Saturday, 10 March 2018

Going off the rails - Not!

Hearing about some obliging Water Rails at Attenborough Nature Reserve, I left work early on Friday 9th March and with still decent light despite the bubbling cloud, I was gob-smacked by just how unwary the birds were. Three in all, with a little patience I was able to get some amazing images of this normally retiring species. A supporting cast of Greater Scaup, Little Egret, Dunnock and Robin, made for a pleasing early spring birding afternoon.

Water Rail



Rotten Apple Bird

The beginning of March saw the so-called 'Beast from the East' arrive, bringing snow and sub-zero temperatures. This was largely over-hyped by the media, although it was bad enough for me to stock up the feeders. Seeing a few flocks of thrushes gathering locally, I realised it was time to bring out the bletted apples.

Throwing these out on the morning of 2nd March, it wasn't long before a Fieldfare was munching away, just a few metres from my kitchen window. He defended his fruit against all comers, especially other Fieldfare. I was able to get some unusually close images, showing the beautiful markings on this bird.

As a point of interest, the Dutch name for Fieldfare is Kramsvogel, a name derived from Old Dutch and relates to their love of rotten apples!

Sunday, 22 October 2017

250 up on Texel

It was time for my second trip to the island this year and a week earlier than usual, owing to work commitments.  This actually proved rather fortuitous.  A period of light easterly winds in the last week of September had been rather unproductive on the island although two recent arrivals, a juvenile Rose-coloured Starling and a Red-breasted Goose would both be Dutch ticks.

I arrived at lunch on the Friday and after a light lunch provided by my host I headed for de Tuintjes in pursuit of a blythi Lesser Whitethroat that had been found the previous day.

I located the bird after an hour.  I'm a bit cautious of identifying these birds in the field but it had been seen extremely well and photographed the previous day at close range.  I did note the rather warm brown mantle and indistinct mask.  The bird was rather unco-operative remaining in the out of bounds part of de Tuintjes for most of the time, so I only managed one rather poor record shot.

Siberian Lesser Whitethroat

Rather more entertaining and exceptionally confiding was a Spotted Flycatcher, which showed down to 5 yards at times.

Spotted Flycatcher

The Saturday saw the winds turn to the south.  The result was a fall of Blackcaps and Great Spotted Woodpeckers. The former were everywhere, with a minimum of 30 birds seen personally around the north of the island.  The latter were well into double figures, clinging to any bit of tree they could find.  A few were present the following day, but gone by the Monday.

Around lunch time, I was near the lighthouse when news broke that the Rose-coloured Starling had been relocated just north of the life boat station.  After a short walk I found the bird flycatching from a holt of willows in the company of a few Common Starlings.  I watched the bird for five minutes before it flew off.  Great views in the scope but alas it was never close enough for more than a very dodgy record shot.  

Rose-coloured Starling

I headed back to de Cocksdorp for lunch and then walked around the sea wall to Zeeburg where the Red-breasted Goose had been showing for the past few days.  I located it after ten minutes, scoping  scores of Barnacle Geese and Greylag Geese.  It's surprising how subtle these birds are, given their relative colourful hue for a goose.  It was way too distant for a photo.

On the seaward side were a few commoner waders.  It had begun to rain and with steely grey skies the light was awful. I did manage a nice shot of a confiding Oystercatcher, though.


The weather perked up in the afternoon and I walked along the sea wall by the old harbour.  A couple of migrants, a rather weary looking Barn Swallow and a Northern Wheatear posed nicely for photos.

Barn Swallow

Northern Wheatear

I finished off at the Eirlandse Dunes, where a ringtail Hen Harrier, a 1st cy bird showed very well, but once again, very poor light marred what might have been excellent photos.

Hen Harrier 

Sunday was a fine day with south westerly winds.  A party of four Coal Tits by the Lifeboat Station was nice and I heard that there had been something of an influx of the species in the south of the island.  I found little else of interest during the day until at 2pm I was walking around the south corner of Renvogelveld when a Richard's Pipit flew over south west giving its distinctive 'sreep sreep' call.  This was the second bird seen on the island that day.  In the late afternoon I visited the old harbour at low tide and found a remarkable selection of Dunlin and a few Knot including a bird with multiple colour rings.  I also got a nice record shot of a Pintail by the shoreline along the sea wall.




