Wednesday 17 December 2014

Pennington Marshes and Denny Wood -13th December 2014

Time has been very tight for me of late with end of year staff reviews and various socials on the lead up to Christmas and I have not managed to get out at all, but with the run of grey days I have not felt that I have been missing a great deal. However, Saturday's forecast was for a crisp sunny day and I had a two hour slot in the morning so decided to head for a short walk around Pennington Marshes. The floods on the corner at Lower Pennington Lane were again productive with a good gathering of wildfowl and waders. Many of the Wigeon were out of the water and grazing on the surrounding grassland and there were large numbers of Black-tailed Godwit present at least one of which had a leg flag and colour rings. I will endeavour to find out where this bird is from but is no doubt one of Pete Potts birds and my guess would be that it is an Icelandic bird with a scatter of sightings from around the Solent area.

Black-tailed Godwit with leg-flag

Many of the wildfowl on the marshes were displaying and the males were looking very dapper in their fresh plumage in the winter sunshine. Again, there were good numbers of typical winter dabbling species and it appears that the majority of the Pennington birds are feeding on the marsh off the corner of Lower Pennington Lane.

Wigeon - Male on Pennington Marsh

Wigeon - Female on Pennington Marsh

I walked a loop taking me around Fishtail and Butts Lagoon and spent some time scanning across the Solent looking for Seaduck, Grebe and Divers. There were approximately six Great-crested Grebe, two Slavonian Grebe and 15 Red-breasted Merganser but none close enough to get any photographs. The juvenile Spoonbill seen on 28th November flew east overhead and landed on the mudflats to the east of the jetty and showed fairly well sweeping in the pools left on the mudflats. I headed back to the car and decided to have a brief stop at Denny Wood.

Teal - Butts Lagoon

The weather was superb by the time I got to Denny Woods, a beautiful mild winters day. There were good numbers of Redwing in the woods and the sound of thrushes rustling in the leaves on the woodland floor was clearly audible throughout. A group of 18 Redpoll passed north and briefly alighted to drink from a pool on the woodland floor but eluded any pictures. In fact, the only bird I did manage to photograph was the Nuthatch below. My birding time had come to an end and it was back home for more family Christmas duties.

Nuthatch - Denny Wood

Monday 1 December 2014

Pennington Marsh and Needs Ore Point - 28th November 2014

Its been a while since I have had a chance to get to Pennington Marshes so after a local bird survey I spent a couple of hours at Pennington with a short stop at Needs Ore Point. The undoubted highlight was a juvenile Spoonbill showing well on Efford Lagoon. For a Spoonbill it was relatively lively preening and wandering around, so often Spoonbills are content to stand on one leg for hours on end with their head tucked away.

I spent some time on the bend at the bottom of Lower Pennington Lane scanning the marshes. The water level is high here now and large numbers of birds are present with Wigeon, Shoveler, Teal, Pintail, Lapwing, Black-tailed Godwit, Curlew, Redshank and Starling being present in large numbers. Pintail numbers seem to be very good this year and I estimated at least 175 birds on the floods. Always a little on the distant side for good images, the below provides an indication of the spectacle on Pennington Marshes at the moment.

Mixed flock of Shoveler, Teal, Pintail and Black-tailed Godwit

Mixed flock of Lapwing and Starling

Mixed flock of Lapwing, Pintail, Teal and Black-tailed Godwit

The Brent Geese have taken to their usual field between the camp ground and Lower Pennington Lane. Today there were around 1,500 birds present, some of them showing fairly well. Brent Geese are fantastic birds and very evocative of our south coast marshes and mudflats. There were many juvenile birds present suggesting a good breeding season. While watching a group of three Peregrine pass north overhead flushing all the geese, they headed someway west before returning to feed in the same field.

