Thursday, January 31, 2013

Finches Galore at Warnham LNR

Robins, blackbirds and great tits have been singing for a while now and with a temperature of 10 degrees and glorious sunshine yesterday morning, it almost felt like a spring day. We decided to pop down to Warnham LNR, always a great place to visit - plus we hadn't been since last September, when the osprey was there.

In winter, I particularly enjoy spending time in Woodpecker Hide, watching the woodland birds. There's always a great selection of birds on and around the feeders, including reed buntings, marsh tits and even the occasional water rail. It is also where I found a common redpoll in March 2011.

I was hoping we might spot a brambling - not an easy bird to catch up with in Sussex. I had not actually seen one at Warnham before, although I do know they used to turn up most winters - but not in the last couple of years.

So we spent a very enjoyable afternoon watching (and listening to!) dozens and dozens of very vocal finches. Chaffinches, goldfinches, lesser redpolls - many males showing off their bright red heads and chests - a huge flock of siskins and a lone greenfinch.

 Male lesser redpoll - isn't he beautiful?

Male siskin posing for the camera.

 Female lesser redpoll, looking pretty in the sunshine.

Female siskin, beautifully marked.

And then I spotted her in the big tree behind the feeders: a female brambling! She eventually landed on the ground and started feeding alongside chaffinches, siskins, redpolls and reed buntings. Oh, and two moorhens and a pair of mallards!

  Little beauty!

Enjoying the sunflower seed.

 Beautiful markings on her back and wings...

A second female brambling also made an apperance, as did a small flock of long-tailed tits. These little cuties never fail to make me smile!

Just as we were about to leave, a male great-spotted woodpecker appeared and wanted to have his photo taken. I happily obliged!

I'm already looking forward to our next visit to Warnham!

Wednesday, January 30, 2013

"Grey" day at Swanbourne Lake, Arundel

Grey in more ways than one!

A grey day because the Met Office got it wrong yet again, "sun" really meant dark clouds and a chilly wind. We drove to Swanbourne Lake, hoping to spend a few enjoyable hours with the 5-6 firecrests that had been seen and photographed close to the gate, apparently oblivious to birders and photographers. When we arrived, we were greeted by clouds, mud, puddles and a photographer who told us that the firecrest (only one seen that day...) had disappeared about an hour before we'd even got into the car. Great!! And it was freezing. We waited for an hour or two but there were no firecrests to be seen anywhere.

But the day was also 'grey' because a beautiful female grey wagtail did her best to make us smile and feel that driving to Arundel had been worth it, after all. The light was very poor so no fantastic shots were saved on my memory card but watching this colourful and beautifully marked little bird was brilliant. I don't think I saw any grey wags last year so about time too!

Several pairs of gadwall were on the lake (see pic below), along with hundreds of tufted ducks, pochards, mallards and black-headed gulls.

 What was this black-headed gull trying to tell me??

I spotted this lovely jackdaw in a tree next to the cafe. Not sure if it's partially leucistic but it's certainly a very attractive bird!

We then decided to walk up the hill to the area where we had previously seen firecrests and indeed, we did first hear and then see one. Gorgeous little birds! The bird, a male, was not willing to pose for any photos so I'll just add a picture one of the firecrests we watched in exactly the same bush about a couple of years ago. This photo was published in the Sussex Bird Report 2011. :)

So in the end it was a lovely day out.

Bearded Tits at Hyde Park, London

It's usually rather difficult to get great views of bearded tits - or bearded reedlings, to use the correct term. They're not actually part of the tit family (nor do they have beards). I have spent many hours staring at reeds, hoping for a beardie to pop up. I have seen them before, but it was always a case of 'ping and gone'.

A couple of weeks ago, a birder reported two female bearded reedlings that had been spotted in Hyde Park - in the middle of London. The first inner London record ever. Apparently, the birds had been seen in mid-December but for some reason were not reported.
You might wonder where in Hyde Park the vast reedbed area might be. Well, there basically isn't one, just a few reeds along Serpentine Lake..and this is where the birds have been feeding every day since they were first seen. To give you an idea...

