|Posted on May 21, 2013 at 6:45 PM||comments (0)|
On Friday night I was out at a wine tasting with friends from work. Sounds high brow? Well the wine was good but these events regularly turn into a piss-up and this was no exception. They are more often held on a Thursday which at least saves the weekend starting with a hangover.
I was hoping to go birding on Saturday and was going to contact Mike Buckland mid-evening to see if he wanted to join me but he beat me to it with a text so we had a chat and decided that I'd collect him at 07.00 and we'd either go to Dungeness (bluethroat found today) or perhaps Reculver (montagu's harrier & r b shrike seen today).
I narrowly avoided continuing the evenings theme in a wine bar when the tasting finished soon after 9pm and instead headed home after a little over 3 hours solid drinking. I was more than merry but some way short of paralytic and for a change stayed awake on the fast train and got off at Orpington.
I cannot honestly remember what I did for the next hour or so; probably had a snack and a drink but I do know that I decided to have an early night and headed to bed soon after 11pm. I use my iphone as my alarm and nowadays get my bird information by "app" and text. As I attempted to set an alarm I noticed that I had a text from RBA; MEGA Kent DUSKY THRUSH fem Margate Cemetery + showing well (for 3rd day). Which was nice.................
My alarm woke me around 06.00 and I stumbled out of bed instantly, checked the RBA message, swore, then set about getting out as quickly as possible. I got to Mike's around 06.50 and doorstepped him with the news in casual fashion fairly sure that he had not heard it as yet! After a bit of rushing about ( I was unfashionably early!) he was in the car and we sped towards Margate whilst Mike located the website of the finder and confirmed that the photos certainly seemed to show a Dusky Thrush! The bird was still present according to my RBA updates.
We arrived around 3 hours after sunrise at about 07.45 and within minutes were scoping the Dusky Thrush which was perched in the side of an ivy-clad tree. We were mightily relieved; this could have been a very embarassing dip! But we would not have been alone, that's for sure. At that point only a couple of hundred people at most had seen the bird, by dusk that was to rise to over 1,300.
I will not get drawn into a taxonomic debate about the bird suffice to say that it was a first winter female and showed no sign of plumage or bare-part abnormality in terms of being an escaped cage-bird and it's plumage appears within normal parameters according to what I've read. A late May Dusky Thrush seems a little curious but lots of birds are still moving and the general trend this spring has been that birds are moving a little later than "usual". When it arrived is another matter........
We stayed in the cemetery until a little after 13.00. The bird was on view for long periods of time though usually partially obscured in the canopy of a sycamore. As the news was out so late the previous day there was a steady stream of birders arriving. We had plenty of time to catch up with old friends.
Dusky Thrush - first winter female. The first mainland twitchable Dusky for over 50 years.
Margate cemetery thronged with twitchers. This was the first big twitch of the year.
Our first priority when we left Margate cemetery was food and drink. That satisfied we headed to Reculver in the knowledge that both of the previous days best birds - Montagu's Harrier and Red-backed Shrike- were still present. We headed to Chambers Walls and strolled out along the concrete road between fields of rape over which flew hundreds of Swifts and smaller numbers of Swallows and House Martins. In the ditches Reed Warblers sang, in the hedgerows we had Whitethroat, Lesser Whitethroat and a Spotted Flycatcher - my first of the year.
Crossing the railway line we walked a few hundred yards west to view the fields behind the oyster farm and quickly picked up the female Montagu's Harrier. Initial views were distant but after half an hour or so it came much closer and flew along the bank directly behind the oyster farm giving good looks and making me wish we'd walked a little further round!
Having failed to locate the RBShrike on the way out and been told that it hadn't been seen for a good while we walked east along the bank towards Plumpudding Farm. Yellow Wagtails and Cuckoo's were seen and plenty of Whitethroats but little else. It was now around 5pm and we started to head back towards the car casually checking the hedgerows. Just south of the Chambers Walls car-park we stopped to check more hedgerows when I picked up the stunning male Red-backed Shrike feeding along a weedy field margin. What a stunner. And what a great bird to finish a rather amazing and totally unexpected day.
Reculver - looking east towards Plumpudding
Red-backed Shrike - adult male
|Posted on May 14, 2013 at 2:45 PM||comments (0)|
The weather forecast was for sunshine and showers with a blustery westerly wind and that proved to be spot on. I decided to check out Stodmarsh and Grove Ferry which I hoped would be heaving with birds and noisy with the calls of summer migrants. It proved to be the case though the wind proved an obstacle and many species kept low.
I called in briefly at Oare Marshes en-route to Stodmarsh but it was fairly quiet. Water levels were high and there were few waders or ducks; just a few Avocet, Oystercatchers and Lapwing. There were very few hirundines and no wagtails.
I pressed on and was soon parked at Stodmarsh and venturing out into the alder wood heading for the marsh hide. A Nightingale sang in scrub adjacent to the car park and there were plenty of Chiffchaffs and Blackcap singing in the wood. As I broke clear of the alder wood I could see that upwards of 200 Swifts were feeding over the Lampen Wall. As I stopped and scanned I could see several Marsh Harriers too. Then I picked up a raptor flying fairly low over the reedbed heading purposefully west and was pleased to see it was a Red Kite. For what it's worth I could see no tags but it's origin will no doubt remain a mystery. It flew off over the Lampen Wall and was soon lost to sight.
I got to the marsh hide just as the rain started and found Martyn Wilson and a few of the regulars. They'd seen the Red Kite and a Spoonbill flying west. The Cattle Egret, present for a few days now, was feeding on the meadow fairly distantly but giving reasonable scope views. No wagtails and no garganey! A Bittern boomed occasionally whilst Marsh Harriers regularly appeared over the marsh and reedbed. The rain was quite light and after a couple of false starts I eventually got away and walked to the Grove Ferry end catching a few snatches of Grasshopper Warbler song as I went. Water levels looked good everywhere and Harrisons Drove and the adjacent floods were no exception but there were very few birds with a single Ruff the best find. I scanned from the viewing mound but again few birds were noted.
I walked back along the River Stour and across the Lampen Wall. The sun shone, clouds receeeded and I started to get hot and sweaty in my now unnecessary coat! Turtle Doves purred (2), Nightingales sang (2) and there were plenty of Swallows, House Martins and Sand Martins overhead. Reed and Sedge Warblers were common and by the time I got to my car I'd heard/seen 5 Garden Warblers. Hobby's appeared over the Lampen Wall and hunted in the same air space as c100 Swift.
Soon after 14.00 I got back to my car and after picking up a sandwich I drove out to Chislet marshes to eat it whilst scanning for raptors. Chislet is getting a bit too tidy these days; too may horse paddocks and ploughed fields and not enough grassland and dyke edges.
I'd promised to be back to watch the cup final with my boys at 5.15 and so I was looking for a last stop when I saw Barry Wright's "tweet" about waders at Cliffe Pools. I headed there and despite the onset of more steady, heavier rain it was excellent.
In a small area that long-time visitors to the site will remember as the "pipe pools", not far from the (now demolished) coastguard cottages was an area of shallow water that had attracted a ton of waders; 7 Wood Sandpipers, 7 Greenshank, 12 Grey Plover, 10 Dunlin, 38 Ringed Plover, 2 Avocet, 1 Snipe, 20 Redshank and a few Lapwing. I can't remember the last time I saw 7 Wood Sandpipers together in Kent!
Adjacent areas held Whimbrel and a few flew over with my estimate 20+ during my brief visit. Cuckoo, Stonechat and Wheatear were also seen and as I drove out I stopped to listen to the song of several Nightingales.
93 species today.
the meadows from the marsh hide
the view from Harrisons Drove hide
more wet and windy weather blows in
the River Stour
the main reedbed from the Lampen Wall
|Posted on May 7, 2013 at 6:45 PM||comments (0)|
Friday 3rd May '13
Marcus Lawson, Andy Lawson, Mike Buckland, Wes Attridge, Sam Bayley and I took up residence at the Dungeness bird observatory for the Bank Holiday weekend, a ritual that for some has been going on for 25 years! (I'm on 19 years). Some stayed for the whole weekend, others just a couple of nights but we were all there for the 25th curry night in New Romney on the Saturday.
The weekend started, for me, in the Pilot with "large cods" all round on Friday evening. By the time I arrived on Friday night a Ring-necked Duck, Red-rumped Swallow and a Serin had already been seen/found by some of our lot on the Thursday and Friday. Hoping that the best was yet to come alarms were set for pre-dawn and plans made for an early morning sea-watch.
Saturday 4th May '13
Early morning at Dungeness looking from the moat around the Obs, over the newly repaired Heligolands towards the point.
I woke just before dawn and most of us made our way to the sea-watch hide hoping for a Pom or two. A light south-westerly breeze was blowing and the sun shining.
As it turned out it was just the one Pomarine Skua that passed that morning at 07.15 (up to 09.00) and quite distantly.
Highlights for the 05.30 to 09.00 seawatch were(heading East) ;
Bonxie 12, Arctic Skua 7, Pomarine Skua 1, Velvet Scoter 4, Common Scoter c300, Manx Shearwater 1, Black-throated Diver 3, Red-throated Diver 11, Eider 3, Little Gull 1, Brent Goose 1, Little Tern 10, Common/Arctic Tern c200, Sandwich Tern 100+, Gannet 200+, Kittiwake 20+, Auk sp 250+ , Whimbrel 1.
Small numbers of Swallow's came in-off and a few Fulmar flew up and down the channel. Harbour Porpoise were seen frequently and I've no real idea how many were present but 5+ is probably a conservative estimate.
So it was a case of a little of everything rather than a particularly special movement.
After a quick look at the ARC pits and new diggings Mike, Marcus, Andy and I went to Romney Farm for breakfast.
The weather began to grow more overcast and threatened rain. We spent the next few hours exploring Walland Marsh out to Appledore, Woodchurch and Shirley Moor. It was overcast with showers and not ideal but we had small numbers of Yellow Wagtails, Swallow's and House Martins and lots of Whitethroat and a single Lesser. Marsh Harriers's were frequently seen and a few Buzzard. Near Cheyne Court the usual Tree Sparrow flock of c25 birds was present and near Woodchurch a Nightingale was singing loudly despite it being late morning.
We returned to the obs early afternoon and then mid-afternoon went our seperate ways.
I shunned a further sea-watch deciding to concentrate on the land. I combed Denge marsh, the edges of the ranges, Scotney and at 17.00 walked right around the RSPB reserve. It was generally quiet; small numbers of Whimbrel including 12 together on the ranges, a few hirundines and a Bittern booming on the RSPB reserve were the highlights. There were plenty of common warblers singing and displaying in the overcast conditions. 89 species logged today.
The evening was spent in the Curry Lounge in New Romney where the food is excellent but the service slow. Still, that allowed plenty of time to catch up over a drink or 5! Dave Walker, Gill Hollomby and Sean Clancy joined us for what proved to be an excellent evening.
Sunday 5th May '13
dawn at Dungeness and the sun rising over 3 lighthouses.
Another lovely dawn saw Mike, Marcus, Andrew and I joining some of the regulars including Tony Greenland in the sea-watch hide for a pre-breakfast session that again lasted until 09.00. It was dry, and sunny and again a light south-westerly was blowing.
The morning session was a little more rewarding than the previous days though the species list was very similar.
Highlights were; 2 Pomarine Skua's which passed just beyond the bouy at 07.20 giving great looks, 8 Bonxie, 8 Arctic Skua, 10 Velvet Scoter, 12 Red-throated Diver and 4 Hobby's several of which were chasing passerines. It was clear that a fairly strong commic tern passage was developing with approaching 1,000 birds logged in the 3 1/2 hours we were there of which a good proportion of the closer ones proved to be Arctic's.
A rather strange shaped ship passes distantly behind the famous Dungeness bouy.
one of the huge container ships passing today
A return to Romney Farm for breakfast was our next move. Good to see Tree Sparrows nesting in the farmyard.
After that we split up and Marcus, Mike and I headed for Denge Marsh. A Raven was feeding in one of the sheep fields and small numbers of Swallows passing as we drove up to walk the gully to the sea. Mike and I headed out, one on each side and walked to the sea finding very little for our efforts. Approacing the beach we could see flocks of terns were still passing and logged several hundred in just a few minutes.