Monday was marked by a fresh south westerly breeze following a clear night and I headed down to the south of the island to check out the extensive network of bushes at the Horsmeertjes.  There seemed to be a lot of Song Thrush around and there had obviously been a bit of a fall with conservatively 50 birds in a 100 acres area.  I flushed a single scaly-looking first winter male Ring Ouzel that gave its distinctive 'chook-chook' call as it flew from under my feet.

Among a party of Long-tailed Tits I had a very close Chiffchaff, a species that seemed distinctly scarce in the week and it posed long enough for a nice photo.


The remainder of Monday was hard work and I saw little else of note.  I did however find a nice cluster of Sulphur Tufts. I think the composition of the fungi and the moss was very attractive.

Sulphur Tufts

Tuesday was an early start and I joined Jos van den Berg and Jasmijn Hulleman for a sea watch. We were at Paal 15 near De Koog for first light and set up full of enthusiasm in the brisk north westerly wind.  Alas, apart from a steady stream of Gannets and Common Scoters moving north and a few Arctic Skuas, it was a bit flat.  We packed up after two hours.

I spent the rest of the morning and early afternoon seeing very little, until Jos contacted me saying he was going to give Paal 15 another go.  He picked me up at 4pm and we headed south.  The wind had eased a little, but I had a feeling it was going to be good.  Almost the first bird I got onto was a Puffin belting south and not too far out.  I had no idea that this was a good bird for the Netherlands, although I suppose it's obvious really.  Despite me giving directions, my companions never got onto the bird and we concluded that they had under estimated how far out it was.  It was a lot closer than nearly every other bird I saw on that sea watch.  

It wasn't long before we were seeing a few Arctic Skua and Great Skuas moving south.  After about 20 minutes Jos was onto a distant Sooty Shearwater.  I got onto it, but it was pretty distant.  We had about nine Sootys in total all moving south in two hours, mostly half way to a long way out.  After about an hour we had two nice 1cy Pomarine Skuas going south quite close in, and in all a total of about 20 Arctic Skuas and 12 Bonxies.  'Sea birds' had been a group that I had several gaps in, on my Dutch list, so to get three ticks in one sitting was a nice boost.

Wednesday was another windy day with the winds from the west.  I decided to head to the east of the island and have a look at the coast.  There were hundreds of Dark-bellied Brent Geese and stacks of waders including a few new for the week list - European Golden Plover, Avocet as well as oodles of Curlews and Bar-tailed Godwit.

As I was contemplating what to do in the afternoon, news reached me of a Red-necked Phalarope at De Staart.  This was tricky to get to without my own transport, so I contacted my host, Ger who was out shopping.   He kindly made a detour to pick me up from Prins Hendrick and drove across the island to the flooded field and its black windmill at De Staart.  I was onto the bird immediately, at the back of the pool.  A dainty, pastel-coloured bird and pirouetting as they do. Also here were two Ruff, along with stacks of Eurasian Wigeon and Gadwall.

Thursday was a brighter day with strong (force 8) westerly winds with sunshine and showers.  After breakfast, I joined Jos by the Coastguard's hut for another sea watch.  There was a plethora of gulls and waders moving off shore.  However bird of the morning was an adult Long-tailed Skua that moved east not too far out.  This was a significant bird, as it was my sixth Dutch lifer of the trip and my 250th species overall!  

Jos had to dash, but I continued to scope the troughs and Neptune's white horses and eventually had several Arctic Skuas, a Bonxie really close in and a single juv Pom.  All four skuas in two hours!  Can't be bad.

When things on the sea had calmed down, and with the wind abating, I set about photographing the assortment of species that had gathered on the beach at Volharding.  It was a very pleasant couple of hours, including lots of Sanderlings, a few Ringed Plovers, six Common Terns, an adult Yellow-legged Gull (which was a soft gap in my list), and several Bar-tailed Godwits, including a very sharp summer-plumaged bird and few other bits.

