Sunday, 31 January 2010

The White-front

Another snowy weekend in the north-east, so Saturday was spent processing some 2009 images of birds in Northumberland. It was nice to reflect on some of the birds seen and photographed, and had I had my wits about me I could have posted some here last December.

This afternoon was spent up the coast, starting with a look at the four eurasion white-fronted geese at Woodhorn - feeding with twenty or so grey-lag geese on fields inbetween the south pool and railway line. EWFG are always good to see up here, more typically I'd see the small flock of greenland birds that frequent the Grindon Lough area (saying that, I do hope to get there this week to catch up on the remarkable flock of 12 tundra bean geese that have joined them recently).

Next up was the Chevingtons - both East and West. None of the target birds were seen, a buzzard was as close as I got at West, and grey heron was the closest at East. The north pool wat East Chevington was ice free and supported a mix of great black-back, herring, common and black-headed gull, along with wigeon, mallard, teal and goldeneye.

Further down the coast at Cresswell the pond was 60% frozen, so the curlew, oystercatcher and redshank were all stood in the middle. A few goldeneye were present with mallard, teal and wigeon, but there was no sign of barn owl, something I had hoped to photograph in the snow.

Cresswell Pond

The coastal road was entertaining to drive on as it was still covered in compact snow - the photographs today illustrate that, with two views at Cresswell and one further down the coast enroute home via Lynemouth (you can see the power station... haunt of the wintering hume's warbler a few years back). We don't see snow on the beaches too often in Northumberland! The curvy nature of some of the pictures is due to the attempt to utilise "panarama" mode on the mobile phones' camera.... it not arty!

South to Lynemouth / Newbiggin

Saturday, 23 January 2010

West Hartford Jack

It was a bleak day in the north-east and it would have been easy to pop down to Blyth to tick off the second-year iceland gull that has been loafing around the south harbour. I chose instead to head to West Hartford for my first real thrash of the site in 2010.

With cold-weather gear on and some wellies I set about tromping through the wetland~field south of the pool. I was not disappointed, with 27 common snipe, 1 jack snipe (a species with an amazing ability to remain invisible up to a foot step in front of the bird!) and 3 grey heron.

On the pool, the ice free water held a respectable quota of duck (by West Hartford standards...), with roughly 35 teal, 20 mallard and, more impressively, a pair of gadwall - my first here for a few years. Still not having any luck with water rail... one day, one day...

With that I headed back home via the Horton Burn - no sign of the kingfisher today, but a moorhen was zigzagging across the water and five long-tailed tit moved through the hawthorns.

Monday, 18 January 2010

Bewick's Swan, Newsham

I took the opportunity to have another look at the two bewick's swan at Newsham near Blyth this afternoon - a decision that I should have made earlier in the day as the light was terrible!

The two birds were reasonably obliging and were prepared to stand their ground with the mute swans when the dog walkers headed down the track.

Given the distance of the swans the 2.0 extender was used with the 500mm lens, and in an efort to try and bring out some of the white plumage from the strong back-light and resultant shadows, exposure compensation was bumped up to +2/3.

However, I still could not eliminate shadow (as the sunlit parts of the swan were strongly lit and already buring out), but the results are ok as a record, all considering.

As it's a week of nightshift ahead, I'll have to hope that the flock remains in the vicinity so I can try a morning visit.

Saturday, 16 January 2010

Black-throated Thrush

It was an early start today as there was the important business of securing a uk-tick ~ a black-throated thrush has conveniently been feeding in a small garden in Newholm, a village just west of Whitby, North Yorkshire. The pager service confirmed that the bird was there as we passed Scaling Dam, and it was with some relief that the bird was feeding in the well stocked garden upon our arrival.

Pity the weather was so bad - it was very overcast and raining heavily. This mean't that light was very poor for photography, so high ISO had to be utilised (1250!) as flash was not really an option.

The results were pleasing, perhaps enhanced by the confiding nature of the bird. Having fed at the "house end" of the garden (approx 12 meters away, the image with the thrush facing left on top of feed and snow depicts this position), the thrush suprised us all (the massive <20 crowd...!) by flying down to "our" end of the garden and proceeded to feed on suet / apples kindly placed out by the home owner.


I managed a couple of images at ISO640, which helped reduce noise, but all in all the camera, albeit wet, performed really well.

One of the residents came out and offered us all cups of tea, which was very kind. Hopefully birders present will continue to behave and make the correct impression to this community.

If you are heading up/down to see this bird, please give generously to the RNLI collection!

Red Grouse

It was another bitterly cold day in the north-east of England, and this red grouse could surely feel the nip! This individual was photographed early afternoon on the North Yorkshire moors, near Commondale after a cold but successful morning near Whitby... more on that next!
The afternoon finished as well as the day had started, when CB picked up two bewick's swan (a county mega these days) near Blyth - a quick hop into the car and the two birds were being grilled within minutes of the call from STH. Great stuff.

Friday, 15 January 2010

Cape Town ~ final post!

