Saturday, 29 December 2012

Gaps in the clouds

Hope all you folks out there had a lovely Christmas, and are going to have a splendid New Year too. What a horrible few days it's been, though. Lots of potential birding time but too much rain for the idea to really appeal . I did go out to Elmley on the 23rd (grey and gloomy but no rain), and had a couple of productive hours in Susan's garden in East Sutton on Boxing Day morning when there was a freak spell of sunshine.

OK, Elmley. It was quiet. Very little but Lapwings, Starlings and distant Curlews from the access track. The traditional look over the wall next to the loos revealed many Teals on the pools below, and a few Wigeons too.

The first section of track was unflooded, though the fields beyond looked pretty damp. There were flocks of Wigeons out there, plus a large, strung-out flock of Brent Geese which I checked for anything more exotic, to no avail.

Those who've been here will recall there is a board bridge across a small ditch to get to Wellmarsh hide - the water in the ditch was about as high as the bridge which was disconcerting, but it was passable. From the hide, there was little to see at close range, but further off were huge numbers of Lapwings which all went up now and then as a Marsh Harrier went over.

The track from here to Counterwall hide was closed off because of flooding, so it was necessary to head the other way, for South Fleet hide. This is a photo from some distance away of South Fleet hide, with a ringtail Hen Harrier flying right past it. I wish I'd been in the hide!

View from South Fleet hide. What a lot of Teals. Not very close, and the light was fading fast, so it's a horrid noisy mess of a photo. But I think I can make out a drake Pintail among this lot, at about 3 o'clock.

On the way back, several parties of Brents went over, heading for the Swale.

Now on to Boxing day. Sunshine, and the East Sutton garden was a hive of activity. I saw/heard 27 species in an hour of watching, before the grey clouds rolled in once again. Some of the best I failed to photograph. A big flock of Lesser Redpolls in the tall alders. A very close-range flyby Great Spotted Woodpecker. And a Sparrowhawk that shot right past me at about knee height and bobbed neatly over the hedge into next door's garden where, judging by the awful noises that ensued, it dispatched an unlucky Starling.

A small flock of Siskins came and landed in a smaller and closer alder than those favoured by the redpolls.

I found a place to stand where I could see as much open sky (in good light) as possible and waited to see what flew by. Results included these Collared Doves and multiple Magpies.

Stand still long enough and often a little bird or two will come and check you out, in this case a Coal Tit and a Dunnock.

We went for a lovely muddy country stomp later, after the sun had gone in but before the rain arrived. I took the camera but made little use of it, though I did photograph this nice-looking plant which might be Old Man's Beard (but I'm not sure, and would welcome confirmation/correction).

Wednesday, 12 December 2012

A tree in Sauternes

I'm just back from a few days with my sister and her family in Sauternes, a village near Bordeaux in south-west France. It wasn't a birding trip, more a family catch-up trip, but I did spend a little time chilling (literally) by the pool, pointing my big lens at a tree. In this landscape of flat vineyards, trees are few and far between, and a range of local birdlife called in at this one.

Cirl Buntings! These were around in small parties, though they were shy and I didn't manage any very good shots, whenever I saw one there was always a twig or leaf or far too many metres between it and me.

Tree Sparrow. Plenty of these too, along with House Sparrows, though the latter hung around near the houses (appropriately enough) and the Tree Sparrows were more out in the fields.

This was a surprise, though I've done some research since and discovered that Blackcaps do winter in southern France, though whether these are going to be British or eastern European birds, I don't know. This one was certainly as furtive and hard to photograph as your average British Blackcap in summer.

I'd have liked a (much) better look at this, the only Serin that I saw during the stay.

Lots of Starlings were congregating in the next tree along, a larger specimen with room for hundreds of Starlings (and well away from me and my camera) but a few dropped into 'my' tree as well.

When not flocking in the big tree, the Starlings sat along telegraph wires. Here they are keeping company with a few Woodlarks.

One of the local stars is Black Redstart. This one (female? first-winter male?) was hanging around by my sister's veg patch, I also saw it picking the tiny mutant grapes from the vines that cover the house.

The birdlife round here is VERY jumpy and jittery - with good reason, judging by the number of gunshots I heard. The exception to this was the garden 'rouge-gorge', which when not chasing away other birds was posing prettily for my camera.

Other birds? Not a lot, really. Blue and Great Tits and Blackbirds abounded. There were Carrion Crows out in the vineyards, and I clocked several Chaffinches and Goldfinches going over. Heard many Green Woodpeckers, but the only raptor I saw was a single Buzzard. On the last night, I heard the bugling of what sounded like a LOT of Common Cranes, but it was too dark to see anything.

Finally, we had a day in Bordeaux - it rained and I took lots of photos of architecture. The only thing seen that warrants inclusion here was a number of Coypus, around the muddy shore of the Garonne. It was the first time I've photographed (in fact the first time I've properly seen) these hefty aquatic rodents and I took many poor photos (wrong lens, no light), including these two.