Adult Brent Goose with a juvenile in the background told by the prominent white edges to the wing coverts

Brent arriving at the field to feed

Adult male and female Brent, the male (the left bird) has the bulkier head and bill

There were good numbers of gulls on Efford Lagoon with around 50 Herring Gull, 15 Great Black-backed Gull, 250 Black-headed Gull, 1 Mediterranean Gull and 15 Common Gull. Its great to have a gull spot at the site and I am sure numbers will begin to build here as the winter progresses and gulls begin to discover the site.

Herring Gull and Black-headed Gull - Most of the Herring Gull are adult with smaller 
numbers of 3rd winter birds

Great Black-backed Gull - A first winter bird

Great Black-backed Gull - Adults

Black-headed Gulls - The left hand bird shows a significant pink flush to the plumage which was more obvious in the field than here. The pigment responsible for this pink flush is thought to be Astaxanthin a Carotenoid. These are biosynthesised by plants and algae which are then consumed by crustaceans and fish which form part of the diet of many seabirds.

Mediterranean Gull - A second winter bird

Mediterranean (same bird as above) and Great Black-backed Gull - This Med Gull has a single dark tip to P7 as well as a dull bill showing that it is an immature bird

After spending some time at Efford Lagoon I wandered out to Fishtail Lagoon and back around Butts Lagoon. It was very blustery with a strong south-west wind blowing and the lagoons were fairly difficult to scan as a result. I spent some time at Fishtail Lagoon finding a sheltered spot and spent some time going through the birds that had gathered here, other than a Greenshank there was nothing much new but the Wigeon were performing well grazing round the lagoon margins while Pintail upended showing how they got their names to full effect. I spent a short while scanning the sea but it was very rough and difficult to find a sheltered spot from which to scan, four Red-breasted Merganser and three Great Crested Grebe were all that could be seen. I wandered back towards the car scanning Pennington Marshes once more. A female Marsh Harrier skimmed east and then back west across the marsh and flushed most of the birds but after wheeling around for a short while they soon settled. I then noticed a sizeable flock of around 250 Golden Plover, a good count for the site.

Two male and three female Wigeon - Wigeon spend a great deal of their feeding time 
grazing short swards adjacent to the waters edge

Pintail - Upending birds showing why they are called Pintail

Pintail - A male and one of my favourite ducks

Golden Plover - Part of a flock of 250 on Pennington Marsh

Curlew - Nice views alongside Lower Pennington Lane

Curlew - Foraging for Earthworms

I then headed for Needs Ore Point and spent a short while watching from the hides. It was very quiet but the sun was out and it was pleasant enough. There were small numbers of duck on the lagoons and a small flock of nine Avocet. It was now 14:00 and I needed to head home.

Mallard - Males were looking cracking in the late afternoon sun

Gadwall - Always look drab even in good light, up close the males are finely vermiculated grey adding a bit of interested

Buzzard - Grappling over the roadbeds at Needs Ore Poin

Buzzard - Grappling over the reedbeds at Needs Ore Point

Avocet - Flock of nine at Needs Ore Point

Thursday 27 November 2014

October 2014 Rarities

This is my summary of what I consider to be the most exciting records from the UK in October 2014, this is not aimed at being a comprehensive account of all the rare's in the UK in this month, for such accounts see the Birdguides review of the week or the Rare Bird Alert weekly round-up. I am largely writing this as a personal record of UK records and sightings to aid my knowledge and feed my interest in UK bird records. I aim to publish the previous months records in the first week or so of the following month. The photographs that I used have been gleaned from the internet, I aim to provide the photographer with full credit and a link to their website or blog, if you see that one of yours has been used and you object to this then please email me and I will remove it immediately, alternatively if you would like to supply a better image or additional information or links then I will add. Contact me at

A summary of the weather for October 2014 can be found here.

October 2014
October is the traditional month for rarity's in Britain and never ends the debate on which location will perform best, will it be the Isles of Scilly, Shetland or the East Coast. With every October expletives rain amongst the birding community with each October seeming to surpass the last with ever more extreme rarities. So October passed with a mix of Asian and American megas with Hurricane Gonzalo making landfall on 21st October giving a final flurry of western megas to the month, see my write-up of this event here.

