Tuesday 30 December 2014

Whoopers and Bewick's (30 December)

Tuesday 30th.  Most of the day with John King who joined me on the Adur where unsurprisingly there was no sign of the Goosanders seen there yesterday.  The Shelduck was still around, my first sighting for a while, and also a Grey Plover.  We were heading towards Barnham but as the sea was very calm it seemed worth calling in at Goring Gap on the way.  There were aout 20 Great Crested Grebes and 25 Red-breasted Mergansers on the sea but most were generally distant and the low sun didn't enhance viewing.   We saw 2 Slavonian Grebes (my first of the year!) which fortunately were closer than most, a single Red-throated Diver, 13 Brent Geese and a Mediterranean Gull.  At Barnham the swan flock were soon located in a distant field from the end of Church Lane.  We walked along the old canal path to get a bit closer and had reasonable scope views of the adult and three juvenile Whoopers in with 65 Mutes.  Rather sad that both adults hadn't made it back.  It is now seven winters that Whoopers have been returning to the Barnham/Chichester/Pagham Harbour triangle and it seems likely that they have all been related.  In three of the seven years the adults have brought three juveniles, the other times none.  We drove back to Burpham where we got caught up in a badly signed diversion and almost missed a flock of 32 Bewick's Swan flying north towards Amberley.  Two remained on the Offham side of the Arun with three Black Swans in a small flock of Mutes.  We returned to th eTriangle and walked up onto the burgh seeing two Red Kites, a Short-eared Owl, three Grey Partridges and 2 Mistle and an impressive 38 Song Thrushes.  I had a final look at the Adur seeing Kingfisher, Grey Wagtail and some fishermen which presumably explained why there were no gulls present.
Whooper Swans at the back of the flock.  As expected they were rather distant
three of the four Whoopers
all four Whooper Swans at Barnham
Robin at Barnham.  How many British birds are really better than this?

Arundel Castle
Short-eared Owl going away over the Burgh
 Monday 29th.  A morning visit to Petworth House & Park with Megan and Vanessa.  The temperature was hovering around freezing and the pond at Storrington was frozen which did not bode well for looking for Goosanders.  We parked at the northern car park and walked via the Lower Pond (3/4 frozen) to the Upper Pond (2/3 frozen) and the house, returning the same way.  A pair of Egyptian Geese and 22 Shoveler were on the Upper Pond and a flock of 32 Redwings in nearby bushes.  I had to visit the bank in the afternoon and considered cycling back via the Adur but the tide wasn't great and it had been very quiet the previous thee days so I didn't bother.  A mistake as two Goosanders were seen.
looking back at 3/4 frozen lower pond at Petworth, no Goosanders ice-skating here today
old trees in Petworth Park
Petworth Upper Lake
spherical mistletoe
Egyptian Geese failing the bread test at Petworth, although later they had vanished
little did we know at the time that this plane was having problems and returning to Heathrow

Sunday 28th.  A brief visit to the Adur produced the Curlew and a bait digger but very little else.

Robin by the Adur with the new camera
Saturday 27th.  A walk around the houseboats and partway up the Adur with Megan and Vanessa produced one Great Crested and two Little Grebes and two Kingfishers.  A record six Stock Doves were on our lawn.
Lancing College
Nessa, Megan and the Old Toll Bridge
Stock Doves on the lawn 

Friday 26th.  I cycled to the Adur, across the airfield to Widewater, along to Shoreham Fort and back seeing very little.  Highlights were a male Stonechat by the airfield, 29 Little Grebes on Widewater, a Peregrine on Southwick Power Station and the Curlew on the Adur.  The 150 Herring Gulls on the Adur included locally colour-ringed A2FA.

Balloon by Shoreham Airport, soon to depart

heading slowly east
Herring Gull A2FA, near right
Thursday 25th. HAPPY CHRISTMAS
rushed Robin with the new camera
Sunday 21st.  Ahead of a family Christmas get together at our house Megan and I walked around Anchor Bottom seeing a male Stonechat and two each of Stock Dove, Raven and Corn Bunting.
rainbow over Steyning
high tide
Lancing College and Brighton & Hove Albion training ground
me and my sisters
our boys

Saturday 20 December 2014

Newhaven and Cuckmere (20 December)

Saturday 20th.  John King and I visited Newhaven and the lower Cuckmere.  There were 17 Purple Sandpipers at the former, my highest count anywhere since 1989.  They were on the East Pier as the tide was coming in but then all but one flew to the West Breakwater.  A flighty male Black Redstart was behind the harbour perimeter fence and a Stonechat on walk back to the Tidemills.  
Purple Sandpiper at Newhaven.  My highest ever count was 33 there on 27 February 1983.
In the lower Cuckmere we spent the best part of four hours going through the gulls.  The best position was level with Harry's Bush looking back north as we had the sun almost behind us and most of the birds side on, although we couldn't find anything of interest from this position.

interesting gull in the flock in the west side of the lower Cuckmere.  It went to sleep and wasn't seen again and we spent ages going through this flock without seeing it or anything further.  While this was the biggest flock a smaller one was present nearer the river bank and we decided to walk around
nice view of Belle Tout lighthouse in the distance as we reached Cuckmere Haven
the smaller gull flock seemed more productive but from the riverbank the light and distance was against us as were sleeping birds.  This one had a small dark eye, darker mantle and very long wings.  Annoyingly I wasn't watching it when it stuck its head out but JK saw a long thin pale bill ...
interest in the sleeping bird was soon transferred to a good looking first-winter Caspian Gull that walked past before stopping partly behind a bush (middle bird) and mostly facing away.  The light and distance wasn't helpful either
it had the typical four coloured plumage (not that obvious in these images), long legs and wings and a very distinctively shaped head
it soon flew south, showing a whitish underwing, and appeared to land in the main flock

We retraced our steps 100m or so and soon found it at even greater distance just in from the end of the flock but it immediately sat down and went to sleep.  It seemed worth heading back around to Harry's Bush but by the time we got there it had gone.  In the Cuckmere we also saw the 5 Barnacle Geese, a possible (sleeping) Yellow-legged Gull and 2 Kingfishers.

