Saturday 21 February 2015

The Dartford Warbler and Other Birds

Feb 18/15 Forest of Dean and Pittville Park Cheltenham, Gloucestershire UK.

Today was the day to go after the Dartford Warbler. On the way I stopped off at the Speech House in the heart of the Forest of Dean. The following three shots were taken from the car window at a place where park visitors leave seed for the wild birds. By choosing a good vantage point I was able to photograph with dark shadows in the background. I had to underexpose a little in manual mode.

Speech House/ Forest of Dean
Chaffinch (Fringilla coelebs)

Nuthatch (Sitta europaea)

Song Thrush (Turdus philomelos)
New Fancy View/ Forest of Dean
Common Buzzard (Buteo Buteo)

As a child growing up in the Wye Valley I never once saw a Common Buzzard. There was a decline of food as the rabbit population had been decimated by Myxomatosis
There was so little food the buzzards were even forced to turn over cow dung in search of insects. Their numbers crashed until the rabbit population finally recovered.

The Common Buzzard has now rebounded and can be seen in many parts of the UK. I also was lucky enough to see a pair of Goshawk at New Fancy View, one of the best viewpoints in the Forest of Dean,

Pittville Park Cheltenham 
As I have mentioned this was not a birding holiday but the temptation to try for the Dartford Warbler was too strong. Pittville Park Cheltenham is a passive park with much activity but in one corner a wildflower patch of about an acre has been seeded. It has been there a few years and has matured and has reseeded itself. There were three Stonechat and a dozen Linnets present and one very lost Dartford Warbler. Fortunately the winter has been mild and the sunniest ever recorded, all good news for the diminutive warbler normally found in the southernmost parts of the UK.

Dartford Warbler (Sylvia undata)

Stonechat (Saxicola torquatus)


Well this is the last post from the UK but not the last bird I saw. I took a quick walk around Parkend before leaving and finally had a good views of a Hawfinch. It was the perfect way to end the trip.

I would like to thank Gary Thoburn and Vic Savery for their helpful contributions and suggestions and without their encouragement my trip would not have been so enjoyable.
Also the Gloster Birder website which is an invaluable guide to visitors like myself

Technical details
I brought a Nikon D7100 with battery pack. It never ran out as either the camera battery or the battery pack kicked in when one was exhausted. I bought a Tamron 150mm-600mm lens in the summer for trips like these when photography would be secondary consideration.
I brought a flash, remote controller and monopod but never used them. I dressed as I would for Vancouver and was never cold or wet. I found UK birders and photographers very helpful and willing to help the hapless visitor like myself. Overall I am very happy with my visit and look forward to returning soon.

"It's never too late to start birding"

John Gordon

British Columbia

Friday 20 February 2015

Some Surprise Slimbridge Sightings

 Feb 17 2015 Slimbridge Gloucestershire UK Sunny 6c

This was my fourth visit to Slimbridge and my first winter birding session. My other visits fell during the summer doldrums. I knew this time I would find some species that had been hard to find on previous trips. I was in for a few surprises.
The first two are for my beleaguered birder friends in Vancouver BC who are mucking around the swage ponds at Iona in search of a single Tufted Duck. The second a Lesser Black-backed Gull which has been twitched in Abbotsford and are common here.
Tufted Duck (Aythya fuligula)
I couldn't find the Lesser black-backed Gull in Abbotsford so I cheated and flew to the UK to find this one.
Lesser Black-backed Gull (Larus fuscus)
Due to my busy schedule i'll save you the bother of having to decipher my ramblings by just posting some of the highlights from my day at Slimbridge.
 Bewick's Swans, Lapwing and Shelducks in the foreground swim freely at Slimbridge in Gloucestershire.

Some Corvids
Jackdaw (Corvus monedula)
The smallest member of the crow family. Found from Scandinavia to Spain

Jackdaws pair for life.

Rook (Corvus frugilegus)
Note the fearsome beak. Found across Europe.
Adult winter Black-headed Gull (Chroicephalus ridibundus)
The head turns black in the summer.