Yellow-legged Gull

Bar-tailed Godwits

Common Terns

Ringed Plover

Herring Gull


Great Black-backed Gull

Friday was my last day on the island.  It was squally with another good blow, now coming from the North north west.  I headed for the Coastguard's hut again.  A handful of birders had assembled and had already bagged a Grey Phalarope and several Skuas.  I set up my scope and we soon had a Gannet almost over the beach, as well as several Arctic Skuas fairly close in.  After about 45 minutes someone should 'Vaal!'  Short for 'Vaal Stormvogeltje - Leache's Storm Petrel.  The bird was close in and battling against the wind just above the surf.  I had fantastic scope views and even managed a record shot.  In the next hour, there were more skuas, including a nice juv Long-tailed Skua.  A great morning!  

Leache's Storm Petrel

Around 1pm, I packed up and headed to the ferry.  I'm now planning a long weekend in May 2018 to knock off some of the gaps in my Dutch list. 

Saturday, 16 September 2017

A Halcyon Day

After spending around 20 hours over five visits since mid August waiting for the legendary Kingfisher to put in an appearance at Attenborough, today I got lucky at long last.  Okay, the light wasn't the best - it was raining, but I'm more than happy with the results.

The bird made three visits to the stick in a two hour period for about five minutes each time and eventually caught a fish!

Sunday, 30 July 2017

A week on the Yorkshire coast

For a few years now, I've made a habit of spending a week in Scarborough during the summer or early autumn. Having my main autumn birding trip booked for late September/October, a week in late July broke up the long summer break.

Just as I headed north news was breaking that the Bee-eaters had successfully bred (no prizes for guessing the front cover of the Notts 2017 Report.)

The first two days of the trip were blighted by various amounts of rain but a brief respite on the Sunday afternoon did allow a spell of my secondary passion - hoverfly watching and I was pleased to see a Helophilus trivittatus on the Asteraceae at Scalby Mills.  Nearby a Pied Wagtail seemed oblivious to my presence as it collected flies.

Helophilus trivittatus

Pied Wagtail

On the Tuesday, I caught a mid morning train to Bempton and made the pleasant mile and a half trek along the road to the famous RSPB reserve at Bempton Cliffs.  The walk was punctuated by a fine male Yellowhammer, which sang from a treeline by the road.  It stuck resolutely to its perch and didn't seem to be bothered by my lingering to get some nice shots.

Male Yellowhammer

Arriving at the reserve, there were a number of Tree Sparrows around the shrubbery behind the picnic tables.  Not a species that I see that often now days regrettably, so it was a good opportunity to get some images.

Tree Sparrows

Proceeding to the cliffs, one of the first birds I saw was a Fulmar, although they seemed to be in short supply and I managed just one record shot.  

I visited the various viewing points, getting some half decent shots of the auks, although the experience seemed tame when I thought back to my weekend on the Farnes.  Still, all very nice to see none the less.


Puffins and Razorbill

My main reason for visiting Bempton was to photograph Gannets and to that end it was a case of 'Fill your boots!'  The light was perfect with light cloud filtering the high sun and the birds were available to capture from every angle.  

3rd year Gannet

Adult Gannets

As well as the cliff nesting birds, I did a bit of sea watching, bagging a single Great Skua.  Elsewhere around the reserve were at least two Northern Wheatears, a Corn Bunting, Song Thrush and a Barn Owl, which showed nicely, just as I was changing the battery on my camera! 

The Wednesday was wet again -  a rather annoying drizzle, but undeterred I set off to see what was about, going via Marine Drive where a Rock Pipit remained long enough for me to get a photo. They always look a bit worse for wear in the rain, but still nice to see up close.

Rock Pipit

As rain became heavier, I put my camera away until I reached the harbour.  The precipitation eased a little, long enough for me to photograph the Cormorants that were sitting on a jetty.  They remained, obligingly and I eased as close as I dare without scaring them off.  Easily the best images I have of the species.


