27 January 2013

RSPB Big Garden Birdwatch 2013

With the temperatures rising and the snow now gone, it's not surprising that bird activity in the garden this morning for the RSPB Big Garden Birdwatch was much less than of late. The Fieldfare was a no show (last seen yesterday morning) and yesterday 3 Greenfinches visited the sunflower hearts but not today. The final tally between 08:15 and 09:15 was: 1 Collared Dove (a garden mega!!!), 2 Woodpigeon, 1 Great Spotted Woodpecker, 1 Nuthatch, 4 Chaffinch, 8 Goldfinch, 2 Robin, 1 Dunnock, 2 Blackbird, 1 Blue Tit, 1 Great Tit, 1 Coal Tit, 2 Long-tailed Tit and 4 Ring-necked Parakeets.

I've not recorded a single Starling this winter and I've never recorded House Sparrow in my garden in 13 years! Both of these reflect national declines (Starling down 80% since 1979 and House Sparrow down by 66%!) Goldfinch, Great Spotted Woodpecker and Woodpigeon are all on the up though, and we usually get around 10 Woodpigeon in the garden. Find out how others have fared on Twitter here.

Afterwards it was back up to the nerve centre of British natural history, the Natural History Museum, for the 2012 Wildlife Photographer of the Year exhibition, oh, and a coffee or two!

Weather: Overcast (7 oktas), moderate SW wind, cold, wet and lots of rain overnight.

25 January 2013

Cetti's back at the patch

Another day that I'd rather just forget frankly. 1 ringed Cetti's Warbler foraging along the Colne was my first sight record at the patch, and the first I've heard here for a long time. It showed well out in open on the vegetation overhanging the river for about an hour, but was just a little too distant for pin sharp photos. Also 1 Water Pipit (seen in flight calling), 1 Little Egret, 1 Grey Wagtail, 1 Common Snipe, 1 Chiffchaff, 2-3 Goldcrest, lots of Wrens, Robins, and Long-tailed Tits, and 1 Little Grebe were also seen along the Colne.

My first sight record of Cetti's Warbler at Staines Moor. The bird was on the
opposite bank of the Colne so these images are heavily cropped.

This bird is ringed but unfortunately I couldn't make out the number

It was very showy at times and seemed to find the impeccably clean Colne a
good foraging spot

Little Egret late afternoon along the Colne

Overhead, 70 (53S, 13N, 4NW) Fieldfare were logged, 1 Skylark S, and c8 Linnet came in the from the west and landed on the moor. A splash around in the floods produced just 2 Common Snipe (and some prints) and 1m Pheasant. Also seen: 2-3 Short-eared Owls (2 accidentally flushed and another, or one of the same, seen a little later), 1m Stonechat, 3 Great Spotted Woodpecker, 1+ Grey Heron and a Red Fox.

Common Snipe prints in patch of snow on the south flood

3 Great Spotted Woodpeckers giving each other hassle!

On Stanwell Moor 1 Redwing, a few Fieldfare, 1 Pied Wagtail over E and a Water Rail was heard, and at Stanwell Moor Village 1f Siskin in with a Goldfinch flock and 1 Little Egret were noted.

I left the moor at 16:00 as I was freezing by this point. Half an hour later a ringtail Hen Harrier was seen by another birder quartering the moor and catching prey. Hen Harrier is one of the birds I was hoping to find at the moor this winter (along with Long-eared Owl). It seems my run of bad luck continues and I am completely and utterly gutted!

Noted on the way home: 1 Common Buzzard E over M25 near M3 junction, and a Tawny Owl flew E over the A3 just south of Esher junction.

Weather: Overcast (8 oktas), calm a.m. & SE wind freshening p.m., cold (just above freezing).

24 January 2013

Fleeting patch visit

Quick visit to Staines Moor at lunch time today produced 1 Short-eared Owl hunting in NE corner and being mobbed by Carrion Crows (1400h), 2m Pheasant and a Grey Heron (no Fieldfare movement noted in this very quick visit). On Stanwell Moor a Water Rail showed briefly on the willow chocked pool and a male Sparrowhawk flew past, but no sign of the reported Bittern. On the way a Red Kite drifted W over the M25 just south of the M3 junction at 13:20. Most of the snow melted now.

