Friday, 29 March 2013

An afternoon in Regent's Park

Yesterday I went to London to meet a couple of fellow RSPB forumites and to look at the birds in Regent's Park. It was SOOOO cold, even here in the city where things are usually a little warmer, but the threatened rain didn't happen. We didn't see anything out of the ordinary but it was ace to meet Hazel, Mike and Paul, and the birds that were about were on good form.

After leaving the cafe we found a group of grazing geese which included Bar-headed, Barnacles, Greylags, Canadas and this hybrid bird. I thought it resembled the Bar-headed x White-fronted Goose from St James's Park, but not sure it's quite the same. I had a google and found a couple of photos of the same bird, but no definite view on its parentage. It is free-winged and according to this excellent blog apparently associates with the (also free-winged) Bar-heads, arriving with them in spring, staying a few months, and leaving again for the winter.

Many of the Tufties on the boating lake were paired up. These two looked a little unhappy at being scrutinised...

... unlike these exhibitionists.

Also very active in the reproductive department were the Grey Herons, many of which already have well-grown chicks in the nest. The young birds were making a right racket.

There were ample chances to practice flight shots as the adults came and went, some still augmenting their colossal stick nests. Pity about the leaden skies.

Regents Park squirrels don't seem quite as in-your-face as their Hyde Park brethren. This one demanded nuts with menaces though. Others we saw were collecting leaves and stuff to furnish their dreys.

Near the road bridge were a couple of breeding-plumaged Little Grebes, and a third that was still in its winter gear. There were also a couple of Great Cresteds.

Furtive Blackbird. Small passerines weren't much in evidence today but did include Robin, Dunnock, Wren, Long-tailed, Great, Blue and Coal Tits and Goldcrest.

A couple of vigorously bathing Greylag Geese provided some amusing moments, as they performed forward rolls and other aquabatics.

Pochards are as numerous as Tufties on this lake. Unlike their congeners they don't seem to have paired up, and there were plenty of chases and scuffles among the males.

Presumably at least some of the many adult Black-headed Gulls here will be departing for their breeding grounds sometime soon. The very cold weather must be affecting the timing of breeding behaviour in many species.

Egyptian Geese with white faces are not that uncommon and can cause confusion. I've heard the 'h' word bandied about in reference to such birds but I don't see anything about this one to suggest the influence of another species, and I'd say it's a pure Egyptian Goose with leucism.

Wednesday, 27 March 2013

Hastings happy hour

I stayed overnight in Hastings at my dad's on Tuesday, and as Wednesday morning dawned fine and sunny (albeit pretty freezing cold) I decided to nip down to the seafront to see the Fulmars before we hit the town centre to do the shopping.

As I walked down Rock-a-nore Road, I could hear Fulmars cackling from the cliffs above. In the very sheer cliff face adjacent to where the East Hill funicular lift goes up to the top of the East Hill, there were several Fulmars tucked into hollows in the rock.

I stood in the car park at the end of the road and took a few flight shots. Their numbers seem to be up on last year. I noticed one bird waving its feet around as it flew, and was also struck by how little the feet are.

There were a number of gulls loafing on the beach. Here's a Great Black-backed showing how much bigger it is than its Herring minions...

... and this is also a GBBG, a youngster in first-winter plumage. Although it was quite windy, the wind direction must have been such that it flattened rather than whipped up the sea, no nice dramatic wave action today.

A Herring Gull approached, carrying a whelk. It had a particularly awkward grip on its prize, holding it vertically, which forced it to have its bill open very wide.

Whoops, dropped it...

... or maybe the dropping was on purpose, to break the whelk on the stones below.

The gull very athletically followed the plummeting gastropod.

The whelk did not break on impact, or not visibly so at least. The gull collected it, in a more comfortable grip this time, and carried it away.

This gull also seemed in playful mood. I watched it slide all of the way down this rooftop.

A good-looking adult Cormorant came in off the sea and flew along the base of the cliffs (which are covered in scrubby vegetation).

After this I walked up Tamarisk Steps and on up to the top of the East Hill, only to find that my favourite viewpoint over the town was blocked off, being full of fence panels and bits of tree. This was disappointing. I walked along looking for another good viewpoint but didn't find one. A few little flocks of Meadow Pipits went over.

Going back down the steps, I noticed a Raven over the Old Town, and grabbed a few rubbish photos before it headed off in the direction of Fairlight.

On the walk back through the Old Town to dad's I noticed this rather odd-looking Feral Pigeon so took a picture of it. And how about that blue sky?

