Wednesday, 13 March 2019

Spring/Summer Target Birds

Although I've got GCSEs to get through between May and June, I've still got a few species that I'm aiming to see in the coming months, and with DofE taking me to some decent places I could be lucky...


  1. Grasshopper Warbler - a bird that I've just never had the chance to try and find, so I'll hopefully get to somewhere good for them after exams finish, perhaps the Essex area? Not an easy bird to get, but one I've wanted to see for a long time...
  2. Kittiwake - arguably my easiest lifer in the UK, although my location and their decline has made them pretty tough to see. A nice trip up North or even another coastal area - any reliable sites nearer me would be appreciated - could get me this bird.
  3. Little Tern - although I saw them in Spain last year (and quite well) I've not really been to somewhere at the right time for them, but hopefully if I get a chance to go somewhere along the South Coast I'll end up lucky.
  4. Phalarope sp - a bit ambitious being where I am in Surrey, but with a bit of luck towards the end of summer at peak passage time it would be nice to get either of the two phalaropes, because they really are cool birds...
  5. Ring Ouzel/Wood Sandpiper - both birds I hoped to see at Beddington but seeing as that's not going too well and I'll have less chance to get in on the right day I doubt I'll see either of these two, though if I head up to the Peak District I could get the Ouzel. As for the sandpiper, I feel as if they've got a bit scarcer in Surrey over the last 2 years - used to be more reports of them? - but I might get lucky. Might.

Sunday, 3 March 2019

Waxwings - South Park Gardens, Wimbledon, 2nd March 2019

Waxwings are popular birds and this winter it looked like there would be an influx of them, with several groups seen early on taking a liking to Waitrose car parks (for the berries!) However, this quickly stopped and only a dozen or so groups seemed to remain. One such group was found by Nick Rutter on the 26th January at Balham Waitrose car park, while I was in London at an event (blog coming soon for that too.) That day ended with a dip for me, as I arrived once they'd seemingly gone to roost, as I ended up walking around the roads there in the dark failing to see anything. A single probable call was all I managed. They were seen in the Balham area for about a week after that, although I didn't get a chance to go for them, although they showed well for all those there. 

Towards the end of last week the group of 7 were re-found at a small park (coincidentally right by one of my best mates at school's house) in Wimbledon. A few days ago I decided that I was going to give up birding for a while (for a number of reasons having got fed up with it recently) but I thought I may as well end on a good note. 

Some of the Waxwing twitch
So yesterday I arrived at Wimbledon just before 4pm, and knew exactly where I was going thanks to Shaun Ferguson's helpful directions on Twitter. I was joined in the park by Alex L and Kabir K, and we waited for a short while hoping for the birds to appear. It was cloudy and miserable but gradually more people with binoculars and kit appeared by about 16:15. While we were watching a Redwing at 16:20 both me and Alex heard a call (easiest way to find them) and everyone walked towards that direction. And at the top of one of the tallest trees in the tiny park were 6 Waxwings - one has been predated/separated/died in the last few days - showing pretty well for the gathering crowd of birders. It was nice to show the birds, in all their glory of silhouette, to some curious families as well. On a personal note, it was the most awkward twitch I've ever been on, with around 30 people in a tiny, family park staring at some birds in a tree. It was quite funny really; I'm used to looking weird, but that was by far the most weird I've felt for a long time. Some things about birding are great...

We watched the birds for a good 15 minutes where they were settled and preening at the top of the tree, while it gradually got gloomier. It was a pretty pleasing bird to finally tick, having heard them around 5 times without a sighting. Although it was hard to make out colours, even the silhouettes were exciting enough! I was pleased my school-friend did turn up to see them as well!

After taking pics and more importantly good views, a m Sparrowhawk spooked them causing them to do a loop and disappear behind some houses distantly. The crowd gradually dispersed, while I had a look around the houses for them after Alex and Kabir left. There was no sign back at the park up till 6pm, but I spent a lot of that time counting Redwings - at least 44 moved through while I was there - and talking to some of the friendlier birders from Surrey and Bucks, some of which sadly arrived minutes late... 

