Sunday, September 30, 2012

The calm after the storm

Back at the relative normality of Blakeney Point.....

While I was away I missed a couple of good days, with a big fall of redstarts and thrushes, and some good scarcities, but fortunately not the mega I was dreading, I guess the birding gods smile upon those attending camps on Malta.
The Barred Warbler first found a week ago is still hanging around in the Lifeboat House Garden, or 'The Lupins' as those not in the know insist on calling it.

Barry aside, there's shit all migrant passerines about, just 1 Wheatear and 1 Willow Warbler today, but wildfowl and waders provide something to look at
Bar-tailed Godwit

Juvenile Gannets still showing well fishing close inshore

Meadow Pipit, flippin love the autofocus on the 7D

Pinkfeet arriving

Snow Bunting


And finally, one of the weirdest sights of the year. Walking along the beach I saw 2 Common Gulls scrapping over something on the sea, a closer look revealed that it was a Stoat!?! Unfortunately they were quite far out, otherwise this could have made a spectacular photo I feel 

Saturday, September 29, 2012

Malta Raptor Camp 2012

I'm back from 9 days at BirdLife Malta Raptor Camp 2012, my 4th trip out there to help the fight against illegal hunting. As usual, I had a great time, with some quality birding alongside legendary people.
I felt more than ever that our presence was allowing birds to pass through the island unharmed, as the sight of BirdLife teams acted as a deterrent to hunters fearful that they might get caught. Although I saw frequent illegal activity, I only saw one protected bird shot down, a Little Egret at Delimara, in a horrendous 'deja-vu' of last year.
However, I saw more birds with gunshot injuries than I have before (suggesting continues hunting in the areas we couldn't cover), and there were many incidents seen by other teams, Honey Buzzards, Kestrels, Bee-eaters and Marsh Harriers were shot at regularly, illegal electronic lures were used routinely ( I saw one group of hunters trying to lure down a passing Grey Heron!), and so far 21 dead or injured protected species have been handed in to BirdLife by the Maltese public.

Here's a few photos, not a great batch as I was too busy trying to keep an eye on things......

Little Egrets

Marsh Harrier juvenile 

Marsh Harrier with shot damaged wing, a frequent sight

Blue Rock Thrush- National Bird of Malta (since they shot all the Maltese Falcons)

Montagu's Harrier, within the safety of the airport perimeter

Night Herons, part of a flock of 11 sensibly migrating after sunset

Osprey and Peregrine

Osprey, this one was shot at shortly afterwards, fortunately the bastards missed

Swallow, hideously shot damaged. This bird spent the whole afternoon on the wires above our watchpoint, almost as if it knew it would be safe with us. A few times it made pathetic attempts to fly off but always returned as it struggled to make any distance, there's no way this will continue it's migration, and will be dead by now, either by starvation, or some other fucker finishing it off. One of the saddest sights I've ever seen

Wryneck at Ghadira reserve, fenced and gated to keep hunters out


Black Kite with shot damaged primaries

I spent my first night on the island watching over 2 roosting Black Storks, we think that they made it off the island, but have information that the other 2 they arrived with were shot. 

4 more Black Storks a few days later, these roosted on the lawless island of Gozo, we don't know their fate

Most nights hundreds, if not thousands of Yellow Wagtails came in to roost in reedbeds, and often the flocks included several Black-headed Wagtails, easily picked out by call

Honey Buzzards were the stars of the show, and generally the most  frequent large raptor, mostly juvenile, in  every possible plumage, and often giving stunning close views

For more similar photos, check out my album from Raptor Camp last year on Facebook

As usual, i'll end by telling how you can help. Joining a camp next year is of course one way, but if you can't make it, how about joining BirdLife Malta. They desperately need all the funding they can get ,and every extra member gives them more weight when lobbying the Maltese government and the E.U. Remember, these are 'our' birds being shot at here.

Monday, September 17, 2012

Migration Magic

It doesn't always take some crippling rare, or a massive fall to make you appreciate the wonder of migration, more subtle little moments can be just as special. This evening I was having a bit of a seawatch from the beach, not classic conditions for it I know, it was as much about enjoying the sunset as anything else, i've not got much longer left on The Point, and I want to soak it up as much as I can.
Anyway, I wasn't seeing a whole lot, and was thinking of walking back along the beach to get back for dinner, when I picked up a small bird waaaay out over the water. It was clearly a solitary passerine, bounding in low over the waves on it's way towards The Point, and I kept following it in the scope hoping to get an i.d on it as it flew by. It kept coming in a beeline right towards me, still hugging the waves, at one point it even had to jink up and out of the way as a breaker almost caught it, I was getting worried that it might not even make it. I was willing it on the last few hundred metres and to my astonishment, it kept coming right in, over the surf, up the beach, and plonked down practically at my feet! Looking through the scope I swear I could see it's little chest beating as its heart pounded from the effort. I slowly reached for the camera, cautious not to scare it from its rest and clicked away, though the light was awful. After a few minutes it began chasing and catching a few micro moths that were starting to come out of the grass, and then flipped off over the dunes, presumably to find some more substantial cover in which to roost. Pure and simple Point magic.

The bird resting on the shingle, fresh in off the North Sea

A bit more active after a short recovery period.