European Herring Gull ( Larus argentatus)
Tundra or Bewick's Swan (Cygnus columbines)

Lapwing (Vanellus vanellus)

Lapwing in flight.
Common Redshank (Tringa totanus)
What is this bird doing?

Common Redshank

Dunlin with Lapwing in the foreground. There were also a flock 600 Golden Plover.

Common Snipe (Gallinago gallinago)

Water Rail  (Rallus aquaticus)
What a cool Latin name!
Greater White Fronted Geese (Anser albifrons)

Common Crane (Grus Grus)

                                                     More about the Common Crane

                                                           More about Slimbridge

It was a fantastic day with sightings of Kingfisher, Common Buzzard, Kestrel, hundreds of Golden Plover and numerous other species some of which I have included above. I hope you have enjoyed this visit to one of Gloucestershire's premier birding hotspots.

Here are some of the sightings at Slimbridge during the week.

Not bad Eh!

"It's never to late to start birding"

John Gordon

Thursday 19 February 2015

Newport Wetlands Nature Reserve

Feb 16 2015 RSPB Newport Wetlands Nature Reserve, Gwent Wales. Rain and Overcast. 6c

The skies were grey, the rain showers slowing my progress around the wetlands. I took temporary shelter between squalls in one of the hides overlooking the reed beds. The ponds held numerous pairs of Tufted Ducks, Mallard and Moorhens but fewer birds than my previous visit.

 I had hoped to see a Bearded Reedling (Panurus biarmicus) but the wind and rain meant the birds were hunkered down and not showing. Not to be outdone I took the trail to the lighthouse to watch the flocks of Dunlin, Shelduck and Mallard plodding about on the muddy Severn Estuary shoreline.

More about 

The Severn Estuary looking toward Somerset from Wales.

 It was muddy underfoot and I was beginning to think about returning to the visitor centre when I noticed three Stonechat feeding on the weather beaten wildflowers.
 Female Stonechat (Saxicola torquatos) in the rain.
When the rain ended I made my way through the woodland walk. A flock of Goldfinch flashed through the undergrowth. Blackbirds, Song Thrush, Blue Tits, Greater Spotted Woodpecker and Tree Creepers flitted from branch to branch. Everything was quiet when out of the tree canopy a flock of Common Redpoll descended in front of me, a second lifer of the day after the Stonechat. I soon forget the rain. I used the lightweight Tamron 150mm-600mm and the D7100 handheld which allows me to travel long distances without the associated neck and shoulder pain of the 500mm F4 and tripod. There is a small drop in quality but as I mentioned in an earlier blog I'm not out to change the world but just have a enjoyable birding experience.
Lesser Redpoll (Carduelis flammea) ssp cabaret
*Thanks to Mike King for pointing out my error calling it Common Redpoll.

Out of the corner of my eye was one of my target birds the Bullfinch. It didn't stay long enough for a photo. In a farmers field a large frock of Fieldfare were feeding, another lifer. The rain began again so it was onward only to come across a flock of Reed Bunting. The light was so low I was shooting at between ISO 1000-1600.

Reed Bunting (Emberiza schoeniclus) 

I walked on only to come across the same flock, this time with the birds and grasses bathed in the 'sweet light' of the afternoon sun.
Reed Bunting 
I had been out for two hours and the weather was improving and as I made my way back to the excellent visitor centre for a cup of tea I came across my favourite UK bird the Goldfinch.

Goldfinch (Carduelis carduelis)

Before I reached the visitor centre I came across Greenfinch, Long-tailed Tit, Pheasant and this Mute Swan carving in the children's playground.
Mute Swan (Paintus ornamentus)

More about Newport Wetlands.

I hope to get out and see a few more birds before I leave the UK so until then, good birding!

"It's never too late to start birding"

John Gordon
The Wye Valley near Tintern Abby.