The Masked Shrike from September lingered until the 3rd October, taking its place as mega of the moment was a stunning Siberian Rubythroat at Levenwick found on the afternoon of the 3rd. The bird showed well on a driveway, often being scolded by Robin's. This was a stunning first winter male and while the 9th UK record it attracted a steady trickle of admirers and will no doubt be the top of many birders 'highlight of the year' list. The bird stayed until the 8th October when it disappeared overnight.

Siberian Rubythroat - Levenwick, Mainland Shetland - Simon Colenutt

A stunning and very confiding Steppe Grey Shrike at Burnham Norton, Norfolk from 5th to 16th October was a first for the county and very popular as a result.

Mike Weedon's fantastic image of the Steppe Grey Shrike at Burnham Norton, See more of Mike's great images on his blog, Weedon's World of nature here

Also on 5th a Blyth's Pipit was on St. Mary's Isles of Scilly where it frequented the airport runway and adjacent fields. the bird lingered until 15th and was perhaps the highlight of a slow autumn on Scilly.

Blyth's Pipit on St. Mary's, Isles of Scilly by Simon Knight. Simon's fantastic gallery of images can be viewed on his website at Simon Knight Photography here

It was again the Scottish Islands coming up trumps on the 6th October when a Scarlet Tanager, the 10th British record if accepted, was found in a Sycamore stand on Barra, Outer Hebrides and lingered until the 9th October.

Scarlet Tanager Barra - A great image by John Kemp really capturing the birds character amongst autumnal Sycamore leaves

A Bonelli's Warbler found in gardens at Scalloway, Shetland on 10th remained until 13th October was eventually identified as an Eastern Bonelli's Warbler after it called on the second day of its stay.

A second winter Audouin's Gull was a short stayer on 12th October at Dungeness, Kent. Images on Michael Southcott's Blog 'Birding the Day Away'.

It was a brave and experienced birder that called a fly-by Brunnich's Guillemot at Flamborough Head, East Yorkshire on 13th October. A write-up of the observation can be read on the 'Birding Frontiers' blog. This to me is a very convincing account and it will be interesting to see if this bird is accepted by BBRC - surely this often hard to identify species is more frequent than is currently known in UK waters.

A Siberian Thrush trapped at Scousburgh, Shetland on 15th October was an amazing record although was seen only by a fortunate few who were able to get to site that evening. The bird was nowhere to be seen the following day. Amazingly the bird had been ringed in Norway on 24th September (images here). It would be fascinating to know where this bird had been in the interim and where its trajectory lead it, did it disappear into the North Atlantic or did it re-orientate and head south or back east?

Classic image of the Siberian Thrush at Scousburgh, mainland Shetland by Roger Riddington

At the end of the month Hurricane Gonzalo struck the uk providing a scatter of mega American birds across the UK from SW Cornwall to North Ronaldsay with the highlights being:

  • Hermit Thrush Balranald RSPB, Outer Hebrides 22nd-23rd October. Read the Birdguides rarity finders article here
  • Black-billed Cuckoo North Ronaldsay, Orkney 23rd October
  • Yellow-billed Cuckoo Porthgwarra, Cornwall 23rd-24th October
  • Chimney Swift Lewis, Outer Hebrides 23rd-24th October. Read the Birdguides rarity finders article here

Yellow-billed Cuckoo at Porthgwarra by Pete Morris

And then finally on the 30th October the third Eastern Crowned Warbler for the UK was found on 30th October at Brotton, Cleveland, the bird lingering until 1st November. The first record of the species was in 2009 and one hopes that the next record will be further south to give those less inclined to drive long distances to the north to see this mega long distant migrant. The Birdguides rariety finders article can be viewed here.

