29 Oct 2018

29 Oct 18 - Live Bird Food In The Garden

As a Birder, I enjoy putting out bird food throughout the year in the garden. This keeps a population of around a hundred local Birds fed. The species vary a bit depending on the season, with a few additional winter visitors appearing as the roving Tit flocks start moving through the gardens. Very occasionally, I've seen one of the local Sparrowhawks in the garden & today this female Sparrowhawk got lucky at the expense of one of the male House Sparrows (looking at the feathers that were left). I tried a few photos through the kitchen door glass, but they weren't great quality & there was a small branch in the way. Then I lay down & put the camera lens through the cat flap. This was perfect & also allowed allowed a better angle which resolved the problematic branch. The cat flap was fitted by the previous owner & I don't have a cat. Finally, I found a use for the cat flap, other than occasionally running a power cord from the house for the Moth trap.
Sparrowhawk: Female
Sparrowhawk: Female
Sparrowhawk: Female
Sparrowhawk: Female
Sparrowhawk: Female. Meal over

16 Oct 2018

16 Oct 18 - You Win Some, You Lose Some

It had been a wet & miserable end to the weekend in Dorset & I wasn't out getting wet. I saw a mega alert from RBA in the middle of the afternoon to say there was a probable Pacific Swift at Hornsea Mere in Yorkshire. It was an interesting date, given the previous records have been all been in May - July. However, with only seven previous records & very strong Southerly winds, there isn't enough of a pattern to rule out this late date. I had seen the Trimley individual in Jun 13 & even if I hadn't, then it wouldn't be possible to get there before dark. An hour or so later, it had been photographed & confirmed to be the first UK record of a White-rumped Swift & it became more depressing given it was both a British & Western Palearctic Tick. Swifts are notorious for not sticking around, unless they are seen doing to roost on the sides of a building. It was watched until dusk, but over fields & not seen going to roost. It was a long shot that it would still be present the following morning, but I reluctantly decided I would have to give it a go. If it was going to be seen the following morning, then the best chance was early on. To cut a long story, it didn't stick & there were no sightings, despite a lot of people looking until late morning. By that time most people had given up. I was ready to give up about 14:00, when a message came through of another sighting at The Warren at Spurn. I didn't think it wasn't going to stick around there, but like the few Birders left by the cafe viewpoint, I headed off South anyway. As I got close, there was another update to indicate that other Birders had also seen it at the same time from another position & reckoned it had been a House Martin. Time to turn around & head off home. I stopped for a coffee on the way home & checked RBA for any news updates before I got too far South. There was a message of a Grey Catbird near Lands End. Here we go again. I rang my mate Pete Aley to check he had heard & see what he knew. He left Hornsea earlier & was just arriving back in Plymouth. Pete quickly rang back to say it was genuine & had been seen by a few of the locals since it was first found by visitors. It was clear I wasn't going to be home that evening. Pete offered me a room for the night & an offer of a lift down West the following morning. That was a good plan. After a few hours kip, the alarms were ringing early so we could be there just before dawn. Fortunately, Pete's mate, Ian Teague was driving as both Pete & I had taken our cars to Yorkshire the previous day. We arrived at the temporary car park on the approach road to Lands End about fifteen minutes before it started getting light.
Part of the crowd on the first morning: This photo was taken by Alan Whitehead & shows me scanning with my bins immediately to the right of the guy in the blue-green hat. Alan writes the excellent Duffbirder meets South Holderness Blog & has kindly allowed me to post a copy of his photo (copyright remains with Alan)
The Grey Catbird had been seen around some small Willows & the locals had managed to get access to allow us to watch from one of the fields. By first light, the first hundred or so Birders were lined up & watching the Willows. Well I say watching, as every time I stopped scanning & looked around, I could only ever see a handful of people actually looking. Either they have much better eyesight than I have or they were waiting for somebody to find it for them. The first hour went by without any sign. I was starting to get that Swift feeling after a second hour, but fortunately, somebody near me pipped up "Its sitting up on the vegetation with a Stonechat by the stones near the pond". This was in front of us & I had already noted where the stones were. I could see the Stonechat, but not the Grey Catbird. The Birder confirmed it was still showing. I then realised he meant the other Stonechat & another group of stones (which I called a wall) & I got onto the Grey Catbird just as it dropped down. Still at least it was still here & I knew where to look. Fortunately, it quickly flicked back up again & sat there. I had chance to get a scope view, before lifting the camera. The first photos aren't great as the light was still grim, but five minutes earlier I was thinking it had departed overnight. So, I can't complain too much. After a couple of minutes of it sitting in the open, it flew right & disappeared into the bottom of the Willows.
Grey Catbird: This takes me to 537 for the Britain & Ireland List & 720 for the Western P List
Grey Catbird: The early light wasn't great & 6400 ISO wasn't good for anything other than grainy photos
After these initial sightings, the Grey Catbird started moving around a bit & started being chased by the usual posse of people with cameras, as well as, those Birders who were just arriving. After another hour without any decent views, Pete, Ian & I decided on a cafe stop, before go to check out a couple of other local sites, St Levan & Kenidjack valley. We didn't see any migrants of any real note & a couple of Choughs flying over were the highlight of the afternoon. Still it was more fun than joining the pack chasing the Grey Catbird.
Grey Catbird
This is only the second British record. The first record turned up on Anglesey on 4 Oct 01. A few Birders managed to see this skulking individual over the next two days, but it does seem like there were a lot of Birders present who were sceptical over some of those sightings. I didn't bother going as I was heading off on 6 Oct for a year on a round the world trip & had too much to finish sorting out before I headed to the airport. It was good to have managed to see a Grey Catbird without all the hassle associated with the first record. It also made up a bit for the dip in Yorkshire the previous day. I just hope I don't have to wait seventeen years for another crack at a White-rumped Swift.

