Sunday, 20 March 2011

I went birding!

Yes, men, women, hermaphrodite and asexual readers of this blog. I have actually gone birding! As in but a pair of binoculars round my neck and gone for a walk somewhere! As only the third time this has happened this year, I felt it deserved some extra notice.

I took a visit to Seaford Head, taking a look at Cuckmere Haven at the same time. On the migrant front, I didn't see all that much. However, in Hope Gap was a singing Chiffchaff, a flitting Goldcrest giving a typical 'migrant's view' and 2-3 singing Redwings; their odd, warbler like songs contrasting markedly with the almost deafening chorus of Song Thrushes. And overhead I heard two Mediterranean Gulls. 20 or so Meadow Pipits hanging around, and a few heading north were probably migrants too. Other resident birds seen were several Yellowhammers, a pair of Ravens, and a few parachuting Rock Pipits and patrolling Fulmars along the cliffs. Is their a bird with a more beautiful flight than the Fulmar? I always just think of them as a local bird, but those wings may have carried that bird out into the atlantic in the winter. A Little Egret on the rockpools at Hope Gap was truly beautiful in it's serene and peaceful backdrop, but was sadly too distant for a photograph. And 150+ Wigeon could be seen distantly on the west side of the Cuckmere.

These Mallard on the pond at South Hill Barn were a nice surprise

also on these ponds was more frogspawn. As you can see
they are very well developed, looking like tadpoles rather than little
black dots. By the time I have the chance to visit again they may
well have hatched

photographically, this gorgeous male Yellowhammer was the highlight. The first
time I have photographed this species.

some of the 150+ Wigeon still in the Cuckmere 

and how could I not photograph that sunset across the sea?

going amphibious, plus a garden tick and two legless lizards

Our pond is now littered with Toadspawn, and with Toads mating in it still there's likely to be even more. However there is only one little dollop of Frogspawn left. The Smooth Newts snack on it like there's no tomorrow. They only leave Toadspawn alone because, like their parents, toadspawn and the tadpoles that come from it secrete a poison that makes them taste disgusting to even the hungriest newt. 
don't eat this stuff

the Eggs of a Snail, probably a Ramshorn. I was hoping to find Newt eggs under some of the water-lily leaves but no joy.

However, the highlight was found under some tiles Dad had the hindsight to put by the pond several years ago. If you are lucky you may well find some cold-blooded creature trying to warm itself up, as these act like a microwave for the sunlight. Today was no exception, with two Slow Worms basking under them in all their glory. One was skittish enough to move away quickly, but the other was quite happy to sit there and be photographed for a while...
Slow Worm

Legless Lizard

Lazy Bastard
 And what about birds, I hear you ask? Well, I got a garden tick today, a Mediterranean Gull circled over the house a few times, calling. A few Meadow Pipits were also heading north. And as a final note to end this post, I saw two Small Tortoiseshells. My first spring butterflies of the year!

Friday, 18 March 2011

moving mipits, returning Redwings and a fantastic Firecrest

spring looks well on the way now. Today was one of those misty days I longed to be on the patch, scouring it for a Wheatear. The fact I can see my patch by looking out the window at school really doesn't help that temptation to skip school! But I'd only do that if something rare turned up...

In the end though, it turned out I didn't miss a Wheatear, Matt and Bob Eade were up there and, as you can see on the SOS, saw 2 White Wagtails, a small stream of Meadow Pipits heading north and a summer plumaged Black-necked Grebe offshore. In retrospect that would be a lot better than a Wheatear!

But I saw a few of my own migrants. I counted around 30 Meadow Pipits moving overhead, and since I was indoors most of the day there were probably quite a lot more. I also got a brief view of a Firecrest in fir trees just outside my school. I was rather pleased that I ID'd it on call first before getting a view that was enough to confirm it. Last night, a few Redwing were moving over the house calling, I counted atleast 15 of them piercing the night with their eerie and beautiful calls.

Tuesday, 15 March 2011

Heron on a house

Mum spotted a Grey Heron perched on a rooftop opposite our house at 18:30 today. Nothing much I know, but birds are thin on the ground at the moment. Despite what looked like perfect conditions today no migrants in Seaford, no singing Chiffchaffs, no overflying Meadow Pipits and Skylarks. I heard a chucking Redwing walking to school today, perhaps a migrant as the winter visitors disappeared several weeks ago. However, with Wheatear, Chiffchaff and various other migrants starting to appear in decent numbers in Sussex now, I'm fairly hopeful an excursion over the weekend may be rewarding for migration.

I'm making a habit of using these old pictures simply to illustrate
my blog now it seems. This Grey Heron isn't the one I saw on the rooftop
(it was 6.30 pm and the light was appalling for photography), it was one
that played Peek-a-boo in a ditch in the Cuckmere last April.

Sunday, 13 March 2011

rarity watch

nothing of my own to report, but a HOOPOE turned up at Portland Bill yesterday, showing what can be found in early march. Also rather intriguing is a (to my mind) fairly reliable report of a possible RED-FLANKED BLUETAIL at Arundel, West Sussex. (click here then here). From the description, (Robin-sized, steel blue tail that was constantly flicked, brownish grey back, yellowy-ornage flanks and whitish belly) Nothing else really fits the bill does it? Am I right in believing this would be the first record of a Bluetail overwintering, if it was confirmed? It certainly seems possible, at least to me, Yellow-browed Warblers do this tolerably frequently (there was a March Yellow-browed in sussex only a few years ago). And what about the european Blackcaps that have colonised our country as a winter visitor in the last 30 years? Surely these started the same way as many of the sibes we get each autumn, migrating in the wrong direction. But they managed to inadvertently find a better wintering ground that allowed them to have a small ecological advantage over their african-bound cousins. Why couldn't a Bluetail do this too? Is it possible that in 30 years time they will be a garden bird in this country in the winter? 

anyway, sorry for my tangent. But I hope any Sussex birders living nearby (I'd be tempted to go myself but Dad's car is out of action) might be able to confirm this sighting, it's been eight days since it was reported and so far no news from Arundel, not even of the negative kind.

