Monday, 27 February 2012

A good day for Grebes, and Sibe Chiffchaff still present

  • Black-Necked and Slavonian Grebes off Lepe
  • Singing Firecrest at Calshot
  • Siberian Chiffchaff still looks the part - but no call
Arrived at Lepe shortly after dawn for a pleasant stroll along the coast before the crowds arrived. Always lots to check out here. Today's highlights were the 3 Black-Necked Grebes relatively close to the shore and 3 very distant Slavonian Grebes, probably on the limit of identification with a 60x eyepiece. (Great Crested and Little were also present giving me 4 out of the 5 regular UK species). Also offshore were 2 Eiders and 4 Red-Breasted Mergansers. Not as many Med.Gulls today, but some of these were approaching full Summer Plumage. and ducks included quite a large number of Pintails plus Teal, and Wigeon.

Black-Necked Grebes off Lepe
Black Necked Grebes, Lepe, 26th Feb 2012

Late morning, I checked out Calshot beach. Very little offshore here, but the Firecrest was singing in the pines, and still a single Chiff Chaff in the area.

Finished the day in warm sunshine at the Sewage treatment works South of Horsebridge, where the Siberian Chiffchaff was showing amazingly well once I had tracked it down to a hedge with an abundancy of insects. It responded to Tristis calls by moving closer, and responded to Tristis song with a brief wing flicking and flying straight at me and over my head before returning to the hedge. I'm of the opinion, this bird must be the real deal now. All that's missing is some vocals from it.

Siberian Chiffchaff
Tristis Chiffchaff, 26feb2012, Compton, hants Tristis Chiffchaff, 26feb2012, Compton, hants Tristis Chiffchaff, 26feb2012, Compton, hants
Tristis Chiffchaff, 26feb2012, Compton, hants

Monday, 20 February 2012

ChiffChaffs wintering at Horsebridge STW

  • Possible Tristis - Photo slideshow
Have spent a few recently grilling a Chiffchaff at the local Sewage works (Just South of Horsebridge). This venue has always been the pick of the local Sewage works for birds with a good turn out of Thrushes, Pipits and Wagtails on any calm, sunny winter morning. Highlight so far was a Water Pipit seen just once in the winter of 2010/11.

(Other nearby sewage works include Romsey which is a larger complex but always seems to have zero birdlife for some reason, and Nether Wallop which is better for Pipits and Wagtails, but I have never found anything unusual there. There is a fourth works just North of Stockbridge where viewing is dificult, and further afield the works at Downton look excellent)

The works at Horsebridge have 4 Chiff Chaffs present this winter. Two are bog standard olive coloured Collybita, the regular species seen pretty much everywhere in England and regularly overwintering. A third bird is a very pale grey and white oddity with orange legs. I won't even attempt to drill down to subspecies level with this one!
The final bird, for me, is the most interesting, and after reading up no every piece of literature I can find online, I'm of the opinion it is pure Tristis, (or something very close).

So far I have photographed it on two occasions, and you'd be forgiven for thinking it was two different birds! from warm brown bird on February 11th to a cold grey and white bird on February 19th. However, the plumage has eventually fallen into place as ticking all the required features for Tristis (In my opinion at least, plus a few brave souls on Birdforum who have stuck their necks out). Photos below in the slideshow plus the 3rd bird (the "oddity" for 3 pictures in the sewage beds). See what you think!...


Sunday, 12 February 2012

Dawn to Dusk from Coast to Downs

  • Black Necked Grebes offshore at Lepe
  • Firecrest still at Calshot
  • Golden Plovers check in at Hoe Lane
  • Eastern Chiff-Chaff 
  • Jack's Bush devoid of Raptors and Owls
  • Sparrow Twitcher mistakes me for someone who gives a damn!

Started out pre-dawn in temperatures of -8Deg C. Fortunately, it didn't affect the birds on the coast with some good numbers of Waders at Lepe. Mostly Dunlin, with a few Turnstones, Oystercatchers and Curlews thrown in, and a couple of Ringed Plover and Grey Plover. Gulls were slightly more interesting with good numbers of Med. Gulls (60+) and a single Yellow Legged Gull.

Best of the birds offshore were 3 Black-Necked Grebes, and 4 Mergansers.

Calshot had some good photo opportunities with Teal and Little Egret close to the road. The wintering Firecrest is still present joined by a Chiff-Chaff today.

As temperatures crept above freezing, I checked out Hoe Lane and was pleased to see the pair of Stonechats still present in the field of rough grass, with 42 Golden plover also seen in the distance. A further 7 Plovers were in another field bringing the total just shy of 50.

As the afternoon wore on, the birds fizzled out, with just one more quality sighting.. An Eastern Chiff-Chaff at the sewage works near Brook. Got photos, but didn't hear it call unfortunately. However, it looks pretty good for Tristis, and if it stays in the area may even call in the coming weeks. Plenty of birds at the works, but nothing out of the usual: Grey Wagtail, Pied Wagtail, Meadow Pipits, and all the common Thrushes present.

Finished the day on a low with very little at Jack's Bush, other than Yellowhammer and a Reed Bunting.

I was also reminded why I have steered clear of Calshot for several weeks since the Spanish Sparrow was found! Within minutes of carefully pulling up on a verge and photographing the wildfowl, the birds were pushed out by a twitcher coming to my driving window and asking me which house the Sparrow was at!


Little Egret, Calshot, Feb 2012 Little Egret, Calshot, Feb 2012 Mediterranean Gulls, Lepe, Feb 2012
Teal, Calshot, Feb 2012 Teal, Calshot, Feb 2012 Teal, Calshot, Feb 2012
Red Breasted Merganser, Lepe, Feb 2012 Red Breasted Merganser, Lepe, Feb 2012
That Chiff-Chaff!...
Photobucket Photobucket Photobucket

Saturday, 11 February 2012

From the archives - Black Brant

Seems a few of my recent Surfbirds blog posts got lost in migration to Blogger..

The tail end of 2011 will be remembered for a couple of great finds at Lepe: A Black Brant, (a lifer for me) found amongst the Dark-Bellied Brents at Lepe car park. Black Brant is always a bird I have looked out for (and frequently dipped many years ago in Norfolk!). Great to get a stunning individual on film..

Black Brant, Lepe, 12/11/11 Black Brant, Lepe, 12/11/11

This weas followed the next weekend, at the same location, by a Turkey Vulture! probably THE heart stopping moment of my birding life as it looked to have no jesses, and we had just come off the back of a very strong weather system from the USA. However, close cropping of the camera gave away it's captive origin as a leather strap was present on both ankles.
Turkey Vulture (Escaped), Lepe, Hampshire 20/11/11 Turkey Vulture (Escaped), Lepe, Hampshire 20/11/11. Jesses just about visible

Friday, 10 February 2012

Notes from Yesteryear (part 2)

Completes the archive of posts from my previous blog.. "Peter Jones's Hampshire diary" which resided for 6 years on the Surfbirds Blog site:

  Any missing pictures will be in the folder: Surfbirds pics 


• Wednesday, October 12, 2011 - More from Calshot


Sunday morning, back to Calshot. Plenty of Waders on Ashlett Creek at dawn, but nothing exciting amongst them. 2 Greenshanks about the best on offer.

A noticeable drop in Terns around Calshot, and only 3 Swallows seen all morning. The Solent was pretty quiet too except for a single Common Scoter heading West.

The scrub, power station, and Marshes weren't much better. The Linnet flock is now merged with a few Chaffinches and Greenfinches, and a single Wheatear was by the footpath.

Turned my attention to photos and managed to get fairly close to Brent Geese without spooking them. Also a very distant Adult Winter Mediterranean Gull, and a confiding Rock Pipit. All taken in pretty overcast conditions.

Brent Goose Brent Goose
Mediterranean Gull Rock Pipit
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• Thursday, September 29, 2011 - Stonechats return

Drive along Hoe Lane after work:

A more wintery feel to the local birdlife today: Fields in Hoe Lane have recently been ploughed and are now attracting a decent flock of Gulls (mainly Black-headed, plus a single Common), and Lapwings, plus a handful of Stock Doves amongst the many Woodpigeons. 3 Stonechats is a welcome return of a species that went totally absent form the local area after last winter's big freeze.

3 Swallows over was a little bit more in tune with the sunny weather we are currently experiencing.
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• Monday, September 26, 2011 - Black Tern, Whinchats. and a heavy passage of Hirundines

Quite a busy weekend, with a bat survey on friday night, some vis-mig Saturday morning, and a good scour around Calshot on Sunday morning.

The Bat survey was probably the last I will do in 2011. It was a repeat of the Nathusius' Pipistrelle survey and although there were no Nathusius' about, I did at least add Daubenton's to the list of bats picked up at the lake.

Saturday's Vis Mig overlooking the Test was dominated by Hirundines. Just under 2000 poured through all heading South, before the migration abruptly ceased at 9:30am. Numbers were roughly equal between Swallow and House Martin with a small number of Sand Martins picked out.

My Sunday morning walk round Calshot had a bit more variety with a Black Tern off the beach, 1 Peregrine, 2 Whinchats and 3 Wheatears.
The Whitethroats have all departed from the scrub, and there was a noticeable decrease in Terns, with just a small handful of Sandwich and Common's. 19 Brent Geese have recently arrived.

Around the garden, we have a Tawny Owl calling most evenings, but I haven't sussed out if he is roosting nearby. Also, a couple of Chiff Chaffs still around the garden. The one below paused long enough for a photo..
Chiff-Chaff
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• Monday, September 19, 2011 - Sand Martin at Dunbridge

After an evening and night of heavy rain, I popped into the lake at Dunbridge on Sunday morning.  The lake is turning into a very unpredictable location, with a total absence of anything whatsoever on a few recent visits! Whether there is disturbance before I arrive, or this lake is a back up for disturbance from other places I have no idea.

Today was totally devoid of birds on and around the water. Even the Tufted Duck that had been anchored to the small sheltered bay has moved on. There was however, a single Sand Martin taking a break on the fence alongside the footpath. Managed a photo using my phone through the scope eyepiece. Quite pleased with the results considering the crude set-up, but wish I'd took my DSLR along for a better attempt.
Sand Martin
There was also 1 Wheatear, and a few Hirundines overhead, mainly House Martins.

The other surprising feature of this area is the relatively high level of migration overhead. Raptors, and Hirundines especially seem to be frequent overhead, nearly always following the trees to the North of the lake. Plus there have been enough instances of Wheatears, Redstarts, and Common Sandpipers dropping in to suggest it is on the map for bird migration. Looking at the aerial view of the area, it seems like birds following the Test miss the turn of the river and carry straight on along the line of trees to the lake. An easy mistake to make I guess, before the land opens out, and they realise they need to change course. It's definately a place that would warrant some extra hours of coverage. I wish I could be in three places at once sometimes!

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• Sunday, September 18, 2011 - Super-Mare!

No long weekend breaks in far flung Islands for me this Autumn, so I decided to try something out of the ordinary.. a day on Steepholm. Steepholm is a small island in the Bristol channel pretty much untouched by birders, with very little information on what birds occur there aside from breeding Gulls. I figured it could be a magnet for migrants perhaps, and booked myself onto a trip. I noticed that the previous trip was cancelled so I was a bit surprised when my trip on Saturday got the go ahead the night before, despite even worse weather forecast.

So I got up at ridiculous O'clock, drove for two hours and assembled with 40 odd other happy trippers and serious walkers on the quay. We were all briefed, my boat number was called... then they cancelled the trip! something about health and safety at the island landing stage. I wasn't happy.. Full days out are a premium, so to be stuck on Weston Super Mare promenade at 9am was a real waste of prime time. (I did see a Juvenile Peregrine at close quarters glide by with a Pigeon kill harassed by Gulls.)

So, I quickly consulted my map and headed to Brean Down, which juts out into the Bristol Channel ironically pointing at Steepholm which I should have been heading towards on a boat!

Brean Down was hard work: I trawled through all the accessible bushes with not much joy. 3 or 4 Wheatears, and a very skulking Warbler, which looked like a Whitethroat from the brief glimpse I got. Overhead there was a spectacular movement of Swallows. At least 50 a minute for the whole morning, and must have totalled over 10,000 birds. This will live in my memory hopefully longer than anything else this weekend! Down on the estuary, 205 Shelducks was quite amazing, but is probably usual for this area.

Wheatear and Stonechat:
 Wheatear Stonechat Wheatear
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• Monday, September 12, 2011 - Goshawk brightens up the weekend

One of those weekends when domestic duties took over, and left me little time to pursue birds. Hiowever, I did snatch a brief walk with my Daughter and struck lucky with a Goshawk and Sparrowhawk sparring overhead. This was a total mismatch in that the Sparrowhawk, presumably a Male, was dwarfed by the Goshawk  (which looked like a Juvenile).
Not much else happening except for a steady stream of Swallows and House Martins all heading South.

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• Sunday, September 4, 2011 - Nathusius' Pipistrelle

Took part in the Bat Conservation Trust Nathusius' Pipistrelle survey last Friday. Nathusius' Pipistrelle is quite a rare bat in the UK, with not a great deal known about them. There is a pretty good website dedicated to the species at  http://www.nathusius.org.uk/index.htm. When I started looking for bats, the distribution map on this website was a lot sparser than the current distribution, perhaps indicating that they have been under-recorded in the past.

I hadn't recorded one before, so was happy to take part in the survey to improve my chances of seeing one. September, around large lakes seems to be the ideal combination. Often my Bat detector has been packed up for the winter by the end of August!

I was nominated to survey Broadland's Lake, the fishing lakes you see South of the M27 just west of Southampton, and quite amazingly started to pick up a Pipistrelle with a very low peak frequency  about 30 minutes into the survey. Common Pipistrelles have a peak at 45Khz, but they can drop as low as 41Khz in open environments (a feature I have never observed despite recording many Common Pipistrelles). The bat I was picking up had peak frequencies of 40-42Khz, but this was in clutter. Looking at the sound files, the average peak frequency from a sample of 50 was 41.1Khz. Seven signals were below 40Khz, which together with the habitat, and fast repetition rate (~10 calls per second) eliminates Common Pipistrelle, and any other UK species.

I need to repeat the survey in the second half of September, so hopefully will gather some more evidence of their presence at the lakes.

The lakes were pretty good for Bats with 6 species being recorded:

Nathusius' Pipistrelle
Common Pipistrelle
Soprano Pipistrelle
Natterer's
Noctule
Serotine


Nathusius's Pipistrelle sonogram, and peak frequency:

Nathusius' Pipistrelle
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• Sunday, September 4, 2011 - Heavy rain at Calshot

Headed to Calshot this morning. The plan was to arrive after overnight rain and wade through a deluge of grounded Migrants. The weather forecast was slighty out however, and I ended up getting a proper drenching, the kind of unrelentless torrents that only seem to happen on the coast.

The morning was still quite good though with very little disturbance around the power station from dog walkers, and quite a lot of bird activity between the heaviest of the showers. Totals as follows:

62 Swallows
1 Sand Martin
40 House Martin
1 Dartford Warbler
2 Blackcap
~10 Whitethroat
~11 Chiff Chaff
1 Reed Bunting
6 Wheatear
9 Pied Wagtail
3 Meadow Pipits
~10 Linnets

On the Estuary:
22 Med Gulls
1 Dunlin,
1 Greenshank
~30 Black Tailed Godwits
2 Common Terns
1 Sandwich Tern
Many Curlew, Ringed Plover, and Oystercatchers
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• Saturday, September 3, 2011 - Hen Harrier

Vis Mig this morning was pretty quiet overall, but with a bit of quality to save the morning! I shifted my slot a little later to try and improve on my pretty poor record for Raptors, and it paid off immediately with a ringtail Hen Harrier. I was alerted to it's presence with a rapid departure of Woodpigeons from the field South of me, and a Buzzard calling frantically. Eventually saw the Harrier being harassed by crows very low, and got good views. It was bulky, and missing quite a large number of flight feathers, giving it a really scruffy appearance. Got a very distant photo as it departed North.

Hen Harrier Not much else seen: 2 Tree Pipits, and 86 House Martins the only other real signs of migration.
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• Saturday, August 27, 2011 - Wheatears and Whinchats at Calshot


Wheatear at dawn
That picture just sums up the excitement of hunting out birds in the Autumn.. Just after sunrise, on the coast, A Wheatear has arrived overnight, who knows what else is waiting to be found? Well, in this case, another 5 Wheatears and 2 Whinchats was the best I could manage at Calshot, plus a flock of 25 Meditteranean Gulls overhead. I also saw a couple of Sedge Warblers, Blackcaps and Lesser Whitethroats amongst the many Whitethroats and Chiff Chaffs, Dartford Warbler, Cetti's and Meadow Pipit. The walk was completed with the memorable sight of many hundreds of Swallows crashing in just before a heavy shower.

Elsewhere, dawn at Ashlett creek had 4 Greenshank, 4 Little Grebe, 3 Common Sandpipers, 27 Black Tailed Godwits, and a whopping 37 Little Egrets, 34 of which can be seen in the picture below!

34 Little Egrets

A brief seawatch was enjoyable with many Terns to sift through, and a probable Great Skua out in the Solent.

Other pictures from the morning (Wheatear, Wheatear, Little Grebe):

Wheatear Wheatear Little Grebe

Closer to home, the rain seems to have brought down a few Chiff Chaffs in the area round the house. I'd guess at least 4 are busily feeding at the moment. Suddenly starts to feel like Autumn for real now!
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• Wednesday, August 24, 2011 - Waders at Calshot and Ashlett

Decided to take a closer look at the Calshot / Fawley area on Sunday morning. In particular, a complex of gravel pits near the power station, and Ashlett Creek / lake.
 
Unfortunately I was unable to get a view of the gravel pits, suspect they are totally out of bounds, and out of view. Being so close to a high security power station, you don't want to go taking any liberties!
Had much more joy at Ashlett however. One corner of the shallow lagoon is clearly visible from the pub car park, and at high tide there was a very good turnout of Waders including Redshank, Greenshank, Black-Wit and Common Sandpiper.
Kingfisher, Little Grebe, and Little Egret were also present.

Greenshank Greenshank Little Egret

Spent the rest of the morning checking out the scrub south of the power station. Not much variety, but lots of Whitethroats and Chiff Chaffs, with a smaller number of Willow Warbler, Lesser Whitethroat, Blackcap, Reed Bunting, Bullfinch and 2 Wheatears.
A Whimbrel was the best of the Waders along the tide line.



Definately a place to check out throughout the migration season..
Future plan would be:
Dawn: Ashlett
Early morning: 1 hour Seawatch / Skywatch from Calshot beach huts
Mid morning: 2 hours: Calshot Scrub / power station / Tide line for Waders
Also factoring in: Calshot Gull and Tern roosts & Ashlett lagoon around high tide.
There is a lake in Badminston which I'll attempt to check out in future too.
A hobby over Nursling completed the day.
Through the week, I was able to briefly check out Kimbridge lake after work. not a great deal about, the juvenile Stonechat still along the hedge line, and a good passage of House Martins overhead moving West.
 
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• Monday, August 22, 2011 - Weekly round-up: Green Sandpipers and Spotted Flycatchers

Called in at Testwood lakes on Sunday morning. This is a super little reserve, one that I should spend more time in. From the hide, both Common and Green Sandpipers, plus a few juvenile Lapwings were showing well. The White Fronted Goose was there, looking surprisingly genuine, albeit a little tame!
White Fronted Goose

Green Sandpipers:


In the afternoon, I explored the Avon just south of Salisbury . Looking at the OS with the River split into several streams, I had visions of huge flooded fields in Winter with wildfowl and waders gathering, but in actual fact it was very similar to the Test with frustratingly difficult access and parking, overgrown vegetation preventing any views of anything, and the streams more like deep drainage ditches with not much scope for anything. So a bit of a wasted Sunday afternoon, but did find a family party of Spotted Flycatchers performing well, plus a Kingfisher, and family of Moorhens.

Moorhen Spotted Flycatcher Spotted Flycatcher
Spotted Flycatchers:


I also checked out a telecoms mast at Dean that I can see from the Brook vis-mig point, with a view to migrant potential, but this was also disappointing. Although the ground was high, there was no obvious viewpoint, and no focal point for vis mig either, so it looked like a non starter. Plus this was in Wiltshire, so not a good place for a Hampshire Birder to spend inordinate amounts of time!
Kimbridge lake had a Common Sandpiper in the evening. May be the same as from a week ago, and spending some time on the Test when not at the lake.
Monday:
I got up early, and tried Calshott as a potential location for Migrants. It certainly looks the part on the map, right on the corner of the coastline from both Southampton and Keyhaven, with some good scrub surrounding the village. It also has the advantage of being very easy to get to from my house. 25 minutes surprisingly.
The weather was blisteringly hot, and I was glad of the early start before it got too uncomfortable. Plenty of Warblers around with Whitethroat, Lesser Whitethroat, Garden Warbler, Blackcap, Chiff-Chaff, Sedge Warbler, Dartford Warbler all seen well, plus a Whinchat. I only later noticed a small complex of gravel pits near the power station which could make visits even more attractive. The coast was low tide, but I picked up a few distant Black-wits and the odd Curlew.
Blackcap Whitethroat
Finished the morning at Keyhaven / Pennington. I don’t know about anyone else, but this place seems to have lost it’s magic this year. Fishtail Lagoon always seems to be empty, even at high tide. Did see 3 Black Terns which was cool. I haven’t seen these before in Hampshire, plus Summer Plumaged Grey Plover.
Tuesday:
After work I called in at the Source of the River Test, near Overton. Again, I had hopes of flooded fields in the winter and this area did look to have some potential. The source was a decent sized pond, but there wasn’t much about. 3 Spotted Flycatchers were the best I could manage. One was probably the youngest I have ever seen, and looked very recently fledged.

Finally, one of the smartest local Buzzards who usually perches in the distance off Hoe Lane was caught closer to the road. Luckily it was still there when I returned with the camera, and managed this shot from the car
Common Buzzard

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• Saturday, August 13, 2011 - Test Valley bits and pieces

Been out a few times this week. Drawn, perhaps inexplicably to the Test Valley North of Romsey, when a trip to the coast would probably be more worthwhile!

Bird highlights are still hard to find with a Juvenile Stonechat at the lake near Kimbridge quite unexpected plus a Pochard dropping in briefly.
A morning Vis mig. watch was brightened up by a trickle of Swaloows heading South, and at least 7 Common Buzzards in the sky.

The best finds this week were both Mammals: a Doe Fallow Deer and fawn near Park Farm, and a Barbastelle picked up on the bat detector were both firsts for me on the East side of the Test (Both are regular about a mile West across the river).

