Monday, 30 September 2013

Another Scilly Idea...a Pelagic!

If it wasn't bad enough that I had to get the boat to the Scilly Isles, the thought of getting on another one the same day was hardly enthralling - but this was not going to be any ordinary boat journey, this was going to be a pelagic - my first pelagic (and probably my last) aboard Joe Pender's boat the Sapphire - renowned for seeing some amazing seabirds in the south-west, as well as being part of the tagging program into the research of shark movements.

I just had to be aboard that matter what the expected outcome might be!

As hour into the five hour round trip I started to go green - apparently, Kermit the frog green (thanks guys) and I was sick as dog, no ordinary dog, the sickest dog you could imagine...oh well, I knew it was going to happen. So in between bouts of sea sickness I did raise my green head to witness some amazing seabirds at incredibly close range - thankfully they were close enough to view without bins, as mine were covered in regurgitated Cornish pasty!

c25 Sooty Shearwater
Manx Shearwater
c15 Storm Petrel
4 Sabines Gull
Great Skua
Mediterranean Gull

Scilly Isles, Pelagic, Fishing, Birding

Scilly Isles, Pelagic, Fishing, Birding

Scilly Isles, Pelagic, Fishing, Birding

And it wasn't just the seabirds that were giving us great views - there were Common Dolphins, not one or two, but big pods of up to a hundred with youngsters in tow breaking the water and coming straight towards us at great speed, and then going around or under the boat - a few stopped and inquisitively checked us out, before continuing onwards and further out into the Atlantic on there own migration.

Scilly Isles, Pelagic, Fishing, Birding

Scilly Isles, Pelagic, Fishing, Birding

Whilst on board the Sapphire the fishing team continued to line catch Mackerel and even caught a good size Ling, whilst buckets of chum were made up (lovely smell!) and tipped over board to attract the Sharks - then finally after a couple of failed attempts when the line snapped or the bait came off, they eventually hooked into a shark, Blue Shark! and after a bit of a tussle a 7ft Blue Shark was reeled in and lifted on board to be weighed and measured, tagged and released - what an awesome sight.

Scilly Isles, Pelagic, Fishing

Scilly Isles, Pelagic, Fishing

As the light faded and the Sapphire returned to shore I laid down on the deck to rest, exhausted by my continuous bouts of sickness - my stomach may have been empty but my head was full of amazing memories.

Thanks to Paul Hawkins who kindly provided the images for this post - unfortunately my camera never left its bag!

Saturday, 28 September 2013

Scilly Idea

When a window of opportunity opened to possibly joining Hawky, Blow monkey and Dick on the Scilly Isles for a few days, I grabbed the chance to hook up with the guys and visit the islands for a bit of late September birding, and with a south-easterly wind forecast - who wouldn't? It was just a shame the weather and birds didn't read the script.

After a six hour drive to Lands End, it was a crushing blow to hear my flight had been cancelled due to fog - a theme which would continue to haunt my short trip, and with the forecast for the following day not looking good either, I had no option other than to take the boat the following day. A night in Penzance was arranged and I was booked on the Scillonian in the morning for the crossing - this really wasn't my proffered choice of travel and I'd also lost some valuable birding time on the Islands.

Finally arriving on St Mary's at midday after a relatively calm crossing (thankfully) I was greeted by the guys at the quayside with news of a planned Pelagic boat trip booked with Joe Pender's boat the Sapphire for that afternoon - no time to collect the luggage, it was straight out birding until the 4pm departure for the open Atlantic ocean - more of the ups and downs of that adventure another time!

The next couple of days was spent covering every piece of vegetation and cover on the Island, searching in vain for that mega but despite plenty of hard miles covered, fuelled only on Cornish pasties in predominately foggy and muggy conditions - birds were few and far between and the only highlights were the following;

Lapland Bunting - Peninnis Head
Ortolan Bunting - Peninnis Head
2 Wryneck - Peninnis Head
2 Roseate Tern - Porthcressa Bay

Isle of Scilly, St Mary's, Peninnis Head

Isle of Scilly, St Martins, Peninnis Head

Isle of Scilly, St Mary's, Peninnis Head

Isle of Scilly, St Mary's, Peninnis Head

Isle of Scilly, St Mary's, Peninnis Head

Although rare birds on the Islands were thin on the ground, a memorable evening in the Scillonian Club with large steak and chips on the menu, washed down with some good Cornish ale (Betty Stogs) and aided by plenty of banter and excellent company, made my short visit more than worthwhile.

