Monday, February 18, 2013

Southease Barn Owls

Last Friday, for the first time, I watched the Coldwaltham barn owls hunting which was very special. However, the birds were a bit distant so we decided to go and see the Southease owls on our next outing. I had been told that they usually show very well so I was hoping for a fab time with these magical creatures.
A fellow birder was the first person to photograph the 'dark-breasted barn owl' at Southease and birders and twitchers have been travelling to East Sussex just to see this particular individual.
I knew that this bird likes to hunt by the bridge and quite a few birders were already there, scanning the fields and riverbank with their bins.  

So as I didn't mind what colour owl I might get to see, we walked away from the bridge and waited. About an hour later, a barn owl flew in and towards me, repeatedly going down and flying up again, not having caught a vole. What a sight! Awesome. Apparently it was also the dark-breasted individual I was watching. The bird has a dark chest and buff underparts (no white as you would normally expect), very dark grey on its wings and its facial disc is lined with dark feathers.

As one of its 'normal' coloured cousins flew past, the difference was actually quite striking.

Back on the bridge, we were treated to cracking views, again of the darker bird. Absolutely amazing.

 Check out the wingspan!

While waiting for the owl to reappear, we had a chat with a barn owl expert who kindly explained that a male barn owl is all white under his wings whereas a female has dark dots - so we established that the dark-breasted bird is probably a female!
I don't know if this bird really is a guttata or an intergrade or 'just' a dark alba. Whatever its race and origin, for me it is and will always be the first barn owl that gave me fantastic views while it was looking for supper - which is all that matters to me. I can't wait to see more barn owls of any colour very soon!

Sunday, February 17, 2013

Sun, clouds and snow - Part 2

Read Part 1 of this blog post here....
Still at Warnham, I managed to get a few nice shots of my 'bogey bird': a wren. I see these confident little birds all of the time...yet getting a decent photo of one is a completely different matter!

As you can see, foraging at the bottom of a tree that has dozens of finches in it, has its 'dangers'. Note the wren's back in the last photo - looks like one of the finches is a very good shot! The poor wren won't have enjoyed preening himself that day!!

After a couple of hours, we left Warnham and went to Goring, where a snow bunting had been spotted. When we arrived, the bird had been missing for almost two hours, after being chased by a dog (no comment!!!!). But we were lucky...another birder had just spotted it flying down the beach and after 10 mins of searching, it was relocated and we enjoyed great views of this little beauty. Seeing a snow bunting is always very special.
The bird was repeatedly spooked by people who either didn't care or thought it was very funny to just walk right up to the bunting despite several birders and bird photographers watching it. One woman couldn't stop laughing when her husband made the bird fly off by almost treading on it - I clearly missed the joke because I felt like throwing her into the sea. I don't think you need to be a bird watcher to realise that maybe you should walk around the bird that other people are enjoying rather than spoiling the moment for everyone.

Anyhow, I took so many photos of the snow bunting that my memory card was full but the light was poor. My best efforts:
Such a lovely bird!

Don't ask me what the strange flying object next to the bunting's head is...I guess the bird was doing some magic.


Fab bird.

We then stopped off at Warningcamp for a brief look at the Bewick's swans.

Finally, we watched at least 3 different barn owls at Coldwaltham. They were a bit distant but wonderful to see. Gorgeous birds.

A fabulous day's birding!

Sun, clouds and snow - Part 1

Friday was going to be a sunny day - well, thank you yet again to the Met Office for getting it all wrong. By the time we arrived at Warnham (they don't open until 10), clouds had put an end to the prospect of good light for photographing woodland birds.

The gate was still locked and a few birders were waiting, among them Pagham Birder - whose blog I always follow with great interest - and his grandson and it was lovely to catch up! They were hoping to see a brambling or two; unfortunately the only time one of the females made a brief appearance was when they had just left the hide for a few minutes. For some reason, the Warnham bramblings are terribly flighty and both times the bird showed, someone walked past or into the hide talking loudly, spooking all of the finches. Some people seriously seem to think that the definition of 'bird hide' is 'a great place to have chats and picnics with friends'. Incredibly annoying, time and time again!

Female brambling grabbing a few sunflower seeds before disappearing again.

BTW, 'my' brambling is still gracing our garden with her presence - she too is very easily spooked, maybe it's a brambling thing.

Anyhow, as always, it was wonderful to watch the many woodland birds and listen to them chirping. Very enjoyable. Even the sun came out a few times.

Female blackbird looking very smart.

Peanuts for breakfast? Don't mind if I do! Jay.
Long-tailed tit calling. So cute!

I've never seen so many siskins at Warnham as this winter.
Female siskins.
Male siskins.

Warnham's got to be the best place in Sussex to watch and photograph siskins and redpolls!

 Lesser redpolls
The males are now coming into breeding plumage. Beautiful!


As I am not sure how many photos you can publish within one blog post, I'd better stop be continued (see "Sun, clouds and snow - Part 2")!

Sunday, February 10, 2013

My own personal brambling - and a long-tailed tit is the big winner!

On Tuesday morning, when I stopped briefly to watch the many birds feeding in our garden, I spotted a beautiful female brambling. Not a garden visitor you get to see from the comfort of your armchair every day! And the little bird - we named her Brambolina, haha! - has been visiting every day since Tuesday, along with huge numbers of chaffinches, greenfinches and all of my other regulars, such as starlings, house sparrows, goldfinches, dunnocks, blackbirds, collared doves, woodpigeons, great spotted woodpeckers, blue tits, great tits, coal tits, magpies and a pied wagtail.

