Sunday 27 December 2015

Not such a bad year - 2015

Violet tailed Sylph
I am off to Colombia for the whole of January 2016 and will return in February 2016

So may I wish a Happy New Year and give thanks to everyone who reads my blog.

Here are some images of birds and wildlife that served to bring such pleasure to my world in 2015

Little Bustard  Fraisthorpe East Yorkshire   1st January 2015
A great start and present for only two days. I have always wanted to see one and I did!
Photo c Tony Dixon

Juvenile Pomarine Skua  Pilling  Lancashire 24th January 2015
No apologies for the two pics. It is my favourite bird with bags of character and
not often seen as close as this
Second winter Kumlien's Gull  Littlehampton West Sussex 30th January 2015
Came back to spend a second winter in 'LA' (L'il 'ampton). Well why not?
Common Buzzard  Kingham  Oxfordshire  3rd February 2015
A very tame and pale individual that hunted worms from the hedgetops by the road

Fieldfare  Churchill  Oxfordshire  4th February 2015
My favourite winter thrush species feeding on crab apples on a very cold day

Immature Laughing Gull, New Brighton  Merseyside 8th February 2015
A visitor from the USA that took up residence in very unlikely surroundings
Long eared Owl  Burton  Mere RSPB Lancashire 8th February 2015
Seen later on the same day as the Laughing Gull and just rounded things off nicely

Little Bunting  Cardiff  Wales  10th February 2015
Watched from just a couple of metres. It was so good I went to see it three times!

Female Ferruginous Duck  Slimbridge  Gloucestershire  10th February 2015
A wild bird apparently, mixing it with the captive ducks in the Rushy Pen

Male European Stonechat  Cheltenham Gloucestershire 14th February 2015
Spending the winter with its mate in an area of set aside on the outskirts of the town

Male Dartford Warbler  Cheltenham  Gloucestershire 14th February 2015
The classic double where a Dartford Warbler turns up with a pair of stonechats

Mandarin Duck  Cannop Ponds  Forest of Dean  Gloucestershire  21st February 2015
Looking totally out of place with its 'over the top' plumage but always welcome

Immature male Harlequin Duck  Aberdeen  Scotland  27th February 2015
It spent over a month on the River Don and featured on BBC 's Winter Watch

Juvenile Glaucous Gull Fraserburgh Harbour Scotland 27th February 2015
A real northern brute that took no nonsense from the other gulls
Mountain Hare  Cairngorms  Scotland  28th February 2015
I have always wanted to see one in its winter coat
Ptarmigan  Cairngorm Ski Slope  Scotland  28th February 2015
Another Cairngorm native in its white winter garb
Crested Tit   Loch Garten RSPB  Scotland  28th February 2015
The rarest of our native tits but easily the most attractive
Adult Ring billed Gull  Dingwall  Ross & Cromarty  Scotland  28th February 2015
Back for its second winter on Dingwall boating lake. A long way from the USA
Penduline Tit   Exmouth   Devon   24th March 2015
It took two visits to see it but was well worth the effort when I got views like this

Juvenile Iceland Gull  Cardiff  Wales 3rd April 2015
Right in the city centre on the River Taff. We tempted it in with a sliced white loaf
Male Garganey  Stratfield Brake  Kidlington  Oxfordshire 4th April 2015
Always an exciting spring migrant especially when giving views like this
Immature Bonaparte's Gull  Radipole Lake RSPB Dorset 7th April 2015
A delicate and attractive small gull that crowned a great day out at Radipole
Common Nightingale  Pulborough  West Sussex   14th April 2015
Songster supreme

Purple Sandpiper Newhaven  East Sussex 24th April 2015
Always a must see on visits to my old haunts in Sussex

Glanville Fritillary Croydon Surrey 30th May 2015
The only one we saw on a dull day but we only needed to see this one for success!

