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Sunday 30 January 2011

Sunday January 30th

A cold start to the morning but none the less I had a good morning with some good quality birds seen, additionally I also had a Grey Seal at Barking Outfall fishing. They don’t usually come this far up river, Rainham is about there usual limit, got off a couple of shots of it but none too clever due to the light and distance.

Grey Seal with fish

Grey Seal

Barking Outfall

Wildfowl numbers are dropping off, lakes are now unfrozen so many have returned to there usual haunts, of the Greater Scaup, there was no sign.

It was an early morning rising tide, peaking around 10.00am, I suspect that the Seal came in with the tide also, watched it come up with a fish, too far out to id, long and silvery, most likely a Bass or Mullett. It just goes to show you how clean the river is nowadays with Seal and Porpoises being seen quite often this far up river.

Many waders had already gone to roost but there were still a few birds feeding on the fast disappearing mud, totals below. Unusually, no Black Tailed Godwits present.


Unusual to see them swimming

Redshank – 62, I watched these fly upriver to roost, past there usual spot, could be a roost between Barking and Woolwich.

Curlew – 2, both went down river.

Tufted Duck – 214 mainly Outfall

Shelduck – 28

Shoveler – 136

Gadwall – 44

Teal no’s were around the 400 mark, this did not incude the Creek.


Dagenham Riverside

Highlight was a Brent Goose flying downstream, possibly the same bird seen in December at Barking Bay.

Other birds of note were 29 Black Tailed Godwits along with 84 Redshank and 6 Curlew. Scanning through the Gulls produced 3 adult Yellow Legged Gulls. Of the smaller passerines there was a Chiffchaff and a Rock Pipit, no sign of the tame Fox, probably only comes out when he smells food.

Ingrebourne Valley

Popped in to the reservoir on the way home as I do, it proved a very good move with 3 year additions for the patch and also a ‘ dodgy ‘ duck.

White Fronted Geese with Greylags

First up was a female Merlin, initially seen about a foot of the ground going away fast on the green sward, and then rising to clear the road, last seen heading towards the Farm Trail. A very hard bird to get in the Valley, it was once pretty regular every winter.

Just like buses, you want one and you get 2, this time it was 2 Common Buzzards thermaling, now a regular sight around the Valley and surrounding countryside, good to see them going from strength to strength. The 3rd was another Raptor in the shape of a Marsh Harrier, it came up as the Buzzards appeared and joined them thermaling.

Marsh Harrier and 2 Common Buzzards

Common Buzzard

One for Sarah

Possible Ring Necked/Pochard hybrid

The 4 White Fronted Geese are still present, please note that the Reservoir is strictly private, view from outside.

The duck had me going while it was present, it flew towards the Rainham direction with a flock of Pochard, they were all flushed as the Common Buzzards passed overhead.

Unusual Duck

Managed to get some shots before it flew, unfortunately no flight shots, the nearest I can get, looking through Collins is a possible Ring Necked/Pochard hybrid, would welcome any opinions.

Saturday 22 January 2011

Winter Peregrines

Over the winter I have been collecting prey at 2 or 3 sites which are accessible, what is now becoming more and more apparent, at these particular sites, is the fact that nocturnal hunting is becoming the norm rather than an occasional occurrence. On one site in particular, I am turning up at dawn and both Tiercel and Falcon are sitting there with bulging crops, they have not fed at first light, they have already fed in the dark.

Whether or not this is opportune feeding or normal nocturnal hunting I am not sure. Are they roosting as per normal and then hearing, or with there eyesight, possibly seeing migrant nocturnal movers? Does this hunting coincide with clear skies when there is more movement, so far it does, a majority of the times when they are sitting there with full crops, follows clear skies that night.

In most of the identified prey that I have gathered, it is quite obvious straight away which is diurnal and which is nocturnal, Moorhen, Woodcock, Little Grebe and Water Rail are showing up. These are all weak flying birds that you rarely see moving great distances low or high in the daytime. Additionally I have found at the prime nocturnal site, 3 Redwings stashed together, 2 intact and one partially eaten, these are massive nocturnal movers, I suspect these were also taken at night.

A big misconception with Peregrines having watched them in London for around 11 years, is that they rarely fail, they do, and at times quite a lot. Feral Pigeons are not always an easy target and are more maneuverable than the bulkier Peregrines. Peregrines are persistent A to B pursuit hunters, they are all power and speed, it is basically, see it, chase it, catch/miss and then more often than not, return to the same spot and then wait for another to pass. Hunting is usually from a structure in the centre of there territory, the classic ‘ stoop ‘ I have only ever seen once in London.

The other day I visited a site in London to bag up prey, and was dived on for my troubles by the resident female, even though it is still over 2 months till egg laying, they are still territorial this early on. Quite a sight to see her coming down at speed at you, great to see, managed to get a couple of out of focus shots of her. She pulled up above my head but the message was quite clear.