Marcus had been loafing near the sluice so we left him in the gully and returned to Springfield Bridge to walk out to the hay meadows. Bad move! No sooner had we got to the hay meadows when Marcus phoned to say he'd had a Serin and it was heading our way. Needless to say we didn't get a glimpse.
The meadows were quiet so we returned to the car whilst a Cuckoo flew lazily past and for a moment looked like it might present itself for a photograph but alas it moved on.
Lydd ranges from Denge Marsh gully
On the way back to the Obs in the early afternoon we detoured to look for a Little Owl and were lucky to find it sitting in the open.
Around 2.30 I headed off alone from the Obs and started at ARC. After a chat with Bob Price I walked up to the pines behind ARC and watched a rather smart male Redstart for a while. Checking out the small pools behind ARC I moved off and drove towards Scotney. As I arrived Marcus sent a text to say he'd found a Long-tailed Duck on a new pit behind Scotney. Andrew showed up and he and I spent the next 90 minutes birding the new pit which was very productive. In a small grassy field alongside the pit we had around 30 Yellow Wagtails and c40 Corn Bunting. On the water we eventually found the Long-t Duck; clearly the same moulting bird Mike and I had seen the previous weekend. There were also 4 Little-ringed Plover, 8 Avocet, 3 Whimbrel and a Grey Plover.
Andy drove off to start an early evening sea-watch. As I followed soon after I noticed that the red flags on the ranges were not flying so I took the opportunity to drive Galloways to the sea and check out a few good looking scrubby fields. Sadly it was virtually birdless and so I headed to the sea watch hide.
Between 18.00 and 19.30 Marcus, Andy and I logged 1500+ Common/Arctic Terns, 10 Arctic Skua, 10 Red-throated Diver, 275+ Bar-tailed Godwit and 300+ Common Scoter. Once Dave Walker had totted up the days totals it transpired that a new Common/Arctic Tern passage record for a day had been set with in excess of 12,500 recorded.
95 species for me personally today.
Lydd ranges from Galloways
Monday 6th May '13
My alarm woke me at 05.15 but peering out I could see that thick fog had enveloped the peninsula so I went back to bed. I repeated that process several times before finally getting up around 08.00 and joining the other in the garden for tea and bacon sandwiches.
Soon after 09.00 Bob Price called to say that he and Mark Hollingsworth had flushed a Purple Heron out of Denge Marsh gully and it was heading our way but the fog was still too thick to see very far and it was not seen again.
Around 10.00 I headed out and found that the fog was still lingering on the coast so I drove inland to the pits. After a quick look at ARC and new diggings I spent the next few hours on Denge Marsh hoping for a raptor or two. It was generally quiet though with a few Hobbies joining the usual group of Marsh Harriers and Buzzards. The gully held a few more Whitethroat than I'd seen on previous recent visits and I spent a while photographing them from the car. Andy joined me and Chris Bond showed up and it turned into a lazy social in the sunshine.
Fog - too thick to do anything until nearly 10.00
Approaching 3pm I was getting bored so I drove into Lydd to grab some food. As I passed the church I saw that the tower was open for guided visits and so I parked up and joined the 3pm tour which after a while learning about the 8 bells and the history of the church got to the roof of the tower. The views were wonderful and the weather nearly perfect with blue skies and light cloud. As well as superb views over the marsh and towards Dungeness the tower overlooks a heronry and rookery. I spent a while photographing the birds and views before our slot was up and we set off back down the 176 narrow stone steps of the 132 foot tall tower.
Lydd church tower was open on Bank Holiday Monday so I took the rare opportunity to check out the view from the top
looking south-east towards the power station, across Denge Marsh & the RSPB reserve
Looking north across Walland Marsh
Looking north-west across Walland Marsh
Looking north-east towards New Romney
Grey Herons - nesting in holm oaks
Rooks nesting in holm oaks and sycamores
I decided to continue with another slow exploration of Walland and Romney Marsh and I drove through Midley, to Fairfield and then on taking in some beautiful villages like Appledore, Kenardington and Warehorne. There were plenty of common birds but no surprises. Lots of summer migrants including several Lesser Whitethroat, Nightingale, Yellow Wagtail and the usual selection of Marsh Harriers, Buzzards, Sparrowhawks and Kestrel. I worked my way round and ended up near the airport so I checked out the fields on the approach road before heading back down towards the RSPB reserve.
As I neared the reserve entrance around 7pm a ringtail harrier flew across the road from the direction of the water tower and continued up the entrance track around 30 foot up in the air. Giving chase I screeched to a halt and watched it as it flew away from me towards the ranges before landing on a post -distantly. It was a female Montagu's but perched only very briefly before continuing to head west. I drove round to Denge marsh and found that Dave Walker had had a brief view as it passed over his car and out onto the ranges. I spent 30 minutes scanning the ranges but with the flags flying and access denied to the best bit I gave up around 7.45 and headed home.
Another good May Bank Holiday at Dungeness.
Walland Marsh - many fields are now being planted with potatoes
Bluebell wood near Woodchurch, just NE of Shirley Moor
|Posted on April 30, 2013 at 6:55 PM||comments (0)|
It was a beautiful sunny spring morning and so I headed off to carry out my breeding bird survey on my 1 km square in Lullingstone.
It's a lovely spot; woodland on chalk downland ; a real mixture with ash,oak,cherry,larches and chestnut coppice. There is also arable, a small area of downland, a farmyard and hedgerows.
The wood was full of Chiffchaff's and Blackcaps. Very noisy and active; I saw birds collecting nesting material and feeding and chasing each other. Nuthatches and Wrens were also loudly proclaiming territory.
Out on the downland where there are extensive views I had 4 Buzzards and a male Kestrel. Several Whitethroats were singing in the hedgerow and both Green and Great-spotted Woodpeckers were calling.
No sign of turtle dove yet, hopefully they will be there on my next visit.
old coppice is now being cleared.
beech woodland on chalk, looking towards Lower Austin lodge
|Posted on April 30, 2013 at 6:50 PM||comments (0)|
Dungeness again! Yes. It's hard to ignore. There's a wealth of habitats to check and always something to look at and it's got to be one of the best places in the south-east for scarce migrants/vagrants/seabirds/birds of prey and more!
So Mike Buckland and I headed south aware that a light NE wind might not be ideal but at this time of year it would probably not be too much of a barrier. It was only 4C when we arrived and cool in the breeze.
Our first stop, soon after 07.30, was the ARC pits and New Diggings where we checked out a small group of hirundines which were feeding over the pits; mostly Sand Martin with a handful of House Martins and Swallows. At the seaward end of ARC a smart Spotted Redshank moulting into summer plumage which has been around a few days was irritatingly flushed by a birder unnecessarily jumping out of his vehicle; field skills are sadly lacking in too many cases these days!
We drove to the old lighthouse and had a stroll through the gorse and broom out into the "desert", into the trapping area, alongside the Long Pits, past the pumping station and finally finished at the Obs where Dave Walker the warden was watching for migrants from the garden.
Our haul was fairly poor; 2 Firecrest, a few Wheatear, a scattering of Whitethroat and a Chiffchaff. A few Swallows appeared to be coming in and we had a number of Sparrowhawk sightings which suggested that we were seeing more than just local birds but probably also some migrants.
Once at the Obs we joined Dave for a chat and also had a Buzzard in-off and at least 2 more Sparrowhawks. One of the local Ravens started to soar about and time gently ticked by as we chatted and casually birded with Gill Hollamby arriving and several other Dunge regulars.
Whitethroat - trapping area
Dunnock - trapping area
House Sparrow - lighthouse garden.......sadly little else of note in the way of passerines here today.
Eventually we dragged ourselves away and drove to Lade Pits. There was no sign of the ring-necked duck seen earlier in the week but 2 more summer visitors for the year appeared in the shape of a Cuckoo and a Hobby. In the distance the usual half-dozen Marsh Harrier's could be seen displaying together with a couple of Buzzards. We checked lade pit carefully but wildfowl numbers were low so it didn't take long and we were soon back at the car.Then Mike got a text to say a Red-rumped Swallow had just been found on the Reserve so we headed off in that direction.
We found a few people looking on "new diggings" and ARC but seeing a small number of hirundines over Burrowes (RSPB) we drove on and up to the vistors centre. We walked up to the first hide, near the car park, which is elevated and gives good views across much of the reserve and across to ARC and beyond. After just a few minutes Mike picked the Red-rumped Swallow up and we watched as in company with a small flock of Swallows it flew towards us then slowly over us and away towards new diggings/ARC. Mike got some shots despite the rather overcast conditions - I'd left my camera in the car!
The Red-rumped flew over us once more about ten minutes later and then we had a few more distant glimpses before it seemed the swallow flock seemed to head off north.
Whilst on our vantage point we also had a handful of Swifts and a good selection of raptors including Peregrine, Buzzard, several Marsh Harrier's, Kestrel and several Sparrowhawks. The local Raven's flew past and a Whimbrel flew over calling. A Great-white Egret was also on show.
Our next stop was the Spar in Lydd and once we'd bought lunch we headed to the nearby Scotney Gravel Pits to eat it.
Watching over Scotney, Mike remarked that he didn't have a clue what bird was hauled up on the far bank. Wildfowl yes, which particular species- not a clue. I stared into the telescope and could only agree. In fact with a peachy-white breast and black and white head tucked into it's body it looked most odd. Mike guessed at Long-tailed Duck and a few minutes later his prediction proved correct when it momentarily lifted it's head! In heavy moult it looked very odd and we agreed that we'd never seen one out of the water before in the UK. We "tweeted" the news out and a small crowd was soon assembled all disbelieving our identification until it lifted it's head!
Little-ringed Plover, c30 Ringed Plover a handful of Yellow Wagtails and a few Swallows were also seen before news that yesterday's wood sandpiper was still on Denge marsh flood sent us back in that direction.
We walked out from Springfield Bridge and scoped the flooded areas of the fenced in flood now called the "hay fields" though looking more like prison camps; electric fences, heavy-duty posts all that's missing is a watchtower! A Bittern boomed from the reedbeds on hookers pit.
There were some very smart waders including a stunning Ruff with an almost totally black head, a Greenshank, a few Dunlin, 4 Redshank and around half a dozen Ringed Plover but no wood sand. It was late afternoon and feeling that we'd done quite well with a reasonable selection of summer migrants to show for our efforts we drove slowly across the marsh and off home.
|Posted on April 30, 2013 at 6:50 PM||comments (0)|
When the BTO Breeding bird survey was launched in 1994 I jumped at the chance to get involved and landed a 1km square not far from home in Wilmington, Kent. The square is just inside the M25, in fact in an "elbow" created by the M25 and the A2 with views of the M25 QEII bridge.
It's c75% farmland the rest being the village of Wilmington and some horse paddocks.
Being farmland and largely arable it's always held Skylark and despite it's proximity to the suburban fringe Corn Buntings.
Over the years my wife and I surveyed it earnestly keen to add new species and fascinated by the changes but more than relieved to find the familiar farmland birds still present.
When our kids were born in 1992 I carried on surveying alone but this year with one son recovering from having his appendix removed I took his brother along to "help".
Sadly whilst it was memorable for having Alex with me my key memory of this visit will be that after 19 years of continuous surveying I found that there were no Corn Buntings. It's hard to relay how gutted I felt when we finally completed the square and we'd not glimpsed or heard a Corn Bunting. Two pairs, probably no more, always seemed to have prospered in this area with one territory always around the B258 itself with a male frequently singing from telegraph posts alongside the road which was a bus route and far from a quiet country lane.
Why? This spring there seems to be a lot more bare earth and much less oil seed rape. Also, just adjacent to the square used to be several acres of shrubby fields which have now been cleared for horse paddocks (groan - why are they so sterile? - why so few hedgerows?)
Either way it's upsetting and seems to reflect the national trend for this formerly common bird. When I was a teenager my patch was Ruxley Gravel Pits - only a few miles from Wilmington- and that held roosts of 100+ Corn Buntings in the early 1980's.
We did have Skylarks though fewer than last year. I'm not sure I remember recording Greylag Goose before, and 3 migrant Wheatear brightened the scene. Swallow's were back and Whitethroat, Lesser Whitethroat, Blackcap and Chiffchaff.
