Saturday, 25 January 2014

Who said birding in west London was boring.......

A friend from the Sussex county recently asked if I could show him the resident Tawny Owls at Kensington Gardens, so I decided to invite him up and show him some of the other sites in the area too. Sue happily joined us, and with the initial weather forecast promising some sun later on, it looked as if it could be a great day. It was, but I didn't know the Hammersmith Bridge was going to be closed, and the weather forecast was slightly off key.
However we started the morning off at Kensington Gardens. We were there long enough to see the usual suspects, including this Squirrel who was busily collecting up dead leaves.
The male Tawny was on his usual balcony watching the comings and goings around him. Sue and I had seen him before, but Glenn had never seen a Tawny, so even if the rest of the day was in vain, at least one of us got a 'lifer' today.
As always, lots of Blue and Great Tits and Robins were around, happy to fly down to take some tasty hand fed morsel.
We didn't stay long, the next site I wanted to show Glenn and Sue was the London Wetland Centre. We planned on staying there for several hours before going on to the last site of the day. However, our plans changed slightly when we discovered the Hammersmith bridge was closed for maintenance. It meant quite a lengthy diversion around Chiswick, to eventually get us to the LWC.
First bird we saw was the commonly seen Ring-necked Parakeet. Common for us Londoners, but not so for Glenn from Sussex, where the RNPs haven't quite reached that county yet. But they will.
We also bumped into some of the LWC regulars, John, Martin and Michael and walked with them to the best hide on the site. All the usual ducks were visible from the Peacock Tower, including the snoozing Teal and Gadwall pair below.
Apparently we had not long missed a Peregrine having a bath by one of the shingle islands. A lot of the ducks were still spooked, and at one point the Wigeon, Moorhens and Coot below, ran for the water. What they had seen or sensed, was anybodys guess. We couldn't see any birds of prey anywhere.
From the Peacock Tower we also had distant views of one of the Bitterns. There are at least two on site now, possibly more, and they have been showing well. Today they weren't and we had to make do with viewing them through a scope, but at least it was a 'tick' for the days birding. Common Snipe were also seen through scopes, but no sign of the long staying Jack Snipe while we were in the hide.
In the channel outside of the Peacock, we got some nice close up views of a Little Grebe.
And from the WWF and Dulverton hides we watched two Shelducks and a mixture of Lesser Black-backed, juvenile Herring, Common and Black-headed gulls.
As always, Lapwing were numerous, and hunkered down in the chilly wind that had set in.
Another Little Grebe was fishing near the reeds.........
and a beautiful Mute Swan was preening and stretching.
On the walk up to the Headley Hide, a small flock of Long-tailed Tits were acrobatically feeding in the conifers by the Lodge.
From the Headley Hide we watched all the Lapwings suddenly take flight. A Sparrowhawk had spooked them and flew directly into the flying flock. I just wasn't quick enough with my camera, and the only two shots I got were taken through double glass windows. The flock and the hawk soon disappeared from view, so I have no idea if any of the Lapwings was caught.
A pair of wild Tufted Ducks were mixing with some of the captive ducks in the World Wetlands section.
From the Wildside hide, there were a pair of Greylag Geese......
a preening Teal.......
 a washing Wigeon........
and a pair of Shovelers. Bottoms up !
Back at the café we had a quick bite to eat whilst being watched greedily by a couple of Woodpigeons and Jackdaws.
And then we made our way to the last site of the day. The infamous Peregrines at Charring Cross Hospital. Followers of my blog will know how much I love seeing the resident pair, Tom and Charlie. They never fail to make me feel so blessed. We met up with Nathalie (the Peregrines 'Godmother' for want of a better word !) and although Charlie was in situ, we had to wait a while to see Tom. The weather forecast for this time of day, had said it was going to be chilly but with blue skies. Well it wasn't. Big black clouds rolled over us, and you could tell there was a storm coming. There were a few Redwings flitting around our vantage point in the cemetery, and eventually Tom showed up. No great photos of them today. The sky was getting darker and darker, but it was still nice to show the Peres to Sue and Glenn.
Photo of Charlie below with her 'skirts' all ruffled.....
and a very poor silhouette shot of Tom coming in to land.....
We parted company after this. Nathalie made her way home, Glenn got in his car to drive back down to Sussex, and Sue and I made our way back to the tube station for the short trip home. As we got on the train, the heavens literally opened. Heavy rain and lightening. We were lucky not to get caught outside in it.
So not a bad day out racing around west London, and hampered only by the bridge closure and the un-forecast weather. It was great to meet Glenn and show him the Kensington Garden Tawny owl, and I hope when he takes his sons up there, the bird shows as well for them as it did for us. As always, Sue was great company, it was a bonus seeing John, Martin and Michael, and it was lovely to catch up with Nathalie. Good day all round. 