Got photos of a Meadow Brown with wings open:

Meadow Brown

Meadow Brown
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• Sunday, August 7, 2011 - Migrants start to trickle through

A few early Autumn migrants in the last week:
1 Wheatear at Kimbridge lake earlier in the week, and a Common Sandpiper there today.
At my favourite vis-mig point overlooking the Test, it was fairly quiet this evening, but a Hobby hunting at dusk was cool, and it was good to get back into the vis-mig swing of things with the daily commuting Gulls, Cormorants and a Little Egret all heading south.

Had hoped to end the evening with a Bat watch, (I still haven't confirmed one way or the other what the small Myotis was from last summer - possibly an Alcathoe's but a lot more work needed to confirm this!), but I had to abort as a pretty decent Thunderstorm was heading my way. Wonder what this heavy rain brings down tomorrow?
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• Saturday, July 30, 2011 - Whiskered/Brandts Bat

Made one final evening trip to Fishlake Meadows, concentrating on a stretch of canal with overhanging trees backing into woodland, and an area of meadows and open fields. This would just about complete what has turned into a fairly comprehensive one-off survey of the Fishlake Meadows area. I've been pretty impressed with the bats present in the Meadows, compared with other local areas like Baddesley Common/Emer Bog, and Crampmoor which have been pretty disappointing.

One final surprise was in store, in the form of a very small Bat giving very little out on the Bat Detector. It was moving along the edge of the dense woodland, really close to the foliage right above my head, and I got some signals on the bat detector, which saved quite well to the recorder. I've studied the sonograms pretty thoroughly, and have concluded this was a Whiskered/Brandt's Bat. A widespread but fairly rare bat in the UK, and one which is probably under-recorded. As the two species are inseperable unless studied in the hand, I can only narrow down to it being one of the two species, but still a really good find.

Key features, including a sample of around 20 bat detector clicks recorded in 3 bursts:
* Very small bat,
* Flying back and forth along the edge of the tree canopy, passing really close to the foliage, about 4 metres high.
* Very quiet clicks on the bat detector, only really audible from less than 4 metres distance
* Habitat was woodland spilling out over  a calm canal about 4 metres wide
* Seen about 45 minutes after sunset, (but may have emerged earlier).
* Calls on the bat detector were averaging  3-4ms duration, with some as low as 2ms, and the longest being a single call of 7ms. (Next longest was 4ms)
* Inter pulse frequency ~80ms (~12 pulses per second), with some samples down to as low as 50ms (20 per second)
* Peak signal strength was ~60KHz (ranging from 58Khz to 62Khz). Literature varies here, with many references stating the peak to be around 45Khz, but I found at least two reputable sources quoting the peak as 60Khz.
* The frequency range was quite difficult to determine, as you can fiddle the brightness and contrast on the spectrogram and get any value you please!, but the best guess was from 41Khz to 74KHz

A very difficult animal to identify, but the small size rules out other Myotis bat species; and the flight path, signal structure, pulse duration, repetition rate, quietness of pulses and peak strength all rule out Soprano Pipistrelle (of which there are many in the area for comparison).


Sonogram, and signal spectrum below

Whiskered-Brandts
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• Saturday, July 23, 2011 - More Fishlake Meadows Bats

Returned to Fishlake Meadows and re-traced my steps form the midweek bat-walk. Was hoping to resolve the two that got away from that walk, and managed to confirm the Brown Longe Eared Bat, and also added Common Pipistrelle to the site's mammal list. (All previous Pipistrelles recorded have been Sopranos).


Also had a Badger pretty much walk into me, certainly closer than I would like to experience the sharp end of a Badger, but fortunately he bolted and ran off just as I noticed him.

Sonogram of the Brown Long Eared Bat, showing distinctive two elements to the signal. One from ~80-40Khz, the other from ~50-20Khz, with an overlap. Everything above are harmonics and can be ignored.

Brown Long Eared Bat Sonogram

So Fishlake now has pretty much all the "common" UK bat species present.. 2 Pipistrelles, Noctule, Natterer's Brown Long Eared, and Daubenton's. I'd like to explore the woodland edges to the north of the area for maybe a 7th species (Serotine being most likely)
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• Wednesday, July 20, 2011 - Fishlake Meadow Bat walk

Went on a Bat walk round Fishlake Meadows this evening. Was fairly successful with Soprano Pipistrelle, Natterer's and Daubenton's Bat all seen well. A Noctule was picked up very briefly, and unfortunately two other bats, which would have been good additions for the area, were too brief to be confirmed: A bat which whizzed past the detector without any call being detected was more than likely a Brown Long Eared, and even more tantalising, a very slow knocking echolocation in the high 30's KHz picked up briefly which may have been Barbastelle. This isn't beyond the realms of possibility as they are known in a site a few miles away, but they both got away tonight.

Birdwise, a Grasshopper Warbler, and at least two Tawny Owl families were the highlights. A Glow worm on the return to the car was a good surprise.
Still no Common Pipistrelle recorded at Fishlake Meadow, though they will almost certainly be present at the south end near the houses and streetlights.
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• Tuesday, July 19, 2011 - Some Butterfly action

Headed into Dorset in search of one of our Butterflies with a very restricted range in the UK.. the Lulworth Skipper. Eventually found a great area on Ballard Down, with numerous Skippers and Small Copper plus Brown Argus all present. One Skipper stood out as being very dull in flight compared to the "firey" Small Skippers, and the (Limited) consensus on Bird Forum points to Lulworth Skipper. Not a classic example with the crescent of dots on the upper forewing as I'd have liked, but subtlely different all the same with a very different golden/brown colour compared to the Orangey Small Skippers.
Also Dark Green Fritillary, Large Skipper, Small Skipper, Marbled White, Meadow Brown, Small Heath, Ringlet, Peacock, Red Admiral and Comma.
Double figure butterfly species is a very good day for me!

Elsewhere, close to the village, Many of the Hoe Lane fields have been harvested, and now look very promising. One field in particular had well over 500 Wood Pigeons amongst the stubble, plus at least one Stock Dove. Quite an impressive sight. Also a Stoat and a Peregrine seen here recently.

Local Little Ringed Plovers have bred successfully with 2 fairly advanced Juveniles seen yesterday.

Red Admiral Comma Comma

Marbled White Dark Green Fritillary Brown Argus

Small Copper Small Skipper Lulworth Skipper

Lulworth Skipper Lulworth Skipper
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• Saturday, July 2, 2011 - White Beaked Dolphins in Lyme Bay

Took part in a Marinelife survey in the English Channel on Friday. There is something magical about birding / Cetacean watching in the Channel, and this was the first boat trip I'd managed to go on since 2009. (It seems the weather was so bad last year that very few people made it out for a survey throughout the summer).

Friday's weather was perfect, and the Channel was as calm as I'd ever seen it. Not a single wave breaking.

Birdwise, it wasn't too bad either with a few Manx Shearwaters, 3 or 4 Storm Petrels, Kittiwakes, Puffin, Guillemots, and loads of Gannets. It was the Gannets that played a part in locating the White Beaked Dolphins, as their high numbers splash diving indicated areas rich in food.

After seeing a Harbour Porpoise briefly, two Dolphins were seen. They soon headed towards the boat, and we spend a few minutes surrounded by approximately 8 animals. Two in particular were swimming alongside the boat and even passing under it. Every so often they would surface giving unforgetable views.

The main purpose of the survey was to grab photos of dorsal fins for future identification and tracking of any well marked individuals. Looking at my photos, I got 3 very distinct dorsal fins, and a 4th unmarked one which should help in future surveys.

Dolphin photos:
White Beaked Dolphin White Beaked Dolphin White Beaked Dolphin

White Beaked Dolphin White Beaked Dolphin

And a few birds from the trip:

Guillemot:
Guillemots


Gannets:
Gannet Gannet Gannet
Gannet

Herring Gull:
Herring Gull
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• Monday, June 27, 2011 - Great views of some more local Bats

A fairly brief trip last night to the woodland just North of Michelmersh. I figured the combination of quarries and ancient woodland might prove good for Bats. Whilst waiting for dusk the birdlife was quiet with just a flock of 20-30 House Martins overhead moving purposefully South. Seems far too early for Migration, so maybe commuting between feeding grounds and roosts / nests.

Once the sun set, I was immediately picking up Common Pipistrelles, followed shortly after by a Myotis species, most likely Natterer's, but couldn't confirm this on the tape recordings. Did however, get Soprano Pipistrelle amongst the Common Pips. Best of the bunch was 3 Serotines, feeding very close in a circle above my head. All this while it was still light enough to make them out reasonably well, and fortunately, I had stumbled upon a real hotspot for Bat activity. A couple of Noctules headed purposefully through the valley - The range of the echolocation signal for Noctules is amazing. these were well over 100 metres away, and still the bat detector was thumping with their signals.

Finished off with another species, probably Brown Long Eared, which passed within a couple of metres of me, but characteristically, didn't register more than a couple of clicks.

A superb place crawling with bats, which probably warranted a longer survey, but it gets much harder from here...

7 Bat species seen this week:
Common Pip,
Soprano Pip,
Noctule,
Serotine,
Natterer's,
Daubenton's,
Brown Long Eared.

Other UK species which could potentially be found:
Barbastelle, (which I have recorded nearby), plus Nathusius's Pipistrelle, Leisler's, Greater Horseshoe, and Lesser Horseshoe which are all fairly easy to identify, but are all very rare locally.
Then there are Whiskered, Brandt's, Alcathoe, Bechstein's which are rare, and for me, very difficult to identify, even as a group, so best forgotten unless a new criteria for identifying with Heterodyne/FD Bat Detectors is discovered!
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• Saturday, June 25, 2011 - Purple Hairstreak drops in

A small Butterfly caught my eye in the garden, and I was amazed to realise it was a Purple Hairstreak coming to rest on a Honeysuckle bush. Purple Hairstreaks are seen most years in the Oaks next to the house, sometimes even in the tree canopy above the garden, but I have never seen one come down to ground level before.

Both Kathleen and myself wow'ed at this newly emerged Butterfly as it opened it's wings just as the sun emerged, changing its wings from brown to iridescent purple. A highlight of my wildlife year so far.


Purple Hairstreak Purple Hairstreak Purple Hairstreak
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• Friday, June 24, 2011 - Daubenton's success!

Finally managed to catch up with Daubenton's bats locally last night. Daubenton's are not a particularly rare Bat, but are one of my favourites after spending many evenings conducting surveys along the Canal in Milton Keynes. My allocated stretch turned out to be a hotspot for the species. They are easily picked up on the bat detector, but only really confirmed by a flash of the torch to reveal a Bat skimming low over the water, almost touching the surface. This exclusive "still water" habitat, and the fact they only really start to move in pitch black darkness makes them a species you aren't going to stumble across unless you target them specifically.


I have tried one or two likely areas recently with no success, so decided to head out along the fairly calm canals and stretches of the River Test at Fishlake. I'd almost given up, when a Daubenton's finally passed, and was followed by several typically brief sightings.


Also in the area were 3 or 4 Noctules, 2 decent sized swarms of Natterer's that were impossible to count, and about 4 Soprano Pipistrelle. No Common Pipistrelles surprisingly, although you wouldn't have to go far out of the meadows to start recording them.


On the bird front, there were two Grasshopper warblers reeling, Sedge Warbler, Blackcap, a Barn Owl and a family of Tawnies deep in the woods.


Got home to discover I had totally messed up my recordings for the night! Settings were wrong which impacted the quality, and even worse, for some unknown reason 2 of the 3 files were silent. Whether I have a broken cable or what I have no idea, but I need to resolve this quickly!
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• Tuesday, June 21, 2011 - Creakin’ and Squeakin’ !

Headed out just before dusk, my favourite time to be looking for wildlife, as it seems to be a niche where very few other birders go out. This makes it a good time to potentially find new stuff, and as darkness falls I can switch to Bats. Was hoping to find a Daubenten’s Bat. These bats are not particularly rare, but require very calm water over which they glide a few centimetres above the surface. I have yet to see one in Hampshire.

Started off at the ex-Gravel pit in Dunbridge. The footpath has now been changed to run alongside the lake, but it is still 100 yards or so from the water’s edge, and the footpath is fenced off so disturbance to the water birds shouldn’t be a problem. This is excellent news, as this site hopefully establishes itself. Just 2 Tufted Ducks amongst about 20 Mallards on this visit, and a Little Grebe. After sunset, 2 Brown Long Eared Bats emerged, quite early for this species, and gave me superb views as they passed within a metre of me back and forth along a hedge following the old footpath. This site always looks to have potential and the new layout could improve it still further with lots of abandoned weedy areas along the route of the old footpath. Much of the area is fenced off and out of bounds which always helps! I saw a Red Kite drift overhead on a recent visit.

By now, it was pitch dark, so I headed to my safe bet for a Daubenten’s. Didn’t look too promising initially, then my Bat detector battery ran out putting a swift end to proceedings. It was then that I heard young Owls calling in the distance. They didn’t sound much like Tawnies, and no adults calling either. In fact, they sounded like a squeaky gate! Long Eared Owl would be almost unbelievable in the Test Valley, but I couldn’t get a glimpse of these birds despite positioning myself really close.
Studied the sound recordings back home, and I was none the wiser.. they sounded like LEO, but I also found a Tawny call on xeno cante which was very similar. Put the recording on Birdforum which returned 1 possible LEO, 1 possible SEO, and 2 fairly confident votes for Tawny. (Although not many people were willing to stick there neck out on this one compared with the multitude of Linnets, Meadow Pipits, and Chiff-chaffs that seem to get half a dozen confirmations within 10 minutes!) I had ruled out Short Eared with them being very much absent from my area as a breeder, and the habitat not right, but the feedback from Birdforum was pretty much the same as what was going on in my mind.. most likely a Tawny but, I had a nagging doubt about Long–Eared.
Returned the following evening, and luckily the birds were still there calling at dusk.. Got views this time and sadly for me, but not unexpectedly, they were Tawnies!! The calls although initially sounding Squeaky, are actually more Creaky than Squeaky, which is something to bear in mind in the future.
 http://www.surfbirds.com/blog/uploads/p/petermk/30383.mp3
Still, no Daubenten’s and I think the canal through Romsey is probably my best chance locally now.
1 Jay in the garden recently is a welcome change from Blackbirds, Magpies, and a Crow.
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• Monday, May 30, 2011 - Farlington

Wanted to go out this morning, but the weather looked pretty bad with heavy rain slowly coming in from the west, and a scattering of fog along the South coast. Really wanted to head to Portland, but the weather put me off, and it looks like I made the right decision as fog looks to have stopped play there for much of the day. So I headed East, hopefully away from the rain to Farlington on the edge of Portsmouth. This in itself was a gamble with the threat of fog, but thankfully visibility was good, and the rain held off.


There were no surprises birdwise, but it was good to see Bearded Tit, Med. Gull, Black Tailed Godwits, plus a Brent Goose, and decent numbers of Little Terns in the distance. Got photos of the Med Gull, and the flock of Black-Wits, but the results are crying out for better light!...

Mediterranean Gull Mediterranean Gull

Black-Tailed Godwits Black-Tailed Godwits
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• Monday, May 30, 2011 - 4 days in Hampshire and Dorset

I was lucky enough to have 4 days free to do as I please last week. Decied to go birding to fairly local places that I have recently neglected like Salisbury Plain, New Forest, Keyhaven, and finally a day a little further afield on Portland Bill. The weather was mostly fine throughout, but with strong South west winds, there was little chance of anything too far from the ordinary.


Keyhaven, in particular, was uncharacteristically quiet with very few waders, and the mass of species you associate with this prime coastal area was well down. Still, it had Little Terns, and plenty of photo opportunities close to the footpath. Most notably Common Terns and Shelduck.

Common Tern Shelduck

Salisbury Plain was a similar story with very little excitement on a hot afternoon. However, this was made up for with a fairly dense population of Corn Buntings along the "Marlborough Road" (one of the larger public-accessible tank tracks).

Corn Bunting

So it was left to the New Forest to pick up the pieces, and fortunately the two areas I visited were heaving with birds.. Dartford Warbler, Wood Warbler, Tree Pipit, Redstart, Firecrest, Goshawk, Woodlark, Hawfinch, Raven, Mandarin and Crossbill, plus the Buzzard was almost a clean sweep (Lesser Spotted Woodpecker once again being the most elusive of the specialities, for me anyway).

Mandarin




My last day of "holiday" took me to Portland Bill. I went on a pretty decent walk round the peninsular, but despite hope in the form of a Golden Oriole seen at the Observatory, and brief Bee-Eater and Rosefinch sightings. I wasn't able to add anything of substance to the days sightings (In fact I even missed the three highlights mentioned above). Did get plenty of photos, and saw a Great Skua cut over the fields near the observatory, pursued by Gulls.

Peregrine Kestrel Wall Brown

Had an enjoyable end to the day at RSPB Lodmoor, where Shelduck, Common and sandwich Terns, plus another overland Great Skua were the highlights amongst lots of photography.

Sandwich Tern Shelduck Tufted Duck

House Sparrow Coot Common Tern

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• Sunday, May 8, 2011 - Siskin drops in

More rain overnight, and no chance of checking out the local area today, but a Siskin dropped into the garden feeders briefly. The only one this year, and quite late compared with previous years when Siskins tend to appear in good numbers in March and early April. Not even sure if this one is a migrant, or one breeding locally perhaps.

Photobucket
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• Saturday, May 7, 2011 - Overnight rain, but no surprises

Overnight rain certinaly didn't come to nothing this time with a good few downpours, and thunder for most of the night. It was still thundering when I set out at 7am. Stayed in the car, and checked out some fields initially! before the rain eased off, and I walked around Baddesley Common. A few bursts of Tree Pipit song, a Garden Warbler, and a Hobby were the best I could manage. There was also a flock of around 10 Linnets, and a probable Stonechat which was too distant to confirm, plus a few Swallows flying low, and a couple of Willow Warblers too.

Later, I watched a Peregrine high over Rownhams, and Firecrest singing again at Toothill amongst a few Goldcrests.

More rain tonight, so there are still hopes of something dropping into the local area.
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• Tuesday, May 3, 2011 - Bank Holiday Monday

Took my youngest Daughter out for a walk on Monday. decided to go along the Canal by Fishlake Meadows which is a superb place recently. Getting on for 100 Swifts over the main lake, and I managed Nightingale, Sedge Warbler, Garden Warbler, Blackcap, Cetti's, and Chiff-Chaff despite constant distractions from my youngest.

Later on, checked out the bare earth fields around the village. would have liked to have checked out pea and bean fields for Dotterel, but these fields seem to be rarer than Dotterel themselves locally! Three newly fledged Lapwing chicks was a big surprise. I'm used to seeing several Lapwing territories around the village, but never any signs of successful breeding. Maybe this will be a good year for them.
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• Saturday, April 30, 2011 - Whitethroat vid / farewell to the dog walkers' field

The overnight rain didn't amount to much, and this morning's new migrants also fell short. Headed to the dog walkers' field where the only movement was a trickle of Swallows, and a couple of Stock Doves that seem to have been in the area for a few days now. These would be an overdue garden tick if they venture into the village.

One thing the field is not lacking at the moment is Whitethroats, and I would be surprised if anywhere in England has such a density of them. Pretty much every bush has one singing from the top! Got some video footage of a fairly confiding one below.. Hard to believe, but this was the last visit I will make into the Dog Walkers's field! Later in the morning, the entrances were getting fenced up, and "private" signs were going up. This will be quite a shock for locals who have walked their dogs there for many years, but I guess good news in the short term for the wildlife. (I can also scan half of the field from the boundary, though I suspect it will deteriorate into a private woodland, or oil seep rape field eventually. If the owners go to the trouble of fencing it up, they aren't going to leave it as fallow grassland for long).


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• Friday, April 29, 2011 - Hobbys on the move, and Firecrest confirmed locally

Decided to check out the hillside just North of Broughton first thing this morning. Like Broughton and Danebury, the hillside looks great for Ring Ouzels, Redstarts etc., but all three venues have never really lived up to expectations for me. The weather was a fairly strong NE wind, and was uncomfortably cold compared with recently. Fairly quiet too, with just a Lesser Whitethroat, a few Yellowhammers, and two Ravens over. However, the morning became memorable with 3 separate sightings of Hobby.. a pair high up and heading North seen from the hillside, a single at Dunbridge, and two more heading North over Toothill. I also picked out a burst of Firecrest song amongst Goldcrests and Coal Tits in Toothill. I heard a suspected Firecrest here a few weeks ago, so good to confirm for definate.
As I type, the most eagerly awaited rain of the year is falling. Hopefully migrants on the ground tomorrow.
Male Sparrowhawk on a sorty over the house
Sparrowhawk

• Monday, April 25, 2011 - Fuerteventura Part II: Lake Rosa de Catalina Migrants

The well publicised lake was about 40 minutes drive from the hotel, and I visited 3 times.. at Dawn on 12th April 2011, and two evening visits on 15th April and 18th April.

It is a superb oasis, this year at least, with at least 2 large broods of Ruddy Shelducks, and plenty of other birds including Sardinian Warbler, Hoopoe, Turtle Dove, Lesser Short Toed Lark, Pallid Swift and Little Egret. However, the highlight of my first two visits were the number of migrants, most of which look to have departed by my final visit.
The first obvious migrant I picked up was a Pied Flycatcher, closely followed by 3 Garganey, 2 Green Sandpipers, Common Sandpiper, Yellow Wagtails, Swallows, and a Purple Heron flushed from the lake by a small pack of stray dogs. To illustrate how significant this lake was, the Heron could do nothing but circle the lake waiting for the dogs to move on, as there is no other suitable habitat for many miles.
My first visit concluded with 2 partially summer plumaged Curlew Sandpipers.

My second visit was even more productive. I found an almost dry 2nd lagoon from the car, with waders round the edge. Luckily there was easy access from the road, and I slowly worked my way towards the shoreline. Here was Spotted Redshank, Avocet, 7 Curlew Sandpipers, and a Little Stint. I was most impressed with the Little Stint and Spot-shank, but I later found that the Avocet, which I largely ignored, trumps them both in terms of rarity value on the Island. Later on the main lake, I found a Great Reed Warbler. No question that this was a good find as I couldn't recall any trip reports mentioning one. Didn't manage to get any photos as the light descended, but did see it distantly in the reeds, and quite close in flight between reed beds several times. I wonder if these birds are truly rare, or just go un-noticed every year. I didn't see any other birders during my stay, and late April is not a good time to visit the Islands solely for birding. the extreme heat meant only a couple of hours birding was possible in the morning and again in the evening!

Ruddy Shelduck (Click for larger version):
  Ruddy Shelduck






Little Ringed Plover:



Various birds including Southern Grey Shrike, Curlew sandpiper, and Cream Coloured courser:

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• Monday, April 25, 2011 - Fuerteventura Part I: Desert and local specialities

Spent an enjoyable family holiday in Fuerteventura. The Island exceeded my expectations for wildlife watching even though a couple of my target species eluded me. We spent the two weeks based in Costa Calma, which is at the southern end of the Island with some quality desert habitat on the doorstep. In addition, my stay coincided with what looked to be a good stream of passage migrants, most of which had moved on by the end of my stay.

