens(With permission of course) and we remained by Mike & Rose's house. Mike & Rose had posted a few flyers through some of the neighbouring houses after the bird was found on Friday and by now there seemed to be a bit of interest including one lucky gentlemen who watched it in his back garden and managed to get some excellent photos earlier in the day. Mike & Rose continued checking the garden of it's last seen location but there was no sign, We were all warbling on and having a laugh about recent sightings and going's on when Lee picked up on 2 Siskin flying over, a Goldcrest flitted round a spruce tree in a neighbouring garden but still no sign of the Wryneck. Mike suggested that he should check his garden again and wandered over to take a look, I'VE GOT IT he whispered loudly, IT'S ON THE LAWN. At this point I think we all thought he was mucking about and it wasn't till he said it again did everybody believe him. I edged my way carefully towards him with everybody else present doing the same, amazingly there was the Wryneck feeding on Mike's lawn and we all laughed at the fact the bird could have been there sometime and we didn't notice it. Despite our thinking the bird would look for a sunny spot there it was feeding in the shade of the front garden probing it's bill through the grass. We all had a good look before moving back across the lane, Lee aged it as a Juvenile and those of us present had fantastic views of it between 15:13 to 15:47 as it fed across the grass on the front lawn. It then made it's way along the side of the house where it could be seen feeding on ants before disappearing round the back of the house. It returned within a short while and showed incredibly well as it perched on a garden fence, a couple of minutes later it dropped down in to a neighbouring garden and out of sight.

A massive thank you to both Mike & Rose for their hospitality and of course Ross for finding it.

Wryneck Video

Added To my Year List.

209. Wryneck

Added To My Life List.

305. Wryneck

Thursday, 11 September 2008

A Welcome Edition To The Garden List. 10th Sept 2008.

Spotted Flycatcher

At this time of year it's always possible that something different might turn up in the garden, birds migrating south often get caught up in bad weather and also need to refuel and rest before continuing their journey. Many migrate at night to avoid predation and also avoid overheating that could result in the energy expended to fly such long distances. This also enables them to feed during the daylight hours and refuel for the night.

The first real signs of passage migration through the garden came today when a Chiffchaff suddenly appeared right in front of the window flitting around the Honeysuckle bush, it was feeding on small insects and stayed long enough for me to get a small video clip. I tried to find it through my binoculars when it flew off and noticed a small brown bird sitting on the phone lines, I took a closer look and realised it was a Spotted Flycatcher. As I watched it picking flies and insects out of the air I soon realised it wasn't alone as another one joined it on the wires, I rushed for my camera to get a few record shots from the bedroom window and successfully took a few before heading outside for a closer view. They seemed quite oblivious to me and continued feeding, both birds looked in good healthy condition and took full advantage of a large amount of insect life that was on offer and often plucked a meal out of the air without moving from their perch. A rather tatty and drab Chiffchaff appeared in a nearby Laurel bush followed shortly by another, I watched them flitting their way up the bush taking insects as they went meeting a Willow Warbler on the way. Turning my attention back to the Flycatchers I managed to get a few video clips of them through my scope with varying results, as I watched them I noticed another 2 appear in the same tree and they began catching insect simultaneously, I couldn't believe I was now watching 4 Spotted Flycatchers in the garden. I watched them up until 5:40pm when as quickly as they had appeared they vanished in to thin air. A very welcome edition to the garden list and with suitable habitat here one that I hope might be encouraged to nest here in the future.

Chiffchaff Video

Spotted Flycatcher Video

Spotted Flycatcher

Dungeness, Kent. 7th Sept 2008.

With Autumn migration well underway Roy Rose and I planned a trip to Dungeness, Kent which would hopefully give us a chance to see a few species that we had missed earlier in the year as well as seeing both Common Crane and White-winged Black Tern. As Dungeness is situated on the south east coast it offers views out across the north of the English channel and is very good for the observation of seabird passage. During Spring and Autumn migration the surrounding pits can be hive of activity as birds fuel up before continuing their migration to breeding or wintering grounds. We had both visited earlier in the year for our first time and had a fantastic days birding. Arctic, Great and Pomarine Skua had all been seen at sea, Black Redstart at the Nuclear facility and Bearded Tit and Blue-headed Wagtail at the RSPB Reserve. On our way a Ring-necked Parakeet flew over the M25 to start the day off.