My school-friend Alex at the twitch - one of my few, awesome, friends at school who don't consistently take the mic about my hobby!
I'm probably going to stop birding now until after exams finish (except DofE, Morden Hall Park and maybe a Young Birder's walk, but I doubt I'll keep that up!)

Waxwings

Waxwings

Waxwings

Waxwing

Waxwings

Waxwing

Waxwing

Waxwing

Waxwing

Waxwings

Waxwings

Waxwings

Waxwings

Tuesday, 26 February 2019

RSPB Pagham Harbour - Church Norton, 20th February 2019

When half term finally arrived, I had a number of places I wanted to go to with numerous sites in Surrey that could be good, such as the YBW at Molesey, stuff at Staines Res and also the long-staying Black-throated Diver at Holmethorpe. However, to make a better day birding I opted to go to Pagham Harbour and Church Norton (by Chichester Harbour for those who don't know it,) having enjoyed it on previous visits. After getting ill the day before going, it nearly got abandoned but I managed to drag my family out for the day, not leaving at the planned 9am but 10am instead. The journey to Pagham took longer than it should've with 3 stops on the way, meaning we didn't actually get to the car park at Church Norton until about 12:30pm. Much to my continued joy and luck, it was 5 minutes until high tide and we couldn't walk anywhere, due to water covering the footpaths. 

Shelduck

Great Crested Grebe

Teal - tough getting these flight shots but satisfied with this effort

m Wigeon

m Wigeon



From the bit at the bottom of the car park all I could manage were 3 Red-breasted Mergansers in the harbour, the overwintering Whimbrel, waders including Grey Plover, Redshank, Dunlin, Ringed Plover, 6 Knot, Curlew, BTG and more. Along with the ducks, it wasn't too bad, although I was disappointed and frustrated again. 
Nonetheless, after moping around the nearby churchyard with my family, we nearly abandoned plans with some time to wait before the water levels decreased. I stuck it out until just before 2pm, when there was enough of the path for me to stomp across to the spit. While walking to the spit I came across a family who said they'd wished they'd had a scope or better binoculars, as they were sure they'd seen a Basking Shark off shore. Although they aren't seen until early summer in the UK (and even then only along the East coast,) I decided not to say anything...


Whimbrel

Redshank etc
Redshank etc got spooked - looking more closely at the rocks at the back reveals what

Curlew

Curlew

Whimbrel

Whimbrel

Whimbrel - this bench helps identify the location as Church Norton

Whimbrel

Waders

Waders

Grey Plover

Waders 

Oiks in a crescent formation

Few more waders, inc Ringed Plover which was one of few seen

Once I reached the spit I set up my scope straight away in the hope of getting some views of a Diver species or Grebe on the sea. With nothing other than some Med Gulls moving along I carried on walking along the spit in the hope of seeing the Hooded Crow. I stopped to get some better wader views along the way, with a few Grey Plover showing nicely for me. The first Skylarks were also in voice, making it a nice place to walk. With about half an hour left to walk, I paced it down to get some poor, distant views of a Great Skua snoozing further away on the spit, which was nice to see and my first for a few years, as well as a year tick. While walking back, I stopped to talk to a birder I'd spoken to earlier who hadn't seen anything on the sea or the spit. I asked about Grebes and he said he doubted there'd be any around at the time, so I surprised him when I found a group of Slavonian Grebes a few moments later! Not only was it a group of about 9 birds bobbing up on the waves with Great Crested Grebes but a much-wanted lifer to boot. So I was quite pleased to say the least! I finished off watching flocks of Brent Geese coming into the harbour in the gloom, which was nice to watch.
I had to leave soon after with my family waiting for me, but we visited Worthing Beach on the way back and among the usual Herring and LBB gulls I was pleased to see a first-winter Common Gull as well flying about. However, no waders were around unfortunately. Either way, a decent day out and probably my last for a good while...



