Thursday, 31 December 2009

Review of the Year...It's Long....Very Long!

Seeing as I haven't had much to talk about on here recently I thought I'd put on a little review of my year. The trouble is it can't really be little, because what a year I've had! 51 lifers and that's just the birds! I've also seen 12 new butterfly species, three new mammals, hundreds of new moths and a lot of orchids too.

The 51 birds were: Snowy Owl, Waxwing, Penduline Tit, Great White Egret, Rough-legged Buzzard, Pink-footed Goose, Bean Goose, Lapland Bunting, Common Crane, Hawfinch, Bittern, Tree Sparrow,Corn Bunting, Bewick's Swan, Red-crested Pochard, Smew, Great Grey Shrike, White -throated Sparrow, Ferruginous Duck, Woodchat Shrike, Dotterel, Montague's Harrier, Golden Oriole, Red-backed Shrike, Chough, Little Bittern, Black Duck, Fan-tailed Warbler, Ruddy Shelduck, Glossy Ibis, Baird's Sandpiper, Wilson's Phalarope, Spotted Crake, Citrine Wagtail, Brown Shrike, Ring-necked Parakeet, Richard's Pipit, Radde's Warbler, Little Bunting, Rose-coloured Starling, Common Rosefinch, Ruddy Duck, Greenish Warbler, Scaup, Red-breasted Goose, Spotted Sandpiper, Serin, Black-necked Grebe, and Caspian Gull.

Only THREE of these lifers were on patch, but that doesn't mean I've spent all my time twitching because a good number of these birds were seen by visiting good birding spots like Norfolk. A mere 24 of them involved twitching. Honest! ;-)  If I were pressed to pick out a favourite it would have to be the White-throated Sparrow, closely followed by Penduline Tit, Golden Oriole and all four Shrike species. I could probably change that list a hundred times though, suffice it to say that the year's been absolutely great, totally brilliant, with so many highlights I'll outline a few month on month.

But first, the low points. I shouldn't complain, but three hideous dips really do stand out this year. Firstly my second dipped Ortolan Bunting on Beer Head, just awful. Then there was the Bartinny Down, Great Spotted Cuckoo incident where I actually watched Nick and Bun watching it but dipped it myself!! It was almost the worst point of the year, but for the fact that I could actually find it in my heart to be happy for those who did see it.

They were gutted for me really ;-)

Even worse than that was the unspeakably horrible Black-throated Thrush. 'Nuff said ;-(

The highlights:


Lots of highlights in this month including;

The Zennor Snowy Owl, 
and my first ever self driven twitch, there were to be a couple more.

A long staying Spoonbill on the estuary provided much entertainment while trying to swallow a large flatfish.

Second twitch of the year was to see this little chap.
" Best bird ever!" I enthused.

Nine new birds were seen on my first birding trip to Norfolk, including a close encounter with a flock of what until a week or so previously had been my most wanted bird ever.

Wow Waxwing!

Many, many great birds were seen, but another couple that stood out were these.

Adult male Snow Bunting, not even a lifer but I love 'em!

Magnificent Cranes.

Another memorable experience was the breathtaking spectacle of tens of thousands of  Pink-footed Geese that flew directly overhead after being flushed from the fields where they'd been feeding. Remember this?


A couple of highlights included

Stunning Drake Smew at Cotswold Water Park.

Oooh!... Chris Packham! =D


March was my month of Crossbills, I got superb views of these on several successive visits to Trinity Hill Woods, definitely one of my 'on patch' highlights this year.


Another two successful twitches in April including the 'best bird of the year' (probably), the White-throated Sparrow. An absolutely gorgeous little chap with a really endearing little song. It's a shame I couldn't have gotten a decent photo of him.

What a guy!

The other bird of the month was this superb female Woodchat Shrike in a Plymouth cemetery.

A beautiful and entertaining bird which I could have watched all day long.


May was dominated by another holiday in Norfolk where the highlights included the exotic sounding Golden Orioles, they looked even better than they sounded, if that's possible?  Mine and Bun's first ever 'booming' Bitterns and crippling views of a male Montague's Harrier. I also saw my first ever Choughs on the Lizard Peninsula this month and a visit to Martin Down in Hampshire to look for Burnt-tip Orchid provided me with another memorable highlight, purring Turtle Doves, they appeared to be really abundant here with one calling from almost every thicket. I even managed a distant photo.

Turtle Dove- The Perfect Bird!


A traditionally quiet month bird wise had one major highlight this year, the Little Bittern on the Somerset Levels. A stunning bird with a really wacky call, Wooorruuff! Well worth the five and a half hour vigil.