11 Oct 2018

11 Oct 18 - The 500th Post

I started the Blog after I bought my first decent DSLR camera (Canon 7D Mark I & 400 mm lens) in Oct 13. My first trip with the camera was eventful. After a quiet morning getting used to it at Middlebere, a Pallid Swift was found at Stanpit. I didn't hang around as Pallid Swift was still a Dorset Tick, having missed the two on Portland in 1984. University work that weekend stopped me going on the first day & they disappeared when I was able to go the next day. Finally, I had seen a Pallid Swift in Dorset & written my first Blog Post. Over the last five years, the camera has generally been the first thing I pick up as I leave the house to go Birding, after the bins. The camera has now changed to the Canon 7D Mark II and 100 - 400 mm Mark II lens which is a much better camera set up, albeit it is also a bit heavier. But it isn't too heavy to be able to carry it, even if I am out for the whole day. I have enjoyed the blogging as it has forced me to sort through the photos of Birds, Butterflies, Dragonflies, Cetaceans, other Mammals & general wildlife & scenery shots. Whilst time consuming to sort the photos, it has been a good diary for me of my trips over the last five years. Hopefully other readers enjoy reading the Blog as much as I do, when I've gone back & re-read old Posts. In just under the last five years, I've now reached the 500th Blog Post & just pasted 280,000 hits on the Blog. To celebrate that I've attached this single photo which I think is my favourite wildlife photograph for the last five years.
Rainbow-bearded Thornbill: This wasn't a Tick, but it was my Bird of the Colombia trip. Hotel Thermales del Ruiz, Colombia (25 Feb 18)
It is also a sign that I am well behind on blogging as I've not started on either the Colombia or Chile trips that preceded the Atlantic Odyssey trip. Something I will have to address over the Winter, once I've finished the Atlantic Odyssey & West African Pelagic cruise.

10 Oct 2018

10 Oct 18 - Hummingbird Hawk Moth

One of the great advantages of living on the Dorset coast is I get to see Hummingbird Hawk Moths most years. Since moving to Dorset twenty two years ago, I've only missed seeing them in four years & during one of those years I was abroad for most of the year. Even better is many of those sightings have been in my garden, where individuals take advantage of the large amounts of the native Red Valerian growing in the garden. But despite these regular sightings, I've totally failed to get any photos until this autumn. This year started off in the usual way. A couple of visits to my garden, but the Hummingbird Hawk Moth had disappeared by the time I had grabbed the camera. To be fair, they work the same flowers in a route & if I had the patience, then I could have sat by the Red Valerian & waited for the next visit. But I've not got the patience to wait for another visit in twenty or thirty minutes. Whilst out Birding on the new St Aldhelms & neighbouring valleys patch this autumn, I bumped into a Hummingbird Hawk Moth feeding on a large group of Buddleia bushes in the Chapman's Pool valley. It was still moving around fairly quickly, but at least it wasn't quickly disappearing out of sight to visit other flowers.
Hummingbird Hawk Moth: Chapman's Pool (7 Sep 18)
Hummingbird Hawk Moth: They are great close up. Chapman's Pool (7 Sep 18)
These photos were taken with shutter speeds between 1/2000 and 1/5000 second. I've subsequently read that Hummingbird Hawk Moths beat their wings about fifty times a second. So, these shutter speeds should freeze the motion. However, the wing tips were still a bit blurred in most photos. This is a similar wing beat speed to Hummingbirds & yet I've had more success with photos of Hummingbirds in South America. Giant Hummingbird is the largest Hummingbird with about fifteen wing beats a second, whereas many of the smaller North American Hummingbirds (& presumably their Latin American cousins) have a similar wing beat speed to a Hummingbird Hawk Moth.
Hummingbird Hawk Moth: Chapman's Pool (7 Sep 18)
It was good to have managed to get some photos of a Hummingbird Hawk Moth in action. Even better a few weeks later, I was walking into the Worth Matravers church grounds as that can be a nice local migrant spot in the village at the top of the Winspit valley, when I spotted my first perched Hummingbird Hawk Moth. I grabbed a few quick photos. Unfortunately, it disappeared while I was checking the photos before trying to get some more photos with better camera settings. Still it was good after thirty five years to finally see a static Hummingbird Hawk Moth.
Hummingbird Hawk Moth: Worth Matravers church (10 Oct 18)