Monday 22 July 2013

So that's why they call them sparrowhawks!

Working away at her computer, organising the thousands of photos she has and sourcing my incessant demands for photos to illustrate our blogs, Elis happened to glance up and saw this Eurasian Sparrowhawk on prey in our front garden through a gap in the blinds.
Eurasian Sparrowhawk Accipiter nisus on our from lawn. First record shot.
Immediately she leapt into action and started photographing it.

Male Sparrowhawk with prey.
The prey turned out to be a juvenile House Sparrow, hence the title of this blog.

One less sparrow in the world.
This magnificent male sat and plucked the bird for a while.

Plucking the sparrow.
A beak full of feathers.
His sharp eyes soon noticed us ogling him.

We've been rumbled!
He then gathered up his goods and disappeared.

And he's off!
This was probably the best view I've ever had of a Sparrowhawk and certainly the first time I've had one in the garden, anywhere!

Nature at work, a real privilege to see this at close hand. Not so much fun for the sparrow though.

Monday 15 July 2013

A day out at Bempton Cliffs

Taking advantage of the decent weather we've been having, taking a break from organising Wader Quest and taking the opportunity to get someone a tick, Elis and I set off to Bempton Cliffs with Gyorgy (Szimi), Andi and Kea Szimuly. The tick concerned was Puffin for Andi.

Bempton Cliffs
Despite some problems on the M18 on the way up we got there in good time and wandered down towards the cliff. The first thing we came across just outside the reserve shop was a feeder with many Tree Sparrows around it, this was somewhat of a surprise as I wasn't expecting that. There were several birds, some of which were voracious younsters demanding to be fed.

Tree Sparrow.

As we walked further down the path we came across some volunteers working away in the sweltering sun. It turns out they were planting a wild flower meadow in a long strip along the side of the path. For a small donation you can have a flower dedicated to someone, so of course there is now a flower in Yorkshire that will forever be named after David, my recently departed brother.

RSPB volunteer toiling in the mid-day sun.
Once down at the magnificent cliffs, the noise of the seabird colony was filling the air. Cliff colonies are one of the world's greatest wildlife spectacles, and even dedicated wader lovers can enjoy the atmosphere they create.

Part of the seabird colony.
Defitely the predominant species is the Kittiwake. It's distinctive call can be heard constantly as you walk along the clifftop path.



The next most obvious birds are the comparitively huge Gannets that soar along the cliff edge or sit on their precariuous nest ledges.




Among the auks the commonest is the Guillemot, rows and rows of them on the cliffs, a constant stream of them coming and going plus rafts of them loafing on the sea.

Guillemot pair

Guillemot with chick

In among them are Razorbills, more black in colour with their dapper white line along the lores and on the bill these are very smart birds. Interestingly I came to Bempton about a million years ago for the first time. Naturally I wrote down all the birds I saw. Many years later when I was compiling my list for the first time, Razorbill was not on the list for the day. Now it is almost impossible that I didn't see one there and had merely omitted it from the list, but as it was so long ago I decided that I would wait to see another before I ticked it. That day came when I saw a Surf Scoter off the Cornish coast. I got some real ribbing from my fellow twitchers for ticking Surf Scoter and Razorbill in the same scopeful, should have kept my mouth shut!

Razorbill with Kittiwake.
Back to the present. The object of our desires was finally found and Andi got her tick. It doesn't matter how long you have been birding, nor how many times you have seen them, the sight of a Puffin on a cliff top, or anywhere for that matter always makes you smile, this bird is a champion among antidepressants.


Another species of the cliffs is the Fulmar, there were only a few around and it took some time waiting for Elis to snatch even a record shot of one; eventually though we found one on a nest.

Fulmar with Guillemot on the water below.

Fulmar on the nest with Guillemots for neighbours.
Other than Kittiwake there were few gulls around, the only other species we saw was Herring Gull.

Herring Gull with Gannet carrying nesting material.
Then there was this. Pigeons that look like Rock Doves, on the cliffs in a seabird colony, as near as you're going to get to a genuine Rock Dove in England I'd say.