Again a quiet month bird wise but a nice highlight was the Fan-tailed Warbler, Bun and I traveled over The Channel to Guernsey to see. Yes, yes, I can't count it on my British list I know. Still a lifer though. ;-)


The highlight this month was actually on patch! It was a Wryneck on Beer Head. This was only the second one I'd ever seen and the first I'd managed to photograph.


The big highlight of September was the appearance of six Glossy Ibis on patch, they lingered for most of the day allowing many people to enjoy them, some from as far away as Somerset!

Off patch a Spotted Crake at Greylake in Somerset was incredibly confiding showing down to  a couple of feet at times.


I also, along with Gav and Bun had my first taste of seawatching from Pendeen in Cornwall. What an eyeopener!! I'd only ever watched from Seaton before and this was as different an experience as anything could have been. Birds were close, really close and coming so thick and fast that it literally made my head spin. You just don't know where to look. I'll definitely be going back, especially as I haven't seen Cory's or Great Shearwater yet.
Also on this day we stopped by at Marazion to twitch the Baird's Sandpiper, another lifer for Bun and me.

Baird's Sandpiper.


October was dominated by our visit to The Scillies, where I had five lifers all told. It was a pretty quiet year by all accounts but non the less I thoroughly enjoyed every minute of it, birds or no birds. Best bird of the trip wasn't a lifer though it was the ultra-confiding Lapland Bunting on Tresco, truly unforgettable stuff!

I also got to see the Brown Shrike at Staines Moor.


Without a shadow of a doubt my November highlight was having my first ever views of a wild OTTER! Not once but twice and I've the photos to prove it!

Yes! At last! =D

A good month for birds too, the best on patch being the three Little Gulls which were viewable from the Axe Yacht Club for several days. I spent ages ( and got wet) trying to get a decent photo of them. Happily my determination was rewarded when I got this lucky shot.

Off patch highlights were Leach's Petrel at Severn Beach, Spotted Sanpiper (and dare I say Red-breasted Goose) in Devon, Scaup in Dorset and Serin at Rainham Marshes, Greater London.


Highlights of this month have been  Bearded Tits at Radipole Lake and my third lifer on patch this year, Caspian Gull. Which you can see and read about just below this post (there doesn't seem much point repeating them here really).

Almost forgot to mention our Iceland Gulls, throughout early 2009 at least four, (probably more)
of these lovely gulls delighted ( and vexed) the local birders. What a year!

Just to add a nice summery feel to the post I'm going to put on a few of my favourite new butterflies of 2009. Roll on Spring.

Finally two of my favourite photos of 2009, one which I haven't shown you before.

This is one of my most memorable moments of 2009. It's really difficult to see a Brown Hairstreak as a rule so to have this beautiful female actually land on my hand was amazing, I felt so privileged.

This last picture I couldn't put on my blog at the time I'd taken it because it features one of the Red-backed Shrikes which were on Dartmoor this spring. They were hushed up, well sort of, but they have long gone now and I'm not mentioning the actual site anyway.

It was so funny watching this photographer with his massive lens standing just a few feet away from a perched Red-backed Shrike, looking the wrong way! The bird was constantly calling too. It had flown off before we could get down there to tell him. Oh well, you win some you lose some!

Wednesday, 23 December 2009

Caspian Gull

I didn't go and look at the swans again today, in fact the weather was so appalling I didn't get out and about with the dog either. With treacherous icy conditions early on and then this afternoon frequent heavy hail showers I decided to catch up on some housework instead. I wasn't in the least bit  surprised however when I got a phone call from Gav at just after 3.30 this afternoon, after all it doesn't matter what the weather brings, he'll still be grilling the gulls on the estuary. Today his determination was rewarded ( and rightly so) with a first winter Caspian Gull, a patch and Devon 'mega'. He calmly said " Come and look at this first winter Caspian Gull by the tram sheds." So I did. It was a really striking bird, surprisingly easy to pick out from the crowd too. It was also a lifer for me! Congrats on a great find Gav, and thanks for the call. =D

A reet bobby dazzler.

Tuesday, 22 December 2009

If At First You Don't Succeed....

Yesterday I tried to get a photo of our unprecedented collection of swans, because all  four species were showing in the one scope view! One of them was playing hard to get though and inconsiderately went to bye-byes. 

Right to leftt: Mute, Whooper, Bewick's  and discarded pullover? Old tyre? Bin bag?

Today I tried again but it was horribly sunny and they were a bit too spread out to zoom in.

Definitely four swan species this time, but well naff! 
Oh well,  I might have another go tomorrow if we still have the full complement.

Also today I saw an interesting Fungus whilst walking Rex in Shute Woods.
I think it's a Jelly Tongue (Pseudohydnum gelatinosum)
It wasn't very jelly-like today though it was frozen solid!