 I've split the trip into two blog entries.. "The desert and local specialities" in this post, and "Lake Rosa de Catalina Migrants" in a future blog post.



Part I: Desert and local specialities

The desert environment was, typically, hard work. Southern Grey Shrike, Trumpeter Finch, Raven and Lesser Short Toed Lark were fairly easy to pick up. Everything else was quite difficult. I managed to locate 5 seperate territories of Canary Island Stonechat, none of which seem to be publicised on previous trip reports, which suggest that once the initial feeling of "This place is birdless" has passed, the birds can be found.
Houbara was also quite difficult, but once a dedicated search was made in the early evening, I found a displaying bird within a few minutes of entering the desert.
I had no joy with Barbary Partridge, and only probable views of Barbary Falcon and Sandgrouse. A testimony to how difficult the "Self-found" birding can be on the Island. Two weeks, and I usually expect to pretty much clean up on a wish list, unless we are talking inside the Arctic Circle!

Other birds seen were African Blue tit, Spoonbill, Kentish Plover, Egyptian Vulture, Kestrel and Buzzard.

Best of the other wildlife was: Kuhl's Pipistrelle, Hamia Lizard, Bath White, Monarch, and Clouded yellow Butterfly.

Seawatching was largely unproductive with just a small number of Cory's Shearwaters on offer.

Photos below (Click for larger photos):

Southern Grey Shrike, Trumpeter Finch and Houbara:
Southern Grey Shrike Trumpeter Finch Houbara
Cream Coloured Courser:
Cream Coloured Courser Cream Coloured Courser Cream Coloured Courser
Canary Island Stonechat:
Canary Islands Stonechat Canary Islands Stonechat Canary Islands Stonechat
Bath White, and Clouded Yellow:
Bath White Clouded Yellow

Plus video footage of:

Displaying Houbara:





Haria Lizard:





Spanish Sparrow:




Raven:

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• Sunday, April 24, 2011 - 4-Star bat watch, and a fuerteventura bat

Headed out to Michelmersh at dusk armed with bat detector. A couple of memorable sightings.. firstly of many 10's of Maybugs flying out of a field and over my head into the woodland, followed by a Hare which ran right up to me, certainly within a metre, before noticing me and scarpering.


Bats were fairly numerous with 4 species picked up during the evening: Common and Soprano Pipistrelle, Serotines (showing really well), and a Noctule. Arrived home to find Common Pipistrelle and Serotine around the house!


Recently spent two weeks in Fuerteventura. Bats here were very scarce, but I did eventually pick up a Pipistrelle on my detector. Kuhl's Pipistrelle is the only species I'm aware of on the island, and this bat had a peak frequency of ~43KHz, which kind of supports this albeit a little high, and also suggests that the Canary Islands bats, and Madeiran Pipistrelle are probably not as clear cut as you would hope.
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• Friday, April 22, 2011 - Firecrest and Marsh Tit brighten up the Dawn Chorus

I was out at dawn this morning at my usual vantage point overlooking the River Test. There was expectation in the air as a Montys had passed through earlier in the week, and the New Forest Black Stork is making a few fairly wide passes through the local sky. All this excitement together with the ongoing Easterlies meant something good could pass by, but it wasn't to be this morning. Skies were largely empty except for a couple of Swallows and the local Finches, Woodpigeons and Crows. Best I could manage was a Firecrest in the dawn chorus. Recorded a wave file of the Firecrest and a Marsh Tit simultaneously. Saves storage space I guess if you have two species on one file!

On the way home, a Lesser Whitethroat was at Dunbridge, and a Wheatear, quite surprisingly, was at Toothill Paddocks. I had big hopes for Toothill paddocks last Spring, but only managed Firecrest in the whole of last Spring before giving up on the area!
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• Sunday, April 3, 2011 - BTO Survey season starts!

Two BTO surveys yesterday morning was pretty knackering, but enjoyable all the same.
Not much in the way of highlights on my first survey at Broadlands Lake and the M27! a Lapwing, 2 Shelducks, and a few Chiff-Chaffs and Blackcaps was about the best I could manage against a backdrop of traffic.

My 2nd survey further North, had a good mixture of Farmland, woodland, and hillside. I found Wheatear, Corn Bunting and Willow Warbler here, plus a super Badger's Sett, which looked like it had used JCBs to dig out the chalk!:


The hillside on the survey does look ideal for Redstarts and maybe even a Ring Ouzel in the spring, but the area never seems to hold any surprises. Not much movement overhead either except for Meadow Pipits, and a flock of 20+ fieldfares.

Checked out  the local sewage treatment works on the way home, but nothing was in the drums today. This has happened twice now, both times in windy weather.

Also a Little Ringed Plover seen this week:

Taken with Motorola defy phone held against Nikon scope! A really lightweight method of getting long range record shots!
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• Wednesday, March 30, 2011 - Heron overhead, and Stock Doves

Called in briefly at the turf fields in Misselbrook lane on the way home, maybe hoping for an early Wheatear, but no joy. There is a decent sized area of bare earth which the birds love, and today's highlight was 8 Stock Doves. Also, 4 Wood Pigeons and 3 or 4 Pied Wagtails, all very distant.


We have a local Heron visiting the rooftops lately. No doubt there is a goldfish pond in the area. Grabbed a shot of it in flight recently. Probably my first flight shot since Fulmars on Unst on 2009!
Sun was in front of me, but editting in canon photo utility software managed to bring out some details.

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• Monday, March 28, 2011 - Garden news, and Goldfinch "Extreme close up" video

More news from yesterday....

Two Bramblings remain in the trees behind the house. They seem to be overstaying their welcome, but then again it is still only March! Also a pair of Mallards were in the stream today, very unusual, but I predict that the stream will start to get more and more water species now the industry upstream has closed down, and the water clears.


Got video footage of a Goldfinch on the Nyger feeder, including extreme close up! Best viewed in HD if your PC allows. (initially at 400mm with 3x digital zoom, then 5x, and finally 8x digital zoom)

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• Sunday, March 27, 2011 - Chiff-Chaffs arrive in numbers

Very little around the village at the moment. A morning walk round Baddesley common, felt more like July than late March, and I only managed quite a few Chiff-chaffs, and a couple of Skylarks, plus Kestrel and Buzzard. No sign of any Linnets, Yellowhammers, Stonechats, Woodlarks etc. The rest of the village isn't faring much better either, although, I'm pretty sure I heard Firecrest back at a local territory this morning. The song wasn't classic, and left a small doubt that it was Goldcrest, so hopefully he'll hang around and develop into the full song, or even show himself amongst the canopy at some stage. Elsewhere, 1 Lapwing in fresh plough, and plenty of Buzzards in the airspace including 5 over my house. Finally, this afternoon, 2 Sand Martins flew north high up over the house.



Chiff-Chaff.  f8, 1/500sec, ISO 200
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• Tuesday, March 22, 2011 - Red-Legged Partridge new for the garden list

Had to fill my car with oil first thing this morning. The extra 10 minutes spent at the house just after dawn was very worthwhile as a garden first flew past at a rate of knots... a Red-Legged Partridge! It looked to be about to land in the street, but must have seen me move and carried on into the small parkland behind the house. Totally unexpected, Red-Legged Partridges are one of many species that are easily found within 5 minutes walk from the house, but are never expected to venture into the densely populated village. So there is maybe hope for Meadow Pipit, Linnet, Stonechat, Woodcock, Stock Dove and Whitethroat to join the Partridge on the list.
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• Saturday, March 19, 2011 - Brook, 19th March 2011

A fairly tough couple of hours this morning near Brook overlooking the Test, although due to the thick mist I didn't see the river until on my descent back to the car.


1 Barn Owl on the edge of Romsey was good to see, and the best of the birds whilst watching from the hillside was a distant Crossbill, heard but not seen. A bit of migration was in progress with 4 Meadow Pipits, 1 Reed Bunting and a Pied Wag. over. My South facing viewpoint is definately the way to go in Spring, as at least half of the birds turned into the slight east wind and headed up the small valley. My alternative watchpoint would have missed them,  and would have been very quiet this morning!


I also saw 2 Buzzards, 2 Sparrowhawks a Kestrel and a Fox. Obviously a good healthy eco-system with so many predators present!


Took some footage of a Greenfinch being outsung by a Great Tit...

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• Friday, March 18, 2011 - Brambling

Plenty of activity around the garden. We now have at least three Bramblings in the trees just over the fence. One photo'd below ventured into our garden in the "impossible" tree. Think it is a Whitebeam, with so many twigs, despite being really close it is pretty much impossible to photograph anything without an obscured view...



Handheld, f8, 1/350sec, ISO1600 @400mm with EOS600d.. New camera looks to have an improvement in quality at a higher ISO.. I'd never have dared going above ISO800 with the 500d!
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• Sunday, March 13, 2011 - First results with an EOS600d

Upgraded my camera this weekend to an EOS 600d. My previous body, a 500d, has served me well, but this new model has some pretty big improvements over it, especially with the video. Weather was really dull for most of the weekend, but I did manage a short stint in the sun in the back garden, and a trip to Fishlake Meadows in really overcast conditions. Surprisingly, I have only taken one photo so far, compared to 40 pieces of video footage!

Chaffinch just beyond the back garden (~10 metres distance), with the 100-400mm lens (at 275mm) and 3x digital zoom. The digital zoom works really well at the low end 3x - 6x. Above that and it was starting to look pretty desperate, especially in poor light!
The tiltable lcd viewer was very useful for pointing up into the treetops without having to move the tripod or strain your neck, but I kept having to come back to 100mm to find the bird. Can't see the swivel lcd being any use at all with a fixed telephoto lens.

The combination of the 3x digital zoom and 400mm focal length is pretty powerful, and brought a lot more birds comfortably into range.

Best viewed at 720p or 1080p...



The Common Gull at Fishlake was a good 150-200 Metres away, but came out as a good record shot at least. Hopefully I'll get to try the extreme end of the zoom in good light in the coming weeks. I've calculated that this footage was at 128x magnification! (or 6400mm)

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• Saturday, March 5, 2011 - Goosanders, and a new watchpoint

Tried a slightly different hillside this morning along the Test, in between the two regular look-out points. This one at the top of a small disused quarry, and with a decent view in both directions of the River Test. No migration yet, as you would expect, but a few local birds moving around. Highlight was 5 Goosanders, all red heads, feeding on a small stretch of river. This location could be good in the Spring as it overlooks a valley heading East from the Test, which a few migrant birds might be diverted into. The valley itself might hold one or two surprises too.

Back at the car, my heart sunk when I saw a roadkill, which initially looked like the Barn Owl that has recently set up territory. On closer examination it was a Tawny. Still sad, but Tawny's are at least fairly abundant in the area. Barn Owls seem to be struggling.


Vis-mig time!...

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• Tuesday, March 1, 2011 - Dregbruary!

Anyone else think February is the worst month of the year for wildlife watching? I do!
I know... "what about July?" I hear you all scream, but at least July has nice weather, loads of insects, Cetaceans round the coast, Bats, and plenty of recently fledged birds all over the place.

February? Well, it's just pants! If you manage to get out in conditions above Sub-Antarctic, you have short days, very little wildlife other than birds, and well, the birds aren't exactly doing much. No migration, no signs of spring apart from Goshawks and Woodlarks if you are lucky. I guess it's good if you are a yearlister, and are picking off a few species new for the year, but everything else is pretty much the same as the last 4 months!.
My database of sightings shows February to be pretty dire for birds.. only July is worse. This month, at least I had a Brambling and Reed Bunting double act in the garden, and finding Waxwings in London last week was class.

Have ventured out around the village, but not much happening. There is a total lack of Stonechats at the moment, a combination of habitat loss at one site, and presumably the bad weather taking out the others, but there is still time for a pair to return. (They have been reported on Baddesley Common at least).
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• Friday, February 18, 2011 - Garden Brambling

A few bits and pieces round the garden this week. A Brambling has returned to the garden, and visits the feeders occasionally. Some video footage below. I'm really preferring video to stills these days, despite the hassle uploading to the web, and the fact that unless you have a high spec PC, you'll probably struggle to view it. It shows so much more than a single photo though. For example,  I only realised from the video that this bird was preferring the Nyger seed to the regular wild bird food.




Also, one or two moths in the milder weather. The Moth below had me going, as the additional spots on the kidney mark would kind of suggest Red-Headed Chestnut. However, this is extremely rare in Hampshire, and the UK. No one else seems to share this view though, (without really explaining why!), so it looks like being a regular Chestnut Moth..


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• Saturday, February 12, 2011 - Pintail

Started at Dawn this morning at Brook Watchpoint. Pretty quiet, as you'd expect for February, but a Barn Owl was new for the area. Very little moving up the valley. Even the Gulls were down to just a couple of small flocks, and the Cormorants failed to show. Tried a few places further North, but not much doing here either.

Called in at Fishlake on the way home. Plenty of birds here at least, mainly Gulls, and a big Lapwing flock. Managed some video of a Drake Pintail...

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• Sunday, January 30, 2011 - Hen Harrier, Merlin, and Corn Buntings on the Hampshire downs


Headed North to the Farmland around Jack's Bush in NW Hampshire this morning. Weather was very bright sunshine and -2 Degrees C. Fortunately no wind today, so it didn't feel too cold.


Jack's Bush in the Winter nearly always holds some good birds, but it takes a lot of walking to find them. Best birds today were a Ringtail Hen Harrier, a Male Merlin, 25 Corn Buntings and 31 Golden Plovers.
Also around 40 Lapwings, 100 Linnets, plus Yellowhammer, Reed Bunting, Skylark, Fieldfare and Redwing.


The Merlin was quite some distance away.. I could only positively identify with the 32x magification of the scope! so I was pleased with the record shots below. The 1.4 teleconvertor makes all the difference with long range shots.




One Corn Bunting allowed a fairly close approach for some video footage.. again the teleconvertor made the difference here..

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• Sunday, January 23, 2011 - Wintering Chiff-Chaff, and Moorhen video

Always find mild periods in Winter pretty tough for birding, and the last couple of weekends seem to have backed this up. I can't even remember where I went last Sunday, but today, I headed out to the flooded fields at Luzborough Lane, and these look full of potential with not one, but 4 decent sized pools in the cattle field. In previous years this field has held Shelduck, and a Green Sandpiper on one occasion, but today there were just a distant flock of 40+ Lapwings, and about 20 Pied Wagtails. Not bad, and worth keeping an eye on in the coming months.


At Compton Sewage works, 1 Chiff Chaff was with the Chaffinches, Grey Wagtail, and Meadow Pipits. Romsey STW was empty again, and for some reason doesn't seem to be much good for birds judging by my recent visits.


Finished the morning at Skidmore, which also has a decent sized flooded field this WInter, but only a Pied Wagtail here. Did get some footage of Moorhens on the far bank of the Test, using EOS500d, 1.4 Kenko Teleconvertor, and a Canon 100-400mm lens.


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• Thursday, January 13, 2011 - Where there's muck...

There ain't much birds in this case!

More off-track birding, armed with a Garmin Oregon 450T complete with aerial photos, I headed out west from Romsey towards the relatively enormous Sewage works, where I promptly went off at a tangent to the public footpath!

If the puny King's Sombourne works can hold a Water Pipit, who knows what would be lurking here! Eventually managed to check out 5 of the 6 filtration beds from outside the perimeter fence, but  the sum total was just a single Grey Wagtail, and a lot of extremely deep mud.

Still, the area where I was scanning from looked good for Warblers, and maybe Redstarts / Flycatchers in the Spring, and is probably worth a couple of short visits. Then again, I had the same thoughts about the Toothill paddocks last Spring!
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• Sunday, January 9, 2011 - Water Pipit

Started off at Brook Watchpoint this morning, in sunny but freezing weather. First impressions weren't good as the daily commute of Gulls was much further away than the Lower Brook watch were they pass almost overhead. However, that aside, it was a pleasant hour with Peregrine, 2 Ravens, and a couple of Skylarks overhead, plus 60 Cormorants (the most I have ever recorded moving up the River Test.)

On the ground, there is a good stretch of river bank to scan and this morning I found a Little Egret and a Water Rail showing well, in the distance. I have a good feeling that I will one day see an Otter from one of these watchpoints.

I finished the morning at a nearby Sewage Works. After soem improvisation, I was able get a good view of the beds, and was rewarded with a Water Pipit amongst  Meadow Pipits, Pied and Grey Wagtails, Redwings, Chaffinches and a Robin all feeding in the gravel. Took lots of photos, but the distance was ridiculous, and the only two reasonable pics are below. They do, however, show the main features: Plain uppers, white tail edges, supercilium, dark legs, very white underparts. I also noted the brown rump, slightly larger size than the adjacent Meadow Pipits, and very fine streaking on flanks.


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• Tuesday, January 4, 2011 - Waxwings drop in

Waxwings finally arrived in the village over the weekend,and in the area that I had been checking out quite regularly, but unfortunately they were not found by me.. I did however, get some satisfaction of raising the total from 30 to 100, before it was raised further to 110!
So, putting my competitive nature to one side, they were a wonderful sight, even though photos did not materialise due to a combination of poor weather, distant views, and extreme close views with a bedroom window in the background!

I also took a nice short walk round Manor Farm. My previous visit was ruined slightly by 2 dogs jumping all over me, which has prompted me to spend more time away from public footpaths this year! My traipse across non-public farm tracks was fairly uneventful with just a flock of 100 Skylarks, and 10 Linnets seen, but I did check out three more fields of Stubble in the area that usually go unwatched. This is the area where the recent Lapland Bunting presumably emerged from, and there is more stubble round here than on George Michael! which makes me wonder if the Bunting is still in the area.

Finally, I checked out my new vis-mig watchpoint for the coming year. This hillside is a mile north of Park Farm, and recommended to me by a fellow birder. Views are, if anything, better than Park Farm and access is much quicker, though a lot steeper!
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• Sunday, January 2, 2011 - Salisbury Plain

Made a pretty good start to 2011 on all fronts..
A Grey Wagtail, and a Little Egret have both been seen from the house, and a December Moth (a much awaited first) was on the window last night. Also had a Male Brambling briefly on December 31st, but he hasn't yet made an appearance in 2011.

This afternoon, I headed up the Test Valley, quite a few flocks of Finches and Thrushes as you'd expect but nothing noteworthy. 16 Pied Wagtails and 4 Meadow Pipits at Nether Wallop Sewage works was a good count for the site.

I finished the day at Yarnbury on Salisbury Plain where the highlights were:
1 Ringtail Hen Harrier
1 Merlin
1 Short Eared Owl
28 Corn Buntings.

Short Eared Owls  are getting harder here with every passing year, and today's sighting was quite brief and in near darkness.
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• Thursday, December 30, 2010 - 2010 Review!

Quite a tough year for birding on a personal level, to put it mildly! I have never suffered from too many "ones that got away" in the past, but these certainly caught up with me in 2010: Possible Great White Egret, Black Redstart, Leisler's Bat, Whiskered / Brandt's Bat, Alcathoe Bat!, Lunar Yellow Underwing Moth, a Buzzard seen briefly from the car with black terminal tail band contrasting sharply with a white tail base! plus several brief glimpses of skulking Warblers in shetland, and a few others that have mercifully been erased from my memory... I didn't get good enough views to clinch any of the above.

But it wasn't all bad news. 2010 did have some good highlights, my top 10 for 2010:

1. Vis-Mig: 15 years ago I had a conversation with a good friend, after seeing a flock of Redshanks pass over my head in Milton Keynes, about the virtues of going to the highest peak and watching birds flying through. We dismissed this idea due to the poor views you would get! Fast forward, and now vis-mig is big business! However, I have always tended to give vis-mig a miss as it brings up images of counting WoodPigeons and Meadow Pipits. Well, I am now converted.. vis-mig is awesome! I spent many hours in the Test Valley gazing skywards, and had many memorable sightings in addition to seeing impressive spectacles of bird migration. My chosen watchpoint had Osprey and Peregrine within 10 minutes of me arriving on my first visit, and has since turned up 2 Lapland Buntings, a Kittiwake, and an unforgetable experience of several thousand Starlings low over my head on their way to their evening roost. Vis-mig is now the bread and butter of my birding. Not that my chosen watchpoint is anything special! At a mere 80 metres above sea level, it barely registers as a physical feature, but with the River Test winding it's way past, it does act as a magnet, and it is surprising how the birds seem to be drawn along the steep hillside and ridge.

2. Kimbridge.. I've often been more successful in finding good places than in finding good birds! The lake at Kimbridge looks excellent, and even better it is fenced off so remains undisturbed. It all looks good on paper, but the birds haven't really caught on yet! two Little Ringed Plovers through much of Spring was nice, and a Common Sandpiper has briefly dropped in. The December cold snap brought a Goshawk in. Maybe this is a site for 2011.

3. Shetland. Unst in September saw North West winds throughout my stay which is a birders worst nightmare! It wasn't all bad news though with Sooty shearwaters, and Common Rosefinches amongst plenty of soul searching, and watching the locals mop up the rarities in front of my eyes!

4. Glanville's Fritillary: Finally caught up with one of these Butterflies at Hurst. One of those sightings where you begin to think they don't exist, then 10 minutes later can't believe how easy they were!

5. Cirl Bunting: My only new UK self found species in 2010, and as with all sedentary breeders, it didn't really feel like a "find".

6. Garden List.. A superb addition to the garden list in the form of a pair of Little Egrets. One actually sat in the oak tree above me as I typed on my PC in the conservatory. Proof that anything can turn up absolutely anywhere, and the small brook next to the house finally delivering a waterbird. Kingfisher next please!

7. Firecrests: One species I had no problem finding in 2010 was the Firecrest. ... Was 2010 the year when they became totally established outside the traditional territories in Hampshire?

8: Moths: Finally caught a Small Elephant Hawkmoth in 2010, and the garden continues to turn up new species fairly regularly. My UK total has now broken the 200 barrier!

9. Technology: Had great fun this year in putting Technology to use in seeking out wildlife. My Zoom H2 recorder really caught on with Bat Surveys from the car, overnight surveys (with the bat box and recorder hidden in a weatherproof box!), and overnight migration monitoring from the garden! All with varying degrees of success. This together with my camera system ensured most of what I saw throughout the year got captured to some degree. The best example of Technology put to good use was the Lapland Bunting flight calls captured at Park Farm. I can imagine me going through the usual self-doubt, and "Single Observer Hell" without this recording!

