Tuesday, December 22, 2015

100 species from the house observatory

Many birders keep lists, some more prosaic than others. A local patch list or British list are among the most popular. For others, the garden list can either be their main connection to birding or an aside while having breakfast. From a young age, I kept a list for the garden I grew up in in Scotland but frustratingly I missed the most exciting addition to that list – a Rose-coloured Starling – found by my dad. I shouldn’t complain. That day I was in Peru watching Andean Cock-of-the Rocks.

Four months ago I moved to the side of the Thames near Rainham Marshes and immediately began listing from the living room window and unimaginatively termed the balcony The Observatory.  The garden list in Scotland followed a simple but precise rule for counting. Birds had to occur within the boundary of the garden and below the level of the room, thereby allowing species like Swift to sneak on to the list. Now I am counting anything visible from the Obs which can be a mile or more away when viewing at 60X through the field scope. But most birds are either on the mud, heading up or down the river, or over Dartford Marshes. In four months I’ve already made it past the magical 100 species. The potential here is great and anything could turn up. True woodland species may be more difficult to see though and I’m still waiting on adding Song Thrush to the list – maybe I should listen for nocturnal migrants instead.

Here is a month-by-month summary of what’s been on view with the latest list here: www.fssbirding.org.uk/purfleet.htm

The 5th was the first day of proper observation and a male Marsh Harrier was the first good bird indicating the potential here. Passage or summering waders included Little Ringed Plover, Dunlin, Black-tailed Godwit, Greenshank, Whimbrel, Common Sandpiper, Sanderling (19th), Curlew, Redshank, Green Sandpiper, Ringed Plover, Oystercatcher and the first returning Lapwing on the 26th. Numbers of Yellow-legged Gulls increased as the month progressed, peaking at 88 on the 30th. 

New wader species this month were two Avocets the 3rd, a Green Sandpiper on the 4th and a Bar-tailed Godwit on the 16th. Ringed Plovers peaked at 21 on the 25th. Tern passage on the 9th included 18 Arctic and 3 Sandwich, with Little Tern on the 15th and 23rd, and Black Tern on the 24th bringing the total to five species for the month. The first Barn Owl was recorded at dusk on the 26th.

The 1st brought the first returning Wheatear, Hobby, Great Crested Grebe, Long-tailed Tit and Grey Wagtail on the 2nd, and Snipe on the 6th – all new additions in the first week. Following another Black Tern on the 19th, two Avocets returned for the rest of the month, with four on the 29th. Five Whinchats dropped in on the 23rd, two Jays flew past on the 25th and the first Golden Plovers of the autumn were recorded on the 26th. Marsh Harriers began to make a more frequent sight this month.

This month was all about waders and owls in addition to several new species. Peak wader number included 151 Golden Plover on the 31st, 531 Lapwing on the 27th, 205 Redshank on the 24th, and 34 Black-tailed Godwit on the 26th. The first Short-eared Owls arrived on 17th, with two on the 23rd, and three on 25th and 31st. New additions included Redwing on the 8th, Kingfisher on the 10th, Stonechat on the 13th, Ring Ouzel on the 19th, Fieldfare on the 20th,  Cetti’s Warbler on the 25th and Rock Pipit on the 31st. 

A persistent thick fog on the first few days prevented any observation. Four Knot appeared on the 3rd, a Spotted Redshank was at Dartford Creek mouth while a Shoveler flew upriver on the 4th, and a Brambling flew south on the 12th. Wader numbers remained high with peaks on 224 Golden Plover on the 13th, 180 Dunlin on the 3rd, 176 Redshank on the 5th, and 445 Lapwing on the 18th, but the highlight was six Grey Plovers on the 24th. Other new additions included Little Grebe on the 3rd, Mistle Thrush on the 22nd, four Pintail on the 22nd, and a Lesser Redpoll on the 26th.

As the days shortened and the dull weather persisted, there was little light in the mornings before work to observe. Weekends were occupied by other matters but as the winter solstice approaches I look forward to the new year… with more light and birds. Update: Short-eared Owl, Marsh Harrier, Raven and Rock Pipit were noted on several days. A total of 108 species recorded between July 2015 and the year-end finished with three Goosanders upriver on Boxing Day. Lapwing peaked at 1063 on the 24th and Black-headed Gulls reached 3000+ on the 26th.