Tree Sparrow
Common Crane

We arrived at Dungeness and headed straight to the Hanson ARC Hide where we hoped to find the long staying Common Cranes, entering the Hanson Hide we were greeted with the more common waterfowl and wader species on the ARC pit, an adult and juvenile Ringed Plover were scurrying frantically around on the closest island with a single Dunlin in tow, good numbers of Lapwing present and masses of Swallow, Sand and House Martin and the odd Swift as they joined in the melee feeding over the pits. There was no sign of the Common Cranes and disappointed as we were a Marsh Harrier slowly quartering over the eastern end of the pits lifted the spirits. There was plenty of Tern activity with both Common and Black Tern feeding over the ARC pit and while watching them the call went out, "Common Crane" somebody shouted and we turned to see both Cranes coming in to land in the middle of the pit. Down they came landing gently next to one of the small islands and immediately preened and ruffled their feathers, they soon started to wade through the water together stopping occasionally to probe in the water beneath them. We watched them as they continued to strut around majestically and there was often moments of bonding as both birds reared up, opened their wings and stretched their necks. I have been lucky enough to have seen them in Norfolk coming in to roost and last year a single bird gave very good views at Cropready in Oxfordshire. In the UK the Common Crane became extinct in 17th century but since the early 80's has had a small population in North Norfolk, The Wildfowl & Wetlands Trust (WWT) are currently aiming to re-establish a breeding population of cranes at a new wetland site in the UK, hopefully securing its future as a UK breeding species.

Common Crane

We left the Hanson site and headed over the road to the RSPB Dungeness Reserve hoping that the juvenile White-winged Black Tern would still be present on Burrowes pit, after viewing the sightings board we wandered towards Makepeace hide with the hope of getting the best views of the WWBT. Passing a family of Little grebes with 2 well grown young on the small pit between the visitor centre and Firth hide we soon heard Cetti's Warbler as it burst in to sub song from the pathway scrub, a Yellow Wagtail flew over and again large numbers of Hirundines filled the air, no doubt fuelling up before they depart for warmer climes. From Makepeace hide we soon spotted at least 6 Black Terns feeding on the far side of the Burrowes pit and amongst these was the juvenile White-winged Black Tern, a lifer for both Roy and I, I have to say worth the visit alone. It continued to feed for the 30 or so minutes we watched it, remaining on the eastern side of the pit in close attendance with the Black Terns. Taking your eyes of it for a second was a big mistake and it soon disappeared amongst the Black Terns until it could be located again by the black mantle which gives the juveniles a saddle effect. Another sighting of Marsh Harrier at the Makepeace hide and a very pale individual at the Denge Marsh hide, and a "pinging" Bearded Tit could be heard near the viewpoint near Denge Marsh.

Common Tern

We left the RSPB reserve stopping at Boulderwall Farm on the way out hoping that we might see Tree Sparrow, we had no luck and decided to head to the sea. At the Dungeness lighthouse we parked up and headed towards the beach, a Peregrine swooped round the nuclear facility and perched on the adjoining scaffolding surprising a few on looking Pigeons. At sea a steady stream of Gannets passed by in small groups and Little Gull, Black, Sandwich and Commic Terns slowly passed by both out at sea and along the shoreline. Out at sea the only movement seemed to be a number of large container ships until Roy picked up on a Skua flying west and approaching one of the buoys, as it approached we soon identified it as a Great Skua due to it's bulky appearance and large white wing flash on it's brown body, later a Turnstone flew west out at sea. On our way back to the car a Black Redstart called from the Dungeness nuclear facility but couldn't be located.