Following a trip to the local museum, which killed all of 40 minutes, the rain had returned to the earlier drizzle and the occasional dry spell. I had intended to wait for a nice day to attempt to photograph the local Med Gulls, but I decided I would chance my hand.  Purchasing a fruit scone and a pack of cheese and pickle sandwiches I was armed with enough goodies to tempt any gulls on a wet July afternoon.

Positioning myself in front of the sea wall in south bay, below Holbeck, I began to toss pieces of bakery into the air.  In about two minutes, I had three adult, two second summer and one 2nd calendar year Mediterranean Gulls flying and alighting close by.  One of the adults was bearing a ring (3LAN). Following this up with Renaud Flamant, it was ringed as a 3rd CY at Antwerp on 14th May, 2015.

Second summer Mediterranean Gull

Adult and second summer Mediterranean Gulls

Second calendar year Mediterranean Gull

Adult Mediterranean Gulls

The afternoon became a lot brighter and I did a bit more hoverfly watching and eventually finished up at Scalby Mills.  After a cool beer during which the heavens opened I sat by the sea wall to look for waders.  Always keeping one eye on the sky, I was surprised to see a large raptor appearing from the north. A quick look in the bins revealed a Red Kite. Not a species I had expected on the trip at all and as the bird wasn't too high I obtained a couple of nice record shots.

Red Kite

Thursday was another day of variable weather, but with the sun well and truly out in the afternoon, I decided to head out to Holbeck with a couple of bags of Crawfords mini cheddars (other cheese-based snacks are available.)

It wasn't long before I was again surrounded by Med Gulls and skillfully scattering the goodies, managed to get some birds down to a few feet.  There were two adults, but different birds to the previous day, these birds having less complete hoods.  There was also a 2nd calendar year bird. An adult Black-headed Gull came very close, so I decided it would make the basis of a nice head and neck portrait.

Adult Mediterranean Gulls

Second calendar year Mediterranean Gull

Adult Black-headed Gull

Friday was the first of two brighter days.  I spent the morning doing a spot of shopping and headed to Scalby Mills around lunch.  Looking back towards Scarborough I noticed a wader with the Black-headed Gulls, feeding on the tide line.  It was a largish bird but not a Redshank, and I suspected it to be a Knot.  I walked the 300 metres or so to the first bit of beach after the rocks and was pleased to see it was indeed a Knot in virtually full summer plumage.  I crept as close as possible and got one decent record shot before it was spooked by children and flew to the rocks.


I decided this was worth a drink, so I returned to the pub for a nice pint of Wainright's Golden ale.

Refreshed, I headed up the steps to the path that looks down to Johnson's Bay to the east and Scalby Beck to the west.  Along the path was a pair of Linnets with young in the nest and I got a photo of the male.  The sun was a bit strong but I thought it was a nice image.  

Male Linnet

After an enjoyable walk along the Cleveland Way where I failed to photograph Sand Martin (too fast) and a pair of Stonechats (too dangerous) I headed back down to Scalby Mills.  Here I spent a very pleasant hour watching a pair of Barn Swallows feeding young.  I had seen them the previous day but in rubbish light. With the sun now behind me, I got one really nice and somewhat artistic shot of a juvenile Swallow.

Barn Swallow

Beer O'clock at Scalby Mills

The Saturday, being my last day, I thought I would check out the harbour in hope of photographing Turnstone, as there had been a full breeding adult at Scalby the previous evening.  Alas, there were no birds around, but as I walked back along the sea wall, I saw the (Red) Knot from the previous day standing on the edge of the walk way.  I stalked it on hands and knees to begin with, and eventually ended up on my belly, as I got the bird down to 10 feet!  I obtained what I think are pretty good images!  Even if I say so myself.


I headed back along Marine drive and joined Stuart Baines who was leading the weekend's cetacean watch.  I was more interested in the cliffs behind me, and as I was watching a Peregrine, a Cuckoo flew out from the headline and did a semi circle and back over town.  The Peregrine took a Kittiwake and ate it, disjecta membra and all and I got one dodgy flight shot, before I headed back to the B&B for my bags.


Andy Hall