Thursday, 29 March 2018

Iceland Gull

The 2nd Winter Iceland Gull at Goring Gap prefers to be "Billy no mates". Spending most of the time apart from the other gulls and thus being easy to spot. Though I have to say he goes missing quite a lot.

Nice to be out birding locally, the female Brambling at Pagham Visitor Centre and the Purple Sandpipers at Selsey providing some photographic opportunities.

Now back to sorting out some photographs from our Spanish trip.

Tuesday, 13 March 2018

Azure-winged Magpie

Every year, in the depths of winter, I sit and produce a list of the top ten birds that I would like to see, and photograph. Previous targets have been the Houbara Bustard and the Blue Chaffinch, amongst others. The list is prepared with a degree of reality, in that there has to be a fair probability that I can get to the location, the high Andes is not a place I am ever likely to visit. So, when I came across the Azure-winged Magpie I was taken in and it immediately went on the list. After two aborted attempts to visit the Coto Donana I finally made it and as Martin and I drove down from Seville towards El Rocio, amidst the Umbrella Pines on the Villamanrique road, three specimens appeared briefly. The cheer I let out was probably heard back in Seville.

I chose the title for this blog very deliberately, as the Iberian population of this stunning bird have been split off from the main population that stretches to the Far East. Back in 2003, taxonomists declared that the Iberian population would be henceforth known as Cyanopica cooki not Cyanopica cyanus, all based on a DNA difference of 6%. All very well, but no-one has come up with a common name yet. As Collins Bird Guide is my "go to" reference book for avian identification and in there it remains as Azure-winged Magpie  and so it is for me.

Now I wasn't leaving the photography of this bird to chance, there is a well known population of these charming birds at the visitor centre at El Acebuche. Furthermore they are fairly confiding, especially around the picnic area adjacent to the car park. So, armed with several loaves of bread we duly took station  at a picnic table and scattered some delicious morsels around - this resulted in - nothing, not a bird in sight. Somewhat disappointed we ventured into the reserve and the first birds we saw - AwMs, gliding through the trees, we gave chase and managed to get some reasonable records.  I commented to Martin that there must be at least ten birds present and at that very moment they took to the the air and I reckon they numbered thirty. Never was much good at estimating numbers.

Just admire that tail

We continued round what is a magnificent reserve, lots of hides and boardwalks, until lunchtime when the sun came out, an ideal time to return to the car park. This time a result, as our bread throwing attracted what can only be described as a voracious horde. Oddly enough "our magpies" meaning Pica pica - the black and white ones, weren't so successful as the AwMs were more than capable of driving them off.

Confident enough to come within a few feet - but lightning quick.

When food was available they constantly called to each other.

A voracious horde

The public drinking water taps were popular too.

Thursday, 22 February 2018

Buzzard on a stick

Every year we make at least one journey to the New Forest; the main purpose being a search for a Lesser Spotted Woodpecker. Unfortunately our quest has only once returned a single sighting, lasting just a few seconds, with no photographs. So to say optimism was high would be economical with the truth.  Spirits were lifted however, just after entering the Forest proper we came across a Buzzard on a branch. Not really significant to most birders I know, but on our travels we see quite a few and invariably the cameras are in the back of the car, in fact probably not out of their cases. So when we spotted this specimen Martin skilfully reversed the car and we were able to prepare and make a slow approach with cameras at the ready.  The resulting pictures are not spectacular but at least they are better than previous attempts. Of course the end result was that we got a little closer and the bird decamped. 

I did a similar exercise on Mull a couple of years ago, driving along the narrow roads, chasing Buzzards along the utility poles. I noticed one habit the birds had was to evacuate when you approached - this was no exception. Oddly the bird wasn't bothered by passing cars or lorries, just humans. On Mull they had the habit of taking off, circling round the car and landing on the pole behind, they must have known that you can't do a U turn on those roads.

Next up was the LSW venue with the expected result, just a few half-hearted drummings at long distance and a very loud Great Spotted Woodpecker drumming and calling. Plenty of Stock Doves mobile in the tree tops to provide some distraction, lots of calling too - much nicer than a Wood Pigeon's efforts. 

On to Blashford via several car parks where we stopped to listen, sadly the forest was rather quiet. So too was Blashford but I did manage to record some Scarlet Elf Cups, Sarcosypha coccinea,  well past their sell by date and during the winter I carry only one lens so they were recorded at great distance using the 300mm - I didn't even consider taking the 1.4 extender off - getting lazy.

The frogs in these parts have been pretty busy - spawn everywhere.

Eyeworth Pond at Fritham was the next venue, always good for some camera exercise. Same old subjects but a great opportunity to get close to some common birds in good surroundings. Just a bit of care and you can get shots without sunflower seeds or peanuts in the frame. Interesting to watch the behaviour of some of the birds when they are in close proximity to one another.

Coal Tit

Coal Tit

Marsh Tit

Marsh Tit

Marsh Tit

Some years ago the Mandarins here were flighty and reclusive, hiding amongst the trees on the island and far bank. Now they come and join the Mallard flock to be fed by the visitors - amazing what a handful of sunflower seed can do.

The onset of spring was obvious with the Mandarins - more males than females being one of the problems I guess. One individual was in full ceremonial dress, chest pumping, head bobbing and much grunting - all to no avail as the female he was displaying to was in fact a Mallard.

Pomp and Circumstance - full breeding regalia

This time we left the Forest with cameras at the ready, normally we find a Buzzard on the way back to the main road. Today, however, it was a pair of Mistle Thrushes that caught our attention and they were happy to come close.