Sunday, 31 May 2009

Purple haze

It was another glorious sunny day in the North-east, and after a late breakfast I headed south to the new RSPB reserve at Saltholme to try and see the immature purple heron that had arrived on the previous Friday.

Upon arrival I was pointed in the direction of the Haverton viewpoint - a raised mound south of Haverton Hole pools. (This part of the reserve isn't complete yet, hence a delay in releasing news of the heron).

Purple heron can be tricky, spending long periods in reed beds out of sight - luckily for me I only had to wait for about 40 minutes before it made the first of several reedbed edge visits - good viewing but not very close for photographs (200m?) - record shots were the best on offer today - heat haze was also an issue!. The bird was watched by a good crowd, maybe up to fifty at any one time - purple heron is a very rare species north of the Humber.

Perhaps one disadvantage of the reserve at Saltholme is is proximity to some rather unsavory characters, and sure enough by mid afternoon the cast of "Shameless" arrived to spoil the birding. A "flock" of about thirty arrived, including both juveniles and sub-adults and some hybrids of sorts, led by Frank Gallagher himself, complete with plastic chairs... "this is our pool* (*er, it's not, I think the RSPB will disagree...) so sorry like.." and they proceeded to wade out into the pool for some water based activity (they did have a dinghy too, so were well prepared).

So the birders dispersed back into the main reserve, and the purple heron was flushed, heading into the deeper part of the reedbed to the east of the pool (So we all got a flight view at least!)

As the police arrived to move the riff-raff, I headed to the sanctuary of the reserve visitor centre where coffee and cake was much enjoyed - I'll be back for sure. Need a morning visit as the birders breakfast sounds very nice indeed!

Next stop was Greatham Creek, where avocet have had a good year - from the roadside I could see at least 10 adults and three juvs'... Northumberland next?

Friday, 29 May 2009

Going Nowhere

It's been a quiet week for me - just finished nightshift and feeling a bit spaced out! Looks nice and sunny outside so may venture out soon!

I've added a couple of new blogs to the "other voices" section: Cream tea birding by Jaffa - I first met Jaffa on Scilly- top bloke with some great tales in his blog (and cake!), secondly have added Lost in birding from Sam Woods - many will have seen his amazing pics on surfbirds via his work with tropical birding.

Recieved some interesting e-mails about the kite over Hartford Hall (see for the picture). Anyone else know anything about this bird?

The female blackbird was photographed in my garden earlier this afternoon - I'm trying a few Artie Morris tricks, with strategically placed perches next to the feeders... hopefully will get some reasonable stock images over the next few days.

Sunday, 24 May 2009

Chinny Whiskers...

A sunny Sunday morning and positive news on the collared pratincole was still at Swillington Ings saw Mark and I head south for the short drive to West Yorkshire.

We arrived just before 10:00 - and were greeted with the news that the pratincole had flown west not more than 30 minutes earlier - "don't worry it will be back!" was the enthusiastic re-assurance from the birders already present... did it return? No!

Great. :(

Compensation was not too bad at all... 3 whiskered tern had arrived a little bit earlier! It's been anexcellent spring for this species in the Uk, so it was good to catch up with some of this rare visitor. Two were on show immediately upon our arrival and soon after the third re-appeared, perched on a post in the middle of the water.

It had been a few years since our last encounter with this marsh tern, and to have three together was a treat. Photographically they were a nightmare - Swillington Ings is on the north side of a canal, viewing is on the south side, so views were distant to say the least. During the two hours of our visit we had one brief close-ish fly-by, but that was into the light, record shots only...

Other birds seen during the visit were also compensatory, and provided sufficient entertainment during the ill-fated twitch. Kingfisher jetted up and down stream, with a couple of reed warbler singing, 1 female type marsh harrier moved through and a drake ruddy duck* was on the "Ing".
(*Don't tell DEFRA)

Wednesday, 20 May 2009

New Toys

Took delivery of a Canon 580 EXII flash and Wimberly flash bracket today... so glad this photography gear is nice and portable for birding!

Arcot 2 - West Hartford 0

A text message from STH yesterday evening lightened up what had been a relatively dull evening.

Steve had just found an adult little egret at Arcot. Nationally not very significant, county-wise good and Cramlington-wise, MEGA!! A great find and long awaited addition to the Cramlington list. As good a record as it is, it's even more remarkable to think that Arcot has scored for two egret species within a month!