Monday 16 February 2015

A Walk to the Village Shop

Feb 14/15 Brockweir, Wye Valley UK. Sun and Cloud 9c

The country lanes of Brockweir Common haven't changed very much since the turn of the century. Ancient hedgerows some dating back four to five hundred years are home to a myriad of wildlife. Badger, fox, rabbit, adder, and grass snakes make their homes in the surrounding fields. The upland areas were untouched when the glaciers retreated. Rare plants abound.
                                                                  More about hedges

The area is steeped in history. The Romans mined ore a few miles away at Redbrook, The village of Brockweir is mentioned in the Doomsday Book and the River Wye acted as a conduit for goods being shipped upstream to Hereford and Mid-Wales. Lord Nelson visited the village and poet William Wordsworth made the area famous after he visited Tintern Abbey. His poetry is said to have spawned the birth of tourism in the UK.
What's all that got to do with birding, not much but the area does have a wealth of birdlife and walking is the best way to see it.
On my way to the village shop to pick up the Sunday newspaper the first bird to show was the Robin. It can often be heard long before it jumps out onto a nearby branch. Like the North American Black-capped Chickadee it too will come to hand for seed. I haven't tried that yet but I am sure at tourist spots there are tame birds which will oblige.
(European) Robin (Erithacus rubella)
The Robin is a member of the thrush family.
Further down the lane I noticed some movement in an adjacent pasture, a small flock of colourful Goldfinch were busily feeding on something in the short grass, perhaps the warm weather had encouraged insect life to the surface. Around the next corner a small flock of Song Thrush were feeding in a muddy field. I couldn't get near them. I find in the less travelled parts of the UK the birds are far warier than those at places like Slimbridge or Newport Wetlands where there is more foot traffic.

The criss cross network of paths and lanes are broken up with open pasture where the Common Buzzard can be seen hunting for rabbits and a Sparrowhawk glides around in search of smaller prey.
A jogger stops to ask what I am looking at...birds I say, Oh, she replies and sets off into the distance, scattering a flock of thrush I had been patiently stalking.
Sparrowhawk (Accipter nisus)

Just outside the village shop I spotted what I thought were crows flying overhead. When I checked  with my newly acquired Collins Bird Guide the grey nape gave them away as Jackdaws. Jackdaws pair for life and can be quite tame. They nest in chimneys and crevices and often close to humans. They also nest on sea cliffs and mountainsides.

This not a Crow but a (Western ) Jackdaw (Corvus monedula)
Note the light grey nape. 

The atypical LBJ, the Dunnock or Hedge Sparrow (Prunella modularis) 
As I neared the last part of my walk I had hope to see the resident Common Buzzard but to my surprise I spotted two pheasants strutting across the cow pasture. The one bird seemed quite aggressive toward the other. I thought it might be a lek. Only when I started to edit the shots later that night did I realize that the birds had somewhat different markings.
Common Pheasant (Phasianus colchicus)

According to the Collins Bird Guide pheasants were introduced into the UK in the 11th/12th century. These two appear to be from two different races and perhaps they were duelling over territory or a female. Note the bird on the left has a white neck ring. Several races with differing markings occur throughout Europe. Pheasants occur naturally from the Black Sea east to China

The male on the left shows who is boss.

As I mentioned earlier these photographs were taken on a walk to the shop, a ninety minute round-trip.. If I had driven I most certainly missed the opportunity.

All shot handheld with the Nikon D7100 and Tamron 150mm-600mm.

"It's never too late to start birding"

John Gordon

British Columbia 

Management takes no responsibility for grammatical errors. 

