Monday, May 21, 2012

Rosefinches are Red, Bluethroats are Blue.....

Rosefinches are Red, 
Bluethroats are Blue,
I shouldn't really be birding,
I've got exams to do.

J.Cockram 2012

Highlight of today was this beauty of a male Common Rosefinch that appeared right at the end of the day on Yankee Ridge, well, on the wreck of The Yankee itself even. A real last gasp surprise this after a long day of effort in grim weather, with little reward.
I must admit to usually referring to these things as 'grotfinches', that certainly wasn't the case here, it was by the far the best one i've seen, with plenty of red from the cap all down it's front, and all over the rump, a good example of where the name 'rosefinch' came from. Unfortunately it didn't hang around much longer than a few seconds, and flew off as I made the schoolboy error of glancing away for a moment, leaving me with no idea as to where it had gone.

While looking around to try and relocate the bird a few other new-in birds were apparent, including my first siskin and stonechat on The Point this year.

A 'classic' Point view, that I didn't even notice at the time, as the wind buffetted me to the side while photographing the Rosefinch, this Wheatear managed to sneak into the frame.

Sunday, May 20, 2012

Back in Blue

The last week or so has been pretty quiet birdwise here lately, which is fortunate seeing as how i'm currently in the middle of my final university exams, and thus supposedly busy with revision, and occasionally even away and back in Shitsville-on-Sea AKA Bournemouth. Today bought a nice little reprieve from reading about the Aarhus Convention, and contemplating the futility of the concept of Sustainable Development with the discovery of a Bluethroat, our second of the season, and the 4th that i've seen on The Point now. Not a stonking male like the last one, but delightful nonetheless with its subtle markings.

The last few days has also seen the Plantation reach it's Flycatcher hat-trick for the Spring, with Pied and Spotted Flycatchers sharing the same fenceline that the Red-breasted frequented a few weeks back.

Here's hoping for a Collared now to complete the set, though it better hurry up as i'm back down South again on Thursday for the last of the exams, and then i'm free. FREE I TELL YOU, FRRRRRRREEEEEEEEEE!!!!!!

Ahem, yes, I am rather excited about finishing uni, big things coming ,watch this space....................

oh, almost forgot, if you care about birds at all, or have any sort of a soul, and would like the spring hunting in Malta to be stopped, sign this petition and let Lawrence Gonzi, Prime Minister of Malta know how you feel. And if you're feeling particularly benevolent, share the link on your own blogs, facebooks etc. Cheers

Thursday, May 10, 2012

A bitter-swift pill to swallow

If that's not clutching at straws for a title then I don't know what is!!

The strong south-westerlies over the last few days have halted the arrival of migrant passerines, and any goodies that may be travelling with them, but the birding has been no less spectacular. Today saw an impressive movement of hirundines and swifts along The Point, which was as absolute joy to witness. While on duty at the beach I counted nearly 2000 swifts in 2 and a half hours, just shy of 1000 swallows and 500 House Martins. With the strong winds the birds were travelling incredibly fast, and made no effort to change course to avoid me standing on the dune, often coming withing touching distance. Some of the Swifts even looked like they were going to snatch the tally counter out of my hand. Photography wasn't easy but I managed a few slightly soft shots that I think give a good impression of the experience.

Being the rabid rarity hunter that I am, I was well keyed up for a Red-rumped Swallow to come whistling past, and was thinking that such an occurrence was definitely on the cards, checking every single Swallow, and my heart jumping at every House Martin. Unsurprisingly, none did, and I was still very much happy with what I had seen. However to hear that one had graced Cley during the afternoon, and then moved to our fellow NT site of Blakeney Freshes just over the other side of the harbour, where it was joined by another, was bit gutting I have to say. I know that I say 'XXXXX is one of my favourite birds' far too much for it to actually mean anything, but Red-rumped Swallows really are, they are just superb little creatures, and looking back over these photos always puts me in good mood, one of my most memorable days birding ever, and that's saying a lot!

Monday, May 07, 2012

Beans, mushrooms, 2 eggy bread, 3 sausage and 2 Grus please

A quieter day today, but still with a nice surprise. 
I was up rather early, possibly a little too early...

