Friday, 20 September 2013

An excellent survey with MarineLife, and making the best of a bad job in storm blown Cornwall

A week off from work in the middle of September, and I was in the mood to visit Islands in search of Migrants! First up was a Marinelife Survey to Lundy. Great trip in good company, the sightings can be seen at the following web page:

The Island itself really impressed me. Very remote, but with camping facilities, and a smattering of migrants including Whinchat, Willow Warbler, Spotted Flycatcher, and White Wagtail. didn't explore the whole island, and some distant areas of trees looked to have potential. Certainly enough to keep me busy on an overnight stay in the future.

I left the Marinelife survey and Ilfracombe, heading West. I originally planned to take my tent to the Scillies, but the heavy gales forecast for Sunday and Monday put paid to these plans, and looking back at bird sightings from the Scillies, I had a close escape. It looks to have been a struggle! 
Instead, I decided on some heavy seawatching sessions. I've never been a big fan of land based sea-watching, and the most noticeable gaps on my self found list reflect this. However, I have never been in such an obvious right place at the right time, and spent a few hours on Sunday morning at Porthgwarra scrutinising the many presumably wind blown seabirds heading out of the Channel. Mostly Manx Shearwaters, but a few Balearics and Sooty's. Also Choughs were very vocal in the area, a nice addition to Cornwall's birdlife.

Rest of Sunday was spent dodging rain. Did I stumble upon the Black Necked Grebe at Drift Reservoir. The conditions and distance made it quite a tricky bird to identify, but I got it right which is all we can ask for sometimes! About two hours before dusk the sun made an appearance and the Wind had a Northerly element so I nipped over to Pendeen. Spent an enjoyable hour or two here with more Shearwaters: Manxies really heading through in huge numbers, plus the odd Sooty and Balearic. Just a couple of other birders here too. Decided for more of the same on Monday morning.

Monday morning came and I was quite surprised how many birders were at Pendeen! All struggling to get a view over the cliff at the very close Gannets for some reason I couldn't fathom. Even so, all but one missed a Peregrine about 20 metres away! It is very easy to get focussed on the offshore action, particularly with so Many Manxies streaming past, again with the odd Sooty and Balearic. Also seen on this morning were a nice Pom Skua, together with a few Bonxies and Arctic Skuas, and a handful of Arctic Terns. Probably the bird of the morning went past just as I was setting up my scope.. a Leach's Petrel which I was fortunate to get onto thanks to some pretty detailed commentary from the finder (although the directions weren't appreciated by another birder who took nearly as long as me to get onto it, and complained about what he perceived to be a lack of accuracy!) And here was the problem for me.. I like to find birds and identify them myself. With 40 pairs of eyes, and a huddle reminiscent of my morning commute on the Central Line I was not going to find much here amongst so many sharp eyed observers. So I stayed at Pendeen until my stool collapsed, then headed off for lunch and some inspiration. I found my answer on a deserted headland just west of St.Ives and spend 3 hours in the late afternoon seawatching after an unsuccessful search for migrants around the coastal path. It soon became clear, that the exact same birds to Pendeen were streaming through here. As I was fairly close to sea level here, very good coverage was possible. Not many Skuas here, but a Storm Petrel was nice, albeit brief, and then my highlight of the Autumn.. Two Sabine's Gulls flapped purposefully straight through the middle of my scope view. A bird I have always wanted to see in these conditions, and a minute of sheer bliss was spent watching them fight their way back towards the Atlantic. Then followed a period of wondering if I had actually seen them or imagined it all. Fortunately the birds were also seen round the corner in St.Ives and were in the birdlines by the time I got back to Internet connectivity! Great Skua, Arctic Skua, Med Gull, Sandwich Terns, plus Manx, Balearic and Sooty Shearwaters all put in an appearance on this watch, not that any of them mattered on this occasion!

Early Autumn Migrants

At the end of August, I had a week's leave from work coinciding with a pretty noticeable fall of migrants locally.
I didn't have much hope for the last week of August being a mecca for migrants, but so far, it has been the highlight of my Autumn, and all were seen within walking distance from the house!

