Friday, 28 September 2012

Great White at Wilstone!!!

No, not a Great White Shark but a Great White Egret. The bird was seen flying in on Sunday and surprisingly stayed around and is still there. As I walked along the north bank of the reservoir I could see the egret by the reeds on the south bank, a distance of 600 metres, far too distant for any sort of a shot. I therefore continued round to the hide, virtually halving the distance but, surprise surprise, it had gone out of view.

Fellow photographers Graeme and Kris also arrived at the hide and it wasn't too long before the egret appeared around the reeds, somewhat closer than I had been expecting, but nowhere near as others had reported earlier. But at least we were able to get a few shots. Note the crocus-coloured bill of the rare Great White compared to the black bill of the common Little Egret.

We were hoping that the egret would continue right along the reeds gradually getting closer, eventually ending up in the bay by the hide, but sadly not. Instead a Grey Heron decided he wanted to fish where the Great White was standing and flew in to oust the intruder. The next few seconds were pandemonium with wings going in all directions with, at one point, the GWE ditching into the water. Luckily I was able to capture the action.

Unfortunately, the egret was eventually scared off and flew back to the south bank so we decided that was the best we were going to get and walked back to the car. When I left Graeme and Kris they were discussing how much of their new kitchen money to spend on Graeme's new lens.

Then in the evening I popped down to Amwell and, after a few minutes at the viewpoint, both Barry Reed and Graham White called a Great White Egret, which landed for a few seconds opposite the viewpoint before carrying on towards Stanstead Abbotts.

As Graham pointed out, I am probably the only person that has seen two separate Great White Egrets (the other one was still at Wilstone) on the same day in Hertfordshire.

I claim my prize.

Monday, 24 September 2012

Annual Pilgrimage to Dungeness

I went with Stuart for our annual pilgrimage to Dungeness. Dungeness is one of those places that is either hopping or dead (from a birding point of view), and unfortunately today it was the latter. But to me it will always be a charismatic place going back to the days when I used to visit with mum and dad on the Romney, Hythe and Dymchurch Railway (RHDR) back in the 1950s. Ah memories. Somewhere in the loft I have a photo of the old lighthouse, when it was still operational, taken from the train. But I digress.

We first went to the "patch", the warm water outfall from the power station which usually attracts vast numbers of gulls but today it seemed silent, possibly due to the maintenance work that is being carried out as part of the closure of the station. So we moved on to the area around the fishing boats hauled up on the beach to see what was there. Nothing unusual I'm afraid, but there were some large gulls present. They were too lazy to fly away and waited for their photos to be taken, like these Great Blacked-backed Gulls and a Herring Gull.

Also on the beach were three rather flighty and distant Wheatears, which at least did act as a reminder that Autumn passage was still underway.

Then on to the RSPB reserve. Having marvelled at the expensive bird food on sale in the visitor centre, we made our way to the Firth Hide, which was good news and bad news. The bad news was that there was only one wader present in front of the hide. The good news was that it was a Pectoral Sandpiper. Pec Sands are scarce passage migrants from America and Siberia. A few are seen in Spring, but the vast majority appear in late Summer and Autumn. Young Pectoral Sandpipers from the eastern coast of North America can be blown over the Atlantic by areas of low pressure. It is the most common North American wading bird to occur here and has even started to breed in Scotland very recently.

The final circuit took us round towards Denge Marsh and on the way we heard the familiar call of a Kingfisher. Luckily, it chose to ignore us and settle on a dead pile of twigs over the water allowing a couple of rather opportunist shots through the reeds blowing around in the breeze.

Thursday, 20 September 2012

The Wonders of Rainham

I had gone to Rainham in the hope of seeing the Baillons Crake but, despite sitting in the hide for four hours, I was unsuccessful. So what else did Rainham have to offer?

Well on the way round to the hide there was a party of young Goldfinches feeding on Teasels quite close to the path. Their red blazes were still moulting through and quite orangey in appearance compared with the adults. They also seemed a little tamer.

