Hello and welcome to my Blog - Mainly I capture photographic records of my birding and butterfly visits to places in the Sussex, Hampshire and Kent countryside.
I also have a fascination for all things natural, photographs of which, from time to time, I add to the Blog.

Wednesday, 11 January 2017

WOW - Waxwings, Owls and Warbler

Today was a planned trip into Kent, Strood for a banker Waxwing, another go for the Stejnegers Stonechat at Dungeness and possibly the Red-necked Grebe at Camber, sundry geese had been reported both at Pett Level and Scotney so we were in for a long day. Rail strikes and local traffic conditions meant an early start so we left at 0630. Unfortunately a 13 car pile up on the M23 meant a considerable delay but as we arrived in Strood the Waxwings showed immediately. Very flighty birds - flying in to a group of golden rowan trees, grabbing several berries and then retreating to a higher perch in a nearby ash tree to digest the food. Waxwings tend to be inconsiderate in that they always seem to be in awkward places for photography, normally a local school. This venue was no different, main road, sheltered accommodation and a gathering crowd of keen photographers - conditions that make me feel uncomfortable - so it was grab a record shot and get away ASAP.

Just need to get them down into Sussex with some sunny weather!

On to Dungeness where we wanted to record the Long-eared Owl that we had dipped the previous week. Great news - not one LEO adjacent to the dipping pond, but two and in a reasonable location for a record.

On the way out we located the Ring-necked Duck but as it was no closer than on our last visit we decided to spend the time on the Stejnegers - same result the bird had gone AWOL - it must have known we were coming. Shades of the infamous Little Bunting episode - seven trips without a result.

A short stop at Scotney gave views of the usual feral Barnacle Geese with the Emperor Goose crosses mixed in. Another stop at Pett Level and a diligent search of the geese out in the field resulted in Martin finding the five Taiga Bean Geese, a long way off and the scope on maximum magnification to resolve the ID.

We completed the day on Pevensey Levels looking for a Short-eared Owl, unfortunately a no show and with both the light and the temperature dropping we called it a day and headed for home.

The previous day had been a foray around the local patch, with the rail strike and local road works the traffic was horrendous and any long distance was out of the question. First up was Petworth Park, invariably there are Goosanders on the lower lake and always the chance of an Egyptian Goose. When we arrived a lone Goosander was on the lake but as always he kept his distance. There are always better chances for Goosander shots, particularly at Eyeworth or even the Widewater at Shoreham. So I left Martin trying, with consummate fieldcraft, to get closer to the bird whilst I stalked the Fallow Deer. I say stalked, these deer are used to a host of dog walkers and joggers, as you approach they just drift away to a comfortable distance.

I heard the familiar sound of antler on antler and found two bucks half heartedly engaged in "combat", every now and then they would break off, have a graze then have another go, the rutting season has long passed but I guess they like to keep their hands in.

I returned to the lake and found that three more birds had flown in, rather than settling things down it made the birds much more wary and finally they departed, probably for the upper lake.

Next a trip the Sussex commons where we obtained our yearly fix of Dartford Warbler, unfortunately never close and never stationary but a record shot nevertheless.





Thursday, 5 January 2017


It has been a steady start to the new birding year, plenty of birds to be seen, most at a good distance so the opportunities for a photograph have been slim - until yesterday. We started at Pagham North Wall where all the usual suspects were present, just in lower numbers than last week. We added Golden Plover to our slowly growing tick list. A trip to the other side proved almost as fruitless with just two Stock Doves being the outstanding species. Next up was Swanbourne Lake at Arundel in search of a couple of Mandarins - alas lower water levels meant that tree cover was well above the shoreline and we failed to locate the birds.  On up the hill above Offham Farm where we found the five Bewick's Swans out in the field. No sign of the Great White Egret on the river so we paid a visit to the WWT Wetland Centre. Most of the lakes had a thin covering of ice - just enough to prevent ducks falling through and of course putting Kingfisher feeding on hold. However, there were several small patches of open water and the Kingfishers were trying their best to find prey. One bird, adjacent to the path, had decided that human onlookers were less of a threat than starvation and gave stunning views to a host of onlookers.



Another bird at the "normal" distance.

The other inhabitants of the reserve were also feeling the effects of the freeze, particularly the Teal. Great to watch the surprise of one bird landing as it skidded across the ice.

Some record shots from our first trips out this year.

The 1st winter Scaup on Ivy Lake....

......a Curlew with a crab at Church Norton.....

....two of the eight  Cattle Egrets at Warblington, unfortunately a fair distance away....


and finally the Ring-necked Duck at Dungeness.

Don't mention the Stejneger's Stonechat

Monday, 5 December 2016

Desert Wheatear and Snow Buntings

Two birds that tend to occupy the beach when in the south of the UK. First up on Thursday 1st of December  was the very confiding Desert Wheatear that was feeding just above the shingle at Normans Bay in East Sussex. When we arrived the bird was happy to pose but soon shifted into a much more mobile mode. A bird that truly blends in with its habitat, we could have stayed longer to get the bird in a more isolated pose but numbers of birders and photographers were going up, therefore it was time to go.