Not ideal lighting conditions for seawatching I think you'll agree, but watching a sunrise over the sea truly is the best way to start the day. 

After a long morning, including a WeBS count, it was back to the ranch for a well deserved fry-up. We were just about to get stuck in when mobiles started ringing, with local birders flashing up on the display, uh-oh, whats going on?
 '2 Cranes flying down The Point from The Watch-house', oh bugger, what awful timing. Heap a load of beans onto a wedge of eggy bread, shove in mouth, get up, grab bins and camera, rush for door, there's a blockage of bodies and tripod legs, turn around, back to plate, pop in a couple of mushrooms for good measure, try the door again, outside, there's the birds, cop a binful, camera up, click click click, birds are away now, back inside, to table, chow down, sorted!

Sunday, May 06, 2012

Those Seabird Blues

My crikey, The Point really is on fire this week.

Whilst doing some actual work this morning we heard tell of a Bluethroat down near The Hoods. After finishing off the jobs we were doing we sauntered down, no birders and a whole lot of suadea. A bit of a nightmare scenario with a bird like a Bluethroat we thought. We decided to walk through the suadea in the hope of flushing the bird, and amazingly, after just a few minutes it flipped up and over a bush on the edge of the saltmarsh. We retreated to a nearby dune hoping that if we sat and waited quietly it would come out to feed, and sure enough it obliged us handsomely. The bird soon hopped out onto the shingle revealing itself to be a cracking male red-spotted, one of my favourite birds. To our great surprise, it performed amazingly well, feeding right out in the open, not too far from us, another magic Point birding moment!

A much more typcial view of a Point Bluethroat: disappearing into cover

Later on in the day I was out on the beach waiting to talk about seals to any visitors who came along (I know, more 'work' and on a Sunday too, it's a tough life sometime), and of course I had my scope with me to seawatch during the quiet times. I wasn't expecting much given the calm conditions and the date, but late afternoon something terrible happened- The one that got away!!

Scanning along, I picked up a very distant 'shearwater' flapping and gliding low over the water. It was clearly not a Manx, Balearic or Sooty and thoughts turned to Great, as unlikely as it would be. It had that more calm looking flight of a large shearwater, very effortless even without any assistance from the wind. The bird was very dark, with just a white underbody. The underwings were dark though, I've not seen all that many Greats, but I thought they had pale underwings. It wasn't that different in size from a Manx either, only just a bit bigger, but seemingly more 'solid'. Twice I thought I saw a pale area around the front end, but it was just too distant to tell, and then it was going away all too soon, and gone.

 I hadn't considered a pterodroma while watching the bird, as I assumed they always did that batshit crazy loop-da-loop stuff in flight, but after a suggestion from a friend that they fly differently in calm weather, I thought I should watch a few videos. There are surprisingly few Fea's videos online, the scilly pelagic one (with the superb backing vocals) being the best, but there are a few of Zino's. On watching these, my heart sunk. I rushed back out in the vain hope that maybe the bird would pass back around, but after a few hours nothing had happened, and I headed back to the ranch, with a bit of a sicky feeling in my tummy.

I'm not claiming anything, I don't even know for sure what it was, but i've seen enough of the commoner seabirds to know that this was something different, and until I see a Fea's Petrel, this evening is going to be replayed in my mind an unhealthy number of times. I've never had 'the one that got away' feeling before, but now that I know it, it's not pleasant. Still i'm here for another 4 months, and that's a lot of potential seawatching time. And one can never feel too bad on a Bluethroat day, eh!

Saturday, May 05, 2012

The Circus comes to The Point- Pallid Harrier!!

