Tuesday, 1 August 2017

In Search of Shearwaters

On the morning of Sunday 30th July we met our group at Portland Bill for a seawatch.  We joined a small gathering of birders watching from the shelter of the lighthouse wall, it soon became obvious that there was indeed a movement of seabirds, at first we watched a trio of Arctic Skua chasing and harassing a small number of terns off the Bill.  

Then we could settle a bit to get to grips with the shearwaters, as a few of the group hadn't seen Shearwaters before we braved the wind and moved to take as much shelter at the Obelisk could afford. We were soon rewarded with a number of Balearic Shearwaters passing close by.  The best was still to come, we were scanning through a number of large gulls and picking up the odd Gannet sitting on the very rough sea when I picked up a Manx Shearwater moving toward us from along the East Cliff.  When it reached our position it landed on the sea right in front of us.
Manx Shearwater resting on the sea © Mike Davidson
We had plenty of opportunity to see many Balearic and the odd Manx Shearwaters moving past and a number formed a small feeding raft a few hundred metres off the Bill.  We added a number of other species such as Fulmar, Kittiwake, Common Scoter, Mediterranean Gull, Herring and Great Black-backed Gull, Shag, Cormorants.  We also saw three Kestrels, a Peregrine which flew in off the sea and a single Whimbrel which flew past out to sea.  A single Common Sandpiper took a short rest on the rock just in front of us.  We even had a passing Oystercatcher and a handful of Linnets plus a number of Rock Pipits.

After the seawtaching slowed we walked to the Lower Lighthouse Bird Observatory and added many of the commoner species found on the Bill, though the Little Owl in the quarry wasn't to be seen, probably due to the wind direction.

We thought that as it was so windy at the Bill it might be worth checking the north of the island so we headed for the Verne Common and the Admiralty Cemetery.  As it happened, though it was sheltered and warm here, other than a very noisy Peregrine and the usual gulls and corvids there was little to see so we headed to Ferrybridge for lunch.

We started again looking over the Fleet where Mediterranean Gull and Sandwich Terns showed well. We moved on to Lodmoor to finish our day where we added a small selection of waders including three Common Sanpipers, six Dunlin, a few Black-tailed Godwits still looking splendid in summer plumage.  Also Marsh Harrier, Sparrowhawk and a few Swift over the reserve as well as the usual duck species.

Monday, 24 July 2017

New Forest walk for wildlife

On Saturday, 22nd July, we had a group out at Hawkhill Inclosure to look for wildlife, a new walk for Two Owls Birding.   We had a fairly early start and we hoped we would be able to get round before the forecasted rain started.  Bob had arrived just before us and had seen a Spotted Flycatcher on the fence in the car park, unfortunately it had disappeared as we parked up.    
Grayling © Nick Hull
Once everyone was ready we set off and soon we could hear Great Spotted Woodpecker and Mistle Thrush.  A Goldcrest was singing high in a pine tree but it was further on our walk before we actually saw one.  A Green Woodpecker was making a lot of noise out on the heathland and we took path into the open, a family of Stonechats and making their familiar "tac" call sat up on the small gorse bushes around us.  As I turned round to walk back to the main path I put up a Grayling butterfly, it landed just in front of me, it just blended in completely with the stone path.  Everyone had a good look and we found several more on our walk, though the Gatekeeper butterfly took the honour of the most numerous.
Silver-studded Blue © Nick Hull
Further on, my eye was caught by a bird in some honeysuckle, in fact two birds were here and the quick glimpse I had made me think it was a Marsh Tit.  Then a couple of Great Tits came in to view and wondered if I was mistaken.  However we only walked a few feet when I saw my bird again and it was Marsh Tit and its mate was close by and we all got wonderful views of them.  Moving on Nick called Redstart as a bird flew across the path, I just caught the back of it as it disappeared, unfortunately not everyone in the group got to see it.  A Stock Dove started calling and Chiffchaff, by the brook we had a little party of Blue, Great and Coal Tit, also Chiffchaff and Goldcrest.  

