Sunday, 22 May 2011

Be careful what you wish of the birding gods

A salutary lesson for us all will follow.

A couple of free hours became a quick trip to Rainham Marshes to see what the wind had turned up. THE PLAN was a walk round the reserve to the Target Pools to look for gulls and waders, and then to dive out of the reserve at the sea wall gate to look for gulls and waders from the river path. And this is largely what happened.

The first thing to distract from THE PLAN was a presence of a new hide within spitting distance of the Visitor's centre. While it's very pretty I don't see that it adds anything you can't already get more effetively by looking out out of the visitor centre window. Still, when winter comes it'll be an excellent place from which to see endless hordes of Wigeon, and that's a reasonable end in itself.

For now, the air was full of Swifts and Martins and nothing else was visible.

A reasonable summation of the view from the new hide. Note the clear blue and cloudless sky, it will become relevant.

After this I did make it most of the way round to the Target Pools with very little distraction only to find that they were not, in fact, Target Pools. They were Target Dry-muds-covered-in-Cows. Disappointing, and entirely gull/wader-free. I took 15 minutes to sit in the newish Butts hide and look out in the opposite direction, but other than the omnipresent Swifts and Sand Martins there was very little to do except brush up on female Gadwall vs. juv Gadwall ID features and marvel at a single Lapwing staring into space.

MISTAKE: Thinking "Well that was a disappointment, where's all the water gone? This place is a bit rubbish without water."

A hundred yards short of the sea-wall exit the birding gods in their Wisdom declared "So the jumped up little tit wants water does he? We'll give him water." Out of nowhere came the most intense two minutes of rain I've seen in months, sweeping across the reserve from the direction of the river. I could have sworn that in places it was actually hail. This left me with a decision - Back to the Butts hide, onward to the Marshland Discovery hide, or take my chances by leaving the reserve - trapping myself outside on the sea-wall - and looking for a handy tree. I went for the tree.

"And lo I was repentant, seeing the error of my ways, and the birding gods are kind and forgiving gods and did stop the rain 10 seconds later, and did give their unworthy subject a Whitethroat as a sign of their forgiveness."
Gospel of a repentant birder Ch12:v86

Being soaked already (and having fortified myself before the circuit with a mug of tea and a bacon sandwich anyway) I stopped caring about rainclouds after that and did some gull sifting from the river walk. Lots of Black Headed gulls, and one Black Headed sized pure white gull, which was sitting with the BH flock, and which I'm fairly confident was just a leucistic Black Headed although it had me going for a good couple of minutes. The wind made phonescoping near-impossible, but I had a go at a video. I'll put that up in a separate post once I've edited it down to something approaching identifiable. In the meantime, here's a highly informative photo:

It's the one in the middle.

Monday, 16 May 2011

I am a Dorset convert - Day 2, Friday 13th May

Friday was a good day. It involved cameras, Lepidoptera and Puffins.

We took a long walk along Nine Barrow Down to Corfe Castle, encountering many interesting and varied butterfly species, along with a very showy Stonechat (is there any other kind) and some fairly certain Raven silhouettes.

Day flying moth - Cinnabar.

Not sure what moth species this is yet, but it's out for question. I reckon some kind of Heath. Answers in the comments if you've got them please.

Adonis Blue - National scarcity, but locally abundant. This is a female.

My first ever Green Hairstreak! One of the few shots that didn't over-expose and wash out the colours.

Looked like a Raven. Sounded like a Raven. Probably was a Raven.


Just when you thought photo opportunities didn't get any better, a Skylark took pity on my attempts at getting it in flight and landed on a bush on the downs. This is really quite unusual, and definitely warrants a blurry photo of its own.

Naturally, folllowing the 4 mile walk we rehydrated with a pint and refuelled with pub grub. If you go to the Greyhound Inn in Corfe be sure they get your order right, because of the 4 people in our group 3 were served the wrong main. On the plus side, the Jackdaws were entertaining, and we had an awesome Blackbird picking around the leftovers of the other diners.

Theeze are not the fudz u r looking for. Leeve them for uz.

Haz nom?

After heading back to Swanage via some non-bird related steam train adventures, Friday evening was boat trip evening, and yet another life tick. It was the very last bird we found, but eventually we bagged ourselves a Puffin.

While Day 3 was fun, not much bird-related was captured on film, though we did spend a fair few hours chasing a Wheatear around Portland Bill (which turned out to be about 4 Wheatears) but that was it for birds.

Bascally, what I've taken out of this weekend is that it's really worth doing a few trips out to see something different. I've been a jaded inland birder for most of this year, and seawatching has been a bit like balm. If I can fit it in maybe Dungeness is on the cards in the next few weeks.

Sunday, 15 May 2011

I am a Dorset convert - Day 1, Thursday 12th May

Well where do I start?

As you may have read elsewhere, I've just spent 4ish days over in Dorset with P4rus and our respective wimminz. If I tell you those 4 days resulted in 5 gigs of photos, you will probably get scared. Don't worry, I have already deleted half of them. I will break the trip into a post for each day, because otherwise it will get ridiculous.

The weekend started on Wednesday evening at the Shepherds Bush Empire watching amazing folk music courtesy of Spiers and Boden + guests. This is not bird related, but is awesome and worth plugging.

Thursday morning/early afternoon was the long drive down to Swanage, and the first thing we did was take a quick walk along the coast at Durlston. First thing to note is that Swanage is GREEN, STUNNING and FULL OF LARGE HILLS.

This simple hour spent walking along some cliffs allowed me to fill some very embarrassing seabird related holes in my life-list.

Guillemots and Razorbill doing 'obviously different'.

Shag in flight. Think I may have misidentified one of these as a Cormorant once, but it's nice to be 100% and able to tick it at last.

It also gave the chance to take grainy pictures of other awesome cliff-dwelling birds:

What is is that makes Fulmars so much better than Gulls? It's a mystery. Awesome though.

In Essex the Peregrine's default state of being is apparently either 'Lazy' or 'Stuffed', so it was great to see one actually get off its feathery arse and fly around a bit. Now, having said that, here's a picture of that bird sitting on its arse.

After getting food we headed out for an evening jaunt around the heathland to see hear some Nightjars, which was fun, if less productive than hoped. Got another life tick though as the rear end of a Dartford Warbler disappeared into a Gorse bush. This is the standard view of Dartford Warbler and entirely tickable. Some speculate that they do not in fact have faces, and that those featured in bird guides are mere extrapolations based on experience and guesswork. I can't prove them wrong.

As always, once we'd given up and started driving back the bird of the evening appeared in the headlights and sat still for just long enough for a few attempts at extreme low-light photography. First Whinchat I've seen this year too.

Your choice of horribly underexposed or horribly overexposed and blurry. Never let it be said that this blog doesn't cater to all tastes.

The next day consisted of about half a million identical macro shots of butterflies. Most of this evening has been spent winnowing them to one or two shots per butterfly. All that and more to look forward to in day 2.