Tuesday, 30 July 2013

So many crossed bills and no bars

29 July 2013

Denge Wood, Canterbury

After reading a tweet from Julian Russell saying he'd seen 30-40 Crossbill in larches near Bonsai Bank, Denge Wood this morning, and with good numbers of Two-barred Crossbills arriving in the country I decided to drive over and take a look. At Bedgebury earlier in the week the larches had few cones and did not look like they would hold Crossbill for any length of time. I walked in to the wood and along to Bonsai Bank, but saw only a couple of small larches so continued down the path. I found a couple of Brown Hawker and two Migrant Hawker along the rides and butterflies were in good number, particularly Marbled White. I also saw plenty of Ringlet, Meadow Brown, Hedge Brown, Large White, a few Comma, a Red Admiral, a White Admiral, a Silver-washed Fritillary, two Small Tortoiseshell and a couple of Peacock.

Migrant Hawker
I eventually reached a wider track that was lined for half a mile with tall, mature Larch trees and all were full of cones. So far so good. I walked the entire length and as I reached the last but one tree heard falling cones and a couple of distinctive 'Chipp' calls. The trees are very tall and viewing actually quite difficult from an acute angle, but I managed to scope the 15 or so birds apparently feeding in the tree - all Common, a few smart adult males, a couple of adult females and lots of juveniles in various stages of moult. Having checked and re-checked I started to wonder if there was another group somewhere along the ride when the flock started to call and they took flight, presumably to get a drink in an unseen pool. I was amazed when about 40 birds appeared from the tree I'd been watching. 

Another six remained in the trees but proved even more difficult to view, though I saw nothing to suggest anything other than Common. About 15 minutes later the flock returned along the ride and fed in an even harder tree to watch. One immature had narrow creamy wing bars but nothing to get excited about. Over about an hour and a half I think I managed to check most of the birds, but couldn't say for certain there was not a Two-barred hiding somewhere - there always seemed to be considerably more birds in the tree than I could actually see. At least the tree have plenty of food and should continue to attract crossbills for some time - well worth keeping an eye on.

Adult male Common Crossbill
Female Common Crossbill

Monday, 29 July 2013

And finally the rain came

27 and 28 July

Moths, dragons and waders

It was a very busy night in the moth trap. I woke a little later than planned and didn't turn it off until 07:30, yet the lawn was still literally alive with moths that missed the trap - I can only imagine how it must have looked at dawn. I tried to capture as many moths as possible to save the Blackbirds getting an easy meal and put the trap in the shade. I then set about identifying and counting them all. The trap was pretty full: 268 moths of 71 species, though I must have lost at least another 50 moths and there were plenty hiding around the garden.

As always my favourites were the Hawkmoths - my first Elephant of the year (though Mandy found one sleeping in her Studio while I was in North Carolina) and another Poplar. However there were some really exciting new moths for the garden and some of the much brighter marked and impressive insects hoped for at this time of the year. A stunning Beautiful Snout and a Drinker were new, a Herald, a Campion, an iridescent Burnished Brass, a stunningly marked Peach Blossom, two Birds Wing, a Ruby Tiger, three cryptic Buff-tips (these have been really large this year), a Buff Footman, a Black Arches, two Small Angle Shades, a Maple Prominent and 3 Swallowtail.

Beautiful Snout
Black Arches
Buff Footman

Maple Prominent

I caught a large number of micros but I still haven't graduated to identify these challenging tiny insects. However a Twenty-plumed Moth was easy enough and another tiny golden insect, as yet unidentified, caught my eye - any guidance on id appreciated.

Argyresthia, probably goedartella of the unicolorous golden form (thanks to Das Blogist)
After a few hours in the garden and a couple of laps of Bluewater Shopping Centre we went for a walk around Cliffe Pools RSPB. It was fairly breezy so not ideal weather for looking for damselflies, but I decided to have a quick look along one of the side tracks. There were lots of Ruddy Darters sheltering on the leeward side of the hawthorns.