A 50 acre horse paddock and fallow-land which is private, but which I've managed to arrange access to, held the bulk of the sightings with 3 Redstarts, Lesser Whitethroat, Garden Warbler, Whinchat and Wheatear all putting in an appearance together with Tree Pipit overhead, and a decent number of Whitethroats (which breed in the more overgrown areas of the field).

Further afield, near Ashfield, another paddock and small dell always seems to have a migrant or two lurking, and this week I managed 2 Redstarts and 4 Spotted Flycatchers, plus Blackcaps and a Hobby.

More recent visits in the midst of some serious Westerly winds have drawn a complete blank in both areas.

 photo DSC_0138_zpsd23b9c94.jpg

Thursday, 29 August 2013

Insync Review

Had to rebuild my Netbook this weekend. I gave up on Windows a while back, and have not regretted moving to Linux one bit. This latest PC is built using Ubuntu 12.4.  One utility that I am finding really useful is Insync ( These days, all my data including my wildlife records database,  survey forms, and map references all reside on Google Drive. Insync is a really easy way to seamlessly integrate Google Drive onto my desktop, and guess what? It works on Linux too, so I'm more than happy.

Very easy to download and install. The Insync icon now resides on my desktop panel, telling me that my Google Drive is up to date with my PC. Recent changes I have made are listed, and uploading to the cloud couldn't be simpler: Just drag files into the insync Google Drive folder.

10/10, well worth checking out,

Best Wishes,

ps. check back soon for some bird news as the Autumn Migration period starts to enter full swing!

Saturday, 15 June 2013

Finland.. without the aid of a safety net!

Exactly a year ago I was in Shetland battling a birdless North wind, and finding very little out of the norm. This year I was determined that Spring would prove a more fruitful season, and so far, the birding, mainly along the Hampshire coast has been pretty good. Certainly as good as Shetland!

And so, on a spur of the moment decision, I looked into heading to Finland to try and find Red-Flanked Bluetail, a species I have always wanted to see. Cheap flight routes weren’t easy to come across, but I eventually settled on Ryanair from Stansted to Tampere, then a hire car for the 5 days. Simple!

My original plan was to head up to Vaaltavaara, and wait there until I saw a Bluetail! However, the 10 hour drive put me off, and I stumbled on some other good Bluetail sites about 6 hours from Tampere in the North Karelia region of finland. This together with reports from Siikalahti, “the best bird lake in Finland” and my itinerary was pretty much made up. The weather was quite windy when I touched down in Tampere, so I decided on the bird lake first, and the Bluetail hunt hopefully in milder conditions.

Wednesday 5th June
The drive from Tampere to the wetlands at Siikalahti was pretty heavy going. Several hours, with quite a few roadside breaks. Also a multitude of Speed cameras and seemingly severely slow speed limits on empty roads kept catching me out!
One roadside stop South of Jyvaskyla proved to be memorable with a Grey Headed Woodpecker seen briefly, then later heard calling. On closer inspection I noted Pied and Spotted Flycatcher, plus Snipe and Green Sandpiper, and something else hooting which I later realised was a Tengmalm’s Owl! Also, a Black Woodpecker over the road.

Arrived at Siikalahti fairly late in the evening, and opened the car door to a wall of birdsong. This was to continue throughout the five days ,and was a magical aspect of the holiday. Thrush Nightingale, and Bittern were the most obvious birds calling here, but it didn’t take long to add Whooper Swan, Rosefinch, Blyth’s Reed Warbler, Corncrake, Sedge Warbler, Willow warbler, and Reed Bunting all to the “heard only” list. Birds seen included Slavonian Grebe, Red Necked Grebe, Little Gull, Marsh Harrier, Osprey, proving this site lived up to it’s “best lake in Finland” claim.
I slept in the car for a few hours, then walked around pre-dawn but couldn’t add anything more exotic to the previous night’s tally, a bit disappointing as I would have thought Spotted Crake, would have made an appearance here.