Saturday, 12 March 2011

first migrants/a year of photography

I saw my first real migrants of the year this morning, with a steady stream of Meadow Pipits moving over between 9.00 and 10.00 AM. I counted 10 in that hour, and since I was largely distracted by playing football there were undoubtedly more passing overhead. I also heard one Skylark moving North. Also today there were several Goldcrests singing in Seaford, one of which gave fairly good views in a small Conifer stand near my house, flashing his bright orange crest as he flicked through the twigs searching for a meal. A Carrion Crow building a nest near Newlands was another sign of spring arriving, and on Blatchington Pond both Mallard and Moorhen have been getting territorial. At School, the past few days have been slightly enlivened by the brilliant, scratchy little tune of a Pied Wagtail holding territory on the roof of the English block.

Also today, on the way into Brighton by bus, there were several rafts of Great Crested Grebes offshore between Peacehaven and Brighton Marina, totalling 100 birds or more. Probably another sign of migration, with birds gathering here before moving north.

on a final note, it is just over a year since I acuired the camera, whose awful photos so often litter my blog. I tend to take very poor photos with it, but I thought to mark my Pentax's anniversary I might post some of it's finer achievements in the last twelve months...

taken less than a month after I got my camera, this Jackdaw
on Seaford Head is still a favourite photo for me
There can't be that many people with photographs of a pair
of Nightingale on their breeding site. The male is hard enough
to see, but to be accompanied by a female is astounding luck
at the same location as the Nightingale shot (Abbot's Wood, Hailsham), is
one of only two sussex colonies of the very rare Pearl-bordered Fritilary
avocet and chick, taken at Rye Harbour in June
Rock Pipit carrying food at Splash Point, Seaford in July
Black Bear was one of the many highlights of visiting Canada in August!...
As was photographing a Sora in the hand at
Long Point Bird Observatory!...
and holding this Wilson's Warbler. Volunteering at Long Point,
I got to ring a few american Warblers and Thrushes, and practice
scribing and extracting birds. After this experience I decided I want to
learn how to ring as soon as I can here in the UK
autumn is great for all kinds of Fungi, especially in Abbot's Wood
despite spending a lot of time birding in the autumn, I got very few
good phots of the migrants I saw. But this Wheatear on Firle Beacon
makes up for all the rest of them!
Turnstones in a fairly classic pose at Longniddry, Midlothian in October.
A Benefit of having family in Edinburgh
In the snowfall of early December the garden birds must have been very grateful
for the food put out, they're never usually tame enough to get a photo like this
another garden bird in Snow, but this time in Worcestershire,
where we visited family over Christmas.
and finally, the infamous 'sun sets over an out-of-focus car' shot with
a small saving grace in artistic merit ; ) 
all in all, a pretty good 12 months has been had! These are just a handful of the thousands of photos I have taken in that time, of many bird, plant and animal species. Photography is such a fun pursuit and I'd urge anyone who hasn't already to go out and buy a camera. This pentax x70 only cost £250, and with a bit of patience and practice yields some brilliant results. I'd love to get a DSLR when I can afford one but for now mine is a brilliant camera that I will continue to use, continue to learn about and continue to take many awful and a few good photos with!

Wednesday, 9 March 2011

spring's beginnings

spring is well and truly on the way now.

following on from the Bar-tailed Godwits moving over the house for several days, on 27 February, at about midnight, I heard a flock of Brent Geese move over. Another pretty impressive garden tick, and definitely migrating birds, although they tend to move along the sea.

Along with that, Common Frogs, Common Toads and Smooth Newts are out in force in the pond in our back garden. Daffodils have sprung up everywhere the past fortnight or so, and other flowers have included Violets along the end of our road. In town, birdsong is everywhere, and Herring Gulls are displaying on many of the rooftops.

On 5 March I went to Pett Pools with a friend, although due to their mobility issues it was mostly car-birding for us. We got great views of Turnstone(some feeding within 10 feet of the car), Snipe, Tufted Duck, Wigeon, Teal, Curlew, Lapwing, Dunlin, Redshank and Shoveler on the roadside pools, and offshore were several hundred Great Crested Grebes, and 7 Common Scoter flew east then west again. Driving back to Seaford, we got a truly brilliant view of a Sparrowhawk, as it zipped accross the road in pursuit of a clearly injured Song Thrush, that had seconds previously half-ran falf-flew in front of our car in a desperate bid to escape. Sadly for the thrush to no avail, we watched the sprawk lift off from the roadside with the bird's limp body clasped in it's talons.

the following day I took a walk over the downs to Denton. The highlights were a Merlin, giving as good as it got with a far larger accompanying Buzzard, and a Grey Partridge, flushed from some set-aside on one of the smaller and more unobtrusive paths I explored. Along this path I also found the breast feathers of another Grey Partridge, taken by some predator. Maybe a Fox, or a Peregrine, or perhaps even the Merlin.

However, despite the wonderful weather, migrants have been hard to come by. But Sussex recorded it's first Wheatear and Little Ringed Plover of the spring today, so maybe, if I pray hard enough, this weekend will deliver the goods?

sorry for the lack of photos today, but my Dad nicked my camera to hopefully go photograph STELLER'S EIDER in Estonia over the past few days. But I'll leave you with an old image, one of the toads in our garden pond last March.
aside from my parents, the wartiest inhabitant of our property 

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