Small Pearl-bordered Fritillary  Bentley Wood  Wiltshire  10th June 2015
The triumphal result after much searching

Marsh Fritillary nr Salisbury Wiltshire 10th June 2015
The fourth species of fritillary we saw in one day

Hudsonian Whimbrel  Pagham West Sussex 11th June 2015
The North American version of 'our' Whimbrel and very rare!
Photo c Matt Eade

Male Cretzchmar's Bunting  Bardsey Island  Wales 18th June 2015
You would not believe the logistics that were necessary to see this elusive beauty
Photo c Matt Eade

Thrift Clearwing  Bardsey Island  Wales 18th June 2015
A very rare moth that the warden showed us while we were twitching the bunting
Photo c Steve Smith

Black Hairstreak  Oxfordshire 25th June 2015
Much coveted by butterfly enthusiasts and our local lepidopteran rarity

White Letter Hairstreak  Brighton Sussex 11th July 2015
Often hard to see but in the Brighton Pavilion Gardens not so!

Male Purple Emperor  Bernwood Forest  Oxfordshire 15th July 2015
The supreme native butterfly of the British Isles

Brown Hairstreak  Oxfordshire 2nd August 2015
We look for it with eager anticipation every year and are never disappointed
Acadian Flycatcher  Dungeness  Kent  22nd September 2015
The first ever for the UK and only present for one day. A mad dash to see it in the rain
Photo c Steve Nuttall
Juvenile Citrine Wagtail  Spurn  East Yorkshire  4th October 2015
The first one I have ever seen in the UK or anywhere else for that matter!
Isabelline Shrike  Beeston  Norfolk  13th October 2015
It's always good to see one of these pale shrikes
Male Wilson's Warbler  Isle of Lewis  Outer Hebrides Scotland  16th October 2015
The second ever for the UK.  An absolute gem of a bird and my bird of the year

Black Redstart  Wallingford  Oxfordshire  25th November 2015
Present for just three days in a tiny churchyard in the centre of the town
Grey Phalarope  Farmoor  Oxfordshire  30th November 2015
One of two that spent a number of days at the reservoir delighting everyone.

Juvenile Great Northern Diver  Farmoor Res Oxfordshire 2nd December 2015
It's always good to see such a magnificent bird so close
Eurasian Hoopoe  Wall Heath West Midlands 8th December 2015
A truly exotic visitor to a decidedly less than exotic location!

Tuesday 8 December 2015

It's somewhere under the Rainbow 8th December 2015

A Hoopoe, that bird of exotic, terracotta pink plumage, extravagant crest and zebra crossing bands on its wings has for the past week or so been delighting everyone who has made the effort to go and see it near a semi rural but otherwise unremarkable location called Wall Heath, which lies on the outskirts of Kingswinford in the West Midlands.

Despite no reports of it today I took a risk and set off from home, making a one and a half hour journey to Wall Heath on a bright and sunny mid morning.The sky was a pale watery blue as if diluted by all the rain that has fallen lately and pale strands of thin white cloud hovered uncertainly in the blue. As I drove steadily northwards through neighbouring Warwickshire, down roads lined on each side by tall trees now denuded of leaves and exposing all the intricate tangle and convolutions of their bare boughs and slender twigs, I passed through a rural landscape released from the oppressive grey dullness of the last few days and  illuminated by the sunlight into a patchwork of pretty pastel colours. A few trees were stubbornly withholding release of their final vestiges of foliage in the form of sparse yellow leaves, bringing a splash of colour to a predominance of brown. Glossy dark green ivies, now with no competition from fully leafed trees have become prominent, splayed across walls and embracing tree trunks like dark shadows and the rounded, tangled forms of Mistletoe, hidden during the time of burgeoning foliage are exposed high in the bare tops of the tallest trees.

Joining the Motorway my rural idyll down country roads was ended abruptly in a rush of traffic and the onset of a sudden shower, which made me concentrate on my driving as the road surface turned wet and slick. My Satnav soon took me off the busy Motorway, towards Kidderminster and then on another rural switchback of minor roads until I arrived at my destination.

