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.

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