Sunday 24 January 2016

Penduline Tit - Titchfield Haven 20th January

At last, fourth time lucky, I enter the West Hide at Titchfield Haven and there in front of me are four Penduline Tit, two males and two females. The birds were feeding on the heads of Greater Reedmace (these are not Bulrush as is being commonly claimed) pulling apart the downy clubbed seed heads of the plants for small insects and grubs - the second photograph shows a bird with what appears to be a small beetle grub. These birds have been present at Titchfield since 7th December, with a brief foray to the IBM Lake at Cobham, Portsmouth on 15th and 16th December before disappearing only to reappear at Titchfield again on 29th December. The IBM Lake is a little over 7 miles north-east of Titchfield Haven and it appears remarkable that the birds were firstly found at the lake but then decided to relocate back to Titchfield - seemingly a collective decision of birds that remembered that Titchfield Haven provided good conditions for them. Unfortunately, today in the bright sunshine of the early morning the light from the West Hide was not great so most of my shots are not of great quality, furthermore, none of the shots I took of the male birds are worthy of publication - a good reason to go back for more views!

Note the small grub in the bill of this bird

New York and Long Island - 14th-19th January

Sarah and I had long wanted to visit New York to see the various sites and the experience the vibe of the city so we had booked a long weekend in early januray. This seemed a little crazy given the excess of Christmas but we went for it nonetheless. I am not going to provide a detailed account here of what we did on a day to day basis. We stayed in the Carlyle Hotel on 76th & Madison Street and did all the typical sites of Empire State Building, a helicopter ride over and around the city, the Rockefeller Building, the Freedom Tower, the Flatiron and the deeply affecting 9/11 Memorial Museum.

I also spent half a day or so birding in Central Park primarily looking for Red Fox Sparrow but failing. The winter has been exceptionally mild in New York and apparently numbers of this species are well down in the park this year. Time at the feeders at Evodia Field in The Ramble produced good numbers of White-throated Sparrow, Blue Jay, White-breasted Nuthatch, House Finch, American Goldfinch, Red-bellied Woodpecker, Northern Cardinal, Tufted Titmouse, Black-capped ChickadeeDowny Woodpecker and Mourning Dove. Phil Jeffrey provides a great deal of useful information on finding this and other areas in the park here. Other birds we saw included an Osprey just outside of the city and a Red-tailed Hawk over Central Park but perhaps most unusual was an Ovenbird that had been trapped in the coffee shop (Obica) in the atrium of the IBM building, the bird was walking around under tables feeding on cake crumbs when it should have been tip-toeing in leaf-litter in the forests of central America and the Caribbean.

Blue Jay - Central Park

Common Grackle - Central Park

American Goldfinch - Central park

White-throated Sparrow (tan-striped) - Central Park

Mourning Dove - Central Park

Downy Woodpecker - Central Park

Tufted Titmouse - Central Park

White-throated Sparrow (white-striped) - Central Park

White-throated Sparrow (intermediate) - Central Park

White-throated Sparrow (tan-striped) - Central Park

A proper wild Eastern Grey Squirrel - Central Park

Red-bellied Woodpecker - Central Park

I also spent some time around the reservoir in the north of the park, a flock of around 30 American Robin was a nice site especially as some where in cracking plumage. Birds on the reservoir included thousands each of American Herring Gull and Ring-billed Gull, c.80 Shoveler, 6 Ring-necked Duck, 25 Bufflehead, 2 Hooded Merganser, 2 Snow Goose, 25 American Coot, 2 Pied-billed Grebe, 100's of Ruddy Duck and 20+ Double-crested Cormorant.

American Robin - Central Park

Double-crested Cormorant - Central Park Reservoir

Pair of Bufflehead - Central Park

Bufflehead - Central Park Reservoir

Hooded Merganser - Central Park Reservoir

American Coot - Central Park Reservoir

432 Park Avenue building, the tallest residential building in the world. When measured by roof height this is the tallest building in New York but One World Trade Centre surpasses it in height when the telecommunications mast on its main roof is considered. 