Slavonian Grebe - a shocking, record phonescoped image of a distant bird

Starlings at Worthing


Brent Geese

Brent Geese

Brent Geese

Brent Geese at Pagham

Skylark - always seen distantly or hidden but great to hear them in voice when the sun was out

Thanks for reading :)

Wednesday, 20 February 2019

Sussex Birding with David Campbell and Ed Stubbs, 13th January 2019

   Last year, towards the start of October, I was fortunate enough to be asked by two Surrey birders in David Campbell and Ed Stubbs whether I wanted to have a day birding with them - mostly because of how little birding opportunity I get it has to be said! However, I was stupidly excited at the thought of spending a full day birding somewhere great, with 2 experts, to try and get me as many (somewhat easy) lifers as possible. So after a disappointing end to a disappointing year I was delighted to start the year off with a grand tour of Sussex for the 13th January. The lead up to this date was pretty horrible, with school restarting and me getting overexcited for it, and tons of homework to get through on the Friday and Saturday. But when news of a (previously suppressed) Hume's Warbler was released the day before in Sussex, I couldn't have been happier to be honest!

So I woke up at 05:20 for the earliest birding start so far, being picked up by David at around 05:45. After a drive down South, picking up Ed along the way, our day started at a small car park near WWT Arundel, with the main target Bewick's Swans coming out of roost. Having arrived at around 07:10am, it was still dark but there was plenty to hear, including Kingfisher, Tawny Owl, other passerines and a brief Little Owl (still not seen one.) However, it was great to have Woodcocks dashing about above us, with several being fairly vocal (and my first lifer of 2019.) As it got lighter, more birds were about, with 2 Barn Owls on the meadows, Chaffinches leaving in fairly high numbers with a single Brambling, larger gull numbers, ducks and waterbirds on the river, Gold and Firecrests singing and much more.
Until around 08:00 we waited for the swans to fly out from their roost, and were just about to give up thinking they'd left earlier, when David spotted them disappear over a tree line. Although Ed and I missed them, Ed had an idea where they would've headed to, so after a quick drive we reached a layby next to some fields, and the group of Bewick's Swans were present feeding distantly.  We watched them for a bit, before deciding to head on so no time was wasted.


Bewick's Swan

Arundel wetlands from the car park

Site number 2 was Church Norton at Pagham Harbour. At just after 9 we arrived, with usual waders present on the saltmarshes. We headed straight to the beach to see what was moving, despite the strong winds. Unfortunately there were no Slavonian or Black-necked Grebe, but several Great Crested Grebes were about as were around 10 Red Breasted Mergansers. It didn't take David long to spot Razorbills moving in good numbers way offshore in large groups (a few thousand passed Selsey Bill over the course of the day,) so I eventually spotted them making them my 3rd lifer of the day. Other than the waders, there was nothing spectacular but it was nice to enjoy the harbour without the rain from last time...
While seawatching, which was in itself a first for me, a group of geese began to come in-off the sea, and after briefly dismissing them as Brent Geese both David and Ed called them as Barnacles at the same time. They'd mostly likely come in from the continent, and the group of 60 that came in at this point was the first of several over the next day or two in Sussex. 
Another 20 mins at CN yielded more waders and Brent Geese, while a Peregrine feasting on breakfast was great to watch. 


Curlew

Barnacle Geese in-off

Barnacle Geese in-off

Pagham Harbour Church Norton

Common Redshank

Brent Geese

Our 3rd site was Ham Viewpoint, RSPB Medmerry, which we reached at 10:30ish, another place that myself and Calum had tried to, in vain, get to on our crazy trip in August. However, this time I was going with birders who knew exactly what they were doing, and we got access through the caravan park. While taking gear out of the car, a f Black Redstart whizzed by, which was a nice bird to get. It showed quite nicely for us as we walked through, though I stupidly took my scope which meant I missed the opportunity to get a decent picture of it. We walked up to the viewpoint, with a couple of waders and gulls on the RSPB Medmerry site. Though there was no sign of any grebes on the sea, it was nice to finally tick one of my easiest lifers in Common Scoter, with a group among the waves a little distance off. A few Stonechat were around, but it was largely quiet. The Black Redstart showed again by the car concluding our visit to the site, as we headed off to Site #4.