Saw a birder trespassing on Stanwell Moor, approaching the reedbed near the board walk by the entrance to Staines Moor, presumably looking for the Bittern. I was on the path and initially I walked past him as I was due back at work for a meeting. Within seconds I decided to turn back to confront him, during which time he had hid and chose not to answer when I called out. There's always one idiot that crosses the line isn't there?

22 January 2013

Fieldfare exodus

A great winter's day at Staines Moor today with a strong cold weather movement of Fieldfare throughout the day, moving south in groups up to 130 in number, with a few dropping down to feed or rest for a few minutes before continuing on. By the end of the day I'd counted a conservative 1,192! This beats the previous highest count for Staines Moor of 1,000 on 15th April 1977.

Other birds moving overhead included 1 Curlew E, 40 Siskin N, 1 Northern Lapwing W, 1 Common Snipe E, 2 Skylark S, 1m Reed Bunting N, 1 Jackdaw N (scarce here), 1 Pied Wagtail E and 1 Greenfinch N.

Fieldfares streaming south! Click to enlarge

2-3 Short-eared Owls were still present and 2 showed well hunting along the east side early afternoon. Also seen were 2 Water Pipits along the Colne and on the frozen southern flood in the company of 3 Meadow Pipit, 3+ (2m, 1f) Stonechat, 3 Song Thrush still feeding along the banks of the Colne, 2 Common Snipe flushed from the Colne, 1 Little Egret, 1 Little Grebe and 1 Goldcrest.

Water Pipit

Water Pipit

Water Pipit

3 Song Thrushes have spent the last few days foraging along the banks of
the Colne where the ground is less frozen

Stanwell Moor added 2 Golden Plover E (appeared to drop down onto King George VI Reservoir), another 44 Fieldfare (mainly S), 2+ Lesser Redpoll feeding with 5+ Reed Bunting, 3 Common Snipe, 4 Gadwall (came off King George IV Reservoir), 1 Northern Lapwing, 4 Greenfinch over (mainly S), 8 Goldfinch N and 2m Pheasant.

21 January 2013

Fieldfares on the move

About 75 Fieldfare were seen moving west over the garden today. There was probably a lot more that passed over, but I was working from home and so didn't have much time for skywatching. This was part of a much wider movement across the south-east and most London sites reported small numbers moving west. Some of the larger counts were 120 west at the London Wetland Centre, 302 west over Canons Farm, and 808 at Beddington Farmlands. But near Worthing on the south coast, Gary Messinbird reported a whopping 10,000!! One bird took up residence in the garden this afternoon, feeding on the apples I'd put out and aggressively chasing away any Blackbirds that came too close. I also had a garden tick in the form of a Peregrine over NW carrying prey.

Fieldfare - one of my favourite thrushes anywhere in the world!

Unfortunately I was shooting into the light most of the time

Photography is not easy in my garden. We live in a 1st floor maisonette and
getting pics involves contorting oneself out of the window with a long lens.

Buying and cutting up countless apples has finally paid off!

20 January 2013

Birds concentrate along the Colne

A lack of any cold weather movement to speak of this morning, however, a walk along the Colne at first light produced 2 Water Pipit, 17 Northern Lapwing that flew off high N, 5 Common Snipe, 4 Gadwall, 1 Common Teal, 5 Mallard, 6 Little Grebe, c7 Mute Swan, 3 Stonechat, 3 Song Thrush, 3 Meadow Pipit and 25+ Black-headed Gull.

4 Gadwall along the Colne this morning flew off north

17 Lapwing along the Colne early morning all moved off north

1st year Mute Swan - around 7 birds present on the Colne this morning

A quick search of the river-side vegetation for Jack Snipe resulted no Jack Snipe but instead a dislocated knee (fortunately it popped back in)! A painful limp back along Bonehead Ditch produced just a single Common Teal and overhead 3 Fieldfare S, 1 Cormorant E and 1+ Grey Heron S were the only birds seen moving in what was now almost a whiteout, so we decided to call it a day (no Short-eared Owls seen this morning). At Stanwell Moor Village, 1f Reed Bunting was along the stream, and c7 Fieldfare were on the bank of King George VI Reservoir.

Back home the feeders were busy, with 1 Pied Wagtail, 1 Stock Dove, 1 Great Spotted Woodpecker, 1 Nuthatch, 3 Greenfinch, 3 Chaffinch, several Goldfinch, Blue Tit, Long-tailed Tit, 2 Coal Tit, Blackbird, 3 Robin, Ring-necked Parakeet, several Woodpigeon and a Magpie.

Stock Dove in the garden

19 January 2013

Some light cold weather movement

A few very quiet hours at Staines Moor this afternoon revealed very little cold weather movement (and certainly nothing compared to some other London sites - see today's sightings at Beddington on Pete's blog and yesterday's sightings on Dodge's blog). The highlight was a Redshank that dropped down to the Colne before heading high N. Also seen: 15 Lapwing over, 4 Common Snipe over (1 dropping onto the floods), 27 Fieldfare S, 3 (2m, 1f) Stonechat, 2 Reed Bunting, 1+ Redwing, 1 Song Thrush, 1 Greenfinch over N, 3 Meadow Pipit along the Colne, 4 Mallard (believe me, this is a high site count nowadays), 5 Mute Swan, 3 Little Grebe on the Colne and 1+ Kestrel was pretty much it! On Stanwell Moor, 1 Short-eared Owl, 3 Reed Bunting and a Redwing were logged. No sign of yesterday's Bittern at Stanwell Moor despite a thorough search, and no Short-eared Owls showed at Staines Moor this afternoon.

Redshank. Honest!

16 January 2013

Moth research at the Natural History Museum

Last September I found and photographed a Bombycidae (silkworm) moth at REGUA in Brazil's Atlantic Forest (see here) that, despite a thorough review of images on the net, and a check of specimens at Rio's National Museum of Brazil by one of the museum's entomologists, Alexandra Soares, has so far eluded identification. So today, after a quick twitch for the Hyde Park Bearded Tits, Pete Alfrey and I visited the entomology department at the Natural History Museum in London to study the collection there.

I'd narrowed the identity to the Apatelodes genus, and the closest species I'd found was Apatelodes lapitha that has some features that don't match. After checking several draws we eventually we found a species that is a very close match - Apatelodes pithala. However, the three specimens of this species the museum holds do not show the oval mark on the upper forewings of my moth, but instead four parallel cross-lines. All the other features do match so the oval mark could be an aberration?

Specimen draw Ma15241 containing what we think is my moth - Apatelodes
(the three specimens in the furthest column)

The museums only three specimens of Apatelodes pithala.

Apatelodes pithala specimen ventral view

Apatelodes sp. This pic shows the key features of my moth and which of these
are present on the specimens of Apatelodes pithala

Pete doing all the hard graft while I play around with the camera

Modern day storage of entomological specimens

Inside the Cocoon at the Darwin Centre. A colossal 12 million entomological
specimens are housed here!

This isn't quite the end of the story though. I need to compare my moth with photos of the type specimen and make sure that the oval shape on the forewings are within the variation found within this species. Furthermore, all three of the museum's specimens are from northern South America so I need to check if other specimens have been collected from south-east Brazil.

Many thanks to Martin Honey, curator of Macromoths & British Lepidoptera at the Natural History Museum, for arranging our visit and for helping with our research, and also to my good mate Pete Alfrey for all his help. More on today on Pete's blog.

Hyde Park reedlings

On route to the Natural History Museum early this morning Pete Alfrey and I dropped in to Hyde Park in London to see the first ever inner London Bearded Tits - 2 ringed female birds feeding in a tiny strip of reeds on the Serpentine, next to the Diana Memorial Fountain. The birds showed incredibly well (must be the best views of Bearded Tits I've ever had) feeding at very close range on phragmites, occasionally dropping down to the ground to drink. Both birds were caught and ringed (numbers L511927 and L511928) together on 10th November 2012 at Rye Meads, along with a male. They were not seen again after release but the two females have been present in Hyde Park since 11 December 2012 (more details here). Frustratingly I got home to find my memory card is corrupt and after three hours I have not been able to recover any photos!

Adjacent Kensington Gardens held 7 Pochard, small numbers of Shoveler and plenty of Common Gull on the Round Pond, and few Shoveler and about 13 Pochard on The Long Water/The Serpentine. Great to meet up with dedicated Hyde Park patcher Des McKenzie. I must make the effort to come back up to Kensington Gardens some time to see the often very showy Tawny Owls.

Postscript: Fortunately, 17 days later I found out that only the first image in the sequence was actually corrupt and this was preventing the other images from being downloaded. By putting the card back into the camera and plugging it into the computer I was able to download the images and delete the corrupted one. Phew!

13 January 2013

Local Firecrest

I didn't make it to the patch today, but I did manage a quick visit to Banstead Downs Golf Course which eventually produced frustratingly brief views of the world's shyest Firecrest. That is all.

11 January 2013

Treecreeper falls!

First day at the patch in 2013 and I get a patch tick - 2 Treecreepers along the old railway embankment. Unfortunately the elusive little buggers wouldn't play ball for the camera though. 3 Short-eared Owls showed very well along the east side for much of the day, often perching up in hawthorns and the trees along Bonehead Ditch for long periods.

This bird perched up just 15 m away!

Too much mascara? Nah!

Characteristic deep wing beats

Also 22 Common Snipe on the southern flood is my highest ever site count, 2 Water Pipit and 3 Little Grebe along the Colne, 1 Peregrine over NW carrying prey, 1-2 Little Egret, 1f Bullfinch, 2-3 Goldcrest, 3+ Redwing all along the railway embankment, c12 Siskin over S, 5 (3m, 2f) Stonechat, 4+ Reed Bunting, 5+ Skylark, 4 Meadow Pipit, 4 Song Thrush and 3 Green Woodpecker. Stanwell Moor added 1m Northern Shoveler and 1 Reed Bunting, and at Stanwell Moor Village 9 Siskin flew NE and a Little Egret was logged.

5 Stonechat on site today

Nice sunset over Staines Moor this evening

6 January 2013

Extinct in the wild

Spent a relaxing day at London Zoo with the RAW Baker and the Non-stop Birder, wandering around the exhibits, admiring the Victorian architecture and imagining what it must have been like during the Victorian collecting golden age, bringing back exotic animals and plants to London.

2 Socorro Dove Zenaida graysoni in the Blackburn Pavilion were the captive list highlights. Socorro Dove became extinct in the wild in 1972 due to predation by cats and degradation of it's highland forest habitat by sheep on the Mexican island of Socorro, and now exists only in a few zoos where a captive population is maintained in the hope that birds might be reintroduced to Socorro once the cats and sheep have been eradicated.

Socorro Dove Zenaida graysoni, one of only about 100 pure bred birds
remaining in captivity

Can I tick it? Nope!

Bali Starling Leucopsar rothschildi, Victoria Crowned-pigeon Goura victoria, Mindanao Bleeding-heart Gallicolumba crinigera, Hooded Pitta Pitta sordida, Spectacled Owl Pulsatrix perspicillata, Sunbittern Eurypyga helias and Amazilia Hummingbird Amazilia amazilia were amongst the other exotics seen.

Hooded Pitta Pitta sordida. It was darn dark in the Blackburn Pavilion, as the
noise on this images is testament to.

The Blackburn Pavilion was built 1883 and originally opened as a reptile house

Classic Victorian scene in the Blackburn Pavilion. Those were the days!

Spent some time in the butterfly house where Asian swallowtails Papilio lowi and Tree Nymphs Idea leuconoe were amongst the butterflies flying.

A huge Atlas moth Attacus atlas caterpillar

Tree Nymph Idea leuconoe

A Peregrine over the zoo and several Goldcrest near the entrance were the best of the wild birds seen and the day was topped off with some superb sushi and noodles at the Hare and Tortoise in Putney.

1 January 2013

New year, same rubbish Surrey birding

With the weather forecast to be sunny and calm at last, Rachel and I decided on a walk around Thursley Common today instead of Staines Moor (a huge mistake). After being stuck indoors ill for the last 7 days I was really keen to get out birding, however, in typical piss poor Surrey birding fashion, Thursley produced basically f*** all, what we did see showed very poorly, and absolutely nothing was interested in posing for the camera. Our New Years Day tally ended on 1 Great Grey Shrike (seen very distantly for between 1-2 seconds before vanishing into thin air and not being seen again in a two hour search), 12 Stonechat, 2 Common Buzzard, 1 Green Woodpecker, 1 Great Spotted Woodpecker, 7 Meadow Pipit, 2 Jay and Carrion Crow. Dartford Warbler and Siskin were both heard. If this wasn't exciting enough, the backdrop of hoards of dog walkers and screaming kids everywhere means that I am now totally enthused for another year birding in Surrey.