Monday, 31 August 2009

Post-Pride of Bilbao (Birding in Hampshire)

Friday 28th August.

Out like a light the previous evening, still felt shattered this morning. So just an easy day's birding was planned at a couple of sites near Portsmouth. The first one being Farlington Marshes, on the northern edge of Langstone Harbour.

A windswept morning combined with the tide going out meant thing were rather quiet here. A Brent Goose and 3 Greenshank being the highlights. Grab some lunch in a nearby Morrisons, and thought I would try my luck at Titchfield Haven. Still just as windy but at least there are some hides.

View from the Spurgin hide. On arrival in this hide a chap was telling me he'd found a duck with a small flock of Teal, either Garganey or possibly Blue-winged Teal, but currently obscured by vegetation. This'll be worth a wait anyway.

A few Lapwing got spooked and took off, which caused the small flock of duck to swim out, including the bird in question. Straight away I thought "that's no Garganey", with the recent Uttoxeter bird fresh in the memory. Unfortunately the duck swam back into the vegetation and out of sight again.

Getting a little excited I got the camera set up onto the scope, and after a while the Teal flock jumped out into the open to join some Shoveler.

Then they took off and out of sight, the finder could make out the blue fore-wing with a dark trailing edge. A mad dash back to the car check a field guide, and yep, I'm happy with that as a Blue-winged Teal! We were of the opinion of perhaps an immature drake, with the faint pale crescent shape next to the base of the bill.

Saturday 29th August.

I did think about going over to Pagham Harbour in West Sussex today, but it would've been low tide again by the time of arrival. There has been a Cattle Egret around Keyhaven/Pennington over on the west side of The Solent. A bit further to travel but I thought I'd give it a try.

In the end I'm really glad I came here, because it is a cracking spot. A series of lagoons next to The Solent. Also a good view of the Isle of Wight, with the Needles and Alum Bay:

That reminds me. When I went to Alum Bay years ago, you could buy bottles and test tubes containing patterns made by different colours of Alum Bay sand. I wonder if they still do them?

Oh yes, so they do! As I was saying, Keyhaven and Pennington Marshes is a series of lagoons, grazing marsh and scrub. An impressive selection of birds around too. Including Curlew Sandpiper, Ruff, Water Rail, 9 Eider and a scuttling Common Lizard.

As for the Cattle Egret, I wasn't quite in the right place. For that I had to follow a footpath inland a little way. I eventually came to a small pool with an Egret stood in the water. Surely not?

Certainly was! Unusual to see a Cattle Egret stood in water really. After a preen it took off and into a nearby field.

There was one more thing I wanted to do while in Hampshire. Yesterday I found a ploughed field between Titchfield Haven and Titchfield village. I could make out one or two Mediterranean Gulls while driving along but nowhere to stop and park. It would be nice to return there to try and digiscope some Med Gulls.

I did find a field with gulls in. Not in the same field, partly ploughed and partly maize stubble, but there was somewhere to park up. Even with a lot of gulls obscured by the cut maize I counted about 30 Med Gulls, of varying ages. Here's three adults:

Before heading back to the Travelodge in Portsmouth and hitting the bar, one more check of Langstone Harbour from Farlington Marshes car park. I'm glad I did as there was a hunting Osprey, scattering the flocks of waders.

Sunday 30th August.

Just when you think the birding is over. On the way home, up the A34 near Oxford is Farmoor Reservoir.

A bit of a concrete bowl of a reservoir, but a fascinating juvenile trio of American Black Tern, White-Winged Black Tern and a usual Black Tern. The American Black Tern was noticeably darker above than "our" Black Tern. Just an hour was spent here because I wanted to get home. But not a bad way to end a trip.

Sunday, 30 August 2009

On the Pride of Bilbao

The trouble with leaving late is that by breakfast time we hadn't got past the coast of Brittany yet, and a windy morning caused considerable swell. The ship was also travelling at full steam in order to catch up time.

But booking the trip through Company of Whales, they provide guides (Glenn and Matt on this trip) to help you with identification. Most useful for a first time visit like mine.

You also get access to an exclusive viewing area of the ferry, known as Monkey Island (I thought that was a computer game?) directly above the bridge. It's also a surprisingly calm spot as well, as the air kind of hits the bow of the ship, and blows up and over the bridge. Meaning that the open deck a bit below is much windier.

After breakfast and a presentation that detailed what we were likely to see, and whereabouts on the journey, we were eventually allowed onto Monkey Island. Being a bit behind, going past Brittany and into the north of the Bay of Biscay, it was a bit of a quiet start on the bird and cetacean front, although plenty of Gannets and a single Fulmar.

During this quiet period, to my surprise, I spotted a celebrity:

It's TV's Mike Dilger! What originally was to be a holiday turned into a wildlife film piece for a programme on the telly called "The One Show". I'm sure you've heard of it, it's on BBC1 in the week at 7pm. You know the hosts, Adrian thingy, the brummy who does "Match of the Day" on Sundays? And wossername, you know, from Northern Ireland, her with the teeth?

