Sunday 26 January 2014

West Sussex and wet Sussex (25 & 26 January 2014)

Sunday 26 January.  Megan and I walked from Widewater around Brooklands and back, mostly in the rain. Unsurprisingly little was seen.   On Widewater were 7 Red-breasted Mergansers, 7 Little Grebes and the Mute Swan pair with four of last years cygnets still in tow.  Eight Sanderling were on the beach and three Teal, a male Pochard and 70 Coot at Brooklands.

Saturday 25 January.  A day in west Sussex with John King.  We started at Chichester Gravel Pits were nothing unusual was noted.  Selsey Bill was quiet with a distant Great Northern Diver that spent most of its time underwater and two adult Mediterranean Gulls.  It was low tide at Church Norton with most birds being distant, a handful of sea duck unidentifiably so.  Highlights were a Goldeneye, several Red-breasted Mergansers and at least 30 Mediterranean Gulls.  The Glaucous Gull had flown east to the end of the spit before we arrived and was carried back past us on its way into care.  We finished the day at West Dean Woods seeing two Little Owls, 3 Marsh Tits and 4 Hawfinches (around the bend below Yewtree cottage). 

Glaucous Gull being taken into care
Quite a handful
Little Owl near Stapleash Farm
Hawfinch at West Dean Woods

Sunday 19 January 2014

Old Lodge (19 January)

The Swallow was flying around Newick Sewage Works between 08:30-09:00 when John King and I called in on our way to Ashdown Forest.  Also a Grey Wagtail.  A decent weather forecast and the prospect of several others looking made us feel it might be a good day to look for the Parrot Crossbills although with no sign of them by 13:30 I was beginning to wonder why I was bothering trying to see birds I had seen very well at the end of last year.  This feeling was magnified when I wandered off a second time to search the area I'd previously seen them and 15 minutes later as I was starting to return JK phoned to say two had flown over the metalled road and landed briefly in a tree near the cottage before dropping out of sight.  After another two hours of resisting the temptation to wander off JK spotted a single male perched in the top of a distant tree near the cottage.  It looked big and thick necked but it took an age to turn its head to show off a massive bill.  Two minutes later it to flew off.  By then it was a satisfactory view and I was pleased but I had hoped for more (9 more to be precise) and better views.  Singing Wood Larks were superb (probably my favourite song), a pair of Ravens were good too and we had reasonable but brief views of a flock of 5 Common Crossbills.  Nice weather, nice company and eventually nice birds.

distant Parrot Crossbill from the metalled road to Old Lodge
more impressive when its bill is more in profile

giving Shovel-billed Kingfisher a run for its money

Saturday 18 January 2014

Newhaven-Eastbourne-Newhaven (18 January 2014)

18 January.  Most of the day in East Sussex with John King.  We started at Newhaven Tidemills at 08:00, visited Splash Point, West Rise Mash, most one way streets in the centre of Eastbourne, the Lower Cuckmere (above and below the road and both sides of the river) and finished at Newhaven Harbour at 15:45.  Lots of gulls but mostly Greater Black-backs amongst which we could find nothing of particular interest.  Our best birds were a pale-bellied Brent Goose, Smew, distant Spoonbill, 4 Jack Snipe and 8 Rock Pipits (one a likely Scandinavian). 
the long staying and rather unusually plumaged Smew at West Rise Marsh
pale-bellied Brent Goose in the lower Cuckmere
nothing like close proximity to Canada Geese to remove any 'feel good factor'

15 January.  No sign of the Grey Phalarope at dawn, feels as if an old friend has gone.  Too much attention from the crows it seems.

14 January.  Grey Phalarope seen at dawn (with two crows nearby) but not in the dark, 07:30 & 17:30, on my way to and from work.

13 January.  Grey Phalarope seen at dawn and in the dark, 07:30 & 17:30, on my way to and from work.

Sunday 12 January 2014

Cuckmere West side (12 January 2014)

Megan and I walked from South Hill Barn down to Cuckmere Haven enjoying the classic view of the Seven Sisters, Birling Gap and Belle Tout Lighthouse.  I took my telescope in the hope of picking out the Spoonbill on the Scrape but no luck.  It was very muddy walking north up the river bank but a Kingfisher made it worth while.  Walking back down Vanguard Way I scanned the large (500+) gull flock and noticed an adult Caspian Gull amongst the mainly Greater Black-backs.  I got a few very poor images but by then Megan was halfway up to Harry's Bush and I thought I'd better not linger too long.  We enjoyed the Grey Phalarope at Hove Lagoon on the way home and I resisted taking any more photos of it - I'm still sorting yesterday's.  After lunch I cycled down to the Adur and Shoreham Fort seeing little.  There were a lot of gulls (c1000, mainly Herring and Black-headed) on the Adur on my return journey but I could find nothing amongst them before they were flushed off by a bait-digger.