We then came back out on to the heathland and the sun was shining, so this brought out several butterflies with Small Heath, Meadow Brown and Common Blue.  However, it was the beautiful little Silver-studded Blue butterfly we were really pleased to see feeding on the bell heather.  Dragonflies were not to be forgotten with Keeled Skimmer, male and female also Common Darter.
Keeled Skimmer (male) © Nick Hull
We did have a walk on the opposite side on Beaulieu Heath and added a few more birds to our list including Swallows, Swift, Grey Heron, Little Egret and plenty of Linnets.   We also had our first and only bird of prey with a Peregrine.  Unfortunately the weather had deteriorated and rain set in, but it was a most enjoyable walk and one we hope to do again.
Juvenile Linnet © Nick Hull

Wednesday, 5 July 2017

Two Owls in Northumberland Part 2

Our fourth day, 12th June, saw us heading for Cresswell, Druridge Pools and East Chevington.  We arrived at Cresswell and started birding as soon as we were out of the cars with Swifts overhead and singing Reed Bunting, Coot, Mallard on the pond.  We made our way towards the hide and en-route had good views of Tree Sparrows which were obviously nesting in the barn, Blackbirds, Greylags and more Lapwing including some young chicks.  From the hide we quickly found the breeding Avocets and one or two chicks running about on the muddy banks.  Almost immediately noticed three small gulls roosting on the mud bank to our right and on closer view with the scope confirmed them as 1st/sum Little Gulls a real bonus.

From here we went to the Drift Cafe where we always go when in the area as they provide good coffee the best freshly made sandwiches and cake plus much more at a reasonable price.  Not only that we picked up some birding news and an update on how stopping the open cast mining from going ahead in the area. Things at the moment are look promising fingers crossed as it would be the end to a fantastic birding site and would ruin this wonderful coastal area.

After a while we moved only a few miles down the road to Druridge Pools which is essentially flooded meadows.  Here we started off with Whitethroats, Stonechats and Swifts feeding overhead.  
Swifts over Druridge Pools © Nick Hull
We saw a good number of waterfowl here highlights were Teal, Shoveler, Wigeon, Pochard and Little Ringed Plover and Little Egret.

After our lunch we headed for East Chevington we visit here as it can turn up anything and we had always picked up the odd bird of prey here.  In fact it produced our first and only Marsh Harrier with a beautiful male bird which gave some of the group the run around for a while as it persisted on ducking out of sight for minutes at a time before reappearing.  From the hide we had feeding Common Terns and an odd Arctic mixed in with one or two Sandwich Tern and the usual common gull species.  
Male Marsh Harrier East Chevington
Before we finished here Jackie called to check if the Coquet Island boats were going out as it was very windy and we needed time to get there if they were.  As it happened they weren't so Jackie and I decided that we would follow up on a little info received at the Drift Cafe and we headed off the Bothel Pond only around five miles away.  We found the location without any problems thanks to good directions given earlier and quickly started scanning the pond which was fairly large.  It took me about ten minutes before I located it, in the far left corner of the lake, a chocolate brown duck with white face, black head and blue bill with a stiff tail, a drake Ruddy Duck.  Since DEFRA ordered the shooting of the British feral breeding population to preserve the White-headed Duck in Spain, this bird was either a very clever duck or a genuine vagrant, either way it was very nice indeed to be able to watch it for a while.
Drake Ruddy Duck per Wikipedia 
As we were unable to get out to Coquet Island and see the Roseate Turns from the boat the next best thing was to drive to Hauxley and view across to the island from the sand dunes which we did.  I was able to find a Roseate standing in front of one of the nest boxes on the island, even with the scope wound up to 60x it was hard to see detail, but the long streamers of the tail were visible when the bird moved and they caught the evening sunlight.  Nonetheless it was a good way to finish our day watching the comings and goings of all the terns and auks moving between feeding ground off the coast and feeding their offspring on the island.

Back on schedule for the 13th and a visit to Wooler to pick up our lunches and walk along the river, this  broke our journey and gave us good views of Grey Wagtail and our main target Dipper.
Dipper - Wooler © Nick Hull
We continued a on to favourite valley in the Cheviot Hills, where we spent the rest of the day seeing various wildlife in glorious sunshine and finding our target species of Red Grouse, Ring Ouzel, Spotted Flycatcher, Common Sandpiper, Wheatear and Whinchat, amongst other commoner species.
Ring Ouzel Cheviot Hill
Our last day, 14th, we back towards Wooler, stopping at various points in the local area, one stop gave us stunning views of a male Yellowhammer, of course everywhere seemed to have displaying Skylarks and Meadow Pipits, Curlews, Buzzards and Linnets.  We lingered quite a while at Doddington Bridge which held several pairs of Sedge Warblers and the first of our trip plus Blackcap, Whitethroats, Sand Martins, Spotted Flycatcher and Reed Bunting.  We lunched at Wooler and the Dippers showed even better this time with one individual so unperturbed by our presence that it fed, preened and just stood on his rock in the middle of the river and binoculars not needed!

