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Wednesday, 17 January 2018

Jack Snipe, Black-necked Grebe and Smew

Phew what a title, but for me three great birds that deserve equal billing. The product of two days unashamed tick and photograph hunting. Jack Snipe has been top of both our lists for some time, a bird that I have seen before but never had the opportunity to photograph. Martin had been tracking this bird for some weeks and today was the right time to venture up to a most incongruous venue. The Greenwich Peninsular Ecology Park lies adjacent to the Thames and has to be the most unlikely place to find a Jack Snipe. The park is a small wetlands oasis in the middle of huge residential and industrial development. Anyway, we arrived just after opening time and the volunteers made sure that we were in the right hide. 

Scanning the reeds and bank resulted in a blank  and we sat down in preparation for a long wait. Presently one of the wardens arrived and asked "Have you seen it yet?" - three birders stared back and shook their heads. He then opened a side window, thrust out a finger and indicated the position of the subject. Now, I have pretty good eyesight for my age  yet I couldn't discern anything that looked remotely like a snipe, until I put my bins up and the best camouflaged bird that I have ever seen sprang into vision - binoculars down and yet again I could see nothing. Bear in mind that the bird was probably no more than fifteen feet from the end of my nose.

A queue formed and we took turns to record the bird in various poses, mostly of a sleeping and bobbing nature. Unfortunately at no time did the bird emerge from cover, even the close attention of a Water Rail failed to flush it to a more open location.












Some idea of how the reserve is located.




A "bijou" hide

Next tick was the easiest, the Black-necked Grebe at Sevenoaks Wildlife Reserve, information gleaned at the visitor centre was spot on and we found the bird without effort. A tad distant but recorded for posterity.





The Smew were a result of the previous day's trip to Dungeness,  a venue we visit regularly to get the year list off to a good start. Targets for the day included the long staying Long-eared Owl by the dipping pond, unfortunately a no show, probably due to the very keen westerly winds that were chilling anything that ventured forth. At Scott hide we located the Smew but they didn't hang around long, being spooked by other wildfowl and decamping to the lake in front of Christmas Dell hide, where they remained at a fair distance.







On the way home we gave Horse Bones Farm, Scotney Pits and Pett Level the once over but failed to find any of the reported highlights. I think the westerly which was gathering sufficient strength to deter all but the keenest birder had something to do with it.

Final venue was Horse Eye Level at dusk, looking for any unusual raptor or perhaps even an owl. Sadly nothing save a perched Kestrel and a pair of squabbling Buzzards, one very pale juvenile had us puzzled for a while. The record shots of which were taken in appalling light.




Wednesday, 10 January 2018

Red-necked Grebe

With the weather set fair and some cracking images of the Church Norton Red-necked Grebe being posted by Dorian, we just had to give it a visit. But, after some deliberation, we decided to give the Warblington Cattle Egret the once over first. At this time of year we prioritise those birds that we are unlikely to see again during the year. When we arrived at Warblington the sun was up but the temperature was distinctly cold. Locating the bird took us a while but Martin finally spotted it in with a small herd of cows and several Little Egrets.








With the bird duly recorded we set off for Church Norton, a short detour to the Nore Stream to see if the regular Greenshank was in residence, sadly not, the friendly Spotted Redshank was home but we declined to stay as the number of dog walkers at this venue has reached epidemic proportions.

Arriving at Church Norton we met Dick and Sue who were on their way to see the Red-necked Grebe. Andrew House gave us the good news/bad news lowdown on the bird. "it's here but has moved a fair distance offshore". Not deterred we set off at a good clip for the spit. Sure enough the bird was a fair way off but its constant squabbling with a Great Crested Grebe  gave the possibility that it would be driven closer into camera range. And so it transpired, the bird came close enough to be recorded in the pleasant sunlight, until it slowly drifted off to the north and when we left was no more than a black speck.













Next up was a visit to the North Wall where we had a pleasant meeting with Trevor, a fly by Kingfisher, a ridiculously close GCG and an idiot in an aeroplane. Surely it cannot be right, nor legal, to fly a plane through a nature reserve at the extremely low altitude of 25 feet. A report to the RSPB visitor centre brought the expected response - nothing. Up to now the the CAA haven't bothered to respond to my report either, so it would seem that no one but the observing birders cared a jot.