Sunday, 19 January 2014

Another Royal Park with another Tawny Owl

I've been following Tony Ducketts blog (Regents Park Birds Blog) for some time now. He writes up all the Regent Park, Bushy Park and Richmond Park bird sightings. Over the last few weeks a Tawny Owl has been showing quite well at Regents Park, so I decided to take a trip down there today.
I didn't plan my day too well though. Due to my shoulder still not being 100% back to normal, and after over doing it last weekend, I had decided only to spend half a day out instead of my usual full days outing. And it seems I chose the wrong half of the day. The morning was overcast with brief spells of sunshine, which meant a lot of my photos weren't as bright as I would have liked them.
I found the location of the Tawny very quickly thanks to Tonys directions on his blog, and realised fairly quickly that my photos were not going to be good due to the direction of the sun. The Tawny really is best viewed in the afternoon, or at least when there's a bit of sunlight, so I decided to go and get a coffee while I waited for the blessed yellow globe to appear.
Perched outside the Garden Café I saw a man with a camera intently crouched down on the grass snapping away. Me, being the nosey person that I am, slowly tiptoed over and was amazed to see a male Green Woodpecker tantalising close. At times he was hopping to within twelve feet. The photographer and myself got chatting, and it turns out he knows of my blog via Ralph Hancock kindly linking it on the Kensington Gardens and Hyde Park blog.
 So, a big thank you and nice to meet you today Eric.
After coffee, I made my way back to the Tawny Owls tree. The sun had come out briefly, but my photos were still dark. Spot the owl below.
It also didn't help that although you could see the bird clearly without bins, taking a decent focused photo was near on impossible due to various twigs in the way. The tree itself is on a bit of land that is off limits to the public, so the only way to get a photo is to try different positions on the Longbridge. As I was shuffling along trying to get the best angle, I noticed a man with a camera walking past the tree. It could only be one person, Tony Duckett, who I knew from talking to Eric, has access to the parts of the park that are off limits. I swiftly approached him as he was locking the gate, and begged and pleaded and asked nicely if I could possibly be given the chance of going on to the forbidden land to grab a photo, and he agreed. I wouldn't recommend this to everyone though, Tony's a very busy man, and the owl isn't as used to people as the Kensington Gardens owls are.
For a few precious minutes I took photos of the owl, but the angle wasn't good for my shoulder, so the result wasn't as good as I had hoped for.....
But thank you anyway Tony.
He also showed me the area where the resident Kestrels have been showing well. When we got there, both the male and female were visible but not photographable, so I decided to stick around and see if they would be more obliging. While waiting I had a walk around. As of all the Royal Parks, Ring-necked Parakeets are numerous here too.
and there was a gorgeous male Pintail on the lake. There is a captive bird collection here, so I'm not sure if this duck is one of them or not.
My patience for the Kestrels finally paid off, and I spent a while admiring the female, before the male was even more obliging and perched at head height, for which my shoulder was grateful.
Making my way back home I had to visit the Herony. A lot of the huge nests were lost in the recent December storms, but a few still remain, and the Herons are daily adding more sticks to them.
There was a solo Great Crested Grebe on the main lake, along with hundreds of Coots.