Yep, that's it! Not only is it a very small area but the birds are also totally unfazed when it comes to being watched and photographed. You could not possibly get any closer to beardies! As more and more photos of these little beauties were posted on the internet, I knew: a trip to London was on the cards!
As photos showed, both birds are ringed and it was possible to read the ring numbers. The beardies, probably sisters, were ringed at Rye Meads, Hertfordshire last November.

When we arrived, both birds were on view, feeding on top of the phragmites. Wow!!

The light wasn't brilliant, the sun only came out for about 5 mins in the 4 hours we spent watching the beardies, but it was a fantastic experience! I felt extremely privileged to be able to get such close-up views of these gorgeous little birds. I took about 1000 photos and had to delete more than 400 there and then because my memory card was full.

This was a unique opportunity to learn about typical bearded reedling they call to each other, how they feed, how they fly down to the bottom of the reeds regularly to drink (the seeds are very dry) and to eat grit (needed for digestion). And all of this only about a couple of metres away!

About to have a drink...note the reflection!


What are you looking at?

Doing the splits

Showing off her tiny little wings - perfect for flying where there isn't much room - and her fanned tail for keeping her balance on reeds that tend to sway...


For more photos of these wonderful little birds, please visit my bearded tit photo gallery page.

I got to see many more great birds while in Hyde Park. Most feathered residents are so used to people they won't fly off. Makes a change!

A beautiful common gull and a lesser black-backed gull, swimming on Serpentine Lake while the sun was making a brief appearance.

A cormorant, coming into breeding plumage:

A colourful male common pochard:

An Egyptian Goose...close-up.

A lovely pair of ring-necked parakeets.

 A pair of Northern shovelers doing what they do best..

There is a pair of tawny owls that nest near the lake and I managed to find the male, roosting in a beech tree. I didn't think I'd get a shot, let alone one with his eyes open. But he did wake up, preen and then look right at me! Wonderful!

We had a fantastic time! So I'd thoroughly recommend a trip to Hyde Park. The beardies are still there. If you are in the Southeast...what are you waiting for? :)

Saturday, January 19, 2013

Finally shriking it lucky!

Excuse the pun! ;)

Last weekend, when some sunshine was forecast, we decided to visit a pair of Dartford warblers on one of the smaller Surrey commons. Waiting patiently on the footpath, close to some gorse bushes that they had been seen in, we soon heard the male saying hello to us (well, more like "rrrrrrrrrrraaaaa" - I love a Dartford's contact call, sounds a bit like a grumpy raptor to me!). He duly appeared on top of one of the gorse bushes...a very beautiful sight especially now that the gorse is coming into flower.

The female was also seen and flew towards us, calling, before she disappeared in the mature heather next to the path. We then waited another hour or two and saw nothing apart from a pair of stonechats...and lots of clouds coming in. Grrr! The wind was freezing and it actually started snowing. We had just decided to leave when - rather unexpectedly - the sun came back out and the light was just about perfect! And believe it or not, we were rewarded for our patience (which is not always the case, as most birders and bird photographers will be able to confirm!)...the little bird perched on top of the gorse again and started displaying. I could not see the female anywhere - it was as if he was displaying to US, calling, doing a little dance and showing us his beautiful tail feathers.

WOW! I have seen Dartfords in Sussex, Hampshire and Surrey but never witnessed this behaviour before.

Little beauty.

Such a treat to see these little beauties, they're so vulnerable. This is also why I cannot disclose the exact location of this pair of Dartfords. Every single bird is important for the survival of the species...let's hope they'll be able to hang on in England for many more years to come!