Falcon beginning dive

Quite a sight

Wednesday 19 January 2011

Barking Bay January 18th

Sunshine! As many will know, as photographers, you long for it, this morning I greeted it like a long lost friend. To be able to take shots in decent light has been a thing of the past this winter, makes you feel good, even the Skylarks were going for it. It will be very likely back to normal tomorrow, piddling down.

Singing Skylark
I had arrived on a rising tide, which had nearly covered the mud, most of the waders had already gone to roost, those that were left were feeding frantically making the most of it.

Curlew going to roost

6 Curlew remained along with 48 Redshank and a small flock of Dunlin numbering around 40 birds, these were buzzing around everywhere, undecided where to roost.


Flock of Dunlin going to roost

Other species of note seen were

115 Shelduck

10 Ringed Plover – already roosting on jetty

2 Grey Plover – defecting to the Kent side

Adult Yellow Legged Gull – jetty

4 Rock Pipits – foreshore rocks

Peregrine – over Crossness

Sparrowhawk – had the look of a female

Water Rail – 1 calling

Linnet – flock now around 140 birds

Lapwing 71 roosting on the jetty

A very enjoyable couple of hours walking round.

Barking Riverside Centre

Monday 17 January 2011

Barking Outfall January 15th

A typical English winters day greeted me on arrival, a strong westerly with a grey overcast sky, absolutely crap for photography, hopefully the birding would be better than the weather. As it got light I started to pick out some birds on the water, Shoveler, Gadwall and Teal mainly, the tide was still high but starting to drop.

Bad photo of the Cormorant, you can just about see the fins

As I scanned I picked up a Cormorant near the Outfall rocks, it was trying hard to drag something along the top of the water, as I got the scope on it, I realised it was a massive fish. The fish was as long as the Cormorant and was probably a Bass or a Mullet, the Cormorant was holding it at the top while the fish was trying to dive. It had absolutely no chance of eating the fish, but despite this it would not let it go, the contest eventually disappeared round the rocks.

Black Tailed Godwits searching for mud at high water

Small groups of Black Tailed Godwits had started to show looking for some early mud along with the odd Redshank and a single Grey Plover, also heard Common Sandpiper calling. Scanning through the hordes of Gulls mid river produced a cracking 1st winter Mediterranean Gull, only the 2nd record for the site after last years 2 juveniles.

Decided to move further down where I had seen the 2 Greater Scaup on January 2nd, it proved a good move as the tide was just revealing some mud and the Blackwits were just starting to pile in.

Black Tailed Godwits dropping in

A pair of Greater Scaup, closest bird a female by size

Straight away I picked up 2 Greater Scaup in with the Pochard flock so presumed that these were the 2 same birds from Jan 2nd, those birds were 1st winters, on looking at these 2, it looked like they were 1st winters but not so advanced in plumage. The duck flock on this stretch of the Thames stretch’s round to the right upriver, and is an area I cant access, it is possible that the other 2 could still be present.

Drake Greater Scaup

Duck Greater Scaup, quite obviously feeding on the bottom

Additional species seen were 98 Redshank at roost, 4 Grey Wagtails and 2 Great Crested Grebes working the Outfall.

Roosting Redshank
Duck numbers have drastically reduced now that the freeze is over, I did not do a full count but visibly there is probably only a quarter of January 2nd numbers. The only Duck still present in large numbers was Shelduck, easily over a 100 present.

Friday 14 January 2011

New Zealand - better late than never - 3 years on

A few years back, my daughter got married near Auckland and I now have a family on the other side of the world which is great, and added to this, we now have a lovely Granddaughter, Erin. Obviously we flew out there for the wedding , the flight was the only negative from the trip, 10 hours from Heathrow to Los Angeles and then 12 hours LA to Auckland. If like me, you get restless and bored it is hard work, you can only watch so many films. In the end I was counting the miles and hours on the small screen on the seat in front of me, I was slowly going nuts, not quite at the straight jacket stage, but fast approaching.

Pukeko in my daughters garden
On landing I found that the country is unspoilt and naturally stunning, the people are very friendly and it is great to see no rubbish strewn everywhere, it was one of the first things that I noticed, everywhere was clean and tidy.

Somehow I had managed to bring my binoculars and camera with me, and had also obtained a New Zealand Field Guide. It was quite refreshing to look at a bird and not have a clue what it was ( still get like this in England at times) and then consult the book and try; first put it into a family; and then identify it. It was school all over again and I must admit I enjoyed the challenge of it all, even though I constantly cocked up.

White Faced Heron

My transport for getting around the North Island was a 4 litre 4x4, a bit of a gas guzzler but a pleasure to drive, trips out with the family and birding excursions became even more enjoyable driving this beast.

One of the 1st birds I noticed, naturally looking up for raptors on the trip was Australasian Harrier, they are a widespread abundant native species that also soars looking for prey or carrion. They reminded me of Common Buzzards when you drive down to Cornwall, our equivalent would be Marsh Harrier. The only other bird of prey, there are only 2 species that are native, was New Zealand Falcon, I got a brief view of one at distance and that was the only sighting.

One species that seemed to be everywhere was Pukeko, very similar to Purple Gallinules, we even had one in my daughters and son in laws garden.