Anyway, it turned out that the TV crew were to join us on Monkey Island:

The Dilgemeister doing his stuff, along with acclaimed wildlife programme producer, Stephen Moss.

Things started to pick a bit heading south, with a Grey Phalarope and a couple of Great Skuas. Then the first Sabine's Gulls and Cory's Shearwaters appeared but were too distant for me, but eventually picked out a couple of adult Sabine's.

When we reached the edge of the continental shelf we started hitting the jackpot, a group of 8 Cory's Shearwaters close to the boat, pods of Common Dolphins coming in to ride the bow wave, and 10 Pilot Whales. Then right at the end of the day, a group of seven adult Sabine's Gulls, and three large Shearwaters. Two Cory's and magnificent Great Shearwater, I think I have a new favourite bird!

Not long after that, just before dusk, Mr Dilger shouted out "Two more Cory's". Er, no, they're immature Gannets Mike.

The next morning, the ferry docks in at Bilbao. My first time on Spanish soil, you get four hours before the return journey. The usual excursion that the guides do is a walk up to a nearby hillside, full of scrub and grassland, to look for birds and other wildlife. It reminded me a little bit like Berry Hill Fields actually, except warmer!

Some good birds were seen, including 6 Griffon Vultures, 1 Booted Eagle, a Savi's Warbler, 5 Red-Backed Shrikes and more common migrants like Pied and Spotted Flycatchers, Wheatear, Whinchat, Blackcap, Whitethroat, even a decent view of a Cetti's Warbler. Also a small cliff with about a dozen European Wall Lizards.

Time is limited so it was a pity to miss out on regular birds here, such as Sardinian Warbler, Fan-Tailed Warbler (or is it Zitting Cisticola?), Serin and Cirl Bunting.

There's the boat, we've got to get back!

I didn't realise when taking this picture leaving Bilbao harbour, but thankfully it misses out on the rather unpleasant sight of various "beached whales" on the sun lounger deck, with varying amounts of tan and sunburn!

It doesn't take long out at sea when you're into deep water. Large numbers of Yellow-Legged Gulls on the sea, then Cory's Shearwaters appear quickly, with two more Great Shearwaters and one Sooty Shearwater seen today.

This part of the trip also provides the largest numbers of Cetaceans. Plenty of Common Dolphins and acrobatic Striped Dolphins, a few Bottlenose Dolphins, two more Pilot Whales, at least 10 Cuvier's Beaked Whales (plus a few others that could've been Sowerby's Beaked Whale) and 3 Fin Whales (only the Blue Whale is larger). One of the Fin Whales found by yours truly while no-one else was looking behind, which prompted a "good spot" from the Dilgemeister.

The final morning finds the ferry around the northern edge of Biscay and to Brittany again. Large numbers of Gannets again give the game away that you're further north. Highlights today were 4 Storm Petrels. Whilst watching two together, across flies a Shearwater which turns out to be a Balearic Shearwater! Also 3 Great Skuas, 1 Shag, 1 Sandwich Tern and 12 more Pilot Whales. There were also a few small migrants on deck this morning, which included a Chiffchaff, 2 Willow Warblers and a White Wagtail. I assume it was White, I suppose it could've been Pied Wagtail.

Once back in the English Channel, the lack of seabirds is noticeable. So its a case of waiting for the ferry to dock back in Portsmouth. A trip like this may not be everyone's cup of tea, I found it near impossible to get any sleep the whole time, from either the swell or just the vibrations of the boat. But definitely a memorable three days of wildlife watching.

In this blog entry I've only mentioned my personal sightings, there were a few that I missed. The totals of all wildlife seen on the trip can be found on Company of Whales News Page, for the 24th - 27th August.

Oh and by the way. Coming soon on EBay, Mike Dilger's shades!

Pre-Pride of Bilbao (Westport Lake and Portsmouth)

Well, we all have to come back home from holidays at some point.

But before all that. During the previous Saturday, in amongst all the Ashes-winning glory, was a trip over to Westport Lake in Stoke to have a look at a Ring-Necked Duck.

At the time I thought the bird was ok, then later on came a few murmerings of the bird possibly being a Ring-Necked/Tufted hybrid. My personal opinion is, due to the tatty state of the bird's moult I don't know how anyone could confirm it as a hybrid yet. Innocent until proven guilty.

Onto the Monday then. On arrival in Portsmouth there was a bit of time to explore before heading to the ferry terminal. Some of the famous sights including HMS Warrior:

HMS Illustrious:

HMS Victory, Nelson's flagship at the Battle of Trafalgar:

And here's Horatio himself:

A more recent addition is the Spinnaker Tower, adjacent to the Gunwharf Quays shopping centre:

Seven quid for a view? Time to get to the ferry terminal! Unfortunately the Pride of Bilbao was about three hours late. Apparently due to a woman giving birth on the ferry and developing complications, so the ferry had to return to Bilbao. Unless it was premature of course, why on earth would anyone in that condition embark on a 30 hour ferry journey?