Just to add to my travelling woes, my return flight back to the mainland was also cancelled due to fog (I was in the plane and on the runway when the pilot aborted the bloody take-off). I eventually returned by boat, driving through the night to get home in time for my youngest sons 5th birthday - although I struggled to open my eyes when he jumped on the bed at 6.30am!

Wednesday, 18 September 2013

Meet the latest addition to my patch list

mmm...I'm not sure!

Wanstead Park, London

If you look carefully at the reflection in the water, that's me standing on the edge of the lake with camera and bread in hand!

But, according to the LNHS Patch List rules (section 5, last sentence - see below) Red-crested Pochard do have an exemption.

5. No escapes can be counted. [Because of the recent BOU decisions regarding category C species (and self sustaining populations) it would be in everyone's interest to still record these spp. and send their records in with the rest.]. For example Ruddy Shelduck cannot be counted. Red-crested Pochard can be counted away from Inner London and Stoke Newington Res as long as it's not taking bread from the hand!

There you go...and although the bird did come to bread, at NO time did it take any from the hand - honest!

I think this latest addition brings me up to 102 or 3 (I'm crap at keeping lists) anyhow it's a long way behind Wanstead patch stalwarts Nick, Jono, Tim and Bob etc, but I do have a resonable excuse - I have to drive to get to Wanstead, whilst everyone else can get there by foot. So If I'm ever going to get near these guys in terms of numbers I need to hatch a cunning plan - anybody interested in swapping an Edwardian four bedroom house in Woodford Green for something similar in Wanstead, preferably near the SSSI?

Tuesday, 17 September 2013

Essex Lesser Yellowlegs

Ok, so it's not the best photo you've ever seen of a Lesser Yellowlegs - but you can definitely see its legs, and they are yellow!

West Canvey Marsh, Canvey Island, Essex

Breaking news on Twitter this morning from David Bradnum (thanks DB) had me dashing back again to West Canvey Marsh (that's twice in three days I've visited the Island - I've not done that since dating a rather special Essex blonde!) but good news on arrival the Lesser Yellowlegs was still on show, although on the far bank opposite the hide, decent scope views were had of this skittish yank wader, rapidly feeding up and down the fringe of this large freshwater scrape.

It was good to see another near-artic wader locally other than the predictable Pectoral Sandpiper and looking at the weather charts for the next few days, this could be just the start of a mini influx of migratory American waders to our shores - an Upland Sandpiper wouldn't go a miss!

Camera shy Shrike!

After seeing both male and female Red-backed Shrikes in Norfolk this spring, it was nice to get the full-set this year with an extremely confiding juvenile bird on Canvey, this young whippersnapper is currently enjoying the attention and bright lights of the Island.

Although the weather and light wasn't at its best when I finally managed to get out on Sunday afternoon, but who cares when a subject is this cooperative and close, it was just a matter of bumping up the ISO settings on the camera and shooting away. And after extolling the virtues of many of the other local bloggers and their great images of this bird in my previous post - I couldn't let this moment pass without throwing a few of my own efforts into the mix!

Juvenile, Essex

Juvenile, Essex

Juvenile, Essex

Juvenile, Essex

Juvenile, Essex

Sunday, 15 September 2013

The Red-backed Shrike Bloggers

I was going to post some rather good images of a showy juvenile Red-backed Shrike which has been enjoying the marshes of Canvey Island for almost a week now, but due to its popularity with most of the camera carrying, birding and blogging fraternity of this part of the world, I thought it would be simpler to just attach links to all their blogs, so you could view all their fine images - a lot quicker and easier than processing my own.

In no particular order, here are my favourites;

Shaun:  Valley Birding

I'm sure there are a few more local bloggers with equally if not better images, and apologies if I've missed you off the list - just drop me a quick message and I'll add in.

Thursday, 12 September 2013

A sad farewell... my beloved Slik D2 tripod.

When I bought my first decent scope (an early Kowa model, TS or TN something or other) I also had to think about purchasing a quality tripod which could withstand the rigours of the Essex marshes or even the odd teenage twitch, whilst also safely supporting my new scope whilst on any sea-watching duties at Dunge, without the worry of it blowing over in a south-easterly force eight! Long before carbon-fibre was even thought of as a material to use for tripods the Slik D2 was the professionals choice - and I had to have one!

It was a sexy colour combination of matte silver and black, a silky smooth panning movement of the head, compact with rounded legs and engineered central column, which would raise up and down with ease by the rotation of a handle, solid, robust and lightweight (well it was back in the day) with circular tubed legs, which made a beautiful swoosh sound as compressed air escaped through each of the three sections as you extended or closed a leg, locking solidly into position with the tightening twist of the carefully lathed criss-cross knurling pattern on each leg section - a thing of shear beauty!

