Saturday, 31 December 2011

2011 Highlights - abroad

Arabian Bustard on the drive to Awash National Park, Ethiopia in February.  One of the birds I most hoped to see on the trip.  It did not disappoint and we went on to see another six.

Spot-breasted Plovers on the Sanetti Plateau, Ethiopia.  A fine endemic restricted to the higher plains.

Ruspoli's Turaco near Negele, Ethiopia.  My top target and bird of the trip.  We saw them twice including a pair (of which this is one) that gave excellent views early one morning.

Somali Wheatear near Bogol Mayo, Ethiopia.  Well worth the effort of getting to the site near the Somali border and sleeping on the 'porch' of the village 'hall'.

Stresemann's Bush Crow near Yabello, southern Ethiopia.  In the event we didn't need to go as far south as Mega.  Something of a disappointment as I'd hoped to write Stresemann's Bush Crow, a mega at Mega in my notebook.

Somali Courser near Yabello, southern Ethiopia.  Brilliant birds.

Mikado Pheasant at Anmashan, Taiwan in April.  One of the most sought after endemics, we saw just this fine male.

Malaysian night Heron, active during the day at Huisin, Taiwan

Fairy Pitta at Huben, Taiwan on 3 May.  They were 10 days late arriving and this was the first bird to be seen at Huben this year. Having missed the species in China in May 2010 by being just too early (they were late arriving then too) we added a contingency day to the end of the trip.  Just as well we did as we saw the pitta on our last morning.

2011 Highlights - home

Snow Buntings at Widewater in late December, for me the most enjoyable local birds this year

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 Greater Black-backs continue to provide the most interest amongst  colour-ringed gulls on the Adur with several sightings of Norwegian birds and these two from Normandy seen on 6 November

My best colour-ringed sighting was this Rock Pipit from Norway, seen at Margate on 13 November

The Sabine's Gull at Newhaven in September was perhaps my favourite bird in Sussex in 2011.  I saw it after work on 20th, on my second attempt

The Pallid Harrier at the Burgh in September would probably have pipped the Sabine's Gull if it had been more photogenic.  I saw it twice, the first views on 18th so distant the 'boa' couldn't be seen making me think it was probably a Montagu's.  No such problems when I returned on 22nd but it still wasn't as close as I would have wished. My only new bird seen in Sussex in 2011.

It was a reasonable year for Ring Ouzels Beachy, this one photographed at Birling on 30 October.  One of the biggest disappointmets of the year was that I missed all the better birds at Beachy, too many were mid week. 

Outside of Sussex I saw three new birds for Britain.  The White-throated Robin in Hartlepool was the first.  I saw it on 10 June, the last of its five days stay.  A piece of very good fortune that I felt I spent much of the rest of the year paying for ...

The Sandhill Crane near Loch of Strathbeg on 24 September was excellent and my second new British bird of the year.  A stronger nerve might have saved an overnight drive as it appeared in Suffolk two weeks later although that ploy failed for the previous two, on Shetland and Orkney, and it didn't seem worth taking that chance.

This superb first-winter Caspian Gull at Dungeness on 29 December was all I imagined the species should be and was well worth the wait for one I could confidently count as a new bird.

Not a new bird, yet, but the 'Eastern' Black Redstart at Margate on 13 November was one of the autumn's highlights.

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Biggest disappointment of the year was not going to Shetland for the Siberian Rubythroat. 'It is better to burn out than to fade away' but I didn't take heed of Neil Young's words.  This one was at Rudong, China on 17 May 2010.
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Shoreham and Arundel (30-31 December 2011)

Friday 30 December.  A morning low tide isn't the best for the Adur and so it proved with few gulls in evidence and just 3 Grey Plover, a Curlew and a Rock Pipit.  A text from DC that he'd seen a Great White Egret flying west past Birling was a convenient excuse to head to Widewater.  No sign of the egret although arriving 65 minutes after the sighting may just have been too late if it had continued west?  Once at Widewater it would have been criminal not to have had another look at the Snow Buntings and although the light wasn't special it was hard to resist taking a few more photos. 

Snow Buntings still gracing Widewater

Saturday 31 December.  Visited Arundel WWT with Megan seeing a Snipe, 5 Bullfinches and a Reed Bunting.  The collection included some Lesser White-fronted Geese and other favourites that either brought back happy memories or reinforced positions on my 'wants' list.

