Saturday, 2 December 2017

Eye to Eye with a Water Rail

I gave the patch a swerve this morning, and instead headed to Roding Valley Meadows as I wanted to photograph the long staying Red-necked Grebe again - which is now in full winter plumage, but after doing a lap of the lake it was nowhere to be found - I later found out it was seen at Connaught Water, which isn't a million miles away, so I'll probably check that out another time.

Even without seeing the Red-necked Grebe, it was an enjoying stroll along the river Roding and the surrounding area. There was a female Goldeneye on the lake and a flyover male Goosander, and there were also plenty of Redwing and Fieldfare, along with and one or two Siskin and Redpoll calling overhead - but the highlight was a rather showy Water Rail.

I could hear the unmistakable pig like squeal of a bird calling from a small patch vegetation on the lakes edge, and then after a few minutes patiently waiting I was rewarded with some cracking views of this usually elusive bird, as this bold as brass Water Rail crept out of the reeds and nonchalantly walked towards me before the sound of my camera shutter sent it scampering away in the opposite direction - maybe I should give the patch a swerve more often?

Winter, Secretive

Winter, Secretive

Winter, Secretive

Sunday, 19 November 2017

You can't beat a bit of Bully

Bullfinches on the patch are scarce, I've only ever seen four birds in about seven years. So when a pair were being seen regularly in and around Long Wood I was more than keen to catch up with them - especially as this would be a welcome addition to the year list, but after several visits to their favoured area I was having no luck - but this all changed on Saturday morning.

After a big circuit of the Flats in which the only highlight was the discovery of a Stonechat in the grassland near the Cat & Dog pond - a favoured area for wintering birds in previous years. I passed through Long Wood again after drawing a blank earlier in the morning, and as I reached the Reggae Tree (still one of the best named locations on the patch) I could hear a couple of softly calling Bullfinches, but knowing how easily spooked they can be, I slowly edged closer towards where the calls were coming from and after a few minutes, there, feeding on the last of the blackberries was this really smart male Bullfinch. I just managed to fire off a couple of record shots before the bird flew off calling, but to my surprise there wasn't just two birds, there were in fact four birds! Two of which looked as they were 1st-winter birds - so in a matter of minutes I had managed to double the amount of Bullfinches I had ever seen on the patch. 

Male, Shy, Wanstead

This winter Bullfinch is being seen in record numbers nationally and are following a similar pattern/route as Hawfinch with many arriving from the continent pushed our direction in search of food after what is believed to be a combination of a poor Beech Mast Autumn and crop failures across Northern Europe. We could also be in for a bumper winter for Brambling with reports of big numbers (10's of thousands) just across the north sea in Scandinavia. Most of the sightings of Brambling at Wanstead are brief flyovers of a single calling bird, so it would be good to get few of these colourful finches on the deck.

Saturday mornings Stonechat happily posed for a photo or two, in what was the briefest of Winter sunshine windows before the rain arrived.

1st-winter, male, Wanstead, Wintering


Sunday, 12 November 2017

Med Goals

Apologies for the terrible title pun but I couldn't help myself.

This 2nd-winter Mediterranean Gull was a nice find amongst the increasing numbers of Common Gulls roosting on the football pitches on Wanstead Flats, and was the only highlight of an unremarkable Sunday morning jaunt around the patch. The finch movement has now virtually dried-up and the arrival of winter thrushes has also abated with only a handful of Redwings and Fieldfares seen today. The only other birds of note were 5 Pochard (4m, 1f) on Jubilee Pond, and were clearly fresh arrivals from the Continent.

Med Gull, 2nd-winter
Med Gull - Back of the net!
So after scoring (another bad pun) with the Med Gull I headed to Bush Wood in search of a couple of elusive year ticks, and it wasn't long before Treecreeper (104) soon fell, but in the short search for Firecrest I drew a blank...It looks as if i'm going to have to come back before the year is out and give that one another go.

Thursday, 12 October 2017

Gratuitous Bluetail

I've rather unashamedly dedicated this photo heavy blogpost to a little star performer I saw on Shetland.