American Herring Gull (mainly adult) with Ring-billed Gull to the left and right - Central Park Reservoir

Ring-billed Gull - Central Park Reservoir

Pied-billed Grebe - Central Park Reservoir

Snow Goose - Central Park Reservoir

Ring-billed Gull - Central Park Reservoir

A coarsely marked 1st winter Ring-billed Gull - Central Park Reservoir

Central Park Reservoir

Lower Manhattan City Scape

Lower Manhattan City Scape

Statue of Liberty

The awesome One World Trade Centre (Freedom Tower) is the tallest skyscraper in the Western Hemisphere and the 6th tallest in the world. The observation deck on the 102nd floor really does afford the best views of the city

On 17th we had arranged to meet with John Turner of Alula Birding & Natural History Tours for a day trip to Mantauk at the eastern end of Long Island. John was an excellent guide and very knowledgeable on the birds, natural history and nature conservation of Long Island. I would definitely recommend John as a guide on the island. Unfortunately, I had contracted fairly severe food poisoning the night before and my stamina for birding and ability to hold a conversation was at a low ebb and at times the trip felt like a tour of the toilets of Long Island. Still, John was very tolerant of this! We caught the 06:15 train from Penn Station and met John at Massapequa Park Station and he drove on from here. First stop was at a Eastern Screech-owl roost site at Massapequa Preserve in the village of Massapequa Park. but unfortunately the bird was not at its usual roost but Song Sparrow and American Crow were new for the trip. Next we went to Southards Pond Park in the village of Babylon where a Dickcissel has been overwintering. A small group of six Fish Crow flew over giving their distinctive nasal croaking call, a new bird for me. There were many Song Sparrow and a singing Carolina Wren. And then a strange metallic call and I found the Dickcissel perched atop the fence around the tennis court, reminiscent of a chunky bunting with a distinct yellow wash on the throat and a hint of a black moustachial stripe and throat spots. Another new bird. The bird flew and we followed it, I wanted some pictures but when I raised my camera (I had taken my 7d Mark II) I found there was a card read fault and whatever I tried I could not get the thing to work - bugger! Not a great day. Onwards and we stopped at a Capri Lake in West Islip where there were several hundred Lesser Scaup plus large numbers of American Black Duck, Redhead, Hooded Merganser, Ruddy Duck, Shoveler and Canada Goose. We then pushed onwards to Mantauk Point, we found a sheltered spot and scanned the sea, there were thousands of Scoter, impossible to say how many with Black Scoter the commonest species, followed by Surf Scoter and then White-winged Scoter. Amongst the scoter were smaller numbers of Common Eider and Long-tailed Duck, Great-northern Diver and Red-throated Diver but no sign of King Eider or Harlequin Duck which had been seen here recently. But it would take some luck to have found these amongst the thousands of scoter.

Montauk Lighthouse

Mixed Scoter flock with Black Scoter and Surf Scoter visible and a Great-northern Diver in the background

We left the chilling headland and retraced our steps back to Deep Hollow Ranch in Montauk and birded a short distance along the dirt road that accesses the former estate of Andy Warhol. A flock of 500 Canada Goose with 4 Snow Goose were present in the paddocks and White-throated Sparrows hopped in the scrub and then John called our main target Red Fox Sparrow and there on a bramble was a stunning bright red, speckled monster sparrow. I was very pleased with this and almost forgot about my churning stomach. Our next stop was the marina and mouth at the eastern edge of Montauk harbour we scanned the sea an picked up 6 Great-northern Diver, 2 Red-throated Diver, 4 Long-tailed Duck and 10 Surf Scoter. We scanned the gulls, a small flock of 8 Bonaparte's Gull and a white-winged gull roosting on the beach which turned out to be a very pale 1st winter Glaucous Gull, we got great views as it roosted on the beach. I then picked up another white-winged gull this one a 2nd winter Kumlien's Gull. We finished our birding in the harbour by watching a pair of Grey Seal biting and cavorting in the shallows, this apparently a sign of mating behaviour.

We then drove around to the western side of Napeague Harbor near its inlet with Greater Peconic Bay where a Snowy Owl had recently been recorded but apart from a Northern Harrier, 30 Bufflehead, 7 Great-northern Diver and 4 Long-tailed Duck we recorded little. Our final stop  was a  barrier island accessed via Dune Road, we birded from the Shinnecock Inlet on the east several miles before turning back to the mainland in East Quogue, however, the clouds had built and the light levels had fallen significantly we saw a Great Blue Heron, a few Buffleheads, American Black Duck and five Dunlin feeding on a pile of discarded scallop shells extracting the remaining meat. It was time to head back west and in to New York as the snow began to fall from the sky eventually to settle to a depth of around 2 cm. It had been a great day but I was very let down by my camera and by my very poorly stomach!

