Wednesday, 29 December 2010

Back garden Bittern

Got a phone call this afternoon:

"I've got a Bittern in my garden"

And the gentleman did have! His garden backs on to the river Ivel at Langford and this amazing creature has been parading around his garden for around a week giving magnificent views. There are certainly perks to being the county recorder, at least sometimes.


Bittern eating sprats from Steve Blain on Vimeo.

In times of hard weather its been recommended to provide fish for wintering Bitterns. As most water bodies in Bedfordshire have been totally frozen over in recent weeks, Stewartby Lake has remained the only place with free water. Consequently there are six Bitterns wintering there!

Neil Wright and Roy Nye have been proving sprats for a while now and I managed to capture one bird taking them. At least they are surviving the monster freeze.


Wow, an Owl!

Carrie and I went out for a quick look for owls last night. PH should have been coming over but has fallen foul of flu. We saw two Barn Owls and this Tawny. This one stayed long enough for a couple of quick digiscoped shots before flying off in to the fog.

I used an iso of 500 (ie fairly high) to try and get a reasonable shutter speed and stop blurring. We were about 15 meters from the bird so I could fit it all in my scope.

Kit used:
Swaro ATS 80 HD, 20x eyepiece, universal adapter, Canon S90, self-timer.

Thursday, 9 December 2010

Wednesday, 8 December 2010

More weirdos

I first found one, and now there are four birds that look identical! Are they really Wigeon x Gadwall hybrids, or are they the more common Teal x Gadwall hybrids? Blunham Lake, Beds, 8th December 2010

Sunday, 5 December 2010

Tis the season

'tis the season to look for Waxwings, tralalalala-lalala...

Woburn, 5th December 2010

Friday, 3 December 2010

What happens if you can't go birding

This is a warning: Don't let the snow make you go as mad as this:
Of Pies and Birds: 2nd December. Snow Madness

Tuesday, 30 November 2010

Dodgy dabbler

This is a strange looking duck. I first saw it at distance two days ago, and was a little confused. Now its come a bit closer I think its a female Wigeon x Gadwall hybrid. Comments welcome!

Tuesday, 23 November 2010

Monday, 22 November 2010

How to count

5623 Starlings coming in to roost. How do I know there are that many Starlings in the photograph? I've counted them.

Actually I haven't counted them, I've used a fantastic piece of software called Dotcount. Very neat, and very customisable so it only counts what you specify. Give it a go yourself. Here is the link:

Wednesday, 17 November 2010

Going 'poll to 'poll

This Mealy Redpoll was feeding outside my office window a couple of years ago.

So far its been a great autumn for redpolls. With a trickle of vismig records over the Pinnacle, hopes of a good redpoll winter were raised.

Yesterday lunchtime I thought it was about time I had a look round the Lodge. I haven't regularly birded the Lodge for a long while now, despite working there for the last four years. On my rare walks round the trails there is usually something interesting to look at - the last time the woodland was stuffed with Fly Agarics, it looked like a fantastic pixies playgound! On this particular walk I had redpolls in mind so I headed straight for the Sandy Ridge trail and its profusion of birches. As I walked away from the heath, and under the fizzing powerlines I could hear the 'chit-chit' of redpolls.

I had a handful of birds fly over, then found around ten in the top of a birch. All Lessers - slim, rusty brown coloured, with fawn coloured wing-bars. I moved along the trail a little further and found another flock, this time of around twenty birds. They were close too - perfect viewing, with some just above eye level. I spent a few minutes steadily working my way through the flock until I found a strikingly pale bird. It was only until it moved side-on that I could statify myself I was looking at a Mealy. This bird immediately stood out from the rest - a white basal colour, making the body look almost silvery. There was only a hint of brown in the plumage, with broad white wing-bars, and a large pale rump. Heavy dark flank streaking and a few pencil marks on the undertail coverts ruled out a Coues. It also looked larger and longer - maybe 20% bigger than the accompanying Lessers. All in all, a lovely looking bird. As time was pressing I headed back to work, leaving it happily feeding in the birches.

The next morning, and with further reports of over 100 redpolls in the same area, I got up early and headed for the same spot. This time the redpolls were much more active with perhaps over 50 birds whizzing around. As each flock landed I scoped it, and I gradually amassed at least four different Mealies, including two pink-flushed males. All were stunning silvery jobs with various amounts of flank streaking and pale rumpage. One particular bird, which I only got poor views of, had minimal flank streaks, very little on the undertail coverts and quite white-cheeked - it was definitely one to go back for...

Tuesday, 16 November 2010

YouTube brilliance

Watch out for Lee and Gary (from Twitchers TV fame) busting their moves all over towards the end.

