Sunday 30 March 2014

Dunwich's Dartfords

After 'bashing the bushes' along the east coast yesterday, today I decided to forget all that rarity hunting stuff and try and take some photographs.
With warm temperatures, clear skies and just a light wind, I thought it might be time to try for some Dartford Warbler shots down at Dunwich Heath in Suffolk. Probably I should have gone early in the morning to give myself the best chance, but with the clocks going forward and the want of a lie-in (as Saturday I was up at 5am), it was 12 noon before I reached Dunwich Heath itself. I met two other photographers who were half-way through their second day there and hadn't anything to show for their troubles. They said the birds were present but not coming close enough for good shots. A week ago a male had being singing in the gorse by the car-park and was so close and fearless that people were stepping up with 'point and clicks' and getting photographs. Well that was a week ago and today was different.
I got my gear ready and headed off to look for some diminutive Sylvias. It took a while to find any but once I located a smart male Stonechat, finding the Dartford's was easy. I'm not sure why they do hang out together, I presume there is some kind of loose symbiotic relationship, perhaps something to do with disturbing insects or maybe the Stonechats act as good sentinels, I haven't found anything on Google about it just yet.
Anyway, getting a shot was very difficult. The other two photographers joined me but none of us had any luck. Must have spent about four hours waiting for them to come close but it didn't happen. In the end I headed back to the car for a late lunch (it was 4pm). I thought about packing it in and heading home but I decided to give it one more go with another couple of birds that were slightly closer to the car park.
One of these was slightly less elusive and although it was distant, it did finally sit up on the heather for a couple of reasonable shots. I'd love to have one of these perched in the yellow furze within about 15 feet and then the results would be stunning. But the moment these efforts below will have to do.

Saturday 29 March 2014

Ever the optimist

Get up at 5am they said, go looking for migrants on the east Norfolk coast they said......nuts to that!
After several days of high pressure and light easterly winds I figured Saturday morning would be good for early migrants. I was in bed by 9.30pm and up at 5am. By 6.30am I was parking up at Horsey Gap brim full of optimism. A White-spotted Bluethroat would be found, showing well along the path or in the Sallows. An hour later I was trudging dejectedly back to the car with not even a Wheatear to show for my troubles. The best at Horsey was a singing Chiffchaff, a female-type Marsh Harrier and a fly-over Grey Plover.
At Horsey Mere a nice male Marsh Harrier flew over clutching a poor unfortunate rodent of some description. A Black Redstart was reported from the south dunes at Winterton 'in oaks'........I searched in vain, just some nice male Yellowhammers. At the Shangri-La cottage there were more singing Chiffers but little else, I would try Sea Palling.........some day that will surely hold something good. I checked the little cottages at the back of the dunes and apart from a singing Chiffer I had nothing there also. I really expected that I might get a Black Redstart at Sea Palling or a Ring Ouzel in that open field, but there was zip!
In  final attempt to try and see a nice bird, I drove into Great Yarmouth and stopped by the cemetery. Assuming they are the same birds, the two Firecrests were still present in the Holm Oaks in the southern section. Showing well and being quite vocal, calling and so on.
I met two other local birders and chatted for a while. They too had a surprisingly quiet morning. We watched a couple of Chiffchaffs fly-catching in the pines before I decided to call it a day and head home. Hopefully as we jump forward into British summer time tonight, tomorrow will bring some new migrants in.
Until then!

Sunday 16 March 2014

Goshawks and Woodlarks in the Brecks

Not a bad day in the end. The best birding was in the first few hours from 7am to 10am when I managed to add two species to my rather paltry British list. Northern Goshawk and Woodlark.
We started at Santon Downham hoping for Lesser Spotted Woodpecker. We had a drumming GSW alright but its diminutive cousin alluded us. However along the bank of the Little Ouse river was the first singing Chiffchaff of the spring for me, some nice views of Brambling including one very smart male coming into breeding plumage with an almost complete black head. Plenty of Siskins in the area too, a Kingfisher and a pair of Grey Wagtails were present also.
As we headed to a spot for displaying Goshawk in the Brecks, we stopped and scanned some arable fields looking for Stone Curlews. Its possibly still a little too early for them (maybe?) but I did at least hear my first ever singing Woodlark. I couldn't pin the bird down but great to get my ear in on their song.
We reached the Goshawk spot a short while later. I had been here once before, on a dull, windy and cold day a few weeks ago and only had Common Buzzard. Today though, while it was still breezy, it was sunny and looking better for soaring raptors. After about thirty minutes we finally got onto a single Goshawk flying above the pines at the end of the field. I enjoyed prolonged scope views of the bird as it climbed and soared. In good light it was possible to make out the barring on the chest, the white under-tail coverts and the head pattern. Having only previously had brief glimpses of the species in Latvia, it was possible this time to observe the distinctive shape in flight. Before the bird began to soar, it held its tail feathers in, this gave it a 'long-tailed' look with the outer tail feathers appearing rounded at the tips. In addition, the inner wing looked quite wide, i.e. the arm looked wider than the hand. Overall, to me, it gave it an altogether quite distinctive look, not just that of a large Sparrowhawk.
Happy with the views we headed away from the area. The birds were too distant for any photos but as we drove way, one Goshawk glided low over the tops of the pines. I got a couple of very ropey record shots as it disappeared from view.

Goshawk, Norfolk - the ultimate record shot!
I should also add that in the same area I got scope views of a Woodlark perched in a tree. Tickable at least but I will hope for better views in time.
By now it was 10am, we weren't to know it, but that was as good as the day's birding got. We headed to Sheringham Park for Firecrest, we could hear 'crests but couldn't see any. We took a stroll around Kelling Heath for Dartford's but had no luck here either. By then the early start was catching up. We threw in the birding towel and headed back to Norwich.

Sunday 2 March 2014

Parrot Crossbills

Lady luck didn't shine on us today. Nick and I headed up to Edgefield hoping to stake out a drinking puddle and get some crackin' shots of the Parrot Crossbills. Nick, Julian Bhalerao, Penny Clarke and myself gathered around a small pool of water for around three hours in, at times, very decent light. A flock of Common Crossbills appeared briefly but the Parrots hadn't read the script.
We managed good scope views of the birds as they sat in a tree near the road but after spending over four hours in the area we decided to move on.

Male Parrot Crossbill, Edgefield, Norfolk - 2nd March 2014
This heavily cropped shot of a male was at least the best view I've had of the species. They did seem to be quite active and also quite noisy with a combination of excited calls and occasional snippets of what might have been song. Wonder will they breed in Norfolk? According to "The Birds of Norfolk" by Taylor et al., the species bred in 1984 and 1985 in the Corsican Pines at Wells Wood, so not without precedence if they do.
After that we went to a spot in the Brecks to look for displaying Goshawk. We had left it a bit late in the day and the weather was beginning to turn. Best we had were four displaying Common Buzzards. At least I know the spot now.
Yesterday I took to Strumpshaw Fen for a couple of hours. I wanted to practise a little with the external flash and better beamer. This is because I have booked a week at Magee Marsh in Ohio mid-May for warblers. In the US, external flashes are widely used for bird photography. I have a Canon flash unit and better beamer but I'll be honest, I don't have a clue how to use them. I got some valuable tips on using the flash from another photographer. I kept to it sparingly and the birds were not perturbed. It still takes practise though and effort to avoid the results looking artificial. This was my best shot of the day.

Nuthatch, Strumpshaw Fen RSPB - Norfolk - 1st March 2014