Tuesday, 13 December 2011

Hastings highlights

This Sunday to Tuesday was a Hastings visit, and again I brought my camera as Monday morning's forecast was good. I got out early, perhaps a bit too early.

I went to the beach as before, the stretch where the fishing boats are in between the harbour arm and Rockanore. On the beach was a collection of various-aged Herring and Great Black-backed Gulls. It was too dark at first for the birds so I took a couple of skyscapes, even though I had totally the wrong lens for this kind of thing.

 It looks cloudy, but there was actually only a little bit of wispy cloud on the horizon, just enough to detain the sunlight for about 15 minutes.

I was impatient to get photographing though, so took a few noisy pics while the sun was still hidden. The adult Great Black-backed is ringed, would be interesting to know where it came from but I'm not going to volunteer to rugby-tackle it and check the ring details.

At last, proper sunshine. Here's a streaky-headed adult Herring Gull...

... and a confiding juvenile, sitting on the Rockanore wall and hoping I'll go away.

This Jackdaw was one of a flock of about six, that came gliding down from the cliffs to begin a busy day of crumb-hunting in the car park.

Also in the car park, a Black-headed Gull that settled down in a puddle. I mainly took this pic to show my dad that there are still some Black-headed Gulls in Hastings Old Town in winter, though certainly way fewer than there were when I was growing up here.

After this, I decided to climb up Tamarisk Steps to Tackleway, and from there up the long set of steps that climbs to the top of the East Hill. I had no particular plans for what I'd do once I got there, but ended up just finding a spot to stand on the top by the lift, and waiting to see what came along.

Spotting a fast-moving and small-looking falcon, I raised the camera expecting it to be a Kestrel, but got a nice surprise - juvenile Peregrine. I suppose this is evidence of fairly local breeding? Or maybe not? We have seen adults just along the coast a bit in Fairlight.

I realised this was a Raven as it bombed past, and had that 'oh well, at least I got a photo' feeling as it disappeared along the hillside, out of view. But then, to my great joy, it came back, with another one.

The Ravens tumbled about together, while I willed them to come closer. This is another species we've seen at Fairlight, and I once saw one high overhead from my dad's street.

The Ravens did come closer. I kept firing off shots (though the camera kept stopping mid-burst, damn the slow write speed of my memory card!) and got a few OKish closer shots.

I saw the Peregrine once more, but got no photos to speak of. The other avian action was supplied by a party of maybe 10 Magpies, who kept flying up into the breeze and getting blown about.

Some of the Magpie photos look very strange indeed, capturing them from some peculiar angles as the wind played with them. Here's one that is at least recognisable.

An afternoon at Rainham

Another late post, but not quite as late as the last one. Rob and I went to RSPB Rainham Marshes on Saturday, where we met Becca. Rob was carting the Sigmonster around so when Becca called to say she'd arrived I went back along the trail to meet her, and Rob carried on, in an anticlockwise direction.

This Kestrel caught our attention as we made our way to the first hide, flying across to land briefly on a pylon.

The trail passed a very sheltered small pond where numerous Goldfinches and Chaffinches were bathing, then drying off in the thick bushes that surrounded the water. Pity they were all too tucked away for decent photos.

From the first hide, a very large flock of Lapwings plus a few Golden Plovers was on view, wheeling about and then settling on the banks and islands of the scrape. A few Teals paddled about nearby.

Looking along the trail to the side I could see Rob standing at a viewpoint over another lake, along with a bunch of other birders. We went to join him, and he broke the news that the Sigmonster wasn't working. The camera couldn't detect it, autofocus didn't work. We tried my camera body on it to no avail. So poor Rob had to carry what was now a useless 6kg lump around the rest of the trail.

We paused at a turn in the trail to look at a Peregrine, perched high on a sadly rather distant pylon. Then I looked down and saw an RSPB sign right in front of us saying that we should check the pylons for Peregrines. I guess we did that the wrong way round, then.

On to the fancy new hide, where Rob spent some time trying without success to get the Sigmonster working again, while Becca and I photographed the only nearby birds, a small party of Pied Wagtails. Further out, a quartet of Skylarks explored a muddy spit of land.

On the homeward stretch of the track now, we stopped to admire this Reed Bunting, one of a pair hanging around the reedy ponds, and I thought I heard a Bearded Tit call but couldn't see it.

Passing a reed-lined ditch, we stopped when we heard a pretty loud rustling from the opposite bank. The whatever-it-was moved along the bank and then emerged at the water's edge, revealing itself to be a very fine-looking Fox, and eyeballed us with no apparent concern before continuing on its way.

Just before the  last hide, a cracking male Stonechat popped out of the undergrowth and struck a series of photogenic poses along the fence-posts.

From the last hide, overlooking grassland and a narrow loop of water, there wasn't a lot to see except half a dozen grazing Wigeons and a depressed-looking Grey Heron. Not long after we arrived, the heron stalked about a bit and then flew off, so we left too.

Back at the visitor centre, Rob dumped the dead Sigmonster in the car and we walked along the riverbank a little way, before it got too cold and dark.

The foreshore was quiet but we did see a few Redshanks, plus this spectacularly well-endowed Curlew.

These four Shelducks leaving the reserve and heading out along the Thames seemed a fitting way to end a very enjoyable day.

Yes, we have no Bitterns

This is a very overdue post, from Friday 2nd December. I'm only writing it up now because I'm so sleep-deprived that I can't concentrate on my proper work, of which there is lots. But that's my problem, not yours. On the afore-mentioned Friday, I met Graham and Becca for a few hours' Bittern-hunting at Fisher's Green. I texted Graham from the train and he came to meet me at Cheshunt station, while Becca stayed in the Bittern hide. When we joined her, she had enjoyed good views (and taken good photos) of a Water Rail. Graham's and my failure to see this Water Rail became a bit of a theme for the day.

 Of course, most of the people in the hide were there hoping to see a Bittern, except perhaps this chap, who looked very fetching in his blue jumper. But we had limited patience and daylight, so we gave it half an hour and then hit the trails.

As we walked along towards the weir, noting GC Grebes, Gadwalls and Coots in the river and the odd gull overhead, Graham remarked that he would like to see a Redwing. As if it had waited for this moment all its life, this Redwing promptly appeared.

A Lesser Black-backed Gull. The weather was disappointing, we'd been promised sunshine (damnit) but the skies were grey for most of the day. It was also rather chilly, the autumn mildness finally gone. Poor Becca was suffering from a bad case of frozen toes, despite having four pairs of socks on.

Up at the weir, this Common Gull sat photogenically on a post. Numerous ducks swarmed in the water below, including plenty of Wigeons. Across from the river, a few Teals and Shovelers paddled across a flooded field.

A surprise among the wildfowl, a lovely female Goldeneye.

We continued along to the hide that overlooks the lake above the weir. It was good to see that they have added a second bench in this hide since my last visit. However, the view from the hide wasn't too inspiring, assorted wildfowl but nothing new for our day list.

On the walk back, the sun came out briefly and illuminated a flock of Fieldfares that flew between the lakeside trees, merrily dodging our lenses. This heavily cropped effort is still my best Fieldfare photo. Must try harder.

We put in a last stint at the Bittern hide, in fast-disappearing light (as this pic of restless gulls and Lapwings shows). No Bittern, but we did get some terrible views of a silhouetted and retreating Water Rail, ending Becca's Water Rail monopoly.

I spent a little while watching the feeding station at the far end of the hide, seeing Blue and Great Tits, Chaffinches and a solitary Robin.