I thanked the 'Darties' for showing so well and allowing us take some lovely photos (yep, I really do that!). We then moved on to Thursley Common. I still hadn't seen the great grey shrike! At least one shrike spends the winter there every year, hunting small mammals and birds. As the title of this blog suggests, I got lucky that day - again! First the Dartfords, then the shrike. Not bad!
While watching a large flock of meadow pipits, a great spotted woodpecker-sized bird flew into one of the few large trees on Shrike Hill (yeah, where else). We first thought it was probably a GSW - we had seen one around - BUT I was fairly certain the bird had looked a little more compact, with a longer tail and greyish plumage. However, as it was the bird I was hoping to see, I didn't trust my first impression...wishful thinking can make you see amazing things (that then turn out to be something completely different and rather common)! So we waited for the bird to show itself...and guess what, when it flew towards another tree it really was the shrike! Lucky or what! While it is no secret that it can be found around Shrike Hill, it is very mobile so it is rather hard to predict where it might turn up - and the area is massive. 

A fantastic day!

Wednesday, January 02, 2013

New Year's Day 2013 in search of Waxwings and Redwings

So the New Year has finally arrived and I have to say that I was rather glad to see the back of 2012.
New Year's Day dawned and although it was hard to leave our lovely warm bed, knowing there would be no heating (the boiler packed up a couple of days ago - ****!!), a look out of the window promised a bright and beautiful day. I couldn't remember when we last had some sunshine so it was decided - the first day of 2013 would be spent birding. I'm not a twitcher so getting lots of 'year ticks' on the 1st of January is not a priority - in fact I don't care how many birds I see every year. I just want to see loads of them, common or rare, old friends or 'lifers'. I love 'em all!
So where to go? A sunny bank holiday meant that favourite spots like Pulborough or Warnham would be packed. Plus - this is a waxwing winter. We saw 8 waxwings in Croydon at the end of November and missed the Pulborough and Lewes ones in December. I just can't get enough of these Scandinavian beauties. So that's what I wanted to see! The two options therefore were Lewes again (where I knew a lot of Sussex birders were headed) and a flock of about 30 waxwings at Ash Vale, Surrey. I was also hoping to finally get really good views (rather than brief or distant ones) of redwing that I knew had also been seen and photographed there. They do like the same berries as their feathered compatriots. So Surrey it was.

When we got to North Camp Station, only a couple of birders and photographers were looking at bushes laden with red berries - but no birds. We were greeted by the dreaded words "You here for the waxwings? You just missed them". Grrrr! But, knowing waxwings fairly well and having spent hours waiting for them in the past, I knew that patience usually pays off. I could also hear redwings calling although it took a while before one actually showed itself but flew off again before I could take a picture.
A few blackbirds were feeding on the berries and a cormorant, a sparrowhawk and goldfinches flew over.

The waxwings had first been reported 4 days before Xmas and had been seen every day ever since - and still there were loads of berries left! So although one photographer said that there are more berry trees nearby that the flock might have flown to to feed, I remained hopeful.
And sure enough after an hour and a half of staring at the trees (only half the time we waited at Croydon and it was much colder then), the waxwings appeared and settled in trees near the bushes. I counted 24+. Yay!

 What a wonderful sight!

 They then spent about 30 minutes sitting in the trees, as waxwings do, trilling to each other and occassionally swooping down to feed on the berries - mainly in small groups of  3-5 at a time. They tended to land on the other side of the bushes so photo opportunities were limited. Plus, several birders and bird photographers decided to walk right up to the bushes which did not exactly encourage the birds to land on 'our' side to feed. And clouds had appeared - typical! But I'm not complaining.

As always, it was a special treat to watch these beautiful winter visitors. Here's a selection of photos I managed to take:

 Waxwing heaven!
A bit grainy due to lack of light but still an unusual shot I thought is worth sharing.

 Then the waxwings were spooked by a lorry and flew off and most of the other birders left as well. We didn't, as a redwing that had shared the berry bush with the waxwings, perched on a twig about 4 metres from us - and stayed there. And stayed. And looked at us the same way we were looking at it, admiring its beauty (well I don't know what the redwing was thinking but while it certainly wasn't admiring us, it didn't seem worried which was great). Wow! The best views I'd ever had of a redwing. I was absolutely delighted. The bird had a few berries and continued to just sit and watch us and was completely relaxed. SO lovely!

What a beauty!

A really great start to a new birding year and I'm looking forward to every single bird I might get to see and photograph in 2013. Bring it on!