I have another visit to make in a few weeks. Could Corn Bunting's still be hanging on..................................
|Posted on April 30, 2013 at 6:15 PM||comments (0)|
Andy Lawson, James Hunter and I headed to Dungeness in anticipation of seeing a few summer migrants despite the forecast of light NE winds. At least the forecast was for dry relatively mild weather after what has seemed a mostly cold and windy month to date We headed straight to the beach and parked by the power station just after 08.00.
Walking out to the beach we had a smart pair of Black Redstart's on the power station wall but they did not hang about, feeding quickly along the top for a few metres before flying across the compound towards the main buildings. Probably a breeding pair then with luck.
On the beach it was quickly clear that little was passing but we strolled down to the "patch" (the warm water outlet from the pwr stn) and found a few c60 Common terns,6 Arctic Terns, a Med Gull and some Kittiwake. Kevin Button joined us and it was good to catch up with him.
Having satisfied ourselves that the sea was not worth much more time we headed off to look around the edge of the trapping area; largely checking the gorse patches and the desert. It was very quiet; just a few Wheatear. Driving across near the point we had another 6 Wheatear and a Merlin flew towards the trapping area as we left the estate and headed away.
Next we widened our search and checked the seaward end of ARC and then drove out to Denge Marsh and the ranges though the flags were flying and the road to galloways closed. We found a Whimbrel, our first of the spring, and the odd Sedge Warbler.
Denge Marsh was quiet - a Swallow, a few Sedge Warblers but it felt cool in the wind which was strengthening. A Yellow Wagtail was all we could find on the flood.
Our next stop was the New Diggings where we chose to walk first to the screen hide. A Great White Egret showed well from the hide and whilst James and I scanned the pits Andy though he'd heard a Penduline Tit...... James and I walked up to the gate by the railway leaving Andy by the sallows behind the screen hide. As we walked back we heard the unmistakable sound of a Penduline Tit! It was calling loudly and frequently and James and I ran towards where Andy stood waving! I got the briefest of views of a male Penduline perched on top of a sallow before it flicked up into the sky and flew away out of sight broadly in the direction of the reserve. Rather pleased we "tweeted" and texted the news out and headed off to Hanson Hide.
Great-White Egret ........... now resident at Dungeness? well they certainly wintered and now perhaps with 2 left it just might mean more?
We walked out to the Hanson Hide and found that a Penduline had just been seen, almost certainly "our" male. We wandered the willow trail for a while but it just seemed to hold a handful of Chiffchaff.
Early afternoon we grabbed some food in Lydd and drove to Scotney but there was little to see- just a few Corn Bunting.
We drove onto Walland Marsh and near Cheyne Court we found 4 smart male Yellow Wagtails on what look like turf fields.
Feeling that Dungeness had revealed most of it's birds today and seeking a change of view we drove towards home and the North Downs near Shoreham where we searched successfully for some reptiles for a change. The warm afternoon sunshine and sheltered from the NE wind meant that we were not to be disappointed.
Downland nr Shoreham
|Posted on April 16, 2013 at 4:15 PM||comments (0)|
Another weekend in Sussex beckoned. The weather forecast was very mixed; Saturday was expected to see torrential rain and on Sunday sunshine and the highest temperature of the year so far!
Looking for at least some refuge from the rain but also a place for the 4 kids to let off steam Jenny, Hilary and their mum had decided upon the Amberley Chalkpits Museum complex in the South Downs. It opened at 10. I decided to head to Pulborough Brooks RSPB reserve, just up the road from Amberley, for early morning and meet them afterwards. It turned out to be a good decision.
Looking on the RSPB's website the night before had cemented my decision. A lesser-spotted woodpecker was being seen most mornings and there were a few hirundines and other migrants reported.
Sat 13th April
I got to Pulborough just after 7am and strolled onto the wooded knoll on the edge of recently cleared plantations. Within a few minutes a male Lesser-spotted Woodpecker appeared, drummed, called, drummed for a minute or so and then flew to another oak and did the same. It then flew back to the first tree and after an appearance totalling around 5 minutes it flew off. Fantastic! There were just a few birders present and it was nice to say that people just stood and took it in, no fuss or noise. The call and the drumming sounded very loud in the calm and quiet of the setting.
John Dixon, a guy I've know for decades since we stayed in the same house on Scilly in the early 90's, was present and we trooped off together to catch-up and wander round the reserve.
On the first viewpoint overlooking the brooks we stood for a while and I had 5 new birds for the year; c 25 Sand Martins, 3 House Martins and c20 Swallows were feeding over the flood whilst a Willow Warbler and a Nightingale sang. On the flood a few wintering duck remained but mostly breeding birds were present including Snipe, Redshank and Lapwing.
There were plenty of Chiffchaff's singing and a few Blackcap.
We could n't find any little-ringed plover and with the weather on the turn we headed back to the car park.
On the non-avian front there were around 80 Fallow Deer out on the meadows and in the pond in front of Nettley's Barn we had Great-crested Newt's.
As I headed off to join my family at Amberley the rain started just as forecast.
By mid afternoon it was torrential. Driving back to Elmer virtually every ditch, brook and river was full to overflowing.
Sunday 14th April
Sunday felt like another season; in stark contrast to the deluge we had Saturday today was warm, sunny and bright. There was a south-westerly breeze but away from the coast it was getting to around 16C or more.
We went to Arundel WWT. It was a good compromise; I got to see some birds, the kids love feeding the ducks/geese and the paths are grandma-friendly. The car-park was packed but once inside it was easy to find a quiet spot or two.
I saw a Peregrine several times circling around the ridge that overlooks the reserve and perching in trees. They breed on Chichester Catherdral, just a few miles away but perhaps this is another bird altogether.....
There were quite a few Chiffchaff, several Blackcap and single Willow Warbler and Reed Warbler.
On the marsh/meadows I had a few Lapwing and 2 adult Med Gulls in with the Black-headed Gulls. Again no sign of the Glossy Ibis.
In the sunshine it was good to see several Brimstone as well as Peacock and Small Tortoiseshell butterflies.
We left around 4pm and drove a bit further down the road to the Black Rabbit Pub which seems to have doubled in size since my last visit!
As we waited for our food news came through that the Glossy Ibis was just down the road near Warningcamp so I diverted on the way back to Elmer and scoped it feeding happily in flooded meadows just a very short hop from the WWT reserve.
A nice end to a good weekend.
Mallard - female and young
|Posted on April 12, 2013 at 3:10 PM||comments (0)|
My sister-in-law Hilary and her kids were over from the States and staying at her mums on the coast at Elmer in Sussex. Jenny took our boys down to stay the week so I had 2 consecutive weekends in Sussex in prospect and hoped to nip out to some of the local birding spots with spring surely on the way..........
Saturday 6th April dawned bright and cold. Few clouds, blue skies and only a light NE breeze. I headed to Pagham Harbour.
I stopped briefly to scan Ivy Lake near Chichester for hirundines but drew a blank. Then I drove to Church Norton and parked by the church in an otherwise empty car-park. Walking out into the harbour I had a single Chiffchaff. It was just dropping off high tide and there were small numbers of Teal and Wigeon feeding quite close to the path. On islands in the harbour I had c120 Dunlin and small numbers of Ringed Plover, Grey Plover, Oystercatcher, Curlew and 6 Black-tailed Godwit. A Peregrine appeared from the direction of Chichester and circled over the harbour for a few minutes before heading off back north (surely one of the adults that are breeding on the cathedral) I walked to the beach as 50 Brent's flew past but a good scan found little else of note.
Next I walked up to the Severals - freshwater pools that lie just behind the shingle beach between Church Norton and East Beach just north of Selsey Bill. They looked so good; perfect for a garganey, a bluethroat or perhaps just more chiffchaff but they were quiet apart from a few Reed Buntings and a Cettis Warbler whilst several Buzzards displayed overhead.
I walked back to Church Norton through the fields hoping for a ring ouzel but making do with 3 Sparrowhawk, Green Woodpecker and Kestrel. The church yard was also very quiet.
I stopped by Sidelsham Ferry Pool an my way back and scoped that for a while. The best I could do was 2 Avocet, 9 adult Med Gulls and a few Teal but no summer migrants. The morning was nearly over and whilst it was great to have got out I couldn't help feeling disappointed that my efforts had not been rewarded by more than just a chiffchaff!
Pagham looking across the Severals towards Church Norton
Sunday 7th April was another nice morning with the wind swinging round to the SW but it was quite light. I had a look out on the beach at Elmer but it was fairly birdless other than the usual Sanderling and Ringed Plover. I decided to have a look around Arundel hoping that the glossy ibis which has been seen on and off in recent weeks might put in an appearance. It was pleasant enough with 3 Chiffchaff the only summer migrants but 3 Water Rail, 6 Med Gulls and a good selection of woodland birds. Water Voles are clearly doing well; I saw a handful including this rather confiding little chap.
|Posted on April 7, 2013 at 4:55 PM||comments (1)|
Before the kids came along Jenny and I would regularly head to Scotland for Easter hoping to see most, or if we were lucky, all of the Scottish "specialities" and enjoy some of the wilderness that's sadly lacking in the south-east. Now that the kids are old enough to endure some long drives we decided to take them to Scotland and see what they thought of the Highlands.
We drove up to Scotch Corner on Wednesday evening, arriving at midnight, and booked into a Travelodge for the night. As I parked-up it was snowing quite steadily.
Thursday 28th March Teesdale, Caerlaverock and into the Highlands
Thursday morning saw us away by 06.30 and driving into the North Pennines in search of Black Grouse. Beyond Barnard Castle the snow lay deep on fields and drifted up against stone walls and by the time we'd got to Langdon Beck the roads were getting snow-covered too, though they were fairly easily passable. Almost the second we arrived in Langdon Beck we saw Black Grouse, amazingly right beside the road and in fields that lay alongside the track to Cow Green Reservoir. As we slowed to watch them most retreated quite quickly to a "safer" distance. We found many of the roads around Langdon Beck closed due to drifting snow and apart from a few farm vehicles largely had the place to ourselves. It was rather serene and beautiful. Eventually we headed off down the B6276 and made it through to Brough though I was glad to be in a Land Rover. From Brough we headed north, joined the M6 and in a largely snow-free landscape headed to Dumfries and off to the WWT reserve of Caerlaverock .
nr Barnard castle looking up Deep Dale
Black Grouse - female
Black Grouse - male
just one of the closed roads in Teesdale
As we neared Caerlaverock we had odd skeins of geese go over, mostly Pink-feet and a few Whooper's fed in fields. On the final approach to the reserve we had our first Barnacle's including a couple of fairly confiding birds in a wet meadow in sunshine.
Once on the reserve we worked our way around the network of hides. There were still around 2,500 Barnacle Geese present and over 600 Pink-feet. From the swan observatory around 40 Whooper Swan's were still present on the lake.
Overall duck numbers were quite small and the drake green-winged teal reported daily for weeks up to the previous day could not be found on Folly Pond or anywhere else despite a good search (in fact it was not reported again).
Barnacle's and Pink-feet
Whooper's and Mute Swan
first binoculars !
looking towards the Solway Firth
some of the 2,500+ Barnacle's still present
In bright sunny weather Caerlaverock was a joy to explore but with at least 4 more hours driving ahead we had a quick lunch in the WWT cafe and soon after 2pm headed off north.
We arrived on Speyside just after 6pm, bought provisions in Aviemore and then at dusk got to our holiday cottage in Dulnain Bridge.
Friday 29th March Loch Garten, Findhorn and Loch Ruthven
We had a lazy start and headed out mid-morning onto Speyside. We drove through Nethy Bridge into the Abernethy Forest and over to Loch Garten. It was a overcast with occasional sunny spells and snow flurries and only around 3C.
At Loch Garten we found that the female Osprey named EJ was just back for her 11th season having arrived on Wednesday evening. She sat on the dead tree opposite the nest for the whole time that we were there. Crested Tit's were coming to feeders allowing the kids great looks and supplied with bird-food by the warden they both soon had Coal Tit's eating out of their hands.
The dawn "caper watch", scheduled to start on April 1st, had started that morning but drawn a blank. I hoped to be luckier over the next few days.
Roe Deer, Abernethy Forest.
Crested Tit , Loch Garten, - I know it's a horrible "feeder shot" but it's all I had time for!