Meet Brambolina! :)

Video and photo taken through glass, with a small digital camera so please excuse the poor picture quality.

A few long-tailed tits visited last week as well. I love these cute little birds. When the company I order my wild bird seed from, Ark Wildlife, announced on Facebook that there would be a photo competition every month this year, I entered a long-tailed tit photo for the January comp. Guess what - I won!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! My prize is a £30 voucher which I will very soon spend on sunflower seed and peanuts. I'm very happy and so are "my" birdies...a big thank-you to the lovely long-tailed tit in my photo for posing for me! :)

An American in Eastbourne and Fulmars in Newhaven

It was a lovely sunny day last Monday so I fancied a trip to the beach. Well, to watch birds, obviously. There are still so many British birds I haven't seen and I can look forward to encountering at some point - as I don't keep any 'lists', it doesn't matter to me WHEN it's gonna happen. I'm realistic enough to realise that many of our native birds I'll never get to see but I also know that I'll spend a lot of time happily watching and photographing old friends, over and over again. Birds make me happy, they make me smile inside. My garden birds bring me joy every single day and so does any bird I get to see when we go out birding. New birds fascinate me but so does the behaviour of birds I'm familiar with. There's always something new to see. I actually pity people who can't enjoy our 'common' birds anymore because all they care about is ticking off rarities. They're missing out, in my opinion.

If a rarity lands somewhere local, then yes, I'd like to see it - but I have to say that I have mixed feelings if it's a vagrant rather than a migrant. Yes, it'll be a fascinating bird for me and I'll enjoy seeing it (as long as my presence does not stop it from feeding - the same goes for tired migrants). However, it's also a lost little soul, an individual that in all likelihood will never get home again and will never find a mate. So while twitchers always hope for a foreign bird to get blown off course, I do not. I'd much rather they could stay where they belong and live the life they are meant to.

We have enough wonderful birds in this country. One of them is the fulmar, a seabird and a relative of the albatross. There are several colonies along the Sussex Coast and unlike kittiwakes (another species I'm looking forward to seeing for the first time this spring), adult fulmars stay at their breeding sites for the winter as well. One of the best places to see them in East Sussex is Newhaven so that's where I wanted to go last Monday.

Practically up the road from there, at Princes Park in Eastbourne, an American vagrant has been drawing in the crowds. Birders and twitchers from Sussex and beyond have been enjoying an adult Bonaparte's gull that has joined a flock of black-headed gulls. It's probably been around since last October. Having seen lots of photos of it and having read about it on forums and on blogs, I decided that it would be silly not to stop off at Princes Park before seeing the fulmars.

The tiny gull was around when we arrived but wouldn't come too close to the bank - apparently a sparrowhawk had just spooked it. A very beautiful little bird, smaller than its black-headed cousins, with a small black bill and pink feet.

 Little beauty.

I'm quite happy with my photos but unfortunately I was unable to focus when the bird took off and flew around for a few seconds so I only got very few flight shots, none of them very good. Later, on the way home, when I had a closer look at my camera (worried that there might be a problem with my lens), I realised that I must have accidentally changed the single spot metering - it was no longer in the centre but somewhere on the right. No wonder I couldn't focus! Stupid!!! Anyhow, I did get a few nice shots of this beautiful little gull.

It was nice to see the bird and also bump into a few familiar and also some new faces I have been chatting with on Facebook.

We didn't stay long, after all we had a date with some fulmars! When we arrived at Newhaven, I was amazed at just how how close you can get to the cliff where the fulmars roost and nest.
What annoyed me, however, was the fact that the grassy patch next to the car park & in front of the cliff appears to be used mainly as a giant dog toilet - you had to watch exactly where you were treading with turds practically everywhere. Why oh why can't people clean up after their dogs? Is it really that hard?? I hate it when I can't enjoy nature and birds because I can't walk in a straight line....Cissbury Ring and Iping Common are mainly dog toilets as well and it just takes away a lot of the enjoyment for me. Plus it's also dangerous, especially for children.

Anyhow, what can you do...back to the fulmars! A lot of them were sitting in the nesting holes, others were chatting with each other or flying around, trying unsuccessfully to land where another bird was already sitting. We spent a very enjoyable couple of hours watching these fascinating birds. They have very unusual & interesting bills, with a little tube above their nostrils, called naricorns. I think these also help them excrete the salt they ingest with their food (mainly fish). Fulmars belong to the family of Procellariidae- tubenoses!

 Fulmar in flight.
 Visit from a jackdaw...the fulmar is not impressed.
 Check out that wing span!
 Two fulmars bonding...breeding season is just around the corner!
 This is where I'll nest! Keep away!
 Beautiful birds.
 Fulmar chasing a pigeon.
 No! This place is already taken! Go away!
Wonderful birds to watch.

I'd love to go back when they are feeding chicks, watching them from a distance. Not sure if these fulmars are used to visitors during breeding season or whether they will attack - they basically throw up on predators or unwanted visitors, using smelly stomach oil. That's also why they're called fulmars - from Old Norse 'full' meaning foul and 'mar' meaning gull. So I guess I need to find out about that before we go again as I don't fancy getting spat at - especially as upsetting breeding birds is NOT on, EVER! So we might just visit them again before or after breeding season. But visit again we shall!