Friday, 29 March 2013

I just couldn't resist

29 March 2013

Samphire Hoe

When a female White-spotted Bluethroat was found at Samphire Hoe on Wednesday I was sat in the office without any chance of seeing it. These lovely little Chats are very scarce in Kent and I have only ever seen one in the County before - also a female and literally directly above Samphire Hoe at Abbotscliffe. It was looked for but not seen on Thursday, but the weather conditions for the weekend look like more might arrive. Having had a heavy cold all week I decided on a lay in this morning. I was feeling rough, but Mandy brought me a cup of tea and handed me my iPhone with a message confirming the Bluethroat had been re-found and was showing well. Now that was just the tonic I needed!

I arrived at 11:30 just after the bird had shown to the assembled crowd. Lots of assurances about where it had gone - a large patch of brambles - but an hour and a half later and nothing (other than a Robin, three saucy Dunnock's and a Blackbird). James Hunter arrived and we had a quick chat. I decided to try a different angle and as I arrived in my chosen spot I glanced up to see James up on the hill waving frantically. I walked round to him as quickly as possible and after another ten minutes in the biting wind it showed at the base of the bush. It soon flicked across the grass to another bush and with careful and stealthy work I made my way to the leeward side where instantly the bird was showing. The crowd re-formed and over the next hour or so we enjoyed a series of good views. 

The first views were good in the scope...
As we watched from a safe distance the Bluethroat flicked again, this time flying straight towards us and disappearing within a few feet in another bush. We walked carefully backwards to give it some room and a few views were obtained, before it was off again. The circuit was repeated and this time I got there before it.

The Bluethroat appears from the cover of the bush
Hops along the front within reasonable distance
Then vanishes back into cover
Pleased with my views and now thoroughly cold I walked back to the car to get a cup of tea. As I went through the gate a movement to my right caught my eye. The Bluethroat was feeding on the edge of the trench dug for the new fence.  I pointed the camera and through watering eyes took a few shots before some newly arrived birders realised what I was looking at and approach a little too fast.

Female White-spotted Bluethroat
Snow began to fall so I sat out the squall with my tea overlooking the sea. A few small flocks of Brents flew quietly north, half a dozen Sandwich Tern fed offshore with a dozen Kittiwake and several Gannet and Red-throated Diver passed by. After the snow I walked out for another look. The Bluethroat had moved behind the office and become very skulking in the dense brambles and grass cover. A couple of flight views, a brief view in the open and then it vanished. I searched all the usual spots but could not refind it anywhere. Six Redwing flew in off the sea, a couple of Song Thrush flushed from the grass, and a Siskin landed briefly. 

A cold and quiet Dungeness

24 March 2013


The two tiny white dots are Great-white Egrets - more later
I knew the weather was far from perfect but I wanted to test out my new Kowa wide-angle 25-60 zoom lens, so I drove down to Dungeness and started with a sea watch. As I arrived Martin Casemore (aka PloddingBirder) was just walking up the road to the hide. It was pretty quiet but I stayed for two hours, joined at times by Paul Trodd and others.

Red-throated Diver: 12E       8W

Gannet: 120E
Common Scoter: 72EShoveler: 11ETeal: 3E  2WLittle Gull: 3EKittiwake: 15ESandwich Tern: 21E  3W

Red-breasted Merganser: 2E
Brent Goose: 55E
Curlew: 1E

I decided to have a wander around the gorse, observatory then out to the desert and along the gorse line, hoping to find a migrant or two, and maybe even a Bluethroat - surely in these easterlies?

A Mistle Thrush flushed from the Moat and there were clearly a few Song Thrush and Blackbird grounded. A Chiffchaff flew strongly out of the moat calling. I felt sorry for this tiny waif having flown so far to arrive in such inhospitable conditions. I hope it finds some food in the willows. As I crossed the shingle my first Wheatear flicked begrudgingly into the strong easterly wind as I passed. I was surprised it was a female - normally I see many males long before my first female arrives. The trapping area was typically quiet, but for a few more Blackbirds and another Chiffchaff that was feeding on the ground. A single Lapwing flew high to the west.