Thursday/Friday, I drove another fairly long haul up to the Patvinsuo National park, where Bluetails have several well publicised territories. A roadside break proved successful with Rosefinch and Blyth’s Reed Warbler both showing well. Another roadside comfort break got me a Black Throated Diver. I found somewhere to stay for two nights, but the shower facilities were the nearby lake which I didn’t fancy!

I tried Autiovaara Thursday afternoon and Friday morning, but was ultimately unsuccessful with the Bluetail, but did however find a whole host of other Forest specialities including Capercaillie, Three-Toed Woodpecker, Wood Warbler, Tree Pipit, Crossbills, and Siskins, Pied and Spotted Flycatchers, plus a singing Red-breasted Flycatcher which I couldn’t pin down, and a Pine Marten. I also heard another Tengmalm’s Owl here.

Spent the afternoon checking out another Bluetail site: Hamnivaara which was similar hilly woodland but with wider tracks, and better visibility. I decided I had a better chance of actually seeing a singing bird here. One of the highlights of the trip was a roadside Hawk Owl watched for several minutes near here, plus excellent views of a Red Breasted Flycatcher.

Saturday, I headed to Hamnivaara, by this time I was working nightshift getting up at 2am and birding til 10am!
The birding was still pretty tough with no Bluetail in sight. Plenty of the commoner species, plus a Black Woodpecker seen fairly well. No camera though, as I was pretty knackered by this time just staggering round with my binoculars! Also the persistent mozzies, 24 hour daylight, and lack of shower facilities were starting to take their toll and I gave up on finding the Bluetail. It was on my return to the car that I decided on one last walk up a track I had checked first thing, not sure why I chose this path, but 200 yards along I started to hear a Bluetail singing! Then followed one of those magical moments, the bird was singing distantly and just visible through a gap in the trees. I had a few minutes watching it then returned for my scope. Sod’s law the bird had moved deeper into the forest when I got back, but after working out where it was I eventually caught a glimpse of it fly down to eye level where I had a fleeting glimpse of the orange flanks, before it returned to the tree canopy. The holiday was now pretty much complete! No more getting up at 2 am.

Sunday, I decided to return to the same area at 6am the following morning hopefully for a better look of the Bluetail, but no luck. I didn’t improve on the previous days views, but did have a nice bonus of a Greenish Warbler singing nearby. There was also a Red-Breasted Flycatcher in the vicinity, and wolf droppings close by, making this a pretty awesome bit of forest!

Sunday afternoon, I headed back towards Tampere, and stopped the night about 100km from Tampere with a view to checking out a National park with Flying Squirrel and other goodies, but I didn’t have much success at all here.

Drove to Tampere and home.


All in all a very exciting few days with constant bird song, plus a few good self-found birds. The only disappointment being the lack of photographs (I didn’t manage a single bird shot! As is often the case, serious bird searching and photography don’t really go hand in hand).
Also, it’s hard to imagine a place in Europe as difficult for catching up with all of it’s speciality wildlife. I have spent over one month in this country over the years, and still haven’t come close to seeing everything it has to offer. So I maybe back another year for Northern Bat, Flying Squirrel, Wolverine, Lynx, Wolf, Ringed Seal, Pine Grosbeak, Two-Barred Crossbill, Snowy Owl, Lanceolated, Booted, and Arctic Warbler!
Always nice to spend time in a true wilderness. I saw very few other birders around.. a few “zombies” around Siikalahti in the dead of night!
Plus, I only recall meeting 1 pair of hikers in the forests of North Karelia over 4 days!

The Bluetail has added significance for me as it is my 450th “self-found” species in the Western Pal.