10. A brief sighting of another Lapland Bunting, this time over farmland on the edge of the village during the cold spell. A very brief view, and a couple of renditions of the call, but it gives hope that the weekly slog around often empty fields can be worthwhile eventually! This was definately the year of the Lapland Bunting!

Hopes for 2011:

I am faced with an ever decreasing list of new UK butterflies to see. Lulworth Skipper is probably the last relatively easy species left for me to see, if only I can get to Dorset during their flight season.

Alcathoe Bat: My main target for the year is to resolve the mystery bat picked up at dawn , and likely to be an Alcathoe based on my field notes. Hopefully it will be faithful to the woodland fringe where I first saw it.

Shetland: another long weekend in shetland would be god. Maybe Sumburgh, and the South Mainland this time round.
Best Wishes for 2011everyone!
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• Sunday, December 19, 2010 - Lapland Bunting II

Back ache has kept me from any serious walks lately, and Park Farm is pretty much out of the question for at least another week while I recover, but I have drove around the village once or twice in search of Waxwings. I'm familiar with pretty much all the berry laden trees in the village now, but no joy so far! Plenty of Redwings, Fieldfare, Starlings and Blackbirds though.

This morning I headed out to Manor Farm on Flexford road. Most of the fields here are now stubble, and pretty good for flocks of WoodPigeon, Chaffinches, and Corvids. I'd no sooner got out of the car and a Sparrowhawk passed low hunting for prey, followed shortly afterwards by the unmistakable flight call of a Lapland Bunting. After what seemed like an eternity it called again, closer! I saw it briefly as it flew over some trees and continued North East. It seemed to be quite low, so I grabbed my camera, scope, and tripod, and headed off in search of it. I couldn't find it in any of the 4 fields visible off a track heading north of the road, and couldn't see any sign back in the original field. I have a suspicion it came out of the stubble fields, possibly after being spooked by the Sparrowhawk, and hopefully will return to the area, but picking it out of the stubble fields will be near impossible.
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• Monday, December 6, 2010 - A possible Alcathoe Bat?

I happened to stumble on some details of Alcathoe Bat today. Alcathoe Bat is newly discovered in the UK as of April 2010, and despite only recently being discovered, is thought to be fairly common but overlooked. In particular, I read:
"Echolocation: Steep FM echolocation calls terminating at 43 – 46 kHz, sometimes up to 49 kHz. "
Which reminded me of a previous blog entry, where I was completely stumped by a bat flying amongst a small group of swarming Natterer's:
"Along the edge of some woods a group of Natterer's were zooming past inches from me, plus one other bat that I couldn't pick up any signal at 45Khz or below, but seemed to give out fairly strong "myotis" like signals above 50Khz. Bechstein's is my best guess, but with very little confidence. One to try for another time I guess. "
Now, I'm not going to make 2+2=5! but the first thing I'm going to do in the Spring will be to revisit this woodland with my bat detector!
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• Saturday, December 4, 2010 - The Mist descends

I had a feeling that the watchpoint overlooking the River Test would be worth a couple of hours first thing today. A good chance of wildfowl passing through maybe, and who knows, the Waxwings seem to be getting ever closer.. However, it wasn't to be this morning, a thick mist covered the river valley, and the cold air limited the number of birds moving. A few Winter Thrushes and a small trickle of Gulls was all I saw in a 2 hour vigil. I did see a Barn Owl nearby which was a first for me in the area, and completes the set of three "commoner" Owl species all within about 500 metres.


Headed up to the Wallops, but it was fairly tame here with just winter Thrushes in a couple of the less frozen fields.
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• Friday, December 3, 2010 - Garden Brambling

Plenty of activity around the garden as you'd expect in the sub-zero conditions. Best sighting today was a Male Brambling coming into the garden with the Chaffinches, and stayed still long enough for a photo through the double glazing!  a few Starlings and Redwings in the vicinity too. Best of the birds flying over were three Lapwings, a rarity over the house despite us being surrounded on 3 sides by fields that regularly hold Lapwings. Thought this would be a good day to add a new species to the garden list, but no such luck.



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• Thursday, December 2, 2010 - Goshawk in the snow

Took a drive out to Kimbridge at lunchtime. Wasn't sure I would get there with the snow, but the local roads were all clear beyond our street! Was hoping for some wildfowl on the unfrozen lake, and maybe a Snipe or something forced into the open, but as it turned out, the mainly unfrozen lake was completely empty, and there was thick snow right down the the water's edge, so no birds of note on the bank. Did see an unusual sighting of Meadow Pipits and Skylarks feeding under the hedges as opposed to out in the open.


2 Ravens passed overhead but didn't hang around for long. Best bird was a Goshawk, initially seen up high circling with a Buzzard, then later seen again attacking a Heron (!), before retreating to the top of a large tree in the nearby woods being mobbed by Rooks, and scattering Woodpigeons. Got great views, probably longer than all my previous Goshawk sightings combined! They aren't a species that I tend to see for any length of time. It was also an important sighting in that it brings my yearly total of species to 157 (my joint worst annual total!)
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• Monday, November 29, 2010 - More Golden Plovers, and Linnets move in.

Went for a very brief drive along Hoe Lane at lunchtime. There are birds everywhere now as the cold weather hits the rest of the Country, while we are escaping with just a few icy puddles. Lapwings were present in most fields, even fields that aren't usually associated with any birds, and I scraped into three figures with 110 in total. A tight flock of 40 Linnets was pretty good in the closest field to the village (one that was earmarked for housing, and is now looking very weedy, and definitely worth keeping an eye on.)


Yesterday's Golden Plovers have moved on, and the main field was totally empty, possibly due to some disturbance earlier in the day. Then I struck lucky with a field being ploughed, and full of Black Headed Gulls with a couple of Common Gulls and Herring Gulls amongst them. Lapwings and Golden Plovers (13 in total) here were reasonably close, and I managed a few photos, but my camera system really struggles when distance is involved!




While I took the photos, I heard a scratching on the car, and noticed a Pied Wagtail sitting on the windscreen wiper pecking at the air inlets, about a foot from my head.
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• Sunday, November 28, 2010 - Golden Plovers return

Hoe Lane is largely unproductive this winter, with most of the fields full of winter crop and the pheasant runs gone. However, one field remains short grass, and this had 83 Lapwings on Friday. Returned there today and the Lapwings had gone, but a whopping 50 Golden Plovers were in their place. My only other records of Golden Plover around the village in the last 4 years are a 12 and a 5, both in the same area, and both in the depths of Winter. Also a Woodcock and a Barn Owl along this stretch of the lane.

Further North there were plenty of Starlings, Redwings, Fieldfare, and Finch flocks but I couldn't find anything noteworthy amongst them. Finished the afternoon near the Wallops were Kestrel, Buzzard and Barn Owl were all hunting at dusk.
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• Tuesday, November 16, 2010 - Hawfinch, and a foggy vis-mig session

Went out to Michelmersh for some more vis-mig yesterday a.m.

There was quite a bit of fog in the low ground, and I didn't see the River Test valley at all during my hour and a half. Happily, it didn't really impact on my watch, with 500+ Woodpigeons over, and a couple of small groups of Thrushes and Skylarks over. Best bird was a Hawfinch near the derelict farm. Quite relieved to see this bird as I was starting to have doubts about my previous glimpse of a Hawfinch in the same area. No doubts about this one, it didn't quite linger long enough for a photo, but I had great views in the scope.

2 Peregrines, 2 Ravens, plus 1 Siskin, 1 Reed Bunting and a Yellowhammer overhead completed the highlights. Strangely, and presumably due to the fog, there was no morning commute of Gulls up the valley today. There was, however, a noticeable movement of Herring Gulls South.

Finally, for me the worst thing about the recent Twitching TV programme (and there is a lot of lowlights to choose from), is that everytime I go out Birding now, I can't get Careless Whisper out of my head!
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• Sunday, November 7, 2010 - Lapland Buntings

Almost gave this morning a miss, but luckily hawled myself out of bed and headed to Park Farm, near Michelmersh.

Was fairly routine for the first hour, then everything changed for the better as a Lapland Bunting passed over fairly low heading North. It was pretty much perfectly positioned for a good look in the bins, enough to see it's short beak, bulky size, and quite a dark breast contrasting with a white belly. It's flight calls got picked up on the recorder.
Even better, a second passed over a couple of minutes later. Again the calls picked up nicely, despite the North Wind. Sat in a slightly different position today, more exposed, but I wonder if I'd have missed these birds if I was sat in my usual position.
Also over were plenty of Woodpigeons and Starlings, plus a few Thrush flocks, and numerous Skylarks.

Two Bramblings, and a Merlin in the area completed a superb couple of hours.
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• Sunday, October 31, 2010 - Barn Owl

I've a feeling vis mig is over for the year now, so headed further North this afternoon to farmland North of Stockbridge and Broughton. Immediately struck by how many farmland birds there were compared with a few miles South. Lapwings were almost into 3 figures, and a flock of 70+ Golden Plover flew over at dusk heading South. Also plenty of Skylarks, Linnets, Yellowhammers and Thrushes. As darkness descended, a Barn Owl flew by real close, and I had 4 separate encounters with this same bird on my return to the car!




Yesterday, near Crampmoor, 5 Hawfinches overhead was a good record.
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• Friday, October 22, 2010 - Stoat attack!

During a recent walk round the lake at Dunbridge, it was pretty birdless, but a terifying screeching brought me to my senses.. It turned out to be a Stoat killing a Rabbit along the out of bounds path. I watched all the gory details, which eventually finished up with the Stoat dragging the Rabbit into the undergrowth. No surprise the lake was fairly devoid of wildlife with this going on! Managed one photo despite the distance.. the Rabbit and Stoat didn't even fill the central focus box in the viewfinder!
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• Sunday, October 17, 2010 - Evening at Michelmersh dominated by Starlings

Went to Park Farm, Michelmersh. this evening mainly out of curiosity to see the reverse of the morning commute of birds North up the River. In the mornings this is dominated by Gulls and Cormorants which pass by fairly low. Evenings, it turns out is not as good, as the birds are much higher. The Gulls in particular are pretty much impossible to study.

What amazed me, was huge numbers of Starlings flying south to roost in much higher numbers than recorded heading North the previous morning (7 or 8 thousand as opposed to 400 at a rough count!).
I wasn't able to get anything like an accurate count, some of the biggest flocks were passing right over my head on a broad front, listening to their wingbeats was incredible. Photos which hardly begin to do the numbers justice below..





Also, a very tame Jackdaw, one of the mob from the nearby Quarry, looked a bit wobbly but flew off pretty strong as I bent down to pick it up.


Other highlights from a decent evening was a Brambling in trees near the farm, and 2 Wheatears in the fields.
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• Saturday, October 16, 2010 - Mystery flight call.


Anyone with an idea to what this bird is... flight call from 2 Passerines overhead this morning.
Wav File here.
Volume needs to be turned right up to here the calls. Closest match I can think of is Corn Bunting. Views of the birds didn't really give any clues.



Not as much migration visible this morning.. Plenty of Gulls heading up the Valley, including at least one Yellow Legged amongst the groups of Herrings and Lesser Black Backs. Black Headed Gulls were too many too count, unless the entire morning was devoted to them, but must have cleared 300 easily.

Still a few Swallows and a single House Martin heading South, and 2 Wheatears and a Peregrine in the area.
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• Sunday, October 10, 2010 - First Redwings overhead, and in the garden.

Arrived before dawn on Saturday morning. Took my Bat Detector, and picked up a couple of Common Pipistrelles at first light, the views were pretty good compared with evening bat watches. Along the edge of some woods a group of Natterer's were zooming past inches from me, plus one other bat that I couldn't pick up any signal at 45Khz or below, but seemed to give out fairly strong "myotis" like signals above 50Khz. Bechstein's is my best guess, but with very little confidence. One to try for another time I guess.


Migration was fairly good in a strong East wind, the majority of birds flying North including Swallows, many Finches, Starlings and a single Yellow Wagtail. Birds moving the right direction included a flock of Redwings and 4 Ravens. Full count here.


Elsewhere, the garden in starting to bring in the birds with 3 Redwings and a Blackcap the best I could find today. Also a fairly smart Red Admiral stayed perched long enough for me to grab the camera...


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• Monday, October 4, 2010 - 2 Woodlarks over

2 Hours Saturday morning looking to the skies. A thick mist was impairing the view across the Test Valley, but my slightly elevated location was clear, and much of the migration was very close.
 The highlight was 2 Woodlarks calling frequently as they flew overhead, plus an increase in Alba Wagtails, and Finches.
Continued on to Kimbridge Lake, which is slowly filling up with Wildfowl (Canada Geese, Tufted Ducks and a Little Grebe) and a few Black Headed Gulls, but no Waders round the fairly muddy water's edge.
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• Sunday, September 26, 2010 - Kittiwake

A couple of hours first thing this morning watching the increasing volume of birds migrating along the Test Valley. Today's count was dominated by Gulls, with over 600 heading North in 2 hours. Also on the increase were Meadow Pipits (84) and Skylark (19). Still plenty of Swallows with 173 trickling past.

At times the migration was frantic with 2 or even 3 species moving past at once. I'm ok in short bursts counting 2 species at once, I treat it like a Rugby game... 1-0, 2-1, 10-1, 10-6, 15-6 etc., but 3 species tends to fry my brain slightly. The highlight passed through just as I was starting to head home.. An Adult Kittiwake passed through North with a group of Black Headed Gulls. It leapt out from the group immediately: slightly larger, solid black wing tips, and a more elegant flight. Took a photo which from the camera looked to confirm black legs, but on the PC I suspect it is mainly shadow! In fact it would be pretty difficult to get much useful information from the photo sadly.




Still, it was a good surprise, and kind of fits with a major overland movement of seabirds at the moment. Including many Skuas and Gannets. Will also be interesting to see if the daily gull commute along the Test pulls out any other surprises throughout the Winter.

1100 birds in 2 hours was a pretty impressive total compared with previous walks.
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• Friday, September 24, 2010 - Brain training with Borin and Nisoria

My previous post mentioned a Garden Warbler, that gave me a run around, and had me thinking Barred Warbler for a good few minutes..

I first saw the bird perched on wire at the far end of a field, a good 200 yards away. Definately a Warbler, it was joined by a Whinchat which it was clearly bigger than.
In my mind, this immediately discounted pretty much all common UK Warblers and had me thinking Barred Warbler.
However, things weren't right, and at no point was I confident with the i.d... was it a plumage I was unfamiliar with (I've only seen an adult breeding male Barred in the flesh before)?
was it something else?.. I was even thinking Great Reed Warbler for a brief second, before giving myself a slap!
The only thing I didn't question was my initial assumption.. Are any common UK warblers bigger than a Whinchat?
The answer to this is.. well, one or two! Cetti's, Blackcap, and Garden to name three.

I learned a couple of good lessons from the experience..

1. Never be far from your Field guide! I know it is frowned upon for some reason, or seen as not macho! but if my Collins was in my rucksack I'd have had a much more pleasant walk back to Saxa Vord!
Incidentally, I bought the new "Advanced Bird ID guide". This book is brilliant for the information contained within, but how do you use it?! .. Surely you can't be expected to read when out birding?!
and I'm even less likely to have digested the relevant pages when it is needed. I guess my lower back has just been given another 10 ounces to worry about!

2. Collect as much data as you can, and keep an open mind for as long as possible. Write everything down, grab some photos, and keep going back to the very start of the identification process.
It was the first assumption that I kept overlooking again and again.
Then something in my brain must have clicked for me to question the size, and I was suddenly looking at a bog standard 1st Winter Garden Warbler (amazingly my first this year. Hell they are almost as Rare as Barred Warblers for me!)

3. You are under no obligation to put every bird you see onto the internet within minutes of seeing it. Take your time. You don't need to get twitchy.. remember you have already seen it!
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• Wednesday, September 22, 2010 - Shetland 2010

Now back home after a few days on Shetland. Weather started off incredibly bad with a low pressure hanging East of the Islands and reaping absolute havoc for Thursday and Friday. This eventually dropped leaving a cold, but lighter North West wind for the remainder of the stay. This was accompanied by a bit of sunshine, with frequent showers.


Much of Thursday was spent travelling (Otter, Black Guillemot and Ruff the highlights), but Friday was one of my main days Birding and my options were seriously limited by the wind, much of which was too strong to walk in. (It was so strong that my car screen washer was making a u-turn before reaching the windscreen!). I decided to head to Lambaness and seawatch from just after dawn. 2 Hours was about as much as I could stand, but I did manage 3 fairly distant Sooty Shearwaters heading purposefully North, along with thousands of Gannets and Fulmars plus a dozen or so Great Skuas. The drive off Lambaness was pretty quiet except for a single Lapland Bunting.


Saturday and Sunday were much of a muchness for me. I birded around Norwick, Skaw and Lambaness picking up another Sooty Shearwater off Lambaness. This one was relatively close, and I got super views. Also at Lambaness was a pretty big flock of Lapland Buntings. I got 36, and some really close photos. Best finds that I could manage were: Common Rosefinch, Pied and Spotted Flycatcher, Greenland Redpoll, 3 Siskins, 3 Snow Buntings and 2 or 3 Tree Pipits, amongst some good numbers of Wheatears, Redstarts, Chiff-Chaffs, Blackcaps and Whinchats. Otter,  Grey Seal and Rabbit were the only mammals I caught up with.


Local birders found a Melodious Warbler and 2 Arctic Redpolls in Norwick village which stuck around for me to later catch up with and photograph.


Spent a few hours around Baltasound, and took an age trying to identify three very skulking birds, at least one of which turned out to be another Rosefinch. (I suspect there were three)


Monday: Had one last scan around Norwick where a very distant, large looking Warbler had me wondering for quite a while. Seemed big.. too big for anything other than Barred (especially when seeing it perched next to a Whinchat). but I had nagging doubts (Not least that I couldn't make out any barring even at closer range), and in the end settled for a Garden Warbler (and a small Whinchat!). Interestingly a Barred Warbler was reported from Norwick the following day, but mine was definately a Garden.



Headed South and enjoyed a pleasant evening around Loch of Spiggie. The Habitat had a bit more variety, and I picked up some new birds for the trip including Whooper Swan, Greenshank, Moorhen(!), Merlin, along with plenty more Wheatears and a Tree Pipit.


So, it was enjoyable.. The Red-Billed Gull and Budgie story wasn't a total curse(!), but no additions to my self found list was disappointing considering the hours I put in, and many of the easier targets for my self found list occurring almost daily on the islands. Even more agonising when the recently found Arctic Redpolls kept popping up at various points along the Saxa Vord / Norwick road.


Saxa Vord self catering accommodation was excellent. Recommend that to any birders in the future. I was also impressed by the South Mainland: an area I usually miss out in my haste to get to the wood at Voe, and Unst. I'm already hatching a plan for a long weekend near Sumburgh next Autumn with daily trips to an area that seems to have potential but is off the birders' radar.. one of a very small number of underwatched places!


Some photos below....
 Lapland Buntings at Lambaness:




Wheatear at Lambaness:



Sanderling:


Pied Flycatcher at Norwick:


Melodious Warbler at Norwick:


Hornemann's Arctic Redpoll, Norwick:








Willow Warbler at Baltasound:


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• Tuesday, September 14, 2010 - Shetland Omen!

Saw this article while on my morning commute into London..
Talk about a bad omen! The story starts off with a Budgie being spat out by a Gull onto someone's head over Lerwick, Shetland.
The story then goes off on a complete tangent talking about how Budgies are rare migrants in the UK coming from Australia. Looking at the picture, this one seems to have been assisted for much of the journey in the mouth of a Red-Billed Gull!

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• Monday, September 13, 2010 - Shetland awaits!

My annual Autumn trip to somewhere potentially exciting is looming! This year I am returning to Shetland, staying on Unst again, but in mid-September as opposed to early October.
I figured a shift in date might result in a change in variety. More Common migrants perhaps, and possibly more potential for seawatching and sea mammals. So, I've started to sweat over the weather conditions, praying for easterlies and all that! But does it matter on places like Shetland, Orkney or the Scillies? I can understand the need for easterlies down the east coast of the UK, (and I have suffered a miserable Autumn day on the Norfolk coast in stiff Westerlies, when we saw more at Little Paxton on the way home!), but I reckon somewhere as strategic as Unst will get interesting stuff whatever the wind direction.
I would guess that the conditions on the ground would be more significant. So here's to heavy cloud and rain overnight as opposed to clear skies, and definately no fog or storm force winds during the day please!
Whatever the weather, I'll be out dawn to dusk!
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• Saturday, September 11, 2010 - More Test Valley vis-mig.. and a Muntjac

More Test Valley vis-mig this morning, following the same route and stakeout as previous weeks.
A combination of a strong South-West wind, low cloud and showers looked to have adversely affected the bird sightings today, and the species total of 29 was down on previous weeks. However, the total number of birds in my 3 hours was pretty good, stopping just short of 1000.


Today had more of an Autumn feel with many groups of Herring Gulls heading South. These weren't the daily commuting flocks of Gulls presumably from the docks to the fields, but true migrating birds in quite a pronounced movement South. A Meadow Pipit moving South was a first this Autumn.

Hirundines were still moving in small bursts. Strangely, all the Swallows today were heading West, and yet the House Martins all moved North in a massive 100+ flock.

One other notable sighting was a Muntjac Deer. I had a Deer whizz past at very close range last week, which I suspected was a Muntjac, but couldn't confirm. Today's sighting was distant, but prolonged and confirmed in the scope.

 Bird totals below:

Great Cormorant8
Gray Heron1
Mute Swan10
Canada Goose62
Mallard24
Eurasian Buzzard3
Eurasian Kestrel1
Common Pheasant10
European Herring Gull130
Western Lesser Black-backed Gull3
Black-headed Gull320
Stock Dove20
Common Wood-pigeon32
Great Spotted Woodpecker2
House Martin157
Meadow Pipit1
Pied Wagtail1
Gray Wagtail1
European Robin2
Blackcap3
Common Chiffchaff4
Eurasian Nuthatch1
Eurasian Jay1
Eurasian Jackdaw120
Chaffinch9
European Goldfinch3
Eurasian Linnet8
Barn Swallow40



977
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• Sunday, September 5, 2010 - Big increase in Hirundine numbers

Went out early again for my weekly dose of vismig along the Test. Was birding so early this morning that the first sighting was a Pipistrelle! A coudy night, bit of rain, and a continuation of the recent Easterly winds was encouraging, and there were some new birds on the ground with 2 Redstarts, and 2 Wheatears. One of the  Redstarts came reasonably close, just about in range for a photo...