Red-flanked Bluetail is no longer classed as a rarity by the BBRC (British Birds Rarity Committee) as it is now a regular autumn visitor to our shores, even with the odd spring record and recently a wintering bird in Gloucestershire, but there was a time when Red-flanked Bluetail was regarded as a 'Monster Rare' with only 12 records between 1900 - 1989. But even with its change in status it still commands a certain respect and delight to those who are lucky enough to see one, so I was thrilled when this bird showed up on a remote northern part of Shetland (Ibsiter, North Roe) and it was an easy decision to make to go and pay it a visit - and boy it didn't disappoint...

Shetland

Shetland

Shetland

Shetland

Shetland

Shetland

Shetland

Shetland

Shetland

Shetland

Shetland


Sunday, 8 October 2017

Shetland 30th Sept - 7th Oct

Just a little breakdown of the notable birds I had throughout my week on Shetland, where the crew bashed the patch (Sumburgh region) in difficult weather conditions each morning with very little reward, before heading out for the day.

Great Grey Shrike (Grutness)
Rustic Bunting x2 (Melby and Lower Voe)
Little Bunting x3 (Sumburgh Lighthouse, Grutness and Benston Plantation)
Pallas's Grasshopper Warbler (Collafirth)
Siberian Chiffchaff (Yell)
Parrot Crossbill x5 (x4 Sand and x1 Lerwick)
Hawfinch x2 (Lerwick Helendale and Housetter)
Wood Warbler x1 (Cunningsburgh)
Common Crane (Sumburgh in flight and again on the deck at Lower Brow)
Snow Bunting (Sumburgh Lighthouse)
Buff-bellied Pipit (Grutness)
Red-flanked Bluetail (North Roe)
Yellow-browed Warbler (Seen daily at several locations)
Lesser Whitethroat - Blythi (Toab)

Plus good numbers of Redstart, Spotted Flycatcher and a single Pied Flycatcher at Sand.

In addition the crew also added...
Bluethroat (Grutness)
Red-breasted Flycatcher (Benston Plantation)
Arctic Warbler (Sweening)
There was also a good shout of a Great Snipe on Fetlar, and Blyth's Reed Warbler at Sumburgh Farm - alas both of these were frustratingly never quite nailed!

Just a 102 species recorded, by no means a significant number but again the weather was always against us.

Here's a selection of photographed birds from my Shetland trip.

Melby, Shetland
Rustic Bunting, Melby
Lerwick, Shetland
Parrot Crossbill, Lerwick
Sumburgh, Shetland
Common Crane, Sumburgh
Buff-bellied Pipit, Grutness
Buff-bellied Pipit, Grutness
Buff-bellied Pipit, Grutness
Snow Bunting, Sumburgh
Shetland, Sandwick
Spotted Flycatcher, Sandwick
Spotted Flycatcher, Sandwick
Red-flanked Bluetail, North Roe
North Roe, Shetland
Red-flanked Bluetail, North Roe

Otters on Shetland

I've just returned from another great week on the Shetland Isles, and despite the difficult weather conditions in which our four man crew (Paul Hawkins, Martin Blow and Andy Lawson) battled against a strong westerly wind all week which turned gale force at times, there were still a good selection of birds to be found and seen (more about those another time) but the undoubted highlight of the trip was the discovery of an adult Otter and her two kits.

I've seen Otters on previous trips to the Islands, but typically these views have always been at some distance through bins - but this time it was on a whole new level. We discovered this family party hunting amongst the seaweed in the sheltered sea cove on the mainland at Burra Voe, so we carefully positioned ourselves behind the large rocks used as wave breaks to protect the road, and then for a short period we were amazingly watching the family at a range of about 15 meters as one of the kits called to the adult.

This was without doubt one of the best wildlife experiences I've had the pleasure in witnessing and photographing in the UK, and another reminder that visiting Shetland isn't just about the birds...