The pale tips to the greater coverts age this as a first winter bird (as does the buffy tip to two of the uppertail coverts, first time i've noticed this in the field). It's absolutely mind-blowing to think that this bird, only a few months old has just flown across the North Sea, maybe all the way from Norway, totally unguided, except by tuition, and that this is only the beginning of its journey South. And then to think that this is happening everywhere right now, birds of so many species, all over the world, pulling crazy stunts like that as if it was totally normal, I have so much respect for these creatures, they're sooo flipping tough its unreal!

Which brings me to my next subject, fuckwit hunters who think they have some god given right to end the life of something so amazing, for the sake of a stuffed trophy, a small meal, or simply just for the hell of it. Hence i'm off to Malta on Wednesday for Raptor Camp 2012, doing my bit to stem the slaughter. I was going to moan and gripe about my journey there, having to leave here tomorrow afternoon, a 4 hour train, and then a night in Stansted Airport (my 3rd there this year) in order to get a flight Weds morning and not getting to Malta til nearly 24 hours after leaving The Point. But I won't moan and gripe, that young Spot Fly has had a much harder time of it, making my travels look like an absolute cakewalk in comparison.

So instead, here's some nice pictures of a Grey Plover from this morning

And a skein of Pink-footed Goose, part of the flood currently arriving in Norfolk from breeding grounds in Iceland, another awesome migration story for another day.

Sunday, September 16, 2012

7D: A new Era begins!

Following the sad death of the 30D, i've upgraded to the 7D. It only arrived a few days ago, and the windy weather hasn't produced a whole lot of birds for me to try it out on, but so far it seems to be living up to its reputation. At first I was really struggling to get sharp photos and I was worried that either I had been sent a duff camera, or it's higher spec was showing up inadequacies in my technique. A look at the instruction manual didn't help, I had decided to save a few quid by importing the camera direct from Hong Kong, and the manual was in Cantonese, which i'm a bit rusty on at the moment to be honest. A quick fiddle around the camera revealed an option for micro-adjustment, I didn't know what that was but gave it a go and somehow it seems to have worked. Obviously its going to take a while to fully get my head around it, but i'm confident it's a piece of kit that I can get some great shots with this autumn/winter, and beyond.........
Anyway, here's a few from a quick session on the beach this evening:

The westerlies are sttttiiiiiiilllllll keeping the rares away from us, and even common migrants are very thin on the ground. The vest bird of recent days was a Snow Bunting briefly on the beach, but that was before the new camera had arrived, so no photos of that i'm afraid.

This Lesser Whitethroat was new in the plantation this morning, the first of the autumn

The final brood of Swallows are looking well grown up, gonna miss them when they're gone

Wednesday, September 12, 2012

Winter Birds

"The winter birds have come back againHere the sprightly chickadee, gone now is the willow wrenIn passing greet each other as if old, old friendsAnd to the voiceless trees it is their own they will lend"
Ray LaMontagne

Okay, we've not got any Chickadees (or even any Tits), but there was a couple of Willow Warblers on their way South here today, and I think those words by Ray LaMontagne sum up autumn migration perfectly and simply.
Although signs of migration are more limited than we would like for this time of year, there's still a very visible shift in avifauna on The Point. The first Hen Harrier whipped through the dunes and across the saltmarsh a few days ago, Lapland Buntings prrrp and tew over the beach, Goldcrests fiddle around the Tamarisk and the first skeins of Pinkfeet are descending through the low clouds outside as I write, exciting times!!!

Barefoot Birding: Sport of Idiots

Give this a listen. I saw Ray live in Bournemouth last year, what a voice!

Saturday, September 08, 2012

Westerly Woe

The Point has been a pretty dire place for birding over the last week, with the westerly winds doing their best to ruin our September. Migrant passerines have been very thin on the ground, just a handful of Wheatears dropping in daily. The only hope really lies in american waders, but several attempts squelching around Blakeney Harbour at low tide have been fruitless. A trip down to Cley to see the Pectoral Sandpiper yesterday evening was a nice reminder of what rarities look like, hopefully we'll have something similar of our  own soon.

Unfortunately, as I made to photograph the Pec, I discovered that my Canon 30D was absolutely stone cold dead, not a flicker of life from it! Attempts to revive it back home have failed thus far, so it looks like its the end of an era. I've been using the 30D since early 2007 and it's been a fantastic camera for me, solid as a rock throughout some very difficult situations and conditions. But, time to move on I guess, it looks like i'll get myself a 7D as a replacement, once I can justify the cost. It's ridiculous really, needing to pay the best part of a grand for something that the vast majority of people live without just fine, but not having a camera just doesn't even seem like an option for me. I've thought about one of the cheaper options, but an 1100/600D wouldn't do justice to the 400mm f5.6 lens, and its not that much more of a jump in price from a 60D to a 7D. Whatever I get, it'll probably be soon as I'm a bit scared of something mega turning up and not being able to photograph it, nightmare scenario!

Pectoral Sandpiper (digiscoped)

Here's the final batch of photos from the 30D, taken over the last few days.

This juvenile Bonxie didn't think much of a rather choppy sea on the only day of Nor-westerlies we had, and decided to fly down the beach instead

Working the suaeda at the Long Hills I saw this Marsh Harrier coming before it saw me, so I dropper low and got a great view as it came by nice and close, unaware of my presence.

Meadow Pipit

Yellow Wagtail