Tree Sparrow

Back at the Hanson Pits The Common Cranes appeared overhead and dropped down on to the ARC pit, their trumpeting calls alerting us to their presence. We then began our search for Tree Sparrow around the car park and viewing the path that leads to the viewing screens at the ARC pit we finally found a small group of a dozen or so birds feeding both on the floor and in the Elderberry bushes. We inched ourselves towards the gate so not to flush them and marvelled at these now scare members of the Sparrow family, gathered together on the floor in front of us they busily went about their business, squabbling over what goodies were to be found. It's sad to think that this once common species is now becoming harder to find each year. A female Common Whitethroat made it's way through the Blackberry bushes next to us until it appeared in full view before quickly flitting through the undergrowth and out of sight. We decide to walk along the path to the viewing screen and take a look at the pit watching with baited breath as a male Sparrowhawk shot across the path in front of us in chase of it's prey, difficult to say whether it was a Linnet, Meadow Pipit or Tree Sparrow but it escaped all the same and the Sparrowhawk headed off over the pit. As we entered the viewing screen everything on the pit flushed, Gulls first followed by Lapwing and then the rest of the waders, I searched unsuccessfully for a raptor and soon the birds returned to the pit with many of the waders touching down in front of the viewing screen. Firstly Wood Sandpiper landed in front of the screen followed in succession by Dunlin, Greenshank and then Little Stint. The Common and Black Terns were still airborne on the far side of the pit and a Little Egret was feeding along the waters edge next to the viewing screen. A single Black-necked Grebe on the ARC pit was still retaining some of it's summer plumage and spent most of it's time preening and diving to the left of the viewing screen. On the way back to the car a Kingfisher shot across the path and headed towards the ARC pit.

Common Whitethroat

I then learnt that an Osprey had been seen fishing at the nearby Long pits at exactly the same time as the birds flushed from the Arc pit, we we're disappointed to have missed it and both Roy and I headed to the Long pits in search of it. We meet another birder who had been watching it from the road and he led us to the best viewing places along the Long pits, a nice close up of a Chiffchaff as it fed in the bushes at the edge of the pit and later a Hobby. There was no sign of the Osprey and we trudged back to the car and drove back to the reserve to view the pits from the other side, from the RSPB visitor centre a large window views the Burrowes pit and across towards the Long pit, if anything became airborne we would have a very good chance of seeing it from here. We waited till the reserve centre shut and despite watching everything that moved our luck had run out, 2 Marsh Harriers gave good views as they drifted over the Burrowes pit avoiding a harassing Sparrowhawk as they went and our first and only Common Sandpiper of the day fed on the waters edge of the Burrowes pit along with Redshank.

Added To My Year List.

205. Common Crane
206. White-winged Black Tern
207. Tree Sparrow
208. Little Stint

Added To My Life List.

304. White-winged Black Tern

Wednesday, 3 September 2008

Grey Phalarope (Phalaropus fulicarius) - Weston Turville, Bucks. 03/09/2008.

Grey Phalarope

With the news that 2 Grey Phalaropes had been found at Weston Turville Reservoir in Bucks I quickly contacted Roy Rose with the news, eager to see them Roy left Theale, Berks and made his way over to me. As I waited for Roy to arrive news broke that the adult Grey Phalarope had flown off at 18:07 heading off in an north easterly direction, perhaps heading to Wilstone Reservoir?. It will be interesting to know if it's found there tomorrow.

Roy picked me up and we headed off to Weston Turville arriving at 19:30 with the hope that the Juvenile would still be present. After being informed the juvenile was still present we hurried along the path and up the bank at the dam end of the reservoir, we were greeted by large numbers of both Swallow and House Martin feeding over the lake. The juvenile Grey Phalarope was in the north west corner, 50ft off the bank feeding on the waters surface and I had just enough time to view it through my binoculars before the bird flew off towards the eastern side of the reservoir. It soon returned and fed below us giving great views just metres away from the edge of the reservoir. By now the light was fading and digiscoping the Phalarope became very difficult in fading light and the fact the bird didn't sit still for a second made it even harder, I did manage to grab a few shots and then decided to try and film it using my camera and my scope, not great results but better than I expected.

The Phalarope species is one of my favourite bird families, often tame and very approachable giving incredible views, a very charismatic wader. The Grey Phalarope feeds mainly on insects which it takes from the waters surface while swimming in circles, it will also feed on crustaceans, molluscs, worms and other aquatic creatures whilst on it's breeding grounds and in winter it eats marine plankton picked from the sea's surface. This Arctic-breeding wader winters at sea with many birds wintering off the west coast of Africa, they have the ability to spend months on the sea, miles from land which is remarkable considering their small size. Like the other Phalarope species, the female is the more colourful of the two and leaves the male to incubate the eggs and bring up the young, once she has laid her eggs she begins her southward migration. The young mainly feed themselves and are able to fly within 18 days of birth.

Added To My Year List.

204. Grey Phalarope

Grey Phalarope