Sound recordings:
The pick of my sound recordings below. (The Bittern is quite faint, and the Blyth's Reed Warbler has a Rosefinch mixed in)

And some sonograms:

Blyth's Reed Warbler Sonogram photo blythsreed_zps6fe73743.png Greenish Warbler Sonogram photo greenishwarbler_zpsf90bd4cf.png Red-breasted Flycatcher Sonogram photo RBFly_zpsf1314308.png

Red-flanked Bluetail Sonogram photo RFB_zps3c932aa4.png Thrush Nightingale Sonogram photo Sprosser_zpsa7d7e6f2.png Tengmalm's Owl Sonogram photo tengmalms_zpsd8b1439b.png

Saturday, 6 April 2013

A walk round Baddesley Common

Took my dog on a long walk out of the village and across the local common. The area seems to have been in decline for breeding birds in the few years I have lived in this area.

Afternoons in particular can be a struggle, and today seemed to be heading the same way. Stonechat seems to be the latest species becoming very hard to find. However, looking back, the walk was pretty good. A hat-trick of our three Woodpecker species is always a memorable achievement, even if today all three were heard only in the distance!

A Wheatear foraged in the distance and a Raven called high overhead. The walk was rounded off with a singing Yellowhammer. One species at least that seems to be clinging on locally.

Friday, 5 April 2013

Easter Summary

* Hurst Castle pays dividends,
* Hurst Castle subsequently proves hard work with little reward!
* My first Spring Migrants arrive,

A couple of mornings spent at Hurst Castle over the Easter weekend. The strong North East winds have persisted for a couple of weeks now, with no sign of abating, and adding a bitter cold chill to the air. Spring migrants seem to be struggling through though, and the first visit, in sunshine, was quite enjoyable with Pale-bellied Brent Goose, Common Scoter, Eider, Greenshank, Black Redstart and 4 or 5 Wheatears the highlights.
The second visit, in painfully cold conditions was less successful with just two Sandwich Terns for highlights! The saltmarsh side of the spit did, however, have good numbers of Waders at low tide with a Summer plumaged Black tailed Godwit among the Dunlins, Grey Plover, Curlew etc.

Despite the long walk over shingle, Hurst is proving to be a productive venue so far this Spring, Black Redstart being a better find than anything I managed in Last spring’s run of bad luck. Worryingly, my part of Hampshire has already fallen into the typical Spring run of Blue skies, and presumably ideal fly over conditions for migrants. I await rain!

Further inland, I saw my First Sand Martins of the year at Skidmore over the rapidly drying flooded field, together with a singing Chiff-Chaff, and 3 Shelducks.

This morning’s commute into London was brightened up by a Woodcock over the M3 near Winchester, and a Red Kite on the M25 at Staines!

Thought for the day.. imagine if these Easterly winds had occurred in autumn!

Monday, 4 March 2013

Waxwings drop in

About 200 yards from the kitchen window is a row of Oak trees on the edge of the village. I have often scanned these trees during the last 4 years and never seen anything of note. This all changed on sunday though, when a flock of birds landed in the uppermost branches. Something didn't quite feel right, and through the Binocs, they had a Waxwing feel to them, even though they were just too far to confirm.
Fortunately, they stayed put while I got my scope and tripod out of the car and got nice views of 19 waxwings all sitting tight.

Funnily enough I had thought I heard a Waxwing in the morning, but scanning around the garden only revealed a Greenfinch. "Must have imagined it", I thought. Maybe I did, but a funny coincidence.

Sadly the real Waxwings turned up just as my Sunday lunch was being served, so I didn't get a chance to pursue them for closer views with my camera. Still, a pretty cool addition to the "seen from the house" list which now stands at a fairly respectable 73, and is missing one or two potentially easy species such as Stock Dove, Linnet, and most Waders and Wildfowl which should eventually take it towards 80.

Tuesday, 26 February 2013

February, as quiet as ever!

Plenty going on in the garden though with a good assortment of Finches. Best of which have been 4 Bramblings, 1 Redpoll, 1 Siskin, and a good sized flock of 22 Greenfinches.

Out of the village, Hoe Lane has been fairly uneventful with a flock of 30+ Chaffinches, and 6 Waxwings the highlights. Also 20+ Lapwings and an albino Redwing in the area. 