Adult male Ruddy Darter 
Adult female Ruddy Darter
Over the last few years I have managed to see both Scarce and Southern Emerald Damselfly in this area, yet somehow not been able to find Common Emerald Damselfly. I checked in the ditches and soon found a male emerald. It was too far away for photos with my macro lens so I took note of the features and compared them to the images in the excellent Birdguides Dragonfly app on my iPhone - it was a male Scarce Emerald Damselfly. I checked further along the track and flushed another emerald from the grass. It landed briefly but flew around the back of the bush. I waited a short while and it eventually flew back and landed close enough for some photos. It was a female Common Emerald Damselfly and I got some nice images despite the breeze.

Female Common Emerald Damselfly
Female Common Emerald Damselfly
It was high tide so I spent some time checking the pools for roosting wading birds. A dozen Greenshank were on Radar Pool, with a few Avocet, 30 Lapwing and 20 Redshank. The Black Barn Pools were very full of water, and were therefore mainly attractive to long-legged waders - a hundred Avocets and 60 Black-tailed Godwit. A couple of Green Sandpiper flew around and I could see a Dunlin out on BB4, but the low sun was problematic and the wind a bit of a challenge. There was a sizeable roost of gulls on the Flamingo Pool, mainly Black-headed with a few Herring and Great Black-backed. A couple of Bar-tailed Godwit included a very smart summer-plumaged bird and five Whimbrel were quietly roosting. Two Dunlin, a RInged Plover and a couple of young Avocet were the only other waders present. The last roost was on the Ski Pool where three Grey Plover and a Dunlin were roosting behind about 150 Avocet. Redshank were dotted around the edges and 13 Little Egret fed in the corner of the lake. 

The pools are looking good for the rest of the autumn as wader numbers increase. We returned to the car and headed home, another weekend over. 

Simply Brilliant

26 July 2013


This afternoon we went for a walk through Bedgebury Forest, hoping to locate a flock of Crossbill or even something rarer. However it wasn't to be and other than a small tit flock that included a Willow Warbler and a single Chiffchaff it was actually very quiet. However there were lots of butterflies on the wing - Meadow Brown, Ringlet, Red Admiral, White Admiral and a rapid fly-by from a fritillary sp. 

As we walked into the Pinetum we crossed the small pedestrian bridge and I noticed a few dragonflies and damselflies on the wing. A Brown Hawker was patrolling and Blue-tailed and Common Blue Damsels were ovipositing around the vegetation. A few Common Darter were feeding in the grass, but the biggest surprise was about six to eight stunning Brilliant Emeralds. I watched them hoping one would land in view and I could grab some images but they seemed intent on feeding and I just never saw one land, even momentarily. However their flight paths seemed quite predictable so I decided to try for a flight shot. I switched to manual focus and found a good position and soon a smart male obliged. 

Brilliant Emerald Dragonfly

Sunday, 28 July 2013

Pea Island

22 July 2013

Pea Island

With my flight mid-afternoon I decided to leave the Hatteras Marlin early and drive north to Pea Island, a nature reserve about two thirds of the way up the Outer Banks. I drove through a couple of storms and arrived in an empty wet car park shortly after dawn. As the light improved I scoped the shallow pool from the closed Visitor Centre. A flock of American Avocet, both Dowitchers, both Yellowlegs and a few Stilt Sandpiper. There were also a few Semi-palmated Sandpiper and Least Sandpiper on the muddy margins.

As the light improved I decided to follow the footpath between the lakes to the observation tower. A small pool in the corner held soft-shelled Turtles and as I watched a bird flew into the bushes directly in front of me calling a high-pitched 'sip'. I got my bins on it but it was obscured, waited and then wham - a Prothonotary Warbler! It showed for a minute and then flicked off down the road.

