31 Dec 2014

31 Dec 14 - Are There Two Races Of Purple Sandpiper?

The last day of 2014 ended brilliantly with a finding a Green-winged Teal on the patch. But it wasn't too bad before that. I started at South Haven, on the South side of the Poole Harbour mouth, hoping to relocate a Black Guillemot that local patch Birder, Graham Armstrong, had found earlier than morning. I wasn't surprised about not seeing it as the tide was racing out of the harbour & it would have quickly been swept out of the harbour mouth. I could see the 3 local Purple Sandpipers feeding just above the water's edge in front of the Haven Hotel, on the Sandbanks side of the harbour mouth. So I  caught the ferry & within a few minutes I was watching them at close range. They were totally unfazed by me being only a few metres from them. Although they had been getting flushed by less considerate members of the general public & their dogs earlier on. It gave me some good opportunities to have a play with the SX60. All photos apart from the first photo are with the SX60.
Purple Sandpiper: An initial photo with the Canon 7D & 400mm lens. After that I switched to the SX60 as I got closer
Purple Sandpiper: I should be able to get better photos, so clearly I need to learn how to set up the SX60 better than the settings I've been using so far
Purple Sandpiper
Clements believe there is only the nominate race of Purple Sandpiper. But I think there is clear evidence that there are two subspecies involved, although only one race reaches the UK. This is the soft subspecies (which migrates South), whereas the hard subspecies stays up near the Arctic circle over the Winter - see Tormod's great Post of the hard subspecies.

Moving onto Brands Bay, I was pleased to see a couple of Spoonbills feeding in the bay. Despite Spoonbills being resident now in Poole Harbour and Brownsea not more than about a mile from the bay, then Spoonbills are a scarce species in the bay. One or two will appear for a day or a few days and that will be it for the rest of the year. Even better, one was close to the hide.
Spoonbill: First Winter with the black wing tips just showing in the closed wing, but they were very obvious in flight
Avocets are a more regular Winter visitor to Brands Bay, but are still absent on most visits. Again surprising given there are well over 1000 wintering in Poole Harbour. Generally a flock of more than ten is unusual & I've only exceeded 35 once, when I had a flock of 158 on 26 Oct 14. I can only assume there was a lot of disturbance at their regular feeding areas to get a flock of that size in Brands Bay.

31 Dec 14 - When Vertical Is Best

I had a great morning today photographing Purple Sandpipers at the North side of Poole Harbour mouth. But I will leave those to a future post. Then I dropped into Brands Bay on the way home on the low tide. Yesterday, the bay was packed with Wildfowl & Waders and today it was just the same. But fortunately, the selfish bastards with shotguns I had to put up with yesterday, hadn't returned. It was difficult to know where to start as there were so many Birds. But after a quick scan of the near part of the bay, I started counting the Teal on the first proper scan. I got a bit over the 150 mark, when the next one I looked at was a male Green-winged Teal: a Studland Tick & the first one I've found. As you can imagine, I never completed the count. Next thing was to grab the phone, ring Paul Morton who is doing a Poole Harbour Year List & a couple of others to get them on their way, before getting some photos. After that is many more phone calls to locals & a couple of emails/tweets, before the battery died. Still the news was out, resulting in a minor twitch of seven Birders, including Paul. Most of the Harbour Listers have seen two or three so not a big turnout. The Green-winged Teal performed well & was still on view from 12:30 till 15:30 when Graham Armstrong & myself left (we were the last to leave).
Green-winged Teal: Male with the vertical stripe with a Male Teal (with the horizontal stripe) 
Green-winged Teal: Male. The vertical stripe is still very obvious head on
The bird was several hundred metres from the hide, but I'm not that impressed with the quality of the photos. I've now found out that the camera wasn't on the largest file size for jpg photos. So hopefully it will still be there tomorrow, now I've switched to the largest file size.

This is the fifth record for Studland, with the previous records being all males:-
Littlesea (22 Jan - 29 Jan 1983)
Brands Bay (2 Feb 1985)
Brands Bay (20 Nov 1985)
Brands Bay (10 Mar 2002)
Hopefully, it will stay around for the New Year.

Happy New Year to all the Readers of the Blog

24 Dec 2014

24 Dec 14 - Happy Christmas

Just a short Post to wish all the readers of the Blog a Happy Christmas. Robins are the most popular Birds on Christmas cards in the UK, so I thought I would follow that theme with a Robin photographed down under in 2001.
New Zealand Robin: Tiritiri Matangi Island off the coast of Auckland (14 Nov 01)
The great thing about bumping into New Zealand North Island Robins which sadly aren't common due to the number of introduced predators in New Zealand, is they are very confiding. The above photo was a snapshot from this piece of video. I was experimenting with a video camera at the time & did not have a proper camera. Apologies for anybody wanting to view the following two videos on an Apple device. As Apple products are crap & won't allow Flash to run on it, then you will have to find a PC to view the videos.
New Zealand North Island Robin: Tiritiri Matangi Island off the coast of Auckland (14 Nov 01)
They particularly like it if you turn over a patch of earth on the track, so they can look for food.
New Zealand North Island Robin: Motarua Island, Malborough Sound, South Island (10 Dec 01)
Happy Christmas

21 Dec 2014

21 Dec 14 - Communal Bath Time

I've already written a Post about one of the Top Ten Birds that I've seen. Fortunately, I get to see this species regularly as Long-tailed Tits are a fairly common British species. They are erratic visitors to my garden. I have spells when I see or hear them every few days & then gaps of several weeks or months before they start visiting again. One of the reasons I like them it they are one of the most social of UK Passerines. There has been a party visiting the feeders recently, but today I caught them in the front garden pond & found that they all communally bathe as well. All photos taken through the front window.
Long-tailed Tit: Initially, just two Long-tailed Tits
Long-tailed Tit
Long-tailed Tit
Long-tailed Tit: But no surprise when the rest of the group joined in
Long-tailed Tit
Long-tailed Tit
Long-tailed Tit
Long-tailed Tit
It just goes to show that you don't need to go to far flung destinations to see some great Birds. Albeit my other nine Top Ten Birds do require travel to exotic locations.