Eastern Crowned Warbler Brotton, Cleveland 30th October- 1st November. Photo by Gary Thoburn, see more of Gary's fantastic Eastern Crowned Warbler shots here and read his blog, here

So onto November, traditionally a quite month after frenetic October but often with a great mega thrown in............

Previous Monthly Accounts Can be viewed here:

Monday 17 November 2014

Isabelline Shrike Hengistbury Head - 16th November 2014

News broke of an Isabelline Shrike yesterday afternoon at Hengistbury Head but I was committed to an afternoon at Beaulieu Motor Museum with Sarah and Tobias so I hatched a plan to get up early and get home before another planned social event at midday. I awoke once more to heavy rain but decided that a  British tick 30 minutes down the road was too much of a temptation to blow-out. I arrived on site in the wet gloom at 07:30 and almost immediately bumped into a female Black Redstart at the Hikers Cafe. I headed out to the area of Wick Fields where the bird had been seen yesterday and joined the 10 or 15 birders present. My first views of the bird were frustrating with glimpses of a pallid head and lightly chevroned flanks through the bushes as the bird appeared to have just emerged from its roost. After standing in the rain for a further 30 minutes chatting to an old friend and colleague Jeff Picksley the bird made a break for it northwards along the hedge line so I relocated from the east to the west side of the hedgerow hoping the bird would hop up into slightly better light. After 15 minutes or so it appeared and sat low on the hedgerow shaking off the rain - it was a miserable wet morning and the British weather must have been a bit of a shock to its system, it certainly was for mine. I got a few snaps of it before it disappeared once more. Rarer still was the site of a great friend Andy Butler from the Isle of Wight accompanied by mega year lister and Island birder Pete Cambell. Andy has not birded off the island for 20 years while Pete is well on his way to 300 species for the year. We enjoyed a bit of banter before I had to head off for another social event, I felt a few glasses were deserved even though I wanted to stay in the field.

Calshot Spit and Lepe Country Park - 14th November 2014

Trevor Codlin and I headed out for a mornings birding at Calshot Spit and Lepe Country Park (Trev's pictures and account can be seen here). The day started very wet and we were tempted to sleep off the hangovers but we headed out as the rain eased leaving our wifes at home to catch up on gossip. We started at Calshot Spit where a very confiding Snow Bunting had been present until Wednesday 12th at least, we were convinced it would still be present but despite checking all the weedy patches there was no sign of it. Still, in the now pleasantly warm conditions we enjoyed good views of waders in the bay to the north of the spit with around 250 Dunlin, 75 Oystercatcher and many Redshank - most of which seemed to be dozing on the low tide when I would have thought they should have been feeding. Also present were approximately 50 Turnstone and small numbers of Grey Plover, Ringed Plover, Black-tailed Godwit and Curlew. A Little Egret chased small fish or possibly shrimp through the shallows while another five or six birds were present nearby. Offshore there were 18 Great Crested Grebe and a fine Grey Seal which surfaced several times close to shore as it moved rather rapidly east.

Dunlin -  One or two bird still showed traces of juvenile or summer plumage but this bird appears 
to be fully moulted

Little Egret - Erratically foraging in the shallows

Redshank - Dozing on the low tide

A small flock of Black-headed Gull had gathered in the bay to the north of the spit. At least three of the 28 birds had been ringed and Trev and I spent a bit of time trying to read the ring numbers but beyond one bird with a partial number of E474 we could not get any combinations. The flock was joined by a fine adult Mediterranean Gull and we settled to watch it preen for a while. Breakfast was calling so we headed to the cafe at Lepe Country Park.

Mediterranean Gull - Adult winter

Black-headed Gull - In a nice wing stretching pose

After our full English we birded the small copse to the west of the main car park and spent a little time in the hide. A Firecrest was seen all to briefly while a pair of Bullfinch showed well, the male heard in song and seen bathing in a pool on the woodland floor. Otherwise it was remarkably quiet, a handful of Redwing and a fleeting glimpse of a Cetti's Warbler. It was time to go home.