Thursday, 11 November 2010

Lapland Bunting in Bedfordshire from Steve Blain on Vimeo.

Strange, isn't it. After my previous post about Bedfordshire Lapland Buntings I didn't expect to go out the next weekend and find one in a field!

It's all thanks to Darin Stanley really. He was the one who found the Shore Lark while out walking his dog on Galley Hill. I was quite happily watching the grand prix until then!

After wallowing out of the house, and with only very rough directions, I managed to park at the top of Barton Hill Road and start wandering towards the golf course. After speaking to LGRE (the only person with any sort of directions from Darin) I headed for the highest bit I could see.

Skidding and sliding around on the chalky mud, dodging sheep (and golf balls) as I went, I eventually found Martin Stevens and Chris Deary scanning a very large roughly tilled field. After a few minutes hawk-eyed Martin calls me saying he'd got the Shore Lark. Thanks to his directions I manage to get on it fairly quickly, and wow, what a bird! It was a bright bird, with the yellow face really glowing in the bright afternoon sun shine. I was well chuffed.

After all too soon the hordes started to arrive. Shore Lark is just as much a monster locally as a Lapland Bunting would be. It was a county tick for virtually everyone who saw it. However it could be a devil to see, as the field was huge and the birds a long way off for much of the time.

It was mid-afternoon when I was carefully scanning through the Sky Larks trying to re-find the Shore Lark when I saw something chestnut waddle through my view. "what was that!" I said to myself. Mark T heard me "have you got something, Steve?" he asks. "I'll tell you if I see it again" came my reply. I instantly knew what it was, but I wasn't going to shout it without a proper look first!

About thirty seconds later and I latched on it again. A spanking male Lapland Bunting was facing me! Its black gorget and white belly were startling. It shuffled again to show its rufous collar and wing panel, with two white tram-lines down its back. I took a deep breath and said "I've got a Lapland Bunting - it's a male!"

Instantly there was pandemonium behind me. Shouts of "where is it, Steve" and "Can I have a look?" came from all around and a que had already formed to look through my scope. Luckily I had my zoom right up at 60x and the bird was still in the centre of my view, so I stepped aside. One after the other about five observers saw the bird moving around through my scope. I tried to give directions as best I could, but the distance the bird was at, and the fact that I was now about five feet from my scope meant that I wasn't really sure exactly where it was! After a few minutes the bird was lost.

About ten minutes passed and Lee shouts "I've got it again" and gives better directions. Luckily a few more people get on to this bird, but its apparent that this isn't a male, but a female. Making two Lapland Buntings!

This bird isn't quite as bright as the male, but still has a good rufous wing panel, a brighter white area in the wing, and two good tiger stripes down its back.

Thoughts of trying to re-find the Shore Lark, which everyone had came for originally (and mostly already seen), were forgotten, as people concentrated looking for the Laps - another county tick for virtually everyone present. As new birders arrived and casually said "is it still showing?" the reply most often heard was "which? The Shore Lark or Lapland Buntings?!"

A good day indeed, and as I said in my previous Lap Bunt post - October, the time to find Lap Bunts in Beds!

Sunday, 7 November 2010

Reeded Beardlings

They are just awesome up-close and personal. Well done to MST for putting in the time and pulling this hansom chap out of his net. Bearded Tit, Broom GP, 7th November 2010.

Monday, 11 October 2010


Some more Spottie Flies from the summer...

Bounce, bounce, boing!

OK, so they're not award winners, but as they're take on iso 1000 I don't think they're bad. Just imagine if it had a blue tail...

Common Redstart, Broom, 11th October 2010. Joint fourth latest record ever in Beds.

Friday, 8 October 2010

Buntin' huntin'

This Lapland Bunting was in Cornwall in October, not Bedfordshire

Its certainly been the autumn of the Lap Bunt, hasn't it. There are monster numbers all the way from Shetland down to Scilly. There have also been some excellent inland records too.

Bedfordshire, historically, has done exceptionally poorly for Lap Bunts. Until this year there were only two records - the first was a flyover at Brickhill on 15th October 1966, and the second at Southmills on 18th October 1991 - both only seen by their finders. So it would appear that October is your best chance to get one of these 'prrrret'ty buntings on your county list.

Obviously vismig offers potentially a great opportunity to nail one - they have a very distinctive flight call, and even the silouette is eye-catchingly different.

So, there we were (Mark Thomas, Matt Burgess, and I) stood on the Pinnacle on 8th October, in fairly foggy conditions, wondering why we'd bothered - when all of a sudden "prrrrrt...tew!" A LAP BUNT!