I staked out dad's garden for a little while when I got back, hoping for more Ravens, but no luck. It looks like the nesting Blue Tits are back, I was roundly scolded by this one and its mate when I stepped outside.

Wildcat! Oh, alright, a tamecat. She was climbing up a roof opposite dad's garden, a roof that has its own nesting Herring Gulls although they were out at the time. I imagine the gulls would give the cat short shrift if they caught her up there.

Wednesday, 20 March 2013


Hello, and sorry for the long time no blogging. I've just got back from two weeks in the Spey Valley, based at Nethybridge, on a (doomed) quest to see a Scottish Wildcat. Needless to say, I took thousands of photos of other things instead. The weather wasn't great, cold and grey mostly with some snow in week 2, but I did have a few sunny intervals. Here, in no particular order, are some photos.

Female Chaffinch by Loch Garten, waiting for a handout of food.

One of several Coal Tits that visited the garden of my holiday cottage.

Common Buzzard, this was by the river Spey on the way to Grantown, one of a group of four all thermalling on a sunny morning.

Crested Tit in Dell Woods, the bit of Abernethy Woods that is nearest to where I stayed. Noisy little critter!

This Crestie was further south in Abernethy Woods, near the Loch Garten Osprey Centre.

 Crestie again, in Dell Woods.

This Dipper lives on the river Nethy, in the centre of Nethybridge village. I did walk much further along the river several times, but only saw the Dipper on the village stretch.

Feeder by the Osprey Centre, which is shown on a streaming webcam in winter, when there are no Ospreys at the nest.

A female GSW in my cottage garden. She and her mate were in lively springtime mood with lots of chasing, calling and drumming.

Goldcrests are common in the pine woods. This one was near Loch Garten.

Another inhabitant of the river Nethy, a female Goosander.

Grey Heron, seen from the Speyside Way just east of Nethybridge.

The fields around my cottage were attracting flocks of pukka wild Greylags.

Most of the crows around here are Carrion so I was surprised to find a Hoodie. Pity I couldn't manage a better photo of it... taken at the Highland Wildlife Park, a zoo near Kingussie.

One of a small flock of Lesser Redpolls on the Speyside Way.

Long-tailed Tits were pretty common around the village.

An Oystercatcher flying over the Spey.

This Oystercatcher flock was at the Highland Wildlife Park, rubbing shoulders with bison, Przewalski's Horses and other exotica in the 'safari' area.

A hen Pheasant foraging in a horse paddock one VERY cold and frosty morning.

A few Pink-footed Geese over the Spey.

Lots more Pinkfeet in fields by the Spey.

This crossbill, photographed somewhere in the middle of Abernethy Forest, may be a Scottish Crossbill, but it may be a Common Crossbill. I have very little confidence in my ability to separate them... someone will come along now and tell me it's a Parrot Crossbill...

Aw. Red Squirrel. This one came to my garden each morning in search of peanuts, which were sometimes supplied and sometimes not. When the feeder had been filled, the squirrel painstakingly emptied it and buried the nuts all around the garden.

Massive tufts. When I was here in 2011 it was summer and the squirrels were tuftless, and so much less cute.

A snowy morning, and the squirrel shows where he's been jumping all over the garden.

This was a different squirrel, in a different garden.

Lovely sunshiney Robin, photographed in Aviemore while I waited for my lift to Nethybridge.

This Roe doe was in woodland along the Speyside Way near Grantown.

 ... and this Roebuck was in Abernethy Forest, in a small 'bachelor' herd.

Rook, making a racket. Lots and lots of Rooks and Jackdaws here.

Also lots of Treecreepers, in the forest, along the river path, in the gardens, you name it. I wonder if the lack of Nuthatches and Lesser Spotted Woodpeckers here means a bigger niche for them.

I found a small flock of Waxwings in Aviemore on the day I arrived (Saturday 2nd, late morning, after an overnight coach journey from London - I was a zombie but still noticed that distinctive cresty shape).

Woodpigeons, everywhere. I liked the graphic look of this one's pine tree perch.

A Yellowhammer, along the Speyside Way.

The many Coal Tits that frequent the area around the Osprey Centre are extremely tame and gather in flocks to stare at you as you walk by. If you have brought food for them, they'll come and take it from your hand. It's all very Disney, or very Hitchcock, depending on your point of view.

Finally, a very nicely posing Blue Tit from the cottage garden. I had really painful blisters after several days of too-long walks and had to take it easy for a while - in this time I spent hours photographing the garden birds. And watching classic old gameshows on Challenge - a bit of a novelty for me as I've no TV at home. Whether you're in Kent or the Highlands, you can't beat a bit of Bluey.