We headed off north and were soon at the start of the wonderful Findhorn Valley where we spent much of the afternoon. It was a good decision and we had 3 Golden Eagles; 2 immatures early on following the ridge on the west side and a near adult which flew overhead heading east mobbed by a Raven at the car park near Coignafearn. There were few Buzzards and no other birds of prey.
We drove along the road to Farr and onto Loch Ruthven to finish which like Loch Garten was largely iced over. We walked to the hide and scoped the loch but could find little more than a few Goldeneye and Little Grebe and no slavs.
Saturday 30th March Lochindorb, Findhorn Bay, Burghead and Portsoy
We woke to a beautiful morning; very cold but dry and bright. After breakfast I spent a while in the garden of our cottage photographing the Red Squirrels.
our cottage at Dulnain Bridge
Soon after 9am we headed out and decided to go up to the north coast and explore the bays and headlands. En route we found that we were passing close to Lochindorb so we diverted to look at the Loch and found it virtually frozen solid and glistening in the sunshine.
heather moorland nr Lochindorb
What with the ice and the oystercatchers and red grouse our diversion to Lochindorb lasted around an hour. We returned to the main road and drove north to Findhorn Bay.
It was beautiful on the coast with little wind, blue skies and exceptionally good visibility.
At Findorn we had small numbers of Long-tailed Ducks, Velvet Scoter, Razorbills and Eider. Moving onto Burghead there were around 30 Long-tailed Duck and similar numbers of Eider.
White-billed Diver(s?) had been reported from Portsoy in recent days so I drove to the little harbour and stood on the harbour wall for an hour and a half and eventually got to grips with the divers. I had a juvenile White-billed Diver, a Great-northern and 2 Red-throated. Whilst it was quite still there was a slight chop on the sea and as we were well past high-tide most birds had drifted away from the shore which all made it less than ideal. There were perhaps 100 Long-tailed Duck, lots of Eider and small numbers of Velvet and Common Scoter.
We had a slow meander back to Dulnain Bridge cross-country.
Findhorn Bay and the Moray Firth
Sunday 31st March British Summer Time ! Loched in..........
We were up in the dark around 6am and soon after speeding to Loch Gartern for caper watch! It was -11C and despite the cold stark and beautiful. There were not many of us in the hide at Loch Garten for caper watch that morning and no caper's to watch. The boys were entertained by the staff and enjoyed the remote control cameras that zoomed in on a frosted Osprey and searched the far reaches of the clearings for a caper. We left at 8am when the caper watch ended and we headed back to warm up and get breakfast.
Loch Garten at dawn
River Spey from Broomhill Bridge
Around 10.00 we set off for Cairn Gorm and the funicular railway but on arrival in the lower car-park decided that the hoards of people were too much to cope with so we slunk off and after a brief stop on the shore of Loch Morlich we drove to Loch an Eilein. Whilst it was busy here too we were quickly parked up and off on our way round the loch leaving most of the crowds behind. Apart from a pair of Crested Tit's I saw little in the way of birds but the boys had a great time climbing trees, breaking the ice and tracking us/each other through the heather.
Loch an Eilien
After a picnic lunch in the sunshine we headed off west and drove a circuit around Loch Ness via Loch Duntelchaig and Fort Augustus. It took several hours but we stopped frequently and the boys were happy. Not a great day for birds.
Castle Urquhart on Loch Ness
Monday 1st April Balmoral
The Queen's Scottish residence at Balmoral is open to the public for just 3 months a year and only a very small part of the house is accessible. This year it opened on 29th March and Jenny was keen to go so we set off across the A939 to Tomintoul and then through the Grampian Mountains to Crathie and Balmoral Castle. The route took us through some dramatic scenery made perhaps more so by the snow which lay quite deep in places. It was another sunny, cold day.
At Balmoral we worked our way around the many exhibitions in the stable blocks and through the grounds before entering the ballroom; the only bit of the castle open to the public. I have to say that I thought it was a beautiful place, far smaller and more intimate than I'd expected and the setting is magnificent and wild. It was also far more remote than I'd imagined.
We did not hurry back but meandered through the magnificent scenery until late afternoon. Birds were few and far between but we had lots of Buzzards, Sparrowhawk and a single Peregrine.
Grampian Mts south of Tomintoul
plough those roads chaps
capercaille; a small population exists on the estate. This was as close as I'd get to the real thing this trip (little did I know)
Tuesday 2nd April Caper watch, Cairn Gorm, Findhorn & Loch Ruthven
I drove to Loch Garten for "caper watch" arriving at sunrise. It was -11C , cold and still and another beautiful morning. EJ, the recently returned female Osprey, was sitting on a perch opposite the nesting tree her back covered in frost. There were very few birders; we were probably outnumbered by staff, and sadly once again by the time I left at 8am, still no sign of any capercaillies yet this season. Given the long drive I faced the next day I new this was my last shot at caper this spring and it was rather disappointing to leave empty handed. ( Naturally a male was seen next morning when I was just a few miles away preparing to head south!)
"EJ" the female back for her 11th year sits waiting for her mate surrounded by surveillance equipment in a cold and frosty Abernethy Forest
Back at the cottage I warmed up and breakfast over we thought we'd have another go at getting up Cairn Gorm on the funicular railway.
We were in luck, the bank holiday over it was much quieter and we were quickly parked and on a courtesy bus up to the railway "station". The £30 family ticket seemed steep but on reflection it was worth it.
It only took a few minutes to get to the Ptarmigan restaurant and almost immediately that we got out onto the terrace we could see Ptarmigan; 2 birds just a few hundred yards away on an area of exposed rocks and windblown grassy patches below us. As we scoped them we could see skiers got very close to the area that the birds were on so I walked slowly down and got some photos without concerning the birds whatsoever.
A couple of Snow Bunting fed around the cafe terraces.
It was late morning now and happy with our success we took a train back down the mountain and headed north for one last look at the Findhorn.
Cairn Gorm from the Ptarmigan cafe
We spent the afternoon in the Findhorn. It was magnificent as ever and the weather was close to perfect. It was quiet for birds; we had good views of 2 Peregrines and 3+ Dipper and a Merlin but no eagles nor any summer migrants. We parked at Coignafearn and walked for an hour up the valley into the heart of the Monadhliath Mountains.
Late afternoon we drove over the road to Farr, again seeing plenty of Red Grouse but little else.
At Loch Ruthven there was less ice but still no Slavonian Grebes.
Wednesday 3rd April The long journey south.
With close to 600 miles to drive we knew that we were facing at the very least 10 hours on the road. We were away by 08.30 and whizzed down the A9 to the Loch of Lowes. It was another lovely day and what was planned as a flying visit quickly became an hour long stay. We sat in the hide and scoped "Lady", an Osprey now back for her 23rd year at Loch of Lowes and believed to be around 27 years old. She'd arrived on the 30th March. It was around 11 am when we set off again heading south with another stop in mind.
Loch of Lowes
"Lady", back for her 23rd year at Loch of Lowes
We crossed the Firth of Forth and drove east to Port Seton just outside Edinburgh. A drake surf scoter had been seen in recent days in the area though the reports were usually over the high tide and we arrived at the very bottom of low tide. Over the next hour I scoped the flocks of scoter but to no avail. A distant glimpse of a probable was the best I could do. There were over 200 Velvet Scoter and many quite close in so it was really rather frustrating that it wasn't with them! There were dozens of Eider, Long-tailed Duck and Red-breasted Mergansers. I had at least 6 Slavonian Grebe's, all in summer plumage, and a single Black-throated Diver.
Lunch over we set off again with 400 miles still to go and no more stops planned. We took the A68 and enjoyed the rolling countryside.
At Carter Bar the road crosses the border into England and the boys were keen to stop. You can't refuse a cheerful request to stand with one foot in Scotand and the other in England. Our Scottish holiday was at an end.
Carter Bar, border territory
|Posted on March 26, 2013 at 12:10 AM||comments (0)|
The country has been in the grip of an easterly airflow all week with frequent snow flurries in the south-east and temperatures hovering around freezing and feeling a lot colder in the stiff wind. It's heading for the coldest March in decades. Still, virtually every weekend since I've been back from Japan has been wet, in fact more than just wet, there's been torrential rain and widespread flooding. I headed to Dungeness glad that it should at least be dry or snowy but not wet!
I started on Walland Marsh where there were still a few Fieldfare and Golden Plover but no sign of any "wild" swans. Near Cheyne Court around 20 Tree Sparrows were happily taking advantage of some well-stocked feeders. I had a Merlin near Midley and a few Marsh Harriers.
Onto the peninsula with the temperature around minus 1C I stepped out of the car into the strong easterly breeze and found that it was more like minus 10C ; bitterly cold and rather grey but dry. That remained the case all day.
I started on Denge Marsh where around 400 Wigeon were feeding on the grass and the rest of the ducks sheltering in the reeds. There were red flags flying on the ranges so I could not get down Galloways and had to settle for Denge Marsh Gully. I drove to the end and from the comfort of the car had a short sea-watch. My first Sandwich Tern's of the year were quickly seen but apart from a few Red-throated Divers and distant Brent's and Gannet's it was rather quiet so I headed back. In the gully a single Chiffchaff was seen.
Denge Marsh gully.
I checked the ARC pits and New Diggings from the road; a few Goldeneye and odd groups of ducks but little of note. I drove next to the old lighthouse where I bumped into Mike Buckland. He'd just finished a fairly uneventful sea-watch and was off to look for some Black Redstarts that had been seen near the Brittania Pub. I joined him but we could only find a female and a pair of Stonechat.
Our next stop was the Reserve. Driving up the entrance track I found 2 male Wheatear - one of my favourite British birds and a sure sign that spring is here despite the less than spring-like conditions. At the information centre we looked out over the main lake and decided that as the water levels looked higher than ever we'd probably do better if we turned our attention to the ARC pits instead. It was a good move. We had 3 adult Little Gull's, 2 Great-white Egret's and distant views of 9 Smew which included 2 drakes. We had a couple more Chiffchaff along the Willow Trail and a Blackcap.
We returned to our cars, it was just after 2pm and Mike headed off home. I made a quick visit to Lade stores for a snack and then decided to take another look for Black Redstarts. I drove towards the Obs and in the fenced off garden of the first cottage on the access road were 3 Black Redstart's including 2 males. I attempted to photograph them but a combination of the biting cold, strong wind and their general unapproachable behaviour left me with litte to write home about. A smart male Wheatear appeared in the same area.
I drove up to the Britannia Inn and on the grass adjacent to it were a further 3 Black Redstart's including 2 rather smart males. They quickly moved to the shelter of the adjacent beach houses and fed in the gardens where I found another; 7 in total.
Black Redstart - one of 7 seen.
It was now after 4pm and I decided that given the circumstances I'd done quite well but there seemed little point staying out much later.
A Barn Owl showed well near Caldicott Lane as I drove home with one last stop planned. On Tickner's Lane just off the A259 near Brenzett on Romney Marsh there had been mention of a small grain "dump" that was attracting birds. I soon found the spot and a nice collection of buntings; c15 Reed Buntings and 23 Yellowhammers together with a fair few Chaffinch. Despite the weather I'd logged 82 species and my first summer migrants of 2013.
|Posted on March 22, 2013 at 8:15 AM||comments (0)|
Another wet day. To be honest the only reason I went out today was to look at new binoculars because I knew Kay Optical would be at Bough Beech and a dull wet day is quite useful when comparing optics!
Purchases made and old binoculars bid farewell we had a look at the feeders in the orchard before checking the reservoir which unsurprisingly is virtually brim-full and overflowing. The only bird of any note was a single "redhead" Goosander; there were surprisingly few ducks or geese.
In torrential rain we drove across to Box Hill on minor roads which were more like streams in many places. News in recent days of up to 100 hawfinches in a valley near Box Hill had got me curious and so we set off to explore. I haven't seen that many in a flock since the 1980's at Bedgbury and I guess its not a number many people see anywhere these days.
We found the area, wandered around, even bumped into the warden - Sam Bayley - but I didn't see or hear a single hawfinch and I stayed until dusk. It was largely yew woodland on chalk downland with bits of beech and larch. It looked interesting. Siskin, Marsh Tit, common woodland birds abounded but not a sniff of a hawfinch. Guess I'll christen the bins later then..............
wooded valley near Box Hill
|Posted on March 20, 2013 at 8:05 AM||comments (0)|
Another very wet day though there were some good long breaks in the afternoon.