So not a bad day out to somewhere I've only briefly visited before. I will definitely go again however, if only to see the Kestrels. It was really nice to meet Eric and Tony, and also Sue and her dog Socks. 

Sunday, 12 January 2014

'Twitching' on the Sussex coast

I am not a 'twitcher'. I'm not even a 'birder'. I don't keep lists of what I see and I don't do 'ticks'. 
I'm just a nature lover who likes watching and taking photos of birds and mammals.
 But today I became a 'twitcher'.............
It was one of those rare days when the three of us (Gina, Mark and myself) had the same free day.
So with Mark as the only car driver, and after much discussion as to where to go, we decided to 'twitch' the long staying Grey Phalarope at Hove.
Only one word for it.........WOW.
What a confiding little beauty. Full winter plumage and showing up close so well that at times my little 300mm lens wouldn't focus. I had been monitoring the bird all week, hoping it would stay until we could get down there, and it did. So just a few of my photos from this morning........
Elaine and Susan were also there, and after a quick catch up and discussion about how the weather was due to turn, we all decided to go for the recently found Glaucous Gull nearby at Shoreham Harbour. I contacted me old mate Luke (who had advised me he was looking out for the gull with some of his mates) and Jan kindly guided us in the right direction.
However we dipped on the huge gull. There were reports coming in that it had been seen at various points along Shoreham Harbour, and we still didn't see it. But it was really nice to finally meet some of the other Facebook Sussex Birders: Paul, Jan and George.
 Paul put us on to some craftily secluding Ringed Plovers on a corrugated roof nearby.
I got three in my photo below, but the final count was eight plus two Turnstones.
By this time, with my newly injured shoulder aching and the cold wind biting, Mark, Gina and I went off to the Carats Café for much needed warmth and hot food. The sky was turning dull, and the chilly wind was picking up, but that didn't deter the surf boarders.....
nor the numerous amounts of Herring Gulls.....
Right outside the café we got a very brief glimpse of a Rock Pipit before it was spooked.....
From Shoreham Harbour we headed for Shoreham Fort. Susan and Elaine had gone on ahead, and they texted me to say there were two skittish Purple Sandpipers there, and that the Glaucous Gull had been seen less than an hour earlier. It was achingly cold by the time we go there, and we couldn't locate the gull nor the Purple Sands. But we did find another Rock Pipit, and with the wind gusting against my camera, and my shoulder protesting, I managed just one poor record shot below...
Walking back to the car park, I saw what I initially thought was a Cormorant perched near the Coastguard hut. As I crept nearer to get a photo, I started to have doubts, so I took a photo anyway with the intention of checking it when I got home. It's a dreadful photo, the wind was battering me and I couldn't keep my lens steady.
So is this a Cormorant, or did I get a Shag at Shoreham Fort ? Heeheehee
From the fort, we headed to Widewater Lagoon. Elaine and Susan were still ahead of us and reported back that a nice group of Red-breasted Mergansers were at the first pool. If this was true, it would mean two 'life ticks' for me in one day.
It was true.
I am a happy Wino.
My photos are dreadful due to the low light, but watching these little lovelies displaying was fantastic. At one point the whole group flew over our heads to settle in to another part of the lagoon.
We also had a nice view of a Little Egret (below) and a solo Redshank.
From Widewater, with the light fading, we decided to go to Brighton Pier to watch the Starlings coming in to roost. No great murmuration photos or sights, just thousands of the birds dropping low over the sea and going straight under the pier.
It was a great day away from London, despite the gloomy weather, but we managed to stay dry and content. It was a great twist to the day to finally put names to faces of some of the Sussex Birders group, and to see Elaine and Susan too.
Great day, great company and the warming alcofrolic Irish Whiskey at the Alfresco in front of the old Brighton Pier, went down a treat. Hic !