Shetland, Scotland

Shetland, Scotland

Shetland, Scotland

Shetland, Scotland

Shetland, Scotland

Shetland, Scotland

Sunday, 24 September 2017

Local Birding Bonanza

It's rare to miss a Saturday morning on the patch but with a showy Spotted Crake just down the road at Hornchurch Country Park and a juvenile Red-necked Grebe just 10 minutes away at Roding Valley Meadows, it was an easy decision to make.

First stop was Hornchurch, and I had to wait for just over an hour before the Crake put in an appearance, and true to form the bird crept slowly through the vegetation - just a few metres from where I was standing in the fenced off viewing area. The bird seemed totally unfazed by the clicking of cameras from the dozen or so birders on site and walked straight towards us before disappearing into the reeds. After I missed the last local bird in 2013 at Dagenham Chase, it was good to finally catch up with this one.

Hornchurch, Ingrebourne Valley

Hornchurch, Ingrebourne Valley

Hornchurch, Ingrebourne Valley

Hornchurch, Ingrebourne Valley

Next stop was Roding Valley Meadows. I know the area quite well having checked it out in the past (as it's so close to where I live) and to be fair it's a rather pleasant but unremarkable fishing lake, so imagine my surprise when I received news of a juvenile Red-necked Grebe associating with the resident Great-crested Grebes.

If you get the chance to go and see this bird, go and see it - It's an absolute stunner! Most of my previous Red-necked Grebes have always been distant dots on reservoirs in winter plumage, so to see a smart juvenile with that rusty-red neck up close was simply wonderful - Let's hope it sticks around for a bit longer as I'd loved to go back for seconds.


Juvenile, Roding Valley Meadows

Juvenile, Roding Valley Meadows

Sunday, 17 September 2017

A Redstart to beat all Redstarts

There may well be an American Redstart on the Island of Barra in the Outer Hebrides at the moment, but on Saturday morning on Wanstead Flats a Common Redstart gave me as much of a thrill than if I had travelled the 600 miles or so to see its much rarer Yank cousin.

Of all the Redstarts I've seen over the years on the Flats and elsewhere in the UK this was by far the most accommodating I had ever come across. The bird stayed faithful to one Hawthorn tree in the Brooms fields and repeatedly flitted to the ground and then perched up again, happily fly-catching in Autumn sunshine within just three or four metres from where I and the rest of the Wanstead crew were standing. We must have stood and watched the bird for well over an hour and even though migration was in full swing around us, with Meadow Pipits calling overhead and Swallows streaming passed us, all our eyes were transfixed on this wonderfully confiding and striking male Common Redstart.

Here's a little selection of my favourite images from the 200 plus photos I took.

Male, passage, migration

Male, passage, migration

Male, passage, migration

Male, passage, migration

Male, passage, migration


Male, passage, migration


Male, passage, migration


Friday, 15 September 2017

Grey Phalarope at Dusk

I was hoping storm Aileen would wreck one or two seabirds locally (i.e anywhere north of the Thames - as I really didn't fancy a midweek trip to Staines Reservoir). And as widely predicted a Grey Phalarope was discovered the following evening on the south basin of the KGV Reservoir.

The bird was briefly seen again the following morning and then not reported for the rest of the day, despite the lack of news I thought it was still worth a look - as these small waders can easily be missed amongst the rippling wave-breaks whipped up by the wind. So I hooked up that evening with the birds finder (Neville Smith) and he soon picked out the bird distantly in the the north-west corner of the south basin, the rain was starting to fall and the light was fading fast so we hurried quickly around the reservoir to try and get some better views, all the time the bird was constantly being hounded by the Black-headed Gulls and would settle briefly on the water before being chased off again. By the time we reached the north-west corner the bird was now mid-reservoir and after even more harassment from the Gulls, gained height and we thought the bird this time had had enough and was off! But it circled around and landed on the south-side of the reservoir, by the time we had walked around this side the sun had almost set creating a wonderful mixture of blue and orange reflections across the water.

In the fading light we left the bird as it had finally settled on the water and was earning some much needed respite from the Gulls and although the views were never the best, it was great to finally get one of these magical seafaring waders on my London list.

Autumn, London, KGV Reservoir