Speckled Pigeon

Hadeda Ibis

Laughing Dove

Cape Wagtail

At last, the final Cape Town post.
A few more of the common birds to feature on the trip.
The speckled pigeon was photographed under the hotels' canopy, it appeared to have a nest up there. This was a very abundant species, and is colourful at that.
The hadeda ibis was photographed on the edge of the golf course at Green Point - they're subtly colourful. Often seen in small foraging groups and quite bold.
The laughing dove was photographed on the waterfront and was barely noticeable as it fed quietly between the boulders.
Finally, cape wagtail. A common resident and seen throughout our visit. These birds can move real fast - it was quite a challenge to get an action shot! Probably more interestingly, this shot was taken just after the UK comedian Jimmy Carr had walked past, en route back to his hotel. I guess it was a highlight of his trip passing us photographing cape wagtail?!
South Africa was a wonderful trip, certainly a place I'd head back to.

Robben Island Circular

Crowned Cormorant

Cape Cormorant

White-chinned Petrel

As I mentioned earlier some pre-booking of excursions would have been wise, as we were unable to get onto one of the Robben Island landings during our stay. As a compromise we took a "round the island" cruise on a rather smart catamaran. Highlight of the trip for me was the opportunity to see a few more bird species while taking in the views of Robben Island and Cape Town/Table Mountain.
In the Victoria and Alfred harbour hartlaub's gull, cape gull and swift tern dominated the proceedings, while offshore the birding got a bit more interesting.
My first african penguin encounter was relatively quick into the journey, with many parties noted throughout. Cormorant species were also available - teams of cape cormorant flew by, with lesser numbers of crowned and bank cormorant noted. Flocks of african sacred ibis commuted between the mainland and the island, I assume there is good feeding to be had there.
Rounding the island our boat put up a single white-chinned petrel - a few record shots were rattled off... and it was not to long after that when the first cape gannet appeared.
Arctic skua and common tern were reminders of home, although the warm blustery conditions were not!

Thursday, 14 January 2010

Hartlaub's Gull

.... a couple of images of hartlaub's gull, a very common endemic resident. Photographed on the Victoria and Afred Waterfront.

Wednesday, 13 January 2010

Kirstenbosch non-capers

Some additional images from KBC, with (from the top) african dusky flycatcher, karoo prinia and helmeted guineafowl. Strange to be posting images from sunny days as it continues to be dark, cold and starting to snow in the north-east of England...
The flycatcher and prinia pictures were taken in a corner of the gardens that was a hive of activity - the cape batis and cape white-eye images in the previous post were taken at the same spot, just up from Camphor Avenue where we had failed to locate the gardens resident spotted eagle owl. Also present here were cape robin-chat, hadeda ibis and lesser double collared sunbird.
There were many signposts in the gardens warning children not to chase the guineafowl as they had a reputation to retaliate! I'd have loved to have seen that as we saw many a guineafowl running frantically away from kids screaming "get it!!!!" throughout our visit.

Next up will probably be some mop-up species to complete the trip, focusing on birds from around the Victoria and Alfred Waterfront in Cape Town.

Tuesday, 12 January 2010

Kirstenbosch Capers

More images from Kirstenbosch Botanical Gardens - all "cape" birds. From the top: cape batis, cape francolin, cape bulbul and cape white-eye.
I had expected the photography to be much easier than it actually was at KBC, and did not have any luck with sunbirds nor sugarbird.
The cape batis shot was literally a grab shot as this bird flicked past and the cape white-eye and bulbul were record shots as they tended to keep high up (bulbul) or feed actively and too close! (white-eye). The cape francolin was much more obliging, stopping off for a dust bath inbetween feeding with its' family.

Sunday, 10 January 2010

Kittlitz's Plover

A walk along the beaches on the Atlantic coast west of Cape Town found us watching a family of kittlitz's plover - a very dainty and attractive species. The juveniles (two) had an uncanny knack to disappear under the seaweed and were actually very difficult to see as they scuttled across the shingle.

Saturday, 9 January 2010


Two redwing arrived in the snow filled garden this afternoon - the species first appearance "in", as all previous birds have been "over".
Quality thrushes, redwing!





There will not be much in the way of birding this weekend with heavy snowfall again dominating the north-east of England. Got to say I'm loving it, not to good for the birds mind... Yesterday I followed a tip from Phil, who had seen water rail up close at West Hartford - I had no luck but did see the footprints! On the Horton Burn 2 snipe and single moorhen and kingfisher were present.

Photographs today feature african black oystercatcher - these images were taken on 1st January 2010 on the coast near Cape Town. It was part of our annual "New Year" walk, something we always seem to end up doing after a night of celebration.

Note how the african black oystercatcher have different bill length? The male has a shorter, chisel ended bill, while the females' is longer and more pointed - this provides subtle variations in their diet.

African black oystercatcher breeds only on the coasts and islands of South Africa and Nambia and has a population of about 7,500 birds ~ an increase of about 25% since the 1980's as increased protection of their breeding habitat, and rather bizarrely, the arrival of of mussels derived from the Mediterranean! (this goes against the grain from most alien species - bare in mind the disastrous affects of alien species in Hawaii?)

Friday, 8 January 2010

Strandfontein: 40 Minute Bonanza!