Black Redstart

Common Scoter

Common Scoter

Common Scoter
We reached Goring Gap, David's newer patch and home town, at a little before midday. From the car, I managed my 5th lifer of the day and my easiest as well, being the ever-moving Sanderlings in the roost field. On the beach, there were plenty of waders about such as Turnstone, Grey Plover and Sanderling, which was good company to have while seawatching. However, no divers or grebes (except GCG) made an appearance, which was a tiny disappointment. Nonetheless, spending time with the waders there was great, with several colour-ringed/tagged Sanderling logged (more info below.) Before heading off, Ed had brought some Hovis and we had a gull mob with several species, including an ad Med Gull in the mix. A final search of the roost field had very little, but it was a nice place to visit.


Grey Plover

Grey Plover

Turnstone

Turnstone

Sanderling

Sanderling

Sanderling - around 5 ringed birds were present


Sanderling - details on this bird below
This Sanderling, originally ringed in Hampshire in 2013, has spent most of its summer in Denmark since then. Since then, sightings have ranged across the South coast, although it's most frequently seen on Hayling Island and the Isle of Wight - thanks to David Walsh for the help in this!

Sanderling - despite 3 rings one must have fallen off, so no details sadly

Sanderling

ad Med Gull

For me it felt like a long wait to get to Newhaven having never seen a rarity like the Hume's Warbler. Despite being promised I'd see it, knowing my luck I wasn't so sure, especially as a few birders we passed said it had shown several times in an hour and a bit. We headed to the area it had been frequenting - David had seen it already - and set about trying to find it. Eventually, having heard a few calls, I followed Ed around the back of the scrub area and then a set of extremely loud calls started to come from where I'd been before. It was so loud that we were convinced it was someone using a tape, but when we got around it we found out that it had been the bird, and been showing and calling well. It was a moment of despair, and after a painful 10 minutes or so a few calls helped us locate it as it showed reasonably close for a few seconds, so I got a good look at it as it flitted about at around eye level (unusual for a species that's normally seen in high woodland areas in the Himalayan area.) After several satisfying views, which was enough to tick it, I clicked several times through my camera to try and get a picture but got nothing but scrub. Funnily enough, while looking at the 5 pictures that I did get later on in the week in more detail, I found the bird in 3 of them, but the images were pretty shocking. However, I was delighted to finally see a rare UK bird after nothing in 2018, which meant I'd seen a Hume's Warbler (around 150 UK sightings) before a Yellow-browed (probably double that figure annually in the UK.) 


Hume's Warbler - a beauty and the rarest I've seen for years. 

Hume's Warbler - very much record shots...

Hume's Warbler

By this point I was more than happy with my 6th lifer of the day, but we still had a couple of hours of light left in the day. So we started by going slightly further down Newhaven at a reliable Purple Sandpiper site, on the pier there. As there was still another site we were aiming to go to afterwards, we rushed to the pier to try and find the Sandpipers but also in case the Glaucous Gull, seen there the day before, would come to bread or not. Sadly the Glauc had moved on further down the coast towards Beachy Head, but it was pleasing to score around 5 Purple Sands sheltering from the intense winds on the pier, although I'd messed up camera settings badly, so all pics I got were worse then they should've been. Either way I enjoyed watching them while we were there, before we headed off to the final site of the day.


Purple Sandpiper - accidentally messed up my settings so all these pics were largely poor

Purple Sandpiper

Purple Sandpiper

Purple Sandpiper

Throughout the day there'd been constant references to a hush-hush bird near Newhaven that wasn't a Hume's Warbler. I was thinking something exotic or rare to the Sussex coast, that was on private ground or something like that. When we pulled up at the side of a field, with some swans showing distantly in a field, I was pretty sure I was looking at the wrong field and that it would be a bunting or something that was showing there. But I was pretty surprised to see my first Pink-footed Geese, as that was one thing I didn't expect (especially after all the anticipation with it being a lot rarer!) It was a nice bird to finish with, as Short-eared Owls were a no show. 


2 Pinkfeet with plenty of Mute Swans

I had a smashing day birding, and have to give a massive thanks to David and Ed for not only asking me but taking me around everywhere to see all this stuff. It was the first time I've ever been asked to go birding with birders further than Beddington, or been given a lift to go birding, so I'm extremely grateful to both of them for tolerating me for a day! It gave me a good chance to see loads of stuff over around 10 hours, birding from first to last light, and probably won't happen for a good long while especially with all these exams (8 lifers was a stretch for any day!)