I was going to go to Stodmarsh but at the sight of a huge queue of traffic at the foot of the A149 I diverted towards Sheppey instead.
I checked out Funton Creek as it was high tide and the flooded fields opposite Ferry Marshes which held 8 adult Med Gulls.
Then it was onto Elmley and a good search of the freshmarsh either side of the approach road which produced good numbers of waders including 20+ Ruff and a scattering of Golden Plover, Dunlin and Curlew.
I then drove down towards Shellness where I had 26 White-fronted Geese in fields near Muswell Manor, c200 Brent's and a single Common Scoter on the sea.
I finished my day on Capel Fleet though it was not that remarkable; 2 Buzzards, 10+ Marsh Harrier, Sparrowhawk and a Green Sandpiper. No owls today.
Hare - bedraggled, it sat and preened for an age. Bring on the sunshine!
|Posted on March 12, 2013 at 6:10 PM||comments (0)|
There was no mistaking that it was still winter in Norfolk. We had light snow flurries on frequent occasions and it was not much above freezing all weekend but it was not wet and winds were quite light. The light was not great as it was mostly overcast and to be honest I hardly bothered with photography.
We based ourselves at the Blue Boar Inn in Great Ryburgh which was warm, comfortable and the food was good.
After two and a half weeks birding in Japan I did not expect to push for lots of birding and it was very much a case of walks on nature reserves rather than chasing birds. My twin 9 year old boys love to be outdoors regardless of the weather and show an interest in wildlife which I'm happy to cultivate without pushing too hard.
On Saturday we spent the morning at Salthouse, then Cley and then after lunch the rest of the afternoon at Titchwell.
We had 8 different Barn Owls over the coarse of the day!
At Salthouse we had very little and no snow bunts.
At Cley we had 5 Snow Bunting on the beach, very little on the sea and the reserve was fairly quiet with small numbers of Wigeon, Teal and perhaps 400 Brent Geese. There was no-one in any of the central hides, very few people on the East bank and yet the car park by the "new" cafe/info centre was nearly full and it was a job getting a table to eat our (overpriced) lunch - I suppose the profit does goes to the NWT (I bet it's a big one at that!)
En-route to Titchwell we had around 600 Pink-feet fly over but there were virtually no geese on the fields around Holkham (ignoring the Egyptians/Canada etc).
At Titchwell we had very good views of a few Brambling in trees near the car park - the kids had a good long look at them- and excellent views of Water Rail. On the reserve we had a decent selection of waders at close range including the usual wintering Spotted Redshanks.
At the beach I found little on the sea and at dusk a single ringtailed Hen Harrier appeared to join the handful of Marsh.
Cley NWT reserve from the East Bank
On Sunday despite having seen hundreds of white-tailed sea eagles over the past few weeks in Japan I found myself searching for one in the Dersingham area egged on by the boys. We drove lots of green lanes in the Land Rover which we all enjoyed and saw plenty of common farmland birds, Buzzards and more Barn Owl's but no eagle.
After that we explored Wolferton then headed to Snettisham for what we hoped was enough of a high tide to create some sort of wader spectacle. I hadn't been to Snettisham for years and much had changed with new paths and new hides. We walked the new circuit along and around the pits - there were very few birds, just 4 Goldeneye and a few Wigeon. At the far end I had a distant male Hen Harrier. Very slowly the tide rose and we started to get a wader "show". It was worth the effort and by dusk the birds were swirling in masses on the edge of the water just a few hundred metres away and it was spectacular. In all we could probably see well in excess of 25,000 birds made up of thousands of Bar-tailed Godwit, Knot, Dunlin, Oystercatcher and Grey Plover and smaller numbers of Avocet, Ringed Plover and Curlew.
As we drove out of the car park at dusk a Barn Owl flew alongside the car, number 12 for the weekend.
waders gathering as the tide rises
some of the 25,000 + waders we could see fron Snettisham beach, around about an hour before high-tide
|Posted on March 4, 2013 at 2:25 PM||comments (0)|
For many years I’ve had a hankering to go to Japan in the winter. Probably right after I’d seen pictures of Red-crowned Cranes and Steller’s Sea Eagles, the latter which looked like the most astonishing birds of prey in the world. But the only people who seemed to go there went with bird tour companies and the prices were frightening. However, over the past few years birders have been going independently and then last winter one of Mike Buckland’s mates went and recommended Nigel Moorhouse of Sarus Bird Tours to do the groundwork. Mike and I thought it looked like a great destination, contacted Nigel and then after a bit of tinkering he came up with an itinerary that looked excellent if not a little exhausting! Now we are back that’s probably still what I’d say was a reasonable description of our trip. Oh, and Steller’s Sea Eagle is the most astonishing bird of prey in the world!
Wednesday 30th January 2013. The long journey east...........
We flew from Heathrow to Schippol in Amsterdam with KLM at 10.00 arriving around 12.30 CET. After a couple of hours largely spent drinking beer in a very comfortable lounge whilst thumbing through the site details for birding hotspots in Kyushu we boarded a KLM Boeing 747-400 for the flight to Tokyo which eventually departed at 15.00.
Thursday 31st January 2013. Tokyo and onward to Kyushsu
We landed at Tokyo Narita International just before 09.30 and soon discovered we had quite a long lay-over before the onward flight to Fukuoka on Kyushu. We picked up our luggage and headed out of the international terminal to get a bus to the domestic one. Almost immediately we were "ambushed" by a tv crew who spent the next 20 minutes quizzing us on our visit, it's purposes and then tried to join us! Politely we declined and headed off. Once in the domestic terminal we retreated to an airport lounge and dozed.
Tokyo at last...........
Eventually we departed on a delayed JAL flight at around 16.00, arriving in Fukuoka as dusk fell just before 18.00. We quickly located the pre-booked car hire company, paid, loaded the gear and got our first destination programmed into the sat nav by the staff. Instructions in English, first destination programmed into the car, surely that's just too good to be true? It was! As darkness fell and with Mike at the wheel we drove off and got quickly lost. Two weary travellers in a strange country, at night with all road-signs in Japanese did not make for a very easy start. With no map-book and a confusing array of signs we were totally reliant upon the sat-nav and the simple fact that we needed to head south. Eventually we located the expressway and sped south in the darkness. When we got to the Yasuda Ocean Hotel programmed into our sat-nav we parked the car and stumbled in. It was now 21.00, we were hungry, tired and not really ready to be told that they had no booking for us and that there was another Yasuda Ocean Hotel further south! Our information looked spot-on for the hotel, on a small peninsula by water, surely there couldn't be 2 in similar spots with the same name! We got a room, grabbed dinner in the noodle bar next door and then crashed out. All with barely speaking a word in Japanese.
Friday 1st February 2013. Baer's Pochard, Black-faced Spoonbill and Saunder's Gull.............a good start................
Up at 06.00 we were soon driving south in the early morning light; it was overcast and light rain was falling. It soon became apparent that we were indeed not in Togitsu and when we did get there sure enough there was a very similar hotel with the same name on a small peninsula by water! Navigation was still proving a problem. Mike had done a great job of assembling a series of Google Maps of the spots we were hoping to visit which together with Nigels material and Mark Brazil's book formed the basis of our material. But getting orientated was difficult. After a few wrong turns and resorting to Google maps on an iphone we were soon on the right road wandering gently along the edge of the coast on a minor road through orchards and farmland. As the light improved we stopped and quickly had our first Japanese White-Eyes, Daurian Redstarts, Black-faced Buntings and Brown-eared Bulbuls. Black-tailed Gulls circled in a bay but we drove on towards our first destination; Nakayama Reservoir, arriving just as the rain started to get heavy.
Nakayama Reservoir, near Togitsu
It was not a terribly inspiring place to start but there were plenty of ducks on the reservoir and you could drive all around it, including over the dam. This was out first introduction in to how open access is in Japan and rather refreshing in comparison to the huge restrictions you face in Britain even getting close to many birding spots like reservoirs, ports and the coast in general.
We grabbed our scopes, donned the umbrellas helpfully provided by the car hire company (OK I ended up with the pink one!) and scoped the raft of ducks. There were over 400 Pochard and fairly quickly we found a Red-crested Pochard and soon after the drake Baer's Pochard, the reason we'd started our trip in this otherwise unremarkable corner of Kyushu. Mike then picked up a hybrid pochard x something! and what looked like a Ferruginous Duck but probably wasn't. Over time we also had a bird which resembled a Redhead. The ducks moved around quite a bit which did not help, neither did the rain. We scrutinsed the Baer's Pochard and could see all the relevant features - it had a lovely glossy dark green head , chestnut breast and was chestnut and brown along the flanks and back with light white flank striping.
We had a handfull of Spot-billed Ducks and c50 Mandarin on the reservoir. In the trees and scrub around the reservoir we had our first Japanese Pygmy Woodpeckers, Long-tailed Tits, a Red-flanked Bluetail, Daurian Redstart and Varied Tit. Pale Thrushes and a Hawfinch fed on the roadside and we had our first stunning Dusky Thrush on a small field by the entrance. As we left an Osprey flew over.
Japanese Pygmy Woodpecker
We relocated the expressway and drove north heading for Yatsushiro on the east side of the tidal inlet of Ariake Kai. However, we were now running later than planned and getting there by high-tide around mid-day was rather essential according to our information unless you wanted to be peering into the distance at birds miles away across tidal mud flats. Mike suggested we divert and go to the site mentioned in Brazil's book at the north end of the inlet near the town of Saga. We left the expressway, drove through Saga in heavy rain and out through rice fields to the edge of the inlet. It was a good move and we spent the rest of the afternoon watching waders, ducks, gulls and herons on the mudflats and buntings, finches and other passerines along the ditches and field edges behind the considerable concrete sea defences.
It was very productive with the highlights 10-17+ Black-faced Spoonbills, c50 Saunder's Gull's, 40+ Lesser Sandplovers, thousands of Dunlin, hundreds of Curlew, Grey Plover, Kentish Plover and small numbers of Greenshank, Redshank and Bar-tailed Godwits.
sea-defences near Saga on the edge of the Ariake Kai
Saunder's Gull - adult
Saunder's Gull - 2nd winter
Oriental Turtle Dove
Daurian Redstart - female
Around 16.00 the rain got heavier and we decided that as we'd bagged most of the target species we'd head off. After a bit of fun with the sat nav we eventually loaded the telephone number of our hotel in Izumi and headed south in torrential rain after a quick 7-11 stop for lunch!
It was just after 8pm when we arrived at the Royal Inn Station Plaza in Izumi - a monster of a building, 8 floors high and thoroughly modern. We checked in, marvelled at the space-age toilet, changed and then drove a couple of km's back up the road to a CoCo Curry restaurant recommended in Nigel's blurb. It was fine; hot food, reasonably priced and beer. We relaxed and chatted over a day that despite the weather, navigational issues and the wrong starting point had proved really rather productive and fun.
Saturday 2nd February 2013. Arasaki; Cranes....................
After a quick "continental" breakfast we walked out just before dawn to find it cool and misty but a big improvement on the previous days torrential rain. We drove the short distance to Kogawa pausing to watch a couple of Brown Dipper's on a stream before birding the reservoir from the track that encircled it - once again access was no problem, we just drove around!
The reservoir did not hold much other than Mandarin's and a few Wigeon but in the adjacent woodland and scrub there was plenty of interest including Ryukyu Minivet, Red-flanked Bluetail, Varied Tit, dozens of Oriental Turtle Doves, Meadow and Black-faced Bunting, Pygmy Woodpecker, 4 Red-billed Leothrix (introduced) and on the shingle where a stream ran into the reservoir we had a Japanese Wagtail with a handful of White Wags. After an hour we were itching to get to see cranes so we headed out back to Izumi.
rice paddies near Kogawa
We drove back into Izumi and quite close to the town centre we found a roost of around 30 Black-crowned Night Heron's. As I parked the car Mike scanned down river and found a couple of immature drake American Wigeon with a small flock of Eurasian's.