Overhead, there was a noticeable drop in the number of Black Headed Gulls heading up the valley, but this was more than made up for by an impressive movement of Hirundines: 300 Swallows and 250 Martins, the majority in a 30 minute spell form 8:30am, and including a couple of pretty big flocks of 90+ birds. Other highlights were a single Hobby moving South, 2 Little Egrets, and 8 Grey Wagatils seen during the morning. 865 birds (of 39 species) was a big increase, thanks largely to the Swallows and House Martins. If the Black Headed Gulls had moved through in their usual numbers, I'd have broken the 1000 bird barrier in 3 hours.

Also, took a walk around Kimbridge lake in the afternoon. Highlight was 2 more Redstarts. This really is an amazing spell for migrants locally. Even better than the Wheatear fall a few April's ago!

Full list below...


Great Cormorant31
Grey Heron3
Little Egret2
Mute Swan4
Greylag Goose20
Canada Goose12
Mallard8
Eurasian Buzzard1
Eurasian Kestrel2
Eurasian Hobby1
Great Black-backed Gull1
European Herring Gull40
Black-headed Gull55
Rock (Feral) Pigeon4
Stock Dove4
Common Wood-pigeon13
Great Spotted Woodpecker3
Eurasian Skylark1
Sand Martin10
Barn Swallow302
House Martin244
Pied Wagtail3
Grey Wagtail8
Eurasian Blackbird1
Mistle Thrush1
Common Chiffchaff5
Blackcap3
European Robin2
Common Redstart2
Northern Wheatear2
Long-tailed Tit3
Blue Tit1
Eurasian Jay1
Eurasian Jackdaw39
Rook2
Carrion Crow2
Chaffinch2
European Goldfinch22
Eurasian Linnet5



865
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• Thursday, September 2, 2010 - Whinchat and Spotted Flycatcher

Took a quick walk around the dog walkers' field on the edge of the village after work. The first surprise is how quickly the habitat is changing. There is still a large area of fallow land which has always been the attraction of this site, but literally hundreds of Ash and Oak tree saplings are shooting up at the North end. Quite ironic as the threat of housing rescinds, nature looks like sticking the boot in and trashing the grassland.

Much of the area was devoid of birds today, just a small flock of Goldfinches, and 4 Green Woodpeckers. But more often than not, this field has something noteworthy lurking within. Today was no different as a Whinchat popped up onto a bush, closely followed by 3 Stonechats and a couple of Whitethroats. Then followed a birdless return to the village where a Spotted Flycatcher was hunting from treetops at the edge of the field.

Both Whinchat and Spotted Flycatcher seem to be popping up everywhere locally at the moment. 
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• Monday, August 30, 2010 - Groundhog day

Followed pretty much the exact same route as Saturday morning.The local bird movements follow a very similar pattern from day to day, with species and flocks making an appearance along the Test Valley in pretty much the same sequence! The Migrants are not so predictable though, and all of the grounded birds from two days ago were gone. The only movement overhead, in a fairly raw North wind was 2 Yellow Wagtails, and a small trickle of swallows, all heading West.


Today's highlights were all picked up on the return to the car. First, a Chalkhill Blue Butterfly, was a real unexpected bonus. Then after taking a small detour to check out some cow fields, I found 2 Little Owls sitting under the eaves of a barn. in full sunlight. Why no photos you may ask!? I took my camera out today, but had left the memory card at home! Luckily both of these highlights are likely to be fairly repeatable, so hopefully photos in the future.

So a pretty good weekend all within 20 minutes drive of the house. Plenty of migrants including Yellow Wagtail and Hobby which don't tend to give themselves up too easily locally, and some good local species to investigate further in Peregrine, Hawfinch, Little Owl and Chalkhill Blue.

Full list of birds seen: 445 birds of 35 Species.
 

Little Grebe2
Great Cormorant21
Gray Heron1
Greylag Goose50
Eurasian Sparrowhawk1
Eurasian Buzzard1
Eurasian Kestrel2
Peregrine Falcon1
Common Pheasant8
Common Gull1
Great Black-backed Gull1
European Herring Gull4
Western Lesser Black-backed Gull8
Black-headed Gull211
Stock Dove6
Eurasian Skylark2
Sand Martin1
Barn Swallow33
House Martin1
Yellow-wagtail2
Goldcrest1
Winter Wren1
Eurasian Blackbird3
Common Chiffchaff3
Blackcap4
Greater Whitethroat1
European Robin2
Marsh Tit1
Great Tit1
Blue Tit5
Eurasian Jackdaw54
Rook1
Carrion Crow1
European Goldfinch2
Eurasian Linnet7
Eurasian Bullfinch1
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• Saturday, August 28, 2010 - Migrants Galore in the Test Valley

A dawn start, and a pretty good morning in the Test Valley today. Evidence of plenty of Migrants arrived since last weekend, and quite a lot of movement overhead too.

Grounded Migrants included 1 Whinchat, 1 Redstart, 1 Willow Warbler, and 4 Spotted Flycatchers, plus a few Chiff Chaffs and Blackcaps.

Movement along the valley was dominated by Black Headed Gulls all heading north on their daily commute, with smaller numbers of Herring and Lesser Black Backs. Also a small number of Cormorants. Best of the migration was 2 Hobbies, 1 Tree Pipit, and 47 House Martins in a single flock.

Had great views of a Peregrine, and in a small woods one the way back to my car, a Hawfinch gave 2 very brief glimpses in flight, and a single call. Terrible views, and only just enough to clinch the identification, but hopefully I can spend some more time in this area, and improve on the views. I have seen Hawfinch a couple of miles from this location, so no great surprise, but they are, as always, elusive. 516 birds of 42 species was a good return for just under 4 hours.

A good morning for Butterlfies too with Red Admiral, Painted Lady, Common Blue, Meadow Brown and Comma.

Spotted Flycatcher:




Whinchat:



Comma:



Full list of birds and numbers:

Great Cormorant8
Mute Swan2
Greylag Goose50
Canada Goose5
Mallard10
Eurasian Buzzard4
Eurasian Kestrel1
Eurasian Hobby2
Peregrine Falcon1
Eurasian Coot1
European Herring Gull17
Western Lesser Black-backed Gull4
Black-headed Gull210
Feral Pigeon19
Stock Dove1
Common Wood-pigeon9
Great Spotted Woodpecker1
Green Woodpecker1
Sand Martin5
Barn Swallow14
House Martin47
Tree Pipit1
Goldcrest1
Eurasian Blackbird2
Mistle Thrush1
Willow Warbler1
Common Chiffchaff6
Blackcap8
Spotted Flycatcher4
European Robin4
Common Redstart1
Whinchat1
Great Tit2
Blue Tit4
Eurasian Nuthatch3
Eurasian Jay1
Eurasian Jackdaw4
Chaffinch1
European Goldfinch8
Eurasian Linnet20
Hawfinch1

42 species, 516 birds.
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• Sunday, August 22, 2010 - Fly-over Tree Pipits.

Headed North of Romsey this morning for a bit of early Autumn Vis-Mig..

The "Vis" was pretty bad at first, and there wasn't much "Mig" either, but as the drizzle eased off a few birds started to move along the Test Valley.

Best of the bunch was 2 Tree Pipits, incredibly my first this year, but I have had a real stinker of a year for migrant Passerines. Plenty of Gulls commuting up and down the valley, but not many Hirundines today. Just a few House Martins and 4 Swallows. On the deck 26 Linnets were in a tight flock in the farmland, and 5 Blackcaps and a Chiff-Chaff were feeding in nearby bushes. Four Stock Doves, a Bullfinch, and a couple of Hares rounded things off.
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• Saturday, August 21, 2010 - Devon 2010

Just back from a week's camping in Devon near Torquay. Done very little birding throughout the week, but did take a walk round RSPB Labrador Bay. This is a super place, one of the better RSPB reserves where they have bought the land, maximised it's potential for the key species, and then left it alone!

Got photos of what must be the most confiding Wheatear I have ever seen, and great views of a Cirl Bunting, the star bird of this reserve. Photos below.

Also, round the campsite: Blackcap, Willow Warbler, Buzzard, Kestrel, Peregrine.
The Bat detector only picked up Noctule and Common Pipistrelle at the campsite, and probable Natterer's at Labrador Bay one evening. No Horseshoe Bats sadly.
Did see a Hummingbird Hawkmoth at Shaldon.

Wheatear:






Cirl Bunting:



All taken with Canon EOS500d, 100-400IS lens, 400mm, f8, 1/1000sec, ISO 400. handheld. All images Copyright Peter Jones 2010.
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• Friday, August 13, 2010 - Silver Washed Fritillary

Briefly checked out a couple of local sites..  Whitethroats have had a good breeding season on the dog walkers' field with a tight group of at least 8 there. I disturbed them during my walk only for my heart to sink as a Female Sparrowhawk swooped through their ranks. She missed fortunately, and the Male which arrived shortly afterwards was also unsuccessful. Also a Juvenile Stonechat there.

Kimbridge Lake looks awesome at the moment.. masses of shoreline, but no Waders on this visit. There was a noticeable movement of small Woodpigeon flocks heading North during the scan of the lake, and 2 Stock Doves at the water's edge was good to see. Did see another Silver Washed Fritillary, my third locally this summer. Never realised that the female Silver-washed have a different upperwing plumage from the males! Was becoming quite confused by the lack of stripes on these Butterflies until realising I have seen all females this year. The shape of the wing seems to be the easiest way to identify the females.
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• Wednesday, August 11, 2010 - First Wheatear of Autumn!

Have started checking the most promising looking local fields again now that the Autumn migration is getting underway. The turf field between Baddesley and Chilworth is always a good bet, and after a couple of visits with nothing more than a distant Fritillary species (most likely Silver Washed) flying past, I found a Wheatear this morning. It was very distant though. In fact, I had to wait until it flew and revealed its black and white tail before I was sure.

Elsewhere, the Probable Leisler's wav file has done the rounds, but looks like it will go down as an "unknown". The peak frequency drops into Noctule territory on a few occasions which is giving a degree of doubt. A shame, as the chances of seeing this bat, which would remove any doubt to its real identity, would be a miracle.
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• Tuesday, July 27, 2010 - Robo-Bat, and a detailed look at a probable Leisler's call.

Bought a cheap metal cash box, smashed a hole in the side, glued some plastic from a milk bottle onto it for a roof, and bingo.. a weatherproof box for a bat detector and sound recorder!
 
 
Took it out midweek and left it recording overnight at an undisclosed location in the Test Valley ( I'm nervous enough about leaving £500 of equipment unattended overnight without publishing the location on the internet! ). Hiding place was obviously quite good as it was still there the following morning.

It was a really good place for bats too, with pretty much constant clicks all night. Species recorded were a probable Leisler's Bat (See below), Common Pipistrelle, Soprano Pipistrelle, Myotis species (Probably Daubenton's, but will analyse these calls further), and Noctule. The Leisler's was very interesting, and took many hours of analysis to be comfortable with this identification. I also learnt quite a lot about sound analysis of "Noctule group" bat calls in the process.

My problem, for a while now, is that different sources seem to speak in different languages about the parameters needed to seperate bat species. Peak Frequency, Pulse duration, Inter-pulse interval, QCF (?!) all get a mention, together with the descriptions of "chips" and "chops" you can pick up from listening to a call. When you couple this to the ambiguities of taking measurements via analysis software, and bats behaving differently in clutter or open environments, it all becomes as clear as mud.

For example, I can take any signal and make the pulse duration anything between 1ms and 50ms by changing the brightness of the sonogram! Fortunately, I seem to have stumbled on a calibration for my system that seems to give consistent results when measuring known Serotines, Noctules and Leisler's recordings that I have made. Even better, by measuring each signal for peak frequency, and pulse duration, even in a series with some measurements overlapping with other species, the average seems to tune into the "correct" species fairly rapidly.
So, I put together all my reference measurements and my own samples, into the scatter graph below, and get two distinct groups.. 1 for Noctule, 1 for Leisler's. The most ambiguous reading is of a definite Leisler's in Madeira (where Noctule don't occur). The Test Valley Leisler's from last week falls nicely into the Leisler's grouping. That said, I have sent the wav file away for a 2nd opinion!

Also, put together a graph of the peak frequency's showing it running consistently higher than Noctule, with one or two extremely high signals.  Noctules are typically 18KHz to 22KHz, and I'm pretty sure in this environment I would have recorded a good proportion of signals in this range.


I ran the detector from my garden a couple of nights later. The results were much quieter, with just a Serotine, Noctule and Common Pipistrelle making an appearance. The Serotine was a welcome highlight as I haven't picked one up around the garden for over 2 Summers now. The Pipistrelle seemed to spend much of the night / pre-dawn making nothing but social calls which I have never observed before. I'm used to hearing the odd social call in a series of clicks, but this was 100% social calls. Strange.
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• Sunday, July 18, 2010 - Silver Washed Fritillary, and a drive-by Bat survey

July can be a pretty dismal month for birds, but other wildlife really does peak in the Summer months. A Silver Washed Fritillary through the garden was a super bonus, managed to see it fairly well in bramble just over the back garden wall, but it didn't hang around long. I should try and check out the nearby woodland to see if there are more in the area.

Saturday night, I wedged the Bat Detector out of the sunroof, and done a full circuit of country lanes surrounding the village. Took the GPS so I could match the timings of any unusual recordings with the tracklog back home, but I could hear the detector quite well as I drove the route. Plenty of Common Pipistrelles, lost count whilst listening for other species, but they were present in about 20 areas in the hour I was out. A Serotine was the pick of the bunch, plus a Soprano Pipistrelle, a Noctule and a Brown Long Eared, the latter seen in the headlights but not heard.
Also, 2 Hedgehogs, but not a single bird seen or heard.

Will definately try the road method again, much more quantity than on a bat walk! And I am also constructing a waterproof case so I can leave the detector out overnight in a likely location, well concealed of course!
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• Tuesday, July 6, 2010 - Birding Bits!

The recent spate of comments gave me an idea. In particular, one comment left by Adrian who expressed a desire to post comments on all of my blogs!
This is the only blog I have, and it isn't really a blog in the true sense. It is more a diary of my sightings, (and even says so in the title), and is not really suited for discussions and opinion. So, I thought it would be good to start a blog separate to this diary, without the sightings and photos, but more personal opinions and thoughts. My pick of the week for birding resources and websites perhaps.
It wouldn't be fair to expect surfbirds to host this kind of content, so I have gone to Blogger to host my new blog titled: "Birding Bits - The best and worst of internet birding". hope you enjoy it.
I will of course continue to post my sightings in this diary, now in it's 5th year and with over 370 posts, would you believe!
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• Sunday, July 4, 2010 -

Oh well.. back to "meet and greet" duties eh Ady!
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• Saturday, July 3, 2010 - Small Elephant Hawkmoth

Excellent catch in the moth trap overnight with a whopping 36 species of macro moths, my highest total ever.
Best of the bunch were Blue-Bordered Carpet, and Small Elephant Hawkmoth, both firsts for me.
Small Elephant Hawkmoth is a species I have always wanted to see, along with the other rarer UK Hawkmoths.

Small Elephant Hawkmoth:




Elephant Hawkmoth:


Also, recorded a Noctule Bat over the house through the week. Amazingly, my first this year for what is usually one of the easiest Bats to see.


Nice to see birdforum staff are reading my blog.. not sure their comments reflect too well on birdforum, but everyone is entitled to their opinions on here. Until they get childish anyway.
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• Thursday, June 24, 2010 - One that got away!

AAAARGH!
Suffered another "one that got away" moment earlier this week. Seem to be having a bad year in this respect, and this was probably the most unforgiveable of the lot: Found a Moth in the house, which when scrutinised looked for all the world like a Lunar Yellow Underwing.. massively rare, and virtually extinct from Hampshire!
Checked it out from all angles, and read up on the dangers of confusion with "small" Large Yellow Underwings, photographed it a few times, then let it go. Only after it had flown into the night sky did I find the hantsmoths webpage I had been looking for to help with the i.d... It read, "be sure to check for the crescent on the hindwing, do so by parting the forewings with tweezers" or words to that effect. Probably the only thing I hadn't done when analysing this moth! I suspect it was a Large Yellow, we get enough of them to include the odd dwarf, but it would have been nice, and dare I say "professional"! to have come to a 100% conclusion.

Had slightly more luck when driving home last week ,and listening to Simon Mayo asking for advice on how to remove bats from a listener's attic. I pulled into Fleet Services and called the Bat Conservation trust helpline.. Half an hour later, a qualified bat worker was on the radio giving a really good bit of publicity to the protected status of UK bats, and coming across really well. I'll never know if it was down to me making a call to arms, but I felt like I had done good!

Still on the subject of Bats, this year is really shocking for the lack of Noctules.. These are usually the most prominent Bat seen in the early evening, high in the sky with an AWACS style echolocation that makes young children hold their ears in agony, and no doubt interferes with pacemakers. This year I have yet to pick up a single one. I did however get a very close fly past from a Brown Long Eared bat a couple of evenings ago together with at least 2 roding Woodcocks. The Woodcocks are strange as they are within 100 metres of my house, yet undetectable and absent from my garden list.
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• Saturday, June 12, 2010 - Marsh Tit and Peregrine at Mottisfont

I was in two minds whether to go Eagle hunting today around Kinsgclere which is 40 minutes drive from me. Decided against it, as the bird hanging around in that area seems to be leading everyone on a merry dance, as the rest of the UK makes smug remarks while waiting for it to be confirmed so they can twitch it!

Headed instead for what is probably the last local birding trip of the Spring. Started out at Lower Brook, and then checked out the lake at Kimbridge.

Lower Brook still had a few bits and pieces migrating through, mainly Swifts and Sand Martins, and the daily commuting Gulls. Also, 1 Marsh Tit, and 2 Peregrines in the area.

Kimbridge was pretty quiet, but 13 Mistle Thrushes seen in the morning indicates they are having a good breeding season round here.

Ended the morning trying to free a lamb that had got tangled in wire fencing. It was pulling at least 100 yards of wire behind it which I wrapped round a post to enable me to get close to the lamb, but the lamb bucked a couple of times and incredibly snapped the wire, then returned to the rest of the flock. I had no chance of catching it without the trailing wire, so had to leave it with a much smaller amount of wire wrapped around it, and notified the locals who were going to track down the farmers.

One of those weeks! as we had a very young sick Greenfinch turn up in the garden yesterday which we looked after, but it sadly died a couple of hours later, and a young Magpie in a similar state which we turfed back over the fence!
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• Sunday, June 6, 2010 - A week at Keyhaven

Just back from a week's camping at Hurst View right next door to Keyhaven. I didn't manage too much birding.. 2 evenings at Fishtail Lagoon, and a day trip to Hurst Castle. Fishtail was brimming with birds, especially in the flooded meadow just inland from Fishtail lagoon. The Long Tailed Duck was ever present along with a decent number of Dunlin, and Redshank. 2 Mediterranean Gulls and a Little Tern were seen briefly, and also a single Avocet was a nice surprise.

Had a really good hour or two at Hurst Castle. highlight was finally catching up with Glanville Fritillary. They were quite easy to see this year, making a mockery of previous failed attempts. Also, a few pairs of Rock Pipits showing well, many with food for young.

Ran the bat detector outside the tent one evening, although we weren't ideally placed for bats. Nevertheless, we saw a very close Brown Long Eared Bat, and a couple of Common Pipistrelles.


Glanville's Fritillary:



Common Whitethroat:


Rock Pipit:


Black Headed Gull:

• Saturday, May 29, 2010 - Pintail at Testwood

The weather forecast promised heavy rain this morning, so I rushed out and done my 2nd, and final BTO survey of the year before the weather turned nasty, then headed to Testwood lake hide to see if anything dropped in.

The Survey went well, although probably the best bird, a singing Sedge Warbler! was just outside the survey area. Four Kingfishers was the other highlight, they whizzed past in quick succession, and too quick to determine if they were a family or all adults.

Testwood was busy with Birds, and surprisingly very few Birders. Pick of the birds here was a Female Pintail, and also good to see the colony of Sand Martins and 2 Lapwing chicks.

Through the week, a Hobby over the house was a good sighting.

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• Sunday, May 23, 2010 - Osprey over Test Valley

Checked out the Test Valley just North of Mottisfont this morning. Had a really good start with a Peregrine and Osprey over within 10 minutes of setting up my scope! This was at 8am. The Osprey landed briefly in a tree, before continuing North. It was very distant (looking at the OS map, it was about 2km away!), but I managed a photo below!
Also, a pair of Cuckoos heard, and small numbers of Hirundines, Swifts, and Gulls overhead.

Went to Emer Bog Friday at dusk, and saw Woodcock. Also heard Water Rail and 2 Tawny Owls.
Woke up with 12 mosquito bites on my hands!
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• Sunday, May 16, 2010 - Breeding success for the local Stonechats.

Ventured out twice this weekend, on Friday evening, I called in at Salisbury plain after work for an evening / dusk walk, then on Sunday morning I checked out some local places.

I headed to an area of Salisbury Plain were I heard a very distant owl last year, that may have been a Long Eared Owl. I concentrated my efforts further South this time towards were the distant hoot came from, and again I heard a single hoot after dark.. this time North of me! Still not sure what the bird is making the call, but I have now pin pointed the area down to a small clump of trees. Presumably it will be next year before I have another chance to check it out!

What I did see this time was a superb close up of a Badger, a Red Fox, and plenty of the usual Salisbury Plain regulars like Corn Bunting, Lapwing, and Yellowhammer. Also heard a Cuckoo, and quite a few Stone Curlews once darkness had descended.

Stopped off at a small area of fishponds on the way home, but nothing was calling here.

Sunday morning, I was pleased to see a Stonechat back on the Dog Walker's Field, and even better it was feeding a fledgling, so they haven't left this area. They Just went very quiet during the breeding period. Not much else seen this morning, a couple of Cuckoos calling near Danbridge.
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• Sunday, May 9, 2010 - Firecrest and Kingfisher

Visited a few places this morning, starting with a footpath near Crampmoor, which passes close to a fish farm. The fish farm looks quite derelict at the moment, with plenty of muddy pools, and some overgrown ponds. It looks brilliant, but there wasn't a great deal there this morning, just a Kingfisher.

From there, I headed to Kimbridge lake, a few fields en route North of Romsey were packed with Lapwing territories. I'm amazed how many are in the area this Spring, one field had 10 birds visible. Seems like much more than previous years. Kimbridge was quiet except for Hirundines (mainly Sand Martins), and both Canada Geese and Mallard had fledged with 5 young each.

Headed East to Farley Mount. Checked out some excellent looking fields near King's Sombourne, one of a low crop, which looked like Bean, but was pretty empty and a few more bare earth fields but couldn't find anything out of the ordinary. Plenty of Red Legged Partridges, and the odd Yellowhammer.

Farley Mount had the best bird of the morning with a singing Firecrest near the summit, plus Kestrel, Buzzard and Sparrowhawk overhead.

Seems like all my recent Firecrests have been on the highest points of woodland areas, but I can't find anything to suggest this is more than a coincidence!