Little Grebes were also doing well with 35 pairs breeding this year. Being a slightly later breeder, there were still lots of stripey-headed youngsters around, continually giving out a monotonous peeping call to their parents for food.

Rainham is well-known for its large population of Marsh Frogs which are particularly vocal with their laughing call in the Spring. What was surprising today, however, was that although we are now half way through September they were still very vocal and easy to see.

Grey Herons are also fairly common at Rainham as one would expect with the vast amount of wetland there. However, with what appears to be an expanding Marsh Frog population, one might expect there to be a corresponding expansion of the Grey Heron population as, during my stay, I saw two Herons carrying Marsh Frogs.

But pride of place for the day must go to the Water Voles. Rainham has a good population which seems to be doing very well, with some visitors reporting up to 10 sightings on a circuit of the reserve. I was lucky enough to be passing a small pond right next to the path when one decided to make an appearance and scuttled around just a few metres away.

Saturday, 15 September 2012

Ducks Incognito

As mentioned before, duck identification at this time of year can be difficult due to their eclipse plumage. After the breeding season all adult ducks have a complete moult including both body and flight feathers and, for a short time, are flightless. During this time the drab plumage of the females provides good camouflage from predators but the brighter males are obviously more conspicuous and therefore they initially moult into a female-style plumage so that they can hide away when necessary. This is called eclipse plumage.

Ducks such as Gadwall and Mallard are early nesters and therefore start their eclipse moult as early as June or July and are already mainly finished at this time of the year and sporting their new breeding plumage as can be seen by the following photos.

However, later nesters such as Teal and Shoveler are still in the middle of their eclipse moult and are only just starting to show signs of male plumage once more.

Monday, 10 September 2012

Spare Time at a Wedding

James was playing at a wedding in Sawbridgeworth and so I had three hours spare before I had to pick him up, so where to go. Not enough time to venture down to the Essex coast, so I opted for a return visit to Fowlmere. As soon as I stepped out of the car it was apparent that the site was a lot quieter than my previous visit with many of the summer visitors already departed. Even the residents were only evident in small numbers and the even Barn Owls by the Reed Bed Hide were asleep.

It was also quiet on the mere in front of the Reed Bed Hide itself with the only activity of note being a distant Water Rail feeding along the edge of the reed bed. Then to save the day, a Grey heron flew in and landed in front of the hide. The first photo shows it either listening for fish or cocking its head on one side to get a better view.

Eventually, after a few minutes without a single fishing attempt, it decided to change position and flew across the mere showing its enormous wing span.

Thursday, 6 September 2012

Time to Sqeeze in a Visit to Titchwell

Having spent several enjoyable hours at Snettisham, we still had time to pop into Titchwell, a must at this time of year. We started by walking out along the path to the beach where, at this time of the year, many birds can be seen at close quarters. The most noticeable were a couple of Black-tailed Godwits in transitional plumage which were feeding quite close to the path. At one stage they decided to have a chase around, showing the distinctive white wing bar which separates Black-tails from Bar-tails.

Also seen from the path, although a little more distant, were three Little Stints feeding amongst a small group of Dunlin. They were mainly over-looked by the passing crowds but could be picked out by their smaller size, markings on the neck and shoulder but not on the belly, black legs and bill and the characteristic "braces" on the back. The third photo shows the braces quite well.

There were still a couple of Marsh Harriers around and one that ventured a little too close to the freshwater lagoon put up the flock of 15+ Spoonbills These wheeled around until the danger had gone and on one of their excursions close to the path did provide a reasonable shot of a trio.

Now onto my favorite spot at Titchwell, the Island Hide, which often provides really close-up opportunities and today was no exception. First up was a young Avocet which seemed oblivious to the array of scopes, binoculars and cameras that were trained on him or her.

But today's medal must go to the six or seven Ruff that were feeding right outside the hide, sometimes down to three metres.