The little egret was, like the great white, made most unwelcome by the grey heron frequenting the pool - after a brief chase around the pool the little egret flew up and landed in the trees to the west of the pool - to roost? Nah,to get a better view of it's escape route - it flew high east at about 20.40...

I always thought that West Hartford would be the place to find an egret - I've been proven wrong twice now!

Patch birding - great stuff!

Monday, 18 May 2009

Hot under the collar

It certainly was on Sunday at least, with a productive visit to Crail, Fife for the 1st summer male collared flycatcher! my first tick of 2009, this was a delightfully convenient species catch up with, especially as I missed an opportunity while away in Thailand. Newton Stringer described the Portland bird with "PHOOOAAAARRRR !!" - I'll agree with that description now!!

A very attractive bird, but very active and tricky to photograph as it flitted between fly-catching missions. I was surprised at how "white" the bird was, with extra large wing patches and a very pale grey patch on it's back. When the bird did sit still it would either be concealed by foliage or at the back of the copse! So record shots it is...
Collared Flycatcher - it's up there somewhere!
"Showing well" the back of the trees

Checking us out
The journey home was broken up with a quick pop into Druridge, where an adult spoonbill was feeding on the pool adjacent to the south facing hide. Nice to see a full adult for once - recent birds have tended to be first summer. I love the yellow tones on the crest!

Friday, 15 May 2009

Calling the cops

I had been in the resort for a couple of days before I finally saw the bird that was making a curious and monotonous deep airy sounding "tonk tonk tonk... you get the idea, it goes on for a bit! ... tonk tonk etc" - coppersmith barbet.

Two birds were initially observed, both appeared to be immature - this bird is just starting to get some red feathers under its throat. Short tailed, almost appearing top-heavy, this birds were real crackers.
...Meanwhile, back here in the north-east of England,weather conditions are looking good for this weekend, with Holy Island already holding bluethroat and icterine warbler... I bet there are a few other goodies lurking too... just need this rain to stop!

Thursday, 14 May 2009


Chinese pond heron (adult)
The resort that we stayed in had several waterways and some mangrove habitat - sufficient to attract two chinese pond heron (one adult and one immature), while on the shore a single pacific reef egret would frequent at low tide.

Chinese pond heron (immature)

Pacific reef egret

Tuesday, 12 May 2009

Look closer and see...

A couple more images from the forest at Khoa Nor Chu Chi - a record shot of banded pitta (it was VERY dark!) and a slightly better one of green broadbill. Lush.
The banded pitta image has had some blur removed from around the bird in photoshop - it is too colourful a species not to have at least a record shot posted, and was the most intriguing of the three pitta species seen on the day with Yotin. This bird was calling frequently with a deep airy "Poww!!", often perched up a foot or so from the forest floor.

The green broadbill appeared above us, calling, as we staked out a ferruginous babbler (which was less photogenic). I got a real kick out of this - a delightful species!

Monday, 11 May 2009

Early Night(jar)

Large-tailed nightjar, Khoa Nor Chu Chi.
Post gurney's pitta celebrations started well with this beauty...

Car Park Birding: KNC style

This was one of two blue-winged pitta in the forested surrounds of the Khoa Nor Chu Chi car park... beats black-headed gulls at Killingworth Lake! Not the best image, but the species essence is captured in this record shot... almost!

A very striking species.

Sunday, 10 May 2009

Spotlight on the fan(tail)

Pied fantail was conspicuous in the resort area, with at least three territories identified during the visit.

Very vocal and active - a challenge to photograph - this species flitted around the mangrove and waterways in the resort and was rarely in one position long enough for a slow grumpy codger like myself to get the camera lined up and in focus before it was off again...

Annoyingly, the only decent shot I managed is presented here - on a pesky spotlight! How un-natural could it get? Seconds prior to this, the fantail was feeding in some nice plant (I'm afraid that's my botanical level of expertise!), but I could not get the camera on the bird quick enough.

Like their name suggests, this family does fan its' tail frequently. But not when I'm taking a picture!

Saturday, 9 May 2009

Allen Banks

I headed west this morning for a spot of birding at Allen Banks with Mark. It was a sunny if slightly windy morning, so hopes were high for a good show from our targeted migrant species.

Two pied flycatcher were singing during our visit - a very smart species in spring. Both birds were mobile, singing frequently - I assume these are very recent arrivals and have not yet established their territories yet.