Finally, a lot of Swifts seen this week, both locally and also over West London / Heathrow area.
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• Monday, May 3, 2010 - Peregrine and Lesser Whitethroat

Monday 3rd May 2010:

A Peregrine stooping unsuccessfully for Starlings in fields off Flexford Road,
North Baddesley was my highlight this morning. I'd just finished counting the
Starlings (17) before they scattered in all directions.
The Peregrine continued East over Valley Park. Also 6 Lapwings here, which is starting to look encouraging for the breeding season.

I heard a Firecrest along the lane at Toothill again, and a Lesser
Whitethroat in the Dog Walkers's field South / West of Baddesley, near the horse
paddocks. Lesser Whitethroat is something of a rarity on the South/West side of the village, this was my first here in three years! They are of course much commoner at other local sites like Keyhaven and Casbrook Common. (Some audio of today's bird below!)

Finally regarding sightings, the lake at Kimbridge had about 40 Hirundines (mainly Swallows, with 2 or 3 each of House and Sand Martins) low over the lake, plus a Gadwall.


Lesser Whitethroat:

A wav file of this morning's singing Lesser Whitethroat, the bird didn't show, and I cut out some of the gaps between bursts of song from the raw file! The sonogram shows a fairly well crystalised song, although perhaps not quite fully formed at the beginning before the rattle.




Greater Whitethroat

Wav file of a Greater Whitethroat singing and calling near Kimbridge lake.

Plus sonogram of the song.

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• Thursday, April 29, 2010 - Whiskered Bonus!


Relax.. Whiskered Bat not Tern!

Spent a couple of evenings going through the recordings I took at Mottisfont last week. I was happy at the time that one, possibly two Barbastelles had passed during my stay.

I was quite amazed to find at least 7 or 8 Barbastelle passes throughout the evening on the wav files! Surprising how much gets missed amongst the constant clicks of the Pipistrelles, and whilst gazing over my shoulder convinced a madman with an axe is creeping up on me!

I seem to have my ear adjusted to the Frequency division recordings quite well now, and can tell most of the species by the pitch and speed of the frequency division signals. So, I don't have to go into the in depth analysis too much.

However, one brief series of signals stopped me in my tracks, and after a lot of analysis, I'm fairly sure that it was from the Whiskered group of bats. (In the UK, this translates to one of Whiskered, Brandt's or Alcathoes Bat. The latter being added to the UK bat list in the last week or two!). This site has recorded Whiskered in the past, so the chances are this is what I detected.

The big disadvantage of the site I go to in Mottisfont is that it is very difficult to actually see the Bats, mainly due to the trees overhanging the pond that I stake out. To date, I have yet to actually "see" a Barbastelle, and I didn't get anything on the Whiskered either. But at least I can tune the bat detector in future and concentrate on getting a glimpse of one of these rare species.

Wav file and sonograms below...


Barbastelle:

One ofthe Barbastelle passes. The wav file contains the characteristic castanet clicks, and also has a higher pitched Soprano Pipistrelle come in at the latter stages.

Barbastelle, Mottisfont, April 2010 (.Wav)

The Sonogram shows the frequency modulated calls in the 30-45 KHz range, (plus some harmonic signals at 100KHz that are of less interest in analysis.)



Presumed Whiskered Bat:

The most convincing calls of this hard to identify bat.

Wav file

Clicks are too fast for a Pipistrelle, but slower than a Natterer's or Dabenton's Bat.
The Sonogram below shows an obvious Myotis bat with long vertical calls between 30 and 70Khz. Repitition is of irregular speed from the wav file, the sonogram showing 13 calls per second.




Also two Swifts over the house today, my first this Spring.
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• Sunday, April 25, 2010 - Overnight rain brings a couple of surprises

Had a week of high pressure, blue skies, and fields rapidly emptying of Wheatears. My first House Martin of the year turned up Friday, and on a brief visit to the Dog Walker's field, I had a distant glimpse at what looked like a Black Redstart, but I wasn't able to pin it down long enough to confirm. The field is full of Dunnocks at the moment so maybe it was a trick of the strong sunlight backlighting it.


We finally got some overnight rain Saturday night, and as luck would have it, I was able to visit a few local places Sunday morning. I headed to Toothill, but again nothing in the fields. I was pleasantly surprised though to hear Firecrests singing pretty much right above the car. There were at least two birds, possibly a third, and like the 2 birds seen about 200 yards away a month ago, I have no idea if they are a breeding population, or migrating birds brought down by the rain.


Was full of hope heading to the Scrub along Rownham's Lane, and the Dog Walker's field, but I wasn't even able to pick out the local Stonechats today, and a thorough search only got me Whitethroats and Dunnocks. This was a real disappointment as the Dog Walker's field has a great track record for common migrants after rain. Not this time though.


Headed North to Kimbridge Lake and eventually picked up a Common Sandpiper on the far shoreline. No mean feat, and it took the 60x scope eyepiece to get a decent view of this bird. The only other surprise was a Fieldfare. my latest ever in the UK, by a week!


Sonogram, and wav file below of Firecrest:



And a 30 second  wav file containing Goldcrest followed by Firecrest, a Wren, then finally more Firecrest!
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• Monday, April 19, 2010 - Nothing but Wheatears!

2 more Wheatears on the way home from work this evening. This time off Misselbrook Lane where the turf fields usually have a good sized area of bare soil. Did draw a blank along Flexford road road this morning, in case anyone is thinking that every field in the area has Wheatears at the moment.

A nice bird to be tripping over, and a species that always gives you hope for something more exciting.

Still need some overnight rain for a more spectacular fall I think.. looking back at my records.. 24th April 2007 recording 5, 7, 1, and 9 Wheatears at various points along Hoe Lane! Plus a Whinchat.
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• Sunday, April 18, 2010 - More Wheatears, more good habitat.

Spent a good proportion of the day in the garden. Had a few scans of the sky but not a great deal other than Buzzards and a single Swallow through. Most of the Buzzards were obviously local birds, but I do get the occasional one really high, heading West in Spring.. Two seen today heading West. I'm sure these must be migrating, but I'll never know for sure. I wouldn't be quite so sure if I saw the odd one heading East at the same height from time to time, but they are always moving West at a rate of knots.

Had a walk round Baddesley Common this evening. 3 Wheatears was the highlight. Seems they are coming in fast now. A few Swallows over the paddocks, plus 2 Stonechats. Also a reasonable number of Yellowhammers about. I counted 5 just in and around the main common.

On the way home, stopped off at some more really great looking fields.. 1 had a large area left as bare earth, surrounded by crops, not sure why! but it was popular with Lapwings. Five in total. The field opposite was crammed with sheep, and only had a couple of Pied Wagtails plus a small number of Starlings.

I'm starting to lose count of the number of potentially good areas locally at the moment. We have lost Luzborough Lane's flooded field this year, possibly lost for good, as the field looks to have had the flooded area ploughed out of it. I think Casbrook Common has changed for the worst from what I saw form the road yesterday too. Also Skidmore's flooded field I suspect is dry by now, but the number of stubble fields, bare earth, and fields of livestock seems to be well up on previous springs. The new lake at Kimbridge is also a bonus being about the only open water in the valley that is not private or fishing only.
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• Sunday, April 18, 2010 - Wheatear, Barbastelle, and another Red Kite

Spent Saturday evening in the Test Valley around Stockbridge. Had a quick look at Toothill, but again it was quiet. Further North, the sewage works at Nether Wallop had double figures of Pied Wagtails, and a few Chaffinches. As time was getting on, I decided to try Danebury Hill. My first Wheatear of the year was a long overdue highlight, and there was also a fox crossing fields together with a Buzzard and Red Legged Partridges.

Headed to Kimbridge Lake at sunset, but there was not a great deal doing here. Was hoping maybe a wader would drop in at dusk but no joy. There was a higher number of Tufties on the lake, at least 8 present.

Finally, visited some woodland near a known Barbastelle bat roost. Sure enough, I picked at least 1 Barbastelle up on the Bat detector, together with Common Pipistrelles and Natterer's Bats.

Had great views of a Red Kite on my recent travels. I'm seeing a good number of these birds this Spring. At least 6 from memory. Photos below:




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• Friday, April 16, 2010 - Plenty of Lapwings, and a Red Kite


Temporarily given up on Toothill! Might try again after some overnight rain.. also I have neglected the woodland of late which seems to have got the better results so far, so it might still be worth a look in there at some point.

Instead, I turned my attention to area North East of the village along Flexford Road. There is a reasonably good view of 180degrees of horizon North, and over Emer Bog, but finding a suitable vantage point is not easy. Parking along the road is pretty awful, and it is a dangerously fast road in places. Some nice fields in the area though: a couple containing horses, and others with stubble. Saw no less than 6 Lapwings battling over territories, and a Swallow in my briefest of stops on Tuesday evening. Also 4 Roe Deer and a very smart Hare in the distance.

Lapwings are very much in evidence all around Romsey and North Baddesley this year to the point that you would be unlucky to find a set of fields with no territories at the moment. One bird had strayed close to the roadside enabling me to get a couple of very similar shots from the car..







Later that night, the house security light was triggered.. by a Fox this time. Had super views of it down to a couple of metres, but I didn't manage a photo. Too fast, too dark, too surprised to concentrate!

A return visit to Flexford Road on Thursday evening had a few more Swallows in the area, a Red Kite drifting north in the distance (just about identifiable through the scope), plus a decent flock of Corvids with a few Herring and Lesser Black Backed Gulls, and 2 Lapwings following a plough.
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• Tuesday, April 13, 2010 - Whitethroats drop in

I really am hammering the local area at the moment! No long days out in the field, but lots of little forays here and there. The Weather looked very cloudy overnight Sunday, so I checked out the south end of the Dog Walkers's Field and fields across Rownham's Lane. The wildest of these fields has had a Gropper and Nightingale briefly in previous springs, but nothing doing this morning.

Best of the birds in the dog walker's field were a couple of newly arrived Common Whitethroats. A male Stonechat also showed fairly close.

Over at Toothill, I spent an hour gazing skywards, but the only birds of note were three Herons, and a very close sparrowhawk gliding overhead. The open field near the mast had a couple of very close yet oblivious Roe Deer grazing which I managed to avoid spooking.

This could be turning into another fairly strange Spring locally with absolutely no passage stuff like Yellow Wagtail, Redstart or Wheatear so far. On the other hand, we are doing ok with Breeding birds arriving on their territories. So the only spring visitors are those dropping in of their own accord.. Desperately need some rain to force down anything passing overhead! Seem to remember the last two springs following this pattern pretty much to the letter!

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• Saturday, April 10, 2010 - Little Ringed Plover

A few things have happened this week that have made me question this internet blogging, and the behavour of other birders..
First, the chap tape luring the Lesser Spotted Woodepecker locally was just pure lazy, and at the same time risking the chances of breeding success for this shy species. Then onto Birdforums, I notice that my sighting of a Garden Dormouse in Iberian Lynx Country has resulted in a small stampede of birders heading into Spain with Mammal traps, which has now been highlighted as illegal in Spain. Thirdly, again on Birdforum, I'm amazed at how much sensitive information gets posted on there with no moderation. You mention it to the posters, and get ignored or arguments from them that don't really stack up as being to the welfare of the birds.

So today, after almost giving up in despair at the lack of local self-found excitement, I finally strike lucky in Test Valley with two Little Ringed Plovers freshly arrived, and behaving like newlyweds on the distant shoreline. The only chance of a photo was digiscoping, and this was the best result.. you can see the yellow eye ring anyway!




As I'm watching these two birds, and it soon dawns on me that if I disclose the location, then the next time I turn up there, there is likely to be a dude walking along the private shoreline playing a tape of LRP.. I don't want to have that on my conscience. Let's just leave it as Test Valley!

Also, plenty of Butterflies out this weekend, I'm seeing more Small Tortoiseshells than previous years, and quite a few Peacocks. The one below posed nicely. Taken with the 100-400mm which doesn't allow a close enough focus to really get in amongst it, but it doesn't look too bad.


Again, checked out Toothill, to no avail. Bet it is a different story after some rain in the next month though ;)

Elsewhere locally, we had to slam on along Hoe Lane to see a Tawny Owl on the ground just off the road. Think he had been unsuccessful droppping down for some prey, but those big black eyes.. what an incredible bird when seen close up, in main beam headlights! Maybe he should hunt the other side of the hedge in future.

In the back garden I have been watching a Treecreeper carrying nest material to a nearby tree. We have had Nuthatches breeding very close last year, but Treecreeper is a new one for us.
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• Friday, April 9, 2010 - Some multimedia from Baddesley Common

Had an early start and checked out a few local places this morning. Toothill was empty.. really starting to think this place might be a false hope! Also Timsbury was quiet, and Kimbridge lake at least had a decent flock of 27 Sand Martins and a Little Grebe.

Finished the early morning off at Baddesley Common. Lots of Skylarks today, and a couple more Willow Warblers.

Not sure what it is about the local area. It often seems like Spring is just galloping by without us getting a look in. Certainly while the weather is good we get zilch locally. Obviously we get the breeding birds trickling in, but where are the passage Wheatears, Whinchats, Green Sands, LRPs etc. I often think that we are too close to the coast.. but not close enough! Migrants make landfall on the coast, then leapfrog us and touch down further inland. Whatever the reason, it always comes good in the end, and I'm sure we will get our share in the next month!

Some video clips from Baddesley Common. Merged them into a single file, with Stonechat, Greenfinch and Willow Warbler.

Baddesley Common from Peter Jones on Vimeo.

Also some Skylark song

And finally, check out the incredible variety of notes in just a clip of the corresponding sonogram...

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• Wednesday, April 7, 2010 - Easter Weekend, and a Chiff Chaff Video


Sunday:

Bumped into one of the landowners at Toothill, who has kindly let me access an open area near the telecoms mast. Headed there this morning. I was interested to see the potential for vis-mig, and in particular if my theory about the mast attracting migrants holds any truth. Although this is the highest point in the Southern Test Valley, much of the horizon is blocked by trees, and I suspect you would always wonder what was being missed behind the treeline here! There is a decent view to the North East and a pretty good view of open sky all round. The local Astromony group meet here, so it is probably the best view of the sky we've got!

Today was a bit quiet, and a bit cold! Started off lively enough with a few Lesser Black Backs and Herring Gulls, plus the local corvids and Buzzards. A Sparrowhawk made a brief appearance and a couple of Swallows passed over in the distance. However, the stiff South Westerly wind, and low cloud seemed to put a halt to any other movement. I think I need to spend another morning or two here in milder conditions to see if the mast does indeed have any pull for migrants. The surrounding woods have whet the appetite so far this spring with recent Firecrests and Chiff Chaffs. The horse paddocks have been totally dead so far, but it is still early.

I think for Autumn migration, high ground North of North Baddesley would be a better bet.


Sunday Evening:

Went looking for Badgers in the evening near the Wallops, but despite plenty of evidence of occupancy, including a freshly dug sett, hairs on the barbed wire, and some serious digging up of grass, which had to the work of a Badger, there was no sign. Did however see a Fox and heard a Little Owl. On the way home saw 1 Barn Owl. No Tawnies for a change.

Tuesday:

This morning went on my BBS Breeding bird survey. The square I have been given has a good rep. at the moment with a much publicised Lesser Pecker along the route, and an Osprey reported yesterday.
I recorded the Lesser Pecker, plus Kingfisher, and Grey Wagtails. Was quite perturbed to see someone trying to tape-lure the Lesser Pecker as I returned to my car. What is wrong with just waiting?!

Finished the survey, and headed to Kimbridge. The gravel extractions have left a huge lake. Probably the only open water in the Test Valley north of the M27 that is easily viewable, and not out of bounds for fishing!

Would be brilliant if this is the end result of the gravel extraction, and looking at the new tree plantations around the banks, it could well be left as a lake. Today there were a few ducks (Mallards, and Tufties) plus 2 Canada Geese (a species that seems to colonise water while the hose is still running!), a Pied Wagtail, and about 10 Sand Martins overhead. The surrounding fields had one or two Skylarks, and I have seen wintering Hawfinch in the adjacent woods. A place with plenty of potential. However, I may be wrong, but I have a feeling this location was once much better, before I moved into the area, with a big Sand Martin Colony.

Photo of the gravel pits as they currently look..


In fact, all my favourite local venues.. Dog Walker's Field, Toothill, Hoe Lane, Baddesley Common, and now this lake, all look absolutely superb at the moment. Just need some migrants to make it across the Channel, and looking at today's sightings I think they are on their way!

Took this clip of a singing Chiff Chaff just about making himself heard above the fast traffic on Rownhams Lane..
Chiff Chaff from Peter Jones on Vimeo.
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• Sunday, April 4, 2010 - Toothill Woods, and the Garden Blackcap

Called into Toothill a couple of times this week. The first visit, I was totally distracted by a very brown  looking Chiff-Chaff, that I suspect was of the Scandinavian race. It didn't call which was a pity.

This morning I had a longer look around the area. The woods were full of activity: Goldcrests, Coal tits, Great Spotted Woodpeckers, Green Woodpeckers, all the common species frantically nest building. Got some footage of a Nuthatch at a potential nest hole.

Nuthatch from Peter Jones on Vimeo.

Returning along Hoe Lane, a couple of Fieldfares were the only birds of note.

Elsewhere this week, saw a very distant raptor that was most likely a Goshawk. Also good to see a Raven in an area where I suspect they breed, but haven't been seen for a while.


Photo below of the Male Blackcap that has been singing round the garden for a couple of weeks now.

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• Saturday, March 27, 2010 - Plenty of Chaff, but no Wheat!

I know.. but you try and keep the titles original after 350 entries!

Headed out early in search of Wheatear, and other early migrants but not much joy. The Dog walkers' field which has come up trumps in previous springs was pretty quiet with just a couple of the Breeding Stonechats chasing each other round the field.


From there I headed to Skidmore, where the wader scrape looked disappointingly low despite all the recent rain. I think it will be asking a lot for any waders to turn up here this spring. Maybe an LRP if I'm lucky. There were a few Fieldfares round the edge of the mud. Two Shelduck and a single Mandarin were flying around. Next came one that got away.. an Egret flying up the Test away from me. It just looked big.. too big! but by the time it turned for a side on view it was way too distant to make anything out.


Decided that this maybe wasn't the day for checking out the migrant hotspots west of the village so headed East to Baddesley Common. Much more action here with a few Chiff Chaffs, and a Willow Warbler singing. A finch flock included 5 Lesser Redpolls amongst the Goldfinches and a few Linnets and Yellowhammers were also around.

Got a long distance photo of the Great Spotted Woodpecker that spends a good deal of time drumming on a pylon...


Quite happy with the clarity of this photo.. the main difference from previous, less successful,  long range shots is the high ISO (ISO 1600).


Also took a long range record shot of a local Woodlark recently, again at ISO1600:




And a brief clip of the song

This song clip was taken from the video mode of the EOS500d, and converted to .wav.
 The bird was too distant for the video to be of any use, but the audio has come out really well, despite the Woodlark being interspersed with a host of other species singing. A potentially useful feature!
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• Thursday, March 25, 2010 - Stock Doves up to 50

Managed a very  brief lunchtime dash up Hoe Lane today. Weather was pretty naff, so not a great deal about. Highlight was a couple of Bullfinches just over my back garden fence, and the last field along Hoe Lane is still crawling with Stock Doves. Don't know what it is about this field for drawing in impressive numbers of a single species at a time, (this field held the ~40 Buzzards a couple of Autumns ago). Today's very brief count of Stock Doves was 51, twice my previous highest total for this species.

Trawling through recent Hampshire archives, big numbers of Stock Doves are fairly regular around this time of year, and this field will need to pull in a three figure count to get any headlines!

Also, plenty of Buzzards in the sky this morning. At least 5 including one which looked to be migrating West, another regular feature of March round here.

Had another look at the field late afternoon, but the heaven's opened big time just as I drove along Hoe Lane.. the Stock Dove field was empty!

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• Sunday, March 21, 2010 - Chiff Chaffs arriving in numbers, and a good sized flock of Stock Doves

Lots of birds on the move this week.. Chiff Chaffs seem to be everywhere, after I heard my first for the year around the garden on Thursday. Hoe Lane, just outside North Baddesley, was heaving with Woodpigeons this afternoon, with a big, uncountable flock in distant stubble, and many Jackdaws.. Best was a gathering of 34 Stock Doves in the old Buzzardworld field. My highest ever flock of this species, although it sounds pitiful! One of my favourite birds the Stock Dove, almost totally overlooked by many.


Still the odd Redwing around the village, and further North, I stumbled on a 50+ flock of Fieldfares near Nether Wallop Sewage works. The works always look promising, but I could only see a dozen or so Pied Wagtails and a Meadow Pipit, oh, plus another Chiff Chaff!


Good to see Ben Folds messing with Internet's wierdest on tour! (Beware strong language!)
And this has got to be Ben Folds too.. don't care what anyone says! (more strong language!)

Edit: had to change the 2nd youtube link ("Merton").. Looks like two of his victims requested to be blacked out. This is after 4 million hits to this video clip.. Horse.. bolted!
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• Monday, March 15, 2010 - Red Kite over M3 in Surrey

Lucky sighting on the way home from London this evening of a Red Kite high over the M3 between jct 2 and 3, in Surrey I think,  heading North.

I get the feeling there is a pretty significant movement of birds migrating over Southern England at the moment. As well as the recent Firecrests, Little Egrets (which have now moved on), and Red Kite on this blog, there is a whole host of Local Patch ticks being recorded this week. Very little trans continental migration, but lots of our mainly "resident" species seem to be on the move.

Sad news that the Chilworth Barn Owl got run over at the weekend. I wonder if this bird had recently arrived at this territory, as I hadn't seen one here for over a year, despite almost daily drives along the favourite stretch of road.
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• Saturday, March 13, 2010 - Little Egrets II


There must be quite a bit of food in the brook as the Egrets are constantly returning there to fish. I reckon they are going up to an hour between disturbances, so they could stick around for some time yet. Got some rushed, handheld video when one landed in a nearby tree, and a couple of distant photos. I managed to trade better light for greater distance so haven't really improved on the pics!

Little Egret from Peter Jones on Vimeo.





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• Saturday, March 13, 2010 - Little Egrets drop in

A real unexpected surprise this week as two Little Egrets have turned up in the stream alongside the house. They are getting disturbed quite frequently. This is a fairly busy residential area, and they are often seen flying between their two favoured fishing spots. Took the photos early this morning when they were in trees opposite the bus stop!


We have only ever seen small fish on one occasion in the brook, and Frogs are not plentiful either, so I doubt there is much of a food supply to keep them here for long. Still, it is good to see the Brook finally delivering some water birds to the area. Grey Wagtail is the only other water loving bird to be recorded here in the last three years.

