Sunday, 31 May 2015

Café society

After the Gannets, the highlight of my recent visit to Bempton was the very sociable colony of Tree Sparrows which breed around the visitor centre. If you can get a seat on the patio outside the café there you will no doubt find yourself charmed by their nasal calls. The building itself is covered with nest boxes and most seemed to be occupied - breeding success was also obvious by the numbers of young birds around the feeders. Cracking birds, a real shame we don't get more down south. Species #191 on the photo yearlist.

Saturday, 30 May 2015

Rare breeders

For some reason I can't think about Monty's Harrier without being reminded of a famously sweary line from Withnail and I. This doesn't happen very often, as they have become a very rare breeding bird in Britain, having started off being not very plentiful in the first place. After an early start from Dorset en route to a Gannet-fest at Bempton cliffs for a couple of days, I was able to call in at another RSPB reserve, Blacktoft Sands, where a pair have set up shop this year.
Male Montagu's Harrier, Blacktoft Sands
A very slim and elegant raptor
Here the male and female together
Records of breeding Monty's are usually kept pretty quiet but once in a while a pair will turn up somewhere like this where they can be kept an eye on and birders can be encouraged to see them there where the risk of disturbance is low rather than go looking for them elsewhere. Keep up to date with the progress of the breeding pair here. Always distant, though the female got up for a stretch and did a circuit which brought her a fair bit closer than the male.
Female Montagu's Harrier
Showing the white tail band here
The female Monty's looked very rufous in the field
Marsh Harrier and Avocet used to be rare breeders in Britain not so long ago but both have seen an upturn in their fortunes - and both were plentiful at Blacktoft. They weren't getting along too well though as several passing Marsh Harriers experienced the wrath of nervous Avocet parents intent on protecting their newly fledged chicks.
Marsh Harrier mobbed by Avocet
A Grey Heron gets similar treatment
Marsh Harrier
On the way back south I detoured via the Brecks for a day to see another rare breeder which I haven't seen for a few years - Stone Curlew at the Norfolk Wildlife Trust reserve on Weeting Heath. Four adults were present and I glimpsed a couple of fluffy chicks tottering around in the long grass too.
Stone Curlew, Weeting Heath (#188)
The birds were very vocal in the early morning
The hides at Weeting Heath are a reliable place to see Stone Curlew without the risk of disturbing the birds
Just around the corner from Weeting Heath is Lakenheath Fen, the third major RSPB reserve on my itinerary. A Little Bittern had been barking there for a week, but chose the day of my arrival to go elsewhere. Frustratingly, it was back again today after a two day absence which coincided with my visit.
Common Cranes, Lakenheath Fen (#189)
Cuckoo among the Poplars which used to ring with the sound of Golden Oriole song
Interpretation board at Lakenheath
Lakenheath used to be a reliable breeding site for Golden Oriole but although a male sang briefly there earlier in the month, they appear to have given up the ghost in recent years. Very sad, but a distant view of a pair of Common Cranes, which returned to the Fen to breed in 2007, made up for the disappointment of not seeing the Little Bittern.
Jay with what looked like a Great Tit chick.
Whitethroat, Lakenheath - more showy than...
...Lesser Whitethroat, taken back in Wareham last week (#190)

Friday, 29 May 2015

Also at Bempton...

It's not just Gannets at Bempton Cliffs - there are also auks aplenty, gulls and the odd tubenose to look down on. In the nicest possible sense, of course.
Puffins are a favourite with the visitors
Small numbers breed near the clifftop among the commoner auks

Probably the best place in mainland England to see Puffin up close
Bridled Guillemot
These birds nest on the tiniest of ledges
Kittiwake calling in flight
Flamborough Head from Bempton in morning light
The same view in late afternoon
100m chalk cliffs provide a dramatic location for the seabird colony
Staple Newk is the arch just catching the sun
Bempton Cliffs

A few days away

Having spent two nights in a tent last weekend - to say 'sleeping in a tent' would be a bit strong -  I was granted permission for a few days away to indulge in some birding and photography. My original plan was to go to Scotland, but in the end I couldn't find the energy for the long drive, so headed for East Yorkshire and the seabird city of Bempton Cliffs instead. As regular readers will know, I enjoy seeing rare birds, of course, but a seabird colony takes some beating as birding experiences go. Bempton has accessibility going for it as well - no weather dependent or expensive boat rides to worry about. I arrived in late afternoon in perfect light and went back again the next morning. So if you don't like Gannets, look away now. And if you like Puffins, come back later.
Gannet, Bempton Cliffs
Gannet is the star bird at Bempton for me - the only mainland colony in England
This bird put on a fine display
Everything about this bird is smart - note the yellow trim on the webbed feet
The last thing you want to see if you're a fish
A carpet of Red Campion on the clifftop makes for an attractive foreground
Another displaying bird
And a pair here in evening light
Another pair the following morning
Gannet with Filey Brigg in the background
250,000 seabirds nest on the cliffs at Bempton
The clifftop is also a great location for flight photography
This bird was stalling as it came in to land
An immature bird
An adult in close-up

Many of the breeding locations look precarious...
..this at Staple Newk perhaps the most precarious of all