Black-crowned Night-Heron, Izumi
We followed signs for the Arasaki Crane Observatory and slowly trundled out of Izumi. After a few minutes we left the suburbs of Izumi and entered farmland and before long we came across our first few cranes, small, possibly family groups of Hooded and White-naped. We stopped, watched them, took some pictures and then drove on. Suddenly we were turning onto the observatory approach road and there were cranes everywhere, hundreds and hundreds and some just a few metres from the road! It was a fantastic sight and one that literally stopped us in our tracks. We had magnificent Hooded and White-naped Cranes at every turn.
The imposing crane observatory building was soon in sight and we paid our JPY 210 entrance fee (£1.50) and climbed the stairs to the first floor. The sight that greeted us was astonishing; thousands of cranes stretching way into the distance and it wasn't just the sight, the sound was incredible. Cranes make some of the bird worlds most amazing sounds with their bugling and trumpeting. It was even more amazing once we'd climbed another set of steps to stand on the roof of the observatory in the open air. Then you could really take in the whole spectacle with cranes gliding past the building sometimes at eye height.
There were around 15,000 cranes reportedly wintering in the area; 10,000+ Hooded, 4,000+ White-naped and a handful of Common, Sandhill and a single juvenile Siberian. It wasn't long before the Siberian gave itself up appearing in the midst of the closest mass of birds feeding on grain on the central track. Towering over the other birds and mostly orange it was both magnificent if not slightly comical and rather difficult to overlook. Sadly it's now probably the rarest of the worlds 15 species of cranes and still very much under threat and declining. Since hearing that one was present several weeks ago I'd very much been hoping that we'd be lucky enough to catch up with it.
In fact, I've long hoped to see Siberian Crane and was bitterly disappointed when in January 1994 my wife and I had failed to see them at Bharatpur in India. That winter they had failed to show up for the first time since they'd been discovered at Bharatpur in 1937 by the legendary Dr Salim Ali and Richard Meinertzhagen who found 11 of them ( though they shot and ate one !) In 1964 there had been 200, by 1975 that had dropped to 76 and in 1993 just 5. When we visited in 1994 none showed but amazingly a few returned the next winter but by 2002 that had dropped to 2 and they have not been seen again. It seems very likely that the central population of Siberian Cranes is now extinct.
As well as the cranes we had a single Whooper Swan, small numbers of Black-eared Kites and a Daurian Jackdaw. The weather was generally overcast with occasional spots of rain which made photographing the cranes in flight a bit of a challenge. After a few hours we decided to head off and look for a few more target species in the surrounding area and also to check out the other crane feeding area just a few kilometres away.
Arasaki Crane Observatory
Arasaki - crane feeding area from the observatory
White-naped & Hooded Cranes
Siberian Crane - juvenile
Siberian Crane - juvenile
Rook - not sure what to make of that bill deformity.
Japanese White-Eye - feeding in a camelia in the car park at the crane observatory
We spent the rest of the afternoon around the other crane feeding site which was bounded by a sea wall and included several pools. We also spent some time checking out the small areas of reedbed, scattered copses and ditches nearby in an otherwise unremarkable fairly flat area of farmland. The cranes seemed to be commuting between the 2 feeding areas ( with huge amounts of grain being distributed at both spots that's no real surprise!) and we found numbers building up where we were as the afternoon progressed as it's probably a safer roosting site than the fields by the observatory.
As well as the thousands of cranes there were 2 Eurasian Spoonbills on one of the pools and small numbers of ducks and geese scattered across the area but frequently out of sight. Unfortunately, but understandably, we could not get close access to the pools to avoid disturbing the cranes so we had to watch the ducks coming and going and scope them from a distance. Initially the geese too were distant and we guessed they were Tundra Bean's but they got spooked and suddenly appeared in front of us and when they settled on a pool we could see that we had 4 Tundra Bean a single Taiga Bean and a White-front all in one flock.
Mike was on a mission to see Baikal Teal and concentrated on scanning through the Pintail, Shoveler and Teal at the back of the fields. His efforts were rewarded when he picked up 3 flying in though our views were quite brief.
The weather was improving all the time and the afternoon was bright and sunny and fairly still which certainly aided our search for passerines when we finally left the crane feeding fields for a couple of hours and went off to search the farmland, ditches, reed-filled dykes and ditches and shelter belts. We had Dusky Thrushes everywhere, lots of Tree Sparrows and small numbers of buntings; largely Meadow and Black-faced. We got lucky with Chinese Penduline Tit's eventually finding 17 feeding together which was superb, and had Japanese Bush Warbler and Fan-tailed Warbler. Daurian Redstart's were fairly common and large flocks of Oriental Greenfinches and Brambling were feeding in the fields.
At the end of the day we concentrated our efforts on the main crane feeding area and especially the flight pools where ducks were coming and going. I'd brought my wifes telescope, a Swarovski ATS 65 with a zoom lens, whereas Mike had hauled his big Kowa TSN 883. Mike's scope paid off and his persistence meant we got good looks at last of a drake Baikal Teal.
As dusk approached and the temperature plummeted the sound of cranes and sight of flocks heading off to roost whilst others fed close by was rather wonderful and crowned a great days birding.
Tundra Bean Geese (serrirostris) and a single White-fronted Goose (frontalis) come in to land
The six geese that landed included this middendorffii Taiga Bean Goose with a monster bill
Taiga Bean Goose and Tundra Bean Goose
Tundra Bean Geese
Tundra Bean Geese and a White-fronted Goose
White-fronted Goose, Tundra Bean & Taiga Bean
Brambling - male
Arasaki - crane feeding fields at dusk
Sunday 3rd February 2013. Cranes and the hunt for Scaly-sided Merganser
At dawn we headed off to the crane feeding fields where we'd finished the previous night in anticipation of good light with the sun behind us. It was the right move and we spent the next 2 hours or so watching and photographing the cranes and sorting through the birds for our "missing" species; Common and Sandhill Cranes. They were quite quickly identified and we'd soon had 5 species of Crane and at least two hybrids. The Siberian showed even better than yesterday and the weather was a big improvement.
Asian Buff-bellied Pipit's were quite numerous and showed well on the paths and field margins.
cranes feeding at first light at the east marsh feeding station
Hooded and Common Crane (right) Common is a vagrant and this was the only one we saw.
Common Crane (centre)
hybrid crane - looks like Common x Hooded 1 of 2 probable hybrid birds we saw.
Soberian Crane - juvenile
Siberian Crane - juvenile, but look at that magnificent white plumage coming through........
The Siberian Crane, heading off to feed at the Arasaki Crane Observatory
Sandhill Crane - adult - with White-naped Cranes - there were 7 being seen in the area
Sandhill Crane - juv
Sandhill Cranes with White-naped Cranes
Great White Egret
After a couple of hours we left the feeding fields and drove the few kilometres to the crane observatory for another couple of hours of crane watching from the top of the observatory building. The weather was much better than the previous day and photography more productive.Black -eared Kites glided around in the sunshine and an Osprey flew over.
It was such an amazing spectacle I could have stayed all day but unfortunately that was not on the cards, we had more sights to explore and places to go.
view from top of the crane observatory
Hooded Crane - juv
Hooded Cranes - adult and juv
Bull-headed Shrike - a smart adult
Daurian Jackdaw, adult - As we left the observatory just before 11am it was feeding with some of the many hundreds of Rooks in the area.
For the next couple of hours we checked out a few sites nearby for long-billed plover but failed to connect. Kingfisher, Snipe, Green Sandpiper and small groups of cranes were some consolation but we were soon heading south with a bigger target in mind.
Before we'd left for Japan Mike had been checking out an internet birding information group the "Kantori Yahoo Group" and a Belgian birder had posted that he'd had 5 Scaly-sided Merganser's on the Sendai River south of Satsuma which was less than an hours drive south from Izumi in the hills. Scaly-sided Merganser is a difficult bird to catch up with -it's a rare breeder in the Russian Far East and N.E. China and winters in E. China and Korea. It also occasionally reaches Japan in the winter, probably annually but in very small numbers. Like so many birds in that region it's under pressure largely due to habitat destruction and disturbance and is best described as vulnerable.
Using our near month-old bird news we navigated our way to the spot and found a lovely stretch of river but perhaps unsurprisingly no mergs. We carefully searched the immediate area being rewarded with our first Long-billed Plover and plenty of common duck including Falcated Ducks, Wigeon, Teal, lots of Spot-billed Ducks and several Common Sandpipers. Heading north up stream we found that the road hugged the river and we stopped frequently to scan the water. It crossed the river on bridges through towns and eventually around 2 hours later we came to a small barrage. We'd had Osprey and Kites and plenty of fish-eating birds like Great Cormorant and Grey herons. Looking north beyond the barrage the river looked slow-flowing so we retraced our steps and headed downstream often on what were little more than access roads but always following the course of the Sendai River. In one small town we had to explore a stretch on foot but we had Blue Rock Thrush and several more Long-billed Plover as well as common birds like Dusky Thrush and Oriental Greenfinches. At another we had a small flock of around 50 Swallow and Mike pulled out a single Red-Rumped. It was a very warm afternoon, the temperature rising to around 18C, and as it continued and we scanned yet more stretches of river it all seemed to be in vain and the chances of finding the scaly sided mergansers rather slim.
Approaching 5 o'clock and after close to 4 hours searching we got to a rather impressive iron bridge with a single span over the Sendai which was now in a fairly deep gorge. We walked across and scanned - Tufted Duck's - nothing else of note. After a quick debate about chucking it in and heading off to our next hotel we saw that the road continued to follow the river so as it was still light we thought why not. Mike drove along the road which was now well above the river flowing in a gorge here and I kept a sharp lookout. We rounded a slight bend and down below several hundred metres away were what looked like 2 Goosander. I called them, Mike stopped and as I stepped out of the car I was thinking just our luck, finishing with a close relative of our target! I put my bins on them and shouted to Mike that we ought to check them, they looked "odd". Scopes were yanked out of the car and seconds later I knew what was "odd", they weren't Goosander they were a superb pair of Scaly-sided Mergansers! Beautiful birds; the drake with a great shaggy-crested green head and both with wonderfully intricately marked flanks. We were elated, it doesn't get much better than this! The light was not great for photography so I concentrated at scoping them and just bashed off a few record shots. They were nervous and kept to the far shoreline. We watched for a good few minutes until they eventually took flight and headed off downstream. I logged a waypoint on my GPS, they were at Lat 31.881327 N, Lon 130.431617 E, just a few kilometres from Satsuma.
In very good spirits we eventually got the sat nav to co-operate and then drove to Yunomoto Onsen near Miike. We arrived in the dark as heavy rain set-in.
A traditional guesthouse it was comfortable and welcoming and after a meal that was best described as a challenge we relaxed in the hot spring "onsen". What a great way to finish a fantastic days birding.
Mountain scenery nr Satsuma
Sendai River nr Satsuma
Osprey fishing the Sendai River
Monday 4th February 2013. Lake Mi-ike and Hitotsugawa
Dawn, and we were greeted with torrential rain and another "challenging" meal! After picking our way through breakfast we checked out and drove the couple of kilometres to Lake Mi-ike.
The rain was still torrential and we sat in the car hoping that it would stop. After half an hour it hadn't eased so we grabbed waterproofs and strolled downhill through woodland to the lake which is a large circular volcanic affair surrounded by mixed woodland.
We spent the best part of the next 2 hours standing under what would best be described as a bandstand. You could see the lake, though there were not many ducks, but the antics of a small group of Olive-backed Pipit's and odd woodland birds gave us something to watch as we waited for the rain to stop.
When it stopped and the sun came out we birded the woodland around the chalets on the lakeside then walked a trail through the woodland where we saw 3 Grey Bunting, 6+ Hawfinch, 2 Japanese Green Woodpecker, Ashy Minivet and lots of toads. We returned to the area around the chalets late morning where the sunshine made photography a lot easier and we got some pleasing pictures.
woodland at Lake Miike
woodland at Lake Miike
Elegant Bunting - female (there was a small flock of these but typically the stunning males proved rather elusive!)
Early afternoon we decided that we'd probably got all we could expect from the woodland around Lake Mi-ike and we headed off towards Hyuga on the east coast where our next hotel was booked. Our target species was Japanese Murrelet and we had the next morning set aside for a search of Hyuga and the bays around it. Mike had learnt from a posting on the Kantori Yahoo Group that there was an estuary south of Hyuga which was worth a visit as it held Black-faced Spoonbill and there had been an Eastern Marsh Harrier wintering in the area. It proved a worthy diversion and we had a very good afternoons birding along the south side of the eastuary adding a few "trip ticks" and seeing a lot of smart birds. It was quite bright but increasingly breezy.