Our relationship wasn't always perfect, we've had some amazing trips but we've also had our ups and downs - I remember one icy cold winter trip to the end of Southend Pier, when the sea wasn't doing much and whilst standing there bored, sheltering from the sub-zero wind (and I'm not sure why I did this) but I randomly licked the metal on the panning handle - and like Harry in the film Dumb and Dumber my tongue stuck fast to the freezing cold exposed metal! (like I said, I'm not sure why I was licking my tripod) but thankfully a carefully timed tug and my tongue was set free, if not a bit sore!

Click the link and skip to 1:23  Harry licks a ski-lift pole

Ever since picking up an *injury to one of its legs this summer (one of the tubes no longer locks) and even with the temporary fix (hose pipe tap connector) to keep it going a bit longer, I've known for a while that this would be our last summer together, I tried to persevere but alas the Injured leg shows no sign of improving and to be honest with the extra timber of a Swarovski 80mm ATS scope to support I can't take no risks, and it's time for us to depart and say our sad farewells...

So, if anybody reading this would like to offer an old but well loved tripod a home or you may even own a Slik tripod and could use some spare parts, contact me via the Blog or Twitter, arrange the collection and it's yours for free.

I'd be happy and could sleep easier knowing that it would be going to a good and worthwhile home - should I have no takers, then sadly the next time I visit Southend Pier I'll attach it to a paraffin soaked plank of wood, set it float, draw my bow and flaming arrow, aiming at the tripod I will fire the arrow skyward, setting it alight as it floated along the Thames and out into the North sea - in true Viking tripod burial style (ok, that last bit was a bit dramatic - I'll probably give it to the scrap metal guys who drive around in white vans collecting old fridges etc).

The Slik D2 tripod  - a true birders classic!

Tripods, Slik, Birding

*Note, injured right leg with temporary fix.

Sunday, 8 September 2013

Wryneck "Easy Like Sunday Morning"

After scratching around yesterday for some decent views of the current Wanstead Wryneck, I went back again this morning hoping the little Jynx would be a bit more obliging!

Aided by some beautiful early morning light and perfect autumn stillness, the bird was soon located happily sat out in the open on the eastern edge of Long Wood, soaking up what could be the last of this summers sun, before moving on to feed in the Broom Fields.

I'll let you be the judge of the images, but I think you could say the bird was more than obliging...

Wanstead, London

Wanstead, London

Wanstead, London

Saturday, 7 September 2013

Costa Coffee and a Wryneck

There was only ever going to be one place to be at first light this morning - Wanstead Flats or should that be Wryneck Flats!!

I started my circuit by searching the scrub area around Alexandra lake when the inevitable message came through from Mr Croft.

"Wryneck again, east end of Long Wood!"

Hot footing it quickly across the football pitches I met up with usual merry band of Wanstead regulars, plus one or two other Wryneck enthusiasts, but by the time I'd reached the area the bird had gone deep into cover - typical!

The next hour or two was spent frustratingly chasing shadows as I only kept on catching a fleeting glimpse of the bird, but then, as the sun broke through the clouds...boom, bingo or as I prefer to say yeehaa (well I am a cowboy!) up popped the little stunner on top of the Hawthorn in the sun for all to see - finally rewarded with the views I was after.

Wanstead Flats, London

It doesn't matter how many times I've seen these birds (and I've seen a few) they always get the heart racing, and add a Costa Coffee on a empty stomach into the equation (kindly purchased by a Mr Lethbridge - whoever he is ;-)) and I was buzzing! My second Wryneck on the Flats and much better views than my first.

Once I've come down from my caffeine/Wryneck induced high, I think it will be time for a beer!

Tuesday, 3 September 2013

The Whinchats of Wanstead

Wimbledon may have its Wombles but Wanstead has its Whinchats!

With at least five birds currently occupying the area around the Broom fields, these regular spring and autumn visitors to the Flats can easily brighten up the dullest of autumn days, as they follow each other around, flying from bush to bush, carefully balancing and perching on the thinnest but highest advantage points overlooking the fields.

They might not be at their brightest in the autumn as most birds are fresh looking juveniles/1st winters, but you can't ignore those subtle buffy-orange tones and that striking broad off-white supercilium.

Below are just a few images I managed whilst out on the Flats this week.

Wanstead Flats, London

Wanstead Flats, London

Wanstead, London

Wanstead Flats, London