Sunday, 23 August 2009

We Won

I haven't gone away yet, that's tomorrow. However:

Ned Kelly,
Mark Viduka,
Rolf Harris,
Kylie Minogue,
Steve Irwin,
Dame Edna Everage,
Clive James,
Crocodile Dundee,
Sir Donald Bradman, are you listening, Don Bradman. Your guys took a helllllllllllllll of beating!

Sunday, 16 August 2009

Purple Heather

Wednesday 12th August, Uttoxeter Quarry, 19:00 - 20:45.

A Garganey was found the previous evening, by the Blurred Birder. Fortunately the Garganey was still around this evening.

As was a Wood Sandpiper (albeit briefly), Little Egret, 15 Goosander, 8 Curlew and a Common Sandpiper.

Sunday 16th August.

I fancied a bit of a change of scene, so I did some birding up in the moors. Which was mostly a stuggle just to see any birds at all! But the undoubted highlight was a Whinchat at Knotbury, along with 10 Red Grouse and 5 Ravens up there. I've heard that Whinchats and Wheatears have been in short supply in the moors this year, so one today was most pleasing.

You also get a spectacular splash of colour at this time of year, when all the heather is in bloom.

Three Shires Head in an impressive cloak of purple, that even Prince (or is he still "The Artist Formerly Known as Prince"?) would enjoy.

I think that's it for blogging for a couple of weeks or so. I'm going away next week. This land lubber is off on the high seas, arrrr! Well, the Pride of Bilbao anyway!

Is it a pelagic? Is it a cruise? Not really either of them. But I will be with guides from the Company Of Whales. So I've got my fingers crossed for some seabirds and cetaceans between Portsmouth and Bilbao. Then a few days in and around Portsmouth afterwards, so I'll find some places to go birding around there as well.

As a matter of fact, Portsmouth holds one of the biggest disappointments in my life. When I was a little lad, prior to going over to the Isle of Wight on a family holiday, we visited the Mary Rose. Imagine my disappointment when all I saw was a steaming pile of timber!

The good people at TV Cream relive the lead balloon event that I had to endure at school a couple of years before, the raising of the Mary Rose. I thought all the yellow stuff was the ship!

So I might revisit it, armed with a can of petrol. No no, I'm joking! Someone did that to the Cutty Sark.

All will be blogged upon my return.

Monday, 10 August 2009

I Was There.............

Despite the result at Shrewsbury, a little piece of history was witnessed.

Sunday 9th August.

A lovely day to be out and about, what better excuse to miss the English shambles at Headlingley.

Uttoxeter Quarry, 9:15 - 11:30

What started as a stop along a hedgerow to take a piccy of one of these:

Out pops a Barn Owl from an adjacent bush! Weird, that happened last autumn in almost exactly the same spot. Also around were a Greenshank, 2 Green Sandpipers, 4 Common Sandpipers, 3 Curlew and at least one Clouded Yellow. Probably my favourite butterfly, Burton Albion colours you see.

Onto Croxall next. Which had a rather weird sighting at this time of year, in the form of a juvenile Goldeneye.

A Little Egret was also around. As was (and I nearly forgot about this) a blonde in a bikini! The bikini was itsy-bitsy, and indeed teeny-weeny, but I didn't look closely enough to see if it was yellow and had polka dots. Being the gentleman that I am, I did avert my eyes! Seriously though, a young Polish couple were in the Croxall car park, trying to find somewhere to go for a swim. Please, please, please, don't go swimming in rivers or gravel pits!

Finishing off at Branston gravel pits, where there was a Hobby, 1 Golden Plover, 13 Curlew and 19 Shelduck.

Monday, 3 August 2009

Gulls on Film, Part II

Saturday 1st August, Stubber's Green, 13:00 - 15:00

I fancied another fix of Gulls, so off went Andy and I to Stubber's Green in the West Midlands.

Two adult Yellow-Legged Gulls were around, in amongst a mind-bending selection of juvenile and immature-plumaged gulls. I'm sure all were Lesser Black-Backeds, although this one on the right looks a bit paler:

The beauty of Stubber's Green is the amount of detail you can pick up, as you can get such close views. For example, I've never really noticed how quite a square-shaped head the Yellow-Legged Gulls had, until now. I've also never really noticed one of these before:

It's a Lesser Black-Back of the "Intermedius" race, which at this time of year should be in Norway or Denmark. A much darker grey than on our LBBG's, reminiscent of Great Black-Back. News of sightings from Stubber's Green are featured regularly on the excellent Chasewater Wildlife Group website.

Sunday 2nd August.

A little bit of a tour of a few spots, starting at Branston Gravel Pits. Where Little Egrets started popping out all over the Newbold Quarry pit. Starting with one, then three, then five, ending at six birds! Also around were 2 Black-Tailed Godwits, 1 Green Sandpiper, 1 Common Sandpiper and 16 Shelduck.

A quick check of the causeway at Blithfield produced the rather depressing sight of absolutely no muddy shoreline. The heavy rain over the last couple of weeks has taken it's toll.

Ending at Uttoxeter Quarry, where there was 1 Green Sandpiper, 4 Common Sandpiper, 2 Dunlin, 12 Curlew, 3 Oystercatcher and a Yellow Wagtail.