On arrival we almost immediately chanced upon the Eastern Marsh Harrier quartering an area of reeds on the other side of the estuary which fortunately was quite narrow at that point.
Eastern Marsh Harrier
We worked our way down towards the estuary mouth checking from every vantage point. There were plenty of ducks; hundreds of Spot-billed Ducks, Wigeon, Mallard and Pintail and smaller numbers of Falcated Duck and Teal. The tide was dropping and we scoped the waders which included c50 Kentish Plover, c50 Sanderling and 100+ Dunlin. On a large island in the estuary 16 Black-faced Spoonbill's were roosting together with many duck. We scanned through the duck and Mike eventually found a drake Baikal Teal hiding amongst the Pintail. We also had a single Saunder's Gull.
Behind the estuary on the south side was a sewage works and some concrete settling "tanks" which held a few Shoveler and a small selection of herons and egrets including our first Cattle Egret's of the trip and a single Black-faced Spoonbill. There was also a single Black-winged Stilt and perched on a post a tern which we eventually concluded was a Common Tern of the eastern longipennis race. Several Osprey's were hunting over the pools and estuary mouth and as we left just as overcast conditions gave way to rain we had a Peregrine.
It took just over an hour to get to the large 9 storey Dai-Ichi Hotel in coastal Hyuga. Our room was huge, a suite, on the top floor but it only overlooked urban sprawl. After the experience of the 2 previous meals and feeling somewhat hungry we drove to a MacDonalds for some reliable, recognisable and cooked food!
Common Tern - of the race longipennis
Tuesday 5th February 2013. Murrelet's fail to surface.....................
Japanese Murrelet is an endemic and was high on our list of "wants". It looked pretty much guaranteed; we had sites around Hyuga and people seemed to score quite readily in that area. We had all morning out aside and although it was overcast the sea was calm. We drove to Kadogawa Harbour and watched from the breakwaters, drove to other parts of the harbour and scoped from breakwaters and drove out along the coast to what looked like the perfect spot - Cape Hyuga- but still failed to get even a glimpse. Late morning we drove back to Kadogawa and did the breakwaters again but all to no avail.
What we did see was fairly run of the mill; Vega, Black-tailed, Slaty-backed and Black Headed Gull's and a single immature Mongolian. We had around 8 Black-necked Grebes, and a similar number of Pacific Reef Egret's and a few Temminck's Cormorant's. Black-eared Kite's were really numerous; at least 150, and we saw at least 8 Osprey's. Even scrappy bit's of scrub by breakwaters held White-eye's and Daurian Redstart's and we had a few Blue Rock Thrush's including a showy male but no murrelets. At 1pm we had to call it quits and head south to catch our flight from Miyazaki to Tokyo. As we left Hyuga the rain began and got steadily heavier. Our first significant dip and the weather suited our mood!
Black-tailed Gulls - adult summer
Black-tailed Gulls - adult summer
Black-tailed Gull - 2nd winter
Vega Gull - adult winter
Blue Rock Thrush
typical Japanese garden nr Kadogawa Hbr with lots of topiary on show
heading south towards Miyazaki
We left Kyushu and flew to Tokyo's Haneda Airport, landing just after 7pm. United with our bags we took the opportunity to have a quick meal in the airport before boarding the monorail to Hamamatsucho. Here we stuffed the majority of our gear into left-luggage lockers and taking optics and warm clothes walked down to Takeshiba Pier to catch a ferry out into the Pacific Ocean to Hachijo-Jima, about 290 kilometres due south.
We'd long planned to spend a day (and night) on this trip as it offers an opportunity to see albatrosses and other sea-birds. We'd allowed ourselves 2 opportunities to do it (with hotels booked for both nights as back-up) and had spoken with Chris Cook, Sarus's "ground agent" just the night before to cancel our pre-booked hotel as it looked like the ferry would sail. We found the ticket office and a booking agent who spoke some English. We selected tickets with bed's included and she printed the tickets and then said the ferry might not get to Hachijo-Jima because of the strong winds. It might just turn back to Tokyo! Flummoxed, we walked away and out of the terminal. Standing in the dark we debated the merits of a near-miss and how that would probably mean a return attempt in a few days but then thought why not. So we walked back in, bought the tickets and sat down to wait to board. After a short while a very tall, English looking guy appeared and said "you must be Mike and Gary, I'm Chris Cook." With snow forecast for Tokyo and the weather looking interesting for seabirds he'd decided to join us. Straight away he came to our rescue by getting us cheaper tickets as he said the beds were'nt worth the extra money. Then after we boarded he took us up on deck to see the Tokyo skyline at night and showed us the sights. He then went through the itinerary with us and gave us some hints and extra sites and up to date information. The whole evening took on a different complexion and felt more relaxed and stress-free. Approaching mid-night we settled down to sleep on the carpet in our alloted, marked-off areas on the floor. With typical Japanese efficiency a man was walking around checking that the temperature was just right whilst blankets were available for hire and the lights dimmed at mid-night.
The Tokyo skyline at night from the Salvia Maru ferry bound for Hachijo-Jima.
Wednesday 6th February 2013. All at sea
Seabirds have a magical quality, especially Albatrosses. You usually have to make quite an effort to see them and then even when you've boarded the boat or travelled to some far-flung headland there's no guarantee that you will be successful in your quest unless it's to a breeding colony and they are mostly deep in the southern oceans. The ferry from Tokyo to Hachijo-Jima offered a chance to see 3 Albatrosses including the very rare Short-tailed as well as petrels and perhaps cetaceans.
I love seabirds but I'm not that good on boats, in fact usually just a decent rocking action from a good swell can send me off to chum over the side. The news the previous night that bad weather might force the boat to turn back was not what I really wanted to hear though Mike and Chris started raving about how it might bring the birds in!
We were on deck just after 0600 and apart from a c45 minute landing on Hachijo-Jima we stayed there until 17.00 by which time the light had virtually gone, we were getting cold despite the layers and frankly we were rather exhausted. There were two long spells during which we saw no birds (30+ minutes each) and the busiest spell was sadly the last hour when the light was going. Photography was difficult; largely because little came very close and nothing followed the boat. It was also overcast and often quite dull and very windy, particularly in the afternoon when it turned into a force 7-8 northerly gale. In the morning it rained on and off but was dry in the aftrenoon. Despite all that it was highly successful and I wasn't sick or even felt unwell - the boat was very stable.
The albatrosses stole the show; c10 Short-tailed including 3 adults and the rest all probably young juveniles, 20+ Black-footed and 120+ Laysan. We also saw 1 Streaked Shearwater, c100 Tristram's Storm Petrel's all in one flock, a single Fork-tailed Storm Petrel, a Grey Phalarope, 1 Brown Booby, 10+ Kittiwake and 3 Pomerine Skua's. The only identified auks were 2 Japanese Murrelet which flew past quite close and several more probables. Small numbers of gulls were seen near the islands or in the ports but they were just Black-tailed, Vega or Slaty-backed, nothing new.
We landed on Hachijo-Jima in the pouring rain and completed a very small circuit of part of the small town by the port. Despite the weather we had good views of a male Izu Thrush and a couple of females. On the island we also saw Brown-eared Bulbul, Oriental Turtle Dove, Great Tit, Eastern Buzzard, Dusky Thrush, Bull-headed Shrike and 4 Pacific Golden Plover on the harbour wall.
Cetaceans were seen including 1-2 Sperm Whales early on and a number of dolphins including at least 2 Striped and 2 Common but others went unidentified due to distance/weather/waves!
Miyake Jima, early morning
Our ferry moored in Hachijo-Jima harbour
Mikura -Jima (I think!)
Short-tailed Albatross - adult
Short-tailed Albatross - young immature
Short-tailed Albatross - young immature
seabird breeding stacks
One of the 2 huge liquid natural gas container ships we saw
Once I'd gone below at 5pm I huddled down and slept for nearly 3 hours as the boat returned to Tokyo. Back in Tokyo Chris took us to a CoCo Curry House for a very welcome hot meal - we'd basically just had a few snacks from a 7-11 type shop during the day. After that Mike and I retrieved our luggage from the lockers in Hamamatsucho Station and we eventually found our hotel around 10pm and crashed out.
Thursday 7th February 2013. Shrines and Shinkansen's
Chris Cook had suggested that we might like to start the day with an early morning walk around the Meiji Jingu forest in the centre of Tokyo which was planted around a Shinto Shrine to Emperor Mejii and Empress Shoken around 1920. It was a good idea and we met soon after 07.30 and spent until 10.00 wandering the tarmac paths through the forest and parkland and visited the shrine. It was an ideal place to see common birds and we had a fair selection including 35+ Hawfinch, 6 Red-flanked Bluetail, 10+ Grey Bunting, 10+ Black-faced Bunting, 4 Pygmy Woodpecker, 30+ Oriental Turtle Dove and small numbers of Varied, Long-tailed and Great Tit's, Dusky and Pale Thrushes, White-eye's, Brown-eared Bulbuls and a single Northern Goshawk. The small ponds held a Mandarin and Spot-billed Duck.
These torii (shrine gates) are the largest in Japan and made of Japanese Cypress
The Meiji Jingu Shinto Shrine
central Tokyo from the Meiji Jingu Park.
Having thanked Chris for all his kind help Mike and I returned to our hotel, collected our luggage and made our way to "Tokyo" Station and bought Shinkansen tickets for the journey across Tokyo to Karuizawa.
We made our way to the designated platform and stood in the designated painted box on the platform and watched the well oiled wheels of Japan Railways at work. The bullet train came in (on time of course) and after the passengers had disembarked the doors shut and the seats all rotated automatically to face the direction of travel. Then a uniformed crew entered the train and wiped clean many of the surfaces and tidied up (though I saw no rubbish!). Then six minutes before the train was due to leave we were allowed to take our seats ready for the off (bang on time).
We passed at speed across (largely over) Tokyo's sprawl and eventually arrived at Karuizawa around 150km north-west of Tokyo at 13.37, just over an hour after we'd departed. It was sunny but cold and snow lay heaped-up all around though the roads were largely clear. Having collected our next hire-car, another little Mazda, we headed off to find the Hoshino Onsen and the trails around the adjacent forest.
Shinkansen - fabulous shapes and colours, fast and efficient
The afternoon turned into a reconnaissance trip as we struggled to relate our maps to the snow covered roads and paths we found once we'd parked near the Hoshino Onsen. We seemed to get stuck for an age in a maze of small roads on a glorified luxury estate of huge houses and large gardens on the edge of a forest. It was very much a summer retreat and we saw just builders and a security patrol which eyed us curiously as we wandered around the estate. We had a few common woodland birds including our first Willow Tit's but none of the specialities we were hoping for. It was very frustrating but by dusk we thought we'd sussed it out and we even found our way back to the car!
After sorting out our gear for our 2 night stay in the Apa hotel in Karuizawa Mike checked some site details with Chris Cook before we drove back to eat dinner near the Hoshino Onsen. It was -6C as we drove back to the hotel.
Friday 8th February 2013. Brass monkeys, snow monkeys but no copper pheasant...............
It was -6C as we left our hotel and drove back to the Hoshino Onsen for dawn. With a lot more confidence in our intended route we parked the car and started up the snow covered Kose -Rindo road that followed a small stream and led to the Kose Onsen. Fairly deep snow lay all around and there seemed little feeding for birds in this harsh environment. We spent close to 4 hours walking to Kose Onsen and back, an 8km trudge in the snow - I was very glad of my new boots! Whilst birds were as expected rather thin on the ground we saw some some absolute crackers! The gullies where water was trickling and exposing leaf litter were the most productive and some held a Dusky Thrush or attracted other birds.
We encountered 2 groups of these stunners, a flock of 8 then another of 6; both feeding on mistletoe and both early on and fairly high up in the trees which meant we had to settle for record shots.
In one very steep stream bed we found this Japanese Accentor, the only one we saw on the trip. It was feeding unconcerned in the open showing quite well and seemed to have found a good feeding area as it was still there when we returned several hours later.
Japanese Serow - an endemic goat-antelope restricted to dense woodland on Honshu and two other islands where it is less numerous. It was an unexpected sight in the early morning snow. Though described as diurnal and not uncommon so perhaps not so surprising !