On my way home it was low tide so I called in on the Adur to look at some more gulls.  

Herring Gull A7PW on the Adur, not one I'd seen before but presumably local (A7PM seen there in December 2011 had been ringed in Portslade)
first-winter Mediterranean Gull on the Adur

I had been hoping to try out my new camera but on switching it on at Newhaven a memory card error was displayed.  It wasn't immediately obvious how to reformat the card and I had not printed off the user guide so it had to wait until I got home (when it took 2 minutes to sort).

Tuesday 16th.  Received an email from Germany:
it confirmed that the Caspian Gull seen on the Adur on 5 October (see here) had been ringed as such.  Not that I had any doubts ... I'd even done a trait score (here)
significantly better than today's efforts

Saturday 13 December 2014

pipits, raptors and gulls (13 December)

Saturday 13 December.  Another very enjoyable day out with John King. These crisp sunny winter days are hard to beat, unless you are looking/driving into the sun.  We met outside Lewes and I drove to West Rise Marsh.  Here we concentrated on the area to the east and along one of the thicker reed strips 6 Bearded Tits came and investigated us before melting away.  They remained in the area but we never saw them again.  We saw and heard at least one Water Pipit but only in flight. We joined up with Simon Linington and John Gowers and saw it 7-8 times, often inadvertently flushing it.  It nearly always flew a long way before usually heading back showing little other than pale underparts and white outer-tail feathers.  We also saw Cetti's Warbler and a Marsh Harrier before heading for Hose-eye Level.  Approaching from the south was unfortunate as the road to Rickney was closed requiring a long detour.  John had seen the Richard's Pipit twice before, both times in the model aeroplane field (not that there was any evidence that the field was used as such). We arrived there, I put my scope up to start scanning - a fairly daunting prospect - and it was the first bird I saw - I didn't even have to scan to see it! It was on view for the whole 90 minutes of so we were there, often fairly close but then usually against the light.  Almost as good were a ring-tailed Hen Harrier and 2 Short-eared Owls.  We left at 14:00 and called in at the Rough-legged Buzzard at Jevington.  It was pointed out to us sitting on the distant hillside but it soon flew and landed in a more distant tree, right against the light.  With limited daylight we left and arrived at the Cuckmere at 15:00 with the shadows lengthening and temperature starting to drop.  A flock of about 400 gulls was in the first big field to the south. They were generally not that closely bunched together, the light was behind us (if a little bright)  and they were a manageable distance.  There were several interesting looking birds in the flock but it was a very frustrating experience as none gave prolonged good views and (perhaps because of the light) my images were dreadful.  I suspected there were two adult and a third-winter Caspian Gulls present but views were certainly not good enough to rule out similar looking hybrids and too soon they all flew off south, presumably to roost on the sea?  An adult Yellow-legged Gull was marginally better.  The five Barnacle Geese were still present despite most of the Canadas not being there (several hundred were seen flying distantly over Pevensey Levels) and a Kingfisher on the river by the car park was the perfect end to the day.

male Bearded Tit, one of my all time favourite birds

very adept at playing hide-and-seek in the reeds
no black in the tail is apparent but the black on the mantle suggests this is a juvenile.  If so the yellow bill makes it a male 

Richard's Pipit on Horse-eye Level, not at its est against the light
even worse
Rough-legged Buzzard at Jevington
this was the first interesting gull seen in the flock.  Unfortunately other than open its eye (it was dark) we never saw any more of it and it flew with that part of the flock without being seen.  Frustrating as the pure white head, darker mantle and long wings with white on p10 would have made it worth persueing.
a dark mantled third-winter that we never saw any more on, although did probably see later
what looked encouraging for an adult Caspian Gull (1/3rd in from right) that we never saw the wings or most of the legs of.  Its pure white head, small dark eye, long, thin paler bill (not very obvious from this image ) and darker mantle were all encouraging but couldn't rule out a hybrid.  Unseen by me at the time is a dark-mantled third-winter partly in shot on the extreme left.  This may be the bird in the above image and was probably what looked good for a third-winter Caspian Gull that soon after walked behind the adult.  It showed a long thin bill with black tip, small angled head, small dark eye and rather upright stance but my attempts to get images failed miserably and it sat down out of sight and remained that way until the flock flew.
another of the adult although from the views we had a hybrid could not be ruled out
adult Yellow-legged Gull, the legs were yellower than appears the case in this image
Barnacle Geese in the Cuckmere
Tuesday 9 December.  A Peregrine on Southwick Power Station chimney at first light.

Monday 8 December.  Herring Gulls A5HH (red on white) and A4AH (black on white) at the University. Neither were new.

Sunday 7 December.  Megan and I walked around Beeding Brooks with 80 Fieldfares, 30 Redwings and 10+ Blackbirds being the only birds of note.  We called in at Cuckoo's Corner as the light was going and after looking on the riverbank and fields to the south saw the Tundra Bean Goose on the riverbank to the north. 

 testing the new camera on a Starling in the garden
Beeding Brooks, unfortunately there was nothing at the foot of the rainbow by the time we got there
Tundra Bean Goose on the Adur.  60x in poor light with the new SX60 camera