Wednesday, 26 June 2013

Twinging - a new word in the birders dictionary

We are all familiar with the usual birdwatching terms and phrases: 

Grip, String, Blocker, Twitcher, Birder, Dude, Dipped, Lifer, Mega, etc - but I think this list needs to be added too!

I first came across these rather odd words when I started out birdwatching in the mid 80's when as a young lad I would hear them pop up in conversation and I would nod along as if I knew what the hell these bearded blokes were talking about, then I bought a copy of 'Bill Oddie's - Little Black Bird Book' and it all became a lot clearer. The book is now over 30 years old and was first been published in 1980 - I think I first read it around 1985. If you haven't read it - get yourself a copy, it's still very entertaining and is basically a humorous look at birdwatching and birdwatchers through the eyes of a young Mr Oddie.

Book, Little Black Bird Book, Birdwatching
My original copy c1985

But I digress, the point I'm trying to make is with the increasing use of social media within birding circles - especially Twitter, I believe a new word needs to be added to the birders vocabulary - Twinging - I'll explain.

With the world and his dog trying to get there latest, photo, blog, website, facebook page, etc noticed (I'm not exempt from a little bit of self publicity myself) by tweeting to their 1000+ followers - most of whom aren't the slightest bit interest in what you have to share, as they only followed you in the first place because you randomly mentioned the word 'Sausage'! It is becoming increasingly common place to put out bird news, especially rare bird news via Twitter on the merest whim and then before you know it that tweet is retweeted, favourited and then picked up by someone else who has misinterpreted the message, they tweet about it and very quickly the funny looking bird in auntie Beryls garden isn't really a Jay - it's being reported as a Rock Thrush! And the garden is surrounded by a good number of twitchers who have all travelled some distance to see auntie Beryls Jay - ok this is a slightly exaggerated, but you get my point - so therefore:

Stringing - a dubious or ropey record.
Tweet - a text based message of less than 140 characters via Twitter.
Twinging - a dubious, ropey or unconfirmed text based message of less than 140 characters via Twitter.

Next time you read a tweet before you retweet the message - think, are you happy with where the source of the message came from? 

This may save bird news services putting out a follow up message about an erroneous Rock Thrush - and you wouldn't want a reputation as a twinger ;-)

Monday, 24 June 2013

Wilson's Phalarope - a tricolor beauty

Phalaropes are special.
Adult Phalaropes are very special.
Adult female Phalaropes are amazingly, super special.
Adult summer female Wilson's Phalaropes are on top of the tricolor scale of specialness!

You guessed it - I've just returned from watching the Wilson's Phalarope on the Isle of Wight which originally started out as day trip but ended up as family mini-break!

I somehow persuaded Mrs B that visiting the Isle of Wight on a school inset day with the kids would be a good idea and much more fun than a typical family day out to Legoland or Thorpe Park, so before she had time to change her mind, the ferry was booked, accommodation arranged, bags packed and we were circumnavigating the M25 and heading south-west down the M3 towards Lymington and the ferry - and before the end of the day I was watching the sublime adult female Wilson's Phalarope on the Old Station pond in Yarmouth.

Isle of Wight, Yarmouth

Adult, Female, Birds, Birding, Photography

Adult, Female, Birds, Birding, Photography

This North American Phalarope certainly lived up to expectation, always on the move with a somewhat inability to stand still, constantly moving that colourful small head and directing its black needle-point bill at what seemed like every moving aquatic invertebrate on the pond. Although it did swim Phalarope style occasionally it was more wader like in its movements, mostly using those long black legs to wade into the water, frantically feeding along the muddy fringes of the pond. This hyper-energetic bird was easily spooked by any offending noise (dog barking, gates closing) and flew around the pond on a couple of occasions showing off its broad white-rump against a rather plain looking back and wing pattern but always returned to the safety of the sedge enclosed pond - this dad was enjoying the Isle of Wight very much!