During the rest of our walk we had a few Pygmy Woodpeckers, Willow and Great Tit's, at least 4 Brown Dipper on the streams and 3 very smart male Bullfinches of the race grisiventus.
Returning to the car soon after 10 we headed off for breakfast at McDonalds; hot and reliable cooked food! Happy with our haul but still minus copper pheasant Mike had a flurry of text message exchanges with Chris Cook and had soon assembled some more sites to visit and try our luck.
After breakfast we drove back towards the Hoshino Onsen and checked riverside trees for recently sighted long tailed rosefinches but without success. We visited the nature centre where we were lucky enough to see a Giant Flying Squirrel on live video link from it's nest box on an adjacent tree. In the car park White Wagtail and Dusky Thrush and Hawfinch all fed in the few snow-free areas.
Chris Cook had mentioned that feeders in the grounds of the Shiobiotsu Hotel not far from the Hoshino Onsen were attracting Japanese Grosbeak- one species we were keen to see. His information led us to a super little spot - the hotel sat in a natural bowl surrounded by woodland and right in front of the hotel was a small pond surrounded by shrubs and neatly positioned within these were several well-stocked bird tables which were dragging in a host of species including 2 stunning Japanese Grosbeak. With good light and close views Mike and I were soon happily snapping away with some pleasing results.
After close to 90 minutes at the feeders we decided to head west to see the Japanese Macaque's (aka snow monkeys) at Jigokudani Yaen-Koen. We'd always intended to go and feeing that we could probably do with a break from tramping forest trails for the pheasants we punched in the telephone number of the site from a leaflet and started our 100km drive in bright sunshine and blue skies.
It was a slow start but eventually we got onto a toll road and whizzed off towards Nagano. The closer we got the cloudier it became until when we were within 10 kms of Jigokudani and climbing out of the valley it began to snow.
We parked and walked the 1.6km path through woodland to the entrance gate. Inevitably the monkeys are a real tourist attraction and we saw more Westeners here than anywhere we'd been so far in Japan. Once we'd paid our Jpy 500 (£3.50) we walked a short distance into a small rocky valley, over a wooden bridge and approached what would be best described as a huge stone-walled hot-tub. A natural hot spring feeds the pool which has presumably been created to benefit the macaques and make viewing easier.
The snow monkeys were very photogenic and the snow fell heavier and heavier until it was a real hinderance to photography but in many ways rather made the scene complete. The monkeys were a lot better behaved than some of the photographers but those that did get too close fairly frequently got deservedly splashed!
Around 4pm with no let-up in the snow and our camera gear in need of some drying out we headed out, cleared the car and slowly descended to the valley and the snow-free toll road back to Karuizawa.
We had another good meal in Karuizawa that evening, this time a steak at the Cowboy House with a few bottles of Yona Yona beer to celebrate another great day.
woodland at Jigokudani Yaen Koen
the approach to the monkeys "hot-tub"
|Posted on March 4, 2013 at 5:00 AM||comments (0)|
Saturday 9th February 2013. Back in the woods..............
We were up and out just after 06.00 and as if we needed confirmation of just how cold it was a gantry flashed -9C as we drove under it and up to the Hoshino Onsen. We crunched our way up the Kose Rindo road in falling snow and took a path that followed a stream up into the heart of the woodland. We followed streams, climbed steps and walked a variety of trails through woodland for 3 hours but didn't get a sniff of a pheasant. Red-flanked Bluetail, Nuthatch, Great-spotted Woodpecker and the commoner woodland species were some compensation but not enough........
the woodland in early morning light and freezing conditions
The feeling of "groudhog day" continued; we went back to MacDonalds for breakfast and then back to the riverside trees near Hoshino Onsen (again no rosefinches), the nature centre ( where we were "rucky" the squirrel was home!) and then back to the forest trails.
After a 30 minute walk on familiar looking trails we were back on the edge of a forest clearing that we'd both thought looked good for finches when we'd passed it earlier in the day. Standing with several "clients" was a bird-guide scoping something. We approached and Mike asked what he was looking at. Producing a book he pointed first at Long-tailed Rosefinch then turned the page and pointed at Pallas's Rosefinch then pointed at the scrub and weeds just a few metres away. Result!
We spent the next hour watching and photographing the rosefinches in beautiful sunshine.
Feeling rather pleased with ourselves we decided to return to the main task; finding a copper pheasant. Once again we crunched as quietly as we could along the trails scanning likely looking areas; streams, gullys and snow-free slopes. Not a thing. We dropped back onto the Kose-Rindo road and headed up towards Rindo. After a short distance we bumped into 4 Dutch birders and began swapping news. They had not been in Japan long and had only started birding Karuizawa in earnest that morning yet they'd seen waxwings, rosefinches and a male copper pheasant just a little further up the road earlier in the morning. After giving them some up to date information on the Scaly-sided Mergs we bid them good luck and headed up the road to look for their pheasant. We were soon at the spot but needless to say the pheasant wasn't. We spent the best part of an hour creeping about in hope that it would return or we would relocate it but no such luck.
Around 2pm we headed back into the forest and walked trails before returning to the clearing to watch the rosefinches; 2 Long-tailed were now on view. Faced with the need to get back to Tokyo later that day we headed down out of the forest and soon after 4pm we had returned the car and were waiting for the next bullet train back to Tokyo.
The train left on time (of course!) and whizzed us back into the heaving metropolis that is Tokyo. We took metro trains and eventually found our way to our APA hotel in Tsukiji which was to be our base for the next couple of nights. Originally we'd been due to be based in two different hotels but we'd asked Chris Cook if he could try and change that and he'd kindly done so. On getting to our room, however, we found that it was a minute double! Whatsmore the hotel was full as it was a holiday weekend. We called Chris who apologised (though I doubt it was his fault) and found us somewhere for the next night but could not solve then immediate problem. We grabbed some dinner, a couple of beers and did the best we could - topped and tailed. Dog tired, I could have slept anywhere.
|Posted on March 3, 2013 at 4:00 PM||comments (0)|
Sunday 10th February 2013. Trains, trains, trains, cabs and trains........................
If I'd known that we'd spend 8 hours either on trains or in stations getting to trains I doubt I'd have bothered to get up at 06.00 and stumble out of the APA hotel in Tsukiji onto the deserted streets of Tokyo. I guess I would have decided to have a restfull day, perhaps checking out the parks and maybe even just relaxing and snoozing. But when we had put the trip together Mike was keen to have a back-up day in case the ferry to Hachijojima had not run (it nearly hadn't) and we'd agreed to use it to go to Choshi to look at the gulls that flock in their thousands to the fishing port.
So we made our way to Tokyo Station and once again left our "hold" luggage in lockers and eventually got tickets for Choshi. Tokyo station is on about 6 or more levels and was heaving owing to the holiday weekend which made it all rather tortuous. At last we found a train to Chiba and settled in for the journey on a "slow" train stopping at every station. At Chiba we changed trains and endured a very slow journey to the end of the line with the train frequently waiting for around 5 to 10 minutes at a station. We arrived at Choshi just after 11 ! Not having eaten yet the MacDonalds just outside the station was our next halt.
In warm sunshine we walked through the town and down to the Choshi River, Japan's second largest. From there we followed the road into the fishing port and quickly discovered that the only fishing boats present were moored to the quay with their nets furled and that the port was effectively closed for the holiday weekend. Disappointed but determined to make the best of the day we walked through the port to the breakwaters at the end and found a small gull roost; not the thousands we'd hoped for but many hundreds and enough for Mike to get excited about. He is much keener on gulls than me and set about combing through the roost and looking for any of the scarcer species.
fishing port at Choshi
The breakwaters were lined with cormorants, hundreds if not thousands of them. Most were Great's but there were quite a few Temminck's and a few Pelagic.
Black-necked Grebe - we saw over a dozen but only this one was really confiding.
Two hours combing throuth the gulls produced the following; 1 Kittiwake, 100+ Black-headed Gulls, 500+ Black-tailed Gulls, 5 Mew Gulls (Common -race heinei), 7 Kamchatka Gulls (really very smart and distinctive), 200+ Vega Gulls, 50+ Slaty-backed Gulls, 4 Glaucous-winged Gulls, 1 Glaucous Gull and 1 adult Mongolian Gull which Mike did well to dig out. Mike was in his element and photographed everything that moved and anything in range! Though I'm not a huge gull fan I certainly enjoyed the experience, learnt a bit more and was happy with our haul.
Scoping the far side of the river mouth produced our first Harlequin Duck's of the trip (10) as well as 2 Red-breasted Mergansers, 50+ Gadwall and small numbers of Wigeon and Teal. Also seen at Choshi were 60+ Black Kite, Blue Rock Thrush, Daurian Redstart, Oriental Turtle Dove, Dusky Thrush and White-cheeked Starlings.
Black-tailed Gull - adult
Glaucous-winged Gull - first winter
Common Gull of the race kamtschatschensis sometimes split as "Kamchatka Gull"
Common Gull of the race kamtschatschensis sometimes split as "Kamchatka Gull"
Black-tailed Gull -first winter
Slaty-backed Gull - adult
Slaty-backed Gull - adult
Soon after 2pm we walked back to the station to attempt another site before it got too late; a reedbed further up river at Omigawa.
Our timing was off and we had to wait 45 minutes for the next train out of Choshi. It trundled out at a snails pace past hundreds of trackside "spectators" many with cameras all waiting for a steam train that we passed a few stations further up the line - bizarre!
We got to Omigawa around 3.30 and decided to catch a cab to the river. With the aid of a lot of pointing at maps in the Brazil guide our elderly driver took the ancient black sedan resplendently decked out in more lace doilies than was believable towards the river. Glad we had not tried to walk as the miles ticked away we then found ourselves in a traffic jam just short of the river. We abandoned efforts to drive to the other side of the Choshi river and got him to drop us on the south side. With a lot of gesturing and signs we asked him to return to the spot in 90 minutes and take us back to the station.
We then birded the reedbed which ran along the edge of the river, it was a good hundred metres deep in places and looked as good as that which ran along the north side, plus we had the sun behind us. We failed to find our target bird, Japanese Reed Bunting, but not for want of trying. We stayed until dusk and had good numbers of birds coming in to roost including 50+ Reed Bunting, 6 Meadow Bunting, 2 Chestnut-eared Buntingsand 2 Black-faced Bunting. A neat male Brown-headed Thrush appeared with a small flock of Dusky Thrushes which was a new bird and unexpected. Eastern Water Rails called and we had around 50 Buff-bellied Pipits and a Darian Redstart.
Bang on time our cab driver appeared and drove us to the station. As we walked into the station and made enquires about buying a ticket and asked when the next train was due a train arrived and what seemed to be the station master quickly gave us some sort of permit to travel and told us to run and get it. Thanks to him we had a better journey back though it was still a long one and we had to change trains, retrace our steps, collect our bags and finally met up with Chris Cook mid-evening and with still one more train journey to complete.
He'd booked us into the JAL Hotel next to Haneda airport and our room was a luxurious and spacious suite and in sharp contrast to the shoe box we'd had the night before. We went out for a Chinese meal with Chris which was a good end to a long and tiring but productive day.
The bridge over the Choshi River at Omigawa.
|Posted on March 3, 2013 at 2:50 PM||comments (0)|
Monday 11th February, 2013.
This trip did at times seem like constant travel interspersed with periods of birding. Luckily today we did not have very far to travel from the JAL Hotel to the terminal and that was done by courtesy bus. Once in the terminal we were quickly checked in and soon in the departure lounge. Then we noticed that whilst the flight was scheduled on time the destination - Kushiro - was detailed as potentially subject to a diversion due to snow! We took off not knowing where we'd end up and even half way through the flight the pilot said that "skid risk" remained high and they were waiting for an update. Luckily they did not divert and the pilot made a perfect landing in several inches of snow and taxied unconcerned to the terminal.
We were soon out into the snow and collecting our small all-wheel driveToyota with winter tyres. It looked like we'd need them. Snowing quite hard it was a winter wonderland with deep snow lying all around.
safely landed at Kushiro
We had the day planned out thanks to Chris's help. He'd suggested birding around Kushiro marsh before heading the short distance to the Akan Crane Centre where he expected we'd spend the rest of the day.