Sunday 8 February 2015

A Couple of Lifers

Feb 6/15 Parkend, Forest of Dean Gloucestershire UK Sunny and cold 4c

I had heard from birders twitching the Hawfinches that there were White-fronted Dippers behind the pub in Parkend. I had had a quick look before but didn't see it. This was my second try and it wasn't long before I was following a narrow pathway along the riverbank. What I didn't realize as I continued was this was no man made footpath but a trail carved out my boar. The trail became narrower and muddier. Just as I was about to turn around I spotted two dippers in the distance. The small river or creek was perfect for them. It ran through a forest canopy, there were long runs where small fish would likely hold up, gravel bars and the odd large rock protruding the water. It was on one of these rocks that I spotted the dipper. The bird is larger and more colourful than the North American species. The familiar stance is the same and the characteristic dipping motion was identical. It too "walks" underwater. It was quite far away but to move would spook the bird so I knelt on the muddy trail and fired off a few shots with my travel lens, the Tamron 150mm-600mm. Shooting wide open at F6.3 dropped my shutter speed down, miraculously I managed a few in focus. 

Another UK lifer, the White-fronted Dipper (Cinclus cinclus)

After spending an hour or so waiting for the elusive Hawfinches to arrive I decide to move on to Cannop Ponds to see what if anything new could be found.
The Long-tailed Tits that seemed to appear out of nowhere. They fed in small family groups and flitted from tree to tree using there tiny needle sharp beaks to pry out emerging buds. Among the flock was a Goldcrest, my second lifer of the day. The bird is very much like the Ruby-crowned Kinglet foraging in mixed flocks.

Goldcrest (Regulus regulus)

Following another muddy trail, the family of Long-tailed Tits flitted from branch to branch, sometimes hanging upside down, sometimes seeming to fall to a lower branch like an acrobat. Again I would have loved to have my faster lens and fill flash but as I mentioned this is not a birding holiday and these odd days out are just breaks in the action. I'm just happy to have time with family, the forest, stream and birds....and Six Nations rugby!

Long-Tailed Tit (Aegithalos caudatus) 
According to Collins the Long-tailed Tit is more closely related to warblers, swallows and larks than it is to the other members of the tit family.

Grey Wagtail (Montacilla cinerea) uses a park bench to survey the pond 

This wagtail feeds on an icy pond.

Moorhen ((Gallinula chloropus) is a common pond birds throughout the UK and Europe. Here it feeds on the ice or perhaps it looking at its own reflection.

Until next time

"It's never too late to start birding"

John Gordon

Tuesday 3 February 2015

Birding/ On the Spur of the Moment

Feb 1 2015 Lydney Harbour/Cannop Ponds Forest of Dean, Gloucestershire UK Sunny 4c

I hadn't planned on birding but when asked to run my brother to catch the train to Gloucester I grasped at the opportunity. I threw the camera on the passenger side seat and off I went. As soon as I saw him off I went down to nearby Lydney Harbour where an interesting trail weaves itself along the bank of the Severn Estuary. The rise and fall of tides of the Severn Estuary is second only to the Canada's Bay of Fundy. There were few birds around. It was here I photographed what is probably the UK's most common small gull, the Black-headed Gull.
Adult winter Black-headed Gull (Chroicocephalus ridibundus)

Then it was back home with a slight detour via Cannop Ponds.
I had photographed there in the spring so winter birding might turn up something a little different if only in plumage.

Blue Tit (Parus caeruleus)

The Blue Tit lays 7-14 white brown spotted eggs in a moss and feathered lined tree hole.

Tufted Duck (Aythya fuligula)
Unlike in Vancouver where a Tufted Duck is a rare occurrence Cannop Ponds had four pairs. Tufted Duck are a year round resident in the UK and quite common. Ranging from Iceland, northern Europe and North Africa.

Male (foreground) and female Mandarin (Aix galericulata)
Introduced to the UK from China Mandarin Ducks are now an official/introduced bird in the UK. It nests in tree holes.

Grey Wagtail (Montacilla Cinerea)
I haven't birded very much in the UK so at first I thought this was a Yellow Wagtail, it isn't, they only occur in the UK's summer. 

Cormorant (Phalacrocorax Carbo)
In North America this bird is called Great Cormorant, also found along the east coast of the Americas and Greenland.

This unplanned birding session brightened up my day. Later in the day a flock of Long-tailed Tits and Redwings passed by the kitchen window. By the time I grabbed my camera they were gone.

"It's never too late to start birding"

John Gordon