No migrants in the Desert so I returned to the car via the station gorse - just a Song Thrush here. As I started the engine Gary Howard pulled up alongside, so after exchanging news we drove along the concrete road and had a look around for the Black Redstarts reported earlier. After much searching we eventually found a grounded Lapwing, two smart male Stonechat and a single female Black Redstart.

Along the beach there was no sign of the Glaucous Gull, though the gulls were well hunkered down in the shingle ridges out of the howling wind. Next we drove out to the RSPB Visitor Centre. Two smart male Wheatears along the entrance track had me reversing for views, but the high water level on the reserve made us head over to the ARC. Here in the distance were 7 female and 2 male Smew and a few Goldeneye. A small flock of Golden Plover flew through as did a single Ringed Plover, 2 Dunlin and 3 Avocet. A Great-white Egret flew low over the hide and joined another on the far side and a Blackcap feeding on the ground in the Willow Trail was another tired and cold migrant. Three stunning adult Little Gulls fed like petrels low over the water hovering into the strong breeze.

We paced out to the Screen Hide (why did anyone think building a hide without a back was a good idea?) and watched the two Great-white Egrets. Having taken a photo of them at real size I then tried some hand-held digiscoping - results below.

Look at the plumes on that!
Taken at about 25x magnification in the scope
Taken at 50x in the scope
I bid Gary farewell and drove home across the marsh. Two Bar-headed Geese were feeding with the Greylag and Canada's along Dengemarsh Lane. I stopped briefly at the Tickners Lane seed dump but a Kestrel had disturbed the birds and I just had distant views of 20 Yellowhammers and a few Chaffinch before I called it a day.

Wednesday, 20 March 2013

First seawatch

17 March 2013


Herring Gull
Following last weeks sudden re-freeze and northerly winds the wind went southerly on Saturday but with heavy rain. Sunday would keep the southerlies but the weather cleared. Would this induce some birds to move? Only one way to find out. So I was out of bed at 05:00 and on my way south. Three Barn Owls en route was unexpected - one at Brenzett, one at Caldecott Lane and one by the RSPB. I arrived at the hide at 06:10. Ten minutes later and Tony Greenland arrived and we moved into the relative warmth of the hide. I watched for three hours but the cold wind coming straight in through the windows made it pretty chilly.

The birds did little to warm things up but Paul Trodd, Barney and Martin Casemore joined us for some time and the conversation was lively.

The following birds were recorded:
222 Brent Geese E
67 Red-throated Diver E
c100 Gannet
26E, 3W Common Scoter
c100 Guillemot
1 Razorbill
4 Little Gull
100 Kittiwake
3W Fulmar
4 Curlew
2 Oystercatcher
1 Mediterranean Gull
8 Red-breasted Merganser

A Pied Wagtail and five Meadow Pipit around the power station were the only passerines, but there were good numbers of gulls along the beach and patch. I checked through them until the cold got into me but found nothing of note, other than a brief view from the sea watch hide of a possible 1w Caspian that vanished into the melee.

Red-crested Pochard
Red-crested Pochard
Red-crested Pochard
At the ARC a singing Chiffchaff was the only sign of Spring. 8 Smew included a smart drake and the female Red-crested Pochard showed well on the small pool halfway to the screen hide. One each of Little Egret and Great-white Egret finished my visit as the rain started to fall, and a quick last check of the fishing boats found the resident Glaucous Gull presiding over the roost.

Glaucous Gull

Saturday, 16 March 2013

Long time no see

1 March 2013

Stodmarsh NNR

Some post funeral meditation in the open air and tranquility of Stodmarsh NNR on a calm, cold and occasionally bright Friday afternoon. With Mandy I walked along the boardwalk, through the wood and into the reedbed without really looking at much. As we passed the two small reedmace surrounded pools beside the trail I remarked that any Penduline Tit that found this spot would surely not have moved on (one had been here for a couple of weeks while I was in Japan, but had not been seen in the last 14 days). 