Rock Dove
Small tortoiseshell butterflies have been scarce recently, so it was great to see one on the path.

Small Tortoiseshell Butterfly.

Bempton Cliffs, a great day out for all the family...

Bempton Cliffs.
even if it isn't your own!

Our company for the day, Andi, Szimi and Kea.
After all this excitment it was down to Bridlington for fish and chips and an icecream! Thought this Herring Gull shot was rather amusing.

Fingers on buzzers please, you're starter for 10...
Perfect end to a perfect day.

Sunset over Milton Keynes.

Sunday 7 July 2013

Day three in the Andes: Lake Junin.

This day was not as successful as the day before as far as Wader Quest was concerned, we didn't add any new species and missed two rather important ones, Andean Avocet and Puna Plover.

Andean Negrito (Lessonia oreas).
Whether it was due to the altitude, or the poor night's sleep I had had, or possbly the lack of a decent breakfast, for some reason I seemed to have got out of bed on the wrong side that morning. I know that I tend to be a bit grumpy when I'm anxious about seeing birds, always was a bit like that on twitches until the bird was seen, but that morning even I was getting fed up with myself! To me there was nothing more important than seeing these waders, nothing else mattered, as the morning drew on with no siting I became worse and worse.

Lake Junin, where are those damn waders?
I was so intent on seeing these species that worse was to come. I wandered away from the others to scan the water when Elis called me. I thought she had said Giant Grebe. There is no such thing as far as I know, so I assumed she meant Great Grebe, which we had seen already. Dulled by the thin air it took me some time to put 2 and 2 together and realise she had in fact said Junin Grebe. I wandered slowly back up the incline I had descended, itself an error of judgement, I was thinking to myself that at least the bird wasn't going to fly away, being flightless and all that. When I eventually reached the others I found that I had indeed missed the bird,. It had dived and gone back into the reeds, never to be seen again (not by us anyway!).

Silvery Grebe (Podiceps occipitalis) I did see

White-tufted Grebe (Rollandia rolland) I also saw.
As with dips in the past, I remain grumpy while there is still a chance, but once the chance has gone I quickly return to my usual affable self and as we headed down the mountain and the air got more breathable I soon was back to my old self. Apologies to the rest of the party!

The glorious sight of Chilean Flamingos (Phoenicpoterus chilensis) and Andean Coots (Fulica ardesiaca) being spooked by a Cinereous Harrier (Circus cinerus).
The offending Cinereous Harrier (Circus cinerus).
In retrospect we saw some good birds, as you can see from the pictures, but to be honest at the time they meant nothing to me, I just wanted those waders!

Chilean Flamingos (Phoenicopterus chilensis).
There were a number of interesting passerines along the edge of the lake.

Male Ash-breasted Sierra-Finch (Phrygilus plebejus).

Female Ash-breasted Sierra-Finch (Phrygilus plebejus).

Female Bright-rumped Yellow-Finch (Sicalis uropygialis).

Male Bright-rumped Yellow-Finch (Sicalis uropygialis).

Black Siskin (Carduelis xanthogastra)
Apart from the harrier we saw two more raptors, Mountain Caracara and Variable Hawk.

Mountain Caracara (Phalcoboenus megalopterus).

Variable Hawk (Buteo polyosoma)
A rail, a couple of ducks, an ibis and a tinamou completed the scene.
Plumbeous Rail (Pardirallus sanguinolentus).

Puna Teal (Anas puna).

Yellow-billed Pintail (Anas georgica).

Puna Ibis (Plegadis ridgwayi).

Ornate Tinamou (Nothoprocta ornata).
The trip to the Andes was far too short but we saw some great birds, none more exciting than the Diademed Sandpiper-Plover and we witnessed some very spectacular scenery. Visiting the Andes was a life experience that we can recommend to everyone. We thank Renzo Zeppilli once again for his skillful guiding and good humour throughout our stay in Peru, Ivone for letting us stay at her apartment in Lima and also Augusto and Paula for their enjoyable company and for putting up with the quintessential grumpy birder!

The spectacular Andes

Paula, Augusto and Renzo at Junin, still smiling despite my efforts to hack everyone off.