Sunday, 21 November 2010

And another American wader...

...but in Dorset this time, with the return of the Long-billed Dowitcher to Lodmoor RSPB. Although very overcast, the bird showed well in fornt of the shelter and got involved in a bit of argy-bargy with one of the local Snipe. The Dowitcher won. A pair of Scaup at the other end of the reserve were good to see (bottom picture). The male's dark green head and pale back, and the white shield at the base of the sleeping brown female's bill, can just about be see in this photo. News of a Pallas's Warbler on Portland tempted me across the Fleet and Chesil Beach, but I had no luck in finding it during a 2 hour search.

Thursday, 18 November 2010

American Robin

Finally made it to neighbouring Devon today to catch up with the American Robin present since last week. On my arrival it was being watched deep in a hawthorn on the canal bank near the Turf Hotel - close but not visible. Eventually it flew out to feed on berries in a more distant hedgerow, calling like a blackbird as it went. This digi-scoped record shot was all I could manage. It returned after some time but again went deep into the hawthorn where it remained until just before dusk when it flew into the hedge on the other side of the road. I could not relocate it, but did see a Short-eared Owl on the return to the car.

Sunday, 14 November 2010

Invasion of the berry-snatchers

This year's Waxwing invasion has yet to reach Dorset (apart from a singleton reported from Studland last weekend), so a flock within striking distance of Littleborough's Pied-billed Grebe (see previous post) had to be checked out.

These were aspirational Waxwings, frequenting a suburban garden in Chorley, rather than the traditional supermarket car park, but while they co-operated, the weather did not. Apart from when one bird flew past a sliver of blue sky, it remained stubbornly grey and overcast throughout the time I was there, and when the birds were eventually flushed by a Collared Dove I began the long journey home. Hopefully they will continue to disperse and pilfer berries for many weeks to come.

Ring Bill Grebe

Mid-November and the Americans are still coming - the Pied-Billed Grebe near Littleborough being the latest. I saw one near Ashford in my then home county of Kent in 1999, so this would be a 'Millenium tick'. More seriously, getting some good images of one of only about 40 species that I have seen but not photographed, tempted me into the early start and an unusually long drive -the furthest I have travelled for any rarity this year. I had the excellent company of Anthony (and Mrs) McGeehan for the journey - not in person, of course, just the CD's from the highly recommended Birding from the Hip anthology - very witty musings punctuated by well chosen bird recordings. Mrs McGeehan's mis-transcribed phone messages for Anthony - 'Ring Bill Gull in Belmullet' - are among the highlights.

While there were plenty of birders around this morning, there were also plenty of places from where the bird could be seen. By a stroke of luck I happened to be standing by the best of them, the tiny, pad-locked 4 man hide, when a ranger-type turned up with the key. After 5 minutes inside, the Grebe swam directly in front of the open window. Bright weather had dominated north of Birmingham, but a light mist hung over Hollingworth Lake and the light was far from ideal for photography. Despite this drawback, I could not fail to get some satisfactory images as the bird cruised past just feet away. I would have stayed longer but thought I should move for others to get in the hide, but despite the crowd on the path outside there weren't many takers - a real contrast to the testy queues waiting to see last weekend's American Bittern.

If you can hold your nerve, there's a lot to be said for Sunday twitching, especially it is the first weekend a bird has been present: the crowds (and tensions) from Saturday have dissipated, the traffic is lighter, and the punters always seem more a bit more relaxed - 'communicating to share, not to impress', as McGeehan says about American birders.

Sunday, 7 November 2010

Reed my lips

'There it is...' said a voice at the front of the hide as I struggled for a clear view from the back through misted optics, the inevitable result of a hasty dash into a warm hide from the cold outside. ' some semi-submerged reeds'. This wasn't too helpful, as being semi-submerged is an occupational hazard for a reed. It's difficult to ask for more specific directions without sounding like a git, but I tried anyway. 'By a patch of dead-looking reeds' came the explanation. Most reeds are dead-looking by November so this didn't narrow it down much either. 'Where is it in relation to that lorry in the background' I asked? 'Oh, just under that'. 'Got it. Thanks'. I didn't mean to sound ungrateful, but this bird had taken some seeing. Last weekend's delayed Scillonian III sailing back to Penzance deprived returning birders of the chance to look for the American Bittern at Zennor on the Sunday morning. Many of us went to Zennor anyway on Sunday lunch-time but after no sign during a couple of hours of poor weather most, including me, went home disappointed. Local birder Viv Stratton persevered and told me today that the bird flew in about 15 minutes after I left.

So when the bird was relocated at Walmsley Sanctuary, a nervous week passed before I could finish work on Friday lunchtime and make it to Wadebridge for about 15:30. The bird had not been seen for about 40 minutes from the Tower Hide, and the light was rapidly fading, but a call from the other hide gave the half dozen people in the Tower the signal to move. Camera being less steamed up than bins, I raised it and rattled off these shots as the bird walked right into the open between ditches - something you would be lucky to see a Great Bittern do. I returned this morning but was unable to improve on Friday night's views and photos. The tetchy crowds and immobile queues made it a much less enjoyable experience, so I was glad to see this impressive beast on the Friday, and grateful to friends Jan and Matt for putting me up for the night in Newquay! Tried to string juvenile Grey Plovers into the American Golden reported on the Exe on the way home, but without success.