Times Square

Central Park

Empire State Building from the Rockerfella Building

New York Stock Exchange

Flatitron Building

Central Park

View of Lower Manhattan from Rockerfella Building

Wednesday 13 January 2016

Hampshire and Gloucestershire General Birding - Early January

My birding in this first part of 2016 has been pretty limited by work and the continuation of Christmas and New Year socials. I have dropped in here and popped in there and put some time in for the three Penduline Tit that have been knocking around at Titchfield Haven but with no luck. Here is a selection of my successes.

On 2nd and 3rd January we went to the Isle of Wight to visit my family. On 2nd I popped to the Station Pool opposite the 'Off the Rails' restaurant in Yarmouth where a Grey Phalarope had been present since 27th December the weather was terrible with howling winds and heavy rain. The bird showed distantly, I rattled off some shots and dashed for the cover of the car. On Sunday the rain was almost horizontal and the wind was gusting to a Force 8 so I headed out early birding, a Barn Owl along the Military Road and a seawatch at St. Catherine's Point produced 15 Kittiwake, 6 Razorbill, 3 Red-throated Diver and 1 Black-throated Diver all east between 9:00 and 10:30. After this short period in the field I was soaked so it was time to head back for a shower.

Grey Phalarope - Station Pool, Yarmouth, Isle of Wight

Grey Phalarope - Station Pool, Yarmouth, Isle of Wight

On 5th January after a winter bird survey I popped into Eastleigh Sewage Works where a Yellow-browed Warbler has been present since 20th December. The weather was pretty rough, wet and windy. The bird was calling and showing on and off and eventually popped up for a few pictures.

Yellow-browed Warbler - Chickenhall Lane, Eastleigh Sewage Works

Yellow-browed Warbler - Chickenhall Lane, Eastleigh Sewage Works

On 7th I had another survey but had a little spare time, about an hour actually, so popped to Southsea, Portsmouth for the Iceland Gull that had been present since 2nd January. I arrived to hear that the bird had just flown west so I popped along to the castle to see the Purple Sandpiper, there were around 10 present and showing fairly well. Eventually the Iceland Gull returned but showed rather distantly on the water before flying east and out of view. Time-up and no chance to spend more time looking for it.

Purple Sandpiper - Southsea Castle, Portsmouth

Purple Sandpiper - Southsea Castle, Portsmouth

Iceland Gull (1st Winter) - near South Parade Pier, Southsea, Portsmouth

Iceland Gull (1st Winter) - near South Parade Pier, Southsea, Portsmouth

Iceland Gull (1st Winter) - near South Parade Pier, Southsea, Portsmouth

On 8th January I was heading up to Cowley for a weekend in the cottage. I popped by to see the two female Ring-necked Duck that had been present at Rooksbury Mill Local Nature Reserve in Andover since 21st November. These birds showed well in bright conditions loosely hanging-out with a flock of around 25 Tufted Duck. My recollection may not be great but I believe that these are the first female Ring-necked Duck I have ever seen in the UK.

Female Ring-necked Ducks - Rookesbury Mill, Hampshire

On 10th January I visited Slimbridge WWT in fairly grotty conditions - mainly heavy rain. I spent my time in the Rushy Hide, Martin Smith Hide and Holden Tower. There were fantastic numbers of birds present and in particular the numbers of Teal, Wigeon, Golden Plover and Lapwing were astounding, running in to thousands of each. Highlights were two female Greater Scaup from Rushy Hide and two Common Crane, around 150 Bewick Swan, 130 White-fronted Goose and 150 Barnacle Goose from the Holden Tower.

Common Crane - Slimbridge

Common Crane - Slimbridge

Tufted Duck - Slimbridge

Pintail - Slimbridge

Bewick Swan - Slimbridge

Two Greater Scaup and Shelduck - Slimbridge

Tufted Duck and Pochard - Slimbridge