Tuesday, 31 December 2013

Zwolle Hawk Owl (31 December)

bird of the year contender, at least this side of New Guinea

While at Portland with John King for the Brunnich's Guillemot I was talking to Martin Casemore and expressing admiration and some envy that he had been to Zwolle twice to see and photograph the long staying Hawk Owl (I thought Martin's photo of it on the grass was amazing).  John rather casually mentioned that earlier on his pager Garry Bagnell and John Lees had offered two spaces for a trip to Holland the next day.  I phoned Garry almost immediately, after a tense minute of so of John finding his pager and then the message for Garry's phone number.  One place had gone but Garry was happy to squeeze us both in.  Brilliant.  We left Crawley at 22:00 on 30th, Garry drove to the Channel Tunnel at Folkestone for a very efficient crossing arriving just before midnight UK time, 01:00 on 31 December local.  
We drove to Lettele arriving two hours before dawn.  The car was a bit cramped so I slept for an hour on a couple of logs but it was a bit cold (and uncomfortable).  Two Dutch birders arrived as it was getting light, confirmed it was the right place for the Pygmy Owl and led us to the right area.  There we saw the owl briefly in a hole and then had prolonged views in nearby trees.  We left for the rather tense, for JK and I, 30 minute drive to Zwolle where the amazing Hawk Owl was showing very well.  We watched it for 90 minutes during which time I took about 250 images, before reluctantly dragging ourselves away to look unsuccessfully for Black Woodpecker in some nearby woodland - a Crested Tit was some compensation.  Another woodpecker site Garry & John had visited near Baarn three weeks previously proved harder to find, almost farcically so, and no more successful although by then we had little daylight left.  At least it was on the way home.  Garry then drove us to the tunnel at Calais, through some pretty awful weather, and back to Crawley and I arrived home at 23:45.  A brilliant day and a superb end to the year.  Many thanks to Garry for allowing us to come and some epic driving (not something I fancied doing), thanks too to John for being a bit squashed with us in the back.  Two new owls for £32, an amazing end to the year. Tengmalm's next?
Pygmy Owl near Lettele, only at the Hawk Owl did I realise my telescope lens hadn't been cleaned of the spray from Portland Harbour
a very fierce looking bird that flew like a guided missile
its powerful feathered claws were only seen when preening although this is another spray affected image
its breast feathers were like a cloak that covered its feet
the best goalmouth action imaginable


the fine spotting on the head was superb
the long tail is evident in this image making it quite unlike any other owl that I have seen
in the wind it kept it moved its body to keep its head static

it gave the impression that it didn't miss much

it always seemed to be concentrating so hard 
the pointed white necklace of feathers was brilliant, if often obscured
what an absolutely brilliant bird, thanks again Garry

Monday, 30 December 2013

Portland Harbour (30 December 2013)

A trip down to Portland Harbour with John King for the Brunnich's Guillemot which showed very well, although on one occasion it was almost obliterated by driving rain and spray in gale force winds.  The storm quickly moved through and we also saw Black Guillemot, 2 Razorbills, 2 Great Northern and a Black-throated Diver and lots of Shags.  Nice to see Martin Casemore and Brian Short amongst others. 
Brunnich's Guillemot in Portland Harbour
 insurance against Scottish devolution and something I'd not seen since Japan in 2003
the same digiscoped with completely different colours, the reality was probably somewhere between the two
the Black Guillemot in Portland Harbour kept its distance
another auk I'd not seen for over 10 years

Sunday, 29 December 2013

Old Lodge and Shoreham (24-29 December)

29 December.  Four hours at Old Lodge watching the Parrot Crossbills with John King and others - a good turn out by Sussex standards and nice to catch up with a few old friends.  The Parrot Crossbill flock initially had eight birds in it (before they flew I'd counted at least 4 males and 3 females feeding unobtrusively in a large larch).  They flew again when nine were seen but I was to busy failing to get a recording t count them, although I did get a poor recording later on the one occasion they became quite vocal.  They moved a short distance into the reserve and there I could be sure of 5 males and 3 females but was not quick enough to get onto all six males the one time they were all on view at once.   They all appeared to be of a similar size and structure - large, bulky, thick necked, big headed - although the impressiveness of their bills appeared to vary with the viewing angle.  Their foreheads most often appeared quite flat but again the angle or posture made a difference. Unfortunately I saw no Common Crossbills alongside them although as we arrived about 15 flew out of the trees we first saw a Parrot in. Old Lodge was otherwise very quiet with 35 Redwing and 2 Coal Tits the best I saw.  A Grey Plover was the best on the Adur on the way home.  The following Parrot Crossbill pics are shown in the order n which they were taken.  Birds were often obscured to varying degrees and sometimes against the light so most leave something to be desired.
this angle makes the head looked quite rounded and the bird easily overlooked

no overlooking this one with a massive head and bill

this was perhaps the closest I got to the Shovel-billed Kingfisher analogy
little forehead evident from this angle
certainly one I would overlook on its own
although a slight movement of the head makes it look much more impressive, and big headed 
the big head and thick neck are evident even when seemingly alert

even foreshortened the bill is impressive
27 December.  Seven Purple Sandpipers and 25 Turnstones at Shoreham Fort.  8 Red-breasted Mergansers at Widewater (the six and a pair), the Mute swan family, single Coot and some Little Grebes.
Little Egret at Widewater

Red-breasted Merganser at Widewater
26 December.  Two North Thames colour-ringed gulls by the Yacht Club, 3 Purple Sandpipers, 15 Turnstone, a Rock Pipit and 14 Greenfinches at Shoreham Fort and a Perergine on the Power Station chimney but no nest box there.  Hundreds of gulls feeding on small crabs and shellfish washed up by the storms but I was unable to pick anything of note from amongst them. 200 Lapwing and 3 Song Thrushes by the Adur.

N8HT, both these birds were ringed at Rainham Tip on 16 November
where is my nestbox?
built to last - gates on the west arm damaged by wind again
feeding frenzy

25 December.  Happy Christmas.  Three Mistle Thrushes over Worthing Cemetery during a post Christmas lunch walk.

24 December.  11 Little Grebe, the Mute Swan family (pair with 5 young), 6 Red-breasted Mergansers and one Coot on Widewater.
4 of the 6 Red-breasted Mergansers on a rough Widewater
all six