And just to prove the weekend wasn't just about watching a Phalarope, here's a picture of the most westerly of the three Needles photographed from a very breezy Alum Bay - enjoyed by all the family.


After exploring and enjoying the delights of the Isle of Wight over the weekend we returned late Sunday afternoon to Yarmouth harbour to catch the ferry back to the mainland, but I couldn't leave the island without popping into the Old Station pond for just another quick look at this rather special bird.

Female, Isle of Wight

Wednesday, 12 June 2013

Black Kite out classed

I decided to chance my arm and head into Kent for the Black Kite which had been knocking around for a few days near Faversham. I was shocked into action by seeing some good images of the bird close up and sat in a tree - the thought of seeing a distant dot on the landscape had initially put me off.

Having located the view point near the village of Selling, I waited patiently...until at last, a black dot on the landscape appeared - great!

My hopes of that black dot coming closer didn't look good, as it continued to favour the distant valley and despite receiving some good local information in regard to the previous days roost site (later checked, with no joy) sadly the views I had were only ever distant.

But possibly topping the Black Kite in terms of value had to be a couple of summer specialities!

Whilst driving around the country lanes near Selling and South Street I picked up this Turtle Dove on the telegraph wires - one of two birds I had that evening.

Birds, Birding, Conservation

And as the light started to fade I found a cracking pair of Spotted Flycatchers amongst the trees in the classic setting of a local churchyard.

Birds, Birding, Conservation

Birds, Birding, Conservation

I might have left the Kent countryside disappointed, if it wasn't for seeing our struggling pair of summer migrants - I wonder just how long it will be until both Turtle Dove and Spotted Flycatcher are rarer in the UK than Black Kite?

oh...and there was possibly another bonus bird that evening, but more of that another time.

Monday, 10 June 2013

Hobby on Rainham Marsh

A little post about my, and most birders favourite falcon the Hobby.

Watching these stunning little falcons, effortlessly swoop, glide and then capture their chosen prey as they feed over the marsh hawking for dragonflies with amazing agility, will have to be one of the highlights of summer birding.

With June being one of the quietest months of the year on the birding calendar there's no better time to get out there and observe them in action - with the added bonus of knowing they also love lying in until mid morning before putting in an appearance, there's no need to set the alarm clock too early!

These images were taken late afternoon at Rainham Marsh RSPB where there are currently up to ten birds covering the reserve. If you're fortunate enough to pick a day to visit when the sun finally comes out and temperatures rise, you could expect to see half a dozen birds circling the marsh at once, all searching for their next victim.


Wednesday, 5 June 2013

Salthouse Marsh - 'Little Eye'

In a complete contrast to the endurance birding of Blakeney Point, sitting in the sun on the small hill known as 'Little Eye' which overlooks the marshes of Salthouse to the south and the sea to the north was a birding breeze, I could easily lose a whole day just watching the avian life come and go.

I always find the marshes of Salthouse a more attractive birding location over its more famous adjoining counterpart of Cley NWT reserve - probably as the parking and access is free and but more so because it always feels slightly under watched (I'm sure that's not the case) and the marsh has a rather unkept feel about it, which appeals to me more and possibly the birds!

In the couple of hours I stood and watched from the hill (whilst my two children annoyed the fisherman by throwing pebbles in the sea) a steady stream of Swallows headed west hugging the coastline, Sandwich Terns noisily passed overhead in the same direction, whilst on the marsh a couple of Whimbrel briefly dropped in and an obliging pair of Avocets ignored my attentions.

Birds, Birding, Photography

Birds, Birding, Conservation

Looking north from the hill, the sea was relatively quiet but even in the calm and bright conditions (rubbish for sea-watching) Sandwich Terns continued to stream west and a couple of Fulmars lazily passed close by along the beach.

Birds, Birding

Birds, Birding

Whilst this Grey Seal randomly appeared close in-shore to the delight of my children, who did there best to follow its path along the coast, as it regularly dived and then re-appeared twenty metres further along the beach.