A bit close for the 500mm





Wednesday, 3 January 2018

Fieldfare

The day dawned with an almost clear blue sky, a total contrast to the torrential downpours of New Year's Day. With weather like this I just had to go out. So I kicked off at the gull roost at Goring, all the usual suspects in attendance, Great Black-backed, Herring, Common, Black-headed and a lone Mediterranean Gull. Just single specimens of Grey Plover and Ringed Plover, I guessed that most of the waders were still on the beach as high tide was a couple of hours away The dog walkers were becoming more numerous and the birds were being shifted between the two rear fields, I was  just about to relocate to the beach when a Fieldfare, which had been feeding on Hawthorn berries, alighted in the field. 





So it was duly recorded and I was positioning the car/hide for a "berry in the beak" shot when my phone rang. It was Martin  - as the weather was so good he was thinking about going for the Black Guillemot at Sovereign Harbour as it may be the only chance for the species this year. So I picked him up and we set off for Eastbourne. However, with recent reports of Mergansers and a Goosander at Widewater we decide to call in and have a brief look. Unfortunately no one was at home, not surprising as the gale force wind was ripping along the length of the pool. Not an entirely wasted trip for as we left we spotted the resident pair of Stonechats to give us a year tick.

At Sovereign Harbour the wind had increased noticeably but the waters of the inner and outer parts of the harbour were relatively calm. The rough seas meant that a fair few Cormorants were about, obviously feeding well but some were being picked off by the marauding Great Black-backed Gulls, picking up an easy meal. With no sign of the Black Guillemot we decided to give the outer harbour the once over, nothing here save a trio of Great Crested Grebes, one which obligingly posed for us. 






A left turn at the end of the quay allowed to us to do a complete circumnavigation of the inner harbour, where we learned from a birder that the bird was feeding in the canal section. We nearly missed it as it was doing a lot of diving but finally it came ridiculously frame-fillingly close. A few records as we had comprehensively recorded this very bird before Christmas.




I said it was close!



Next up was a grand tour of Horse Eye Level which gave very little, several Mute Swans, sundry corvids and a large flock of very handsome Fieldfares. At this time of the year the optimism gauge reads extremely high so we made a second visit to Widewater. Nice to meet up with Paul who was getting some shots of the long staying and obliging Knot but no sign of the Goosander. A flyby Kingfisher at least made the journey worthwhile.

Tuesday, 19 December 2017

Knot

We started the day looking for the Temminck's Stint at Pulborough Brooks. Of course with the expectations of a small bird a great distance away, we were not to be disappointed. After visits to the West Mead and Winpenny hides, where we had observed an extremely pale Buzzard, two Peregrines, flyby Sparrowhawk and a Kingfisher, we finally connected with the Stint from the Hanger viewpoint. Absolutely no  chance of a photograph. A result all the same - life tick for Martin, year and Sussex tick for me.

The weather was perfect so we decided to make our way to Weir Wood, Bramblings reported under the feeders and every chance of some shots. It's odd how, after a just a short passage of time, the memory of a venue gets recalled. I had forgotten how difficult the light can be at this site, lots of tree cover providing shade, even though the leaves have long gone. Of course the main factor was that the Bramblings had disappeared.

So an early trek home with nothing in the camera but as we passed Shoreham we diverted to Widewater - just a chance of a Red-breasted Merganser or Goosander and the light was perfect. Neither were about but a lone Knot was feeding confidently by the causeway and as we stood there, came right under our feet until the inevitable dog walker spooked it. 













A pair of Stonechats posed well, one at either end of the "keep your dogs on a lead" sign. A few more shots of the Knot, unfortunately in the shade, and it was time for home. Back at base Liz reported a Fieldfare in the crab apple tree, hopefully it will return today and give a photo opportunity.












Last time we had a decent amount of snow we had a Fieldfare "invasion", the snow turned orange and the tree was stripped in a few hours. Liz had to make a visit to the local greengrocers for an emergency supply of apples, they didn't last long either. Not a good video but it does show how many birds were present, of course supplemented by a host of Redwings





Normally the crab apples are still on the tree at the end of winter, a few Blackbirds have a go and the Wood Pigeons eat them as a final resort. Just occasionally when we get a cold snap the birds take them - perhaps one year some Waxwings?