Monday, 30 December 2013

The 'Cowboys' hottest 3 birds of 2013

Salma Hayek, Katy Perry, Megan Fox - I jest!

As the end of 2013 fast approaches, it's time to look back over my birding year and decide which three birds stood out for me personally. In a year splattered with major rarities and blockers un-blocked it wasn't an easy decision - but as I missed most of these birds, my choices are made that little bit easier.

In deciding on my top three, they didn't necessarily have to be especially rare locally or nationally, or even a tick, it's more about the whole birding package - i.e views, location, plumage and the experience.

And first up, and taking this years 'Bronzed Bird's Eye Chili' was the well watched and photographed Thetford Black-bellied Dipper - a bird which spent a good part of the start of the year entertaining the crowds along the river Thet. Not only was this a super looking bird, the views were stunning and it was a real performer for the camera - expertly catching and feeding on caddisfly larvae just a matter of metres away. Those of you who were also fortunate enough to see the family of Otters along the same stretch of river must have been pinching yourselves.

Thetford, Norfolk
3rd - Bronzed Bird's Eye Chili winner

In second place and collecting the 'Silver Scotch Bonnet Pepper' was the super-confident West Canvey Marsh Red-backed Shrike. Not especially rare and a bird I've enjoyed watching many times over the years, but this juvenile was exceptionally inquisitive, with no inhibitions. This bold youngster had been around for a few days prior to me turning up, so when I arrived late Sunday afternoon between rain showers there was only one other birder on site and they soon left, so for a brief spell I had the bird to myself - and what a performer and almost within touching distance.

Juvenile, Canvey Island, Essex
2nd - Silver Scotch Bonnet Pepper winner

So, to this years winner, drum roll please…

First place and the winner of 'The Cowboy Birder's hottest bird of the Year 2013' and picking up the coveted 'Golden Trinidad Scorpion Pepper' goes to...

The Yarmouth summer plumage female Wilson's Phalarope.

The views were not especially close, but what a plumage! This was a much wanted Phalarope I was keen to add to my insignificant UK list, so to finally catch up with one in such fine attire was especially pleasing - watching any species of Phalarope is always a special experience, but seeing one wearing its summer Sunday best only adds to the occasion. This birding jaunt was made that little bit extra special, when last minute I decided to take the family with me on the trip to the Isle of Wight, an experience we all enjoyed so much, we ended up staying for the weekend - giving me a double helping of views of this Tricolor beauty!

Female, Summer plumage, Isle of Wight
1st - Golden Trinidad Scorpion Pepper Winner
As a footnote and merited - but ineligible for a medal, was the 'Fall' of spring migrants which hit London on Monday 15th April. The cold start to the spring initially held back many migrants into the UK but a brief change in the weather opened the flood gates, and when alerted to the news I dashed to Wanstead Flats - I wouldn't be disappointed. The sight of over twenty-five Northern Wheatears bouncing around a small area of grassland, along with Whinchat, several Common Redstarts, a Ring Ouzel and a healthy covering of Sylvia and Phylloscupus Warblers (these numbers were mirrored across several sites in the Capital) made those two hours of London based patch birding very special, and a morning to remember.

Which just leaves me to wish you all a very happy and healthy New Year 2014 and many thanks for reading and commenting on this blog over the year - with special thanks to my Ukrainian fan base!

So whether you're a big listing rare chaser, dedicated patch worker, camo wearing prime lens carrier or even just a plain old garden birdwatcher and feeder - let's all enjoy our two-legged feathered friends while we still can...

Sunday, 29 December 2013

Mealy Redpoll (flammea - more splits than Nadia Comanceci)

My last visit this year to Wanstead Flats turned out to be a rather productive one, firstly adding Little Owl to the patch list and then picking up a second patch tick in the form of a rather smart Mealy Redpoll (flammea) - amongst a small flock of a dozen Lesser Redpolls (cabaret) feeding on the Birch trees in the SSSI area.

This bird was noticeably cold and paler in appearance, with the light grey head accentuating the redness on the fore-crown, generally lacking in any warmer brown tones throughout the body, an unmarked pale chest with white underparts, slightly larger and more robust in size when compared to the Lesser Redpolls (cabaret). Not shown in these images was the strong white-tips to the greater coverts - creating a noticeable wing-bar.




I know one particular person who's going to be very pleased to see these images...

A nice finish to the year but tantalisingly leaving me one short of a hundred species in Wanstead in 2013 (time for a recount or another visit - I've still got two days). I added a healthy twelve new patch ticks this year, but I'm still some way off the leading Wanstead pack but a gallant effort considering my commitment in running the London Marathon and failing to visit the patch during the summer months.

Wednesday, 18 December 2013

Season's Greetings to one and all...

Have a Merry Christmas 
and wonderful bird-filled New Year 2014

Christmas, New Year, 2013, Birding, Birds

Best wishes

The Cowboy Birder

Wednesday, 4 December 2013

I do love a Redhead (Smew)

Taking advantage of a brief interlude between jobs (it's a long story) I popped to Connaught Water hoping the recently reported Redhead Smew was still knocking about, and within a few minutes of arriving I picked her out distantly between two of the Islands - no chance of any decent photographs I thought as I fired off a couple of record shots. Moving on around the lake I tried to get a slightly better angle of the bird and sat low-down on the perimeter path, partly obscured by some fencing - I'd only been in this position for a few minutes when the bird slowly started to move in my direction after being cajoled and harassed by the local Gull population.

So with a little bit of patience, a fair bit of luck and some good old fashioned field-skills, I pleasingly ended up with some great views and half-decent images of this rather smart winter visiting duck.

Redhead, Ducks, Epping Forest, Connaught Water, London

Redhead, Ducks, Epping Forest, Connaught Water, London

Redhead, Ducks, Epping Forest, Connaught Water, London