WAAAHH!!! It gets better.
This morning I had to take the quad bike down to Cley to pick up some food supplies. On arrival at the beach car park I checked my phone to see a whole heap of missed calls and voicemails from my colleague back at the Lifeboat House, always a worrying sign. First voicemail up 'someones had a monties or pallid fly up the point', sheeeyet! I had driven right along the waters edge, and birds always move up the inland side of the shingle ridge, I must have passed right by it. I quickly picked the stuff up and drove back up, cursing my fortune and assuming the bird had done as most migrant harriers do and carried on up the coast. Luckily it was a beautiful day and I was enjoying the ride up when suddenly a 'thin-winged' harrier flipped up over the dunes to my side. I braked and ran to the nearest tall dune, just in time to see the colony of Sandwich Terns and Black-headed Gulls go up on Far Point. Bugger, I had caught up with the the bird but still managed to miss it, as it surely continued to the mainland after passing over Far Point. After returning to the house and dropping stuff off I headed out to scour the dunes just in case, and had barely left the garden when I got another tantalising glimpse as again the bird flipped over a dune, and was gone before I could even get my bins up. This was getting really frustrating! Eventually we picked up the bird flying distantly over Yankee Ridge, but it was too far to i.d. with bins. After disappearing again it seemed to pop up from no-where and gave a reasonably close flyby showing off a delicate pale collar and dark neck, clean underparts, a pale trailing edge and only small dusky tips to the primaries, it was a PALLID! The first i've seen in the UK.

After giving us such a run-around in the morning, the bird settled a bit and showed superbly well, giving some really close views, even allowing us to determine it as a 2cy Male (the yellow iris sexes it).

It was easy to see why it had been so elusive earlier as it was travelling extremely fast, using the wind expertly. It would disappear behind one dune, and pop out from behind another at the other end of the point just a few seconds later. It was fantastic watching it at work, a brilliant bird in so many ways. I am one happy chappy this evening!

Friday, May 04, 2012

Nice Mix

Another good day on The Point. A weird feature of this spring so far has been a regular supply of Fieldfares, with 2-3 seen most mornings, giving a very autumnal feel to the place.

This is a much more typical spring view at suaeda level!

This Hobby gave a brief flypast before streaking off over the harbour

Walking down Yankee Ridge we were somewhat surprised when this adult Spoonbill stepped out of a nearby saltmarsh creek, added itself to our 'shitlists' (out of shot), looked very worried for a minute (which presumably explains the previously described behaviour), and then flew a short distance to a more isolated creek. Gotta love these birds, it'll be great if they can really establish themselves as a breeding bird over the next few years.

While patrolling the dunes this afternoon I spotted this Marsh Harrier hunting along the same ridge as I was on. Ducking down into the grass, I managed to stay hidden enough to receive a nice close flyby. Think this is a 3cy Male, confirmation/disagreement of this is most welcome.

Wednesday, May 02, 2012

At the sharp end!!

I think I may be starting to run out of 'Point' based blog titles, some would say that I did a long time ago....

Today was a fantastic day for birding on Blakeney Point, a spring 'classic'. Starting this morning at Cley Beach the walk up was enlivened by plenty of Wheatears on the deck and a few Yellow Wagtails passing low overhead. Only one of these actually pitched on the deck and it was this fine male flava

This ringtail Hen Harrier caused havoc on the saltmarsh as it flew east over the harbour, gulls and waders everwhere!!!

The bushes held a scattering of the usual spring migrants, Willow Warbler, Chiffchaff, Lesser Whitethroat, Redstart etc. In the afternoon we were casually admiring a male Whinchat on the plantation fence when this cracking male Red-breasted Flycatcher appeared next to it.

It shared the fenceline with a pair of Whinchat, a male Redstart, 2 Blackcaps and a Lesser Whitethroat, all of which were new in since the morning, presumably due to the wind veering more to the east throughout the day. The whole place just had that feel that new things were arriving all the time.

This Robin also showed nicely

The rather restricted throat patch had us even more excited for a while but closer examination showed some reddy-orange bleeding through into the breast ,and looking around on the internet seems to show this as fairly typical plumage for this time of year. Interestingly, according to The Birds of Norfolk, this is the earlist record for the county, a whole 5 days before one on at Brancaster in 1972.

Throughout the rest of the evening new birds were still coming in including a smart male 'Pied type' flycatcher, which fortunately was only seen in flight so didn't even give an opportunity to try and turn it into something else.