A small flock of Canada Geese and two Musk Rats were seen along the trail and views back towards the visitor centre revealed the actual number of waders present - 50 Stilt Sandpiper, 30 Dowitcher, 15 Greater Yellowlegs, 12 Lesser Yellowlegs, 2 Spotted Sandpiper, 150 Semi-palmated Sandpiper, 50 Least Sandpiper, 5 Willet, a Marbled Godwit, 2 Black-necked Stilt, 17 American Avocet, 6 Semi-palmated Plover, 1 Piping Plover, 2 Killdeer, 1 Turnstone.

On the south pond I found a Reddish Egret (a rarity here) and a huge flock of feeding Herons - Great Blue, Tricoloured, Little Blue, Great White Egret and  Snowy Egret, with a few White Ibis mixed in. Brown Pelicans flew over and out to the beach and Black Skimmers did their thing.  

Black Skimmer
Brown Pelican
Canada Goose
There were a lot of biting insects, a large fly type thing that seemed to fly so fast you didn't see it until it was biting you and the obligatory mosquitoes, plus  miniature bug that you could hardly see, but sure could feel - it must have been a set of flying teeth.

Thankfully the tower provided respite - the insects didn't come up that high. I watched from here for some time enjoying the spectacle of so many birds (there were literally hundreds feeding over the sea as well as the pools). Various birds flew by - herons, ibises, Ospreys, Dowitchers, Yellowlegs, and Skimmers.

Short-billed Dowitcher (it called as it flew over)
Tricoloured Heron and Snowy Egret
White Ibis

Musk Rat

As the sun came up passerines started to show. An Eastern Towhee was singing from the hedge, a female Mourning Warbler flicked past, a Carolina Wren called, and Red-winged Blackbirds and Grey Catbirds gave great views. A couple of House Finch flew in and two Eastern Kingbird caught insects. A strange call from the far side of the hedge drew my attention to a superb Yellow-billed Cuckoo which I watched for a few minutes before it flew on.
Grey Catbird
Yellow-billed Cuckoo
Walking back to the car park I found a young Eastern Meadowlark and then as I passed under the tunnel of shrubs a yellow flash caught my eye - a stunning Pine Warbler was feeding just feet away, and completely unperturbed by my presence. What a stunner and a great performer, though as I waited for it to show a huge and very heavy downpour had us both scampering for some cover. I got soaked, but it was pretty warm and I soon dried out while taking one last look at the waders.

Eastern Meadowlark
Pine Warbler

At the northern end of the north pond I found a few more Sandpipers, Yellowlegs and Semi-palmated Plovers and a sizeable tern roost that included several Sandwich (Cabot's) Tern, and a dozen American Black Tern, Forsters, Royals, Caspians and a few Least. 

Next stop was an old coastguard station further north where I watched a colony of Black Skimmer, while the small pool here held two Piping Plover and a Gull-billed Tern. A couple more stops along the way produced a Northern Flicker and a singing male Yellowthroat, and I made my way steadily back to the airport for my flight home seeing a couple of Turkey Vulture overhead. As I arrived in the rather pleasant surrounds of Norfolk airport I was waved off by an American Robin in the car park. Not a bad haul for a long weekend!

Saturday, 27 July 2013

Hatteras Seabirding Day 3

21 July 2013

Gulf Stream storms

The wind had calmed down a little overnight and Brian reported that the swell had reduced out at sea. It was certainly calm enough in the Landing Marina.

We seemed to get away a little quicker this morning, and the sports fishing boats seemed less keen to go out - yesterday those that did quickly turned around and ran back to the safety of the harbours.  Motoring out to the sea we found more birds around the many small islands and sand shoals. Fourteen Black-crowned Night Heron, six Great White Egret, 8 Snowy Egret, 3 White Ibis, 1 Great Blue Heron, 2 American Oystercatcher, 150 Brown Pelican, 100 Black Skimmer, 250 Least Tern, 25 Sandwich (Cabot's Tern), and 8 Dusky? Canada Geese. We also passed a pod of about 10 Bottle-nosed Dolphin as we reached the Ocean. 

The journey out was not too bad, certainly no need for full weather protection, though sheltering at the back under cover was essential. As usual we saw little on the way out, just a few Royal Terns, some up to 27 miles offshore, and one small black and white shearwater that flushed up in the wake and dropped quickly - probably a Manx as it was very black above and showed a narrower training edge to the underwing.

