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

Wednesday, 6 September 2017

Migration Windows

As we all know, birding a patch is all about windows of opportunities and I almost missed the Whinchat window!

Whinchats on Wanstead Flats have been difficult to catch up with this year, having missed a couple of Spring birds (always more difficult and not guaranteed), I was starting to worry that I would struggle to connect with any passage Autumn birds. Numbers appear to be down on previous years, where you could expect to see family parties of up to six birds flying between the Brooms and the tall Rosebay Willowherbs, we've only had one or two birds and none have have stuck, all quickly moving on - possibly due in part to the reduction of good cover because of the City of London Corporation's decision to return the Flats to how it vaguely looked back in the 1970's, with the removal of large parts of the Broom Scrub.

But on Sunday I was somewhat relieved to finally get one - just the one, but that's good enough. This was quickly followed by a Tree Pipit also a year tick - number 98. So things are looking rosy again and I'm just about on par for the year, with hopefully number 99 and 100 just around the corner - let's hope it's a couple of Autumn goodies to get me over the line.

Autumn, Passage, Migration
Number 97 on the patch year list

Wednesday, 30 August 2017

Salgados Lagoons, Portugal

I've recently returned from a very enjoyable week away with the family in the Algarve, Portugal where I spent most of my time switching from sun lounger around the pool to sun lounger on the beach whilst supping the local ale (Super Bock) or quaffing a very moorish local 'Vino Verde'. This was purely a relaxing family holiday, but I did mange to pack bins and camera just in case I got the urge to put down the Factor 20 Suncream!

When I did eventually leave the sun longer, I spent a morning at the Salgados Lagoons (Lagoa dos Salgados) just along the coast from Albufeira. This wetland reserve is under real threat from further tourist development in the area, with plans for more hotels and yet another golf course, but as it currently stands an objection and court proceedings are under way to try and stop these development proposals - I wish them well, as in the short time I had on the reserve it's a great location with some wonderful habitat and is very much worth saving.

The reedbeds were full of Fantail Warblers and Sardinian Warblers called from every bit of sparse vegetation, Crested Larks and Hoopoes were flushed from the dusty dirt track and Bee-eaters flew over calling.

Salgados, Algarve, Portugal

Following the wooden boardwalk around the lagoons the water was littered with Greater Flamingos, Great White, Little and Cattle Egrets, Glossy Ibis, Spoonbill and Grey and Purple Herons. A distant Marsh Harrier quartered the marsh and a Purple Swamphen squealed like a pig in the reeds. The water levels were a little high, but what exposed mud there was held several pairs of Black-winged Stilts, a Black-tailed Godwit and numerous Common Sandpipers. A Caspian Tern flew up and down the lagoon, Yellow Wagtails called overhead and Red-rumped Swallows were almost everywhere and to my surprise Kingfishers were abundant.

Salgados, Algarve, Portugal

I failed to find any Little Bitterns which spend their summers on the the reserve and the Woodchat Shrikes I had hoped for weren't playing ball in the Portuguese heat but I did manage a bonus pair of Azure-winged Magpies in the adjacent Golf Course as I was leaving.

This was a cracking little reserve squeezed in between encroaching holiday resorts and well worth the visit if you are in the region, I just hope the developers don't eventually get there way!

Why not help protect Salgados for the future and sign the petition below?

Click here for the link to the petition




Saturday, 12 August 2017

The Fruits of Autumn

After last weeks relative success and the first real autumn movement of passerines, with migrant Reed and Sedge Warbler, several fresh lemon yellow juvenile Willow Warblers and my first Northern Wheatear all seen on the Flats, I was hoping for more of the same today. There was another Wheatear, a couple of Willow WarblersYellow Wagtail and a new-in Common Sandpiper on Alexandra Lake but overall things felt generally quieter.

Just like last week, there were both Blackcap and Garden Warbler gorging on the ripened fruits on the bushes of the Elder and Blackberry, and there seems to be a healthy crop of Blackberries across Wanstead Flats which bodes well for the rest of the autumn for all of our Sylvia Warblers and for us patch birders!

Autumn, Blackberries

Sunday, 30 July 2017

One good Tern, deserves another

With reports of both Wheatear and Whinchat now passing through one or two sites around London, I thought I give the patch a bash on Saturday morning in hope of finding one or the other, unfortunately there was no sign of either, but the discovery of a Common Tern on Jubilee pond more than made up for my disappointment - with the added bonus of the bird actually being on the deck and not the usual flyover view.

Common Terns at Wanstead are a surprisingly difficult bird to catch up with, this was my first bird on the patch this year and I only saw one last year. There would be a time when you could guarantee seeing one or two birds feeding up and down the lakes in Wanstead Park throughout the summer, but in recent years they have failed to show-up and now we only get the odd bird just passing through.
So you can imagine my surprise when I scanned through the Gulls that stand on the posts which surround Jubilee Pond to see a Common Tern perched on one!

Jubilee Pond sadly suffers from being an urban pond in a heavily populated part of east London and is plagued by all kinds of human litter. It's not unusual to see bags of empty beer cans and bottles floating in the water, along with the usual crisp packets and sweet wrappers littering the waters edge, and not to mention the amount of food waste dumped by certain individuals who claim they're just feeding the birds! But despite all this, the pond seems to have a healthy population of small fish, enjoyed recently by a visiting Great crested GrebeKingfisher and now this Common Tern - so imagine what other birds and wildlife could also enjoy this urban pond, if only people would learn to love and respect this potentially wildlife rich environment.

Wanstead, London

Saturday, 22 July 2017

Manx Shearwater, KGV Reservoir


With news of a Manx Shearwater still showing on the KGV Reservoir, both Paul Hawkins and I thought we'd give it a go, and after few minutes of scoping the South Basin we soon picked out the Manxie floating on the water in the far North-West corner, the views were a little distant but we were both happy to catch up with this somewhat lost Atlantic seabird, especially as this was a London tick for the pair of us.

Paul soon left to attend family duties, so I continued around the reservoir to try and get slightly better views. As I approached the bird along the centre causeway a Lesser black-backed Gull started to harass the Shearwater and the bird took flight following the outer edge of the reservoir - heading in my direction, straight towards me!

With my camera switched off and still in its bag, I quickly plonked the scope on the ground, grabbed the camera and fired off a dozen or so shots (without even checking any settings) and was amazed to see this wonderful seabird effortlessly glide passed within just a few meters from where I was standing. The bird continued around the edge of the basin and then turned in, landing bang in the middle of the reservoir - what a privileged view.

Thankfully a couple of the images were in focus...

London, KGV Reservoir

London, KGV Reservoir

London, KGV

KGV, London