This Black Redstart turned up just to see what all the fuss was about.

Today, the second bird was just as confiding, a Snow Bunting at East Head, Wittering. We started the day looking for the reported Stone Curlew at Ella Nore but it was the proverbial needle in the haystack. So, in pleasant sunshine we took a walk to East Head. Martin found the bird a couple of hundred metres back from the head on the west side of the spit. Another bird that truly matches its surroundings and is also difficult to isolate. Never mind, two year ticks in December and the weather remains clement.

To cap it all another bird turned up on my local patch - right next to Groyne No.4 so I just had to go and have a look.

Perfect camouflage

Thursday, 24 November 2016

Fuerteventura Stonechat

There are tales, way back in birding folklore, of birders flying into Fuerteventura airport and getting a taxi to Willis' Barranco, seeing a chat and flying out again on the next aircraft. Well I guess you could still do that but parking at the barranco is now awkward and if you left post haste then you would be missing some cracking birds that inhabit this desert environment. I would describe the following two venues as certainties  and if you are on the Island and would like to see the chat then give them a go.

The Fuerteventura Stonechat, Saxicola dacotiae is a sedentary resident found only on the island of Fuerteventura. It has similarities with both the European Stonechat and the Whinchat   Its upperparts are generally coloured as the Whinchat, but more contrasting, dark brown with a blackish head and back streaks. It has a purer white supercilium reaching behind the eye and white neck sides, and a light orange/chestnut breast becoming duller and paler on the underside towards the whitish belly. The rump and tail are dark, the latter with a white pattern visible in flight. There is also a white wing band. The female is similar to a washed-out version of the male, with a brown, black-streaked head and no white neck patches.

Valle de Fimapaire

The track that enters the Valle de Fimapaire is called the Camino La Oliva Caldereta and you can drive it on Google maps - just follow the link. The entrance is on the left hand side of the FV102 road that leaves La Oliva  in a south east direction. In November 2016 the track was generally in good condition and certainly passable in a compact car. The only dodgy bit was on the left hand fork just after the dog kennels. This is a well documented area for the chat and we had to check it out.

We had success immediately after we entered the track, a male in the scrub on the left hand side of the track, after heavy rain there is a large puddle that forms on the triangular shape piece of land and it is worth checking for other birds - particularly Spectacled Warblers.

Further down on the left hand side of the track there is a small copse of trees, it is obvious that there is water here as the whole area is greener than the rest and there are patches of Great Reed, Arundo donax? here. The smallholding opposite has loads of iron poles and these normally have a male chat occupying one of them.

This one came to investigate me when I got out of the car.

 If you are doing photography then time of day can be crucial, I found the morning best but the birds will pose at some stage, unfortunately going off road here isn't possible - the dogs are large and mean.

They are happy to come close but not always down sun.
Next location is where the track divides

Where the track divides taking the left track - dog kennels in the middle.

The right hand track going to La Caldereta - oddly Caldereta is the local name for the bird.
Looking back up the track from the dog kennels
The most productive area - particularly the iron poles around the smallholding

Oddly enough we saw two females on the left side of the road and two males on the right side but never the other way round



Barranco de los Molinos

Getting to the dam at the Embalse de Los Molinos is a doddle - turn left off the FV221 just before you enter Las Parcelas - just take care on the track as it is rough in several places. When you have finished scanning the myriad of Coots and Ruddy Shelducks that inhabit the lake take a look back down the track. Approximately 100 metres back there is an obvious track leading down to the barranco, sometimes this gets washed out but the weekend activity of the 4x4 off roaders will normally flatten it out again. If you go down then be aware that it can get mighty warm at the bottom as you are in full sun and the wind disappears.Google Earth view

The first pair of chats occupy a territory half way down to the river bed, the male can be found singing from the dead tree shown in photograph 4. Another pair can be found about 100 metres down the barranco from the concrete cill shown on the far right of photo three.  Each time I have visited I have flushed the birds up into the barranco cliffs but sit quietly and they soon return.

1. The barranco from the dam wall - goes all the way to Puertito los Molinos

Parking at the restaurant at Puertito los Molinos and walking up the barranco can be productive, we didn't visit in November because when we arrived the car park was full - popular restaurant!

2. Start of the path - far right of picture

3. The concrete cill far right, easy path along the barranco but sometimes muddy

4. Favourite perch - dead tree

If you are going birding in Fuerteventura there are two things that I heartily recommend. The first is a copy of Dave Gosney's  "Finding Birds in the Canaries", - get it here. Easybirder. With its accompanying DVD it is without doubt the best value birding investment that I have ever made. It is worth its weight in gold as the information is spot on - don't travel without it!

The second required item is a mobile "hide" - we had a Citroen C4 (colour optional) courtesy of Avis, ours was diamond white and the birds didn't seem to mind. It will inevitably develop  a distinct "lava dust pink"  hue by the end of the week.

Secondly, the "Field Guide to the Birds of Macaronesia" by Eduardo Garcia-del-Rey is also a very handy book to have available.