As we reached the Gulf Stream and began chumming we could see a large squall developing further out. Over the next half hour it developed into a massive storm. Initially the rain arrived - torrential rain that swept over the boat. 

The rain poured down
Then the thunder and lightning started in earnest. We were right in the middle of a massive Gulf Stream storm. Lightning was flashing all around and every bolt seemed to make directly for the Ocean. Brian decided to try to get out and we motored quickly, but the storm just developed around us each time we found a break. It took over an hour to eventually break free. As we slowed down off the back of the storm watching the lightning a water spout, a tornado of water, developed creating a brief spectacle. Amazing, and lucky we didn't take a direct strike.

Now out of the storm we started to pick up a few birds. Black-capped Petrels and Audubon's Shearwaters were regular, three Cory's Shearwater and two Great Shearwater, included one that plopped down within a few feet of the boat and spent half an hour delighting us on the chum slick.

Great Shearwater

Off to look for some fresh fish! - Note the small dark belly patch visible as it turns away

Audubon's Shearwater
Audubon's Shearwater - they keep pretty low and make challenging subjects
A Least Sandpiper flew by, heading east, in the middle of the storm and as we returned to the shelf a superb adult Bridled Tern joined the chum, staying with the boat for an hour.

Adult Bridled Tern

Band-rumped Storm Petrel - note the slight dark wedge in the white rump
Same bird as above - apparently about 20% of Band-rumpeds here have this feature

Wilson's Storm Petrel

However the near-highlight of the trip occurred as we reached our furthest point from Hatteras, some 34 miles out. Brian had just announced he was turning around and heading back when Kyle, one of the spotters, who I was sitting next to near the port side bow called 'Audubons Shearwater'. I had my bins on it immediately, but it was no shearwater. Kyle had seen an all black back and reasonably assumed it to be an Audubon's as it sheared low down behind a wave. However as it sheared up and twisted I shouted 'Its a storm petrel' and most crucially 'I can't see any white on its rump'. Unfortunately it was flying parallel to the boat and at mid-distance, but each time it turned sure enough there was no white rump. It was a dark-rumped Oceanodroma species - presumably a Swinhoe's Petrel. Its flight was purposeful, shearing like a Leach's Petrel on a mission. But it was moving away from the boat and the chum. Todd, who was sitting near the back of the boat rushed up and shouted 'Did you get on that dark-rumped petrel' as he had independently seen it himself. We all knew what it must have been...

Kyle called Brian and he slowed the boat. Kate increased the chumming and we drifted around for about twenty minutes, but it didn't come back. Frustrating, but that's pelagics, and seawatching, and birding generally. We did pull in a few Leach's Petrels and a Bridled Tern, which was some compensation.

Still we had a great three days with each day producing different conditions and challenges. Todays totals were:

Black-capped Petrel - 25
Cory's Shearwater - 2
Great Shearwater - 2
Audubon's Shearwater - 12
Wilson's Storm-Petrel - 101
Leach's Storm-Petrel - 4
Band-rumped Storm-Petrel - 20
Oceanodroma sp. (probable Swinhoe's Storm Petrel) -  1
Bridled Tern - 1

The stormy skies create some interesting light conditions and contrasts
Black-capped Petrel against the stormy skies
Catching the breeze - Black-capped Petrel
Dropping onto the chum

With great thanks to Brian Patteson, Kate Sutherland, George Armistead and Kyle Kittelberger for a wonderful three days in the Gulf Stream (Hatteras Seabirding).

Another half hour roadside birding around Hatteras produced a flock of White Ibis, more views of the Killdeer and Laughing Gulls, a super Green Heron and a colony of Purple Martin nesting in a specially designed bird box.

Summer plumaged Laughing Gull
Winter-plumaged Laughing Gull
Purple Martin flats 
Adult Purple Martin
Immature Purple Martin
White Ibis