We drove across to Holy Island as many on the trip were interested to visit, the highlight was actually having tea and cake sat out in the sunshine of the cafe garden.  We did see a few common birds and lots of Eider including young ones offshore.  John and Linda had a Weasel run across their path a new mammal for the trip list.  But this was meant to be a lazier afternoon as we were having an early dinner to get out in the evening for owls.
Barn at Dusk Cresswell © Nick Hull
After another delicious meal at the hotel we set off to Cresswell Ponds, on the pond Tufted Duck and Reed Warbler singing from fringes.  Tree Sparrow were busy and then Nick said I'm sure I just saw the Barn Owl across the field, finally it showed again carrying prey back to its young.  We moved down to Druridge Pools and stood by a photographer who was waiting for a Barn Owl to come past that he saw earlier.  By this time the sun was lowering and the dunes opposite us were bathed in a beautiful pink glow, Jackie then spotted the Barn Owl coming in and as it flew low over the dunes it also turned pink, the most beautiful sight.  Unfortunately no one in our group managed to capture a photograph.
Sunset at Druridge Pools © Nick Hull
We had a look over the pools, really in the hope that we might see the Long-eared Owl that had been seen here.  It was not seen that evening but we did have a Little Owl by the farm and Grey Partridge calling in the field next to us.  A superb end to our Two Owls Birding Break to Northumberland.

Monday, 26 June 2017

Two Owls in Northumberland Part 1

Two weeks ago Jackie and I found ourselves meeting a very keen group at the Dunstanburgh Castle Hotel to see what Northumberland could offer in the way of birds.  After everyone had dropped their baggage off in the rooms we set off for a walk down to the beach.  Our walk got us off to a good start with Sandwich Tern, Yellowhammer, Reed Bunting and Tree Sparrow amongst many of the common species.
Dunstanburgh Castle Hotel
Next morning the weather wasn't kind but we decided that we would continue to Long Nanny and the tern colony as the forecast said it would improve.  It did but only for the rain to pour down on us as we were walking to the colony.  We arrived at the wardens hut sat high on the dunes and were met, even in the wet, by the sound of Arctic and Common Terns calling continuously all around us.  The Little Terns unfortunately had been having a bad time as a high tide had washed through the nesting area.  The wardens had lifted all the nests and placed them on crates to prevent this, but it soon came apparent that this time it wasn't enough.  They had lifted the eggs and waited for the water to subside but it took two hours which was too long for the Little Tern and they deserted.  However some them came back and twelve pairs were nesting again and hopefully will be successful.  After getting rather wet we headed back to the hotel for lunch a warm up and dry out.

We took a lazy lunch as we could see the weather was brightening and we were waiting for confirmation that the Farne Island boats were going or not.  As it happened they weren't so thinking on our feet we decided to take the coastal route and stop at a number of places that we had good sightings in the past.  Starting at Warkworth where we had a couple of stops.  The first of which paid off with a sighting of a Grey Seal near the weir, and as we were waiting for it to surface again a call from the group of "its up other there".  I looked and saw an Otter on the surface, we watched it for sometime before it drifted off downstream.  Jackie said "I think I've got a merganser way down the channel" but getting the scope onto it, it was a female Goosander which eventually flew up and landed nearer and gave us great views. 
female Goosander - Warkworth © Nick Hull
This spot wasn't finished, with a duck Eider and a couple of Grey Heron one of which flew into the trees on the opposite bank.  We soon realised there was a small Heronry and we could see a number of young birds awaiting parents to return with food.  There were a couple of pairs of Greylags with goslings and in the field opposite Canada Geese with theirs.

We moved on down river about half a mile to see if the Otter was still lurking but we couldn't locate it but had good views of several Eider and a duck with her ducklings.  We located a Sand Martin colony on the opposite bank and found twenty six Ringed Plover and two summer plumaged Dunlin and a couple of Sandwich Terns.
Otter - Warkworth, River Coquet 
Our next stop was Hauxley where we looked out over the sea from the beach and saw our first auks flying by mainly Guillemots and Puffins, there were more Eider scattered offshore, several Kittiwakes and oddly we had a flyby Gadwall.  The afternoon was moving on but we had time to do another location so we thought we would try Druridge Country Park, a place we haven't visited before.  We added a number of woodland species including adult and young Great Spotted Woodpeckers, Willow Warblers and Chiffchaffs.  On the lake Common Terns, Great Crested and Little Grebes, Swallows, both Sand and House Martins and Swift hawking insects and Reed Warblers were singing from the reeded margins. On our way back to the hotel Sparrowhawk and a Brown Hare were seen.

On the 11th we woke to a sunny but breezy day we birded Beadnell and Budle Bay, we added little to our list, though at Beadnell we had Gannets, Arctic and Little Terns, Fulmar and a skein of 40+ Common Scoter.  At Bamburgh we recorded our first Northern Marsh Orchids in the sand dunes and admired a wild flower field which seemed the attract Reed Buntings, Goldfinch and Linnets.
Northern Marsh Orchid © Nick Hull
In the afternoon we boarded one of Billy Shiels boats that took us around the Farnes and dropped us off on Inner Farne for an hour of birding indulgence.  These islands just have to be one of the best seabird colonies in Britain and for a wildlife photographer an ideal location.  To get up close to all three auk species, terns, gulls and Shags and of course St Cuthbert's ducks, plus Grey Seals and even Rabbit.  Not forgetting the Gannets passing by.  Our hour on the island passed so quickly, it seemed we had hardly arrived and we were having to take our chances with the Arctic Tern on the path back to the jetty.
The walk back through the Arctic Terns to the jetty
Arctic Tern on Martin's head, aways good to wear a hat
Selection of Inner Farne Birds © Nick Hull

Thursday, 8 June 2017

Part 2 - Damselflies, Woodcock & Nightjar

Our walk at Fiddleford Mill is one we enjoy in spring as it gives a variety of wildlife, from the car park we started with Swallows and Pheasant, quickly followed by House Sparrow and Robin.   As we walked through to the Mill and along by the Mill Pond we had a quick look at the Archimedes Screw hydro generator and here we found a good number of Banded demoiselle they seemed to be everywhere.  By the weir we had four Grey Wagtails, three juveniles and an adult female, a very nice sight.  Another Damsel this time a Blue-tailed Damselfly, then I heard a Garden Warbler and quickly located it singing out in the open on a nearby thorn bush, all had good views before it crossed the river to another song post.   Walking towards the old railway bridge as we passed the rushbeds we watched a number of Reed Warbler, a nest was found and we watched as the pair flew in and added nesting material to the not quite complete nest.  We stopped on the old railway bridge for some time and checked off a number of species including our only Sedge Warbler.
Banded Demoiselle - Fiddleford Mill © Nick Hull
Walking along the trail we added Red Admiral, Speckled Wood and a Holly Blue butterflies, also added Goldcrest and Chiffchaff to our list.  David then picked up two circling raptors which turned out to be a pair of Sparrowhawks.  We watched them for a while and the female crossed the field to our left and put the wind up a number of Jackdaws which were feeding out in the field.  Buzzard was next, in fact by the time we finished we had recorded three pairs.  We continued recording the regular species on our way back to the car park.  We walked a little way down the road and looked out over the fields to the north.  David did it again picking out a Hobby which gave pretty good views catching flying insects over the field and we finished with another raptor, a Kestrel, which brought a nice walk to an end.

Bringing you right up to date we had our annual evening Nightjar and Woodcock walk which turned out to be one of the best ever.  We walked a slightly different route then usual and checked off the usual woodland species Song Thrush, Jay, Goldcrest and Chiffchaff in the wood.  As we came out on to the heath, Dartford Warbler was heard and later seen and a Hobby performed well though a little distant.  Stonechat and another Dartford sat up on the gorse, also a stunning male Linnet.  A Mistle Thrush stood on the path and a Willow Warbler was singing close by.

We made our way down to the area of the heath where Jackie and I hoped we would find our target species. Though it was still light on our way we watched a Serotine bat was hunting along the forest edge.  Arriving at where we thought we would be able to get good views based on previous knowledge of walks past, it was now just a case of patience and keeping our eyes peeled and ears attuned.  I picked up a quick view of a bird disappearing behind tree out to our right I was sure it was a Woodcock.  Keeping my eye half on the area and the other looking for Nightjar, I heard the 'Tsip' then 'grunt grunt' of a Woodcock which flew pretty much over us the first of possibly four that circled or flew over us roding.  
Woodcock roding
Jackie then asked the time it was 21:20hrs she commits "they should be singing soon", I answer "after half past" I had no sooner said this and the first Nightjar started it evening 'Churr' and it was close.  Then another and within a few minutes we had at least five males singing around us. We heard wing clapping and quipping, a bird in flight, Jackie tried the old trick with the white hanky and from nowhere a male flew right over us.  Over the next quarter of an hour we were treated to two different pairs flying over and around us absolute magic.  After having our fill, we started to return to our cars when Jackie sat churring on a bare branch of a tree and we were able to get good scope views.  We eventually dragged ourselves back to the cars finding a couple of other churring birds and seeing the Serotine Bat again.  What a absolutely fantastic night.
Churring Nightjar 

Saturday, 3 June 2017

A week of Butterflies, Damsels & Orchids Part 1

A busy week visiting Martin Down twice and Butterfly Conservation Dorset reserve by Cerne Abbas Giant, Badbury Rings NT finishing our week with a walk at Fiddleford Mill. 

Our two visits to Martin Down produced many of the reserves specialties, our first walk was mainly for the birds but as alway we never pass something good without pointing it out.  Martin Down as a remnant downland is an oasis for many species and Turtle Dove, Corn Bunting, Yellowhammer and Skylark can be still found here in relatively good numbers even though all are declining some more than others. We started with Yellowhammer, Whitethroat and a Great Tit family, then a little way further on we heard our first Turtle Dove and I found it singing in a tree along the hedgerow and it gave good views.  Walking around our circler route we counted at least eight singing males, of this endangered dove, listening to their purring song was truly wonderful. We also recorded Common and Small Blue, Small Heath, Peacock, Brimstone, and a surprise was a Clouded Yellow.
Turtle Dove - Martin Down © Nick Hull
Clouded Yellow Butterfly - Martin Down © Nick Hull
Our second visit was a general wildlife visit so we targeted all the above and were successful in finding them all and even added two more singing Turtle Dove.  We also recorded 13 species of Butterfly which included Marsh Fritillary, Adonis Blue and added Burnt Orchid, Fragrant and Common Orchids which either not seen or were not fully out on the previous visit. 
Burnt Orchid - Martin Down ©Nick Hull
Jackie and I took a day to visit Cerne Abbas near Dorchester a site we haven't visited for a few years it is at the same site as the famous Cerne Giant which is carved into the chalk hillside.  Butterfly Conservation Dorset take care of the site and work hard to maintain it for the butterflies.  Our target species here were Duke of Burgundy and Marsh Fritillary but we also added Large Skipper to our growing year list.
Duke of Burgundy - Cerne Abbas © Nick Hull
Pupa & adult Marsh Fritillary - Cerne Abbas © Nick Hull

Part 2 to follow including our Nightjar & Woodcock evening.

Wednesday, 24 May 2017

Recent Wildlife Highlights

Though at Two Owls we concentrate on birds we have a much more general interest in all wildlife and will not pass something by without pointing it out if we know what it is, if we don't we try to get an identification.  Over the last few weeks we have visited a number of different locations and we have seen a variety of different wildlife some of the highlights I managed to photograph so we thought we'd post a few of them here.

From our visit to Bentley Wood, this was a Butterfly walk though as it turned out not the best day as the weather was cool and overcast. During a few brief sunny periods we did catch-up with a few of the species we went to see.
Pearl Bordered Fritillary upper and underside © Nick Hull
We came across several beetle species as we searched for roosting butterflies, the Malachite was a new species for us as was the Alder Leaf Beetle.  The latter a slightly more interesting species as it was thought to have become extinct in Britain until it was discovered in 2004 in Manchester, since then it has been found in Southampton and seems to be spreading.
Common Malachite & Alder Leaf Beetle © Nick Hull
We also had a Black Oil Beetle a amazing looking beetle, in fact two were found.

Black Oil Beetle © Nick Hull
On our walk at Middlebere and Hartland Moor we recorded our first Small Copper and Small Heath butterflies of the year.
Small Copper & Small Heath © Nick Hull
Another find from the eagle-eyed in our group was this Wasp Beetle resting on a leaf.
Wasp Beetle Cletus arietis © Nick Hull
Yesterday, 23 May, our Tuesday group visited Martin Down, not only good birds to be seen but we saw a good number of butterflies with  Common, Small and Adonis Blues, Dingy and Grizzled Skipper to mention a few.  Below are two photos taken by Jackie of Adonis Blue, one landed on my hand and shows how tiny they are.

But again beetles seemed to get noticed.  We started with a Bloody-nosed Beetle and then found many Garden Chafers and particularly on many of the yellow flowers we found the metallic green beetle Cryptocephalus aureolas

Garden Chafer & Green Beetle Cryptocephalus aureolus
Also found was a delicate looking Lacewing Chrysopa perla

Lacewing Chrysopa perla © Nick Hull