Ok - so it wasn't exactly rocking with birds, but it was still a good feeling just being on the north Norfolk coast on a rare day this year when the sun was actually out!

The marshes of Salthouse were put up for sale by its private owner last year and the Norfolk Wildlife Trust (NWT) need to raise £1M to purchase an additional 143 hectares of this rare coastal marsh. The fund raising target at this point is over halfway but with time running out to complete the purchase every donation is vital.

To read more about the appeal and how you can donate on-line visit: Cley/Salthouse Marsh Appeal

Sunday, 2 June 2013

Blakeney Point - love or loathe?

All the ingredients were there - it was the end of May, overnight rain and a north-easterly wind were forecast and I also had the knowledge that a couple of goods birds had been seen there the previous day - Blakeney Point was my target!

I set the alarm for an early start.

Birds, Birding, Photography, Norfolk
Welcome to Blakeney Point - not for the weak
Reaching the coastguards car park at Cley on the fog bound, damp and breezy north Norfolk coast, there was only one other car here and that belonged to a fisherman. I had the Point and its birds all to myself, so the long walk began - 3.5 miles of loose shingle!

Anyone who has ever walked Blakeney Point will tell you how much of a trudge it can be, the shingle sapping the strength from your legs with every strenuous step, but hey I'd recently run a marathon, this was going to be a piece of cake! The plan was to travel lightly with just the essentials - bins, camera, apple, banana - I was fully hydrated, fluid wouldn't be needed!

Watch house or halfway house - you may want to remeasure that one
The thought of what might be hiding amongst the scant vegetation always pushes you on and reaching the Watch house in good time the Sueada bushes weren't exactly dripping with birds, a Short-eared Owl and a couple Grey Partridges spooked by the crunching noise of boot against shingle, were the best so far - I continued on. In the distance I could see the area known as 'the hood' surely this would produce the goods? A female Red-backed Shrike had been seen here the previous day, finally arriving, I circled the area  - nothing! Had I mis-read the weather conditions? Had all the birds done a bunk? Thankfully no - it was good to see the Red-backed Shrike was still here, wasp catching from a small patch of sheltered brambles but very little else.

Birds, Birding, Photography, Norfolk
Reward of sorts
It was clear the 'fall' of spring scarcities I'd dreamt about wasn't happening - should I cut my losses now and return back to the car, taking the easy option and just go and sit in a dry and sheltered bird hide at Cley or push on towards the Point? The thought of receiving news later in the day that a 'Mega' had been found on the Point and not by me, spurred me onwards through the shingle.

Finally reaching the Point I could see the Plantation ahead, could this sparsely planted, rarity enticing cover, produce the bird or birds I was after? I could see movement, a smallish Warbler flitting around in the stunted trees, it looked rare - Greenish? Icterine?

Pah - Chiffchaff!

And re-checking the images again on my camera, the wing length looked a tad long it was probably actually a Willow Warbler but I didn't care - had I trudged this far in the wind and fog for that!!

I checked the area around the lifeboat house for any sign of bird life, the brambles looked good for something but alas nothing, well except for a couple of predictable Linnets! Lastly I walked the sand dunes in the vain hope of flushing a Wryneck but more disappointment - a day which promised so much had failed to deliver.

Lifeboat house - home of Linnets
My return journey was equally uneventful with only a couple of Wheatears and a Stonechat of note, passing several birders on the slow route back I dished out the good news - the Point was dead! I could see the blood drain from their faces, their shoulders slumped, but like any good birder worth its salt they dutifully pushed onwards to the Point with the same hope in their eyes that I previously had - fools :)

Finally reaching the car park I opened the car door and slumped into the chair, my aching ears were grateful to be out of the wind, I desperately searched for a bottle of water, quickly gulping down its contents, I was pleased to be back in the comfort of this tin machine - running a marathon was harder but only just!

Was the four hour trudge worth it - just about.
Would I do it again tomorrow - you bet I would.

Blakeney Point like many other coastal peninsulas sometimes leave you disappointed but always leaves you wanting more.