Lesser White-fronted Goose, single wing a bit of a giveaway
Bronze-winged Duck, one of South America's finest
Blue Duck, 15 years since I saw these in New Zealand
Harlequin, a nice reminder of our honeymoon in Iceland in 1989
Scaly-sided Mergansers, still high on my wanted list ...
Pheasant at Arundel

Thursday, 29 December 2011

Dungeness Caspian Gull (29 December 2011)

Having had no success with Caspian Gulls in Sussex I decided to try for the first-winter that has set up residence on the beach at Dungeness. I met Martin Casemore on site and was guided straight to the bird - brilliant! It fully lived up to my expectations being very distinctive and giving very good views I felt a new bird deserved. It was mainly sitting down in the strong wind which is perhaps why it allowed such close approach, but it did stretch it wings an stand up a couple of times before flying around and landing on the shingle for a few minutes before heading back towards the lighthouse. We then left and checked the ARC pit and Hanson Hide seeing 2 Great White Egrets, the leucistic Grey Heron, 3 Smew, 8 Goldeneye, a Marsh Harrier and 15+ Tree Sparrows. The Long-tailed Duck couldn't be found and the reserve was apparently very quiet so we returned to the beach where the Glaucous Gull had appeared and two colour-ringed Herring Gulls were seen but not well enough to read although one was certainly a North Thames bird. It was great to see Martin and even better to be guided around Dungeness by him but I reluctantly left to give myself time to check Scotney and Pett. The former was quiet with most of the Greylags asleep, my excuse for not finding the pink-billed bird. About 60 Barnacle Geese and the Emperor hybrids looked particularly plastic. At Pett a Bar-headed Goose was associating with a flock of Canadas, 4 Pink-feet and 9 White-fronts were rather distantly on their own and an adult and possible second-winter Scandinavian Herring Gull were with the high tide gull flock. A brilliant day that really made me wonder why I bothered looking for gulls in Sussex at places where good views are almost impossible! No more, until the next time ...

Caspian Gull at Dungeness, as I'd always imagined one would look and a very welcome but long overdue British/World tick - 513/6254 or thereabouts
white underwing, tail pattern and dark secondary bar just about visible
I'm very sure I've not overlooked one as distinctive as this before, at least not in daylight!  The long thin legs show to good effect too.
tail showing well
reluctant to move in the strong wind
only subtle differences from other gulls but when put together a very distinctive 'package'
too close to fit it all in

Great White Egret from the Hanson Hide

Glaucous Gull on the beach at Dungeness, now in its second winter
its got legs too
back in Sussex (Pett Level) so views rapidly deteriorate, centre-left gull identified as argentatus Herring Gull due to noticably darker mantle (even to one who is grey-shade challenged), extensive white tip to p10, dull bill and large size.
even worse views of Pink-feet (back) and White-fronts from the sea wall at Pett Level

Wednesday, 28 December 2011

Shoreham & Arlington (27-28 December 2011)

Tuesday 27 December.  A couple of hours was spent at Shoreham Fort and Widewater prior to family commitments.  Little was seen moving on the sea with 2 divers, 2 Gannets, 3 Brent Geese and an auk in half an hour while 2 Peregrines were on the chimney.  The two Snow Buntings were on the beach at the eastern end of Golden Sands Holiday park and I spent a very enjoyable 45 minutes digiscoping them although the light was always quite poor.  A brief stop at the Airport on the way home produced just over 1000 Lapwings.

Belle Tout Lighthouse from Shoreham Harbour
Southwick Peregrines from Shoreham Harbour

Snow Buntings still delighting all comers at Widewater
Wednesday 28 December.  Called in at the Adur on the way over to Worthing Hospital.  Gulls again were jumpy on the rising tide but one North Thames colour-ringed Herring Gull was seen.  Lapwing numbers appeared to have fallen to about 750.  Very efficient visit to fracture clinic, no waiting at all and no lifting wardrobes for 5 weeks but I can resume cycling. As finished in good time I decided to try Arlington Reservoir again, encouraged by the success of Garry Messingbird & co the previous afternoon.  I arrived just before noon but was disappointed to see the exposed mud from my previous visit was now covered.  Some gulls were on the spit along the western edge of the reservoir with others out on the water helpfully side on, but all rather distant.   Soon Richard Kelly, Dave Sadler and John King arrived but we were unable to pick anything out.  Eventually an adult Mediterranean Gull was seen on the spit but nothing else caught my eye until about 16:20 when, with the light fading, a probable third-winter Caspian Gull was seen rather badly.  I attempted a photo but it was 1/4 second exposure and then the camera battery died. All rather frustrating!

North Thames Herring Gull KT4T, previously seen on the Adur in March
one of these may be a 3rd winter Caspian Gull but it might have drifted out of shot ...