sleeping adult Caspian Gull near Cuckmere Haven, its long thin legs are just about imaginable in this image.  Note also its white head and mantle a shade darker than the nearby Herring Gull's 
long legs require even more imagination in this image although the darkness of the mantle shows well
the only image I got showing its head up.  Note flat head, long thin washed out bill and with imagination forward placed dark eye.  Also bulging breast and long wings.
more enlarged version of previous image gives a slightly better impression of bill and long wings
I got a couple of shots like this
small dark eye evident in this one, unfortunately the Greater Black-back in front decided to stick its head up too
washed out bill tip just visible here, and again long wings
adult Caspian Gull north of Exceat Bridge on 22 December, unfortunately views of today's bird were not a patch on this one although pretty much all the same features were noted on it

Saturday 11 January 2014

going for a Burton (11 January 2014)

11 January.  I cycled down to Shoreham Fort, keen to see the Glaucous Gull that John Cooper had found earlier in the week, but after an hour's looking from 08:15 which produced a Purple Sandpiper and a North Thames Herring Gull (flushed by a dog walker before the ring could be read) I decided to head for Hove Lagoon in the hope of seeing the Grey Phalarope in daylight (if not sunshine).  On the A259 I stopped to scan the entrance to the harbour and saw the Glaucous Gull sat on the inner east arm, unfortunately somewhat against the light.  It soon flew, first east then back west giving better views - quite a brute.  The Grey Phalarope was brilliant, I've never filled a memory card with images so quickly (too many to sort through now though).  I was back home by midday and arranged to meet John King for the afternoon.  We  failed to find the Great Grey Shrike at Greatham despite walking down the riverbank to get a vantage point that wasn't looking into the sun.  A Marsh Harrier and 5 Ruff in with a Lapwing flock were some compensation.  Two Egyptian Geese and 9 Little Egrets were in fields at Shopham Bridge and the Bittern flew into the NE corner of Burton Mill Pond at 16:50, first picked up by Ads.  Earlier a Merlin had rocketted over.
Grey Phalarope on hove Lagoon paddling pool

an absolutely fantastic bird
Glaucous Gull

10 January.  A Peregrine was on the Power Station as it was getting light and the Grey Phalarope was swimming on the Hove Lagoon paddling pool at 07:30 but I couldn't see it at 18:30 on my way home.

9 January.   The Grey Phalarope was swimming on the Hove Lagoon paddling pool at 07:30 and roosting near the edge at 17:30.

8 January.  A Peregrine was on the Power Station as it was getting light and the Grey Phalarope was on the Hove Lagoon paddling pool at 07:35.  A nice stop on my way to work - I watched it swimming around for ten minutes in poor light before dragging myself away.   Cycling back at 18:30 it was roosting about a foot in from the water's edge, just visible thanks to distant street lights.

Sunday 5 January 2014

Selsey-Petworth-Hove (5 January 2014)

5 January.  After finishing 2013 on a real high I found it difficult to work up much enthusiasm for 2014 but feeling we'd regret not going out given a halfway decent forecast John King and I headed for Chichester Gravel Pits (sadly no Whooper Swans with a Kingfisher more of a consolation than a rather tame female Red-crested Pochard).  the two Ruddy Shelduck were on Siddlesham Ferry and two Velvet Scoter off Selsey Bill.  The sea was quite rough making viewing difficult and we didn't get a decent view of any divers.  At Church Norton six eider showed well and two Long-tailed Ducks rather less so.  Nine Avocets, a Peregrine and 25+ Mediterranean Gulls were seen in the harbour.  We tried Petworth but our long walk was rewarded with no Goosander or Egyptian Geese, a Tufted x Pochard 'Lesser Scaup' type hybrid being the only bird of note.  We finished at Hove Lagoon where the Grey Phalarope showed very well in fading light.  Superb bird.

very poor photo of a superb bird

4 January.  The morning around Shoreham in strong southerly winds.  Excellent views of a single Purple Sandpiper and two Rock Pipits on the West Arm of Shoreham Harbour but not an easy place to find shelter and still look out to sea.  I moved to Widewater and found Alan Kitson seawatching from hut 32.  Highlight was an adult Little Gull that Alan picked up as it flew past close inshore.  I completely missed it (not looking close enough) until it crossed the next groyne and lingered briefly.  Some close Kitiwakes included one briefly on Widewater where 6 Red-breasted Merganser were present.  About 50 Brent Geese flew past, some going in both directions, but no Gannets or much else.  The Mute Swan pair were keeping their distance from their offspring, of which only 4 were present - the other had perhaps already been encouraged to leave home.

2 January.  A Peregrine on the Power Station chimney in the gloom on my way to work.  Mistle Thrush singing in Stamner Park at lunchtime but otherwise a dearth of small birds. 

1 January.  Dreadful weather, Megan and I decided to visit Arundel WWT.  The collection's highlights were, as usual, Blue Duck, Harlequin and Scaly-sided Merganser.  Otherwise two Mandarin and a male Bullfinch were the only birds of note.

Wednesday 1 January 2014

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