16 Dec 2014

16 Dec 14 - Catching Up

With all the posts from the Pitcairn trip, I never got around to Posting about a mid December visit to Portland Bird Obs. Portland Bill is one of the top South Coast Birding sites for migrants. Not just Birds, as it has a good reputation for migrant Moths as well. I don't tend to visit very often, as I prefer to work my own local patches closer to home. But every now & them a rarity tempts me. In mid December, it was a Barred Warbler, which was about two weeks into a four week stay (it disappeared after Christmas). Unlike the UK's East Coast where Barred Warblers are regular, but scarce migrants, they are probably less than annual in Dorset. With several records this century having been single observer or brief sightings, then a Barred Warbler being seen well daily at the Obs, meant I couldn't resist. This individual was hanging around the edge of the Obs garden & defending the apples that had been put out. Every now & then it went missing for a few minutes, allowing the Blackcaps to appear, before they got chased off again.
Barred Warbler: It generally hung around the artificial apple tree
Barred Warbler: Only my second Dorset record, with the other being an individual in Winspit on 23 Sep 1995 (which my mate Edge found while we were Birding there)
Barred Warbler: There are two subspecies, but I've not seen anything indicating which subspecies was involved. The nominate nisoria European subspecies would be the obvious one, but given Portland's track record of attracting Eastern vagrants in late Autumn, then the merzbacheri subspecies from Western Siberia can't be dismissed out of hand. I've not seen any comment on the Obs website about the subspecies involved (or even if they can be separated in the hand)

14 Dec 2014

14 Dec 14 - In Defence Of The Canon 7D (As Presently By Mr Blyth)

In a recent post I reviewed the Canon SX60 camera as a good camera for Birders. I did end that review saying it was likely that if I had to take a series of photos in a burst mode I would stick to the Canon 7D. There are several reasons for that. Firstly, I am more familiar with setting up the 7D & being able to quickly to under or over expose photos and change the other settings such as the focusing area. Secondly, the 7D is very fast with its auto focus, which will be essential for a flying subject. Thirdly, it is also very fast at writing to the memory card & finally, I still get a childish thrill at hearing my motor wind going off. But beware that have been plans for the EU to limit the number of frames/second on camera motordrives (see the excellent satirical Leicester Llama Post on this subject).
The wet field the Blyth's Pipit was frequenting
For the last week or so, there has been a Blyth's Pipit near Wakefield. As this was my commonest UK mainland tick left then I finally cracked: I've excluding Lanceolated and Pallas's Grasshopper Warblers as they are virtually all on the Northern Isles. Each day I have been checking weather forecasts & reports of the previous day's sightings. But I was put off for several days by the combination of the weather forecast & people generally getting flight views only. But eventually, I decided that I needed to put the alarm on for a 03:00 wake up call on Sunday morning. No point ringing around to fill a car, as nearly everybody I know locally has seen a Blyth's Pipit or two over the years, especially given two hung around at Portland for several weeks (when I was in Argentina in 1998). After a straight-forward journey I was pulling off the M1 soon after first light & joining the gathering group of Birders. About 09:00 the finder & another local did a careful walk into the wet field. They had to walk around most of the field, before the Meadow Pipits I had seen disappearing into the long grass finally went up & then there was a shout as they put the Blyth's Pipit up. It flew around silently before dropping back into the back of the field. Not tickable views, but at least I knew it was still here. After no further signs over the next two hours, it was getting decidedly cold waiting, especially on the feet (shouldn't have worn the wellies). Finally, a Red Kite drifted over and spooked the Meadow Pipits and then the Blyth's Pipit. It called twice which was great and then circled the field. I dived for the camera & rattled off about 35 shots while it was over the back of the field. No chance of hearing any more calls at the range it was, so the noise of the motor drive wasn't a problem. But given how far away it was I was amazed that it locked on, in such poor light conditions. The photos are grainy, but acceptable shots considering it was between 60 & 80 metres away. Had it circled at the front of the field, then the photos would have been a lot better, but it was another example of being able to see more on the Bird from the photos, that I would have been able to see with bins against the sky at the same range.
Blyth's Pipit: Showing the dark median coverts and the pale tips to the secondary coverts & how the coverts contrast against the flight feathers. Unfortunately, not good enough to make out the shape of the dark median coverts
Blyth's Pipit: Proof that Birds close their wings in flight
Blyth's Pipit: With the Swarovski 10x32 bins, I would have been struggling to see more than the size & shape of the Blyth's Pipit at 80 metres
Blyth's Pipit: It hovered briefly several times as it looked for somewhere to land
Blyth's Pipit: That is number 517 for my British & Irish list following BOU/IRBC rules (so no Micky Mouse species - the full list is on Bubo)
It would have been great to get better views on the deck, but that didn't look likely & I eventually decided to head South around midday. Still I did see several well feeding in India, but no photos. Finally, in case you think the photos aren't as good as some of the flight photos that have appeared on line (& they clearly aren't as good), then here is the uncropped original. Which goes to show I will continue to carry the Canon 7D & 400mm on all my Birding trips (although the Canon SX60 will generally be on my waist belt).
Blyth's Pipit: The uncropped original photo first photo