Saturday 16 May 2015

Ode to a Nightingale

So....Nightingales! While I'm fortunate to live in a part of the UK where they still hang on, they're not the easiest bird to see, never-mind to photograph. There are a few local spots where they breed near Norwich but I've never seen them well in any of those, usually just a fleeting glimpse as they break cover and then sing from deep in some impenetrable whitethorn bush.
For me there is something enigmatic about them, maybe because in Ireland they are so rare, maybe because of the sheer beauty of their song, their reference in literature or their ability to remain so well concealed! At the beginning of 2015 I made a promise to myself that I would try to photograph a Nightingale in England, somewhere, anywhere! Didnt have to be Norfolk, I would travel if I knew of one that was singing in the open.
Anyway, a friend of mine contacted me during the week and gave me directions to a site in Suffolk where up to eight birds were in song. One or two where singing out in the open apparently. I decided to do a reconnaissance of the site after work on Friday evening. I'd had a crappy week and was looking forward to getting out for a few hours to unwind.
At the site, the Nightingales were easy to locate, within half an hour I had found one male singing in reasonable view. With patience and care I managed to figure out a spot where I had a clear view of him as he sang from a bramble, as the sun dropped he got busier and put on a great show.

After so many collective hours spent trying to photograph this species and very little photographic success so far this year, this was one of those times when it all came together. One of those moments when you remember why you love birds so much and why photographing them can be so rewarding and exciting.
I returned this afternoon and having figured out the HD movie function on my new camera body, I  tried to catch a short movie clip of one in song. This time I had to wait as the bird wasn't quite so fond of his bramble. I spent two hours waiting for him to hop up, at one stage as I sat waiting and drinking my coffee, he sang a few feet from my head - perfectly concealed of course. But eventually he played ball, sat on his "singing" branch and performed - he's now on YouTube!

Sunday 10 May 2015

Right place, right time - Citril Finch twitch

The ball bounced my way today. I was en route to Choseley Barns for Dotterel when a text came in from Nick Watmough asking if I was up twitching the Citril Finch at Holkham Pines. The thoughts of a crowded twitch and distant views of the bird with little chance for a photograph were slightly off-putting but it was Britain's only second record of Citril Finch since the 2008 Fair Isle bird and I was only twenty minutes from Holkham - I caved in and went for it!
Being close to Choseley, I stopped first and took a look at the Dotterel. I counted nineteen though I believe it has been up to twenty-nine. The last time I saw this species (and only other time for that matter) was in Cork in 2012 and they were juveniles. I had not seen a proper female bird, even at a distance they were impressive.
Anyway, I didn't hang around and was soon skimming along the A149 coast road towards Holkham. I parked up at Lady Anne's Drive where I met Nick and we began the trek towards the far side of the pines where it meets Burnham Overy Staithe. It was a good half-hour yomp but there were plenty of Warblers singing en route, Grasshopper, Whitethroat, Cetti's, Sedge, Willow, Chiffer, Blackcap and Reed. Within two  minutes of arriving the bird was re-located, feeding on the deck at the base of a pine but in thickish cover. Despite my best efforts and to be fair, with a bit of help from one very decent birder who did his best to put me onto the bird, I couldn't see. The best I had was a flight view as it broke cover. I wasn't 100% sure about ticking it on those views but still had time if I was patient. For the next hour or the bird was in absentia. Having said that no-one was really looking too hard. There were probably one hundred plus birders but very few with bins to their eyes. James Lowen, myself and Nick got bored and began to wander about. I spent time at the same spot it had been earlier but no luck. Then, as it happened, James and a few others relocated it further west in a small gulley. Cue one hell of a stampede down the dunes and back up before the bird flushed and flew over our heads to the spot we had previously all been standing around. Anyway, this time it was a little easier to pick out. After a little confusion about which pine tree it was under, I managed to get onto the bird and enjoyed excellent views as it fed on the short turf below a stunted pine tree.

Citril Finch, Holkham Pines / Burnham Overy, Norfolk - 10 May 2015
Although the crowd was sizeable, behaviour was generally good. I did see one woman tell another birder to "Fuck off" when he requested her to sit down because she was blocking his view - it wasn't an unreasonable request in my opinion and her reaction was over the top. Still apart from that, the crowd was well-behaved and once everyone had seen the bird well, the banter was great craic!

A selection of the crowd enjoying Britain's second Citril Finch
The journey back seemed to take forever, thirst and hunger were kicking in but so too a sense of satisfaction. I hope James, Nick and I didn't look too smug to those who were just arriving and heading to see the bird.
Back at the car I enjoyed a well-earned sambo and a chat with Rob Holmes. After that I headed home and had a good wash after all that dirty twitching ;-)

Tuesday 5 May 2015

A long weekend in Latvia

Just back from a long weekend in Latvia. Not a birding trip as such but bins and camera came along.....just in case ;-)
I managed to slip out of work early on Friday afternoon, as I avoided the stag parties en route to Riga I bumped into fellow Irish birder Killian Mullarney at Stansted as he returned from a week of guiding in Greece. I arrived in Latvia after dark so it was Saturday before I got out.
I was greeted by a fairly grey and miserable morning as I looked out on the garden first thing but the scene was soon brightened up by two fly-over Hawfinches. I was to catch up with later on while I walked the dog to the nearby shop so not a bad start.
That afternoon we opened the BBQ season with a no nonsense grill in the back garden, chicken and pork good as it gets believe me!
Polina's friends joined us with their kids for the BBQ but the star of the show was the three month old Bernese Mountain Dog pup which I fell in love with (much to our Pug Sashsa's disgust).

Me, the 'pup' and a jealous Pug.

Polina wanted to natter with her friends so I was advised to 'F' off birding! second invite needed there. I checked the woods across from the house where a single Wood Warbler was in full song despite the cold and wet day. Up at the Lielupe river it was quiet but four fly-over Common Cranes and a reeling Locustella spp. were welcome (more to follow there).

Weather-wise Sunday was a big improvement, still a chill in the air but the crisp bright sunshine seemed to make all the difference. A Common Redstart pair chased each other along the fence of the house across the street and during a walk around the neighbourhood with the small hound I had four more singing male Common Redstarts........I'm so envious of these being garden birds!!
Up at the Lielupe river I decided to see if the Locustella spp. I had the previous day was still reeling, I hadn't seen the bird but my money was on Savi's Warbler. Sure enough, when I returned to the same spot (pausing briefly when I heard a fly-over Blue-headed Wagtail) the bird was still reeling. A scan of the reedbed revealed the source to indeed be Savi's Warbler. One bird became two, then three and at times four birds in a hormone-fueled "reel-off"! They kept a little distant for photos and the sun was very much from the side and very harsh, but I managed some "artistic" shots in the end.

Savi's Warbler, Lielupe, Dzintari, Jurmula, Latvia
These show much better than G'roppers and were my best views of any Locustellas I have ever had. River Warbler would have been a lifer, so I'll have to return when they arrive and start reeling (I wish). As I said at one stage there were four birds reeling at the one time, I tried to record this on my iphone, not exactly state-of-the-art recording equipment but maybe this gives you the picture.

The sound of the"reel-off"

I called it a day by 8pm, Common Terns, a singing male Whinchat and female Black Redstart finished off the day as I headed home.
Today I'm back in the UK and already missing Polina, the Pug and the great birding in Latvia!