Greater Flamingo - large flocks present, no lesser flamingo picked up though...

We ended our trip out on 31st December 2009 at the un-touristy location of Strandfontein sewage works (!). Our driver had been a little doubtful of my request earlier in the day ("are you serious??"), but as traffic was quieter than expected we could afford a very quick visit. We approached from Muizenberg and headed along the impressive beach hugging R310 east to the M17 - loads of cape gull flew over the car as we approached. The sea in False Bay had some great crashing waves.

After our sign-in at the Zeekoevlei check point we headed south into the complex, picking up great white pelican immediately. Good start!

Cape Teal

At the "pan", greater flamingo were very numerous and provided a great show for my non-birding companions (despite the stink of the sewage works!).

The pools were also very well stocked with wildfowl, and it was tick after tick for me, with cape teal, red-billed teal, cape shoveler, maccoa duck, red-knobbed coot and on the reed fringed edges, levaillant's cisticola were readily available.

Cape Shoveler (drake on right, note his yellow eye!)

The supporting cast wasn't bad either - a big flock of blacksmith plover loitered on the roadside, while hadeda ibis, glossy ibis, african sacred ibis and little & cattle egret scattered from roadside ditches as the car drifted past. An african marsh harrier quartered the pools, with black-crowned night heron, grey heron, black-headed heron, african purple swamphen, black-winged stilt and avocet plodded round the pool edges. Black-necked grebe were very numerous (I've never seen so many together before), with lesser numbers of great-crested and little grebe in support. This was truly amazing!!

Blacksmith Plover - highly attractive wader, thankfully common too!

Cattle Egret - loads feeding near the road network

Barn swallow and white-throated swallow hawked over the pools and pied crow were numerous too.

As previously mentioned in this post, it was a quick visit - certainly no more than 40 minutes... I could have easily spent a full day here... the Southern African Birdfinder book states that on a summer day 80 species are easily available at this site, while the record by the authors stands at 118... in one morning!!!.

We left picking up a modest 33 species from the car, 10 of which were brand new species for me... extremely rewarding, and perhaps a timely reminder for me to book a hire car in advance of a trip - I could have seen much more had I booked...
So that was the end of our tour, it was back into Cape Town for the New Year celebrations and some nice red wine!

Thursday, 7 January 2010

Boulders Beach = Penguin's Galore!

African Penguin

... in from the sea

After a very nice lunch on the 31st December we headed to the famous african penguin colony at Boulders Beach, Simonstown.

This was a great experience, as the penguins were very, very close to the raised board-walk!

Great views from the boardwalk! (must remember to photoshop the grey hairs next time...)

What characters these birds are, a real hit with the tourists, birders and non-birders alike. In fact, I'm betting that african penguin is Mrs Birdingsometimes' new favorite bird.
This site is the larger of two mainland colonies of this globally threatened penguin, with approximately 1,000 pairs. It's remarkable to think that the first pair only nested in 1985.

The bulk of the penguins were loafing about on the sandy beach and were occasionally joined by small groups returning from their fishing trips in False Bay.

Two blacksmith plover (love these!), a cape gull and hartlaub's gull were also present on the beach, while swift tern and common tern fished offshore.

With our fill of penguins we headed north towards Cape Town, passing through Fish Hoek and and Kalk Bay. False Bay has some beautiful beaches...

Next stop? Where else would you choose to take your missus and bemused driver on New Years' Eve afternoon....? At Strandfontein Sewage Works of course!!

Wednesday, 6 January 2010

Cape Capers

On the 31st December we headed out to Cape Point / Cape of Good Hope, heading south from Cape Town via Hout Bay. As we were unable to hire a car we chartered a private tour - giving access to the point but without the convenience of stopping exactly where we wanted... better than nothing I guess! The drive was dominated with beautiful scenery - high mountainous landscape and gorgeous beaches. Bird-wise it was fairly quiet, with southern boubou, african black oystercatcher, jackal buzzard, cattle egret etc noted on the drive.
Familiar Chat

At the Cape, rock martin were common and there were plenty of cormorants - mainly cape and white-breasted. A few orange-breasted sunbird flicked about, red-winged starling were numerous and my only cape sugarbird was seen from the moving car!! Familiar chats were abundant. Along with not seeing cape grassbird, cape bunting was also dipped.

Chacma Baboon

Highlight(s) of the visit were the more "non-birder attractions", namely the chacma baboons and feral common ostrich!! The baboons were frequently encountered on the access road, while common ostrich were seen from the coastal path that links Cape Point and the Cape of Good Hope ~ additional birds, including the birds featured in the photographs below were seen on the roadside. By golly they're big!

Cape of Good Hope - beautiful!

Common Ostrich

Common Ostrich - see next picture below for how it was photographed!

Photographing common ostrich from the car...

Dodgy character checking out the sea at the Cape of Good Hope - we left the coastal path sandblasted!

Out at sea several cape gannet were observed along with cape and hartlaub's gull. Cape fur seal were also present.
With the walk to the Cape of Good Hope complete, we headed north for lunch near Simonstown, ensuring we were well fed for part two of the drive...