In no time I had parked the black and now, I am ashamed to say, very muddy Audi and set off  through an open gate and up an adjacent hill, hopefully to find the Hoopoe, which was from previous reports, to be found on the other side of the hill. Apparently the steep incline I was walking up, covered in clover and patches of  tawny stemmed longer grasses used to be an old quarry but after it was partially filled in and landscaped it was privately purchased and is currently being fenced into paddocks by the owner, who indeed was present doing the fencing but appeared to be quite sanguine about birders and photographers walking over his private land. There were not that many people and in any case, those like me who had come to see the Hoopoe, made sure we did not block the entrance gate or give any reason for the owner's disapproval.

I breasted the hill and below me was a steep incline down the other side leading to an open bare area, an amphitheatre if you like, and three photographers standing in the middle. of it 

Further right and beyond was the clustered red brick housing of Wall Heath and in front and to the left was the undulating wooded countryside of Staffordshire. I descended the hill and joined the photographers who indicated where the Hoopoe was. It was impossible to see it in the long grass but eventually it flew up and perched near the base of a sapling  tree a little further away from me and that was my first sight of it. Surprisingly well camouflaged, its dull brownish pink body plumage merged into the clutter of dead vegetation, bramble stems and tree bark to good effect until it flew down to the ground when the black and white patterning on its wings and tail made it suddenly conspicuous.

It settled for a few minutes on some open ground and could be plainly seen in all its exotic loveliness. It was about the size of a Blackbird with sturdy short legs and a longish tail. The long decurved bill was counteracted by a slightly less long, barred crest, sticking out from the rear of its head like one end of a pickaxe, the bill being the other.  The dark brown and white bands on its wings stood out in the sunlight and its body plumage took on a stronger shade of brownish pink.

With care it would allow relatively close approach and after an initial wariness soon settled down to commence energetically probing its long bill into the base of grass clumps and the wet muddy ground.

Hoopoes visiting Britain seem to vary in their behaviour. Some I have encountered are extremely wary and nervous whilst others such as this one are exceptionally confiding and tolerant of disturbance. During autumn in  Britain they often turn up in unlikely places and at unlikely times and have been recorded the length and breadth of the land from Shetland to The Isles of Scilly, but their appearances in Britain decline markedly by the end of September. What a Hoopoe is doing in England in December is anyone's guess but surprisingly, past records indicate it is not unusual for them to appear at this time of year.

Too soon, it flew again in a bounding, bouncing, butterfly like flight accentuated by quick closures of its wings, not dissimilar in this regard to a woodpecker but much more buoyant, although less certain in purpose. This time it flew a long way to some trees on the quarry perimeter and then, disappointingly, disappeared over them but in a minute returned and settled on a fence by another part of the old quarry. I watched as it dropped down into some long grass and walked to the area, where I found it busily probing amongst the grass tussocks but very well hidden by the length of the grass for most of the time.

It flew around at regular intervals to favoured areas and we followed it accordingly. I watched as it had a minor spat with a Meadow Pipit, raising its crest like a fan before the pipit flew off and it resumed feeding. As the time slipped by the sky behind me turned ever darker grey, the sun disappeared and a heavy rain shower, driven by the strong southwest wind soaked me for at least ten minutes before the rain clouds were carried onwards by the wind and the sun broke through once again. This caused a rainbow to form before me and as I looked at this phenomenon the Hoopoe flew across, framed by the arcing colours of the rainbow and dropped into the grass and invisibility. A birder standing with me announced "It's flying, it's under the rainbow". Not quite Judy Garland but certainly my pot of metaphorical gold.

One end of the rainbow over Wall Heath
The other end of the rainbow over rural Staffordshire
Eventually the Hoopoe emerged from the grass and fed along a fence line, becoming emboldened and moving out from the thicker and presumably wetter grass onto more open ground, constantly and fussily probing with its long bill into muddy nooks and crannies, before taking time out to sit on the earthy bank in the sun, feathers fluffed up in repose. Five minutes was enough rest before it recommenced its searching and probing.

Two hours in its company had passed all too quickly but now it was time to head for home and I left it, still feeding along the bank, as the light began to slowly fade.