Friday, December 11, 2015

Goldeneye at Hogganfield Loch

A pencil drawing of Common Goldeneye (Bucephala clangula) at Hogganfield Lock. This loch in Glasgow is close to the city centre but attracts many interesting species in winter including Whooper Swan, Goosander, Smew and white-winged gulls.

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Saturday, November 28, 2015

Drawing Dancing Cranes

Pencil drawing of dancing Eurasian Cranes (Grus grus) at Hornborgasjön in Sweden. Lake Hornborga is the main spring staging site in Sweden, where I have visited a number of times to photograph them.

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Friday, November 27, 2015

Short-eared Owls at RSPB Rainham Marshes

A pencil drawing of the Short-eared Owls (Asio flammeus) at Rainham Marshes. Large numbers of these messenger birds have arrived in the British Isles this autumn from Scandinavia and possibly beyond. 

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Friday, October 30, 2015

Mellow Heron

Grey Herons (Ardea cinerea) photographed through autumn leaves.

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Friday, September 25, 2015

Summerland Key Birding Trip Report

I've uploaded a trip report from my recent field work in Florida Keys (8-15 September) which was based around Summerland and Cudjoe Keys, with a visit to Dry Tortugas National Park. 


Highlights included Masked Booby, Brown Booby, Black Noddy, Brown Noddy, a host of migrant warblers, and oh, an Acadian Flycatcher

Saturday, September 19, 2015

Dry Tortugas

Earlier this month my job took me back took to Florida Keys. On our last day of field work we decided to have a break and head out to the Dry Tortugas National Park. Traditionally, this US birding hotspot is visited in spring but if your non-birding colleague is up for going, you will go anytime! This site is up there with must-see locations such as Cape May, Attu, SE Arizona, Hawk Mountain, Point Pelee and The Everglades. US-1, the Overseas Highway in the Florida Keys, ends at Key West. But the Keys don’t end at Key West because 70 miles further out in the Gulf of Mexico lies the Dry Tortugas. Are these keys any different from the rest? You bet! Long Key and Bush Key have breeding Brown Noddy and Sooty Tern (all departed by mid-September). Hospital Key has breeding Masked Booby! And there are always a few Brown Booby around too. Where else in the ABA region can you see all these species at one site? But the birding was better than this as I saw a Black Noddy as well. 

We landed on Garden Key and explored Fort Jefferson but eventually we were distracted again by our particular interests. My colleague went off to snorkel in the beautiful tropical waters and I looked for the bird bath. Yes, September is the fall migration and the Dry Tortugas are a refuge for birds migrating from North to Central and South America. In an ocean of salty water the fresh water fountain is a magnet for small birds (and Glossy Ibis, White Ibis and Cattle Egret too on this visit) and as I sat and watched the procession of wood-warbler, tanagers and orioles coming to drink I was almost in a dream-like state. Sure, I’d seen many of these species in Florida, Arizona, Maine and New York but it was the ease of observing them here in the open. No patiently waiting for views of them in their breeding habitat – they were flying out into the open and revealing themselves as perfectly as they appear in the classic North American field guides. At least 17 species of wood-warbler were seen. When I was young I used to have vivid dreams about birds like Hoopoes and Northern Cardinals… and wake up so disappointed. 

This was a dream come true. Over 55 species were seen exceptionally well on a tiny island in less than four hours. Other highlights included a Black Skimmer, Least Bittern, around 120 Magnificent Frigatebirds, Dickcissel, Bobolink and a Yellow-billed Cuckoo (get it in my scope, a birder once said!).