Tuesday 4 November 2014

Moths, Blashford Lake and the close of October

Its been a bit of a 'bits and pieces' time for me recently with no real time for birding and the grey and wet conditions generally coinciding with any time I had off to go birding. I did run the moth trap in the garden on the nights of 27th, 28th and 29th October. Numbers of moths were not high but i did catch a couple of stunning Merveille du Jour, two White-point, two Udea ferigalis and a stunning fresh Slender Burnished-brass amongst the more usual species for the time of year.

Merveille du Jour

Slender Burnished-brass



Blair's Shoulder-knot

Green Brindled Crescent

Red-green Carpet

On 2nd November I paid a rare visit to Blashford Lakes. This is a site that is only 20 minutes from home yet one that, for some reason, doesn't massively inspire me. Granted, it gets some good birds but I always feel a bit hemmed in by the 09:00 opening time, the birding from the hides and the often rather distant views of birds. I partly visited today as a Franklin's Gull has been coming into roost on Ibsley Water late in the evening since 28th October having been first seen during the day on the 19th and I had the intention of sussing out the hide before a late afternoon visit. The bird has been showing from the Tern Hide and the Lapwing Hide overlooking Ibsley Water. The latter giving closer views but the former better light. As has been the trend on my last few birding outings the weather was pretty grey and miserable. I arrived at Blashford Lake at 07:30 in torrential rain - bugger, I had forgotten that I couldn't get anywhere until 09:00 so I drove to Ocknell Plain in the New Forest and birded Slufter's Enclosure seeing little but for 10 Fieldfare, 50 Redwing and an impressive flock of around 250 Chaffinch.

Back to Blashford and I wandered up to the Lapwing Hide where, unsurprisingly, everything seemed miles away. Plenty of Pochard, Tufted Duck, Great Crested Grebe, Little Grebe, Teal and Wigeon. Four non-breeding plumage Ruddy Duck were the first I had seen for a while. I wandered back and the Great White Egret showed distantly on Mockbeggar Lake disappearing before I could set my camera up and a few Chiffchaff called from the willows. I entered Goosander Hide and there, at last were some close birds, Cormorants! Two Goosander, a Black-necked Grebe and six Egyptian Goose kept their distance.

Great-crested Grebe from Lapwing Hide

Black-necked Grebe from Goosander Hide

Little Grebe from Lapwing Hide

Cormorant from Goosander Hide

Cormorant from Goosander Hide

Pochard from Goosander Hide

Non-breeding male Ruddy Duck from Lapwing Hide

On the 3rd November I arrived at the Tern hide at 15:00 having thoughts of being the first or second there for the Franklin's Gull but nope - packed hide and standing space only. I shuffled around and took my position at the back pointing my scope through the heads to focus on the area of water that I had been told the bird usually alights on.  I scanned around distant Great Northern Diver, distant Gulls, a few Lesser Black-back and at least two adult Yellow-legged Gull, a distant Black-necked Grebe and an assortment of distant wildfowl. I stood, checked my watch - only 1.5 hours to go before any chance of the gull arriving. My standing height meant all that I could see was the wood of the hide - great! So I adopted a hunched position and scanned the water for almost the full duration without lifting my head. Gulls started to pour in by 16:00 and there were many Lesser Black-backs and Black-headed Gull but curiously few Common or Herring Gull. And then the shout went out at 16:40 - there it is to the right of the yellow and red buoy, behind the Canada Geese midway to the willow bush, I scanned and searched and there it was, a black head amongst the mainly white headed gulls. Bloody hell, it was distant and in fading light. Still, I studied the salient features - dark mantle, white clown eye ring, prominent white tertial crescent - nice. I was amazed that people had spent 2 hours in the hide and got up and left after watching the bird for 10 minutes! I stayed put until the light faded and the hide was locked.

A selection of distant gulls - mainly Lesser Black-backs and Black-headed Gull

Franklin's Gull - Just in front of the central Lesser Black-back.