The Penduline Tit appears in the path side willow 

Just then something flitted out of the reedmace at the back of the second pool and in the millisecond view as it vanished into the willow I said 'Penduline Tit!'. Mandy thought I was joking, and then a small white snowball appeared in the dark confines of the willow tree. It sat preening and resting for about ten minutes, called a view times, then flicked back out for some more reedmace acrobatics. We watched until Mandy got too cold and left it still feeding at the back of the pool. My first ever sighting of Penduline Tit was at Stodmarsh back in 1983 from the Lampen Wall (I ticked Great-grey Shrike the same day), and despite seeing many in Kent since (almost annually recently) and several at Grove Ferry, this was only my second encounter at Stodmarsh. 

The occasional rays of sun brighten up the view

The rest of the walk was uneventful. A Little Egret was the only bird on the water meadows, and due to the time spent with the Tit we had to about turn and walk back. A couple of Marsh Harrier eventually showed and a look from the Reedbed Hide typically produced nothing of note. A nice walk at the end of a sad day.

Penduline Tit  
Still plenty of food
A typical view in the reeds
The fluff flies as it pecks into the reedmace head

Thursday, 14 March 2013

17 February 2013

Narita-San Shinsho-ji Temple

With a few hours to spare before our International flight back to London we took the train to Narita town and walked the ten minutes to the stunning Narita-San Temple. We walked around the gardens for a couple of hours enjoying the peace and tranquility of this stunning city centre temple.

I had hoped to see White's Thrush on this trip and thus far had failed. Occasionally they can be found in the temple gardens. As we walked along the top path a rustle in the leaves turned into a flash of wings and a large thrush flushed down the bank into the shrubbery. Its golden rump, white outer tail corners, scaly plumage and black-and-white striped underwings proved it was a White's Thrush. I followed it naked eye and it set down, but flushed again before I could raise my binoculars. It flew again landing briefly then off over the brow and was lost to view. It happened so fast and so close that Gary didn't even see the bird! Two hours searching, a dozen Pale Thrush, 1 Grey Bunting, 7 Black-faced Bunting, and 2 Hawfinch later and we just couldn't relocate it. Other birds seen included a stunning male Japanese Wagtail, 1 White Wagtail, 1 Grey Wagtail, 2 Varied Tit, 4 Oriental Turtle Dove and a Japanese Pygmy Woodpecker. 

The stunning Japanese gardens
We took some photos in the temple and then returned to the airport. The long flight home allowed some reflection on a wonderful trip and some stunning birding. Hope you enjoyed some of the photos and hope they convey the magic of this brilliant country and its most respectful people.


Japan 2013 - The long road home

16 February 2013

Back to Tokyo

We left the wonderful Furen Lodge in a heavy blizzard and very cold temperatures bidding Matsuo-San and his wife farewell and thanking them for their generous hospitality. I was keen to see White-backed Woodpecker so we spent the next hour at the feeders. The light was awful and birds looked freezing cold. Four Great-spotted Woodpecker, 1 Japanese Pygmy Woodpecker, 1 Willow Tit, 5 Marsh Tit, 5 Eastern Great Tit, 5 Nuthatch and 32 Tree Sparrow were all that came in. We decided to head off on the journey west back to Kushiro airport - the weather was awful and the drive would not be easy.

Japanese Pygmy Woodpecker 
We drove to Cape Kirritappu which was incredibly windswept (you could only just stand up) and very barren. There was no chance of seeing the Gyr Falcon here, or anything else so we grabbed a few 'scenic' shots and moved on.

Cape Kirritappu
It was almost impossible to stand up in the gale force wind and blizzard
The roads were just passable, but snow was falling at an alarming rate. We stopped at a lake that had recently held a Bufflehead and a Ring-necked Duck. We found over 100 Goldeneye, 300 Greater Scaup, 15 Falcated Duck, 60 Goosander, 5 Wigeon, and 65 Whooper Swan but the conditions were very challenging and no sign of either American. The last Steller's Sea Eagle and White-tailed Eagle of the trip flew over the lake and a few Glaucous-winged, Slaty-backed, Glaucous and Kamchatka Gull sat on the ice. We set the satnav for the airport and found the journey projected at 2 hours 56 minutes. We only had 2 hours and it was snowing even more heavily. We pushed on and thankfully made up the time. The flight back to Tokyo was smooth, comfortable and typically on time.