Fort Jefferson on Garden Key, Dry Tortugas National Park
South Coaling Docks ruins - location of Black Noddy
Interior of Fort Jefferson
Water fountain attracting many migrant birds

Tuesday, August 18, 2015

Moving to the marshes

At the beginning of July we moved out of London and just into Essex. We’re living right next to Rainham Marshes RSPB reserve now, our living room overlooks the Thames estuary and I still cycle to work in central London, albeit with a train journey in the middle. Not surprisingly the birding is good on all fronts. In just over a month I’ve recorded 64 species (list in the side bar) from our living room window (aka the Observatory) including 16 species of wader (shorebird) and highlights like Little Ringed Plover, Marsh Harrier, Black-tailed Godwit, Bar-tailed Godwit, Greenshank, Whimbrel, Mediterranean Gull, Common Scoter, Little Egret, Kingfisher, Sanderling, Arctic Tern, Little Tern, Avocet, Sandwich Tern and a peak of 88 Yellow-legged Gulls. Morning and evening I cycle along the sea wall, overlooking Rainham Marshes, catching the train at Rainham town and seeing many good birds on the way including Little Egrets, Marsh Harrier, Barn Owl, Bearded Tit, Hobby and Corn Bunting. It’s been a great change for us and our 7 month old is getting some fresher air!

Friday, June 26, 2015

Ayrshire Bird Report 2012

The 2012 edition of the Ayrshire Bird Report is now available priced at £5.00. Essential reading for anyone visiting the county, it contains the most important bird sightings recorded in 2012 as well as informative articles on Ayrshire's avifauna. It is published by the Ayrshire Branch of the SOC (Scottish Ornithologists' Club). Details: 114 pages with 8 full-colour inner pages of photographs, plus artwork and b&w photos. Please visit the Ayrshire Birding website for details of how to obtain your copy or e-mail me. 

Fraser Simpson (Compiler & Editor)

Kindrogan Trip Report 2015

Earlier this month I returned from my thirteenth trip on an undergraduate university field course to the Field Studies Council's Kindrogan Field Centre near Enochdhu in picturesque Strathardle, Perthshire. Mammal highlights included an Otter on the River Ardle as well as the regular crepuscular visits by the Pine Martens. In terms of birds, it appeared that Crossbills had a very good breeding season and Red-legged Partridge was a new addition to my Kindrogan/Strathardle list. 

On two mornings the alarm clock was set for 02:55 to experience the dawn chorus. I now have times for about 25 June mornings since 2003 and the figure below shows the first song of six common and regular participants.

A full trip list, including records of Goosander, Red Grouse, Osprey, Woodcock, Green Woodpecker, Tree Pipit, Dipper, Whinchat, Redstart, and Ring Ouzel, can be found on the main site at: www.fssbirding.org.uk/kindrogantrip2015.htm

Friday, May 15, 2015

Ambience with a hint of birds

Here are a couple of new ambient tracks I've created recently, routing my synths through a Strymon Big Sky. Keeping it bird-themed, I've added a few sound recordings here and there.

Tuesday, April 28, 2015

South-west Spain birding trip report

I've uploaded a birding trip report to the main website for the area around the small town of Zahara de los Atunes, situated on the Costa de la Luz in the Straits of Gibraltar in Cadiz province in south-west Spain on 8-18 April 2015. The highlights this year were two Lesser Crested Terns at Atlanterra on 12-13 April, and a Greater Flamingo and migrant Ortolan Bunting at Marismas del Barbate.


Wednesday, March 25, 2015

Yellow-crowned Night Heron drawing

A pencil drawing from the weekend of a Yellow-crowned Night Heron (Nyctanassa violacea). This was based on a photograph taken in the mangroves of Cudjoe Key, Florida where it was hunting crabs as I paddled past on a kayak. More at www.fssbirding.org.uk/sketches.htm

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Friday, March 13, 2015

Blackbird (and Jack)

Here is a 10 minutes recording of an urban Blackbird (Turdus merula) singing from an internal garden courtyard, with four walls on either side enhancing the reverberations (plus some background contributions from my 8-week old son). Recorded at 05:35, 10 March 2015.

Monday, March 09, 2015

Red Kite drawing

Well, birding activity has been low since the turn of the year due to the arrival of a new hatchling in the family. This weekend I found some hours to do my first drawing in a long time, a Red Kite (Milvus milvus). March is typically the start of the peak period for this species in London (wanderers from mainland Europe?) and in fact two birds were reported over Hampstead Heath yesterday.

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