Whilst I was there I decided to go out on a pelagic, a little expensive but well worth it just to see the Ocean, we were heading out to the Hauraki Gulf, hopefully for Whale sightings.

White Fronted Tern

Red Billed Gull
Soon, as we cleared land a few miles out I started to pick up sea birds, firstly, Terns and then Blue Penguins which the skipper identified and as we got even further out, and then Shearwaters and Petrels. The further we went out, more and more appeared, it was quite apparent that I was seeing 3 or 4 Shearwater/Petrel species, identifying them was another matter. Decided to photograph anything with a set of wings and then try to id it later, just wanted to enjoy being out there and take it all in.

Black or Parkinson's Petrel

Flesh Footed Shearwater

Dolphin pods had now joined the Catamaran and at one point there must have been close to 50 near the ship with at least 4 constantly ‘ riding’ the bow wave, if I remember correctly, they were called Striped Dolphins. After an hour we caught up with a Whale, it was identified as a Brydes Whale and was around 30 metres long. What was quite strange to me was the fact that we were miles out, could not see land, and there were Blue Penguins popping up every now and then, very hard to photograph as we were moving at speed.

Brydes Whale
The one species that I had hoped to see never materialized, an Albatross or a Mollymawk, there is a good number of both species around New Zealand, unfortunately for me, many were congregated around the South Islands .Next visit, I will go there.

Summing up, a very enjoyable visit made even more special by giving my daughter away, and the reception we received from Shaun and his family.

Auckland and the Tower
It has only taken me 3 years to get all the photo’s together, some of which I have placed in the Gallery. Thanks go to Graham Ekins for identifying the Shearwaters/Petrels, if you want to see great photo’s, have a look at the link below.

Thursday 6 January 2011

Barking Outfall January 2nd

First visit of the year, started at dawn on a rising tide, plenty of Cormorants fishing the Outfall, around 40 with more arriving all the time. Coming in with the incoming tide were Thick Lipped Mullet, quite evident in the shallows with fins and backs exposed as they chased smaller prey.

Scanning round the Outfall revealed the usual large expanse of wildfowl plus an assortment of goodies on the fast disappearing mud.

Black Tailed Godwits and Redshank
Despite a slight rise in temperatures, numbers of wildfowl and waders were still high, just scanning the Tufted Duck flock gave a count of 580 birds, or there abouts, and still no Scaup. This has been one of the birds I have been looking for since the cold spell started, they started to show up in various parts of the Thames and London, they usually always seem to mix in with the Tufties.

Shoveler and Gadwall numbers were down as were Teal, but wader numbers were slightly higher with a record count of 53 Black Tailed Godwits, by far the highest total I have had since 2002, this was when I started covering the Outfall.

Decided to do Thames Water works so I headed back that way after seeing a Curlew landing in the distance, hopefully, I could get a photo.

Curlew, eventually got a photo
On the way, I decided to have one last look at a section of the Thames before I headed inland, as I stuck my head over the wall, there were 2 1st winter Greater Scaup in front of me. It is possible that they could have been there for some time as I rarely check this section.

Scaup and Pochard

Scaup and Coot
The light unfortunately was atrocious, and directly at me making some photo’s barely better than an outline due to the glare. Photo’s below


Green Sandpiper

Saturday 1 January 2011

Southend on Sea January 1st

First thing first, a very Happy New Year to all.

Every year on New Years Day, myself and the family, head down to Westcliff for a big breakfast and then on to the Pier too walk the brekkie off.

Adult Meditteranean Gulls

Brent Geese

In recent years I have taken the camera with me to get a few shots of the Med Gulls etc..

Weather was overcast as usual but some did not come out too bad.


Med Gulls all

1st winter Meditteranean Gull

1st Winter Med


Ingrebourne Valley December 31st

Decided to give the Valley a visit in preparation for a weekend sortie to get the patch list up and running for the New Year. Finished this year on 128, the best total for me so far, surpassing 2009’s 119.

Perfect camouflage makes it very hard to spot

So easily overlooked
The main target birds for the visit were Owls and to also try and catch up with the Bittern. Standing there in semi darkness at the Optomist end gave me a briefly calling Tawny Owl in the usual section of woodland, one down, one to go. The Bittern was a lot harder to find, had a brief view of one flying back down the Lake ( still frozen), it then took me another hour before I eventually located one. Can also confirm from these sightings that there are definitely 2 birds.

Best view I got before it melted into the reeds

Cannot complain either with the supporting cast, some very good birds were seen.

Species of note were

Wigeon -10 over and 2 on the floods

Cettis Warbler – 8 calling birds

Shoveler – 12

Little Egret – 1

Redwing – 32

Fieldfare – 14

Skylark – 31

Lapwing – 123

Golden Plover – 16

Bullfinch – 2

Goldcrest – 5 in a mixed flock

Hopefully I can catch up with this lot come weekend, also visited the Apple Tree at the Optomist end to see if the Waxwings had returned, no luck.

Below are a couple of  photo's taken on Christmas Day morning before dinner.