Sunday, 20 December 2009

The Radipole Lake Hat Trick and a Bonus Patch Mega!

I've lost count of the times I've visited Radipole Lake, and I've NEVER, ever seen the Bearded Tits which are allegedly quite frequently seen there. Over the last two weeks up to fifty of them have been showing well on an almost daily basis. Encouraged by these reports I visited last Wednesday morning and spent around three hours there. I saw nothing. Zip! No Beardies, no Marsh Harrier, not even the Hooded Merganser. Happily today was very different, just a couple of minutes after Bun and I had arrived on the reserve we enjoyed great views of a juvenile Marsh Harrier, which flew directly over us, I couldn't quite whip my camera out of my bag fast enough to get a photo of it though, a real missed opportunity that! Next we spotted a birder pointing his camera into a reed bed and.... Yes! He was pointing it at some Bearded Tits. At last! :-) There were about 24 in the flock and they were showing superbly, really close at times, feeding on the tops of the reeds. After several minutes the flock dispersed but not long afterwards we encountered another flock of around fifteen birds on the Buddliea Loop. These were showing even better (if that were possible) and I got some very nice photos. At one stage they even began feeding on the path. I was really 'made up' to have seen them so well, having only ever seen a couple before, very distantly through a scope, albeit on patch! To top things off nicely, as we returned to the car the Hooded Merganser was in position by the bridge next to the visitor centre. The Radipole Lake Hat Trick in the bag!! :-)

Then as if that all wasn't enough Gav spotted the patch's first Bewick's Swan for eons in amongst the Swan flock on Bridge Marsh late this afternoon. I got there at around 4.20, it was almost dark, but I attempted a record shot.

Awful! But that's it, the small one at the back.
To see some MUCH better photos of it look HERE

I had a tad more success with the Bearded Tits. I even took some nice shots with the S3 because they were pretty close and it was sunny. Even so I couldn't resist digiscoping a few too.

Showing well on the path...

... Like so,

Below are some of  my better efforts with the Canon S3.


The best of the digiscoped shots,
(digiscoping was  frustratingly tricky as the birds kept swaying out of the FOV)

What a sexy bird!

And so is this one! He's still on my list! ;-)

Wednesday, 16 December 2009

Ticking Over

The slightly ambiguous title doesn't mean I'm giving up twitching, just that my birding activity has been much of a muchness with nothing really encouraging me to put finger to keypad. I suppose I should have done so on Monday really, when I actually got another lifer on patch with the Black-necked Grebe which Steve found off Seaton Hole. He phoned me with the news and I got over there as fast I could. While I was sauntering down the million or so steps which lead to Seaton Hole I was already fully aware of what I would hear when I arrived. It was just SO inevitable. As soon as I was within earshot of Steve he pronounced
" It's drifted out a lot further now!!" I got to see it in his scope and then, sometime later, found it in my own but I have to admit that it was just a Grebe shaped blob, I couldn't even make out any identifying features at 60x zoom! Obviously I trust Steve's judgement on the ID 100% . So, I have seen a Black-necked Grebe, but I haven't SEEN one if you know what I mean...? I'm not too worried about this state of affairs because I can easily go to Torbay and see one anytime I like (don't know why I haven't already really). If it had been a once in a lifetime lifer, like a Yellow-nosed Albatross for example I may have reacted a bit differently. In fact I'd have rushed down the yacht club and commandeered a boat!!

Most of the rest of my birding time has been spent dipping Firecests in Jubilee Gardens, Beer. I have seen the/one of the Black Redstarts on Beer beach though. I spent ages on Sunday trying to get a photo of one, I'm not sure why, I've already got hundreds of 'em!

...Well, not quite like this one.

... But very like this one. Just like Wheatear,
you can't have enough Blackred photos.

Today I fancied seeing a nice Dipper. I had two options.

1) Walk the entire length of the River Coly, very muddy, very tiring and chances of success slim, verging on zero.

2) Drive over to Lyme Regis and take a leisurely stroll along the River Lym, much shorter, predominantly tarmaced and chances of success. virtually guaranteed.

So, a 'no brainer' really.

I saw two Dippers on the Lym, with one of them ( a singing male) about 30 feet from where I parked the car at Horne Bridge, which was nice. I was surprised that the Dippers here are just as flighty as those on The Coly. I had foolishly expected them to be much more approachable, being in a relatively 'built up' area. They did appear to take little notice of passing pedestrians as long as  said pedestrians didn't  point bins or a camera at them, or generally look at them! I managed to get close enough for a photo near to Horne Bridge because the road is a good eight feet or so above the river here and they don't spot you so quickly. When I say close enough I mean about 100 feet away!!

One of my best chances spoiled by grass in the foreground.

Front and back shots, and why not? I love Dippers!