Whooper Swans

Sunday, 10 March 2013

Japan 2013 - Furen and the Cape

15 February 2013

Lake Furen and Cape Nosappu

Many of the trips reports I had read prior to our visit told tales of birders walking out across the vast expanse of frozen Lake Furen in search of the Steller's Sea Eagles that can be found feeding near the fishermen. However this winter the enterprising landlord of the igloo-shaped restaurant between the visitor centre and Furen village has started to feed the eagles every morning from 09:00. With the sun shining we decided it was too good to miss so we paid a small donation (towards the cost of the fish) on entry and joined about 20 Japanese photographers beside the lake. The owner put his frozen fish in a trailer on the back of his skidoo and dumped it in piles on three large ice mounds he had built about 100m distant. His colleague put some larger fish in a line about half that distance and retreated. 

The frozen Lake Furen
A fisherman at work out on the frozen lake

Black-eared Kites were on the scene as soon as the skidoo engine started, and began circling overhead. With the sun shining off the ice we got some great photo opportunities.

Black-eared Kite 
Black-eared Kite - a juvenile
Black-eared Kite 
Black-eared Kite 
Black-eared Kite - can appear quite reddish at times 
A Black-eared Kite shows little fear grabbing some discarded fish

Soon the White-tailed Eagles were flying in from all directions. It was difficult to know which way to look as they came over your shoulder, sometimes very low down indeed. Once a group of eagles and kites was established on the mounds the Steller's started to cruise in. The other birds showed their respect, always moving out of the way. The occasional fight broke out, but the Steller's were not involved, just standing regally as the other species jostled around them. 

The Steller's Sea Eagles start to join the party
The fishy handouts attract quite a crowd
After an hour the fish has all gone and birds start to disperse back into the forests around the lake. The owner then sets off for round two, following his same circuit and leaving another load of frozen fish. Within minutes the actions starts again....

A juvenile Steller's cruises over 
The young birds often arrive first, presumably to avoid the competition with more experienced adults  
A sub-adult Steller's Sea Eagle flies in
And then the adults arrive
They cruise over the crowd to announce their arrival
Nobody messes with the boss
Another drops in for breakfast
Nothing gets in his way
No doubt who is in charge - note the size difference
A Steller's Sea Eagle drifts over the frozen lake
The White-tailed Eagles tend to give closer views, showing more confidence around people.  
Flying in from the woods
Adult White-tailed Eagle
Sub-adult White-tailed Eagle 
Sub-adult White-tailed Eagle
Sub-adult White-tailed Eagle 
Juvenile White-tailed Eagle
Adult White-tailed Eagle
Sub-adult White-tailed Eagle
A White-tailed Eagle chooses his fish and dives in 
Sub-adult White-tailed Eagle 
Adult White-tailed Eagle
Another adult arrives
They drop in from all around
And give great views as they fly by
Some even have a rest close to the viewing area 

Once the Steller's arrive the White-tailed's give way 

We leave the eagles to the remains of their breakfast and bid our hosts goodbye. We have stayed longer than expected, but it was well worth it. The plan today had been to join a seabird cruise out of Habomai Harbour, but the pack ice had continued to shift southwards overnight and unfortunately had blocked the harbour entrance. The boat would not sail. We tried to arrange an afternoon cruise, but that too was called off, so instead we decided to try a sea watch from Cape Nosappu, hoping to at least add some Pacific auk species to our tally. We drove down to Habomai on the south side of the Cape.  As we approached a headland before the harbour beckoned and we drove out to the point. We found a couple of Red-throated Diver, and some Harlequin, a handful of Black Scoter and Eurasian Wigeon, so we started back towards the road. A flock of 21 finches flew up from a weedy field and landed on overhead wires - Asian Rosy Finch. We watched as they sat on the cables alongside a few Tree Sparrow, but they decided to move on and flew away strongly to the north over the road.

