Wednesday, 30 October 2013

Sweaty-palmated Plover

Semipalmated Plover, Hayling Island, Hampshire - Sunday 20th October 2013

A nice bird this one and often called a "birder's bird", on account of it being difficult to distinguish from Ringed Plover, especially in first-winter plumage. Personally, I think Ringed Plovers are fantastic birds, and a day comparing them and their nearest relative sounds great. A nice bird, and a rare one too: there are currently only three accepted records from the UK (Scilly Isles and two from Devon), plus a further two from Ireland with another pending. A nice bird, and a world tick for me too.

Semipalmated Plover (with Ringed Plovers), Hayling Island - Sunday 20th October 2013

A wider shot showing the Semipalmated Plover (front centre) with the Ringed Plover flock

The obvious difference between the Semipalmated and Ringed Plovers was the size. The Semi-P was smaller and slimmer. This was accentuated by the smaller bill, something which really helped when looking for it through the younger Ringed Plovers. The plumage was subtly different too. There was an absence of the black found on the larger birds, the white neck band appeared thinner, and there were contrasting white fringing on the primary coverts. The main ID feature for me, on close views, was the difference in the lores. The white on the young Semipalmated Plover extended above the gape line (i.e. over the top of the line of the bill). Unfortunately I didn't get good views of the legs or feet, or hear it call, but there were plenty of feature on show for a positive ID.

This bird had been found by Andy Johnson - well done! On the day I was there we had a nervous wait first thing, as the tide came in at Black Point. Some Ringed Plover came to the high-tide roost on the spit, but their American cousin was definitely not with them. At midday we all headed for the beach on the southern shore, and to everyone's relief, there it was - in a mixed roost of Sanderling, Dunlin and Ringed Plover. The flock was quite flighty, thanks to waves, spray, high winds, and an uncontrolled terrier (dog-walkers, please get a grip).

Early morning at Black Point, Hayling Island - Sunday 20th October 2013

Relief all round as the bird is found on the southern beach on Hayling Island
Sunday 20th October 2013

I'd encountered a lot of rain as I travelled through Hampshire, and the weather was pretty crazy as I arrived on the island itself around 08:00am. Fortunately, both me and the Semi-p avoided the tornado

I decided I'd make another attempt at some Two-barred Crossbills (my fifth attempt this year, at a third site). Big mistake. As I arrived at Hemsted Forest the heavens opened. I saw some type of Crossbills in flight distantly in the rain, along with some Chaffinches, but nothing. I stuck it out for as long as I could - even the hardly Lee Evans gave up before me - but it was a waste of time. The worst bit was finding my bag, and my camera, were completely full of water. The camera hasn't worked since... Bugger.

Thursday, 17 October 2013

Lightning Shrikes Twice - Wednesday 16th October 2013

I had a quick trip over to Flamborough Head yesterday, after hearing of all the good birds it was pulling in. Olive-backed Pipit, Rustic Bunting, "Daurian" Isabelline Shrike, to name just a few. Some strong south-easterlies were forecast too, which meant the birds present might stay and possibly be joined by others…

The target for me was the Isabelline Shrike. A fist-winter Daurian Shrike, Lanius isabellinus isabellinus, to be precise. I'd dipped one of these last year, and a bit like the Brown Shrike last month, was eager to get it back. I arrived at dawn and quickly teamed up with three very helpful Cleveland birders: Keith, Colin, and John - cheers guys. None of us were sure quite where the bird was last seen, but fortunately three local birders did and they pointed out the gardens to us. And there flitting around the gorse, brambles and fencing, was the shrike.

A was a very active, flighty bird, rarely staying in view for long. It frequently leapt acrobatically into the air like a flycatcher, to catch a bee and then land on a different perch. With each leap the long red tail showed nicely. It also seemed to to spend a fair amount of its time chasing off other birds, defending its food source. The grid's uppers were a faint brown, tinged grey perhaps mostly from the overcast conditions. It had a dark grey mask (perhaps more like a faded black), which was predominantly behind the eye. I would have preferred a closer view, but understandably, none of us wanted to peer to closely into people's gardens. A cracking bird nonetheless.

The flighty-ness of the bird, the overcast weather, the working days it's been present, and the distance it was showing, all probably add up to a good reason why there are so few photos of the bird (I didn't get a shot either).

I later dipped Olive-backed Pipit at Old Hall Plantation, and not through lack of trying - 3.5 hours of trying… Plenty of Goldcrest, Chiffchaff, Redwin, Sparrowhawk, and the odd Brambling in the meantime though. Also, the Rustic Bunting at nearby Millennium Wood proved to too elusive (or already in a different county/country) for me and the dozen or so birders trying to find it. The sort-of pay off was nice views of Yellowhammer and overflying Fieldfare.

A nice day in the field, with a lovely lifer too.

I don't like writing blog posts which don't include pictures, so here's one from this week. It's a spore print my daughter made from a Honey Fungus that my son found on Sunday, while on a Fungi Foray with the kids wildlife group I co-lead: Airedale Otters. Nice, isn't it?

Honey Fungus Armillaria sp