Photos were a struggle, but these came out ok at ISO400, 1/45th sec. I have no confidence in the EOS 500d above ISO400, unless it is absolutely essential. Notice from the photos this bird has a slightly deformed beak.  Surprising how often the camera picks up something that gets missed with the binocs.





Also in the garden a Redwing and a Blackcap.

Headed out to Toothill this morning , but it was quiet. No Firecrests despite a pretty thorough search, so maybe last week's birds were migrants. Just two Bullfinches at Hoe Lane, and two Mandarins and two Shelducks at Skidmore.
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• Sunday, March 7, 2010 - There's a light that never goes out!


Got out early Saturday morning and tried a fairly small area within a mile of the house that I had never paid much attention to in the three years we have lived in North Baddesley. After a brief scan over the Dog Walkers's field which had at least 3 Stonechats, I'm pleased to report, I headed to Toothill, just south of Packridge Lane.

A fox hunting in the open was a good start, and although the long range photos were not too inspiring, I did get a nice video clip. A Siskin briefly burst into song nearby.


Red Fox from Peter Jones on Vimeo.


In the woods right underneath the Telecoms mast, I caught a glimpse of what was most likely a Firecrest. Fortunately, a few minutes later it re-appeared. A really hyperactive Firecrest in a feeding frenzy within a couple of metres of me. Soon became apparent that there were two, and I managed a couple of record shots together with plenty of overblurred shots, and a few blank photos of foliage!






As I haven't been to this location before, I can't say if these birds are wintering, on breeding territory, or migrants. However, judging by the recent reports around Hampshire and Dorset, they coincide with a decent number of Migrating Firecrests this week. Time will tell.

I have long had a theory about migrants in the local area, and how they seem to turn up most frequently along Rownhams Lane. Sure the habitat is slightly wilder and uncultivated along this stretch comapred with further west, but whether it is Wheatears and Chats, Warblers, or even vis mig, the numbers are noticeably higher along the lane. I marked all the migrants I have seen from memory on the map below. I spend an equal amount of time along the length of Hoe Lane with very few signs of migration to report further West.


Also, looking South from my house every evening, I can't help notice the red light on top of the Telecoms mast in the distance.. Could this be attracting the migrants (*). Today's Firecrests turned up pretty much underneath the mast. If this is the case, then I can look forward to migrant Chats, Warblers and Wagtails in the coming months, as the area surrounding the mast has a rich tapestry of New Forest type woodland plus horse paddocks.

(*) I found a clip from a web article with the following text: "We found that nocturnally migrating birds were disoriented and attracted by red and white light (containing visible long-wavelength radiation), whereas they were clearly less disoriented by blue and green light (containing less or no visible long-wavelength radiation)." (http://www.learner.org/jnorth/tm/NightLights.html)

Further along my walk, and into Nightingale Wood, I concentrated on a field of Cows and a huge pile of rotting barley which had attracted two Grey Wagtails, but not a great deal else.

Returning back home, it was nice to hear Skylarks and 3 Lapwings back on territory along Hoe Lane.
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• Sunday, February 28, 2010 - Common Gulls and a very quiet Hoe Lane.

The weekend's rain finally eased off Sunday afternoon, so I headed down the road to the Dog Walkers' field off hoe Lane for an hour. Optimistically took my camera, but there was very little about. No Buzzards, Kestrels, Stonechats, or Meadow Pipits on the field. Winter Afternoons locally can be really hit and miss. I'm sure a morning visit would tell a different story. A couple of Green Woodpeckers were about the only birds in the vicinity.

The "Hidden" field west of the Dog Walker's, which can't be seen from Hoe Lane and is currently filled with sheep,  was heaving with Black Headed Gulls, Corvids and a few Starlings. Pick of the Gulls were 3 Common Gulls. Took a record shot, but my camera system is a real struggle with long distance shots in low light.


The garden meanwhile, is bringing in good numbers of Chaffinches.. 11 was the peak this lunchtime.
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• Saturday, February 27, 2010 - Garden Blackcap, and some garden bird photos

A Male Blackcap made a brief appearance in the garden on Thursday. Looking round the email bulletin boards etc. this arrival coincided with a few other garden sightings in both Hampshire and Wiltshire indicating that they are on the move. So, are they birds that winter in Europe Moving East to their breeding grounds, or African birds arriving in the UK? Maybe a few weeks too early for the African Migrants?

Also, a couple of Siskins still in the vicinity. Best of the photos below from a mainly dull, and difficult month for photography around the garden...
(All taken with EOS500d and 100-400L lens)

















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• Monday, February 22, 2010 - Garden Siskins and Goldcrest

Saturday morning, Siskins finally returned to our garden feeders. 3 were feeding in the morning, joined by another 2 on Sunday morning. The Male amongst them was singing quite regularly, and I attempted some handheld video footage, but it was shaky.. Did get a decent record shot "Still" from the footage though..

So the winter hasn't been a complete non-starter with the Finches around the garden, and plenty of time for Redpoll and Brambling to make an appearance.

We also had a very confiding Goldcrest recently. Very confiding, but very difficult to pin down for more than a split second at a time. Best of the photos below, albeit very obscured..


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• Saturday, February 13, 2010 - A Short Eared Owl at Yarnbury

Tried a few inland locations this afternoon.. Hoe Lane looked fairly lively with Redwings and Chaffinches along the mid section, but not a great deal else. North to Middle Wallop Sewage Works, and again, plenty of birdlife with the pits brimming with Pied Wagtails and a Meadow Pipit, plus Fieldfare in the surrounding fields.


Finished the afternoon at Yarnbury which has given me some excellent views of Raptors in previous winters. Started pretty quiet with 2 unbelievably loud dog walkers, and 2 army helicopters overhead for about half an hour.. Peace eventually descended as it usually does here, and I was rewarded with 2 Hen Harriers, 1 was a smart Male which gave only the briefest of views. Both Red Legged and Grey Partridges were seen, together with 4 Corn Buntings, and a nearby field had a decent number of Lapwings, Starlings, and Fieldfare.


Had just about given up any hope of Short Eared Owl, (spoke to a birder on site who hadn't seen any here all winter). However, well after dusk, in near darkness, a single Short eared Owl glided past, circled, landed briefly, then continued out of sight. Shorties seem to be getting harder each year at this site. On my first visit 2 winters ago, the whole area was crawling with at least 8 Owls all in broad daylight. On subsequent visits the numbers have dropped to 4, 2, and now 1! The last two visits the Owls have only shown well after dusk.


Tried a few minor lanes on the way home that have had Barn Owls in the past, but only managed a single near King's Somborne.
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• Tuesday, February 2, 2010 - More Roe Deer video..

Tried unsuccessfully on Saturday night to catch the Roe Deer in our garden. Woke up several times throughout the night, but each time I checked, the Security light had not been tripped.

I suspect the lack of sleep contributed to me getting a cold, which was lucky!.. as last night I woke up at 1am, coughing and sneezing to find the security light was on!

I crept downstairs, and sure enough, a fine Stag Roe Deer was cleaning up the oats we put out for him. Managed to get the camera, and open the kitchen blind enough to get a photo and some video...

Photo taken at ISO 6400, 1/8th sec. with 55mm lens. Security light was giving out just enough light for this pic.

The video footage below needed brightening with Windows Movie Maker..







Roe Deer from Peter Jones on Vimeo.
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• Sunday, January 31, 2010 - Garden birdwatch, and a Garden Hide!

My best sighting of the weekend was a Woodcock fairly high over the car on the A3 at Waterlooville.  Quite unusual for me to see one in broad daylight, though there have been plenty of reports this winter.


I had a couple of surprises during the RSPB Garden birdwatch today with the Fieldfare returning to polish off the remaining apples. A Jay in the garden was also the first for a few weeks. I set up a DIY hide in the back garden near some bird seed that I have been regularly placing in a sunny location. For the hide I used trellis, a couple of bags of fertiliser, an old camouflage sheet, and lay under the tripod clamping the camera to the bottom of the centre column. I was about 4 metres from the birds, and was down at their level. The best results are below, and it could turn out to be a good move if Bramblings join the Chaffinches as they have done in the last two winters.









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• Thursday, January 28, 2010 - Stars of CCTV: Roe Deer

Finally caught the Roe Deer that cleans out our ground bird feeder each night on video! Fortunately, the newly installed security light didn't spook him, and the rest was easy! Just set the Internet camera to record pretty much all night, and look for the clip that wasn't in total darkness. If he comes at roughly the same time each night, I might set my alarm, and try improving on the video quality with the DSLR.



Learned quite a bit from the video footage.. He looks like a pretty smart stag, and squeezes into the garden via a small gap in the hedge. Last night, he arrived at 2:20am, and stayed for just under 30 minutes. Amazingly he never leaves any droppings.


Elsewhere a Raven over the house last weekend was pretty cool, and a Goldcrest near South Ruislip station on my journey home from work was equally surprising.. there are still some left after the cold snap!

• Sunday, January 10, 2010 - Thrush hour


The heavy snow didn't materialise overnight, and we had probably our busiest day for garden birds today, with the apples getting a lot of attention from all 5 of the regular thrush species. All of the following were taken with the kitchen window closed, but came out ok, considering the dull conditions.

Mistle Thrush:




Redwing: (taken in poor light ISO800, F6.7, 1/45 sec. Spot exposure aimed at the birds back)

Song Thrush:

Plus some video from the EOS 500d




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• Saturday, January 9, 2010 - The sound of silence

Still pretty much housebound at the moment, with very little incentive to go out and scan the frozen countryside around the village. Got a better chance of seeing something unusual around the garden at the moment. Quite a strange day. The common birds were really well represented this morning, with 2 House Sparrows and a Starling joining the more regular visitors!  2 Nuthatches, a Female Bullfinch and a Song Thrush were other highlights, and a mature Cotoneaster bush down the street had Blackbird, Mistle Thrush, Redwing and Fieldfare stripping the berries off it earlier today.


Then, mid afternoon, just as we started to prepare for more overnight snow, there was an eery silence.. not a bird to be seen, not even Crows or Woodpigeons in surrounding trees.. nothing. I went outside and heard just a distant  Wren and a Blackbird briefly, plus a Redwing flying over heading West. It was as though all the local birds have felt the strengthening Easterly Wind, and made a run for it. Will be interesting to see what tomorrow brings.

Quite an unusual winter so far.. All the Thrush species are much more numerous than previous winters, but as yet no Siskins, or Bramblings in the garden, and quite surprisingly no Blackcaps so far.
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• Wednesday, January 6, 2010 - The tracks of my Deer!

North Baddesley looks to have escaped the worst of the severe weather today with just a couple of centimetres here. The bird feeders were not overrun with birds today, although Goldfinch numbers were up with well over 10 birds in the surrounding trees. Many local birders were seeing Larks moving overhead today, so it looks like I missed a good opportunity to add Skylark to the garden list.

The one highlight today was finally getting conclusive evidence that a Roe Deer is clearing up the bird food overnight.. He manages to avoid detection no matter what time he visits us, but can't hide his footprints.

"If you look closer it's easy to trace, the tracks of my Deer!.."



The bird footprint below the hoof is a mystery, I suspect it was a Blackbird but it looks too big. I haven't seen Pheasants in the gardens, but that was my first thought.

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• Sunday, January 3, 2010 - A walk in winter farmland.

Hoe Lane is closed to traffic at the moment due to black ice on a bend, so I decided to walk the lane from my house this morning. Stopped off at the Dog Walkers's field but this was pretty quiet with just a Buzzard, Stonechat and Green Woodpecker. Hoe Lane had a lot of birdlife, but nothing really out of the ordinary. The fields were crawling with Redwings, and a few other Thrushes, plus plenty of Crows, Woodpigeons and a single Stock Dove. It wasn't until the last field before the A3057 that I picked up Lapwings. A flock of at least 100. This field also had a couple of Skylarks.

Surprisingly, the Pheasant cover was all empty with the only finches around the farm buildings with a few Pied Wagtails. Recall this happening last Winter too, when I suspected the Finches head into the village in extreme cold weather. Did see the local "pale" Buzzard perched in a distant tree, one of the palest I have ever seen in the UK.  Photo below..

Lapwings: Always one of the highlights of a winter walk in farmland. (Canon EOS500d, 100-400 IS, ISO 200, 1/1000sec, f8)




The Hoe Lane Pale Buzzard! Perched about 200m away, and taken with Canon EOS500d + 18-55mm attached to Nikon ED82. (manual exposure 1/500sec, f4.5, ISO800, using the live view screen to focus, and set exposure. Used the 2sec self-timer to reduce camera shake)

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• Saturday, January 2, 2010 - Close escape for a Blue Tit

Haven't done a great deal this weekend, other than take some pics from the back garden. We currently have a decent sized group of garden birds that spend most of the day on the feeders, or in the surrounding trees. Unfortunately, the best birds including Nuthatch, Treecreeper, Great Spotted Woodpecker and Coal Tit have stayed out of camera range so far.

However, there are plenty of photo opportunites for Blue Tit, Long Tailed tit, and Chaffinch. The first Blue Tit below looks to have had a very close escape from a predator with a large patch of feathers plucked from his underside. (EDIT: After further research, this bald patch may have been caused by a parasite)










Cold weather is coming in now from the North and East. Hope to check out the Hoe Lane fields and Pheasant cover tomorrow.
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• Thursday, December 31, 2009 - 2009 review

2009 was another superb Birding year which only really got going for me in July! However, the second half of the year was phenomenal! with Self-found Fea's Petrel and Red Throated Pipit, plus a Spanish Lynx on a weekend trip to Spain. This was also the year in which my UK "self-found" list broke the 250 barrier.

Highlights:

1. Fea's Petrel: A brief sighting during a boat survey in the English Channel that left me stunned for a number of days afterwards!

2. Red-Throated Pipit: Another total surprise, this time in Unst, on the Shetlands. A pretty smart bird with extensive orangy/red face and breast showing nicely in the scope, which made the sighting even more enjoyable.

3. Spanish Lynx: What an awesome, elusive, rare animal. Luck and patience played a huge part in this sighting at a well known watchpoint in the Sierra Morena.

4. Unst: Finally I found myself in the right place with half-decent weather conditions! Walked many miles, and came home with a good tally of Yellow-Browed Warblers, Rosefinch, Red-Throated Pipit and Lapland Bunting, plus a host of other common species and an Otter.

5. Madeira: Spent a relaxing week here on the family holiday, but did manage to see the island endemics, and a boat trip to the Desertas was memorable for Fea's Petrel, Bulwer's Petrel and Cory's Shearwaters.

6. Spanish Bats: Dusk in the Sierra Morena was a special place for Bats with Greater Horseshoe, Greater Mouse Eared, and Kuhl's Pipistrelle the highlights.

7. Leach's Petrel: Finally saw one of these 20 years after missing one fly past me at the Mersey Estuary. It took a massive wreck of unprecedented magnitude along the Hampshire and Dorset coast for me to connect though!

8. a Local breeding Nightjar, just audible from my garden was a real bonus for 2009. Subsequent evenings I was able to observe a pair of birds hunting for insects, but I've no idea if their breeding attempt was successful.

9. Garden Redpolls. My first Lesser Redpolls for the garden arrived in late winter. They were also joined by a Mealy Redpoll.

10. Butterflies: 2009 got me my first Marsh Fritillary, and will also be remembered for the huge influx of Painted Ladies.


Wishes for 2010:
Well, the Shetlands are already booked for mid-September! and the family are dropping big hints for a return to Madeira. I'll spend the winter months, as always, searching for Owls. A Long-Eared would be great, and a Hampshire Short-eared would also be a good find. This year, I also hope to see the Glanville Fritillaries at Hurst, although their food plant is becoming scarce, and I may have missed my chance here. My Western Palearctic "self found" list is on 446, so it would be nice to nudge this closer to 450. This would give me the UK250, Euro350, Western Palearctic450 hat trick!

Happy New Year Everyone!
Record, share and compare with BUBO Listing at www.bubo.org
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• Monday, December 28, 2009 - BTO Atlas & Great Tit pic.

Have been dreading entering my local bird sightings onto the BTO Bird Atlas, but decided to bite the bullet this week. The really good news is that you can now upload batches of sightings onto their system via spreadsheet. Took me a couple of goes to get the data right, but within a couple of hours I had posted over 1100 records for WIltshire and Hampshire!

Sneaked out into the garden earlier today to take some shots of this Great Tit, which seemed to be fairly static in our back garden. Must have taken about 20 photos, and this was by far the best...



1/180th Sec, f8.0, ISO 200, 400mm (Canon EOS500d, and Canon 100-400mm IS )
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• Sunday, December 27, 2009 - Cold Weather influx of Plovers

The recent cold weather brought an improvement in local bird numbers. Hoe Lane had around 175 Lapwings, plus 5 Golden Plovers, and 21 Skylarks, but the Lapwings and Golden Plover seem to have moved on.

Spent dusk at Baddesley Common this evening. The Common, and surrounding fields look really promising for raptors and Owls this winter, with extensive areas of long dead grass, but no joy. Only Sparrowhawk, Kestrel and Buzzard, plus at least 3 calling Tawny Owls after dusk. 1 Woodcock low overhead was good, and there is an impressive flock of roosting birds, probably Meadow Pipits, which numbered at least 50.


Won an ebay auction a couple of weeks ago for a wireless internet camera.. Want to find out what eats the bird food off the ground feeder overnight! Probably a Roe Deer, but there are also Foxes in the area. Unfortunately, the security light has broke, so I'll have to replace that before I can set the camera up. Tried last winter with a webcam, but it never visited when the camera was pointing out the window.
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• Sunday, December 6, 2009 - Baddesley Common and Hoe Lane

Quite a frustrating weekend, Sunday anyway, as I went out mid afternoon just in time to get a good soaking. This despite it being beautiful sunshine all day prior to me going out.

Baddesley Common was pretty quiet with just a Lesser Redpoll of note, and plenty of Redwings in the area. Checked out the main bog, and the very wild looking fields at the Northern end of the Common at dusk and beyond, but nothing. Pity, as the fields look ideal for a hunting Owl or Raptor. Just a couple of Buzzards today.


The Pheasant cover along Hoe Lane looks great for this winter. The maize has been cut down with just a square remaining near the road. The Finches are using the remaining maize as cover, and feeding pretty close to the road. Only Chaffinches, and Greenfinches this weekend, but Reed Bunting and Brambling have turned up here in past winters. Winter Thrushes building up along Hoe Lane with about 30-40 Fieldfares, plus a smaller number of Redwings. Also a Buzzard with a hint of white rump, which I think got some discussion last winter.. Just a Common though!


Camera got a bit of use, but still feel like I am just experimenting waiting for something good to photo!.. Liked this shot of a Woodpigeon mainly due to the fairly long distance it was from me, and the fact I got his head clear of the twigs. 



F8, ISO200, 1/250Sec, 340mm handheld, IS on, for the record!
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• Sunday, November 29, 2009 - A long awaited Leach's Petrel

I was due to meet friends in the Chilterns today to watch Red Kites, but a mixture of the bad weather, and a nasty case of the trots (Hope you are feeling better now Tim!) postponed the trip.


I fancied going out this afternoon after the worst of the weather passed by thinking about the hide at Ibsley being a good choice, but I couldn't help notice the abundance of Leach's Petrels along the Hampshire Coast. I once stood at Seaforth Docks next to a guy who was calling out a Leach's Petrel.. I didn't see it, and have never seen one since. That was about 20 years ago!


By the time I was clear to go out this afternoon, about the only stretch of Hampshire coastline not to have recorded a Leach's was Lepe and Calshot, so I headed over to the beach huts at Calshot. It was so tempting to twitch the Milford Birds, but I managed to resist. Once it gets to 20 years, another year doesn't make much difference!


The first hour was pretty quiet, leaving me thinking "what have I done?!", but things eventually picked up with a fairly distant Leach's Petrel struggling out of Southampton Water at 3:30pm. Also 2 Great Skuas were in the area, one on the water plucking something dark, but I couldn't be sure what it was. The Leach's was in scope for a few minutes making ridiculously slow progress towards the Solent, then it disappeared from view. I suspect it got close to the Great Skua, and panicked: either back into Southampton Water, or headed off East.


A couple of Med Gulls were about the only other birds of note.


Got back home to see that a Leach's was seen at Iblsey, at roughly the same time I saw mine.. guess I was destined to see one today! The sighting is also incredibly significant for me, as it is my 250th self-found bird in the UK, and also my 500th Species seen in the Western Palearctic!
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• Saturday, November 28, 2009 - Kestrel pics.


Finally managed to get out on a reasonably sunny morning, and took a few photos!
The dog walkers' field at North Baddesley was pretty quiet with just a couple of distant Stonechats, and a Roe Deer, plus a couple of small flocks of Redwings over.

Rest of Hoe Lane was also fairly empty, but a Kestrel perched up on a dead tree enabled me to get some shots from the car window. (Got some shots in the garden too in more overcast conditions, of Robin and Squirrel!).





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• Sunday, November 22, 2009 - Blashford Lakes

Waited patiently for the bad weather to end, then headed to Blashford in brilliant sunshine hoping the storm had brought in something good, and also to try out a new lens for my camera. Failed on both counts, as the Reserve didn't hold any surprises, and the weather over Blashford was still pretty murky for most of the afternoon.


Ibsley water had a huge Gull roost, with one or two Yellow Legged Gulls, plus a Male and Female Goldeneye.

Photos were extremely difficult, but I did manage the three below which took an unusual amount of editing to get any colour out of the pics!

Little Grebe:


Cormorant:


Goldeneye:
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• Tuesday, November 17, 2009 - Increase in garden birds, and a local Tawny Owl.

Been crocked for over a week with a cold, so haven't done very much at all lately. Have noticed the garden and surrounding area is now brimming with a much larger numbers of birds:


The recent storms brought a couple of Redwings down into the bushes behind the house, but they seem to have moved on. Jays have numbered at least 6, and Woodpigeons must be well over 50. Plenty of Blackbirds are clearing the berries, and the regular wintering Grey Wagtail has returned to the nearby brook. There is also a family party of Long Tailed Tits passing through the garden on most days.


A Tawny Owl was hooting in the distance a few nights ago. I made the fatal error of imitating the call for a laugh, and now he sits in the closest trees to the house wailing for hours every night! Sonogram of the long wavering hoot, and a wav file below. 1.4 seconds is good going for any bird!:





The Wave file is here!
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• Monday, October 26, 2009 - Baddesley Common

Spent late afternoon around Baddesley Common and Emer Bog. To be honest, given the weather and time of year, it was very difficult to choose anywhere to go for a couple of hours. Whilst there, I stumbled on a whole new strip of woodland that I'd never really checked out before, but the paths seem well established, and a couple of dog walkers were using it. The problem I have with Baddesley Common is that it is huge, you could spend pretty much all day in there, and still not cover all the habitat. Did stumble across a small Tit flock, but nothing of interest amongst the Long Tailed and Blue Tits. Pick of the Finches were two Lesser Redpolls. There were also around 20 Redwings overhead, and a Siskin.

