Monday, May 30, 2016

Anna's Hummingbird

Having spent most of the past month in California it seems that the time is about right to resurrect this blog. It's been a few months since I felt that I had something to write about and I have been without inspiration since. Now I am back from the USA and I have shedloads of images, some of which are worth sharing. To start off I am posting a few images of Anna's Hummingbird, principally because this was one of the first birds that I saw in San Francisco; it was fairly easy to photograph, even with a compact camera, and it is a really photogenic animal.
Anna's Hummingbird - Calypte anna   Male - California April 2016
 This particular species is the commonest hummer in California and it seems to have little fear of humans being found frequently in urban areas including the centre of large cities, provided that there is suitable food and, presumably, breeding sites.
We saw tens of these birds in most places that we visited in central California, especially males. it now breeds from extreme north-western Mexico, north along the Pacific coast to south-western Canada. In the south it breeds as far east as Texas and its breeding range is expanding. It can be found year round in California.

Anna's Hummingbird - Calypte anna   Male - California April 2016
This bird is 10cm or 4" in length and the male is the only hummer in the USA with a rose-red throat and crown which is clear in the photographs above. However, you have to be viewing the bird at the correct angle. Move just a little bit, or the bird moves its head a little and the rose-red colour is replaced with anything from a dull orange through brown to black. As can be seen on the following three photos of the same bird taken seconds apart as it moved its head.

Male Anna's Hummingbird with dark brown throat and crown

...and the same bird in all of its rose-red splendour.
Here's the science: "The iridescent colours of the gorget are the result of the refraction of incident light caused by the microscopic structures of the feather barbules. The refraction works like a prism, splitting the light into rich, component colours. As the viewing angle changes, the refracted light becomes visible in a glowing, shimmering iridescent display." Further, "In the case of the vivid colours of the gorget, the prisms concentrate the colour so that it can be seen only from the front, as it would be seen by a territorial rival in a head-on confrontation."
And now...partially black and partially red.

The female is an altogether much drabber affair but they do sport a ruby-red central throat patch on  otherwise dingy grey-green underparts. The upperparts are a brighter green like the male.

Anna's Hummingbird - Calypte anna   Male posing for the camera  - California April 2016
 The only other species of Hummingbird that we managed to locate during our visit in April was Allen's Hummingbird. This species is much scarcer than Anna's although it is still fairly common in the right habitat. This bird winters in south central Mexico and journeys north to breed along much of the Pacific coast of the USA. There is a subspecies that colonised the Los Angeles area in the 1960s which has since spread north and south along the coast. This is non-migratory and the mild climate of California allows these birds to have up to four broods per year.

Allen's Hummingbird - Selasphorus sasin - Male California April 2016
This is the only shot that I managed to get of an Allen's. Perched on a wire way high. I may have to go back to try for a better shot next year!

Thursday, February 11, 2016

Norfolk February 2016

Over the weekend of 5th to 8th February I spent my time birding with a few mates in Norfolk. This is an annual outing and we stay in a great little cottage in Great Bircham which proves to be an ideal base for our forays out into the field. A few beers, some great craic, full English breakfasts and top birding always combine to make a memorable weekend.
This year we met at Lackford Lakes, not too far from Thetford, so that we could stick Long-tailed Duck on our list. The bird was easy enough to find but distance and poor light meant that I could only get a record shot. Still a good bird to kick off with.
Long-tailed Duck - Lackford Lakes.
After adding a number of pretty obvious species to our list we set off on the short drive to Lakenheath RSPB Reserve to look for Common Crane, Bittern and a reported Great White Egret. It was a bit windy and cold when we arrived but nothing like as bad as it was destined to become over the next couple of days. We were soon watching a couple of Water Pipits battling against the wind and then we had reasonable views of the Great White Egret but we failed to locate any Bittern. Probably due to the windy conditions. We heard bugling Cranes and then we saw five birds flying off with a flock of Greylag Geese. Again pretty poor pictures of Cranes' backsides resulted.

Bye-bye Cranes.
After three hours of not finding Bittern we headed north. Travelling through the fens towards Tottenhill just south of King's Lynn. We drove through the fens hoping to find wild swans and indeed we saw Bewick's, Whooper and Mute within 30 minutes of setting off. We wanted to call in at Tottenhill to have a look at a Black-necked Grebe that had been reported on a gravel pit there and which was viewable from the road. Checking the map we located the gravel pit and then risked all our lives by marching along the busy A10. Lorries and buses and more lorries whizzed by within inches whilst we failed to see anything at all on the gravel pit. So we set off back down the A10 for more close shaves with death! Only then did one of us suggest that there might, in fact, be more than one gravel pit, as there often are. Sure enough we were at the wrong pit and once we located the correct one there was the Grebe...viewable from the road!
Roydon Common was next for Harriers. This was a brilliant birding experience as we saw Pallid, Hen and Marsh Harriers at one time all together in a single scope view. Generally the birds were always too far away to photograph but I managed a decent record shot of Hen Harrier earlier.

A blurry shot of a distant Hen Harrier.
We ended the first day not seeing Golden Pheasant at Wolferton although it seems every other birder in Norfolk did.
Saturday morning saw us at Choseley Drying Barns where we connected with not one but two fantastic Rough-legged Buzzards as well as a couple of Common Buzzards and a mad Peregrine trying to chase everything away. Loads of Grey and Red-legged Partridges around these parts too. I managed to get a decent shot of a Grey later in the day at Lady Anne's Drive.

Grey Partridge - Lady Anne's Drive, Holkham.
Holkham Hall was our next stop...for Ferruginous Duck and Scaup. The Ferruginous Duck was difficult to photograph; it was wedged into the vegetation on the opposite side of the lake. The Scaup were equally difficult because it was very windy and cold so I couldn't be bothered! It didn't stop one of us trying out a new and unique method of looking for Tawny Owls in suitable roosting holes by sticking a scope near the entrance...not really thought this through though! there anybody there? An original but ultimately flawed way of checking for owls.
Well's Harbour was next so that we could add the long-staying Shag. Always picturesque which I take to mean take a picture of it! So I did.

The tide is out at Wells.
Burnham Overy Staithe was next. On the way down towards the sea wall we came across a flock of Golden Plover loafing in a field, the estimated size of said flock was 10000 birds! Bear in mind it was blowing fit to remove slates from a roof yet one of our group suggested we carefully scan this flock for a possible American Golden Plover. That would be two and a half thousand birds each... in a telescope rockin' wind. So we did....and one of us spotted a likely looking candidate. What made it a strong possible was that we could all locate the bird quite easily, because it was not was pale grey and it had a good strong, pale supercilium. However, this was not good enough to clinch the ID. We couldn't see the primary projection, nor the tertials and the bird stubbornly refused to stand up so we could not gauge leg length or overall structure...all of which features we would need to ascertain the bird's true ID. Then it flew off, along with nine thousand, nine hundred and ninety-nine other plovers. By the time we reached the sand dunes the wind was gusting at three-thousand miles an hour and it was whipping up sand that Lawrence of A would not have tolerated but we struggled through because there were possibly three Shore Larks fifty-three miles further along the shingle. Sand-blasted and extremely well exfoliated we rocked-up at the end of the shingle to be rewarded by the sight of three disgruntled and fed-up looking Shore Larks hunkered down in the grass.
On the way back to Burnham Overy we located a small flock of Barnacle Geese. To tick or not to tick? We did!

Amazing Bark of a Sweet Chestnut Tree in Holkham Park.
...and a row of Badger Bums at the same place.
By Sunday the wind had got-up to mach 2. We were to be found gazing at nothing much at all from Hunstanton Cliffs. A single fly-by Red-throated Diver and a few Fulmar were the only birds to be added to our list so it was off to Tithwell to join thousands of others who drift about there on a Sunday morning.
The usual Water Rail site produced the usual Water Rail.

The usual Water Rail in the usual lace at Titchwell.
The big surprise here was that the wardens had drained the main lagoon to carry out maintenance work. So no ducks...or much else really. We set off to the sea hoping that they hadn't drained that too. The tide was out when we got there so they may as well have drained it as far as birding was concerned! Four Snow Buntings were the highlights here.
We ended the day in the Joe Jordan Hide down at Holkham Pines. Here we had nothing short of a Raptor fest with another completely bonkers Peregrine belting about, along with over a dozen Marsh Harriers, Sparrowhawk, Kestrel, Common Buzzards and five Barn Owls. Another Great White Egret put in an appearance as well as over 100 European White-fronted Geese.
The day finished with us debating the identity of a white blob sat up in a tree by the A149 some mile or so away. One of us was convinced it was bird A, another was certain it was bird B, two of us kept swapping between both until eventually we nailed it. Here is a picture exactly as we saw it...what do you reckon it is?

ID this bird! It's the white dot roughly in the centre.
A couple of shots from Thornham Marshes to end with. A Brent Goose, so synonymous with the North Norfolk Coast. And a Curlew on the exposed mud...before they all disappear!

Brent Goose    Thornham

Curlew    Thornham.
We finished the weekend the following morning at Flitcham with a total of 124 species after failing yet again to see any Golden Pheasants. Thanks to Trevor, Paul and Nigel for a crackin' weekend and thanks to Andy C for the loan of the cottage and a special thanks to the workers in Sharpe's brewery for the Doombar and all those that gave their time to pick grapes.

Sunday, October 18, 2015

Fair Isle September 2015

It's taken me a few weeks to process all of the photographs I took during the last week or so in September whilst birding Fair Isle and mainland Shetland. I journeyed up to Aberdeen on Thursday 17th September along with four guys from the BTO. We were planning to meet another BTO employee and a couple more friends to make up a team of nine birders who would spend the next ten days grubbing about in the hope of finding that really rare bird!
We caught the overnight ferry from Aberdeen to Lerwick and after a 14 hour crossing we disembarked at 0700 on Friday. Lack of a good night's sleep was having an effect but a few northern specialities: Hooded Crow, Black Guillemot and Eider as well as Raven and Great Northen Diver added to the Arctic and Great Skuas seen off the boat livened me up a bit. After loading our gear into the hire car we set off for Sumburgh to look for a Western Bonelli's Warbler which had been knocking about in a dog rose hedge for a few days. We found it sure enough but it was being a devil to see clearly: flitting about in deep cover and giving nanosecond views. I saw the bird five or six times and I bet that if all of the time I saw it was totalled it would come to about a second and a half!
No chance of photographs but there was an obliging Kestrel and an equally obliging Spotted Flycatcher.

Kestrel waiting to catch a Western Bonelli's Warbler

Spotted Flycatcher - Sumburgh
We saw a very late Common Swift near to the lighthouse as well as brief views of a couple of Minke Whales. Other species of note here were Common Redstart and Little Stint as well as a Yellow-browed Warbler. The first of what proved to be a bumper count over the next week.
Our flight from Tingwall was due out around 1500 so after a fruitless visit to Quendale we clambered into the plane to cross to Fair Isle. Well, at least, some of us did!
Arriving on Fair Isle and walking down towards Pund we had great views of a juvenile Pallid Harrier. This was virtually the first bird we saw...and it was a life tick for me. Although it flew quite close I did not have my camera at the ready (let that be a lesson) so no photographs. Its gingery underparts and neck markings: the black boa, in particular, seperating it from juvenile Hen Harrier (which we also saw). The Pallid Harrier was to prove quite reliable for the next few days although I only managed a few distant record shots which are pretty rubbish as this one testifies:
Juvenile Pallid Harrier - Record shot of a distant bird.
The island seemed to be covered with Great Skuas, presumably they had been feeding out at sea and along the cliffs during the day and they were coming back in for the late afternoon, early evening and laying claim to a patch of moorland in the north of the island. We noticed that during the following days numbers would fall during the day and increase again during the evenings. There were so many of these that they were recorded as presnt during the daily log rather than being counted. The same applied to the island's Gannet and Northen Fulmar populations. As well as the Pallid Harrier we also managed to see the island's only Red-breasted Flycatcher which was loitering around the north haven where the Good Shepherd docks.
Red-breasted Flycatcher on the north haven cliff retaining wire.

The following morning this bird had departed and there were to be no more RBFs during the week.
On the Saturday we thought we had had a good day with 3 Yellow-browed Warblers! Twite, a couple of Common Rosefinch and flocks of Snow Buntings kept us entertained as we tried hard but failed to locate a Lanceolated Warbler in any of the ditches that criss-cross the island. A few common migrants such as Willow Warbler, Chiffchaff, Whinchat, Spotted Flycatcher, Blackcap and Wheatear kept us on our toes.


Our first Barred Warbler cropped up the next day along with a Blyth's Reed Warbler which was duly netted and ringed by the observatory's assistant wardens. Here are a couple of in-hand photographs of this bird but for a more thorough identification discussion see an earlier posting on this blog titled: (unsurprisingly) Identification of Blyth's Reed Warbler.

Blyth's Reed Warbler - Fair Isle Sept 20th 2015

Blyth's Reed Warbler - Fair Isle Sept 2015

On the Monday we split into three teams and spent the day enjoying a 'bird race' designed to see if we could clean-up on the islands birds on one specific day, We saw 61 species, the other teams saw 60 and 61 respectively but we had a flyover Redpoll discounted because we had not nailed it down to a spcies. Between us I think we managed around 68 species and the wardens claimed around 72 species recorded during the day so we did OK. Pallid Harrier, Common Rosefinch, Yellow-browed Warbler and Blyth's Reed Warbler all figured on the day's lists.

Monster Fair Isle Wren!

Common Rosefinch



Juvenile Gannet

Great Skua...and dead rabbit

Jack Snipe...pretending to be invisible.

Lesser Whitethraot and Fair Isle ring

Merlin. Regular on the island.

Proper...real Rock Dove

Skylark...good numbers all week.

Twite...flocks reached three figures.

Northern Wheatear

Yellow-browed Warbler.Over 50 individuals recorded in one day!
Yellow-browed Warbler numbers went through the roof on 21st as over fifty individuals were counted on the island. A couple of weeks later this record was broken as in excess of seventy birds were recorded in a single day. Again there is a seperate posting on this phenomena for those interested.
Cetaceans were regular during the week and we logged more Minke Whales, Orcas, Risso's Dolphins, Bottle-nosed Dolphins and Harbour Porpoise.
Back on mainland Shetland we preferred to have a feast of fish and chips rather than go see a Thick-billed Warbler but more about that anon.

Thursday, October 8, 2015

Yellow-browed Warbler influx.

On the 21st September 2015 whilst birding on Fair Isle I was witness to, at the time, a record fall of Yellow-browed Warblers when at least 53 were counted by the warden and his assistants. This record has already been surpassed as a count of 76 was recorded a week later. I was birding with a team from the BTO and we saw in excess of thirty birds during the day. According to the BTO web site this autumn promises to be one of the best ever for them. 'Breeding from the Urals east across Siberia, Yellow-browed Warbler records in Britain and Ireland have been increasing steadily in recent years. The reason for the increase is still unknown, with reverse migration and range expansion all proposed as potential factors.'
Yorkshire, Shetland, Lancashire, Isles of Scilly, County Wexford, Merseyside, Glamorgan, Orkney, Aberdeenshire, Dorset, Lincolnshire, Cornwall, Fife, Cleveland, Norfolk, Gwynedd, Northumberland, Sussex, Conwy, Kent, Angus, Lothian and County Durham are all reporting YBWs today according to RBA! Now has got to be the time to get out and find your own YBW.

Yellow-browed Warbler Phylloscopus inornatus. In Angelica, Fair Isle 2015

Yellow-browed Warbler Phylloscopus inornatus. In Angelica, Fair Isle 2015

Yellow-browed Warbler Phylloscopus inornatus. In Angelica, Fair Isle 2015

Yellow-browed Warbler Phylloscopus inornatus. In Angelica, Fair Isle 2015

Yellow-browed Warbler Phylloscopus inornatus.

Yellow-browed Warbler Phylloscopus inornatus.

Wednesday, September 30, 2015

And ten shots of a Bonxie.

There were so many Great Skuas present on Fair Isle that they were never counted for the log at the end of each day. They were merely recorded as present. It would have been a difficult task to get a truly accurate count as they tended to be mobile; roaming all over the island and many spent long periods out at sea, presumably terrorising other seabirds. The boggy moorland was the most frequented habitat during the early mornings and late afternoons with birds loafing seemingly everywhere.
I came across one bird tearing a dead rabbit to pieces. It had, what appeared to be, a rabbit foetus at one point and although it picked it up and messed with it a little it did not seem to relish it much and left it on the ground. It was not a pleasant sight but there you go!

Great Skua with something nasty...prsumably a rabbit foetus

...and with dead rabbit.

As the sun sets a Bonxie looks out to sea.


Great Skua eating a rabbit