The rest of my time birding has been spent “re-negotiating” access to some private fields locally. It’s always heartening how generous the local landowners are towards letting a birdwatcher on their land. Such arrangements pretty much guarantee a tranquil hour or so birding off the beaten track.

Sunday, 27 January 2013

Garden highlights and Hurst Castle

* Cold snap brings some variety into the garden
* Pale-bellied Brent Goose and Purple Sandpiper at Hurst

Recent snow has brought with it some much needed variety into the garden. Not so many Thrushes this winter, although Redwing, Song Thrush, Fieldfare, and Mistle Thrush all appeared in singles along with several Blackbirds. Finches on the other hand have really brightened up the month: Bullfinch, Brambling, Siskin and Redpoll have all been regular around the garden along with the regular Goldfinches, Greenfinches and Chaffinches.

Slightly further afield, I headed to Hurst Castle for the second time this year. A very high tide caught me by surprise, and the marsh was totally underwater by the time I began my return trek. the sea was rough, and highlights were a Guillemot and couple of (probable) Red-throated Divers. Along the shingle a Purple Sandpiper was a surprise, although they are recorded sporadically along this stretch of coast. Finally a single Pale-bellied Brent amongst the Dark-bellied birds was another nice bonus.

Jay, Garden, January, 2013 Purple Sandpiper, Hurst, Hampshire, 27/01/13 Pale-bellied Brent Goose, Cut Bridge, Hurst, Hampshire, 27/01/13

Monday, 14 January 2013

Test Valley: Winter Farmland

* Birds of Prey in abundance
* Dunbridge lake continues to improve.. slowly!

Sunday brought an end to the low pressure and rain in Southern England, replacing this with sunshine and a cold North wind.
I headed North to the Test Valley farmland, and had a pretty good afternoon:

Hoe Lane: A disturbance put a large number of Crows and Woodpigeons up. I pulled over and scanned, to see the back end of something big in the distance. Looked like a Goshawk, but I wasn't able to nail this one. On the opposite side of the road was a Peregrine and a Buzzard as a small consolation!

Dunbridge Lake: Haven't been here for a while and was surprised to see a Great Crestred Grebe and a Female Goldeneye on the lake.. both firsts for me here. Goldeneye is a bird I don't recall seeing too often along the Test Valley.

Brook Sewage Works: The sewage beds continue to be quiet this winter but a Goldcrest and Chiff-Chaff were present.

Nether Wallop Sewage Works: The most birds I've ever seen here with a flock of 40 Pied Wagtails, and a single Meadow Pipit.

Jack's Bush: Ended the day at this prime farmland habitat. Merlin, Golden Plover, 180 Lapwing, 6 Corn Bunting, 2 Yellowhammer and 11 Grey Partridges here, plus a Barn Owl after dusk.

3 seperate Red Kites throughout the afternoon is also quite notable.

Thursday, 3 January 2013

Redpolls and Brambling around the garden

A good start to the year in terms of birds around the garden at the moment.. 30 species so far, the highlights being Lesser Redpoll, Redwing, Brambling, Bullfinch, Coal Tit and Tawny Owl.

I also checked out a group of telecoms masts just West of Winchester which looked to have a superb view, and looked like a good area for Vis-Mig. However, as is often the case, places look totally different in person compared to on the OS map and from aerial photos! There was a pretty good view, but this was obscured by trees, and the drop from the summit was too gradual. Plus it was a pain to get to, and much of the area was marked "private".

A wishlist for 2013

·         A different look at Spring
Spring 2012, and previous Springs thinking about it, have been fairly ordinary for me with very few finds of any real quality. The trouble is, I don’t know what I’m doing wrong compared with Autumn when the goodies are never too far away! Weather must be the major factor, so in 2013, I’m not even going to venture out unless conditions are classic. This should give me plenty of time to complete my BTO surveys etc. as SE winds and rain in the Spring in Hampshire can be as rare as the birds!