Dusk at Emer Bog was fairly quiet but a Fox put 5 Snipe up which would otherwise have gone undetected, and a Water Rail was calling.

The Common itself is looking better than I have seen it previously. Plenty of Meadow Pipits, and long "Fallow" grassland.

Record shots below of Fox and Redpoll! The fox was taken at 1/4 second on ISO 6400.. miracles do happen!


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• Saturday, October 17, 2009 - Redwings overhead.

Checked out the dog walkers field first light. A couple of families of Stonechats in the bushes with 6 Meadow Pipits was about all I could find, plus a singing Mistle Thrush.


Overhead was slightly more exciting with good numbers of Redwing initially. I was well over 200 in about 30 minutes, all in groups of 30-40, and all heading West. the passage appeared to stop quite abruptly around 9am. Also overhead were a few Pied Wagtails, not sure if these roost locally and were heading into the village for the day, or were part of a longer range movement. They were heading North, along with at least 3 Skylarks. The rest of Hoe Lane was pretty quiet, except for a few flocks of Woodpigeon.


I expected to come home to find reports of big movements of Redwings over the County, given my modest success. However, nothing seems to have been posted, so either everyone has given up counting them or North Baddesley was punching above it's weight!
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• Tuesday, October 13, 2009 - Normal service resumed!

Back down to earth after recent trips!

Hoe Lane on Sunday didn't have a great deal to write about, just a couple of Stonechats at the Western end near the farm. Did, however, notice that the main pheasant cover has been reduced to stubble, so potential for Finches in a couple of months. (This strip was left 5 foot high last winter).

Regarding the Portland obs thread in my last entry, and on Hoslist, I am going to try and photograph as much as I can, and change my birding set up accordingly:

* The padded rucksack that I keep my camera in on walks will have to go! by the time I get the camera out, the bird has gone! I can carry the camera over my shoulder, but worry about mud etc splashing onto the lens, so am designing a "holster!" to keep it in!

* I currently take the scope off the tripod and replace with the camera for photos.. This takes too long as well! I'm going to try and find a mini-clamp tripod that can be clamped to the top of a tripod leg for the camera to connect to, and try and take more photos holding the camera. They won't be perfect, but will be better than nothing I expect.

Will post on here with my results.
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• Saturday, October 10, 2009 - Time to ditch the scope?


Photos from my Unst trip, and a visit to the Portland Bird Obs website got me thinking!

I noticed during the trip that the quality of pics from my EOS500d, viewed on the camera LCD in the field, were bringing out detail that I had no hope of capturing with my naked eye or binocs. In fact, the zoomed in images were at least the equal of my scope with 32x magnification.

I also saw the following on the Portland birds obs website ( http://www.portlandbirdobs.org.uk/ ):

"Finally, we are instigating a small change in the way we report on rarities and other records of local interest/importance. In future the PBO website and annual report will no longer include records of this nature that lack the support of video, photo or sound recording evidence".

A small change of gargantuan proportions!


Given the choice, it seems the budding bird finder should pack a camera and long lens before the scope, and even the notebook! Something that has been on the cards for some time, especially if you go out solo.

The Birders on Shetland were in this camp, all toting long lenses, very few with scopes.

It would certainly change the priorities if you find something out of the ordinary.. What do you do? phone the news out or leg it 50 yards to grab the nearest birder? or get a photo first, then phone the news out? Bearing in mind the grief you'd get if a bird flew off while you had a camera pointing in its direction! the photo may be better obtained before the crowds arrive ;) What if it takes a couple of hours to get a photo. Now you are suppressing news too!

I have recently made a big effort to capture finds on film, especially single observer ones, but it ain't always that simple. Just last week, my best finds of Red Throated Pipit, 2 Yellow Browed Warblers and a Rosefinch were pretty much impossible to record in this way.

And are we saying that if 6 experienced birders are eating breakfast at the Obs when a Veery hops onto the Portland Observatory garden wall then drops down never to be seen again, then it won't feature in their annual report?!
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• Thursday, October 8, 2009 - Unst 2009


My Annual Autumn birding weekend. which seems to get slightly longer each year. A fact that has probably not gone un-noticed domestically! Armed with Flybe free flight vouchers, Scottish Islands were the obvious choice. Sanday last year was a success despite westerly gales, with a Pectoral Sandpiper found on the last day. However, it was hard work, and I could easily have returned home with zero from that trip. So I went with the Probabilities and chose Shetland this time round, and headed to the Northernmost point of the UK.. Unst.

Booked the flights and checked the bus times, then found I couldn't find anywhere to stay in the Northernmost villages, so panicked and hired a car. After much searching found a B&B in Uyeasound.. Batavia. A modern carbon neutral house that was very comfortable, and made for an enjoyable base.

Weather leading up to the long weekend was dominated by strong Westerlies. Here we go again! but as luck would have it, the winds died off during my stay, and in addition to 3 days out of 4 being in beautiful crisp, mild, sunny weather. The easing off of the westerlies, and low pressures over Scandinavia gave the Eastern migrants more than enough encouragement to leap frog northern Scandinavia and cross the North Sea. Overnight storms over Shetland were the final piece in the jigsaw, and done a decent job of bringing down small numbers of migrants.


Thursday was spent travelling, but on a brief recce of the northern villages of Haroldswick and Baltasound, I did see two "Greenland" Redpolls from the car. Got good views through the bins, and these turned out to be the only ones I saw in the trip.

Friday:
I was full of enthusiasm, and set off on a major trek around Lambaness. Not much in the way of quality for much of the walk, despite serious searching of every sheltered spot on the peninsula. The regular species made it interesting with plenty of Ravens, Fulmars, and a few Twite and Snow Bunting. Got near the point to be overtaken by a local birder in a car. Had this horrible feeling I was going to be beaten to the prize, but there was nothing on the point except Snow Buntings which we both admired for a while.

Returned along the Southern side of the peninsular which had warmed up nicely, and seemed to attract a few more Meadow Pipits, Skylarks and Twite. Best bird of the day was saved until the end, about 200 yards from the car.. A Pipit perched on a stone wall turned out to be a superb Adult Winter Red-Throated Pipit with quite a bit of orange remaining on its face and throat. Completely unexpected, and made the trip worthwhile for me with three days still to go!
Took some mental field notes, and switched from my telescope to camera, but sod's law, the bird dropped out of sight just as I was hitting the shutter! Didn't see it on the deck again, although I did hear it call in flight a few minutes later, and watched it head out towards a sheltered cliff top. Headed off there, and after 20 minutes or so, heard it again in flight. Tried the original stone wall an hour or so later, but no joy. Still, a nice experience while it lasted.


Saturday:
Weather was foul, I decided to try Sandwick. Somewhere with no previous birding track record. Another long walk but with no real highlights. Sandwick remains a birding nowhere!
Whooper Swans were building up on the Loch at Uyeasound. Counted 12 today, plus what initialy looked like a Scaup, but the size and extensive black on the tip of the bill relegated it to a hybrid.


Sunday:
Two days to go, and I needed to get back in full swing after the previous day's none event! Migrants were much in evidence with Snow Buntings, Redwings and a Whinchat all seen from the car whilst driving out to Skaw. Had a look round Lambaness but no joy.

Norwick was the highlight of the day with so many new birds in, a decent find felt close. A Brambling was new, plus a Whitethroat, and a couple of Blackcaps. Got a result in the form of a Yellow Browed Warbler. Something of a bogey bird in terms of my self found list, with a very painful near miss in Norfolk a few years back. Also saw the Rosefinch, that had been present for a week or so.

Repeated the Yellow Browed Warbler find an hour later in the sycamores at Baltasound.. Surely the site with most potential on the whole of Unst! Watched the Yellow Browed and a Chiff Chaff picking insects off the sunny side of the wood.


Monday: Last day, and I decided on a long walk around Skaw, trying to take in places were no birders had been for a few days, as Unst seemed to be crawling with birders, and quite a few scarce birds were being reported from the well watched sites. A Rosefinch at the cottage at Skaw was a good start, but the moorland and abandoned crofts were devoid of birds. The return leg along the coast was better.. An Otter was a surprise ambling over the moors, no doubt commuting between two favourite fishing locations. Best of the birds were two very showy Lapland Buntings.. Even got photos emphasising how confiding they were. Finished the trip in the Sycamores at Baltasound, where at least 6 Chiff Chaffs were feeding but only a very brief glimpse of a single Yellow Browed Warbler in a nearby garden.

Photos:

Lapland Bunting


Whooper swan


Twite:

Fulmar:

Snow Bunting

Raven

Otter:


Tufted Ducks and Tufted x Scaup(?) hybrid
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• Saturday, September 26, 2009 - Spanish Lynx Weekend


Took advantage of a free Flybe flight and had a very enjoyable long weekend in spain. Took a flight to Malaga then a hire car into Sierra Morena, just North of Andujar. An area that had recently received publicity as one of only two remaining strongholds for Spanish Lynx. Currently the rarest cat in the world, and in danger of extinction.

A couple of watchpoints are mentioned, but Spanish Lynx is as elusive as it is rare, and an average of 40 hours per sighting has been quoted! My luck was obviously in, as I saw a beautiful Lynx stealthily creep down a hillside, pause on it's haunches briefly, before disappearing out of sight. A 15 second view, about 5 seconds in the scope and not even a sniff of a photo opportunity, but unforgettable all the same. This was after 8 hours scanning from the Rio Jandular watchpoint and a pre-dawn slow drive through suitable territory. As there isn't much else to do in this part of Spain other than look for Lynx, I spent much of the remainder of the weekend scanning, but was unable to repeat the sighting.. 20 hours searching for 15 seconds of Lynx!

The stakeouts were in far from ideal conditions: Rain reduced the chances of a sighting the first afternoon, and the final morning's watch was aborted after 4 hours when a stray dog turned up in the patch. I suspect the scent of the canine would ruin any chance of a Lynx for several days.

Not that the Rio watchpoint is only good for Lynx.. Throughout my stay a procession of other Animals came and went, making it a superb place to sit out a weekend.. Wild Boar, Red Deer, and Otter were all seen. Birding highlights included Purple Heron, Spanish Imperial Eagle, Egyptian Vulture, Iberian Green Woodpecker, Hawfinch, White-Rumped Swift, Red-Rumped Swallow, Woodlark, Little Owl, Sardinian Warbler, Spotless Starling, Azure Winged Magpie and Crested Tit. Pipistrelle bats emreged here very early in the evening, and a Leisler's Bat was picked up on my Bat Detector.

The La Lancha area was also good for birdlife with Bee Eaters, Hoopoe, Griffon Vulture, plenty of Pied and Spotted Flycatchers, plus Redstarts, Black Wheatear, and a Nightjar in the headlights at dusk. This area also had good numbers of Mammals with Fallow Deer, Garden Dormouse and Mouflon seen. The latter only picked out pre-dawn when scanning a roadside area of grassland with my maglite.

The Bat activity was amazing with the area round the dam in particular holding many Common and Soprano Pipistrelles, plus a brief burst of Kuhl's Pipistrelle. Add to that Greater Mouse Eared Bats, Noctule, Leisler's, Natterer's and Greater Horseshoe Bats. I also picked up a large Bat with very low calls of about 12KHz, and half the repetition speed of a Noctule.. This may have been a European Free-Tailed Bat, but I'm still studying the calls for that one.


Couple of photos below of the commoner birds of the area:

Azure-Winged Magpie:




Sardinian Warbler:

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• Saturday, September 12, 2009 - Lyme Bay Pelagic

Was fortunate enough to be involved in a second pelagic into Lyme Bay on Saturday 5th. In the aftermath of Hurricane Bill it wasn't unreasonable to hope for one or two surprises making their way back into the Atlantic.


The first hour or two was quiet with very little of note. The main aim of the trip was to try and find the White Beaked Dolphins known to be in the area, and despite a thorough search of the favourite area, we were out of luck. I did, however, see a fairly close Harbour Porpoise break the surface twice.


The next leg of the trip across the edge of Lyme Bay towards Portland Bill was much better however, with really decent numbers of seabirds. Highlights were 3 Balearic Shearwaters, a Sooty Shearwater, and 15 Great Skuas (which is by far the most Bonxies I have ever seen in such a small period). There were also a smaller number of Arctic Skuas, a single Arctic Tern, and good numbers of Manx Shearwaters, at least 150.

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• Wednesday, September 2, 2009 - A well travelled Moth, and another dodgy Curlew

A very smart moth turned up in the back of the car yesterday morning! I can only assume it was attracted to a recent moth trap session, but went undetected, and got packed away amongst rubbish bound for the local dump a day or two later! If this is the case, the moth also went to Bournemouth and Keyhaven! It was very easy to find in the Lewington Moth field guide as it is the species on the spine cover! A Herald.

By the time I saw it in the evening, it was motionless, and appeared dead, which gave me great cause for concern.. Could I count it on my garden list?! Fortunately, it must have been in a severe state of torpor (sp.) for when night fell it was gone in an instant. Into the darkness, and onto the garden list!

Popped into the birdforums web site over the weekend.. As some of you may remember, I was banned a year ago for winding up the Moderators, and basically having too much non-bird related fun on there.
Pick of the recent threads is a prime example of what happens when people dearly want something to be a rare bird (fortunately punctuated by more experienced, methodical observers). I suspect this is the kind of thing that happens everyday at twitches involving mass hallucinations, and people going home having ticked the wrong bird! http://www.birdforum.net/showthread.php?t=150474
p.s. Is it just me, or do the Axillaries of the curlew in the above thread look like they have been airbrushed white!? The dark markings seem to end very abruptly at the smooth white area, and then continue further down the flank in one case LOL.
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• Monday, August 31, 2009 - Whinchat on Baddesley Common

Up at dawn to check out the Common. Weather was terrible, a really fine drizzle affecting visibility, but at least no wind, and the temperature was uncomfortably high. Would have been a good night for the Moth Trap. Common was quiet with only a couple of parties of Stonechats, and a small number of Chiff Chaffs to sift through. Did find a worn looking Whinchat at the North West corner of the Common.




Was diverted on the way home by an accident, and stumbled across a field alive with bird life near Lee.. About 50 Canada Geese, 2 Feral Geese, including one with Bar Headed goose ancestry. Also Wood Pigeons, 2 Stock Dove, many Corvids (mainly Rooks and a few Jackdaws) and a Single Lapwing.

Afternoon update: A local birder, Phil, later went to check out the Whinchat and also found 15+ Yellow Wagtails.. quite a difficult bird to catch up with in the Test Valley for some reason, my only sighting being 2 springs ago.. Funny how the early birder doesn't always get the prize!


However, I ended the day on a high with great views of a Hobby gliding over the house before stooping after some prey.
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• Sunday, August 30, 2009 - Keyhaven and local Buzzards starting to return in numbers.


Took a walk round Keyhaven on Thursday after the Shearwater and Cetacean survey had been cancelled due to bad weather. Wind was quite strong along the coast, so it was definitely the right decision! The Red Necked Phalarope from a few days previous was showing well, along with a Greenshank, a few Knots, and a good number of Dunlin. Surprisingly, most of the Waders were on the Westernmost Lagoon (Keyhaven Lagoon?) as opposed to Fishtail which I'm used to seeing as the premier Wader lagoon. Sadly,  the flooded meadow inland from Fishtail has dried up. A shame, as I fancied a pre-dawn stakeout here for Spotted Crake or something, but at least I won't have a wasted journey now!

A couple of Yellow Wagtails overhead was a highlight, but I was unable to find the Cattle Egret.

Back in North Baddesley, the Buzzardworld fields at the West end of Hoe Lane have been harvested, and Buzzards seem to be returning.. 8 at Thursday lunchtime (but only 3 Saturday afternoon).
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• Friday, August 28, 2009 - Fea's Surprise


In Madeira recently, I saw a handful of Desertas/Zino's Petrels on the Ventura Boat trip to the Desertas Islands, including 1 definate Desertas Petrel, (though I wasn't able to make the distinction myself). Every sighting was on the other side of the boat from where I sat, so I struggled! I also saw a smaller number of shadows resembling Zino's Petrels on the spectacular, and knackering night walk in the Madeiran Mountains. I left the Island without any great emotions towards the Pterodroma Petrels.. Obviously they are extremely rare, but with such fleeting views, I didn't really get the chance to grow too attached to them!


What I never dreamt of was that I would see another within a month, in The English Channel, and with much better views. Incredibly, this is exactly what happened to me last weekend, when I volunteered to a Balearic Shearwater and Cetacean survey in Lyme Bay, on a Diving boat out of West Bay, near Bridport. It was the kind of day when everything fell into place perfectly.. the weather had been naff with a strong south-west wind and heavy rain for the previous two days, and I was lucky that the boat trip sailed on the Saturday in much calmer conditions. Seawatching from the boat was fairly comfortable with a superb uninterrupted 180 Degree view to the front of the vessel, and a steady trickle of birds which kept me busy for most of the 10 hours I spent on deck.

It was at the dive point, some 30 miles south of Bridport (a couple more miles would have made us closer to the Channel Islands than the English mainland!), when the "presumed" Fea's quite unexpectedly zoomed past the boat giving me incredible views, albeit only for a few seconds before it headed off into the distance. I was understandably left quite stunned, a feeling that stayed with me for the next 3 or 4 days, realising the magnitude of what I had seen, and how lucky I was to be on the boat and on to the bird during it's brief fly past.

I'm now a big fan of the Fea's group of Petrels.. the speed and elusiveness that frustrated me no end in Madeira, now makes me even more in awe of these amazing superfast seabirds. Here is a bird that made the Balearic and Manx Shearwaters on the day appear sluggish and flat, as it darted and wheeled around the boat. I suspect however many you see, you will always want to see more, and watch them for longer.

It has also made me see the English Channel in a whole new light: Previously, I've looked at it as pretty tame, with all the decent birds stopping in the Bay of Biscay or West of the Scillies. I'm now seeing it as a huge almost unchartered area in terms of Birders.. Let's face it, anyone heading on the typical Biscay ferries run makes sure as much of the Channel sections are overnight, and spent asleep dreaming of what lies in store in the Biscay! Even with determination, it is quite difficult to get out in a boat in fairly calm conditions straight after stormy weather (assuming the storm chaser theory for finding birds holds true out at sea, as it often does on land!). I tried to follow up with a second survey this week, the weather was again looking suitably terrible in the days leading up to the survey, but the survey itself fell victim to the weather.
To cover this area with the regularity you would associate with a local patch is pretty much impossible, so who knows what is out there.


Perhaps we need a few proper pelagic boats out of Weymouth or West Bay, into these unwatched areas 30 or 40 miles south of Dorset and Devon, complete with a couple of barrels of Chum. Count me in if you hear of any trips, but I suspect weather related cancellations would be frequent.
If you see any opportunity out there.. believe me, grab it with both hands!

Other highlights recorded from the boat: 5 Common Scoter, 4 Manx Shearwater, 3 Storm Petrel, 3 Great Skua, 2 Balearic Shearwater, 1 Arctic Skua.
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• Thursday, August 20, 2009 - Improvements to the Moth trap

A couple of sessions with the Moth trap recently. I noticed that the mercury vapour bulb didn't seem to be "lighthouse" strength recently, and on reading up on them, discovered that they degrade gradually, while still using up the same amount of electricity! So, I changed the bulb, and also moved the trap about 3 metres to a spot where it shines over 5 more gardens (!), and has a larger view of clear sky. Fortunately the gardens are all bungalows, so the light doesn't affect the neighbours.


All this change resulted in a marked improvement in the catch. The first session, on a night of cloud and drizzle, the catch was pushing 100 moths, with all the egg cartons at capacity! New species for me were:

The Olive
White-point
Six-striped Rustic
Scorched Carpet
Common Carpet

A couple of nights later, I ran the trap but in clear sky, and the catch was much smaller, around 30 moths. I still got some quality though, with the following new species:

Flounced Rustic
Marbled Beauty
Pine Carpet

Very few Hawkmoths this year, only a couple of Poplars, which is a shame. Still have hopes of pulling in a rarer Hawkmoth one of these days!
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• Saturday, August 8, 2009 - Final Madeiran shots, and "The show must go on"!

I did have the option of going out yesterday evening and/or this morning but the weather is so barmy I figured it would be a lost cause. Have downloaded a final couple of shots from Madeira. The Waxbill unfortunately gave very limited photo opportunity, and for the one shot I had, the auto-focus looks to have hit the reeds instead of the bird, leaving no options to zoom in any further with the crop. A real smart bird if a little "soft". The Wall Lizards were everywhere on the Island!


Common Waxbill:



Madeiran Wall Lizard:



Finally.. 101 uses for a travel tampon, courtesy of talented (but apparently prone to nose bleeds) young rock musician Ben Kweller!

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• Wednesday, August 5, 2009 - Bats 4 - Birds 0!

Headed into the woodland clearing at dusk to try and find evidence of the local Nightjars' Breeding success, but no joy. In fact not a hint of any Nightjar this evening. Also, no Woodcock, so a complete blank with birds!

Luckily, on leaving the house, a Pipistrelle Bat whizzed overhead reminding me to take out my Bat Detector.
Confirmed this was a Common Pipistrelle, and 5 minutes later in the woodland I picked up a couple of Soprano Pipistrelles. A Noctule passed over the clearing, then best of all a "medium" sized Bat came weaving low along the path. It got to within a metre of me before swerving around me, and only the very faintest click was picked up on the Bat Detector.. A Brown Long Eared Bat! one of the UK's commonest species, but one that I always struggle to record, particularly when surveying in open areas.

Tried to pick up a couple more bat species, but the Serotines don't seem to be around behind the house this year, and there were no Myotis Bats along the stream either.
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• Saturday, August 1, 2009 - A busy night at the Moth Trap

Yesterday evening, I disturbed a Silver Y, one of the UK's commoner migrant moth species whilst watering plants, and decided to run the Moth trap in case this was a sign of bigger and better species in the area.
No other migrants were found, but the haul was pretty good with 5 firsts for me, none of which were particularly rare.

The full list of macros (Firsts in Bold):

Large Emerald
Riband Wave
Yellow Shell
Small Rivulet
Peacock Moth
Brimstone Moth
Purple Thorn
Scalloped Oak
Willow Beauty
Common Wave
Black Arches
Dingy Footman
Buff Ermine
Ruby Tiger
Shuttle-shaped Dart
Flame Shoulder
Large Yellow Underwing
Lesser Broad-bordered Yellow Underwing
The Lychnis
Copper Underwing
Common Rustic / Lesser Common Rustic
Small Dotted Buff
Silver Y


Purple Thorn: