Wednesday, 25 September 2013

Bird project 26 - Sandwich tern & rock pipit

Sterna (syn. Thalasseus) sandvicensis Sandwich tern

Location: Rossall beach, Fleetwood, Lancashire.
Conditions: Mild, light breeze, mostly cloudy; a couple of hours after high tide.
Photograph quality: 1-2.

Comments: I wasn't expecting to see this species yesterday, but I was not surprised either. They've been sighted in numbers around the coast here quite a lot in the last couple of weeks - habitually roosting at Knott End just round the coast, and even a few a mile or two south of Blackpool town centre.

I was actually stalking another bird - a tiny wader, that is probably a dunlin (I haven't yet identified it), when I realised immediately in front of my was a pair of terns on the sand, alongside a slightly larger and chunkier black-headed gull. I knew straight away it was a sandwich tern - they're pretty distinctive (only common and Arctic terns are otherwise found round here, and they look quite different). These birds winter in Africa, so I was glad to catch them before they leave.

One was an autumn plumage adult (not the paler forehead - it would be black in the breeding season), the other a juvenile. The latter bird was very noisily begging for food, adopting a posture reminiscent of gulls - hunched, the beak upturned and open. The adult seemed oblivious. They flew off a few metres along the beach every so often, but I was able to get quite close. See also my best shots here and here.

Anthus petrosus Rock pipit

Location: Sea defences at Rossall Point, Fleetwood.
Conditions: Late afternoon, cloudy, mild, light breeze.
Photograph quality: 1.

Comments: This is a little less certain than my previous species. This little bird landed on a concrete buttress just by me, and didn't mind me creeping closer to photograph it. But its identity was only established on iSpot, a website where you can post wildlife sightings for identification. Two people agree it is a rock, not meadow pipit, but I am not able to say for sure myself - it seems to be a juvenile, given its yellowish, dull appearance, and these species are hard to separate at the best of times.

However, a rock pipit was seen by birdwatchers there on the same day, although it was outnumbered 8-1 by meadow pipits, and it was in the right habitat, so I am including it here.

Thursday, 19 September 2013

Bird project 25 - Ruff

Philomachus pugnax Ruff

Location: Levenhall Links natural reserve, East Lothian, Scotland.
Conditions: Warm, humid, sunny spells but plentiful cloud, late afternoon.
Photograph quality: 2-3.

Comments: This should be number 23 chronologically, but I only realised I had a potential shot of a ruff yesterday, when I finally started going through all my photographs from Scotland systematically. There was always a chance I'd captured one - I took lots of pictures of the assemblage of large waders while I was at this location, as I knew a couple of ruffs were there, but they weren't visible at the time I reached the second hide.

I noticed one bird that was slightly smaller than the godwits around it, and although its head is at awkward angles, in the first shot you can see its beak, which is much shorter than these other birds'. iSpot, a website where wildlife sightings can be identified and double-checked, returned a massive positive confirmation - including a response from the British Trust for Ornithology, so I can add this to my list of confirmed sightings.

I'd love to see a ruff more clearly, especially in breeding plumage, but that will have to wait until next year. Anyhow, I'm a quarter of the way to my goal, which is pretty good.

Saturday, 14 September 2013

Bird project 24 - Wheatear

Oenanthe oenanthe Wheatear

Location: Sea defences, North Shore, Blackpool.
Conditions: Warm sunshine, cool persistent breeze, very thin high cloud.
Photograph quality: 1.

Comments: I walked north from the town centre specifically to look for these birds, which have been reported here in the last few days. They'll be returning to Africa soon, so I wanted to catch them. I wasn't quite sure where to look, but I kept my eyes and ears open - but since I hadn't managed to get out as early as I wanted, I wasn't expecting to be lucky.

The tide was out, so the huge expanse of beach hosted the usual birds - scattered flocks of several gull species, the occasional crow, a few oystercatchers, and on a patch of rocks, turnstones. On the 'cliffs' (artificial outcrops between the Promenade and the beach) was a single pied wagtail, and above a lone swallow was feeding. I turned back home.

But then, back towards town, I saw a bird on the steep slope below (there are three levels you can walk on, I was in the middle). It was immediately obvious this was my target - a warm buff-coloured bird, bobbing and feeding amongst the tufty plants. I edged closer, and it continued its business, allowing me to get a couple of hundred shots, mostly pretty good.

I assumed it was a female (the adult males are more strikingly marked), but it was identified as a first-year bird, so could be either sex (autumn wheatears in general are hard to distinguish).