Allen Banks has also proven to be reliable for wood warbler in recent years, and this mornings visit heralded just one mobile singing bird. Wood warbler is actually becoming a tricky bird to catch up with in Northumberland, so this is generally the best time of year to nail the species in the county (in 2007 there were no recorded observations in the autumn!).

Overhead swift were conspicuous and on the river itself a pair of dipper were active, taking plenty of food into a nest.
Also noted were goosander, grey wagtail, mallard, chiffchaff, blackcap, nuthatch, treecreeper and wren. Redstart was neither seen nor heard.

A quick stop-off on the journey back home produced one yellow wagtail at Whittle Dene, with a pair of swallow apparantly intent on nesting in the hide.

A sure bet

The emerald pool was buzzing with tourist activity during my visit to Khoa Nor Chu Chi, many of which were unaware of the striking bird species that was nesting in a tree hole above them.

This red-crowned barbet was a treat, visiting the nest site every ten minutes or so - and luckily for me - utilising the same branches to perch on prior to descending to the nest hole. Quite a bulky fella' with a hefty bill to suit! One of four barbet species on the trip, but my first encounter with this delightful family.

Photographically I wish that I had brought the 500mm along with me - photo opportunities such as this would generally be worth the effort of lugging a big lens and heavy tripod along, but given the terrain and vegetation encountered, the 100mm-400mm was a better bet for general forest birding.

Friday, 8 May 2009

Whats black and yellow and has a broad bill?

Depression has set in - holidays are over and work recommences this afternoon. Boo.

To keep my spirits up a little I've started the trawl through the holiday images - not too many great shots (most species on the trip were tricky to photograph) but a lot of reasonable record images were obtained.
First up on the blog is a (in my opinion) stunning species - black-and-yellow broadbill, a great advert for Asian birding, unlike any species I've seen before. How crazy is this bird - looks almost like a cartoon character!

This male bird was photographed in the afternoon session with Yotin Meekaeo at Khoa Nor Chu Chi, one of two broadbill species seen (more on the other in a later post).
The use of fill flash was an incredible asset to the trip and will certainly be a route that I'll take for future photography. Sincere thanks go to Colin Bradshaw for the loan of his 580 speedlite unit.
The bird was picked up on call and was one of three birds seen in the vicinity. Other birds seen from this particular location included black-naped monarch, black-bellied malhoka, ochraceous and red-eyed bulbul.
I've also changed the header image for the blog - could not resist the temptation to use one of the gurney's pitta images.... more will follow for sure, including more of the male and some of the female.

Saturday, 2 May 2009

Pitta Patter...

It's been a hot few days in Thailand and the birding has been just as good as the weather. I'll not beat around the bush, and I'll head straight to events of yesterday - a day out with local guide Yotin.

With an early morning pick-up I was at Khoa Nor Chu Chi by 06.30. First port of call was a site good for long-tailed nightjar - and within seconds of arriving I was admiring my second nightjar species of the trip (the first being great-eared nightjar, a huge species that has been hunting over our hotel each evening). I've not really had the opportunity to see a nightjar roosting before - and this bird did not disappoint - once you could see it - their plumage is incredibly camouflaged!

A short while late I was in a hide, with a female gurney's pitta on show immediately. Very soon it was joined by a male. OMG what a species - blue on the tail is very like the blue on a common kingfishers' back - and even in the dark gloom of the forest this was a highlight of my birding - full stop. Many photographs have been taken ( at ISO3200!!!! - it was dark) - images, no matter how grainy will appear upon my return.

If that was not good enough, two blue-winged pitta and a banded pitta (the prettiest pitta?) were observed prior to 10am, and by 11am I had been shown a red-crowned barbet visiting it's nest. This was some day!

After lunch our journey continued, exploring primary forested areas - the birds did not stop - green broad bill, yellow and black broadbill were personal highlights and the supporting cast included nine species of bulbul, eight species of babbler (including a favorite, black capped babbler), black-naped monarch, red-throated barbet, 4 tiny black-thighed falconet and, on the way out back to the hotel, calling spotted wood owl.

Needless to say the birding was the main priority of the trip and record shots are the best that will be on offer. The use of flash has been invaluable, especially in the forested areas. Details of how to contact Yotin will also appear on this blog when I return - he comes highly recommended.

The hotel itself has also been rewarding, indeed today I picked up coppersmith barbet, orange-bellied flowerpecker and a richard's pipit in the grounds.