We listen for it to do it again but nothing. And because of the fog we never even saw it. And what's even worse, Matt didn't knowingly hear it either. Bum. A little Bitter-sweet. It was definitely a Lapland Bunting, but none of us saw it, and one of us didn't hear it - very frustrating! We're hoping for a repeat performance, in clearer weather.

Amazingly (or not so), Andy Grimsey had another one fly over Pegsdon Hills the next day. So there you have it - October - That's the time to find your own Lap Bunt in Bedfordshire. Easy.

Sunday, 12 September 2010


Black-necked Grebe, Derek Whites Eggs pit, 12th September 2010. September seems to be a great month to find BNG's locally; I guess they are dispersing breeding birds moving south?

Wednesday, 8 September 2010

Dodgy duck

This was rather of a surprise find on my lunchtime saunter around Broom GP today - a Marbled Duck!

Being found just a day or two after 20 Spanish Glossy Ibis have turned up in Devon, you might think this bird had potentially got good credentials? Initially it seemed very 'wild', keeping to the other side of the pool to us, and hiding deep in reed. However by the time I got back to the pits in the evening, it was rather more showy.

Aging this bird isn't easy. However, after some reading I think perhaps this bird is an adult female - based mainly on the small crest, prominent large round spots on its flanks, coverts, and scaps, and the fairly dark eye mask.

While preening on the bank it dropped a single feather. So when it swam out in to the middle of the pool I went and grabbed it. Wonder if I can get some isotope analysis done on it?

Saturday, 4 September 2010

Crests of a feather

Firecrest by Steve BlainGolden-crowned Kinglet, Vancouver Island by Steve Blain


Willowchiff at Hawkesbury Meadows by Steve Blain

Willow Warbler or Chiffhaff? From what I've read, these 'mixed singing' birds are probably late arriving Willow Warblers. Where from, I wonder?

Wednesday, 1 September 2010

A bird porn star

No apologies. This is just such a good bird not to go back for fourth helpings. Red-backed Shrike, Biggleswade Common, 1st September 2010.

More shrike vid

Red-backed Shrike on Biggleswade Common from Steve Blain on Vimeo.

As this bird is just around the corner from my house, it would be rude not to indulge.

Saturday, 28 August 2010


Bare-throated Bellbird from Steve Blain on Vimeo.

These surely have some of the biggest gobs of all birds? Bare-throated Bellbird, Brazil, October 2008

RBS video

Red-backed Shrike from Steve Blain on Vimeo.


Red-backed Shrike, Biggleswade Common, 28th August 2010. Adult female.

Thursday, 26 August 2010

Honey Bee

As I was wandering around in Abuko I bumped in to this sat atop a large dead tree. When I put my bins on it I was rather surprised see it was a young Honey Buzzard! Abuko, The Gambia, December 2009.

Tuesday, 24 August 2010

How to draw an owl

Monday, 23 August 2010

A delicious cadence of song

Willow Warbler at Broom from Steve Blain on Vimeo.

The sound picked up by the Canon S90 really is an order of magnatude better than the Nikon Coolpix P5100 I had before. Now my Willow Warblers sound like Willow Warblers, and my Groppers don't just look like they're yawning! This happy chappie was singing at Broom GP all spring, and just look at the vigour he puts in.

Not your average Bittern

Bittern at Minsmere from Steve Blain on Vimeo.

Even though I'd seen the Lesser Kestrel a mile or so away, this was the best bird of the day for me. Bittern, Island Mere, Minsmere, 31st March 2010. Some of my images can be found in this post.

Sunday, 22 August 2010

The sound of the summer

Nightingale, Sandy from Steve Blain on Vimeo.

Make sure you have your speakers turned on for this one! Nightingale, Sandy, May 2010.

Saturday, 21 August 2010


Bald Eagle, Telegraph Cove, Vancouver Island from Steve Blain on Vimeo.

Bald Eagle, Telegraph Cove, Vancouver Island, Canada, June 2010.

Whistler, beer, and bears

Did I mention how ridiculously easy finding Black Bears was towards the end of our trip to Canada? Well this was the view from the first restaurant we ate in, in Whistler. We were just lugging down out first pint and Mark glances out the window

"is that a bear on the hill side?"
They proceeded to wander down the slope and round the back of our hotel. Don't go looking for bears around Vancouver, they'll find you.

Monday, 16 August 2010

Big momma!

We saw five of these chaps in Vancouver - Grizzly Bear, June 2010. We spent a long while watching this mother and cubs ambling around the river bank and showing their gentler side. Really fantastic.

Do bears shit in the woods? I don't care! When you're that size, in my opinion, you can shit wherever you want.

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