·         Vis mig (Coast versus Downs)
Just can’t decide between the Test Valley or Calshot area for my vis-mig and bread and butter birding, or even further North on the higher hilltops. It’s a nice problem to have though, as I can think of many worse places to have to choose from. So 2013 I’m going to try both, in equal doses. Lepe and Calshot, plus Keyhaven will get a number of visits hopefully, plus a welcome return to Jack’s Bush, Palestine, and evening Owl safaris!

·         Scillies
Scillies is definitely my preferred option over Shetland and Orkney nowadays, both in terms of enjoyable/relaxing birding, and cheaper cost. It is also easier to plan a trip.. I can book my visit the day before departure on the Scillonian.

·         Shift to the seas: Roseate Tern, Sabine’s Gull and Caspian Gull!
Two glaring omissions from my self-found UK life list are Roseate Tern and Sabine’s Gull. In fact it is a few years since I have seen either. I need to be in the right place at the right time, which is never easy. Caspian Gull is another bird that I never get any closer to finding in the UK.

·         2012 Bat project carried over
I had hoped to search the North and West of Hampshire for Bats in 1012, but this failed to materialise. I did, however, find a few potential roosts around North Baddesley during early shifts which I should follow up. Another positive from the Olympics!

·         2012 Butterfly project carried over
There are no “gimme’s”on my UK butterfly list now. All require carefully timed visits to far flung parts of the UK (Kent and Devon being the easier trips!). I doubt I will get the chance to add to my Butterlfy list this year, but maybe another look at Lulworth Skipper would be good, and perhaps some macro photography.

Wednesday, 2 January 2013

2012 review

2012 was an extremely frustrating Birding year for me, until the end of September. In the final months of the year, a hastily planned trip to Scillies, and a Marinelife survey across the Bay of Biscay ensured that the year would be fondly remembered.

My theory that “Spring is rubbish” held true in 2012 with a very poor return for many hours searching around Hampshire. A Spring trip to Shetland was derailed by a North wind, and the one really good find, a White Stork from the A1 near Newcastle turned out to be an escape.
Add to this a probable Siberian Chiff chaff that showed well, but didn’t call, followed a couple of months later by a probable Siberian Chiff chaff that called twice but didn’t show beyond a glimpse and you begin to get the picture!

It wasn’t all bad though, and finding a Lesser Spotted Woodpecker territory near home was a bonus, along with some super photo opportunities from the Shetland trip.

Then the Olympics came to town.. Annual leave cancelled and not much chance of a boat survey around Weymouth either.

World of Gugh

Once the Olympics was out of the way, The Scillies beckoned. The advantage here was I could book the trip the day before, so no excuses about the weather being all wrong. So I headed out right on the back of a low pressure which rather unexpectedly doubled back and sat in the Irish sea for the duration of my trip! This, together with the doom and gloom from a fellow birder about “nothing arriving here until the low moves on” threatened to put a dampener on the trip. But I never give up, and this time luck was on my side. 3 mornings spent on Gugh got me a tantalizing glimpse of a Melodious Warbler, plus Yellow-Browed Warbler, Ring Ouzel and Pied Flycatcher.

Biscay gamble pays off:

More quality birding was in store when I got chosen for the November Marinelife survey on the Poole - Santander Ferry. Bay of Biscay in November could have been a pretty nasty experience, but fortunately the sailing took place and the sea wasn’t too rough for the most part. Highlights were Minke Whale, Pilot Whale, Common and Striped Dolphin, plus Great and Cory’s Shearwater, Leach’s Petrel, and Little Gull.
An added bonus was sailing out of Poole past Brownsea Island. Such a good area and on this occasion I saw Pale Bellied Brent Goose, 4 Black Necked Grebes, double figure Spoonbills, and a large flock of Avocets.


Other Mammal highlights for the year were Nathusius’s Pipistrelle seen on both of my Nathusius’ Pipistrelle Surveys, plus sadly a dead Polecat close to home.

Closer to home:

A surprisingly good year for the house list with 3 additions (Kingfisher, Meadow Pipit, and Woodcock).
If 2013 can beat this I’ll be more than happy!

Marinelife survey on the Poole - Santander ferry

An exciting weekend to end the year in the Bay of Biscay: