Monday, 15 October 2018

A Pallid Harrier at Royston

9th October 2018

A Pallid Harrier was found at Therfield Heath on the 19th September and was still in the area at the time of writing, a period of 20 days. I was on holiday when it was found and therefore didn't get up there until the 9th October. The bird had now moved to the north end of Icknield Way just south of Royston, and was reported as being very wide-ranging and only showing occasionally at a distance. I was therefore prepared for a long wait.

In the event I positioned myself at the gate as per the instructions and had to wait a whole 20 minutes before it suddenly appeared from over the tree-line just 15 yards above my head. It hunted in front of the assembled five people for a few minutes before disappearing over the brow of the hill. Over the next two hours this was repeated every 20 minutes, frequently flying back and forth just 20 yards away. As an example of just how close it came at times, this shot is uncropped.

Here is a selection of shots that I took.

The bird is a juvenile female. Juvenile because of the unbarred orangey breast and a female because it has a brown eye. Males of all ages have pale eyes.

What an incredible bird!!

Thursday, 11 October 2018

A Tour of the St Lawrence River

17th-27th September 2018

Phase 2 of our holiday took us to St Johns in New Brunswick and Halifax in Nova Scotia before entering the St Lawrence River to visit 9 more ports. As I have said previously I don't normally take my big lens on holiday, but made an exception in this case because of the possibilty of photographing whales.

At the port of Gaspe on the Gaspe Penisnsula we visited the lovely town of Perce. Nearby there is a large Gannet colony and many Gannets were feeding quite close in the harbour allowing a few shots to be taken between sight-seeing.

A few Eider were bobbing around close to the beach, with one eventually climbing out for a rest.

Further along another brown duck, presumably another Eider, hauled itself out on to a rock and it was only when I got closer, clicking away as I went, I realised that it was in fact a Harlequin Duck. How good is that?

At Sept Iles we visited a museum and in the bushes by the beach were a number of Dark-eyed Juncos and a single White-throated Sparrow.

Back on the ship again and in  transit from Sept Iles to Saguenay when I noticed a small bird sitting on top of one of the life-boats, a female Common Yellowthroat. Although we were in a river we were still several tens of miles out with no land in sight.

Back on dry land on the Isles de la Madeleine I saw my first waders, some Turnstones and Ringed Plovers...................and yes they are the same species as ours and not a Canadian speciality.

Also flitting along the beach was this Song Sparrow.


And so, did I get to see any whales? Well, yes I did, many in fact, but no performers just several spouts and rolling backs so that will have to wait for another day. But one thing is sure, I will be taking my big lens on all future trips!!  

Sunday, 7 October 2018

Sea Birds Mid-Atlantic........... and a Few Surprises!!!

3rd September - 9th September 2018

I don't normally take my big lens on holiday, but was tempted this time by the possibility of seeing whales in the St Lawrence River. However, Phase 1 of the holiday was the Atlantic crossing from Southampton to New York. This was my first ship-borne crossing and I spent a lot of time scanning the waves for signs of life, but it was very quiet while we were in the English Channel. However, once we were clear of Ireland, things started to pick up.

What was amazing was the number of birds out in the open sea, even mid-Atlantic when we were 1500 miles from the nearest land. One might expect Gannets and Shearwaters, but I was surprised to see many juvenile Herring/Black-backed Gulls and even smaller gulls such as Kittiwakes. Most of the birds were juveniles and would appear in flocks of up to 10.

What was noticeable was that the birds didn't all appear on the same day. There were shearwater days and Gannet days but the two species rarely appeared in numbers on the same day. The Gannets would often fly alongside the ship, presumably taking advantage of the slip-stream in much the same way as birds fly in a "V" formation.

Some of the Gannets were sub-adults and their two-tone appearance was very photogenic.

By far the commonest sea bird was the Cory's Shearwater which would often be seen in rafts of up to 70 birds.

As the ship approached they would run along the surface of the water to take off.

There were also Great Shearwaters, but not in the same numbers when seen flying individually...........

.................but were often present in good numbers in mixed Cory/Great flocks on the sea. Here they are padding along the surface to take off.

And a nice comparison between a Cory's and a Great Shearwater, Great on the left, Cory's with the yellow bill.

So what about the "Few Surprises"? Well there were three surprises, the first being this White-throated Sparrow. It hopped aboard on the 19th September when were were sailing from Sept Iles to Sagunay in the St Lawrence River and was still with us on the 30th September when we were three days out of Southampton on our return trip. It survived through hand-outs from the passengers. At that point it disappeared and could have moved to another part of the ship or chanced its luck.

The second surprise came aboard when we were 500 miles east of New York. It is a Magnolia Warbler, an American warbler in the Wood Warbler family. Hopefully it suvived the day and a half sail into New York as not many passengers were carrying insects.

And last but not least was this female Kestrel which appeared when we were 500 miles west of Lands End on our return trip. It had obviously tried to emulate Christopher Columbus, but had bottled out after 500 miles and cadged a lift back. I assumed it survived OK as none of the passengers were throwing out Bank Voles, and in any case probably jumped ship the following day as we passed within a few miles of Land End.

Well, what an absolutely fabulous experience but it does raise questions, if not eyebrows, about some of the rare American vagrants that turn up on our shores. The ones that immediately spring to mind are the Red-breasted Nuthatch that was in Holkham Woods about 30 years ago and the more recnt White-throated Sparrow at Cley, although there are of course many more.

So where are we going in Phase 2 of our holiday?...............Canada.

See you there.