Asian Rosyfinch
Asian Rosyfinch
In the harbour we found some calm water and the usual selection of ducks - Greater Scaup, Black Scoter and Goldeneye. However a female Long-tailed Duck feeding close to the bank was a little different and afforded a few images, until its mate - a stunning adult drake, was found and we swiftly relocated to grab some close ups.

Female Long-tailed Duck
Adult male Long-tailed Duck
Adult male Long-tailed Duck

 While we watched a few Greater Scaup swam by with a female Black Scoter.

Female Black Scoter
Adult drake Greater Scaup
Immature drake Greater Scaup
Immature drake Greater Scaup
Adult female Greater Scaup
Moving carefully around the harbour walls we got some close up views of Black Scoter and a couple of Stejneger's Scoter.  

Adult drake Black Scoter 
Adult drake Black Scoter
Adult female Black Scoter
Drake Black Scoter
Drake Black Scoter
Immature drake Stejneger's Scoter
Adult male Stejneger's Scoter
Adult drake Stejneger's Scoter
Leaving the harbour we drove out to the lighthouse. A birding hide has been built here to provide shelter in windy conditions but we were fortunate that today it was absolutely flat calm. We stood outside in the sunshine and scanned the open sea between us and the Russian owned Kunashir Island. Sea watching over the next couple of hours produced good views of 3 Red-necked Grebe, 1 Slavonian Grebe, loads of Pelagic Cormorant, several Steller's Sea Eagle out on the pack ice, and finally some auks. Many trips report finding auks in the harbours, particularly when the pack ice is in close, but despite searching every harbour and bay we had failed to find anything other than a few very distant presumed Brunnich's Guillemot.

Spectacled Guillemot were the most numerous with some birds in quite close. Gary found a close Ancient Murrelet fishing with a group of Harlequin, and three others were seen at distance. Least Auklet was surprisingly easy to find - this minuscule auklet showing up well on the flat calm waters, even when they pitched in and floated around. Six Crested Auklet were seen in flight and briefly on the surface and three each of Brunnich's and COmmon Guillemot flew by. The sea was also liberally scattered with ducks - Black and Stejnegers Scoter, Goosander, Goldeneye, Red-breasted Merganser and Harlequin.

The view from the Cape
Seawatching at Cape Nosappu
Cape Nosappu lighthouse

We decided to go and warm up so drove the short distance along the Cape to the next harbour. Just offshore are a couple of large protruding rocks that over the years have occasionally produced sightings of Rock Sandpiper. The site has become famous for people looking for and failing to see the species - but it was worth a go, even if only to say we'd been there. In the harbour were a couple of Harlequin and Long-tailed Duck, but not much else and we walked along the outer wall and up to the little light at the mouth. From here affords the 'closest' view of the rocks. I setup my scope and scanned in from the right on the first of the large rocks. Immediately I saw a small movement and there just above the tideline was - a Rock Sandpiper! Apparently they have only been seen here once this winter. We enjoyed distant views for a few minutes noting the blackish belly appearing as it moulted towards summer plumage, before it flew between the two largest rocks and vanished. Amazing.

The wall afforded good views of the calm sea and we soon found a five Slavonian Grebe and three Black-throated Diver. Another Diver appeared briefly and showed no obvious white thigh patch - presumably a Pacific, but it dived and could not be relocated. A few Spectacled Guillemot were also present and giving better views.

A pair of Long-tailed Duck
Matsuo-San had told us about a Red-faced Cormorant that roosted each evening on a large rocky stack just behind the Cape. As dusk was fast approaching we drove back and started scanning the rock face. There were hundreds of Pelagic Cormorants already on the stack and many more flying in further along the cliffs. Gary decided to look further along and set off to scan the cliffs from other vantage points. After about 20 minutes he waved as he had found something different. I raced around with our scopes and sure enough there on the back of the cliff below where I was stood was the lone Red-faced Cormorant. We got good views as dusk fell - a great end to a really superb day.

Pelagic Cormorant 
The rock stack where the Red-faced Cormorant roosts. It was actually on the
cliff stack immediately between me and the isolated stack and you had to
view from the other side of the Amusement arcade.