Monday, 3 January 2011

Oh dear...

... three days into yearlisting and I've turned into a twitcher. Today we went to Westcliff-on-sea in Essex to look for 'Rossi', the famous Ring-billed Gull who's been wintering there since 2004. On the way, we decided to call in at Pitsea to look for Waxwings - but then I spotted a flock in a roadside tree on the A13, close to a parking layby, and bullied Rob to turn around at the next roundabout. Naturally, when we came back they had gone. So it was on to Pitsea, where we got lost trying to find our way into the big supermarket carpark where the birds had been seen yesterday. However, our convoluted approach proved fruitful, as we found a flock of Waxwings down a side road on the way.

There were probably about 30 of them. They were not feeding but sitting about in the treetops, occasionally having a little fly around and constantly calling, their trills a pleasant contrast to the squeaks and rattles of the many Starlings that were sharing their trees.

It wasn't the photographic cornucopia I'd hoped for, as they were quite high up and the light wasn't great.

Nevertheless, it was great to spend a bit of time with such stunning and charismatic creatures. A car pulled up while we were there and the driver told us that this particular road had attracted Waxwings on many occasions. Not sure why, there seemed to be nothing for them to feed on here.

We had a bit of time before we needed to be in Westcliff (I'd read that the best time was 2-4 hours either side of high tide, and today high tide was 11.30ish) so we looked in at the nearby Wat Tyler Country Park. The tide being what it was, there were few waders to see on the creek, but I did add Black-tailed Godwit to the yearlist. This looks like a great place for a birding day, we'll have to come back another time.

This fine fellow was in a field by the access track, just trotting along looking fairly relaxed. When we pulled over and wound down the window, he loped away to the safety of the miniature railway track, from where he shot us baleful looks.

On to Westcliff, where we located the coast road and drove along it til we found Rossi's Ice Cream Parlour, the haunt of Rossi the gull, and scored a nearby free parking place by some mad streak of luck. There were lots of gulls floating about in the very calm sea, nearly all of them Black-headed.

 New for the yearlist - a Turnstone. It and half a dozen of its friends were skittering along the shingly shore, in the company of Feral Pigeons.

Scanning my way through the gulls, I found no Rossi but there were a couple of Mediterranean Gulls, sadly too far out for nice photos. First time I've photographed them in winter plumage, and of course a new species for the yearlist.

Someone put some bread out for the gulls up on the promenade, and I took a look through the bins and thought I spotted Rossi among them. I took a couple of insurance pics and then we hurried over - too late, the melee was all over by the time we were anywhere near.

Examination of the pics showed that I had indeed spotted Rossi - he muscled through the swirling Black-heads to land on the wall and take his share of bread. Great photo opportunities if we'd been up there. We decided to give it a little longer.

Every Common Gull made me look twice. They are somewhat similar to Ring-bills - only a little smaller, with yellowy legs and even the suggestion of a ring on the bill. This photo shows the bill mark is more of a smudge than a neat ring, and also shows the Common's dark eyes - Ring-bills are pale-eyed, and more extensive white in the wingtip.

Finally, a really good candidate flew out - yes, it was Rossi himself. He settled on a breakwater that was just appearing as the tide retreated. I went over for a closer look, aware that this bird is well known to be approachable and tolerant of humans.

And there we have it. Lovely neat bill ring, pale mantle, pale eye, yellow legs. I took a lot of shots, inching closer until the Black-heads started looking twitchy (though Rossi himself didn't seem at all bothered) then rejoined a relieved Rob to get in the car and warm up.

Saturday, 1 January 2011

New year, new year list

Hello out there,

I've decided to keep a year list this year. Nothing fancy, just a straightforward British year list - hopefully it will motivate me to get out on those days when I would normally look at the sky and think '.... nah'. The list got off to a blinder when we heard the distant quavery fluting of a Tawny Owl outside at about 1.20am, which I suppose cemented my resolve to give it a go. I will try to include in my blog posts at least a record shot of the more unusual species, which will mean an increase in blurry and heavily cropped images for you to enjoy. You have been warned...

I wasn't so keen when the alarm went off at 6.30am, but did manage to get up by 8am (adding a heard Magpie and Wren in the meantime) and walked down to Sevenoaks Wildlife Reserve to see if I could rack up a creditable start to the list. It was a 1990s-style winter morning - mildish, grey and damp.

Lots of the resident passerines are singing already, which made it very easy to add Song and Mistle Thrush, Great Tit, Greenfinch and Robin on the walk down, along with a bit of a bonus in the form of a 30-strong Fieldfare flock overhead. Then it was on to the reserve itself. I went into Grebe Hide to get the camera ready, then took a few shots. Just for fun, here's my very first photo of 2011:

Not a great start. Hopefully things will improve, and I'll remember how to focus the lens... Besides the Blue and Great Tits there was a party of Long-tails around.

I went to Tyler hide first. There was lots about, including lots of gulls. This Lesser Blackback was the closest of them - there were also several Herring and Common Gulls (one of the latter is in this photo) and one adult Great Blackback, which I unaccountably didn't bother to photograph.

My first grebe of the year, and it's a Black-necked. This bird has been around for a few weeks - it's high time I paid it a visit. It was rather distant and very actively feeding (ie on view for about 5 seconds per minute).

Moving on from Tyler hide, I finally saw what I'd wondered was a mythical bird, the oft-reported semi-resident female Ruddy Duck. Here she is with my second grebe of the year, a Great Crested.

I carried on to Slingsby hide but there was nothing to see - the lake was completely iced up at this end. I did get a Great Spotted Woodie on the way.

On the way back towards Tyler hide, a Treecreeper. I'm not sure what it thinks it's doing in this photo. Not great pics but at least it didn't shimmy around the far side of the trunk when I showed up.

I looked in at Tyler hide again on the way back and this time there were a couple of female-type Goosanders on view. Another nice bird to get in the bag, though I'd have preferred a nice smart drake (but then who wouldn't?)

Here's part of the vast herd of Coots grazing the Serengeti (aka the small grassy foreshore bit that you can see from Tyler). Lots of Coots, lots of Moorhens, but where's my Water Rail?

I went up to Willow hide next. This proved disappointing. Not only was the lake completely iced over, but one of the two stools was missing, and the other had been relocated by some idiot to the icy surface of the lake. This not only spoiled the view, but spoiled the chances of short people like me from enjoying the view, as the benches in this hide are set too low. I didn't hang around, but carried on past Long Lake to the field at the end. Overhead large noisy Siskin flocks roved around the alder trees, but I couldn't turn any of the Siskins into Redpolls.

By the field, I surprised myself by taking a recognisable photo of a Redwing. These thrushes are often amazingly shy and suspicious, and this one quickly flew away when it realised I had spotted it, even though it was so high in the tree that this is a nearly 200% crop.

With the light so poor, black and white subjects were a bit more appealing than colourful ones.

Last photo of the day. A bit better than the first... a drake Teal on one of the pockets of unfrozen water on the big lake.

So after about 3.5 hours' birding the year list stands at 54. I got some great bonuses, but many SWR regulars eluded me - the likes of Stock Dove, Sparrowhawk, even Goldfinch for pity's sake. Still, there are 364 more days to go.